Author's Note: So here's Act II. I took a little break to try and map out the entire act and make sure things have some sort of flowing progression to it. Ended up scrapping the chapter several times – I'm still not entirely satisfied with it. I've been putting it off for a while, but what the hell, here it is. This is a short chapter to get settled in. Excitement is soon to follow.
Chapter 5: Beyond Britain
Harry was panting. The dark shadowy forms of Parisian architecture loomed above him. The moon stared down at him derisively as Harry raced on. His feet clacked on the stony floor. He was behind schedule. Worse, he had lost track of the target. Harry furiously chastised himself and turned the next corner, past the yellowed lights gently glowing from nearby windows. It seemed warm and comely – far more welcoming than the cold night in the rain, chasing ghosts, elusive as the rain.
Harry held his wand close to his chest – praying he wouldn't be forced to use it. His disposition to violence was hardly the problem. If he got into a firefight, he would be hopelessly outmatched. The man he sought had been facing down the most deadly of international criminals longer than Harry had been alive. Harry swore under his breath. It had taken him three days for him to find the target.
Well done Harry. Your stupidity followed you to France.
The alleys were relatively deserted. The maelstrom raining down on the city made had sent its residents scurrying for cover. It seemed to Harry as if he was the only man in Paris. It was quite a romantic thought, he mused. The task at hand was getting out of control. He had a target and he couldn't afford to lose him now. Harry desperately racked his mind. He knew the target had passed by this way. He began waving his wand.
"I hope this works," Harry murmured to himself. Entirely unsure of himself and his proficiency in this advanced spell, Harry jabbed his wand at a nearby lamppost and whispered some words.
To his eternal relief, the lamppost shrunk and continued to shrink until it stood lower than Harry's knee. It then expanded, its texture changing in unimaginable ways. Soon the transformation stood complete but Harry mournfully looked at his creation with two parts pity and one part anger. A horrifyingly pale and mangled creature was lying at his feet, unmoving as if dead.
Harry swore – the situation become ever more desperate. He had never been great at Transfiguration. But then, what had he been great at? He had once thought himself talented in Defense Against the Dark Arts. But no sooner had he been tested by Tonks, than Harry painfully realized that his studies were trivial and academic. He tried again. Another lamppost shrunk. The result was a skinny hairless abomination of a dog. But he had eyes, a nose, and hopefully, a working doggy brain. It would have to do. Harry willed it with the magic imbued in the mangy beast. It darted off quickly – its nose, or the sorry excuse for one, planted firmly to the ground. Harry cursed – the intricacies of controlling an animate transformation were lost on him. But at least he was on to something. He chased after his Frankenstein-esque creature. He was led through a maze of alleys, slipping often on the wet pavement.
Great I've lost the target and now I've about lost my own fucking dog.
Down the straightway, then turning down narrow abandoned streets and lowly lit avenues. His dog began to squeal – he supposed it a normal transfiguration should have been barking. He ran as if his life was in the balance – it just may have been. Harry could not lose him. Dark empty alleys stared at him with their black maws as if laughing at the horribly foolish boy before them. Harry spun, turned again and rounded the corner. His foot connected with the creature. Again, Harry was reminded that a more competent transfiguration than his, would have held up against the small physical blow. His own, however, broke beneath his foot and immediately reverted to a lamppost, now lying broken on the ground. But Harry paid no attention. He stared ahead of him – the lights of the interior shone out brightly, both hospitable and unwelcoming all the same. He had found it. And his chase through the rain with a stupid dog had been worth it.
A bar. At last.
Time for a drink.
Hours later, Harry clutched a watered down pint of cheap beer. Many empty pints laid strewn messily across the wooden table. Spilt liquid was adding to the veneer of the alcoholic staining on the table. Opposite him in the booth was a handsome black man, Aloysius he called himself – eyes glazed over in a drunken stupor. He was muttering things to himself, before occasionally yelling out the odd obscenity and cackling to himself. Despite the lunacy of it all, Harry almost had the mind to join in. He shook his head again and peered into his half empty pint. He probably had had too much to drink. He looked at the other empty bottles.
Yes. Definitely too much. Focus now…focus! I didn't come here to get drunk…or…uh…
Harry shook his head again and subtly centered his vision on a trio of men, sitting three booths down and angled towards Harry so he had a clear view. Their faces were decidedly grim and one looked particularly reproachful. The one with the sourest face was tinkering with a small silver token – round like a coin, though hardly acceptable legal tender. It was emblazed with a small bird and the man would flick it in the air on occasion when the conversation seemed particularly morose. They spoke so quickly and softly that their voices could not be heard over the ruckus of the tavern scene before them. It was happy hour and the gents and miscreants were out in full force tonight. In front of him, his companion snorted loudly and began to hit on a nearby waitress between fits of hiccups. She gave him a rueful glare and made a beeline to the bartender to have some words. Harry grinned stupidly then returned to his study.
Just a little more. Focus. Don't get drunk now.
Harry tipped his pint and emptied the rest of its contents down his throat. His face cringed at the alcohol and Aloysius roared in a mockery of laughter. In Harry's defense, he had only started drinking three days ago – and only because he had been forced. Trying to look the part of a man indignant of his ability to hold alcohol, Harry slurred out an obscenity and slammed the empty mug hard on the table – harder than he expected. It bounced off the wooden floor and out of Harry's grip before crashing on the floor next to another table. Harry's companion doubled over in laughter.
With that, the owners of the establishment had finally had enough. A large bald man with thick arms and a dumb look on his face approached them. He laid a gigantic hand gently but firmly on Harry's shoulder. Harry looked up at the man in a haze. He realized it wouldn't take much to set the stupid brute into a rage.
"Time to go, sir," he spoke in a very thick accent.
"Hey, hey, hey…" Harry's dark companion adjusted himself from being half sprawled over the table. "Jus' enjoying some drinks here, pal."
"You've had enough now."
"Mes affaires font mal au cul!"
At that the large man grabbed Harry and Aloysius up by their arms. Harry watched as his friend's legs barely were able to hold him up and he leaned undignified, against the large man who was escorting them off the premises. Harry followed slowly, trying to keep his pace balanced and steady.
Just walk. All there is to it. One step, then another. So far so good…shit!
At that moment, Harry tripped in spectacular fashion, spun off balance and toppled backwards into the booth of the trio of ill-favored men. Their sparse drinks went up in the air and there was a great deal of laughter from the rest of the tavern. The booth however, was filled with cursing and threatening roars. Harry hazily looked up and saw the ceiling, and then the enraged faces of three dangerous men. One of them raised his fist and landed a solid blow across the top of Harry's head. Another one followed and then another. The other two seemed to abstain from this barrage of punches. On the third punch, Aloysius had found the lucidity and balance to push away the bouncer and come to Harry's aid like some champion knight out of old times.
He tripped and fell.
But he was at such momentum that his tumbling form carried him forward and his head smashed against the head of Harry's attacker. There were more roars of anger and now all three men were involved. One of them jumped over the man holding his head in pain. He began to kick Harry's companion on the ground before the third man tore his eyes from the scene and roughly grabbed Harry and threw him like a child out of the booth. Harry smashed into another table and more laughter and threats were about them. The crowd was loving this. The owners however, were not as entertained.
The ruckus lasted for more than ten minutes. In that time, Harry and his friend had been thrown out onto the street and had been beaten quite brutally in a forgotten alleyway. There they were now, slightly drunk and rolling on the cold poorly paved road in pain. Harry coughed and sputtered, some idle blood dripping from his nose and a mighty bruise on his face that threatened to close his eye. From what he could see, his companion had nothing to damage his handsome face. Truer still, his friend seemed to stand up immediately, sway and fall over again.
"Told you," slurred Harry's friend. "The key…or thingy…no…the key is to get drunk! Then…then you don't feel a thing! Ha ha ha!"
Harry merely groaned in pain and tried to bring himself to his feet. "This…this has got to be…the last time I get the shit kicked out of me."
The alcohol had not left Harry's system either and he swayed for a moment. The blows to the head on top of the alcohol left much to be desired from Harry's coordinative faculties. Shaking his head only seemed to aggravate the welts and throbbing hurts.
"Well?" asked Aloysius.
Harry managed to crack a smile. He took out the small silver coin, emblazed with a bird. "Switched it when I fell."
Presently there was nothing left to be done. So they began to laugh, laughing nonsense at situations that only the inebriated could find amusement in.
Soon, after some poorly worded requests for directions and a taxi driver who seemed to judge Harry every step of the way, Harry Potter wrenched open the door to his 10 Euro a day room. The room Harry had holed up in was a dank and dingy. Lights that were on their last leg were flickering restlessly and the low ceiling with its cracks and unappealing yellowish stains, threatened to cave in on him. Even the lackluster living conditions of the Dursleys had never come anywhere close to this pigsty. However this was what a pathetic 10 Euro a night got him.
On his first day in Paris, journey here was perhaps the most anxiety-inducing and panic filled day he had experienced. He had fumbled around the streets using the seven or so French words he knew. Harry regretted now not heeding Hermione's offers to learn some French. He had been bombarded in the foreign ways of the French. It left him disorientated and already missing home – wherever that was. He had held his guidebook to his body like a lifeline, finally settling on a seedy suburb in the east of Paris, outside the Peripherique where within dwelt the recommended places of accommodation. Dark, seedy and unseen suited Harry's purposes just fine.
The night had now grown old and Harry fought off exhaustion – easily helped by the dismal state and smell of the old mattress. He began to empty his pockets – a task which ended up taking several minutes. Finally assembled before him, he took stock of his goods. A basic Auror handbook, one hour's worth of Polyjuice and other odd potions. There was also a shrunken book on international magical travel, a hefty bag of gold and Euros, and several small gizmos that Harry hadn't the mind to understand or the courage to fiddle with.
Harry sat on the bed, which sunk a few more inches than he had hoped. He cupped his head in his hands and closed his eyes. Here he was…in Paris of all places. He was not running any more. But nor did he intend to confront his enemies head on. This would require subtlety, cleverness and of course a cauldron full of luck. Find the Triads. Take them down. Harry still wasn't sure how he was going to do either. Even mentioning the Triads could cause alarm in certain unwanted circles of people. Though there was one glad piece of news that eased his nerves significantly. The Boy-who-lived, or le survivant as it were, was nothing more than a name to the common French magical world. They didn't have any face associated with Harry Potter. His popularity in Britain apparently fell off on the other side of the channel. If he took careful care to conceal his scar, he could – although quite riskily – move about magical Paris unnoticed. But Harry's face certainly would not go unnoticed to the Triads. And a foreigner raising questions about the Triads would stay anonymous for long.
Constant vigilance he reminded himself. There were eyes everywhere, ears everywhere. Harry had often needed to remind himself that this was exactly where the note had told him not to go. He had been in Paris little over a week. He had met the strangely charming Aloysius on his second day. And he'd been getting the shit kicked out of him ever since. He stretched his bruised body and sighed greatly. The night's affairs had left him weary but excited – so much so that the danger and eagerness joined forces to keep in from sleep for a moment longer.
He gazed solemnly at the silver coin now laid on the desk. He fiddled it with a moment. It had taken three ass-kickings around seedy Parisian establishments, two bar-fights, an uncounted number of bruises and several pints of beer to attain this small ugly silver coin. Lets hope its worth it Harry.
He took out his wand, the solid smoothed oak. In the time that he had been to Paris he had only dared use it twice. Once to put up some rudimentary protective enchantments about his room, and the other to first duplicate his right ear and then transfigure it into the small silver coin he had swapped at the bar. It had been a long torturous night that followed – where in the twilight, Harry sat at the windowsill, expecting at any moment, for authorities to have tracked him with the Trace. In the end, they had not come and Harry had lost nothing but sleep.
It was times such as these where Harry missed Tonks the most. He had heard nothing of the fiery Auror since their parting at Quantus International. He suspected the worst. He had always assumed Tonks would have a plan on what was to be done if they truly had managed to escape the country together. Now she was lost – maybe in Ministry custody, maybe in Azkaban or maybe even dead – but in each case, she could no longer help him.
Harry mused that the old him of two weeks ago would feel hurt, betrayed and angry at Tonks for proclaiming that they were in this together, only to part indefinitely. That bitter part of him no longer existed and Harry knew exactly who was responsible. He was here, she was somewhere else. If she was out of the picture, Harry would have to go on.
Go on. That's all it is. That's all I ever need to know. Go on. I can do that. Go on.
Here in this strange country with a strange language, Harry Potter was nobody – no, he was less than nobody. He was an invisible criminal on the run from his own government, crazed foreign wizards and dark henchmen of a lifelong mortal enemy. As Tonks would undoubtedly say – boo fucking hoo. Tonks didn't give a shit about what he deserved. He needed that brutally honest ass kicking more than ever now. She'd trusted him enough to send him across the channel on his lonesome. He couldn't let her down. He couldn't let himself down. Harry determinedly got back to work. He raised his wand to his ear and a green light shot out into his ear canal.
"Chaque mois c'est toujours la meme cas. Ces vermines qui souhaitent leurs chances à attraper un pixie c'est meilleur que tous les gens passé."
Harry smiled despite the fact that he still could not understand what was being said. The realization that he had at long last, successfully eavesdropped on this man was a joyous moment of progress for the soon to be fifteen year old criminal. He then flicked his wand at the idle Quick Quotes Quill. It sprang to life and immediately began writing while the French voices in Harry's ear faded away slowly.
"Get to work. Translate important points only," Harry instructed aloud.
The quill scribbled furiously against the parchment. It would be at this all night. Harry grinned widely. Even the smelly mattress and the promise of a nasty hangover would not dampen his senses. The slow victory was sweet in Harry's mind but soon the long night and the alcohol began to muddle his collected thoughts. The dull threat of an incoming migraine drove Harry into the dirty mattress and into a rewarding slumber.
The mediator tapped her foot incessantly. She was expecting a call – one she dreaded would be just as furious as the dragons encircling her mind. Any second now, the pale gleam of the mirror would betray her to a face of a heartless killer. She thought about leaving. The lone thought occupied her every waking moment. But she couldn't. Not while they still held the trump card. A lesser thought went to Harry Potter – the poor boy now a victim of the Triads pursuits. And now he had surprised them all and had managed to elude the authorities despite the odds and had gotten out of Britain. The containment was broken and the mediator knew that on the other side of the mirror, the Triads were scrambling for new plans.
"HE ESCAPED!" bellowed the mirror so loudly and suddenly she nearly dropped it.
"I-I've compiled a list of likely places he-"
"Are you listening to me? He escaped! Under our fucking noses! We took away his allies, his friends, his gold and made him a goddamn criminal! And he still managed to get away from us!"
The mirror vibrated with the volume of Wei's rage – so far reaching across distances that the mediator felt it as if it was right before her. But this still was nothing compared to what he could unleash. She hesitated to speak again, knowing it would take only a slight error on her part to set him loose entirely.
"I…I did all you asked of me," she spoke steadily. "I must have broken dozens of laws just to make sure you got what you wanted. "I paid off Winzengamot, falsified the Brussels transactions, dealt with London Gringotts…"
"And where the fuck were you when Harry Potter escaped!" Wei roared. "You had contacts in Department of Magical Transportation! You had contacts in the offices of the Chief Warlock and the Minister!"
"Whatever Potter did, he did it without the help of the Ministry," she said quickly with a brush of fear. "My contacts were solid. I'm…I'll get in touch with my person in the British Aurors and find out exactly what happened."
"IT DOESN'T MATTER! He's gone! He could be anywhere now! Anywhere in the world! We just lost Harry Potter and if he's half as smart as he must be to have evaded us all, he'll go to ground. Our chance at ending this quickly just vanished."
The mediator sensed that the hostility and anger was now more focused and personalized than before. She feared what this might mean for her. Surely she hadn't done anything wrong! She'd done all they asked, despite all the moral alarms ringing in her head and weighing down her already heavy consciousness.
"This was not my fault," she stated. Her clear voice did not sway.
"Funny thing." His voice was one step above silence. "We try to take Potter at his house and he was already preparing to flee. You tell us about the boy's abilities but somehow forget to mention that he somehow knows how to apparate. We raid his safehouse on information your contact provided, and it turns out Potter's not there either. A lot of simple things have gone very wrong, wouldn't you say?"
"I hope you don't mean to associate Potter's luck as an indictment against my work," the mediator responded coldly, bearing her teeth for the first time in weeks. "I've done everything you've ever asked to the best of my abilities."
"The best of your abilities are clearly not enough."
She knew that tone. It was different than the rage and the deadly undertones. This tone was cold and detached. She had only heard it once, right when it all began. And now the memory of it brought up the dread deep in her stomach.
"I assure you…I am taking this seriously," she spoke in furtive undertones.
"So are we."
The mediator only now noticed a small box, barren of any wrapping or ornament. Her hands trembled as she removed the lid. She tilted her head and took no more than one second to look before she turned her head away. Tears of anger and madness and pain formed in her eyes and she bottled up the overwhelming desire to scream. But she couldn't show this Wei any more weakness for him to further exploit. She bit down hard on her knuckles and suppressed a harsh cry of hate.
"Do you understand?" he asked her.
"Yes," whispered the mediator. "I understand."
"The International Confederation of Wizards convenes in Prague in nine days. After having failed to contain Potter in the Isles, the British will put forth a motion to form an international taskforce to hunt him down."
She could tell what was coming next. "And?"
"We need the motion to pass. If we're to find Potter again, we need to make it as hard as possible for him to hide, wherever he is. Flush him out and grab him."
The Mediator took another deep breath and responded in a calm tone. "It's a ridiculous motion. They tried the same thing with Sirius Black and failed, I was told – and he was a far greater menace than Potter. There's no precedent for this. It has no chance of being approved. And…and how am I going to force two thirds of some of the most powerful wizards in the world to pass a motion that even I know is dead before it reaches the floor? They're not the weak-minded sort to be charmed by gold or sex."
"You know exactly how," he said. "I don't think I need to remind you that it is in your best interest to do all that you can."
Fuck you. But instead of voicing this, she agreed in a steel tone. The moment the reflection of Wei faded into silvery nothingness, she began to curse and screech. And then she began to weep uncontrollably – the sort of weeping that she had long since sworn off. The tears flowed uncontrollably and she hoped all the Triads burned in scorching flames. But should they burn, the best part of her would burn with them. Already the flames were closing in. She could not let that happen. No, the cruel world had trapped her. She would help the devils with their devices and mark herself forever tainted.
And dear Harry Potter would have to burn in their stead.
In the morning Harry could scarcely remember the feeling of victory the night before. His thoughts were consumed with the pounding of drums against his cranium. He smelled horribly. Rolling out of bed, he took a solid look in the mirror. The swelling at his eye had gone down ever so slightly. But still, the cracked lip, bruised face and dried blood on the crown of his head made him look like the common thug. His head thundered in pain as he received a cold shower. Harry decided it was a miracle that there was even running water in a place like this.
Looking a little less rough, on autopilot, Harry exited the dismal building of his lodging. The natural light of the sun was unbearably bright and the colors were awash with harsh distortions. Harry groaned heavily and continued his journey. A nearby Floo Booth took him to a quaint section of Paris with soft colored awnings stretched over small boutique stores and cafes. It was some surreal thing out of a movie, Harry always thought. At one of the tables, cast in shadow by the large scarlet canopy was Harry's handsome black drinking partner. Harry took the other seat, immediately sinking his head into his hands and grunting half in pain, half in nausea. Aloysius looked amused. A warm loaf of bread and a conservative morsel of cheese was brought to him along with steaming black coffee.
"What I wouldn't do for a whisk of Hangover Potion right now," Harry mumbled.
Aloysius smirked and from the breast pocket of his dark flight jacket drew up a small silver canteen. He poured it into his own coffee and handed it to Harry.
"Oh thank Merlin," Harry sighed gratefully. "You're a lifesaver Aloysius." Harry took the flask and emptied a sizeable portion into his swirling cup of caffeine. Eagerly, he sipped it. It tasted bitter and unwelcoming much like…like rye. Harry paused for a moment the looked up ruefully at his companion.
"This isn't Hangover potion is it?"
Aloysius chuckled and took the canteen back and took a hard swig from it. "The next best thing."
His head was imploding in on itself. Harry sighed and looked at his newly alcoholic coffee. With a surrendering shrug, he drunk deeply.
"That a boy!" exclaimed Aloysius without any real fervor. Harry cringed. His mind was too frail and the day too young for such volume.
"Your little bug work?" he asked Harry casually.
Harry nodded. "The Quill's been writing nonstop. Places, deliveries, people in the underground…"
"And to think six days ago you were waltzing into bars asking blatant questions about the Triads and getting the shit kicked out of you!" Aloysius mocked.
"I'm still doing that," Harry muttered, irritated.
"Remember, when you get caught and are one syllable away from going kaput, try not to mention me," Aloysius spoke but he did not seem to care either way. "It'd be a shame to be pinned for spying on Arthur Levasque."
"Mention you? I've only a first name to go by!" Harry replied, slightly annoyed.
"And how many people are there in Paris named Aloysius?"
"Probably loads if you started referring to yourself as Louis like everyone else!" Harry shot back.
"Aloysius," Harry's companion stated flatly and it was a surprisingly final tone. "My name is Aloysius."
Harry let it be. For an odd reason beyond him, any talk about Aloysius' more personal affairs made him recluse and rigid to inspection. It was one of the many oddities that Harry had come to know of the dashing black man. He had made no attempt to hide his natural Spanish accent but he had never told Harry anything else beyond that. In line with Aloysius' strange persistence on his formal name, his esotericism extended to his eating habits. He always had breakfast at this café, in the 16th district of Paris. From their angle, there was a clear line of sight between buildings, to the looming wonder of Le Bois de Boulogne – a vast area of uninhabited forestation and wildlife. Muggles called it a public park but magicians knew it better. To them, it was a prison. And a death wish. Harry recalled the warning in his guidebook about this enigmatic location.
Unsafe areas of travel
Le Bois de Boulogne is one of the few remaining colonies of pixies left in Europe. While normally gentle, years of abuse by scores of Parisien delinquents has left the pixies extraordinarily hostile and dangerous to anyone with a magical signature. While docile and undetectable to Muggles, the pixie is extremely dangerous to those it detects to be magicians. For this reason, we deem Le Bois de Boulogne and the immediate area unsafe for travel. Tourists are strongly advised to forgo this small perilous corner of Paris and continue their travels elsewhere.
Everyday, Aloysius had breakfast at daybreak at this café and looked towards Le Bois de Boulogne in fanciful fashion. It was an allure, that Harry admitted, was a mysterious attraction – the dangerous sacred forestry where now lurked some of the wisest and rarest magical creatures in the world. And for all this, Harry knew exactly why Aloysius chose to start his days staring at the dangerous of the woods. He was a pixie hunter. Beyond that, he had divulged little to Harry, only that he sought the pixies with a great, almost fervent desire – which seemed to be at odds with everything else in his character. And he had been willing to lend out his services and expertise of Paris for a price.
Harry jerked his head up. "Wha'?"
Aloysius held out his hand expectantly. "Tit."
Harry was not above embarrassment as he looked around for anyone unfortunate enough to overhear this. "Right here?"
They shared a very odd look. Harry sighed and plunged his hand into his pocket and retrieved several small jars wherein laid strange powders, roots and a thick off-putting sludge of unmentionable origins. He pushed them across the table to Aloysius.
"For tat," Harry finished.
Harry had often wondered about this Aloysius character. But his own immediate problems dissuaded him from looking too deeply into the affairs of his only pseudo ally in the country. Aloysius' eyes were torn away from the woods and looked back at Harry's assortment of gifts. Quickly, before the eyes of any nosey bystander caught sight, Aloysius tucked the jars away into his own jacket and winked at Harry.
"Yes," Aloysius seemed excited for once. Harry had hardly ever see him express emotions beyond jovial inebriation, or detached lackadaisical peculiarity. "This should be enough for a couple hours."
"Have you actually ever made Polyjuice before?" Harry asked him.
"Potion-making is dead simple. Instructions are all right there for you."
"Maybe," Harry reproached with doubt. "But if you're going to impersonate a senior official in the French Bureau and break into one of its most secure units, it might be a good idea to have a test batch."
"I ain't pushing my luck," Aloysius murmured, unconvinced. "Bloody ingredient controls. Even the small amount that we both bought separately could have been enough to make someone suspicious."
"So are we square?"
"Consider your tab clear."
"Good then I need another favor," Harry spoke quickly. "But remember, I'm not breaking into the Bureau with you."
"And I'm not dueling the Triads with you." The remark made Harry feel particularly stupid.
"So what's the favor?"
"Levasque is one of the top runners in Paris," Harry stated. "Meaning every little bit of information I'm recording from him is about the criminals he's passing messages between. The Triads top the list of deadly criminals I'd say. They're bound to turn up eventually."
"If you're lucky it's tomorrow."
"And if I'm not, it's in a year." Aloysius' gaze was already straying back to the woods. Harry's confidence took a dive – it had felt like a guilty pleasure to go on with these plans – though Aloysius was never a man to have a vested interest in anything. "I'm not waiting for the Triads to randomly come up in conversation. You'll meet with Levasque tomorrow and tell him exactly what I'm about to say: 'I have information on the one you are after'. Tell Levasque to send the message to the Triads. Don't worry if he claims ignorance – that message will get to them one way or another. And we'll be tracking it all the way.
"Seems easy enough. So why don't you do it?"
Aloysius could have been misunderstood as being flamboyant, but Harry knew him better. The man didn't seem to give a damn. Apparently that kind of disposition came with some calculated rose-colored lenses about the world he did not partake in. Harry held his breath and sucked on his teeth for a moment, trying to form a response. He was unsure about everything about this Aloysius character – except for the fact that Harry knew for a fact that he did not trust him. It was also for this reason that Harry neglected to tell Aloysius of his own last vial of Polyjuice. His handsome friend was languid but not stupid. He had asked the painfully obvious question, which warranted a better answer than Harry was prepared to give.
The idea of showing his face to a man who reportedly frequented meetings with the Triads, terrified Harry. The lone reason Harry could attribute to his present safety was that the Triads did not know he was here. Should he engage with Levasque, his anonymity may well have been forfeited.
"Alright alright," sighed Aloysius. "Don't give yourself a brain hernia – I don't really care that much. If you want to give away a favor, by all means, be my guest."
Harry sighed in relief. And so returned the relationship always replete in pragmatic function. "Tit for tat?"
"Tit for tat."
He saw before him, the sprawling city of Shanghai. It was the pinnacle of magical society – the very breadth of it made him weak at the knees even after sixty years of seeing it. Gentle oaked buildings peaked in scarlet tops underneath an orange sky. Dawn was breaking and from his terrace overlooking the harbor, he felt the early westerly breeze kiss his bare skin, scarred and wrinkled with the practice and memories of violence, crime and age. The cracked skin near his hands felt rewarded by the cool morning wind. A sweet melody lured him away from the balcony and the magnanimous sight, back into the palace of a building. The blood red pillars soared high and proud were the marbled tiles about his bare feet. He took a seat at the circular table. Moments later, a bald man entered and took their places beside him.
"Word from the mediator?" he asked.
The bald man nodded solemnly. "Harry Potter has fled the British Isles. To where he went, we do not know."
"Wei has failed us," he stated. "His rampage has left us in a precarious situation with Chang. Neither he nor the mediator seem to be able able to control Wei."
"Wei was a dog we should have put down long ago," said the other. "He had a violent disposition straying into psychopathic tendencies. I wonder when he decides to try and burn all of London down in retribution. And because of him, they are breathing down our necks. "
"We will find the boy again," he said confidently.
"And how long will that take?" exclaimed the other in supreme exasperation. "He has the whole world to hide in! It may take years! Decades!"
"If it takes decades, then we will search for decades," he declared. "All other pieces have been set. I have waited such a long time. A few years, or even tens of years, shall not be unto me, a cataclysmic delay. I do not care how long it takes."
"There are others who do," came the insistent reply.
There was another melody that pierced the hall. It was more urgent and less pretty than before as if the lay had become a lament, day into night and stars into darkness. He found this unbearably sad and his thoughts turned towards the injustices just beyond his chamber walls.
"We have news. There are rumored sightings of the Thief."
A head shook. "Hong Kong. The reports are dicey at best and the West always has had a penchant for mirages – it's too early to confirm. But if the rumors are true, he's headed our way."
"So he's managed to find a way into the most guarded nation in the world – twice," murmured he. "He may be a larger problem than we realized."
He stopped to think. A particularly harsh string of chords came from behind the walls. The harshness gave him resolve in dark ways he'd like to forget. He turned to his partner with steely eyes.
"But this problem like all problems, has a solution. He is strong and resourceful. But he is a man. One man cannot stop the future – he cannot stop us. For I have gathered the flames about me. His wicked hand cannot idly pass through. The Thief comes with faux justice on his mind, but he has also brought us a gift – the chance to reclaim what he stole, all those years ago. If he confronts us, he will burn."
The bald man ran a nervous hand down his neck. Another uncomely lament pierced their conversation. He saw the bald man look back to the door, suddenly.
"What was that?"
"Nothing to worry over," he replied coolly. "Just a temporary situation. It'll be moved to Fushan tomorrow."
The bald man started hesitantly. "Your experiment in Fushan. I haven't asked because I don't want to know. Still…is there anything I should know about?"
The question hung loose in the air. He grimaced. "A pet project of mind – nothing more. I do it on my own time with my own resources. No more important to us than your brothels in Nanjing."
He ended the conversation abruptly. His partner left without another word. He walked back out to the terrace. The sun was climbing and wispy weak clouds, the remnants of night's hold, were beaten and banished away by the heat and immensity of the rising sun. The city now bathed in gold. Rays like the tongues of flames, licked at the city, growing in size and passion until the shadows became small and cowered away. Like a divine veil, it fell, like a wave, towards him – a straight-way skyline edging towards him like the falling golden curtains of the world. It reached him and blanketed him. He could feel its heat. He could feel its intensity. He looked again at the city – glistening with the light of day and sparkle of sea. Its reach and breadth were unfathomable. But the reach of the Triads had long since found masterful range. They had conquered all the earth. Compared to the world, one boy was nothing. But all the same…he was worth more than every other thing on the planet.
The world was too small a place for Harry Potter to hide.
Dark ebony doors laid before Severus Snape. Its engravings were viciously jagged and daunting. The sky above was strewn with dark clouds that cut short the day and brought an early twilight to the mansion in Northern Ireland. Snape limped forward. Burns still covered the greater part of the left side of his body. His hair had loosely grown back but every motion was still a pain. Snape dragged his left leg behind him as he reached the gate. Stooping low, he pushed up the sleeve of his robes and pressed his forearm against the cold bare gate. It seared and burned him before the gates opened before him and Snape walked into the lair of darkness.
There were many hallways, emptying to great high-ceilinged rooms expected of tenants of such stature and prestige. All were dimly lit with hauntingly green-licked flames and pale white lights, dancing about the floor like little snowflakes who had forgotten to melt. There were more gates, and more times Snape had to bear the burn in his forearm before continuing forth. At last he found the great chamber and before it was a snake – larger than any others with venom in its glare as much as its bite. An unholy pseudo scion of the wretched Basilisk creature. It gave Snape the chills as it hissed violently. Snape cautiously stepped over it and prayed it would not sense his fear.
The doors before him opened and he entered the chamber, already filled with innumerable guests. They were hushed in conversation before they spotted Snape – his heavy bandages visible even underneath the robes. They jeered at him as the Potions master approached the head of the table. Looks of smugness and arrogance were shot about the room – the Dark Lord's favorite had fallen on some unfortunate times.
"Enough!" came the absolute thundering cry and none were strong enough to resist the command. They fell into silence and Snape looked up at the haunting image of a snake-faced man with slits for eyes and the cruelest of gazes. Lord Voldemort had never appeared so absolutely…present.
"My Lord," Snape grimaced as he bowed low. To his relief, his master beckoned him to sit.
"It is good to see you Severus," spoke Voldemort – the jeer in his tone had not been masked. "I haven't heard from you in such a long time. Many of us here thought maybe you might had turned."
There were more laughs behind Snape. "Never!" he insisted viciously. "My…my injuries…it has been a long ongoing recovery."
Snape swallowed. "I…I assume you know most of it by now…according to my source, a senior official attached to the Minister's office sent a pair of Dementors after Harry Potter about three weeks ago. The boy fought them off but then…he was attacked."
"A new party?"
Snape shook his head and feared retribution. "The Triads."
"We put that affair behind us months ago!" roared the Death Eater Yaxley. He was sent cowering into muteness by his master's intent.
Snape continued in a film of sweat. "They attacked him in the street, in his home, in the air and then finally at the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix – where the boy sought refuge. They casted some devil's enchantment. It destroyed most of the area in little over a second. I can confirm many members of the Order of the Phoenix are dead. I'm bound by oath and cannot say who – however as they are not members, I can say that the Weasley children have all perished. I escaped right before the blast – the Floo network collapsed on me as I was inflight."
A laugh of vicious glee went into the air. Several quips of bloodtraitors were thrown, though the laugh of Lucius Malfoy was louder than them all. Snape sometimes wondered how genuine it all was.
"He fled the country after being chased by Aurors," Snape continued. "The Order has been infiltrated by the Triads – Harry Potter can no longer rely on them. Not even Dumbledore and his allies know why the Triads are after him. For Potter's part he's being aided by junior Auror Nymphadora Tonks."
"The Metamorphmagus in Dumbledore's service!" snarled the elder Nott. "Can we find her blood traitor mother?"
Snape shook his head. "The Order has sent her across the Atlantic for her protection. More importantly, no one knows where Potter is now. He lost the Aurors in the international Portkey chambers. Scrimgeour himself pursued, and he still hasn't been found."
"The Triads are after Harry Potter," Voldemort whispered in a deadly silence. More to himself than others, Death Eaters around him shivered.
There was a bone-chilling fright as if the Dark Lord was almost shaking in fury. However, there was something else that Snape sensed from the Dark Lord. Anger, of course, there was to spare but there was some strange undertone…nervousness? Uncertainty? Snape could not fathom the origins of either Voldemort's ire or his anxiety and he tried to stay away from the erratic and violent lashes of Voldemort's rising rage. None had seen the Dark Lord in such a state since Potter had managed to slink away from the Graveyard. Now, many began to tremble before the might and unmitigated furiousness of their lord.
"Let them have the boy," called one of the Carrows, obliviously. "They'll deal with him for us."
"HE IS NOT THEIRS TO TAKE!"
Voldemort's bellow was followed by the agonizing whimpering of Alecto Carrow, her body spent under the Cruciatus curse. However, the ire of Voldemort seemed all the more terrifying. There was a tempered quietness as these loyal Death Eaters waited on their master in trepidation. He looked up at them with an inscrutable gaze.
"Lucius, accelerate your plans – by the end of the week."
Upright at once, stood one Lucius Malfoy – his sparkling white blonde hair betrayed signs of greying. He was now by far the most powerful man in the room but before Voldemort he was simply another minion. The new Chief Warlock bowed low.
Lucius Malfoy looked aghast but Voldemort had already stood and made for the door. "Severus! Come."
Snape stood up awkwardly and struggled to keep up with Voldemort's protracted pace, fueled by fury and something far beyond Snape's understanding. Lucius had the wisdom not to challenge his master on the insanity of his order. They walked in a grueling silence save for the deliberate echoes of their footsteps down the hall.
"Forgive me, my Lord. But I do not understand."
"You think it's pride, do you?" sneered Voldemort, not bothering to turn. "You think I am undone by petty hubris that I should risk well laid plans to sate this vanity and kill the boy myself?"
Snape fell silent and did not respond – Voldemort's motives had gone beyond Severus' ability to comprehend them. There were strangled cries to the room on his left. The Dark Lord did not miss a step as he strode past. Snape hesitated for a moment and peered inside – recoiling immediately. Inside were a handful of the most dilapidated and emaciated people Snape had ever seen. They seemed more akin to the inmates of Azkaban than the folk of the living world. He suppressed a shudder and followed the Dark Lord.
They descended to the basement – it was noticeably grimmer. The dark sleek polish of the walls became impossibly darker and the smooth wooden finish became less refined. They continued to descend the steps of the mansion until they reached a point where the mirage of extravagance failed. Clearly this was not a floor to house treasured guests. Voldemort barely moved his wand and a giant wooden door was flung open loudly. Behind stood the alarmed and terrified face of Peter Pettigrew. He audibly whimpered at the sight of his master, in all his anger, descending on him. The shriveled husk of a man – face permanently etched between terror and loathing – shrunk even further. Every time he saw him, Snape thought Pettigrew looked less and less a man.
"The potion," whispered Voldemort. "The guide you were given to create it – give it to me Wormtail."
Wormtail quivered and his lip trembled. The moment of hesitation was enough for Voldemort's short fuse to at last, light properly. A low hanging painting, the lone adornment in Wormtail's shabby room, exploded, shards of the metallic frame and ripped paper flying in the air. Voldemort's eyes never left that of his terrified lackey.
"NOW WORMTAIL!" he roared. "I'll deal with your incompetence and stupidity at a later date!"
No more than a second after a shaky hand had handed Voldemort the heavy book, the Dark Lord snorted at Wormtail in disgust and turned on his heels. Snape did not spare Pettigrew a second glance. They ascended the stairs and came to stop in front of a grand study that had been appropriated into an impressive laboratory. Vials, arcane liquids and harsh ingredients were hovering above their heads, waiting to be called upon. Snape caught the heavy book that was thrown with some force at him. Voldemort had never seemed more menacing or explosive than this day.
"You will concoct the potion exactly as is described in the book," Voldemort stated venomously. "You will report to me the functions of every ingredient, and of the sum of its parts. Know that if you are lying to me or if you miss anything, I will show you pain worse than any you could imagine. A thousand curses will not compare with what I shall do to you if you fail me, Severus."
Snape's brow was crunched in fear and apprehension. He gazed at the first page of the tome.
"Bone of the father…unknowingly given…you will renew your son?" Sweat ran down the Potion master's back and he swallowed hard. "If…if the Triads want to kill Potter, why don't we let them?"
Snape saw his master staring at him through the black-arched doorway with rage bordering untold madness. He stared a hateful glare that far outweighed any confusion Snape might have had about the situation. Before the door was slammed shut, he heard Voldemort speak once more.
"What makes you think they're trying to kill him?