Before the sun broke over the landscape, I was in a tree, surveying the outer edges of the wards surrounding the property. As the light slowly filtered through the morning fog, filling the sky with a beautiful palette of oranges and reds, I double checked my belongings while waiting patiently.
I could have simply attacked the wards. With my brother wands and innate magical strength, I could easily bring them down in maybe five minutes, though it would be draining to do so. The problem with using that tactic lay with the after effects; it would be like kicking over an anthill. Every witch and wizard in the area would swarm out with the intention of defending the place. Given the simplistic, if strong layout, I had to assume that there were some more, unseen defensive measures.
I’d done some thinking in the privacy of my room last night. One of the conclusions I’d arrived at was that as strong as the wards were from assault from without, the way they were layered meant that it would be an all but trivial exercise to bring them down from within. I suppose like any good defenses, they should hamper those attacking, but not those defending, but if even one attacker got behind them, they could be nullified. If I was going to use that particular layout, it would be to slow down a small group of intruders, with the intention of setting off another trap.
And since I couldn’t take the time to slow down, I had to get behind them quickly. And that meant bringing them down quickly, to get behind them.
The air was bitingly cold, and my breath clouded in front of my face. I took a deep, steadying breath, and prepared to enter the lair.
Even though I was sort of expecting it, the detonation from the far side of the manor startled me. It wasn’t particularly powerful, but in the still morning air, it shattered the peace like one of Ron’s thunderous farts at four in the morning in Gryffindor Tower. The shouts and swearing coming from the various parts of the manor amused me no end.
I slowly climbed down the tree, wishing not for the first time that I’d brought along my Firebolt. It would have made this sort of foray so much easier. I reached the base of the tree and checked to see that my invisibility robe was in place. I was taking my backpack with me on this little jaunt, so the last thing I wanted was for part of me to be visible in an effort to keep my belongings invisible. I took out my Gryffindor scarf and wrapped it around my head, covering my mouth and nose. If it wasn’t for the hood of the invisibility robe, the scarlet and gold material wouldn’t exactly do much for my sneaking around, but it would keep the vapour from my breath from being noticed.
As I expected, the wards on the side closest to me flickered and died suddenly, and I took that opportunity to race through the boundary. The tiny cemetery on the other side was ancient, with several headstones completely covered with moss and fungi. I spared a thought for those who had gone before, wondering if their ancestral property had been subverted by the current occupants, or if this had always been a magical household. I shook my head to clear it, and continued on.
Now that I was through that first defensive layer, I became rather more cautious. I kept to the stone path where I could in an effort to avoid any soft ground that could give my footsteps away. I managed to make it to a sheltered niche in the manor wall before a dozen men in various states of undress converged on the cemetery with wands drawn and sleep in their eyes.
A rapid-fire conversation in German followed. I couldn’t even make out the only swear word I knew in their language, they were talking so fast. Eventually, a consensus was reached, and the group split up. Three left to go back to the source of the detonation, while the rest stayed behind to re-erect the wards. I found it interesting that the semi-clothed ones didn’t even take the time to transfigure their underwear into robes in the brisk morning air. That in and of itself told me that preserving the outer defenses was a priority to them.
I left the main group, and tailed along behind the trio. They led me away from the cemetery, and around the side of the manor itself. It was rather nice to have them lead me directly to the source of the explosion. I had wondered briefly how I was going to find the place without help, but apparently I’ve developed a rather sizeable karmic debt.
I followed my unwitting guides to the far side of the property, where another dozen or so more wizards were examining the site of a recent bang. The site itself was trivial to identify; there was only one part of the garden that had a scorched earth look going. The grass around ground zero was blackened and flattened angling away from the epicentre. There didn’t seem to be any other damage, to either the nearby buildings, or to any living being.
Given the sheer number of detection spells they were casting, I kept my distance and observed the group by sticking my head round the last corner. With a nod, I reached into my robe and withdrew the object around which my entry plans had been developed.
I gave the time turner a small-twist, and was immediately sent back maybe quarter of an hour in time. I closed my eyes to avoid the sensation of disorientation, and when I opened them, the morning light was all but gone, the ground was pristine, and the place was silent again.
Hey, if the goblins don’t think in the fourth dimension, these guys certainly wouldn’t.
I stepped over to the grassed area that had been blackened less than a minute ago in my personal frame of reference. I pulled out one of the louder Wheezes I owned from my backpack. One thing Neville taught me about potions was that with a little applied incompetence, you could make even the simplest magical brew explode.
It was the work of a few moments to gently prise open the cardboard collar of a firework Wheeze and pour in a few drops of Potensavenenum. The powder inside congealed into a thick, ugly looking paste. The instant the paste started to smoke, I dropped the whole mixture into one of the healing draughts I kept in my bag as a matter of course. I put it gently on the ground, and bolted back round the corner. In a few moments, it crackled, spat, then went bang. With extreme alacrity.
Well, that was fun.
This close to the detonation, my ears began ringing, but there was not a lot of damage done to anything but the lawn. I carefully made my way back to the cemetery, and drew my wands. With the distraction on the other side of the house, there were no prying eyes to interfere with my work. I gave the wards a small prod and poke, doing the magical equivalent of pulling on a thread, unravelling them from behind in an instant. The cascade failure was rather colourful too.
I stepped back to one side and tried to see if I could make myself out in the steely dawn light. The only thing I noticed was some of the taller strands of grass waving briefly in a non-existent wind, but unless I was looking for it, I’m sure I wouldn’t have spotted it. I couldn’t even make out a shimmer as my younger self took up the aforementioned spot in a handy niche.
It was interesting to see the same group of wizards approach the cemetery from a different perspective. This time, I was on the other side of the cemetery to the manor, hiding by leaning against one of the larger headstones. I was tempted to stick around to see what sort of techniques they used to put the ward barriers back up, but I figured that would push the limits of my luck. I carefully crept off around the manor in the opposite direction to where the other version of me went, hoping to avoid most of the excitement.
I wondered just how confused the inhabitants would be as they tried to figure out how someone got in behind their wards before they actually came down. I was banking on the main theory being an inside job, which would mean that there would be a great many fingers pointed for at least the next hour or so. Someone focused on defending their actions and preventing being blamed tended to be a little more distracted than usual.
With my acromantula gloves on, I climbed up the side of the main building, and looked around at the grounds from the high vantage point. The main building was connected to three smaller structures, each accessible by a covered walkway. I spent the next half hour watching the comings and goings of a lot of seriously pissed off wizards. It didn’t take much to observe the security techniques they used to enter the building at the various entrances.
I didn’t see Narcissa Malfoy though. I’d had time to think about that too. She was supposed to be in Auror custody, and I suppose she may well still be. Kellermann may be working for her, but I had no way of knowing exactly when she had retained his services. If she had done so before trying to get here, then it was logical to assume she was still safely in custody. However, I knew that keeping a pure-blooded princess of the bigoted world in custody was somehow difficult for people obsessed with who your great-grandparents were. For all I knew, she was out and about, footloose and free.
Eventually the furore below died down. Most of the wizards went back to whatever they were doing beforehand, though a fair sized group disapparated to destinations unknown. If they were bringing reinforcements, I’d have to hurry.
I clambered down the side of the building again, and went straight for one of the doors. It was time to get this party started.
Once inside the building, it didn’t take too long before I found something interesting. As a matter of fact, it took such a short amount of time not even Ron would have accepted it as lucky.
As a matter of fact one of the first rooms I entered was a vast hall. Though a far cry from the magnificence of Hogwarts’ Great Hall, for a rural manor house in , it was impressive. Two stories tall, the ceiling was a thatch of thick, criss-crossing wooden beams. A U-shaped balcony, supported by six sturdy columns, ran around the left, far and right walls of the room, allowing access to the rooms on the second level. The wall behind me, above the double-doors I’d just entered, was lined with portraits. Two spiral staircases in the far corners of the hall stood from the ground to the balcony.
At the far end of the hall, between the staircases, a golden goblet sat on a plinth.
Yeah, that’s not suspicious. Not suspicious at all. Someone here thinks I’m still the same impulsive Gryffindor I was as a child.
I could almost feel the people behind the doors of the second level, just waiting to burst out and spring the trap around the goblet. Well, let’s give them a show.
I stepped to the side of the door, and slowly climbed up the wall, avoiding the numerous portraits. It took a few minutes, but eventually I managed to grip the main ceiling joist, and hauled myself into the nest of wooden supports. I carefully threaded my way through them until I was about half-way along the hall. While I wasn’t an architect by any stretch, there seemed to be many more beams up here than strictly necessary. More than one shifted treacherously as I put my weight on it, making any forward gains exciting to say the least. Bloody incompetent carpenters.
Finally, I was in position to make an initial survey of the defenses in the building. I drew my holly wand, and took aim at the goblet. One bludgeoning curse later, and around a dozen or so magical defenses flared to life, exploding with a wonderfully colourful display of impotent power. Of course, anyone standing next to the goblet would have been severely inconvenienced, but I was too far away to suffer anything other than afterimages from the flashes.
As I expected, about a third of the doors on the second level balcony burst open within a few moments of the trap springing, and several wizards stood along the balcony with their wands pointing downwards into the main hall. Nine, I counted. The main doors to the hall proper burst open too, admitting another quartet of wizards, all of whom were wearing the same style of robes.
I smirked as I mentally ran through the spells I knew that were colourless and were within my ability to cast silently. One came to mind quickly, and with a quick flick, I sent a mild concussion hex at the feet of those who had just entered. It didn’t do anything to them directly except frighten them, but that was enough to crank their paranoia level up to eleven. That’s the thing about ambushes. If you turn the predators into prey, they tend to get rattled easily. Judging from the expressions on the faces I could see clearly, their morning just wasn’t going well at all. Every wizard in the room except for Yours Truly was shouting something or other.
I silently cast the spell again, this time aiming for one of the wizards, rather than the floor in front of them. His thigh shattered under the assault, staining his robes with blood while his scream drew the attention of everyone in the room. Instantly, bedlam ensued.
Under the cover of the noise and confusion, I tossed a more powerful hex at the support columns for the walkway, shattering the trio of columns holding one side up. The six wizards on that side of the balcony fell to the floor amid a hail of woodchips and sawdust. I couldn’t help but grin; this was going so well.
Someone shrieked in English, “He’s invisible! Activate the secondary defenses!”
That caught my attention. The wizards below who were still mobile sprinted away from the centre of the hall, putting their backs against the walls. They then started sending curses at the ceiling, which worried me briefly, until I saw that the spells was not aimed at me.
It was aimed at the beams. The useless, loose beams that I’d carefully climbed over, then ignored.
All along the ceiling, timber flared and exploded, sending a mass of kindling hurtling downwards. I thought for a second I’d unwittingly managed to evade their trap by being in the wooden supports, but with a stomach-jumbling shift, the whole mess detached from the roof and fell towards the floor. With nothing to grab hold of, I was taken along for the ride. I managed to get a single cushioning charm off at the floor below me which undoubtedly saved me from being killed on impact, but a piece of aerial firewood caught me behind the ear, knocking me out.
A very familiar drawl intruded on my enforced nap. “Well, well, if it isn’t Saint Potter.”
I stiffened briefly, knowing the impossibility of that voice. “You appear to have me at a disadvantage,” I slurred as I blinked my unfocused eyes open and looked up, playing for time. As my vision cleared, I counted at least five wands pointed at me from various directions, making any thoughts of aggression wait in line until I’d done some threat assessment. I lay on the floor of the hall amongst shattered pieces of timber, remnants of my snipers nest. From the extent of the wreckage, anyone not against the wall when the whole lot came down would have been in serious danger. I swallowed and focused as I took in the visage in front of me. “You do look vaguely familiar, though.” I slowly reached up and gingerly touched my head. There was a sticky mess behind my right ear.
Draco Malfoy frowned slightly, not expecting that answer. “Have you been obliviated?”
I shook my head, managing to keep from wincing, while looking at him intently. I hadn’t seen the ferret since I’d blown his hand to pieces. Blaise and Hermione told me that he had died at the battle of Hogwarts, after creating a diversion for the teachers. Obviously, someone was either mistaken or covering for him. It appeared that he hadn’t exactly got off lightly from the battle either. It had been a year ago, and yet faint scars covered Malfoy’s forehead, and crossed one side of his face, down his cheek, and gave his left eye a nasty squint.
It also gave me a new view on just who the skinhead in the toilet was talking about. I had assumed it had been Narcissa Malfoy he had referred to, being the only Malfoy I knew at the time who was still counted among the living. Obviously, the ferret had managed to pull a fast one on the world. Rather impressive really. Rilifa’s comments on the inconsistencies of Draco’s will now made a bit more sense. I probably should have followed up on that.
“Wait,” I said, with a theatrical expression of recollection, trying to drag the conversation out to give me time to get a bearing on where everyone was. “Fal-something or other, right? Falmoy? Falboy? Didn’t you go to Hogwarts?” I asked, while examining my surroundings.
Draco spluttered. “Malfoy!” he roared at me. “Draco Malfoy!”
I pursed my lips together for a second, as though thinking deeply, then shook my head, gently this time. “Nope, doesn’t ring a bell. Are you sure we knew each other?” I assumed an expression of superiority, aiming for an insulting level of patronisation. “Or were you one of my groupies that used to hang around and wait for a glimpse of your hero? I could sign something for you if you like?”
Fuck, it was easy to push his buttons. The only thing Malfoy ever really had going for him was his name. He had no special skills or magical ability, just his family’s influence. The idea that his arch-enemy from childhood wouldn’t remember him just sent him into a pants-wetting tantrum. I steeled myself to push my way out of this.
As delightful as it was to poke the ferret into a frothing apoplexy, a second voice entered the conversation. “Idiot boy, he is distracting you. Keep your wits about you,” the voice said in a German accent.
I turned to face the second voice. It was familiar, but unless the British Aurors were completely incompetent, he shouldn’t be here either. “I don’t recognise your voice either, Mr…?”
“Oh,” I said. Yep, I may as well rename the Ministry’s law enforcement arm the bloody Keystone Kops. They can’t even conduct an illegal rendition properly. “Nice to meet you. Wait, weren’t you found in a toilet block in Berlin with a gorilla? What sort of sexual perversions do you people practise?”
Unlike Malfoy, Kellermann didn’t react in any way to my taunting. He just stunned me. How bloody inconsiderate, not giving me the opportunity to escape.
The next time I was conscious, I found myself sitting on a polished wooden floor, with my back against a thick wooden column, wide enough that my shoulders. My arms were shackled above my head at my wrists. The room itself was light and airy, which was confusing to say the least. Seeing that I was awake, Malfoy stepped in front of me with a trademarked smirk, and kicked my ankle.
“Well, Potter, finally I get to break you.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You call this a dungeon?” I asked, looking around the room. The way the roof sloped, I’d say we were in an attic. “Malfoy, you really need to get your sense of theatrics looked at. Merlin’s balls, you lived in a dungeon for seven years, couldn’t you come up with something better than this?” I noted the position of two guards on the inside of the only door to the room. Both had their wands at the ready, but not aimed at me. It would appear that competence isn’t absorbed by association, if Malfoy was any indication.
His grey eyes flashed dangerously. “Shut up! Dumbledore’s not here to protect you this time. I’m going to enjoy this. I think I’ll slice off you hand,” he said, running my own damned wand along the inside of my shackled wrist.
I rolled my eyes. “I’m sure any pre-pubescent Hufflepuff would be terrified right now. Perhaps you could tell me which of the seven thousand or so times I humiliated you that I needed Dumbledore to come rushing to my aid?”
He made a fist and backhanded me across the cheek. It stung, but his sudden need to hide that fist behind his back and flex his fingers sort of ruined the action as far as I could tell. I did note that it was his left hand. All through school, he’d used his right hand for everything: wandwork, writing, reaching in vain for the snitch, everything. I wondered briefly just how badly damaged his fine motor skills were on his repaired hand.
“Actually, I do remember something. Didn’t you die?” I asked pointedly, fishing for information.
Malfoy smirked. “That’s what I wanted people to think,” he said, still trying to pretend his hand wasn’t hurting. I learned that lesson less than a week ago. If you are going to his someone with your fist, hit their body. Use a rock if you want to hit them in the head. “Unlike you, I know how to plan.”
I reflected deeply on Malfoy’s idiotic posturing throughout our mutual time at Hogwarts, specifically on the times he failed to account for the fact that he was outgunned during his taunting episodes on the Hogwarts Express. “Historical evidence to the contrary not withstanding,” I interjected. “How many times did you need assistance getting off the Hogwarts Express?”
That earned me a kick in the side. I hissed as I drew breath through clenched teeth.
The glee on Malfoy’s face at his tormenting was fairly disturbing in its mindlessness. He crouched down, smirking at my position. “It was easy enough. I knew that we had been given a suicide mission. The Dark Lord expected us to be captured. But it wasn’t hard to cast the Imperius on a few of the Slytherin traitors of your Dumbledore’s Army idiots. I made them hit me with minor spells, and then take me to the Infirmary. I’d cast the Imperius on Pomfrey beforehand. She treated me first, gave me a Draught of the Living Death, and kept me in a separate ward while claiming I had died.”
I was impressed, despite myself. “You actually thought ahead? And took into account the fact that you might fail? Malfoy, I am impressed. You’ve actually come to terms with your own inadequacies. Well done! I honestly didn’t think that you’d ever recognise the limits of your admittedly very meagre abilities.”
Malfoy’s mauve features contorted into a mask of insane fury as he stood, and he once more slammed his booted foot into my side. I felt a rib give way with a sharp sliver of pain. He raised my wand and took aim at my heart. “Crucio!” came the expected spell.
I stiffened, tightening every muscle I could. The pain lancing through me was intolerable, but not a patch on Voldemort’s effort. It still took my entire will not to scream. After a century, the pain stopped.
I gasped, my broken rib making even breathing difficult. But after being subjected to that curse, the white-hot knife sensation felt almost cleansing. I slumped down, letting my shackled arms support my weight.
“What?” Malfoy demanded, sounding incredulous. I’d obviously missed something while exercising my vocal chords.
One of the guards spoke. “I said enough. He needs to be able to speak, and he can’t if he bites through his tongue. Kellermann said we need to question him.”
Malfoy snarled at him. “Shut up, kraut! I give the orders here.”
Both guards stiffened, but kept their expressions neutral. “No, you don’t.”
Malfoy twirled my wand around in his fingers, looking like a petulant boy trying to intimidate two seasoned wizards. Funny that. “Potter here knows nothing.”
“He knows what the Master’s Horcrux looks like. He knew where to find us. He also got past our wards without tripping them. That alone should tell you that we need to extract more information.”
Malfoy actually stamped his foot with toddler-like petulance. It was all I could do not to laugh at him. “Fine, get Kellermann. We’ll ask him whatever he wants to, and then I get to turn his brain to mush afterwards. I’ve waited too long for this.”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes at his immaturity, settling for remaining in my current position. The two Germen guards shared a pointed look filled with contempt, then nodded to Malfoy. One turned and left through the tiny door, bending over to fit through the five-foot tall doorway.
Well, that just improved my odds dramatically. I kept my eyes closed while I gently drew in a breath, ready to push Malfoy through the wall and out over the grounds. His expression ought to be pensieve-worthy. If after this I happen to run across Narcissa and find myself in a position to assist in shuffling her off the mortal coil, Dobby may just be diagnosed with the first house-elf case of pensieve-addiction.
“Potter?” he demanded. I ignored him. “You hear that, Potter? I’m going to make you wish you had never been born!” Malfoy said, proving yet again that inbreeding limits mental development past the age of twelve.
I mentally sighed. Even in my current predicament, I still maintained a fundamental level of control of the situation, merely by retaining the ability to manipulate Malfoy’s emotions. The idiot seemed too easy to enrage. He seemed too easy to push into a frothing frenzy. I was about to push him away when a thought occurred to me.
I blinked. I wonder…
“Malfoy?” I croaked, my throat not having recovered completely. “That Horcrux you’re carrying? It’s making you stupid.”
Hie eyes narrowed, but his hand did go to a pocket in his robes. How the hell did this guy ever get sorted into a House that prized subtlety? Still, it was nice to know where the bloody thing was. “How would you know what I’m carrying?”
I started laughing, beginning with a soft chuckle, building up to a full belly laugh, only stopping when the pain in my side flared again. “Well, perhaps stupider would be a better term.”
Once more, my holly wand came to bear, but before Malfoy could utter a curse, Kellermann stormed in, holding my belongings. “Malfoy! Enough!”
Once more, my old Hogwarts’ chum turn purple at being ordered about. “I give the orders! I pay you, remember?”
Kellermann ignored his outburst. “Leave. Now,” the whip-like man said in a tone that brooked no argument. Malfoy looked on the verge of an apoplexy before he spun on his heel and left, but not before gracing me with a threatening sneer.
I yawned at him.
Once Malfoy had left, sporting what could only be described as an imminent aneurism, Kellermann stood over me, simply looking down. With the second guard back in the room, my window of opportunity to attack only two wizards had been closed. I could try to push all three away, but I still had to get my hands free afterwards. Think, Harry, think!
Kellermann casually waved his wand, conjuring a dust cloth-covered table to my right. Once magically in place, the German emptied the contents of my backpack onto his creation, and began sorting through them.
The first thing he held up was my yew wand. “Where did you get this?”
Seeing no purpose in lying, I simply said, “From your Master’s headless corpse.” Well, there was no purpose in lying, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t try to crack his composure.
Nothing, not even a flicker of emotion. He was too experienced to become angry no matter what taunting he received. He slipped the wand into his pocket and held up my homemade gloves. “These?”
“I made them.”
That at least got me an appreciative nod. He put them down and fingered my invisibility cloak and robe. “This robe is interesting. Did you make it too?”
“Not exactly,” I replied, wondering where this was going.
He grinned humourlessly. “I suspect that means that you had an invisibility cloak sewn into this, then.”
“Two, actually, and I did the sewing,” I said, wondering if he was going to go through every item I owned. If so, my chance to escape would come very shortly.
“You owned three?” He sounded surprised at that. I suppose they are rare enough that an older family may only own one.
“I inherited one. That’s the one that’s still whole. I stole one from a Death Eater in Hogsmeade during the last battle there, and the other was given to me by someone called Falcone for not hurting him,” I said, trying to be Mr. Helpful. Kellermann was too experienced to be fooled, but the two guards at the small door may relax.
Kellermann stared at me for about twenty seconds before he nodded to himself. “I see. You have an interesting collection here. This, for instance, is a restricted item in every country in Europe,” he said holding up the timeturner.
“I found it in a vault,” I said flatly, glancing at the rest of my gear. I grinned tightly. The portkey sock was on top of the pile.
With a slight push, I sent the sock tumbling off the table. Kellermann frowned, but bent over, still holding the timeturner. “A sock?” he asked, picking it up and turning it over in his hand. It must have looked out of place in the middle of high quality gear.
“I got it from the Chamber.”
“What Chamber?” he asked, before vanishing as the portkey activation word whisked him away. I tried calculating the probability of him fairing well against a two thousand year old basilisk even with a timeturner, but gave that up quickly. I can’t do mental arithmetic with numbers that small.
The guards gaped mutely at the space their boss had recently resided, before I shoved them hard into the wall with a sharp push. The sound of their skulls hitting the wall echoed loudly in the confines of the attic. One slumped down directly under the indentation he made in the wall, but the other must have had an internal support behind him, because he bounced part of the way back to me, lying just a metre or so away from my feet. Finally, some luck goes my way.
I kicked off my sneakers and shuffled my feet forward, hanging painfully from my wrists. My side was on fire, but I managed to grip the fallen guard’s sleeve with my toes. With a massive, ineffective effort, I slowly dragged him close enough to gingerly pick up his wand with my toes. Looking like a drunk doing yoga, I carefully tried to raise the pilfered wand up to my hands. I failed three times without even getting close, only to discover that my time had run out.
The short door opened and two wizards entered. The first stopped and stared at the scene in shock while his friend was still ducking into the room. The lead chap was blocking his partner’s view, but I knew that wouldn’t stay the case for long. As he went for his wand, I gathered my strength and pushed him as hard and as sharply as I could. Exhibit A smashed into Exhibit B, sending them both careening through the open door. There was obviously a stairwell right behind them, because both disappeared amid the very familiar sound of someone falling down a flight of stairs. Alarmed shouts hinted at the fact that my life was about to get even more interesting very soon.
I finally I managed to grip the wand with my fingertips on my next attempt. Despite the fact that the wand was very difficult for me to use, I was quickly free of the shackles and rising to my feet like a bad-tempered kraken from the depths. Damn, if felt good to get angry again. It distracted me from the pain in my ribs.
I cast a charm that slammed the door shut, and finished up with the strongest locking spell I could manage. Both were pathetically underpowered, and probably wouldn’t delay any wizard more than a few seconds. I grabbed a single healing potion from my cache and threw it down my throat in a single gulp. I threw the empty glass vial at the door, shattering it and paving the entrance with painful shards. I quickly stuffed everything else into my bag. I didn’t notice anything missing, except for the timeturner and my wands, one now residing with Kellerman’s corpse in the Chamber of Secrets, the other held hostage by Malfoy.
The door was blown off its hinges, showering me with splinters. I blindly threw a cutting curse at about knee height at the door and threw myself behind the pillar, putting my back against it. The shriek of pain told me that I’d hit something, and the sound that followed may just distract the others who were trying to attack me.
Despite how difficult it was to use, I waved the wand and threw a blob of acid over my shoulder towards the door. It was a particularly dark spell, one when cast properly would dissolve the flesh from your bones, but it was tailor made for when all your targets were within a small area. More screams ensued, sounding a mite more urgent than immediately before. I clenched my teeth and thought quickly. I needed cover, or at least concealment. My gear was in my bag, on a table not three feet from me, but to get there meant that I had to expose myself to at least three hostile wands. The pillar was wide enough to cover me, but once it was gone, so was I.
One of the buggers kept his wits, since the pillar, which up to now had been nearly two feet square, was transfigured into sand. I swore to myself and dove to the floor, cushioning my side as best I could. Two spells flew through the air I had just vacated. I rolled onto my back and looked at the pile of sand that was the only thing standing between me the chaps who were displaying a pressing need to have a detailed discussion over some of the finer points of magical combat.
Figuring that offence was probably more useful at this point than defense, I cast the strongest heating charm I knew at the sand, making it glow a reddish-white. I then pushed it hard, sending a wave of tiny, burning missiles towards my attackers, who could only be described as standing within a funnel.
A cacophony of yelps, shouts, swearing and pitiful wails followed my actions, all of which sounded quite delightful to my ears. I cast a quick shield, rolled to one side and got to my knees. Each wizard in the doorway I could make out was slapping, at the hundreds of burning pinpricks in their eyes, their hair, their robes. The lead fellow was rubbing his hands violently across his face, doing even more damage to the burned tissue.
A sudden groaning registered on me, and I felt the world shift sideways. My eyes widened at the site of the floor buckling around where the support pillar should have been, before the whole attic shuddered, and fell.
There was an instant of weightlessness, during which even the agonised screams of the sand-covered wizards didn’t register on me. The entire world seemed suspended for an instant of sheer terror. Then, time and sound returned.
I couldn’t even keep my wits about me enough to cast a shield spell, or even a cushioning charm, even if I did know where I was going to land. Amid the timbers, furniture, dust and other assorted detritus, I landed hard on the timber floor below the attic, my rib sending a sharp wave of pain through my side that threatened to render me senseless. I curled into a ball and simply pushed in all directions, doing all I could to keep from being killed by the falling material.
Finally, there was a lull in the unwelcome activity. I blinked my eyes open and looked around. The room I now inhabited was filled with broken wood, tiles and other building materials, interspaced with ruined tables, cabinets and picture frames. I was in the centre of a relatively clear area, with only the items I’d fallen onto remaining nearby. I pushed my way off the pile, nearly swooning in agony. Blood from a cut on my scalp blinded me, and I felt like I had more bruises than a crate of apples used by trainee jugglers. I couldn’t see my gear amongst the debris, meaning that I had little more than an unfamiliar wand to my credit.
I did, however, have a relatively unique opportunity to get the hell out of here.
I swayed back and forth unsteadily for a few moments, before my mind began functioning again. I cast a disillusionment charm, and proceeded into a less damaged part of the building.
Almost immediately, I heard the petulant, shrill tones of someone whose plans have gone awry. I just had to smile at the tantrum Malfoy was throwing. It took me a few minutes to find my way through the damaged rooms to a part of the house that was undamaged, from where I could follow the adolescent whining. I carefully peeked through an open door and found them standing on the undamaged portion of the balcony around the main hall.
Malfoy and a pair of goons stood at the door leading directly to the ruined portion of the manor. Even here in the hall, the effect of removing a section of the supporting structure was evident. Part of the room was lopsided, making it trivial to spot where the attic that had doubled temporarily as my prison had been located. Even from here, I could see the temporary charms supporting the structure. I suspect that the fact that the supports for the ceiling were currently on the floor below meant that the remaining load-bearing pillars were more necessary than usual. Looks like this manor is coming down.
Rather than leap out and attack like a Gryffindor, I took the time to perform some threat assessment. I wanted to make sure that any path I took to attack would be covered. I spent a few seconds calculating angles and whatnot, erected an anti-apparition jinx, and then launched my attack.
My two bone-shattering curses careered into the backs of Malfoy’s two lackeys, shattering their spines. Without imminent medical attention neither of them would walk again, even if they lived. My juvenile sense of fair play protested weakly at my actions, but my sense of pragmatism drilled into my skull unmercifully by Zab over two years overruled it. Stunning was for when you had backup, and were prepared to take and care for prisoners. Not for when your life was in danger, and especially not for when you were alone.
Malfoy looked down at his fallen comrades, and then finally decided that he was in danger and should do something about it. He spun round to face me, raising his wand and silently conjuring a shield. Whatever he had done in the past year, he had certainly managed to hone his skills. It was such a pity for him that I could ignore shields when I wanted to. Not to mention that if he had the misfortune to aim my wand at himself at any point, I’d shock the hell out of him.
I held my stolen wand out at Malfoy, deliberately swaying slightly to suggest I was nearly out on my feet. A shallow scalp did wonders for that perception. I needed him to think he could easily take me in battle. I couldn’t risk him escaping with the Horcrux by portkey. My anti-apparition jinx would stop him from retreating that way.
“Hufflepuff’s Goblet, Malfoy. Give it to me. Now,” I said unsteadily. I wanted him overconfident.
Malfoy seemed to take the bait, smirking as he raised his wand in one hand, while waggling mine in the other. “What are you going to do, Potter? Kill me?” he taunted from behind his shield.
By raising his arms, his robes billowed away from his sides. An object in his pocket distorted the fabric enough that I could tell what it was. Well, there’s the Horcrux. Now, I just need to get it.
Malfoy took the initiative. With a horizontal slash of his wand at neck height, he cast, “Sectumsempra!”
I didn’t recognise the spell, so rather than try and deflect it I simply sank to one knee, allowing the dark curse to flash overhead. From my lower position, I threw a bone-breaking hex at his shield, battering it lightly. A bludgeoning spell like that didn’t do much damage to a shield that was designed to fend off precision curses; the strength of the spell was spread over too much area. What that hex did was make the shield opaque for a second, allowing me to identify it.
“Is that all you’ve got, Potter?” he blathered, throwing his arms wide. “Try again. I’ll even give you the next shot for free”
The shield he was using was useful in one-on-one duels. Powerful protecting the centre mass, but weaker at the edges. With his arms out wide, his robes billowed out.
I cast, “Concidio!” as precisely as I could. The curse sped between us, cutting through the weaker edge of the ferret’s shield. Oddly, he hadn’t even moved. He kept his cool enough to let a potentially lethal spell get close to him.
“Your aim is pathetic!” he shouted, before casting an esoteric curse, followed by a disarming charm.
From my genuflecting position, I had no way of painlessly avoiding it, so I conjured a shield, as powerful as I could make it. Malfoy’s first spell hit my shield hard, leaving a small window for his second to flash through the weakened shield. Damn, he had gotten good. He snatched the wand from the air, and sneered.
It’s not like I actually needed a wand anyway. Now that I had what I wanted, I simply pushed him away before he could begin monologuing. Malfoy found himself and his shield launched backwards through the air, his hands and feet trailing behind. He looked as though he was travelling backwards in an invisible plane, and was just waiting for some tea and biscuits. He hit the far wall, and fell onto a part of the balcony that was decidedly unsound and rolled down the slope. With shock clearly evident on his features, he ended up hanging off the newly created edge of the balcony, holding onto a creaking floor for dear life.
I stepped forward, bent down and picked up the scrap of cloth that had once been part of Malfoy’s robe. “It would appear you had no idea what I was aiming at,” I said easily, as I extracted the Horcrux from the ruined material. Hufflepuff’s goblet looked smaller than I imagined, but weighed much more. “Your ego has always been your weakness.”
Malfoy was about to splutter a response when a tortured groaning above us drew both our eyes. The charms holding the roof in place were failing, and the ancient wooden supports were complaining loudly. Bugger, one of the wizards I knocked out had been holding the damned thing up.
Showing a great presence of mind, Malfoy simply let go and fell to the floor of the hall below, initially screaming for help. After he hit the floor, he just screamed. A few heads appeared around the hall, taking an unwelcome interest in the proceedings. I left in the opposite direction, back the way I came. Our little encounter hadn’t lasted more than about ninety seconds. A few hopeful spells hit the walls around me as I ran, but the casters were too far away to manage to hit a moving target. I ducked through an open doorway and made my way out of here.
Eventually, I stumbled through a stone archway, and out into the grounds of the manor. The broken rib in my side felt like an ice cold branding iron on my lung, but I didn’t wait. I staggered slowly towards the place where I’d set off the Wheeze earlier today. Malfoy had gone totally berserk at losing the Horcrux; I could hear him shriek orders from the other end of the house. It didn’t take long for a search party to come looking for me, but the fact that some effort had to be expended holding the manor up meant that I didn’t have to face as many wizards as I could have been.
I wiped the sweat from my eyes and took a look around the area. Above, thick, dark clouds cast the area into gloom, even though my watch indicated that it was only mid-afternoon. I must have been unconscious for longer than I expected. There was one wizard guarding the main exit, through a rather decrepit ivy-covered gatehouse. Even without being able to confirm with a wand, I knew the wards around the building had been increased since my capture. So long as I stayed nearby, I was likely to be discovered. I had to get through the wards, and away, but breaking them down would indicate the direction I was escaping. I remained as concealed as I could within the shadows of the building’s niches, but steeled myself for cold-blooded murder.
I pushed the guard through the gate, and examined the results.
Well, I didn’t kill him, but he probably needs to be taken to the local equivalent of St. Mungo’s. With all the spell damage from the wards, he looked like a love child of John Merrick and Quasimodo. The wards themselves had collapsed, though. I suppose they were single shots, designed to take out anyone passing them, and then failing so the pursuers weren’t inconvenienced.
I shrugged and pulled myself further into the shadows. The gloom, in making visibility poor, made it hard for me to see what was going on, but it also made it harder for my pursuers to locate me. I wasn’t about to escape that way. Not with a great big clue available for those I’d left behind. Not just yet, at any rate.
True to form, about a dozen wizards arrived, some by apparition, other running from the main manor house. To a man, they all charged out through the open gate, ignoring their fallen colleague. I allowed myself a tight grin. It was probably safer in here now than it was out there. At the very least, there were fewer people looking for me within the grounds.
I shook my head in disbelief as not one remained behind as a guard. Were they were simply incompetent, a fair enough assumption if Draco was in charge, or were they setting a trap?
I hunkered down in the niche, determined to wait for full darkness before escaping. If they were incompetent, then they would spread their efforts wider, making my escape easier. If they were setting a trap, the fact that I hadn’t sprung it may make them think I had bypassed it. Either way, I had the ability to push my way out of trouble here, but travelling in the open would be safer for me in the dark.
It had been a trap after all.
Kellermann had trained his men well. I’d been lucky to spot a startled bird before I attempted to creep through the gatehouse exit, which drew my attention to an odd distortion on the other side. An hour or so of intense scrutiny identified three other similar mirages, which indicated to me that there were probably many more.
Even as sunset arrived, the hidden wizards hadn’t moved. They’d just waited patiently.
When I decided to make my move, it was in the opposite direction. There had still been perimeter patrols, showing a level of discipline I had found admirable. Not enough to stop myself from pushing one of the patrolling pairs through the wards at my original entrance, but admirable none the less.
Even though all the wizards had been out hunting me, they had converged on my new ward breach very quickly. Once more, the vast majority had started from the breach, and worked forward, working as a group to try to locate me.
I had stepped through the downed wards, and turned sharply to my right. I had moved a fair distance away from the manor before allowing myself to feel relief.
I leaned back against the rough bark of an old tree, and tried to catch my breath. Until dawn came, I wasn’t about to attempt to apparate anywhere. I didn’t know any place well enough within my range to be sure I’d arrive without splinching, and I wasn’t about to try and use line of sight apparating in the dark. Having a magical method of transport right now that didn’t have the potential drawback of splinching would be a damned wonderful thing. Another flare of pain from my rib made me ponder on the possibility of deliberately splinching in an effort to leave it behind during apparition, but that thought may have just been my brain running low on endorphins.
I risked a glance behind the tree and gasped to try and catch my breath, absently patting the goblet in my pocket to remind myself it was still there. At least this little debacle ended with me capturing Riddle’s last Horcrux. I didn’t have a wand, and my gear was on the other side of a group of pissed off wizards, but I was free, and that counted for a great deal. Even with the rib.
A dark silhouette against the sky flew near. One of my trackers had found a broom and taken to the skies in an effort to sniff me out. I long, slow grin spread over my face at an idea. If Riddle could hear what I was about to try, despite the fact he’d loathe me, he would certainly appreciate the irony.
Locking eyes on the broom, I began chanting a stream of jinxes I’d found in Zab’s library when researching magic I had been in contact with in my life. A very personal jinx to me.
Instantly, the broom started bucking wildly. Without another slimy arsehole of a Potions Master muttering the counter-jinx, the poor bugger up there didn’t have the same chance to hang on that I did back in my first year at Hogwarts. The figure above removed one hand to fumble for his wand, but was rudely ejected before he could bring it to bear. Without human intervention, both the wizard and the broom fell to the ground, too quickly for even a hurried cushioning charm. The broom at least landed intact, which was much more than I could say for the wizard. His despairing shout ended very abruptly.
Not waiting for anyone to check out what the noise was, I covered the ground separating us as quickly as I possibly could, given my less than pristine state. I grimaced at the sight of the broken wand, but quickly covered the extra ten metres to the now ownerless broom. It wasn’t a patch on my Firebolt, but it was a damn sight better than running.
I drifted into the air, feeling much more comfortable with height. I looked around intently, looking for any movement in both the air and on the ground. It took me a few moments to gain my bearings, and I resisted the urge to swear. My bag of tricks was still somewhere inside the building, and I had no intention of heading back that way with the Horcrux in my pocket. It was a wrench to think about leaving my wand behind, not to mention my father’s invisibility cloak, but I didn’t really see an alternative. Once I was back in I had access to my other one, anyway.
I slowly drifted away from Malfoy’s hidey-hole. The broom’s guidance charms were obviously damaged; it kept pulling down and to the left. I used brute strength to stay on course, and kept beneath the tree canopy, so as not to be spotted by anyone looking at the skyline. With my ribs throbbing badly, I had trouble breathing, but not having to exert myself made travelling much easier. Eventually, I reached the outskirts of the nameless rural village I passed through earlier. With Mad-Eye’s motto ringing in my head, I circled the place once, looking for anything out of the ordinary.
I spotted one small figure, creeping along the road leading from Malfoy’s hideout in a furtive manner. Someone really ought to tell these guys that creeping along under the light of an almost full moon really stands out. Whoever it was, they were tiny. But they might have a wand.
I drifted up, keeping an eye on the moon, making sure I didn’t stray between the lunar orb and my quarry. In my school Quidditch days, I remember deliberately putting myself between the sun and the opposition’s beaters, just so they couldn’t target me. The moon however, didn’t have the same effect.
Despite my caution, the figure spun round to face me as I drifted closer from behind. I took in the tennis ball eyes, the diminutive stature and the trembling knees. The house elf gave a sort of “Eep!” and disappeared with a snap of his fingers.
“Oh, bugger,” I breathed. “Dobby, I wish that was you,” I finished aloud.
“Master Harry called Dobby?” came a voice behind me.
I mimicked the elf that had just left, giving out a rather feminine “Eep!” I spun round to see Dobby standing on the road below. “Dobby?” I asked, clutching my heart.
Dual apparition cracks echoed through the night. I pushed out towards the newly arrived pair in a hurry, sending a one of the wizards tumbling. The second raised a wand and took aim.
“You will not harm Harry Potter!”
Dobby’s own attack took all three of us by surprise. He must have gone easy on Lucius after I freed him, because the poor bastard who took the enraged elf’s blow to the gut flew backwards at least three times as far as Malfoy Senior had. From the subsequent sounds of retching, he wouldn’t be playing any further part in the proceedings.
With only one target left for me, it was relatively simple to finish the fight. I simply closed quickly on the broom, and kicked the fellow in the head as he struggled to his feet.
I dropped off the broom and snatched the wand from the man’s hand. I quickly stunned him for safety, and bound Dobby’s victim with conjured ropes. Stunning him mid retch may well kill him.
“Dobby, you are a sight for sore eyes. What are you doing here?” I asked.
Dobby wrung his hands together. “Master Harry called Dobby,” he explained.
I took a deep breath, grunting with pain as my ribs reminded me that adrenaline was only a temporary pain reliever. “I didn’t think you could hear me from this far away.”
“Dobby hears Master Harry wherever he is.”
I nodded. “I’ll remember that. Can you take me to the other side of the village?”
Dobby shook his head sadly. “Elf magic not be able to take wizards.”
I nodded. “Never mind. But we need to go; these guys have friends, who’ll soon be here to see what happened. Go to the other side of the village and I’ll meet you there.” I said as I stooped to relieve the other wizard of his wand. Dobby nodded, but looked as though he wanted to say something. “What is it?” I asked.
Dobby wrung his hands together. “Can Dobby ride on the broom with Master Harry?” he stammered.
I blinked. “Uh, sure,” I said as I mounted the broom once more. “Jump on up.”
“Master Harry really let Dobby fly with him?”
“Of course,” I replied, grinning at his incredulous expression.
I didn’t have to say it again, as Dobby literally jumped onto the broomstick with an excited “Whoop!”
We flew around the collection of houses until we were on the other side of the village. “Dobby?” I asked.
“Yes, Master Harry?”
“Can you hide something for me?”
Dobby turned to face me. “Dobby can put something in Harry Potter’s vault, if Master Harry wants.”
I shook my head, thinking that Gringotts wasn’t secure enough for this job. “No, I mean, can you hide something somewhere where only you can get it?”
Dobby slowly nodded. “Yes, Dobby can do that, but doesn’t Master Harry want to get it too?”
I shook my head again. “Nope. I don’t need to know. Here,” I said, reaching into my pocket and pulling out the decorative goblet. “Take this, and hide it where no one but you can get it. I’ll be back in soon to get it from you.”
Dobby bowed his head mournfully. “Dobby does not like hiding Master Harry’s property from him.”
I gripped his shoulder firmly. “I know. But this is important. If something happens to me, get Blaise to take you to my old Master, and tell him about it. You have my permission to give it to him if I don’t come back. Understand?”
Dobby still looked ashamed. “Yes Master Harry. Dobby does what youse wants.”
I figured he needed a bit of a pick me up. “Thank you Dobby. You are the only one I can trust with this.”
That brightened his bulging eyes up. He snapped his fingers and disappeared with a shimmer.
I took a deep breath, wincing again at the sharp jab of pain. First, I needed to go and get my backpack. Then, I needed to go and get my wands. Hopefully, in between, I would find the time to kick Malfoy’s arse. Again.