Yes, it's here at long last; those of you who have been pestering me for the past year to work on this story (you know who you are!) can finally relax and leave me alone. Now, since I'm sure you're already getting tired of my blathering, let's get this party started!
Disclaimer: Did Harry stay locked in the cupboard under the stairs for an undefined period of time after vanishing the glass at the zoo, even though it is made clear in the next chapter that school was still in session when Vernon threw him in there? If so, I own neither the Harry Potter nor Dresden Files franchises; they belong to J.K. Rowling and Jim Butcher, respectively, among others.
Wind whistled through the forest, branches barren of leaves. Flakes of white and grey fell to cover the ground, not snow but ash, and the trees' bark was scorched and cracked. A single road cut through the trees, perfectly straight and ten feet wide. Not a single creature stirred in this place; not a bird, not a squirrel, not a deer or wolf or rabbit. Desolation stretched as far as the eye could see.
Except for the lone figure walking down the road.
She was a young woman, blonde hair disheveled and her blue-green eyes shadowed in despair. Her gaze again rose from the ground immediately in front of her, but she still could not see where this path was leading her. Her bare feet trudged through the ankle-deep ash for a few steps more before she came to a halt. With a slow shake of her head, she did not sit so much as drop to the ground, then she pulled her knees to her chest.
What is even the point?, she asked herself, her hands clenched tight around the sackcloth tunic she wore. How long had she been wandering this plane of existence? She could not tell; her last memories before awakening in this place were strangely distorted, feeling both as if only a second had passed and at the same time were thousands of years ago. Is this my punishment for going against my nature? For listening to a mortal's words rather than my own wisdom?
A shadow of a greater and more terrible entity, that was all she was. She had been cleaved off for a single purpose: to make a certain wizard take up the coin her full self rested within. It was not the first time such a thing had happened to her or another of her compatriots over the millennia, but she was the only one she knew of who had ever failed in her task. Four years she had spent lurking around the edges of his mind and soul, two of which she had even been in communication with him, but for all her skill at manipulation, somehow that man had proven more stubborn than any other she had known. Instead, he insisted despite all evidence to the contrary that she was the malleable one, even going so far as to suggest that an existence such as she, an angel cast out of Heaven, could change her nature.
Yes, he was a foolishly stubborn mortal. Stubborn, reckless, sentimental, charismatic, noble… Much too noble. Was it any wonder she had been swayed by the words of one Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden?
She had believed him, and when Dresden stood alone in middle of the White Court, his foes supported by forces barred from that little corner of Creation, she put her will, her magic, her very essence between him and them. All she had went into breaking the curse of despair laid upon him, and when it came time to pay the cost of her interference, she gladly accepted it. She had died, given her life for another. It was an action she had not once considered since her and her allies' ill-fated Rebellion.
But I also thought what awaited me upon my destruction was oblivion. I am nothing more than a shade, and so there should be nothing afterward for me. Instead, I find myself here, wherever here is. Not Heaven, yet not Hell.
Her shadow leapt ahead of her as the world was bathed in golden light, and the soft rustle-clank of metal boots sinking into the ash made her drop her head. Perhaps this was Hell, after all, a wing that had been created especially for her torment.
The stranger walked slowly around her, and she had to raise her arm to shield her eyes from the piercing radiance. Her skin sizzled and stung as the holy light began to eat away at her. After a moment, the pain vanished, and she slowly looked under her hand to find that the armor had changed, appearing now as if it had been merely forged from sunlight rather than the star's fire itself. Her less-impaired vision also allowed her to see the long, thin dagger hanging from the stranger's belt, its keen tip gleaming.
She knew that blade, and the one who wielded it, too. Knew him too well for her tastes. The Spymaster. The Avenger. The one the Almighty sent when His Will required subtlety.
"Lasciel," he replied. "He did not tell me whom I sought here, only that I would know her when I found her. I never would have expected that it would be you."
"That makes two of us," she said cautiously, her narrowed eyes still on his weapon. This conversation held less of her attention than did her memories of the last time she felt its cruel bite. "And in that vein, where is here?"
"If you do not know that, then it is not my place to tell you."
She barely withheld a sneer at his condescending tone. And that was the reason she did not like this particular archangel. Admittedly, she was not fond of any of them – none of the Fallen were – but she held Uriel in special contempt. At least Michael and Gabriel, for all their sanctimony, recalled that the Fallen were once counted among the Hosts' ranks and treated them as such. "Why are you even here, Uriel?"
He hummed for a moment. "I wonder…"
That pulled a laugh from her, the sound ugly and bitter but even more resigned. "So that is your game, then." She crossed her arms on her knees and rested her forehead upon them, her hair parting to reveal the back of her neck. "What are you waiting for, Assassin? Fulfill your duty."
Her eyes closed as she waited to feel the stiletto's sting. A holding cell, that was what this place was. A road to nowhere so that she might be kept in place until her execution could be completed, and nothing to distract her so she would not have one last bit of enjoyment before her end. How callous, and at the same time expected from her enemies.
She felt a wave of heat pass by her, and when she peered ever so cautiously over her arms, she discovered that Uriel had abandoned his nimbus of light and his armor. Instead he appeared as a human, a man with dark skin and golden hair, dressed in a plain white toga and sitting on a short wooden stool. Meeting her gaze, he tilted his head to the side. "Who are you?"
"Have the eternities finally caught up with you?" she taunted weakly. "You know exactly who I am. You said my name only seconds ago. I am Lasciel."
"No. No, you are not." He gave her an enigmatic smile and tapped his chin with the forefinger of one hand. "I know Lasciel. I have seen her soul. Yours is not the same."
"I… What?" She looked down at her arms and legs again, a terrifying suspicion coming together in her head. Had Dresden actually been right? In a tiny voice, she asked, "I truly have my own soul?"
"Yes. Oh, it is not new and pure; make no mistake about that. Each time you tempted Dresden to pick up Lasciel's coin and forfeit his own soul has stained it. Despite that, it does not carry the blight of all the sins the true Lasciel committed. And you had no idea." Uriel chuckled for a moment. "Determining your ultimate fate would be an interesting, if frustrating, exercise. I am quite glad that is not the task assigned to me."
His offhanded comment was like a bucket of cold water dumped on her head. If she truly had a soul, one all her own, her death meant a number of issues she would much rather not deal with right now. She latched onto the last thing he said to keep her mind off that predicament. "Then what is your task?"
"That depends. Tell me, Lasciel…" He trailed off and shook his head. "No, Dresden had the right of it. Lash, do you seek redemption?"
She blinked slowly, confusion written on her face. "I never would have expected you to ask me that question."
"Nor would I, if I may tell you. And yet, my question stands."
She bit her lip. Redemption? It was not something she had ever considered, not seriously. The Fallens' actions prevented them from ever attaining redemption, from ever returning to their places of glory. None had even thought to attempt it. And now this impossibility was being all but dumped in her lap? Her mind turned back to Uriel's comments about the polluted state of her soul, and the memory of her and her fellow Denarians' fearful flight from the Lake of Fire threatened to overwhelm her for a moment. "Y-Yes. Yes, I want redemption."
The angel before her nodded. "He thought you might." Then he raised the hand not resting on his chin, and a glint caught her eye. He held a coin, a shiny, silver coin, and she did not need to see the rough edges or the bust of Tiberius Caesar to recognize it.
It was a Roman denarius.
"There is a boy," Uriel said, breaking her out of her shock, "a child who was born with a heavy destiny indeed. A wizard chose a dark path and slaughtered his way through what he thought of as his world, and though he was stopped for a time, it is this boy's fate to stand against him once again and end his evil forever. Unfortunately, the arrogance and foolishness of others has placed him in a position where that is becoming less and less likely."
"Mortal mistakes, mortal problems," she commented with a raised eyebrow. "Humans do as they please, and if a few mortals want to make trouble for a boy, that is their concern. I fail to see how this is cause for divine intervention."
"Normally, it would not be. However, the wizard this boy is meant to face found certain books and learned how to distort his soul, knowledge that will permit his followers to resurrect him before he is meant to return and will also return intact the full scope of his abilities rather than rendering him much weakened. There is only one source a human could seek out to discover that particular bit of information."
"Us. The Fallen." Now things were making more sense. A fallen angel interfering in mortal affairs that flagrantly practically demanded a response from Heaven. The Denarians were cautious about how they worked for that very reason, foregoing the more expedient route of outright possessing the humans and instead offering power and advice until their hosts were so reliant on their guidance that the mortals would suborn their free wills to the Fallens' own, and even that had been sufficient to prompt the forging of the three Swords of the Cross to stymie them. Releasing the kind of information Uriel was talking about, though; that was the action of an individual who either had no long-term agenda or was paradoxically executing an incredibly convoluted plot. "Who was it? The one who had those books written?"
Uriel scowled. "I do not yet know." And if the look on his face was any indication, oh did that ever rankle! She almost wanted to track down the Fallen in question and congratulate him just for that. "Nevertheless, that is reason enough for the Host to intervene. Normally we would clear the way ever so slightly, give the lightest of assistances, for even in this our allowance to influence the mortals is limited.
"But now I find you here," he said, his damnable smile returning as he looked at her. "A third party, one with total autonomy. If all I do is send you to the boy so you might help him in our stead, I will be acting well within my boundaries and still have a little leeway left I might make use of later."
Surely she was imagining this. "Let me see if I have this right. You want to send me, a fallen angel, back to the world of the living. Me, who spent two thousand years seducing mortals into surrendering their wills to my own. And you want me to – what, teach this boy? guide him? – while I will be able to do whatever I wish. I could lead him astray from the purpose you have for him, and there would be nothing you could do to stop me." She shook her head and glared at him. "I am not a fool, Uriel; there is a catch here. What are you trying to hide?"
"You are still so quick to accuse others. I have not yet finished my proposal." She rolled her eyes. He was not finished, but only because she called him out on it. If mortals thought the faeries were skilled at lying with the truth, they should try arguing with angels. "Yes, you will have autonomy, but do not forget what the prize is. Redemption. This is your second chance, Lash," he said, walking the denarius along his knuckles in a show of affected nonchalance. "What you do with it is up to you, of course. You could ape Lasciel, manipulating the poor boy as if he were nothing more than a puppet, and in doing so continue blackening your soul. I think you can guess what would be the consequences of that course of action."
Despite the mild tone of his voice, the threat still made her flinch.
"Or you could be better than you were." The corner of Uriel's mouth twitched with a hidden smile. "Humans have an incredible capacity to rise above their base natures and improve themselves. It is truly a fascinating characteristic. You are not a human, Lash, but I dare say you are more human than you are angel. Can you be better than Lasciel?"
She looked away, unwilling to rise to his baiting. Mostly it was because she was not sure of the answer. "How was the wizard defeated before? It should not be that hard to emulate."
"Not hard at all. The boy's mother sacrificed herself for him, giving up her life so he might live. You already know about that firsthand." A cold shiver ran down her spine, and he continued in a gentler voice, "'Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.' What you did for Dresden was humbling, a step even we would hesitate to undertake. All the same, do not feel you must repeat it. So long as you protect this boy and prepare him for his destiny, you will have a chance at the reward you so deeply desire.
"That is, if you are still interested."
Lash licked her lips, hesitating for a moment so she might fortify her shaken nerves. "I am. Interested, that is."
"Good. I will delay you no longer. Who knows? When you have completed your task, I might even be the one who relays His pronouncement." She glared at him, and he chuckled before tossing the coin to her. Her fingers closed around it, and she faded from that place.
Now alone, Uriel sighed before returning to his true form. "This is a most confusing journey You have placed them upon. Yet all the same, Your Will be done."
Harry looked down from the roof, his stomach queasy after… whatever that had been. His cousin Dudley and his gang had decided that this was a great time for another round of 'Harry Hunting', and with Malcolm to distract the teacher supervising their recess period, he knew he was in trouble. Normally he could get away and hide where they couldn't find him because he was faster than the other boys, but today his preferred route around the school was blocked with a dumpster that had been emptied and not put back in his place. He had spun around in fear, desperate to find some other path to safety.
And then he somehow appeared on top of the school's roof.
Uncle Vernon is not going to be happy, he thought, hastily jerking his head back when Dudley looked up. From the fat boy's shout, he had not been fast enough. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia were always especially thorough with their punishments whenever he did something strange or 'freakish', and getting from the ground up to the roof of a two-story building in an instant was definitely that. Maybe I can say the wind just carried me up here?
He shook his head; that was probably the worst excuse he had come up with in a long while. The wind would have a hard time picking him up, no matter how thin he might be. Despite what his aunt and uncle told him, he wasn't stupid. Everyone else in his class had decent clothes, not too-large hand-me-downs and trainers held together with more tape than shoe. They had colorful lunch boxes filled with food every day. They did not have to worry about their stomachs growling in the middle of the lessons because they had not eaten the previous night. The question he had was always why it was him who was treated differently, and there were only a few possibilities. Phil had glasses, too, but they were shiny and new, not like his bulky plastic frames, so that wasn't why the Dursleys hated him. It wasn't because he was their nephew instead of their son, either; Michelle had lost her parents when she was a toddler, and her uncle absolutely doted on her.
So, if it wasn't his glasses and it wasn't because he was their nephew, it had to be the odd things that had a tendency to happen around him. A sweater shrinking in front of him when he refused to wear it, his teacher's wig changing color, burned or underdone food becoming perfect without him having to do anything. The roses Aunt Petunia had him weed around always looked better than all the neighbors' hedges, and once Dudley had broken a window and blamed it on him only for it to be fixed when he gave it another look. None of it was bad, really – even Mr. Pittman, after getting over the shock of his wig suddenly turning blue, had laughed about the whole thing and worn it like that for the rest of the week before getting a new one – but each time it happened he was guaranteed a week in his cupboard at the very least.
He wondered how bad it was going to be for appearing on the roof, but then he turned his thoughts away. He would find out soon enough.
And winter hols start tomorrow!, he realized. Dread collected in his stomach. The Christmas break lasted for two weeks, and that meant the Dursleys could lock him in for as long as they wanted without having to call the school and make an excuse for why he wasn't there. That was bad; they always fed him fewer meals when he was getting punished, and since Dudley had spotted him, he wouldn't have any time to hide bags of crisps or bottles of water in his bed before they put him in there. Maybe, if he was really quick, he could stuff a few things in his shirt before Dudley thought to tell them about—
A glint of light broke his train of thought, and he looked over to figure out what it was. There, in the middle of the roof, the sunlight was being reflected off a little bit of metal. He walked over, worry forgotten in favor of curiosity.
There was a coin stuck in the shingles. Glancing around to make sure none of the teachers had climbed up to scold him yet, he cautiously bent down and grabbed it. One tug had it free, and he examined his prize. Never had he seen a coin like this.
It definitely wasn't British, that much he knew. For one, it did not have the Queen's head on it but instead some man's, and the edges were notched and rounded rather than smooth and flat. He took another look at the back; while the writing was in the normal alphabet, none of the words were really words, just jumbles of letters.
Maybe it's foreign. His eyes lit up at the thought. He heard bits and pieces of the telly when Dudley watched it while he did his chores, so he knew there were people who payed lots of money for strange coins like this. Uncle Vernon always said anyone who collected lots of stuff from other countries was not properly British, but Harry didn't care. If he could get money for this coin, then he could buy food to keep in his cupboard, or better yet, in the old shed near the park. If it was there, he could sneak it in a little at a time without having to worry that Uncle Vernon would peek in his cupboard and find his stash.
Without warning, the lightning bolt scar on his forehead – the only evidence of the car crash that had killed his parents – suddenly burned like someone had shoved a hot wire into his skull. He shouted and dropped the coin, but as quickly as it had come the pain disappeared. Looking down to find where his newfound treasure had fallen, he sighed when he saw that it had broken into several pieces. It wasn't real, anyway, he told himself as the shattered pieces crumbled into dust that was quickly blown away. No one would leave a rare coin like that lying around on a rooftop. It was probably just some joke that someone put up here and forgot about.
"Harry Potter! Get down from there right this instant!"
Wincing at the shrill sound of Mrs. Nicholson's voice, he looked around to see if he could find stairs or a ladder. He was already in enough trouble. No reason to make it worse.
He had been right. Dudley spilled the beans about Harry's sudden disappearance and reappearance to Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia as soon as they walked through the door, and even if Dudley had not done that, the two adult Dursleys already knew. The principle had called Aunt Petunia while he and Dudley were still walking back from the bus stop to complain about him climbing on school buildings, and the man's insistence that they needed to do a better job of getting him under control had not helped matters.
Harry barely had a chance to take his ratty backpack off before Uncle Vernon had literally thrown him into the cupboard under the stairs and locked the door behind him.
That had been hours ago, and now the house was dark and silent. There was just enough of a crack where the door did not completely meet the frame that he could peek out and see the streetlamp through the kitchen window, but it was not wide enough for him to see the clock to find out what time it was.
His stomach rumbled again, and he wrapped his arms around his belly with a scowl. He knew from long experience that it would continue to growl at him until around dinnertime tomorrow, and if he were not fed by then, it would start trying to get his attention by cramping up. He also knew he would be lucky if the Dursleys gave him any food until the day after that.
Another growl from his midsection was echoed by one from his throat. Why did the Dursleys do this to him, just for stuff that happened around him? It wasn't his fault!
What was more, he knew the way they treated him was wrong. A nice policeman with a dog had come by his class last year and told them all that if any grown-up ever hit them or didn't let them eat for a day or touched them in bad places, they were supposed to dial 999, and while the Dursleys had never done the last, they had certainly done the other two. Harry had considered calling the police and telling them about what went on in Number Four, but no one else on Privet Drive had ever cared about what the Dursleys did to him. They were all perfectly fine thinking he was some sort of hooligan, even though no one had ever seen him do anything bad, and he wasn't sure if the police would be any different. It was the same in school: Dudley and his gang could do something wrong, and even if they were caught, they blamed Harry for it. It did not matter if he was at the other side of the room, he would still be the one punished for it.
He sighed, the anger that had flared up dying down again. Getting mad never did anything to help. No one cared. He was all alone, had been ever since his parents got themselves killed when they were drunk, and he did not know if they would have loved him even if they had lived. "Maybe it is all my fault," he muttered unhappily, a little bit of fear and doubt sliding down his throat to his stomach like a chip of ice. "Maybe they're mean to me and no one says anything about it because I really am a freak, just like they always say."
"I doubt that is the real reason, Harry."
He yelped in surprise at the voice that answered him and scurried away to slam his back into the wall. There, at the other end of his cupboard, sat a woman. That was the shorter end of his space, and he had no clue how she could possibly fit in there, especially since he had to look up to see her face. She was tall, with blonde hair hanging loose down to her shoulders, and her blue-green eyes held a faint spark of some emotion he couldn't identify. Her jumper was a light grey and looked incredibly soft, and she had well-worn jeans that made her look even more like she was just relaxing at home. His eyes went wide when he saw her feet; with her legs loosely crossed like that, he could see the polish on her toenails was not red like his aunt's, nor the blue and pink and yellow he saw on the fingers of the girls at school, but instead a glossy black. His aunt always said that only punks and harlots and freaks painted their fingers and toes like that.
But Aunt Petunia called him a freak, too. Was this woman like him?
Her lips twitched as she watched him watch her. How could he even see her, he wondered suddenly; the cupboard was dark, but somehow her end of the space was as bright as if the door were open and the sun was out. Examining her suspiciously, he realized that she was the most visible thing there while everything else looked like she was the one shining light on it. It might be faint, but she was glowing.
He took another, closer look at her face. Her hair was blonde, just like Aunt Petunia's, and though her eyes were a bluish-green while his aunt had washed-out green eyes, there was still some similarity in the shape. Add in the glow and the fact that she had appeared out of nowhere, and there was only one possibility that made any sense.
Clearing his throat, Harry asked, "A-Are you… my mum's ghost?"
If your plot hinges on a deus ex machina, at least make it literal.
This should be the only chapter that requires such a hefty dose of Dresden Files–flavored theology, particularly since it's the only time I plan for a DF character other than Lash to have an appearance, but it was necessary to explain just how Lash got from Harry Dresden's world to Harry Potter's.
Silently Watches out.