THE SCENE started the same way it always did. He couldn't see anything, but he could hear the voices, muted and distorted as if he were underwater.
"Not Harry! Please… have mercy… have mercy… Not Harry! Not Harry! Please – I'll do anything—"
The next voice was high and nasally, pitched with cruel intent. "Stand aside – stand aside, girl—"
He heard a loud thump after that, but everything was silent for the next few moments. Suddenly, he could see something – twin pinpricks of red light boring down upon him. He felt like squirming, but lacked the physical means and reference to do so.
Then he heard the voice call out again. "Avada Kedavra!"
There was a green flash and then nothing.
Harry opened his eyes, stifling a yawn. His head was on the counter and his neck felt sore. He wiped off a bit of drool off the corner of his chin and glanced up, embarrassed as he rose and got his bearings. He had just been meaning to lie his head down for a minute or so...
The barkeeper was squinting at him, bald head gleaming in the dingy light.
"Bloody hell, boy, that's the second time that's happened today!"
Harry felt his cheeks flush. "Sorry about that, Tom."
Harry got off the stool and briefly stretched, cracking his neck. He took in the bar. Halloween was always a popular night at the Leaky Cauldron and 2006 was no exception. The pub was close to capacity, buzzing with conversation, and one of the nearby patrons at the counter gave him an amused smile.
"Alright there, Green?"
Harry shrugged. "Just another Halloween, Diggle. You know how it is with me and Halloween."
Odd things happened to Harry on Halloween. Last Halloween, Harry got into a major (and nearly fatal) misunderstanding in Camden involving two bobbies, a senior citizen, and a fire hydrant. It was extremely embarrassing and Harry almost got arrested. The Halloween before that, he was nearly electrocuted by a telephone wire that broke free – it had missed him by inches.
Harry always felt more lethargic on Halloween and every Halloween he dreamed the same... dream? Nightmare? He'd never been able to make heads or tails of it anyway. Lately though, Harry had begun having different dreams. Weird dreams. There was a talking snake, a rat-faced man, tiny, slimy hands, and people in dark robes with skull-shaped masks. Harry always felt small in those dreams and the scar on his forehead would hurt every time he woke up from one of them. He didn't know what to make of those dreams either.
Tom continued to examine Harry. "Perhaps I shouldn't have let you agree to sub in for Seamus's shift tonight."
Harry quickly looked over at the clock in the far corner of the pub. It was a real antique pendulum clock since electronics tended to go haywire in the pub – and around Harry in general for that matter.
He then raised his hands in a placating gesture. "I'm good for it, Tom. My shift ends in another hour anyway."
Tom looked skeptical but grunted, "If you're sure, Harry. Table ten needs two orders of fish & chips and eleven needs a refill on tonight's special ale."
Harry went behind the counter to retrieve the freshly made orders, as well as a pitcher of the Leaky Cauldron's finest. Harry liked the Cauldron – there was always a sort of energy that permeated the pub and seemed to mellow everyone out.
It was also one of the few places in London where anything resembling a "community" for those involved with the paranormal assembled. Most patrons had at best an unhealthy obsession for the occult. Still, a few low-level talents were regulars here and Harry swore that a real sorcerer or two might have visited since he had started frequenting the Cauldron over the last year and a half.
The rest of his shift proceeded without any additional lethargic episodes and Harry worked methodically and efficiently. He skimmed through his chemistry GCSE study guide between orders. He didn't find chemical thermodynamics to be the most exciting topic, but Tom had advised him that magic didn't exactly pay the bills and he'd need the benefit of a good education.
His replacement came in promptly at eight, wearing a long dark cape and flashing white fangs.
Harry folded his arms, looking the caped figure up and down. "Who are you supposed to be?"
The subject of Harry's impromptu examination winced. "Bloody Dracula, Harry, can't you tell?"
"Dean, Dracula's... white."
"I'm also pretty sure that Dracula doesn't have dreadlocks. Or wear Adidas."
"Critics, critics," Dean grumbled.
Harry brightened, snapping his fingers. "I've got it – you can be Blacula!"
Dean groaned. "Really, Harry? You had to go there? I knew it was a mistake to agree to watch that last month."
Harry shrugged. "When Terry said he wanted to marathon all the Dracula films in time for Halloween, he did mean all of them."
Dean made a pained expression and raised a hand. "Just... stop. Least I have a costume."
Harry laughed. "Not a fan of Halloween, Dean. Anyway, you and Seamus on for game night this Friday?"
"Yeah. Seamus was wondering if he could bring Lav over as well – he's got her interested in playing."
"Should be fun – new campaign anyway. I don't think Terry will mind. Actually, seeing the way he was staring at her last week, I'm definitely sure he wouldn't mind."
Dean sniggered. "I remember – Seamus almost went in on him for that. Only reason he didn't was so he wouldn't look bad in front of Lav."
"Done gossiping back there, Thomas?" Tom asked with a rasping voice.
Dean rolled his eyes and began making his way to the counter. "Later, Harry."
"Bye." Harry retrieved his backpack and exited the pub, calling out to the patrons, "Good night, gents!"
"Night, Green!" they chorused.
He unlocked his bicycle from the rack and hopped on. He pedaled down the sidewalk, enjoying the cool autumn air and hummed a catchy tune.
Harry arrived at his flat a little before half-past eight. The lights were on inside but he knew that Terry was out for some Halloween get together with some old mates of his until nine or so. Harry unlocked the door and left his bike by the entrance, locking the door behind him before entering his room.
It was a fairly spartan affair. There was a small book shelf with a few textbooks and some records, as well as Tolkien mixed with C.S. Lewis and Anne Rice. Notebooks and pencils were scattered on Harry's desk, along with an actual slide rule – Harry never had much luck with calculators, especially any of the fancier ones. A folded chess set and a few stacked board games lay on top of his dresser, with a LP player on the side. A row of plastic toy soldiers lined the windowsill above his bed, a reminder of a different life.
Harry took out his wand from inside his backpack and placed both by his bed. He undressed and tossed his clothes into the laundry hamper for later. He went inside the loo and entered the shower, turning on the hot water. He soaked and scrubbed for a quick ten minutes, tension fading from his muscles. He toweled off, redressed in a black T-shirt and jeans, grabbed his wand, and exited into the main room.
By mutual agreement, Harry was never allowed into Terry's room, which was on the other side of the flat. It contained some of the few electronics in the flat – a TV, a small laptop, and Terry's mobile. Terry didn't actually use much in the way of electronics often either – making him Harry's most understanding flatmate to date – but he still minded when his newest mobile went up in smoke from being around Harry for too long.
In exchange, Terry agreed to let Harry use the basement for his own purposes and left him alone when he was down there. This was a good thing because Harry doubted that Terry would be amused by waking up in the middle of the night to the flat burning down due to some of Harry's more explosive experiments.
Harry unlocked the basement door, placing the "Do Not Disturb" sign over the handle. It was dark inside, so he waved his wand and murmured, "Candelas inflammare."
The room was suddenly illuminated as several candles around the room burst up into bright blue flame.
The basement was much more interesting than Harry's room. There was a bookshelf next to two tables, the larger one filled with all kinds of obscure devices and instruments – the vast majority of which Harry had constructed for his various experiments and most of which were failures. A copper lined circle on the floor was on the opposite end of the room. There was a long shelf filled with several boxes and containers. Harry had put up the equivalent of a small firing range along one of the walls, complete with paper and cardboard targets. There was even a cot in the corner because Harry spent almost all of his free time down here. Most importantly, a fully-functioning fire extinguisher was secured by the basement door.
Locking the door behind him, Harry placed his wand on one of the tables, before retrieving and donning a pair of gloves, a lab coat, and goggles. He put the wand into the front pocket of the coat and strode over to the bookshelf. It was larger than the one in his room and was brimming with books. He had treatises on alchemy and philosophy from Aristotle to ibn Sina, texts on Wicca, a collection of legends on the Tuatha Dé Danann, historical analyses of Greco-Roman mythology, several paperbacks he had randomly picked out of the metaphysics section at the local bookstore, and more.
A lot of it was nonsense, Harry had to admit. He couldn't exactly go to Blackwell's or Foyles and tell the staff I need books on magic – not the kind of magic you see on Penn & Teller, but real magic of the Gandalf variety without looking as though he had completely lost the plot. Determining fact from fiction from those books had involved a significant degree of trial and error on Harry's part – and more than one accidental fire.
Harry had found at least two absolutely genuine books on working magic: Adalbert Waffling's Magical Theory – an informative if dry treatise on the nature of magic – and Ebenezer McCoy's Elementary Magic. That second book had been Harry's equivalent of the Bible for the last four years, explaining not just the why of manipulating magical energy, but thankfully also the how of it. Where Harry had previously stumbled around with using magic, McCoy's book was a shining beacon in the dark, putting logic and sense into what had seemed like a completely haphazard field.
He retrieved his copy of Elementary Magic, one of his Elder Futhark texts, his lab book, and the two mirrors he had been working for the last few days. Yesterday, he had reworked his rune scheme and had carefully re-carved and recharged the runes into this new pair of mirrors – the first two attempts had blown up due to magical backlash.
Explosions happen too bloody often around me, Harry mentally grumbled.
He began by quickly comparing the carved runes to the bookmarked section in Page's Runes as well as double-checking the calculations and rune scheme he had worked up in his lab book. He had done this in more detail last night, but he wanted one last check. Finally, he re-read McCoy's discussion on the principles of assuring sympathetic connections between previously unpaired inanimate objects, as well as his later discussions on holomancy and phonoturgy.
Thaumaturgy wasn't Harry's strongest suit – he preferred evocation really, but re-reading McCoy made Harry feel a little better about his task. Assuming he did everything correctly, when he spoke the command phrase, light and sound reflected in one mirror would be reflected in the companion mirror and vice versa. The resulting prototype would be the magical equivalent of a mobile, except this one wouldn't spontaneously combust in his presence.
He had been able to link light and sound separately between pairs of mirrors in the past. That had been simple. Now, he was trying to link light and sound, while also making it inducible by a specific phrase and ensuring it could be magically recharged without interfering with any of the intended functions.
Harry left the books on the table and walked inside the circle with mirrors in hand. He knelt down and placed a gloved hand against the border of the circle.
Here goes nothing, Harry. Third times the charm, right?
He released his will and felt the invisible energies of the circle snap into place, creating an isolated space where random magical energies wouldn't interfere with Harry's task. One of the first rules about working new enchantments was to keep a magically sterile environment – it also helped to have a physically sterile one as well.
The lab coat itself had minor enchantments against kinetic and thermal energy but the risk of magical contamination was low. Ironically, Harry had suffered quite a bit of kinetic and thermal backlash from the first few versions of the coat, all of them resounding disasters. The lab coat he had constructed before the latest one had almost blown up with him inside it – he knew to throw it off when it started smoking at the corners – which would have been a rather messy and embarrassing end to Harry's study of magic.
Thankfully, the coat he wore currently worked just fine. It wouldn't stop a bullet or a fireball, but it would protect him from some of the more common accidents that tended to happen around him. Harry could accept the slight loss in magical stability in favor of helping to keep his face intact.
He placed both mirrors face down inside the circle. Kneeling down, Harry inhaled deeply and gathered his will as he traced slow spiraling arcs in the air with his holly wand. He began to softly incant, "Vereinen, zusammenschlieβen, vereinen, zusammenschlieβen…"
The runes carved on the back of the mirror began to glow with pale purple light. Harry kept his will bound tightly and held the command phrase fixed at the forefront of his mind even as he kept chanting.
"Vereinen, zusammenschlieβen, vereinen, zusammenschlieβen…"
The runes continued to pulse, shining brighter and brighter. Harry incanted louder and his wand moved faster as he felt his will harden and congeal.
"Vereinen, zusammenschlieβen! Vereinen, zusammenschlieβen! Vereinen…"
Amethyst light blazed from the runes and Harry could feel the energy within the circle like a physical presence against his skull. He then jabbed this wand downward, unleashing his will, and shouted, "Zusammenschlieβen!"
Invisible power struck against the back of both mirrors and Harry could almost feel them struggling to incorporate it. He panted, slightly worn out from holding onto the energy for so long. The runes dimmed as Harry counted off thirty seconds in his head. No explosions yet – that's a good sign, right?
He picked up the mirrors. They appeared to be physically intact, but now came the actual test. He placed a mirror on one side of the circle and stood with the other mirror, his reflection peering back at him.
Closing his eyes and putting up an arm to shield his face, Harry slowly said, "Übertragung."
Harry blinked and looked at the mirror in his hand – it continued to faithfully display his person. He glanced at the mirror on the ground, still reflecting the ceiling. Harry put the mirror in his hand on the ground and picked up the other one, his grip loose and ready to drop it if he even thought it was going to explode. The second mirror he had picked up was slightly vibrating, so Harry repeated the command phrase, "Übertragung."
The mirror suddenly cleared and all Harry could see was the gray surface of his ceiling. He looked back at the mirror he had left behind, which now showed his face in profile.
"Bloody hell, it worked!" Harry exclaimed gleefully, the mirror on the ground echoing him. "It really worked!"
Harry tested out both mirrors for the next five minutes, making faces and noises until he was satisfied. Chuckling, he said, "Übertragung," and both mirrors returned to normal. He put them in his pocket and scuffed the edge of the circle with his boot, breaking the circle and allowing magical energy to free flow once more.
He'd still have to see how distance between the mirrors affected their function, but he was willing to call tonight's experiment a resounding success. He put the mirrors in a labeled box on his shelf and stripped off his protective gear. He could hear the front door opening upstairs – Terry must have come back.
Harry exited the basement, extinguishing the candles and locking the door behind him.
He strode towards the front of the flat, wand in the back pocket of his jeans. "Good party, Terry? By the way, Seamus wanted to know if Lav–"
Harry froze when he saw who was at the front. It wasn't just Terry.
Black robes. Skull-shaped masks. Bone white staves.
They stood just outside the flat, the one on the left holding a staff towards the open doorway while the other held Terry by his hair with staff at his throat, forcing him to kneel. Terry's eyes were with fright and he was bleeding from his forehead.
Harry advanced towards the door and drew his wand, keeping it low but at the ready. "Who the bloody hell are you?"
The robed figure on the left, slightly hunched over, took notice of Harry first. "This be the one the Dark Lord wants? He's not got even the simplest of wards. D'yeh even practice the Art, boy?" he rasped coarsely and Harry could hear the derision in his voice.
"Harry, what the hell is going on?" Terry squeaked.
The short and stocky thug holding Terry pulled back on his hair and pushed the end of the staff further against Terry's throat. Terry sputtered and coughed. A cruel feminine voice spoke, "Keep your fat gob shut. Mouth off again and we'll see how far I can shove this down your throat."
Wisely, Terry shut up at that. Harry resisted the temptation to raise his wand and start cursing both of them. He could tell that neither of them were mundane. "Answer the question – who are you? What do you want with Terry?"
The female giggled wheezily. "It ain't your little boyfriend the Dark Lord's after, Potter. He wants you."
Harry stiffened. "You're making a big mistake. There is no Potter here. You've come to the wrong place. Just let Terry go and we can all walk away from this."
The man chuckled. "Yeh don't even know your own name, Harry Potter?" He eyed the wand that Harry gripped tightly. "But, maybe yeh know a thing or two about magic – wanna scrap it out and see?"
"My name is Harry Green. You've come to the wrong place," Harry repeated. "Listen – whatever business you think you have with me, Terry doesn't have anything to do with it either way. Just let him go."
"But, we haven't even had a chance to play!" The stocky woman gave another awful wheezy giggle and released Terry's hair, patting his head. Terry whimpered, his eyes bright with tears. "Yes, yes, we could have so much fun together."
Harry shivered – whatever and whoever she was, she was probably more than a little barmy in a not-so-harmless way. "Look, you want me, right? Well right now, I'm behind a threshold and you're on the other side. Just let Terry go and I'll walk out. Then we settle whatever you think this is about."
The man snorted. "Like this dump is gonna have anything like a real threshold, whelp. Won't slow us down none."
Harry tensed, ready to move at a moment's notice. Whoever they were, they weren't budging. He had grappled with paranormal threats a few times in the past. He had knocked out a troll when he was eleven (though that involved more luck than actual skill), chased off a rogue werewolf when he was thirteen (the werewolf might have been more than a little drunk prior to transforming), and dealt with a man-eating shapeshifter last year – now that encounter had been legitimate!
But he had never gone toe-to-toe with an actual practitioner, let alone two of them. As much as Harry liked to think he was good when it came to evocation, he had a feeling it wouldn't be enough against these two.
And Terry was in the direct line of fire. If a full-blown magical firefight broke out, he'd be caught between the three of them – the absolute worst place to be. Harry had to find some way of getting Terry out of this mess – and fast.
The woman was no longer holding Terry in place – her staff just rested lightly beneath his throat. Harry would have to act without warning and he would have only one shot at this.
"Looks like I'm wizard enough for your 'Dark Lord' to care. Who is he anyway, some loser living in his Mum's basement who got pissed off because he was too ugly to get a girl?" The taunt was childish and uninspired, but Harry wasn't attempting to engage in scholarly debate here.
The woman snarled at that, raising her staff at Harry – and away from Terry. "You dare –"
"Alecto –" the man started to say.
Exactly the reaction Harry was hoping for. He quickly raised his wand, focusing his will upon Terry, and shouted, "Accio!"
Terry suddenly jerked, caught by the invisible force of Harry's spell, and was abruptly yanked in Harry's direction towards the open doorway. Harry's heart thudded in triumph, but the man had kept his staff aimed towards the doorway the whole time.
A supersonic crack! ripped through the autumn air. Wet blood splashed against Harry's face as something slammed hard against his chest. Coughing out the blood and thankful he had closed his eyes in time, Harry looked down at what he had caught with his other hand. Terry's head stared up at him. Terry's eyes blinked once, twice, his mouth agape. Blood poured out from the stump where it had been connected to his neck, staining Harry's shirt and jeans.
Harry stared for a long moment before he dropped the dismembered head. It bounced off Terry's back and came to rest against his severed right arm. Harry swallowed down the bile rising in his throat and looked back at the two sorcerers, his hands shaking. They both had their staves in a high-ready position and Harry had kept his wand loose and at his side.
No one spoke.
Then the man fractionally inclined his head.
All hell broke loose.