A/N: And we're back again, I've been pretty sick these past few days and it's taken a lot out of me, but I finally managed to get a chapter out.
A big thank you to Taliesin19, x102RedDragon and NerdDragonVoid who looked over the chapter, without them it would definitely not be where it is.
This one was a pretty big one to write outline wise, so I hope I did the matter justice, though that's up to you to decide.
Regardless, I hope you enjoy, reviews and feedback are always suggestion and stay safe!
Welcome to Chapter 20 - The Curse.
It had been a long week.
The world still stank of pipe smoke and whisky, his robe marred with inadvertent stains and a pungent smell he wasn't sure even the hardiest of charms could remove.
"You still looking for work, Dursley?" Bailey asked, his voice only a drink away from slurring.
Someone hasn't got their sea legs, Harry mused, watching his newfound drinking partner grapple with the side of the bar in order to keep from toppling.
Bailey had become a permanent fixture in his life this past week or, at the very least, the nights that he ventured into Knockturn Alley. Idle information gathering filled their nights while days were spent pursuing their true goal.
But more intelligence would only help them all. They got less sleep for having done it, but tonight, it might just be worth it.
"I'm always looking for work," Harry yawned, dragging his glass towards him, "Family's been struggling a bit, you know how it is."
Alcohol made them all boisterous, and few things worked as well in helping him hear what he wanted to hear than firewhisky and friendship.
Loose lips sank ships, or so they said, and Bailey, who heard quite a bit skulking around Knockturn, was a weapon like any other. His use felt a bit unscrupulous; the ease of lying felt wrong.
It was in pursuit of something larger than them all—that was his newfound mantra when the world seemed content with testing him.
Sometimes it made it easier; sometimes, it did not.
"Aye, I know how it can be," Bailey grumbled, knocking his glass against the wooden bartop. A few echoed his action, lost for context but happy to join in. "No bastard around here wants someone that's seen the inside of Azkaban. Shame, too, bet we'd be twice as dependable."
Harry shrugged. "World's a shit place sometimes," he said, "Best to just move on."
Maybe the lying really has gotten too easy.
"And you wanna know what I say to the world? Bugger that." Bailey said, slamming his glass hard against the counter before downing a decent portion, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, "Anyway, like I said, I heard about some work, but there's a bit of a caveat."
The last word was uttered with a long drawl, mimicking an aristocrat before downing the remainder of his glass with an audible gulp.
It was a contrast to be sure.
"And what's that?" Harry said, staring across to the fringes of the room to Fleur who was conversing with an old hag in a small booth.
Bailey checked over his shoulders in an action so overt, anyone looking for a secret surely would've known who to seek out.
Eventually convinced the coast was clear, he spoke, "Well, I got a way to make a quick few galleons, but you'd have to… well, get back into the old life."
"Get back into it?" Harry prompted, eager to finally hear something of use, "How so?"
"The way the wind has been blowing, an honest day's work is about to get a whole lot easier," Bailey said, his voice laden with pride. "Not many people around with a compunction for do-gooding these days."
Harry nodded intently, motioning for him to continue.
"Well, I know some lads get out and want to go on the straight and narrow," Bailey explained lightly, trying to tiptoe around the topic, "Not that we all have the luxury, you know? But I reckon I shouldn't say too much unless you're willing to jump back in."
Harry swirled his glass, searching guidance in the amber liquid — to sell the performance if nothing else. "Rent's not getting any cheaper," he said eventually.
"Nah, it's not," Bailey agreed, a smile evident in his voice without Harry even having to look at him, "Knew you had it in you, mate."
"What's the job?" Harry asked, catching Fleur's eyes from across the room. A small wink indicator enough that he had finally found something worth learning.
"You remember Ackley, right? Little fellow, big moustache?"
Harry cast a glance to a far stool where the mentioned man had once been, though he was absent tonight.
"Splinched his fingers off a couple months ago?" Harry said, "Yeah, I remember the story."
"Well, he was making the rounds out past the old Apothecary, the one that got done in for selling belladonna under the table. Anyways, the way he was telling me, some of You-Know-Who's men are looking for wands."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "Wands? Or the people attached to them?"
"Both from the way I heard it," Bailey continued, "What with everyone breaking out they need new wands, heard theirs got burnt to a crisp by the old guard. Looking for people to join 'em and try and squeeze some money out of Knockturn and protect what they've got here."
That didn't sound good.
Great, Harry thought, That's precisely what we needed, more people that want us dead.
He was more than willing to bet Borgin and Burkes were caught up in the protection scheme.
"You know who's in charge?" Harry asked.
Bailey nodded energetically. "Course I do, none other than Rowle himself."
Harry bit his top lip in idle thought, "I've seen the posters,"
"They don't do him justice, I reckon," Bailey shook his head, "I was in Azkaban with him, though he was on a different level."
"Naturally," Harry agreed.
"He's a big fucker, not too bad with a wand either the way I've heard people talk about him," Bailey said, "One of those lads that Azkaban couldn't take much from. Went in an Ox, came out an angry one."
"And if I wanted to join up?"
Bailey shrugged, "Never heard the name Dursley before, never asked if you were a Mudblood, not too polite, you see. If you are, I don't need to know about it, you're nice enough — they don't need to know about it either if you get me?"
"Yeah," Harry said, "I get what you're saying."
"They're working out of the Starry Prophesier, that crackpot seer down by Shyverwretch's, you know the one. Go there and ask around."
"Right," Harry nodded, "I best be getting home then, sleeping on it might do me some good."
"See you tomorrow night?" Bailey asked, his voice deceptively hopeful. In a way, they had become friends.
"Should do," Harry said, his succinct reply met by a raised drink and nothing else.
Harry nodded his head towards Fleur, they'd leave separately just as they'd entered — an effort to hear the most without making it so overt.
It'd be the last time he visited the Hanging Man for quite some time.
Tonight was a different night.
The heat was unbearable.
It prickled against his skin, made the possibility of sleep unfathomable—not that he would be able to anyway.
Worst of all, the heat was not real.
It was the crucible once again. The mind's illusion of fire at his heels, flames licking his robes to urge him ever onwards towards his goal.
Tonight differed from the weeks before. They had learned what was against them, planned for what they could, but time was almost out. Each day they allowed to pass was another to benefit their foes.
No, tonight was the night that marked a change in the war.
For better, or for worse.
But for now, even against the nigh intolerable heat, he laid against the soft fabric of their transfigured bed.
She was with him.
Beyond tonight the war would begin in earnest for them, it had taken all it would from them, their offensive would begin. The future was unsure, as was their love. For the moment, they could rehearse their plan and enjoy the pause before the plunge.
"If Rowle's in Knockturn, there'll be more… a lot more."
It was Fleur's soft voice, laden with an odd mixture of anxiety and tenderness, a fear of things to come.
"I know," Harry whispered, the plush bed against his back the anathema of the harsh truths that left her mouth. "We… I don't think we've got much of a choice, not anymore. It's tonight, or it's never."
"And if it has to be never?" Fleur asked, stoking the crucible beneath him and the fire of indecision in his gut.
Harry shrugged. "Then it's going to be never," he said, his voice still soft, "We can find other leads, other ways to win, but we'll win. We're always going to win."
With a sigh, Fleur shook her head. "It won't matter," she said, pessimism or pragmatism he didn't know, "This could be it if we misstep, this could be us done; the war over."
"I know," Was all Harry offered in return, his voice sounded meek and small. Making a desperate gambit to give her answers that instilled a courage in them both he didn't quite feel.
She shifted on the bed to be closer to him, edging ever so slightly to rest her head over his chest. Beneath his breast, his heart beat painfully, thumping hard against his ribs. Definitely hard enough that she could hear it.
"You're nervous," she sighed, a gusty, hot breath that blew through the fabric of his robes.
"Of course I am,"
His words met the air and silence followed, Fleur seemed content with trying to muster an answer.
She absentmindedly traced patterns across his chest while he sought solace in the roof above "I'm nervous too," she said finally, her voice barely above a whisper
Words were all they were at face value but beneath the surface was a glimmer of what lay beneath the stalwart facade—the briefest glimpse of the flaw beneath and all that came with it.
Fleur Delacour was scared.
And so was he.
If it was just himself, perhaps he'd be less fearful of the future and what may come. But it wasn't just him anymore.
"We'll be okay," Harry mumbled, staring into the white roof above, hoping it'd provide something, anything.
"We'll be okay," Fleur echoed.
Harry swallowed the lead weight that did it's utmost to spring free from his lips along with words he barely had the courage to speak.
"I…If…" Harry grappled with finding eloquent phrases to ensure his next words wouldn't seem so naive, "If something happens to me, not just tonight… but, well, at any time, you don't have to keep fighting."
Blue eyes became alight with determination, "I will,"
There was a defiance in her voice, an edge that cut through whatever meekness her thoughts had forced her to adopt. It dared him to challenge it.
"You don't have to," Harry whispered, "You won't ever have to, not for me. Go home, become an Enchanter, do what you've always wanted to do."
Don't die for me.
"I know," She returned again, her voice still defiant.
"I love you," Harry said, his voice almost lost to the harsh beat of his heart, he leant down to place a gentle kiss through her platinum tresses.
The call to slumber was soft and sweet, a chance to dream of better days and forget things not yet born.
But the night was not yet done.
Albus Dumbledore landed on old, familiar ground, the soft crackle of Phoenix flames heralding his arrival.
The sky was pastel blue, bathing the world in a soft, pleasant heat that did not befit the winter. A soft wind buffeted his robes to the audible delight of Fawkes, who trilled animatedly as he basked in the warmth.
It was a breeze that spoke to a spring only just arriving and not a winter already in the throes of frost — to the life-bearer he hoped to find and the chilling cold he hoped to avoid for as long as he could.
But his time dwindled yet.
Albus held his uninjured arm aloft. Fawkes circled high above him twice more before finally descending. Sharp talons met the fabric of his robes in a gentle embrace, feathers ruffled to signal permission to pat.
"Thank you again, old friend," Albus said, and in response, Fawkes sang.
It was a song of mourning, in his limited comprehension of matters beyond himself, even the Phoenix knew Albus Dumbledore lacked time. The sombre tune continued as Fawkes nuzzled his head into the soft robes, saddened by the fact that not even his tears could reverse the clock.
"I'll have need of you soon," Albus said, his voice softer for having heard the tune, "Stay near."
The Phoenix nodded in what could only be construed as affirmation before leaping upwards, disappearing in a bright flash of flames.
"To the elements be free," he said, though Fawkes had long since disappeared, leaving him to face old friends on his knees.
Albus stepped lightly towards a thicket of trees, passing through a barely visible opening laden with the grip of strangling vines and dense foliage. Had he a wand or any magic left the obstacle would have been surmounted with the utmost ease.
Yet he had access to neither, forced to thrust himself uncomfortably through the errant branches that struck at exposed flesh like snakes. Wearing a plethora of thin crimson scratches, Albus finally worked his way through the overgrown entrance.
Only to be confronted by a sight he hadn't thought he'd see again.
The house before him was simplistic, mundane even. It would not look astray nestled in suburbia, dated perhaps and worn in places, but in no way uninhabitable.
It was a humble affair, not the ostentatious display of wealth the stories had sung nor the flagrant flaunting of gold born from old magic. Any indicator of their substantial wealth was lost beneath cheap, white house paint and cracked roof tiles.
The Flamels looked more akin to paupers than princes — a house of scholars and a family, not of riches.
Albus stepped to the front door, unable to shake the feeling of boots being weighed down by lead. His good hand fell upon the door thrice, stirring sedate footsteps within.
The distance between wherever the inhabitant was and the door could only be short, but it was surmounted in what felt like a lifetime. Even in his advanced age, all the wisdom he'd been praised for and battles he had fought, these were the hardest of all.
Looking his mistake in the eyes and lacking the means to set it to right.
The door opened a crack and old, wrath-filled eyes stared him down.
She looks older than when we last met, Albus thought, though that had been five years ago.
Skin was cracked and creased, the Stone's destruction had played its part well. Amber eyes had turned to a dull grey, marred with cataracts, brown hair once vibrant had been sapped of its life, a dull, lank white left in its place.
A single word had seemed so simple, yet he had never heard it uttered with such contempt — a mere disgust at his person.
"Hello, Perenelle," Albus said softly, fearful that a louder voice might result in the door slammed shut.
"Nicholas made it more than clear you weren't to return here," Perenelle said, "Do you care so little for our wishes—his wishes that you'd flagrantly ignore the final desire of a dying man."
Albus sighed, a gusty, sorrowful breath, "Had there been any other option, any choice more feasible, I'd have taken it and respected your wishes," he said, "Best you left to your life and me to my mistakes."
"The world is rarely so kind," Perenelle said.
"The world is rarely so kind, indeed," Albus agreed.
The gap in the door widened slightly, and Perenelle stalked off slowly, seizing the door he stepped through and back into the house of his old mentor.
She seated herself in an old armchair, leather torn from the body in an ill-imitation of camouflage.
Albus lingered at the fringes of the room, almost too timid to find himself amidst old ghosts, but despite the feeling, he stepped forward.
He has expected a forlorn gaze from the ancient witch, he'd seen it before. But now her old eyes were filled with hatred and loathing, a wand clutched in her frail hand exacerbating a feeling for him he already knew.
Expecting to see it, and actually seeing it, however, were concepts with a vast divide between them. He had hoped time might ease her pain, futile but hope all the same.
"For the love Nicholas once bore you, I'll hear what you have to say," Perenelle declared weakly, still clutching her wand as if she was ready to use it. "Then you'll swear to never return, to never utter our names again."
The distance between them had grown so insurmountable that she wouldn't accept anything less.
"You have my word, I'll respect your wishes."
A sudden, cruel laugh followed his words, "Yes, because respecting our wishes has always been such a high priority of yours. I want more than idle lip-service, I want words aloud that you'll never return."
He loosened the glove on his injured hand, Perenelle sending her gaze downwards inquisitively. With a final tug, the black leather came free and exposed the wound to the air.
"I doubt I'll get the chance," Albus sighed, brandishing the gangrenous flesh as an example, "A necrotic curse, I've a week left at best, a couple days at worst."
"Good," Perenelle nodded with grim satisfaction that stung him to the very core, "But it wasn't a curse that killed you in the end, was it?"
"No, it wasn't."
"Then what was it?" Perenelle urged, nodding in a fashion that seemed almost eager.
"Yes, your hubris does seem to end a lot of lives, does it not?"
She was hurt, so was he. He had single-handedly taken all she still had in the world after hundreds of years.
The plan had seemed foolish before he had even arrived, now he was confronted with such an obstacle of a scorned, wrathful widow he wondered why he even entertained the idea.
"I have never been more sorry, Perenelle—"
Another cruel, humourless laugh met his words halfway, "You can save the platitudes, you've given enough of them. Your apologies cannot restore my love to life nor warm a hearth gone cold. You killed him, Albus, all while thrusting a child into danger."
That was the final thrust of sorrow into his breast, leaving nought but cold dread in its wake.
"Was it…" Albus struggled with the right words, "At the end, was it peaceful?"
Perenelle seemed to mull the words over for a moment, "As peaceful as it could be, given the circumstances. Seeing his life's work broken broke him in turn. You broke him. Had you the sense to keep him alive, he might have been able to heal that curse of yours. But he could never heal your pride, never disavow you of the thought that only you knew what was good for the world."
It had become a regular occurrence in these past months, those he failed recounting that if he had just been faster, quicker, better, then he might have had a chance to live.
"I've begun to pay my dues," Albus said softly.
"It's not nearly enough, and it never will be."
A loud silence befell both of them, he averted his gaze for fear of angering the woman even further.
Perenelle's hands went to her face, trying to rub the weariness away. "Why are you here, Albus?" she said, her voice dulling ever so slightly.
"I made a promise that I wouldn't...couldn't dwell on the battles I lost and the mistakes I made, that I wouldn't lead another Arianna to be killed, another Gellert led astray or another Tom to darkness."
That I wouldn't let the dream of a better world fall apart.
"But you did," Perenelle guessed.
He nodded, leaving his head to hang, "But I did," he said, "They sang songs of my prowess, of my titles and wisdom and yet, I still let a child suffer to fit my vision of a better world."
"The same child you tested with our stone?" Perenelle asked.
"The exact same."
"Is he a good child? Despite it all?"
His uninjured hand came up to his face, desperate to release the thoughts that pooled at his temples and the weary tension that built at his brow.
"The best of us," Dumbledore said, "He has Gellert's power and my lessons and magic, the product of us both with the heart of a man far better."
"Then why, pray tell, Albus Dumbledore, are you here and not with him?"
"My actions have cost him far too much to face him again and yet, I must," he said, "I have no wand, no magic and no time."
Perenelle had lived for far longer than him, she was not a lackwit.
"And you hope to find the last with me,"
"I need to do what I can, for as long as I can, to sew wounds closed I caused while I have the time. Once I thought I could do it alone, and I can't."
"You're a different man, Albus, I can no longer tell whether it was gallantry or foolishness that led you here, hoping for a dose of Elixir from a stone, our stone, that you allowed to be destroyed."
"I would not dare even ask if I had any other option. I had preferred to leave you alone, never knowing my name again." Albus said, "All that was left to me were terrible choices, but that didn't absolve the need to choose."
Perenelle smiled wistfully, the first indication of something beyond utter contempt, "That was one of Nicholas's lines."
"It was," Dumbledore nodded, "There's rarely a day that I don't lament that loss and whatever justification I thought I had in order to sacrifice your wellbeing in pursuit of my own goals. But he was still my mentor, and I carry with me what he taught me, even if it's taken the better part of a century to realise."
In a way, remembering his lessons was a magic of a different kind, one that filled his core that the curse couldn't suck dry.
"He was a wise man," Perenelle said, her eyes trailing upwards caught in a distant memory.
Albus lifted his head to face her, "He was," he agreed, "And I have no doubt he'd detest what I became."
Perenelle nodded, "On that, we find rare agreeance," she said, "And if you were a wise man, what decision would you make?"
"If time has proven anything, it is that I am not a wise man."
"Your life wanes, and I hold the only means to prolong it," Perenelle said, "Humouring me would be your best choice."
Once upon a time, he might've sought an answer to appease the old witch, but now he was stripped barren, and the truth was laid bare before them.
"Had I been Nicholas, or anyone wiser than myself, I'd pour it out," Albus said, wringing his good hand against his forearm.
"And I shouldn't follow that exact course of action because...?" Perenelle said, her wizened face leaning forward to observe him with acute interest.
"Then pour it out, stain the floor with my last days if that would please you so," Dumbledore offered, "Though if my last days have taught me anything; what is wise and what is right are not always identical."
"And giving you the means to prolong your life would be right?"
Albus shook his head, "No, it'd be foolish, and I might fail still."
Perenelle leant back gently in her chair, "Then perhaps death has taught you something."
"Indeed it has," Albus agreed, "In some ways, I'm still the young man you taught all those years ago."
"And in others?"
"In others?" Albus said, "Well...I'm still the boy that killed his sister, still the fool that fought the world thinking he'd save it somewhere, somehow, along the way."
Perenelle rose from her chair, shaky arms struggling to support her diminutive frame.
"Maybe I spoke truthfully then," Perenelle said, her lips graced with the ghost of a smile that seemed too fickle to last, "Somewhere, somehow, you might have also truly learned from your mistakes, but not nearly enough."
"No," He said, "Not nearly enough."
Her movements were deliberate and slow, each soft footfall eliciting a sharp exhale from the woman. Hands grappled with pieces of furniture to assist her short journey, swaying to and fro from every object like a ship battered by harsh waves.
Eventually, she came to the fireplace and the picture frame that spanned the top.
Nicholas, Albus recognised, it had not been present the last time he had been allowed in the Flamel household.
Though that was long ago.
It did not interact nor seem sentient, the hallmark of many portraits in their world. It was a different man to the one Albus last remembered. A thin frame tapered into a strong face crowned with light brown hair that fell in thick rivulets to tickle his chin.
He was painted with a smile, a rare enough occurrence in real life.
Now in death, he wore it proudly, the man who had lived beyond his years was static. Life had been enough for him, he need not prolong it any further.
It was poetic, perhaps, but Albus could not shield the agony of coming face-to-face with a man that would by all rights still live if he had made the right choice.
Perenelle shakily rose to her tiptoes and whispered something unintelligible to the portrait, he chose to distract himself with something else — to allow a widow her moment.
A sharp click drew his eyes suddenly back, and she reached up to kiss the lips of the painting, her lips staining the canvas before she pulled away. Another click echoed through the room, and the smile was marred by a frown before a slot opened in the burnished bronze of the baroque frame.
Perenelle reached up and plucked something from the frame before closing the receptacle shut, turning back to Albus. This time, he stepped towards her.
In her hands, a thin vial.
A golden liquid shimmered in the light of the glass, twinged with a sepia hue. Her wrinkled hand stretched towards his own to pass the vial, he let her drop it into his palm as opposed to grasping it. He did not want to seem eager as he weighed the Elixir of Life within his hands.
It couldn't reverse the past, but it would ease the rot, even if only for a week.
It was time given liquid form.
He had expected to be thrust out the door, his plan neutered in its infancy. If nothing else he came to do what he preached, to mend another wound — to let the woman batter against him until he felt whole.
For all his losses and tragedies shared, even Albus Dumbledore knew it did not work like that. Though he tried it still, for he had no other ideas.
"I don't do it for you — never for you," She said, eager to, if nothing else, let him know her feelings did not die with a glass vial, "But so another innocent will not suffer entirely for your mistakes, not like Nicholas."
"Thank you," Was all Albus could offer. It seemed meek, unprepared and ill-fitting like words would never be enough.
"Sew the wounds you made and do as you preach," Perenelle said, "It will not erase the curse nor dampen it. It will buy you a week, maybe more, maybe less. Even the Elixir has its limits."
It put a stopper in death, for now, that was enough.
"I'll do my best," he promised, "I'll try."
"Your best means little to me," she said, "Save the boy and let the man die. The world has little need for men of Albus Dumbledore's calibre anymore."
It was a sentiment he'd echoed a hundred times before, and yet the words cut as deep as the first, leaving skin raw and his gut full of lead. Perenelle offered a final gesture, a nod to the vial as if to drink.
He did as he was bid, his thumb wiggling the cork free from a vial that seemed too mundane to house such a liquid. Lifting the container to his lips, he inhaled gently, the smell of copper, no — gold filling his nose.
Tilting his head back, he let the liquid pass through his lips, tasting the metallic tang that coated his tongue and sent his taste buds alight as if he had swallowed his own blood.
There was no instant fix, no sudden elation or healing.
But there was hope.
Knockturn Alley was still following as the night edged onwards, an exodus of witches and wizards funnelled around him, parting like a sea of bodies. The very street seemed to sway in the twilight.
It once again operated as usual.
His glamoured face itched incessantly, and an invisible hand clutched the back of his robes. Fleur, covered by his cloak and her own disillusionment charm huddled close behind him as to not collide with anyone.
The winding alleyway was still full, far too packed for any true espionage to take place. Voldemort had tightened his grip, some had no doubt been caught, but most seemed to have slipped through the clenching fist — living life as usual.
With himself unconcealed, he could distract anyone as Fleur made an effort to break into Borgin and Burkes. As ineloquent as it was, it was the best plan to be had.
Weaving past a group of drunks that stumbled aimlessly in a desperate attempt to keep themselves from colliding with the cobbles beneath them, their trek onwards continued. Following the rehearsed path led their objective came into sight.
13B, Knockturn Alley, the hanging sign read, beneath it, Borgin and Burkes, "Confidential valuation service for unusual and ancient wizarding artefacts, such as may have been inherited by the best wizarding families".
Behind it was the myrtle-coloured shop front, the windows obscured by dust and grime that seemed strategically placed. The dim light of old, bracketed torches on the bricks lasted only a foot beyond the glass before fading, leaving only ominous silhouettes in its wake.
Harry felt the bracing hand on his lower back rise to his shoulder, a mouth closing near his ear.
"Make a distraction," Fleur whispered, he had to strain to hear over, "I'll work on the wards when there's an opportunity."
"Be safe," Harry whispered back, using his mouth to cover his hand so no one would see him speak to himself. Though, he doubted the population of the Alley would think anything amiss.
"And you," she said in return, slowly slipping away.
Harry nodded, and the whisper left, presumably to linger in an alcove near the shopfront, ready to dismantle the protective charms halting them.
Moonlight's gaze bathed the street ahead in a griseous hue, Harry continued a sedate pace in the hopes of finding the ripe chance of a distraction. Once again dodging bodies that swayed in his path, only to change course in an instant into someone else.
Much like that near the Inn of the Hanging Man, the air was saturated with the smell of alcohol, think and pungent of a night that masked whatever other illicit activity might've taken place. He imagined the apothecaries were more than thankful for such a boon.
It was there he spotted an opportunity. A drunken man leant against the cracked wall, a hag beneath him. Her lank, dark hair the product of far too many charms. The man, on the other hand, was thin and short, pinning her against the wall with a bottle glued to his palm.
He gestured wildly, swinging and sloshing the liquid back and forth until it stained the stones beneath him with the dull, crimson liquid that glimmered with the help of the moon.
Odgen's Rage Rum, Harry recognised, he'd become more than acquainted with the alcohols of the wizarding world over the past year. While Fleur instructed him on the finer points of wine, Bailey had given him a more than ample course on the lower sorts, Firewhisky, Gigglewater, Dragon's Breath, Rage Rum.
Though it gave the drinker heightened courage, which seemed to bolster the fidgety man's efforts in seducing the hag, it did as its name suggested — it built a rage. A wrath within eager to spill to the forefront, it was a dangerous drink to be sure.
It was there that Harry spied his plan.
He let the long sleeves of his robe fall to his belt, slowly sliding his Cyprus wand into his hand and hiding it with the dark cloth. He walked past them slowly, errant bits of conversation making its way to Harry's ears.
"-hoooo want it, don'tcha?" The man slurred, the woman's reaction didn't seem to betray much, but at the very least, it didn't seem an attack.
Harry situated himself on the wall not too far past them, letting his wand slowly rise to the fore while he did his best to make the action seem inconspicuous.
"Confundo," Harry said, his voice lost to the hum of the crowd, though his mouth was once again covered by his off-hand to shield from any watching eyes.
The spell was nigh invisible, certainly so with the moon surprisingly bright overhead in the cloudless sky. The man stumbled against the woman for a second, who took is as a further advance, though Harry had his plan in mind.
There was a tickle against his mind, the charm begging for a command. It was weak, untamed and likely wouldn't work if he wasn't thoroughly drunk. But with the stars aligned and a slight pang of remorse, Harry directed the man to do his bidding.
Start an argument down the alley.
Ideally, him starting one with the woman would have been easiest, but they were far too close to Borgin and Burkes. The man shook his head as if fighting off a daze, clearly even amidst the haze of red liquid, he had willpower enough.
Start an argument down the alley.
Harry willed it again, this time stronger, in a way. His thought was more forceful, and his wand held aloft to urge the man on further if needed. The target let his bottle fall to his side and peered around for a little, teetering on the edge of obedience.
Harry covered his mouth again and cast the spell to try and force some compliance if that was even a possibility. It impacted his open side, fluttering his robes and forcing him back again.
Start an argument down the alley.
And with the final command, the deed was done. The man roused himself from the woman, gulped a heavy dose of the remaining liquid and with slightly magically-instilled decorum, stumbled down the alley.
Harry lacked finesse or experience in the matter of the mind arts and their spells, but he did not want for power nor will — a decent enough substitute.
The now red-faced man passed him and shouted a string of profanities down the street.
"Any wizard or witch…" he stopped to regain his breath, "Any cunt who thinks they're hard enough to have a go, come try me!"
Charm-controlled and full of rage, he brandished his wand around as if it was a sword, eagerly demanding an opponent. With a suddenly fuelled alacrity, people rushed down the alley for the entertainment of a brewing fight.
And then, the distraction was set.
There was a new exodus in Knockturn Alley — not out, but in. People rushed in droves, most in their cups, to see a fight or have their own.
I might have started a bit more than I intended, Harry thought but put the man to his back. There were greater dangers tonight.
Harry pushed back through the crowd to the now far more desolate front of Borgin and Burkes, he crossed the Alley and lingered near the circular, protruding display of the shopfront. His eyes gazing upwards to peer at the apartment above.
Borgin was no doubt up there, asleep, but not for long. Despite Fleur's prowess with erecting wards and breaking them, this was not a job that would be done with ease. He would awake, and combat would ensue, the thump of his heart and tensing of his shoulders heralded as much.
Harry didn't speak for fear of breaking the concentration of his invisible partner, though he could hear the swishes of deft wand work and the barely lucent spells that collided with the barrier ahead.
Cacophonous roars from down the street worked into a fervour that drew more eyes and drowned out any attempts to break it up, though they were few and far. With no Hitwizards to police the streets, this was the end result, his hand in the matter notwithstanding.
As time waned on, the cries grew in intensity as did the methods Fleur employed. Dull colours turned bright, the soft thud of spells against the walls morphed into a noise akin to a gong, though only for a minute it was destined to draw ire.
"We're in," Fleur said, just loud enough to be heard.
Harry peered over both shoulders, trying to spy anyone watching, "Reckon he knows?"
"If he sleeps here, he's probably silenced the flat from the noise," Fleur said, though invisible he assumed her eyes were dragged to where the crowd was, "When we enter? He'll definitely have something to alert him to intruders, the ward stone might have extra enchantments?"
"Can you get through them?"
"Not with ease or little time," Fleur said, "We'll have to be quick before anyone else is alerted if they're alerted."
Harry remained vigilant, watching their backs, "Think he'd contact Rowle?"
"If he can get a Patronus off in time? Maybe." She said, "Though then they'd run amuck in his shop, I don't know. He'd want to keep his wares away from anyone that wasn't buying something."
The logic was sound, though they relied on chance and optimism in that regard. There was nothing else they could do.
Harry turned to face the door, "Are you ready?"
The crucible was there again, and it was boiling.
"I'm with you," was her reply, words that emboldened him ever so slightly.
Saeclum, Harry thought, the spell leaving his wand, dissolving the bell that hung above the door in the hopes that any charms disintegrated with it.
Harry threw open the door and rushed inside, Fleur also did so, still clinging to the invisibility cloak.
Lumos, he cast, his wand flaring with a soft, white light.
Fleur was active behind him once again, charming the windows opaque, conjuring shutters for good measure and then enacting a silencing ward while Harry walked ahead.
The inside of the shop looked as he remembered it, even if only briefly for having stumbled in all those years ago. Rusty blades and cursed objects lorded dominance above them, tall pedestals with shrunken heads, empty eyes managed menacing glares.
Glass cabinets seemed to make a slow advance to the counter, noting the plethora of other objects in his possession. Bloodied tarot cards sat before him as he weaved his way around the obstacle.
Yet, they seemed to call to him for just a moment.
Harry moved his wand to the cards, looking Intently at the faces. Bloodstained as they were, the crimson was dry and faded and the face beneath visible. Dark purple and bright gold artistry decorated the front, an alluring sight that drew him in.
Two cards sat upwards, beckoning him even further.
The first was a man and a woman, nude and staring upwards into winged flames overhead. A snake off to the side that seemed to speak to them, even while immortalised as static.
The second was a figure on a warhorse, clad in armour plate and bearing an unfamiliar banner — his head a grotesque skull, marred with old ichor.
An urge beckoned still, almost calling him to reach past the class and keep them for his own.
Then the danger struck.
An unintelligible cry sounded, and the room lit up, blinding Harry.
He threw himself to the floor to avoid a second spell, a shield snapping up to his back as he crawled away for cover.
"Thieves," the voice cried, "You've no idea who you're stealing from, be gone!."
Another spell crashed into the floor of Harry's last location, splintering the dark floorboards and sending them sprawling. Deprived of light save for Borgin's next spell that turned the shards to what he could only assume was rats, judging from the squeals.
Serpensortia, Harry cast internally, a snake he couldn't quite see coalescing from his wand. He didn't even need to command the serpent if the squeal of the rodent was anything to go off.
Fleur was still active, though he didn't know where.
I've got to keep his attention, Harry thought, make him think there's only one.
Borgin was somewhere on the stairs to the second floor, a higher position and waiting for any sign of movement. Harry flicked his wand like a whip, a thunderclap sounding that sent his ears ringing but allowed him to move without being heard.
Harry peeked up behind a cabinet, throwing his wand in an overhand gesture that sent a stunning spell near where he last saw him. Radiant red light bathed the room and in return, a spell from Borgin that shattered the glass of the cabinet, forcing Harry to shield his face with his arm.
"Hominum—" Borgin began, and Harry leapt up to cast a spell, though his words had been a feint, instead Borgin cast another curse that very nearly hit Harry.
Finally, Fleur made herself known, ensuring she could get close without missing.
"Stupefy!" Harry heard her cry loudly, desperate to push whatever power she could into the spell.
Borgin was blasted back, toppling over the bannister and into the wall, slumping down as Harry relit his wand.
"I got him," Fleur declared, using her wand to dispel her disillusionment charm and allowing him to glimpse her glamour once more.
"The ward stone?" Harry said, using his wand to light some of the torches in the shop.
Her wand flicked out another charm, a radiant light that she seemed to understand. "Dormant, I don't think they alerted anyone," she said, "We need to move quickly, he could have sent a Patronus or something I can't detect."
Harry, at her words, bounded over to the slumped form of Borgin.
Fleur reached down to check if the man was breathing, "Move him upstairs," she said, "If he's keeping something, it'll be up there."
With a flick of his wand, Harry levitated Borgin while Fleur took the lead upstairs, with spells he didn't recognise she managed to open the door to what he assumed to be an office. With the lights already on, a chair was summoned, and Harry levitated the unconscious form into it.
A blade loosened itself from Borgin's belt and some other sharp object from his boot.
Thick, winding ropes secured him to the chair, ensuring he couldn't be free without their assistance.
"Are you ready?" Harry asked, pointing his wand towards Borgin.
"I'm with you," Fleur said, "Remember to be quick, try and get what you can out of him, as quick as you can."
With the final spell, Borgin awoke with a start, surveying his surroundings in an instant.
"You," he spat, nearly foaming at the mouth, "I've no clue who you, but you're treading where you ought not. Release me and walk."
The man seemed so engrossed in his own importance that he truly believed them to release him.
"Not tonight," Harry said, disavowing the shopkeep of the notion, "You've got something we need, something of great importance, and you'll tell us where it is."
Borgin struggled against his bindings in a futile rage, "If it's something you couldn't get during the day, then it's nothing I'm selling," he said, "I'm not about to barter with fucking thieves."
Fleur made herself known, "And what about bartering with your captors?"
"Untie me and we'll see how long you keep that position," Borgin snarled, resorting to attempting to goad them into a confrontation.
"A sales ledger, where do you keep it?" Fleur demanded, "Anything recording sales so far back as the twenties?"
"Go fuck yourself," Borgin said, spitting at Fleur.
"We've got Galleons," she offered, "More than enough for any untoward damage we might've caused and enough for your silence."
Borgin let out a loud, boisterous laugh that seemed forced, but an attempt to balance their power, "Can you not fathom how far out of your depth you are?" he said, "If you steal from me, you steal from him. Unhand me."
"We're counting on that," Harry said, "Will you take Galleons?"
"I've seen a man reduced to nothing more than a mass of muscle at his hands," Borgin said, "There is no amount of galleons or trade you can make that will make me rescind a deal or cross the Dark Lord."
Fleur ground her wand into his cheek, "Tell us."
"Do you need another invitation? Go fuck yourself."
The spell hit the bound wizard though he looked unfazed, a grin rising.
Tell us where the ledgers are.
His grin grew even wider, "It may work on simpletons, but not me, lad, you'll have to try harder," he said, "Quite new to this, aren't you?"
"It won't work," Fleur said, her voice terse, a tone as unyielding as the magic and resigned as he'd ever heard it.
Even magic had its limits, he could not force a change through a medium too weak to handle it.
"Oh, quite right." Borgin taunted, "Perhaps a new line of work is an ideal choice?"
Fleur walked over to Harry slowly, keeping her eyes on Borgin while she pivoted to whisper in his ear.
"He's not going to speak," She said matter-of-factly, "We need something else —something stronger."
His mind raced, searching for alternatives, "Your allure, do you think that would work?"
Fleur shook her head in an instant, "If it truly worked like that, I would've used it," she said, "It won't quite elicit what we want from him."
"It's worked on me before," Harry pointed out.
"Because we're close, we share a bond," Fleur explained, "You weren't so guarded around me, at least, your mind wasn't. His will be."
"Right, can we still get Veritaserum?" Harry asked, "It worked for Slughorn, it'll work here."
"Too expensive, too rare and too late," Fleur whispered hoarsely, "There's only one thing left—"
"What we planned," Harry said, finishing the sentence he wasn't sure she'd make it through on her own.
Fleur nodded gently, her eyes swivelling to look at Borgin, "I can do it," she said, "It doesn't have to be you, not if you don't want this."
He'd tainted himself with one, it seemed an ill-choice to taint her too.
"I'll do it," Harry declared, feeling iron weight down his feet, lead fill his stomach and copper fill his mouth.
The Cruciatus had been a simple affair, he had been in pain and not felt worse for it. Dark hair and panting cries seemed almost a lifetime ago.
But Borgin was no Bellatrix Lestrange, he was something different—there was no malice, just disgust at a man who had hands with sticky fingers in such vile business.
There's no coming back from this.
He'd made peace with such a fate, but being confronted with it again tore a little from him.
You're making the right choice, Harry.
Those were the soft words he grasped onto in this moment. If he was remiss in his pursuit, let the knowledge slip through their fingers and see the opportunity disappear, there'd be more at stake than morality.
And that was perhaps the moment Harry realised the war had once again taken its toll.
Perhaps there wasn't a way back from this. Maybe Harry did speak the truth. But it mattered little if he spoke the truth and Borgin didn't.
Harry raised his wand and uttered the words that once again made his soul feel rotten.
He wanted to know what, needed to know. In that moment he never needed anything more, he needed to take control.
A spell, golden-hued, crossed the distance and struck the man in the chest.
Suddenly the world was an echo chamber, firing voices towards him — thoughts that weren't his own bombarding him. His feet were on solid ground, but he felt afloat.
Voldemort had done the same with ease, but Harry could not.
Let me go, a voice that sounded like a poor imitation of Borgin screeched, Be free.
Be free! It echoed.
Harry closed his eyes and let a hoarse breath escape his lips, grating as it passed a throat raw with anxiety. In his mind, a single thought.
Retrieve the ledger.
It was simple, far too simple. The necessity felt dark and dirty, the ease of which the man rose as if a puppet on strings, disgusting. A wall was panel removed, and a book retrieved that passed in a moment while Harry reflected the price and beat down the dull cries of resistance.
It felt addictive, like pushing down his voice was an ecstasy without parallel.
Borgin gave the book to him, but Harry didn't free him. He wanted to dominate him, to twist him to every will and whim until a voice echoed in his mind.
This is what Voldemort felt.
Exhilaration became disgust in an instance, the spell ended, and Borgin collapsed to the floor. Harry hadn't even fully realised he'd seen the book, let alone grasped it in his hands.
"How do you feel?" Fleur dared to ask, stepping closer, "Does it...does it hurt?"
Harry shook his head, "No…" he said, struggling for words, "It… wrong. It felt wrong, like I wanted to control him forever."
He didn't even want to speak of what had happened. The air tasted foul as he opened his mouth, permeated with a foul taste assaulting his tongue.
"It's done," Fleur said, "It's over."
Her voice carried the same soothing melody as her singing, an effort to calm him and remind him where they were and why they were there. But no magic, no charlatan's trick or quick fix could stamp out the disgust.
Harry's eyes fell to the book in his hands, it was small, nondescript and bound in black leather. It was the vision of normalcy, errant pages worn from time peered out, astray from their intended place as if it was well-used.
He didn't even need to open it to know it held secrets within.
Harry pried the cover open after Fleur flicked her wand at the book, ensuring nothing dangerous lurked within.
The grime-laden page held a labyrinth of words though most made little sense to him. Fleur peered over his shoulders, their eyes trailed together through poor quillmanship and shorthand, sifting backwards through pages and years until they found their quarry.
SERPENT EMBOSSED LOCKET - 400 GALLEONS - HEPZIBAH SMITH
"The Locket," Harry whispered, "Salazar Slytherin's." He tapped his finger against the ink, ensuring there was nothing hidden beneath.
That had to be it, the chances it wasn't were little although present. Though this wasn't a coincidence, it couldn't be.
Another Horcrux had been found. The sweet nectar of victory was dulled by flicking through more pages, searching for more leads.
Hepzibah Smith seemed to barter often with Borgin, there seemed to be a few listed assistants over the years - Sixsickle, Wrent, and myriad names he could not recognise that seemed to hold little importance.
But there was another, a name blacked out by quill and magic. Harry ran his thumb over the ink to try and loosen it, but it was dry, the name hidden. A name was absent from the trade of the locket, but a blackened name present at the sale that caught their eyes.
ENCHANTED CUP, ENGRAVED WITH HUFFLEPUFF HERALDRY - 3200 GALLEONS - HEPZIBAH SMITH.
The name was blackened, but it took no sleuth to guess who it belonged to.
Tom Riddle Junior.
"Helga Hufflepuff's Cup," Harry whispered again.
"Two?" Fleur asked.
"Looks like it," The rest of the book trailed further backwards in time though nothing spoke to them, they had their information. "There's nothing else here, nothing bartered by him."
Fleur flicked her wand, a copy of the book falling into her hands seamlessly. "Two," she repeated, a smile evident in her voice, "That's one left that we don't know about, one."
It was hard not to feel exhilaration, they'd finally won a victory of their own. Her words made sense now, the world did feel like just another obstacle like if they kept the momentum they could win the war by night's end.
There'd be a time and place for celebration, but it was neither here nor now.
Harry turned his eyes from Borgin to Fleur, "We need to get back, quickly," he said, "If someone notices something, we still might not make it out."
"Agreed," Fleur said, nodding, "We need to deal with him first before we leave."
Harry prodded Borgin with the toe of his shoe, the prone man was thoroughly unconscious.
"We could capture him," Harry suggested, "He could have something we need."
"We don't have that luxury." Fleur disagreed, "We cannot haul him out of here unnoticed, disillusioned or not. It would only take until morning for them to notice. If he goes missing, they'll start asking questions, questions might lead to answers."
Voldemort knew far more than the both of them combined. If something seemed off, anything looked amiss, he'd search,
And he might just know how to get the answers.
It seemed an evil in of itself to let the man live as though he hadn't enabled wizards to maim and kill one other for decades. But morality was a luxury he did not have, though this time the inverse.
He had killed a few, to save many and that had been hard enough to rationalise, to try and come to terms with himself.
Now he had to save the few and possibly sacrifice the many, the choice wasn't any easier.
"If we do anything outside of making it all seem normal, they'll know something is up," Fleur said, trying to rationalise her point, "They own the Alley now Voldemort is in power. If they find out he's attacked they'll know it's people fighting against him, not thieves."
His wand fell to his side, and he nodded.
The pack would be smarter for it, Harry echoed old advice.
Fleur continued, breaking him from his thoughts, "When he's here, we know where he is, who he is." she said, "If he disappears, he'll be replaced with someone new, and we'll be worse off for it."
Borgin was a rat. That was all he would ever be. Killing or capturing him would spell a smarter pack. Perhaps to allow such evil to persist disallowed a greater to rise where the head had been lopped off.
The disgust in his voice was palpable, but Fleur knew what she needed to do, she'd clearly already rationalized it to herself though she likely felt little better than he did.
Her rosewood wand was against his temple, swaying like a metronome. With each pass, the silver wisp of a memory dragged itself from the confines of Borgin's mind, coaxed like a cobra from a basket.
With a twirl, it lost some of its shimmer and was replaced back into his mind. She vanished his ropes, healed his open wounds that littered his face and levitated him back into bed.
They'd repair the damage and disappear back into the night until they were safe in their apartment.
They had won, the war edged towards its end. But Harry couldn't shake the thought that barreled through his skull until it was all that remained.
You're making the right choice, Harry.
Even if it never felt like it.
Morning came, and Essex Road Station thrummed with eager life, to their train onwards. Harry navigated to the platform to Hertford North, searching pillars until he found the ad.
The Vanishing Professor, Islington.
Maybe Moody does have a sense of humour, Harry mused. His eyes falling to the bottom of the worn page.
1st of December.
It was the last month, the highest priority. Moody clearly needed them now.
Harry practically dashed for an empty cubicle, disapparating with a soft crack.
Harry fidgeted with his hands mindlessly, "What're the odds it could be another attack?"
"Low, I suppose," Fleur said, attempting to placate both him and her, "Even now they'd be trying to make sure their footing is strongest, they wouldn't risk that to try and take us out now."
I hope so.
Grimmauld emerged into view, and Harry practically threw the door open, Fleur bounded up the stairs behind him. Quick feet, practically a jog lead him to the dining room where they'd all be.
Harry threw the door open, Remus directly in front of them.
"We came as quickly as we could," Harry said, words spewing from his mouth as quickly as they came to him, "Is everyone okay? What—"
His eyes surveyed the room, searching for a chance of losses amongst them. Rather than empty seated, however, he found an old one filled.
Albus Dumbledore had returned home.