Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter
I don't own Harry Potter.
A/N: Kudos to whoever catches the reference to a certain short story.
Chapter Eight: Bargains of the Uncanny Sort
Some say religion is the opiate of the masses. Others say it's tabloids and the lives of silly entertainers. But really, the effect is all the same. You get people to ignore reality. The best part of it all is the fact that the endeavor becomes easier when there's more to hide… like the crumbling of the government, the destruction of society, or something equally as devastating.
The sound of the thundering ocean crashing against the harsh rocks outside had long since drowned out any coherent thought. The deprivation of external stimuli along with the withdrawal Dementors forced on Azkaban's prisoners had made the elder Malfoy slow to respond, timid and confused.
He was dressed in standard Azkaban garb, a rough robe made of coarse wool; It was uncomfortable and ill-fitting, yet needed in the harsh cold of the island, enough to satisfy the benevolence the Wizarding World bestowed upon its patients – the new term afforded to the mentally tortured by the political correctness sweeping the Ministry.
The prison had never been as physically demanding as it was often described. The floors were a dull grey, slightly moist but undeniably clean. The cells, though spartan, each held a small bed charmed to stay clean along with a small toilet. The food that appeared silently throughout the day was fine as well, just enough to sustain and always the same.
What the prisoners of Azkaban were given in material comforts, however, they would desperately trade away for a relief from the horrors that truly constituted the island. Anywhere the eye could see was masked in the insidious shade of purified, smooth granite. A small window to the outside world was masked in a thick fog that never seemed to change. Nothing except fellow inmates ever moved, and with time, even that would become a rarity.
There was nothing to discern the change of days, the passage of time, anything to give meaning or justification to existence beyond the confines of the mind, which itself would rapidly fall apart in the forced isolation from meaning. Every day was exactly the same with few exceptions.
When most of the Dementors left Azkaban, the true nature of the prison surfaced, the true horror of the prison had presented itself. Some had thought the horrors had gone away with the foul beings, but inmates went mad just as quick as before, mostly quicker. Where the hellish creatures of times past had given something to hang onto, the bare, dead walls and the ever restless ocean did not.
"Wake up, Lucius..."
So it was with great effort and incredulity that Lucius Malfoy focused his eyes on the newcomers, his mind, lost in the sea of nothingness, surfacing into consciousness. It seemed as if he was pulling himself into existence, slowly ascending through the dull cloud that had long since swallowed his thoughts.
As he became aware, his recovering faculties quickly reminded him that no one ever visited Azkaban's patients. Lucius could barely remember what speaking, moving people looked like. His dimmed memories, the first victim of nothingness, blossomed with the mere occurrence of change. He pushed himself away from the bars that isolated him from freedom, blinking his eyes as he resolved the tall visage of Lord Voldemort.
"Ah, there you are. I see you still remember me, Lucius. That's very good, very impressive considering the state of your fellow inmates. I must apologize profusely for neglecting to free you like I did the others several days ago, but I assure you I am here to end this."
Voldemort's voice rang throughout the silent corridor, a deafening source of power to sensitive ears long weaned to the dulling sound of crashing waves. His attention became riveted – the very ability to speak to another made him feel free.
He tried to thank his Lord, but all that came out was a dry croak. Voldemort smiled indulgently and knelt down. He procured his wand in one hand and reached out to him gingerly, grabbing his arm with the other.
"Come, Lucius." With unnatural strength he pulled him until Lucius was pressed against the freezing bars. Lucius' pathetic sound of surprise went unnoticed as Voldemort pulled away his sleeve, revealing the Dark Mark in his skin, burning as fresh as the day he had turned his back on his family and become a slave.
"A slave to something great," Voldemort chided, his terrifying dark eyes shining with malice. Lucius shuddered as another memory resurfaced, reminding him that even his mind was not his own. He had traded it all away when the Dark Lord had given him what he had kept safe for so long, what gave him powers and skills above all but the greatest of wizards.
"Yes, and how safe you have kept it. Ironic is it not? That it remains secure in here of all places." He pressed his thumb deep into the burnt flesh, eliciting a hoarse scream from Lucius. "Unfortunately, I need it back. I thank you for your service, but it remains useless in your hands. You are spent, worn and tired in both magic and creativity." Wretchedness, like he had never felt before, filled him, and each word seemed to grind him to the ground. In his shame he noticed another figure behind the dark wizard. He was bathed in the shadows of his lord, unnerving, cold eyes appraising his filthy state without emotion.
"I need strength, a fresh mind and an unsullied name. You have none of these." Eyes glowing, his fingers tore into his skin, encircling the Dark Mark. A different manner of pain filled his being, one of claws tearing into his soul. He felt his magic flare as something left his essence. With a hideous squelch, Voldemort removed his hand, something black and ugly floating above his palm. It attached itself to his wandtip, where it changed into a flaring dark light.
Lucius stared at his arm, seeing his mark faded and different. It seemed less imposing, utterly without magic or purpose – like the marks of those outside the Inner Circle. Feeling somewhat lighter, he looked up to see Lord Voldemort standing over the other wizard, who was kneeling with his arm out. The wizard went rigid, visibly containing a sound of pain as the flaring black light poured from Voldemort's wandtip to his skin, creating a shining Dark Mark that seethed with power.
"Our bargain is complete, Lucius." Voldemort said, turning to leave. His voice seemed to be coming from afar, and his figure difficult to make out in the darkness that threatened to overtake his vision.
"Wait!" He pressed himself to bars, reaching out to his Lord, mortal fear echoing within him. "My lord! Free me!"
Voldemort stopped and turned, his skeletal face betraying his amusement. "I have already done so, Lucius. Use your remaining intellect – what is the punishment for removing the mark?"
Lucius struggled to think, his mind plunging into yet another dark mist. He felt himself fall to the floor, his mouth falling open as his body refused his orders.
"And the only way out of a life sentence in Azkaban?"
He never answered.
Harry's wand was warm in his hand, begging to be used as it remained trained on the figure before him.
The red haired woman didn't seem to mind the threatening gesture, keeping her dark eyes on his. She seemed to find something agreeable, and made a humming noise deep in her throat.
"What do you want?" Harry asked quietly. He considered conjuring rope to tie her to the seat, but didn't want to risk a duel if she was a witch. The broken fingers of his left hand throbbed in agreement, and he pushed them deeper into his cloak.
She rose to her feet carefully and moved towards him, ignoring his wand. Harry took a step back before deciding to stand his ground. He was the one with the wand.
"An agreement. A bargain for you." She said, looking above his eyes. She lifted one of her hands and touched a cut on his temple from the night before. With a gentle stroke it sealed, leaving nothing but a pleasant tingling in his skin.
Harry twisted his head away from her hand. He couldn't afford to be distracted. "Stop it. What's your name?"
The rejection brought her eyes back to his. "Alice."
Harry took the opportunity to study her up close. Her hair was much darker than the Weasleys, and she had skin that seemed almost luminescent. She didn't look much older than him, perhaps several years at best. Her dress, blood red, was elegant, but short and tight enough to draw more of Harry's attention that he was comfortable giving.
She reached for his other arm, the one that he had gingerly hid in his pocket. Harry hissed as the movement shook his broken, swollen fingers, awakening the terrible throbbing he had only recently been able to ignore. He tried to shake her off, but it only hurt more to do so.
Her fingers – cool and soothing – enveloped his own, grasping tightly. The very touch of it removed the pain, and he could feel his bones fusing together, becoming whole quicker and more gently than any potion from Madame Pomphrey.
He looked up, meeting her eyes once again. For the first time he noticed that they were shallow and soulless. Inhuman.
"What are you, Alice?" He said, taking his healed hand away and flexing the fingers before straightening his wand, pressing it against her. She was unnaturally still, and Harry noticed she breathed only to speak.
"In between. I can be yours, if you should wish it."
"What do you mean mine?" He spat with frustration. "I can't own another human being – if that's what you even are. I saw you with Jack. Are you his wife?"
"Jack was killed." She said simply, brushing her hair away from her eyes. There was no conceit, only blunt truth in her expression.
"I know." He snapped, a growing sense of revulsion fueling his anger. "I… I did it. Were you his wife? Family? Both?"
"Somewhat. And you killed him – and that of me which was his. Our agreement ended." Something like muted pain flashed through her face before it disappeared, replaced again by her unnerving alien demeanor.
"What are you talking about? What was his? What are you?" Harry growled out.
She dropped her eyes and ran her fingers up his arms. Harry tried to move away, and reached to pull them off before he stilled, feeling something inside him stir, unfurling under her touch. He felt his magic welling up inside him, dancing just beneath his skin. He watched her work for a moment before stepping away. The feeling faded.
"What are you doing?" He asked, looking at her warily. He hadn't ever experienced something so odd. But it couldn't mean good. "If you're his wife, then I'm sorry, but he was trying to kill me."
She didn't answer. The rising mounds of her chest heaved noticeably beneath her dress, and she reached for him once more. Something told him to take her hand off, but he couldn't – didn't want to – listen. He let her hands roam, the contact bringing that strange, pleasant feeling along with it. As she grew close, Harry felt the tingling sensation inside him grow, flourishing and bringing power roaring to his senses.
"I understand, Harry. That's the way, and it's behind me now. Behind us." She said distractedly, and stepped even closer, the palms of her hands against his chest, looking up to his eyes.
He tried not to let her affect him, but it was difficult, and he found himself unable to look away from the shining orbs that held him still. The feeling was incredible, magic swirling under her touch and growing inside him, buzzing pleasantly. He could scarcely contain the need to release it.
"You're not a prize to be won in any case." He finally spoke, breathing heavily against her.
Her lips brushed against his cheek, and every touch seemed to melt away the world around him. Magic, pure and heavy, filled his thoughts, coursing through his blood. He felt as if he would simply explode with energy.
Harry dimly realized he was now clutching Alice, his arms tightly wound around her body. She had pressed herself against him, clinging to him tightly. Her body had grown hot, her curves simply meeting his body perfectly.
"Aren't I? Is this not a prize to be desired?" She whispered to his ears, and he noticed her trembling, the way she arched her back with every pulse of his magic, her skin flushed and damp.
With incredible difficulty he pulled away from her, stumbling back. He felt like a predator, animal lust filling his hot veins. His magic thrummed at his every movement, awaiting his command to lay waste to anyone who would come between them.
"What was that?" Harry managed, watching her carefully. His body ached for more, and he barely gathered the will to stop himself from grabbing her, to hold him against him once more, to take her as his body wanted.
"Power." Her husky voice contained something like hunger, her eyes shining. She seemed alive for the first time, feral and strong, glowing with life. "Your boundless power. It blossoms under my touch, gives me life. You are my strongest."
Harry's eyes narrowed, and he backed away carefully. "You feed on it."
Her head lowered, and she watched him with a careful reverence. "Nothing a wizard of your strength would notice. It replenishes faster than I could ever take from you." Alice breathed. A sense of otherworldly energy filled the room, and Harry saw a brief flicker of someone else before him – long, colorless hair on an ageless, feminine face, skin a shifting, milky white. The image was replaced again with her red haired appearance almost instantly.
"Succubus." He hissed out, and Alice laughed, sending a cold shiver down his spine. Harry released his magic into a vicious curse. The ugly brown streak raced across the short space to her, considerably faster and more powerful than he had anticipated. It impacted her harmlessly, dissipating into the air. He couldn't hurt her. Harry didn't think he even wanted to.
"Not quite." She said, looking amused by the attack. She swiped a delicate finger along the dress, where the powerful magic struck her, and breathed its scent, shuddering with pleasure. "… But close. I am a Symbiote."
"What makes you any less dangerous? You feed on wizards as if they are cattle." Harry ground out, his teeth on edge. Fear pulsed through him, but somewhere inside he wished desperately for her to prove him wrong. Succubi were irresistible, gratifying, and satisfying beyond any mortal dream, but they came at the cost of life.
Alice stepped up to him once more, looking up at his face. She licked her blood red lips. "I can heighten your powers to make you more powerful than all your foes. I can bring you back from the brink of death. I can give you companionship when every acquaintance turns his back on your wretched soul." She paused, searching his eyes. "All I ask is for your protection, and the mortal spark of life afforded to me by your life and magic. Make me yours and I will grant you all this and more in return."
He watched her, taking it in. The words were enchanting, and in his weary thoughts they were almost impossible to resist. But his caution returned. He wasn't a fool. There had to be some sort of price for sharing his life and magic with another.
"Do you accept?" Her voice washed pleasantly over Harry, promising him endless pleasure, victory, and power. Harry had to fight to keep himself to from giving in. He pushed her away.
"No." The effort to say it brought despair to his very blood, and though he knew it was the right thing, it cost him dearly to say it. Something like misery filled her demeanor.
"I expected as much." She said quietly, and all the life seemed to drain out of her. The surge of humanity that had come with his magic disappeared, her cold, pale appearance returning. "You will accept, Harry Potter. If not today, then some other day. You will call upon me in your darkest night, and I will be there, ready to assist should you agree to my offer."
"Until then." Harry replied, stepping towards the door. "But for now I prefer to remain free."
"I don't want your soul, Harry. Nor do I want to rob you of magic. Merely your shadow to stand in, your side to keep company, or your heart to make happy." Alice said sadly, watching him leave.
He didn't have an answer.
"Did you find anything, Harry?" Dung grunted, flicking a massive cigar to the bare wooden floor. He had the parcel they had found before in his hand.
"Just an interesting picture." Harry answered, hoping Dung hadn't overheard him speaking to the Symbiote. He removed the picture of the Dark Lord Grindelwald and the spinning gear that the dark wizard had received as a gift. He showed it to Dung, who looked at it closely.
"A Seid Gear, that is," he remarked, "Hard to come by. And that's – "
"Lord Grindelwald. I know. What do these gears do?"
"They do all sorts of things, yeh see. Each one does something different. They're hundreds of them, some of cursed, others wit' helpful charms that yeh can't do with a wand. People have been looking for these for ages, really." He leaned closer to the picture, watching the gear. He frowned when the withered plant in the background returned to life, blossoming its black flower. "Most of them be smaller than yer finger, though. Never seen one that big before. Or one that can bring dead things to life. That's dark stuff if I've ever seen it."
He thought of the Gear that the Boss had taken from him. The Death Eater he had incapacitated earlier was giving the Boss a small Gear as payment in order to place the strange booths he had seen in his club. He remembered the young witch entering the tall glass structure, her skin flushed as she moaned, a spidery white light escaping her body.
"What are those booths, Dung?" He asked slowly, watching the man carefully. Harry remembered the longing on his face when they passed the booths.
Fletcher shuffled, looking a bit embarrassed. "It's… well, there's no good way to put this. It's all yer dreams come true, really. They're called the Euphio Booths. Yeh go in, and yeh can experience yer heart's desires. Anything yeh want, anything yeh need to feel. It can do it. Some people choose a night with a beautiful women, others the role of some all powerful Auror or famous celebrity. They're sort of expensive, but more than worth… well, it's probably not good for yeh, but you can't stop going."
"I can see it being pretty dangerous." All your dreams come true. It sounded like a perfect alternative to reality. A perfect place to go to ignore the crumbling world outside your doorstep. Of course, he didn't think he would mind living out of a few of his greatest dreams, either. He thought of Erised.
"It is, Harry. And that's the whole fuss about it. I know people who've gone broke, turned to evil things – all just to get more. Clever thing, putting in a club like that. It shouldn't be legal, but anyone who's gone into it won't have the heart to ban 'em. It's only a matter of time 'till they're everywhere."
He thought of the dark cloaked figures at the controls. "There were Death Eaters operating them. It's not exactly hard to see them. How can people trust these things when they see Death Eaters?"
Fletcher gave a wistful sigh. "It don't matter who's at the controls. Once yer in, none of this – ", and he waved his hands in a frustrated manner, " – matters. You make your own world. It's all just peace, safety, comfort, and pleasure beyond any damn drug. If there's an opposite to the Cruciatus, Harry, it's a Euphio Booth."
Why was Voldemort interested in spreading what amounted to a pleasure booth? It seemed hardly relevant when Harry thought of the Dark Lord's usual goals. He put the information away for later. Perhaps the parcel he and Fletcher had found would lead them somewhere.
"Say… What happened to your hand?" Fletcher eyes were on his whole and healthy left hand. Harry balled it into a fist and released it, looking over it thoughtfully.
"A bit of magic."
Fletcher nodded skeptically. "Like the one that saw you through a duel with Dolohov?"
"What are you getting at, Dung?" Harry asked quietly. He found himself grasping his wand in his pocket. Fletcher noticed, backing away with a grimace.
"Nothin', Harry. It ain't nothin'." He looked around him once more before stepping toward the front door. "Let's get out of here. You don't want to stay in one place too long."
Harry followed, grasping the door handle as he left the dark of the manor. He paused for a moment and shot a look at the staircase behind him. He ignored the red haired woman sitting patiently at the top of the steps and shut the door, stepping out into the sunlight.
"You've got maybe until nightfall. The hellhounds are out then, Harry."
They were back in the dingy pub, eating a mixture of lunch and dinner. Harry watched the various wizards and witches that headed up to the brothel above the pub. He recognized a few from Platform 9 and 3/4th, fathers and mothers of various students at Hogwarts. Yet several more he knew intimately well, others he had never met, but still familiar with their name, their families, and how many they had lost to his Death Eaters. He shook himself out of that line of thought.
"I'm not going back, Dung. I've got the… means, the power to do something. I can't go back. Not after what I did. It'll never be the same."
Fletcher nodded. "I can understand that, but yeh got to think of what might happen to ya out here. I know you got weight to throw around, and hell, you're more of a wizard than half that doddering Order. But you have to understand that dueling ability ain't everything. And even with that – you barely survived Dolohov. What are you going to do against two, three Death Eaters? You-Know-Who himself? You barely know your way around London!"
"Don't worry about that." Harry dismissed, resting his head on one arm. He watched his wand as it twirled around his hand. He brought it up and tapped his head with it. "I got all I need right here."
"Do you?" Fletcher scoffed. "Listen – I can't pretend to know what yeh 'ave going on in that mind of yers. You're different. You look different. You act different. Maybe yeh know what to do. But know this – you're not going to win this. Not the way you're going. You are going to find yourself dead or worse, and the world is going to follow."
"I don't care about the world. This is about me and Voldemort. His Death Eaters are just steps on the way to him. And I'll kill them all."
Fletcher deflated at his voice. "Well. If that's how it is…"
"It is. I want that thing we found open by tonight. In the meantime we need to find out more on what Voldemort and all his other Death Eaters are doing overseas." He procured a copy of the Wizarding version of The Times.
The headline was brazenly printed in red, the picture beneath it showing the rendition of a smoldering city.
Wizarding Terrorists Promise the End of Muggle Civilization
By Salmon Armistice
Death Eaters have been spotted around several major Wizarding governmental buildings, leaving gruesome murders in their wake and leaving messages promising to end Muggle civilization if several key demands are not met.
The terrorists are headed by the infamous dark wizard Lord Voldemort – long thought permanently vanquished by Harry Potter – and have appeared in Greater Wizarding Britain, the Federation of Prussian States, the American Union, Persia, Dubai and several other Middle Eastern territories, Hong Kong, and the Japanese Empire. Leaders of all affected countries have issued a statement promising further investigation, and have denied notifying their muggle counterparts as of yet.
The Death Eaters have demanded the seizure of all muggle-wizarding relations in financial and political matters, and the resignation of all current Wizarding executives, including Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge, Chancellor Frederick Benz, President Richard Jackson, Shah Pahlavi, Sheik Muhammad Zayed, Supreme Leader Mao Tzefucius, and Emperor Mito Matsushita among others.
There is no word on what course of actions the listed leaders plan to take, but it is doubtful they will bow to these demands. All Wizarding law enforcement agencies are on high alert, and consider the matter extremely sensitive…
"How do they plan to keep their word? That's the question." Harry asked, folding the paper up again.
Fletcher drummed his fingers against the table, taking a deep breath through the cigar he had lit while reading. "They're too many ways to count. With magic you can do pretty much anything to those poor blokes and they won't even believe what's happening."
Harry clenched his teeth in anger. "And they've left us two options – the destabilization of the Wizarding world, or the end of the Muggle world. You can see how people might react to that."
Fletcher whistled in amazement, dropping his cigar to the ground and grinding it with his shoe. "Aye. Me or them, and it plays on their prejudices too. Force them to deem Muggles as lesser things if they want to live…"
"The mere act of refusing to negotiate with the Death Eaters sends that message. So what can we do?"
"Pay them a visit, I reckon. Let's start at home. Rookwood's unaccounted for. Malfoy was left behind in Azkaban. Greyback is out of the country, so is Jugson, Dolohov, and Mulciber - all the Azkaban escapees from the most recent breakout have gone overseas, which leaves Bellatrix, Avery's father, Nott, and Rebastian Lestrange."
"It's not Bellatrix. She's too far gone for delicate stuff like that." Harry said quietly, idly drawing something in the dusty tabletop with his finger. Something like pity filled him at that. He didn't want to know why. Fletcher looked at him oddly before continuing.
"Well, Avery Senior hasn't been around in the limelight for years. He was before my time, but I know his last run in with the Aurors left him weak and frail. He's in no condition to threaten the Ministry of Magic. Nott's the same thing – he's quiet and sneaky. Used to be the prefect in my house. Right bastard, but he wouldn't dare draw a wand in broad daylight. That leaves Lestrange. He's only slightly insane, which is the most dangerous type yeh can have."
"Rebastian's the torture happy type, more like Bellatrix than his brother. The article says people are turning up grossly disfigured and dying of heart seizure in the telephone booth and floo entrances. They all have the same note nailed to their forehead. Thirteen in all. It fits, but I doubt he's the only one. He probably has a few other guys around to help abduct the victims. He always hated doing menial things like kidnapping. Just likes the fun."
"Well, yeh seem to know them better than I do. So we've got a couple lackey wizards and an Inner Circle Death Eater running around London. If they're getting the bodies through the phone booth, they got to be close to the Ministry itself. They could do this from somewhere far, but if they're leaving messages they probably want to hang around and catch the reactions, maybe threaten a few higher ups or even kill them."
Fletcher nodded, finishing his food.
He threw a couple galleons on the table and several knuts for tip. Getting to his feet, he put a hand on Harry's shoulder, clasping it tightly. "Don't die out there, boy. I know I can't report you to Dumbledore, but I'd still feel terrible if you got yerself killed."
Harry shook his head. "Trust me, it'd be more than you who'd be disappointed if I lost this early. Meet me at the docks at midnight. Don't forget the package. I have a feeling I'll need it to go any further than this."
"Will do." Fletcher nodded, putting on his coat. "Now I got to go see the Order. Maybe make a living if Dumbledore ever lets me off." He shuffled out of the brothel with a wave and disappeared with a crack on the front steps. Harry watched him go, staring out into the afternoon outside.
After several minutes he put on his cloak and pushed himself to his feet. With a casual look around, he palmed all but one galleon and shoved his hands into his pocket, holding them tight to prevent them from making noise. The guilt he thought he would experience never appeared. He needed the money, and Gringotts was off limits.
Leaving the brothel, he breathed in the salty sea air, joining the crowds of odd wizards and witches walking along the docks. He needed to apparate, but he hadn't learned yet. Or had he? Lord Voldemort certainly knew. The Dark Lord could appear anywhere without the faintest sound, and did it faster and more elegantly than anyone save Albus Dumbledore. Could he look for a specific skill in the …taint he possessed? There was no sense in ignoring something potentially useful for his survival, and the irony would be particularly gratifying.
He closed his eyes and tried to think of the motions one went through to apparate, trying to visualize Voldemort himself in the act. Nothing happened. He spun in place, but succeeded only in making a fool of himself. After several more attempts he gave up. It was useless anyhow – even if he did manage it, he didn't have a license, and the Aurors would find him in moments.
There weren't many ways he could travel there in time without being caught. Fletcher had scurried away before Harry could ask him to apparate them there, not wanting to risk being involved. With the floo network being controlled by the Ministry and doubtless monitored, the only way back to London would be either the Knight Bus or a portkey.
Either way, he needed to appear less like Harry Potter and more like someone no one would bother throwing a second glance at. Thinking of Neville Longbottom's pudgy face, he tapped his forehead with his wand and whispered the words to a basic glamour charm. What felt like mud ran down from his forehead to his neck, hardening after several seconds into a rough disguise.
He turned a corner and walked up a long alleyway that led to a small muggle road. The various signs of wizarding life slowly diminished to nothing, and soon he found himself among the boring, hateful, and stupid…
He shook his head. He had to keep his own mind separate. More and more he found himself idly thinking thoughts that only Tom Riddle would think, perhaps when he was Harry's age. The strain of keeping him out became more difficult every time he borrowed some skill from the Dark Lord. It felt like trying to stay afloat in an ocean of thick black tar.
Throwing his wand out, he waited for several moments before a large yellow, double decker bus appeared before him, the magical vehicle roaring into existence with the sound of a gunshot. He stepped up to the opening doors, where a plain looking witch was waiting.
"Welcome to the Afternoon Bus. Where are you headed?"
The witch frowned, gesturing to a large poster on the door showing the locations the bus travelled to. "In London? We only serve the Newcastle area."
"Is there anyway you could take me there anyway?" He gestured at the ridiculously large interior. "It can't take too long, with the bus being… you know." The witch stared at him for a few moments before turning to the driver. The excitable lady behind the wheel grinned almost crazily in return, causing the witch to sigh.
"I guess not. It's gonna cost you extra though, and we won't be there for a while. To London then, Sam."
Sam wheezed a strange sound of agreement and shut the doors. She hunched over the wheel and pulled the large lever beside her seat, her large eyes bulging in anticipation as the bus lurched to impossible speeds.
Harry sat himself down on the empty bus and reclined comfortably in the well cushioned seats. Sleep came over him as he watched as the world flashed by through the window.
Harry's lips curled in amusement as he watched the youngest Lestrange torture the muggle archeologist.
They were in the Middle East, in the tumultuous mountains at the border of muggle Iran, but deep in the heart of wizarding Persia. They had to be quick – revolution was brewing in the muggle government, and the wizarding leader that ruled both sides was finding himself losing control. Foreigners were fleeing the country in large numbers, and he had been lucky to catch the British archeologist just before he left.
Immortality wasn't what he was pursuing this time. He had achieved something close, almost definite already. A gear, a single stone gear was what he was after. Through endless leads, diaries, accounts, and memories he hadn't found anything more than the fact that it held some sort of power. He needed to know everything there was to know about it. And the muggle, or squib, rather, wasn't talking.
He had thought himself creative when he had used the skin flaying curse on the Finnish spy years back, but his newest follower had a flair for the act that set him aside from almost all his other Death Eaters. He felt, rather than saw young Bellatrix Black watching with almost pathological curiosity and interest behind him, clutching his cloak like an eager child.
Lestrange reveled in the screams. With a grin he lit the end of his wand like a lighter and drew it across the mess that remained of the squib's abdomen. He then brought the tip to his lips and blew it, releasing a large plume that engulfed the man's legs. Rookwood looked away, as did Nott.
The area around the Ministry of Magic was one of the few places in London where a particularly astute observer could see there was something strange afoot. There were no overt signs of magic, and no one appeared in anything too out of fashion – at least to Muggle eyes. But there just a few too many people that nervously shuffled in and out of alleyways, in clothes a couple sizes too small, a couple shades too bright, or with funny hats they may have forgotten to remove.
Harry sat on a bench across from the nondescript office building that the Ministry used to cover the floors below. Several wizards came in and out of the various physical entrances that city block possessed, all of them with their hands in their pockets, grasping hidden wands as they fearfully watched out for Death Eaters.
Aurors were posted next to every entrance, dressed in trench coats to conceal their red robes. They didn't bother trying to hide their wands. Every fifteen minutes or so another Auror would appear and escort Department Heads, undersecretaries, and members of the Wizengamot. The building was slowly emptying as officials left for the evening.
Harry leaned back in the bench, looking up at the darkening sky. It had to be around seven or eight. That gave him a scant four hours before the Hit-Wizards were released. He needed to find a way to get Rabastian to show himself, or he'd find himself fighting two sides at once. There was always the chance the Hit-Wizards would come early, given their zealous behavior, and he had no illusion at all that they would have trouble hunting him down.
A shrill scream rang out from behind the building. He leapt to his feet and ran, his wand out at the sudden noise. Several sounds of laughter followed, and as he rounded the structure he found one of the posted Aurors face down on the ground, blood pooling around his severed neck. The head was missing.
The alley was cast in the shadow of the two buildings it divided, but Harry could see the mutilated outline of another Auror hung from his neck, the rope fastened to the top of fire escape ladder attached to the side of the building. Beneath the limp body, three wizards dressed in customary Azkaban robes were kneeling over a witch and beating her with something.
Several drops of something dark and hot fell on his face as the largest escapee took the round object over his head and slammed it down again. The cries grew weaker.
Hatred filled him as he unleashed a powerful cutting curse. The colorless magic blurred the air as it raced from his leveled wand and severed the man's arms just above his elbows. He turned around, haggard, worn face fixed in a terrible expression, and screamed. The other two around him stepped away from the broken witch and bellowed like hyenas, each picking up an arm and racing towards him.
Harry stepped back, only to be jumped on from behind, another crazed man pulling on his hair and biting down on his shoulder. Harry screamed in pain, clawing at the man's face with his free hand. He slammed himself backwards against the heavy steel of a dumpster and sent a large jet of fire towards the others. The man only bit deeper before howling to the sky, giggling madly and beating his fists against Harry's head.
Stars filled his vision, and he felt himself fall to the ground on his stomach. Wet, grimy dirt met his face, and he screwed his eyes shut. Bending his arm behind him, he pressed his wand against the man's back and released a banishing charm. The force of the magic pummeled him to the ground and sent a sharp pain through his ribs, but he distinctly heard the breaking of a spine. The escapee froze for a moment, just enough for Harry to roll over and kick away from him.
He looked up just in time to see one of the other prisoners stagger towards him on fire, swinging the burnt and severed arm at him. The flaming mass of blood, bone, and flesh hit his chest like a hammer, and he barely managed to scramble away to avoid being hit again. The man didn't seem to notice he was on fire, and screamed madly at him, charging at him as his very skin disintegrated.
Harry jumped to his feet and narrowly avoided another burning limb. The second inmate leered at him with his lipless mouth, his charred teeth and blackened skin glistening with blood. Terror like he hadn't felt since childhood filled him at the sight. Harry looked past him to see the armless wizard dragging himself back to the weakly stirring witch, wheezing and clucking his mouth.
They were more animal than human, monstrosities with no sense or logic. He looked around for any sort of help. Where were the other Aurors?
Harry steeled himself and threw a binding hex at the prisoner on fire. Turning to the side, he jabbed his wand viciously at the other, sending him crashing against the wall. Leaping over the paralyzed wizard, he ran to the amputated inmate and summoned the round object that had rolled to the side. The messy, bloodied head of the decapitated Auror raced to his hand. Harry grabbed it by the hair and slammed it into the man's face. The prisoner screeched and fell over on his back. Holding down the bile in his throat, Harry transfigured the head into a spike and sent it into the man's abdomen with the flick of his wand, pinning him in place.
The howling cries of the bound and burning prisoner died down behind him. Harry watched him struggle feebly against the binds as fire ate at him. The other burnt escapee rose to his feet shakily and gave a guttural cry of anger, throwing the severed arm down in frustration. He dragged a broken foot behind him through the dirt and grime, stripping away the flesh as it ran against shards of broken bottle. He fixed his empty grey eyes on Harry.
The whispered sound of a curse and a howling wind was his only warning as a flash of green light raced towards him. Harry jumped off to the side, the flaring tendrils of the killing curse only barely missing his arm. As he rolled to his feet, he saw the curse strike the burnt inmate down.
Harry looked behind him to see the man who had jumped on his back grin up at him, propped over the Auror's body and a stolen wand in one hand. His now useless legs were strewn behind him.
Wiping the blood from his face, Harry walked over and slammed his foot down on the man's hand, breaking both wand and fingers. It was satisfying to do it someone else.
"They're terrible things, aren't they?"
Harry looked up to see Rabastian Lestrange walk into the alley, dragging the broken body of Ludo Bagman behind him. The prisoner below him gurgled and beat his broken hand against his foot. Harry kicked him away.
"A surprise to see you aren't one of them." He replied coolly, grasping his wand tightly. His muscles tensed as a more collected, rational fear coiled in his body.
Lestrange laughed. "Oh no. I'm not as bad, you see, but Azkaban did change me." He reached into his robes and brought out a gleaming thumbtack and a small piece of paper. He calmly bent over and placed the paper against Bagman's forehead. Before Harry could react, he pressed the tack through skin and bone, tapping it once with his wand before letting the corpse fall to the ground.
"But I've only become more of what I was before…I've advanced, so to say, further gone along a path I had only begun to tread on before the Dark Lord's disappearance. But you! So interesting, such a change! Why, if memory serves you used to confine yourself to stunning charms and disarming hexes. Now you're impaling, burning, and mutilating almost as well as I… what does the old man think of you know, hm?"
Harry responded with a powerful blasting curse.
Lestrange hardly moved, and easily parried it away, flicking the curse to the side of the building. The explosion momentarily disoriented him as the sound echoed through the alley, and pieces of crushed brick flew through the air, completely obscuring his vision. Harry crouched low and watched for any signs of Lestrange. The searing tip of a wand pressed against the side of his neck.
"Ah, I see. He doesn't know. If he did, he would have at least taught you to be careful, dear Harry. That's the problem with big noisy spells like that – it allows the enemy to mask their apparition." Harry slammed his head backwards into Lestrange's abdomen just as the Death Eater murmured the incantation to a curse he vaguely recognized.
The thin flicker of light that left the wand narrowly missed his neck as he moved his head back. A fine cut appeared on the skin beneath his chin as the magic passed by and cut cleanly through the front of a car parked near the alley's opening.
Lestrange bent over as Harry drove all the air out of him. Harry curled his fist and drove it up into the Death Eater's face above him, causing him to stumble back. Harry quickly turned around and released a burst of fire. The plume of yellow red engulfed the Death Eater's figure and began to swirl around him, until it formed a narrow cocoon of vertical hell.
Without warning a tendril lashed out at him, reaching out like a whip, and he barely had the time to summon a piece of the broken brick wall to shield himself with. The defense held, but several more tendrils raced out of the tornado of fire, lancing out like spears.
Harry summoned several more and pieced them together to cover himself head to toe. His wand worked furiously to keep up, but he could see the brick blackening. The sides began to crumble, and each impact seemed to send more heat through. Sweat beaded across his skin, and the very air became almost too hot to breath.
He managed to use a brief lull in the attack to send a jet of water through, hoping to use the same trick he'd used on Jack. The water evaporated before it even neared the cocoon, sizzling audibly, and created a thick mist between them. Harry dashed to hide himself behind the side of the dumpster.
A sharp wind blew the mist out of the alley. He looked around the edge of the dumpster to see Lestrange open the spinning cocoon of fire like a cloak, stepping out of it. His wand was sheathed in white flame that spread across his shoulders to his other hand.
"Come out, Harry!" Lestrange bellowed. "I want to show you some tricks I dreamed up in Azkaban!"
He pulled back just as the body of the paralyzed prisoner flew past his position. Just before it soared out of the alley it was skewered by a beam of fire. The body felt with a dull thump in the road, flames consuming it from the hole in its abdomen.
"Next time it's the poor witch, Harry!" He said, voice almost sympathetic. "I know you've changed, but you won't let her die, will you? Are you that much of a monster yet?" Harry closed his eyes, swearing silently, words coming in shuddering breaths. He needed the power. His power. He couldn't win – not alone.
The terrified shriek made the decision for him. He walked out from his hiding spot and faced Lestrange. The witch was floating in front of him, sobbing, his flaming wand inches away from her face. The swirling wall of fire behind him stirred eagerly.
"Ah, Harry boy. For bravery like that I'll let this cunt go." He dropped the witch to the side. "You were using fire before. This is how it's done!" He roared, and sent a curse encased in a swirl of fire his way.
Something dark and angry rose in his mind, pushing aside the fear and doubt. He pushed his wand forward to meet the threat, his lips forming words he'd never heard. A thin band rushed out of his wand and immersed itself into the curse like a hook, and he pulled it out of the flame before it hit. The curse travelled up the thin band and into his wand, where he slammed it back out to the ground. A pale blue wall of magic rose out of the ground just before the spear of flames hit. The fire seemed to be absorbed into the shield, glowing yellow for a few moments before disappearing.
The Death Eater didn't miss a beat, sending another fast moving column of fire at him. Harry conjured a large snake before him and hissed so fast he didn't catch its meaning. He flicked his wand and the snake rose up and swallowed the fire whole. The serpent burst into black smoke, dissolving into nothingness.
Lestrange watched in interest, eyebrows furrowing. "That isn't something you should know, dear Harry. But no matter, I suppose we're all allowed to have a few tricks up our sleeves. Consider mine…"
He stepped back into the cloak of fire. With a slight gesture of his wand, the coccoon closed in around him once more. The color changed to bluish white and began to flare intensely. Harry watched cautiously. The Death Eater seemed to be controlling the fire, keeping it tightly leashed, and by all indications it seemed to be getting hotter. He began to back away, heading toward the road.
Without warning the rough, misshapen stones of the alley floor rose up behind him into a wall that reached to the top of the buildings. He was boxed in.
Harry looked around. There was nowhere to go. The alley was cut into a fourth of its size. Less than a couple meters away was a dead end. Between them was the steadily growing storm of fire. He looked up. The only way out was a small, distant opening above.
He backed himself away from the growing inferno, pressing up against the stone wall and coughing as a heavy, black smoke filled the air. He tried blasting the wall, but nothing seemed to make a difference. The stones were too smooth to climb, either. The only other way out was the fire escape.
He ran back towards the fire, holding his breath against the flaming wind and smoke, squinting his eyes. He heard a deep, booming laugh from within the fire, and when he tried jumping on top of the dumpster to climb the ladder, a lance of fire flew from the flames and into the steel platforms above. The stairs melted and deformed, the ladder dropping to the ground. The dead Auror hung from the ladder fell into the flames and disappeared. Within moments the flames had grown to encircle the dumpster on which he stood.
"Welcome to my oven, Harry!"
Another lance of fire flew at him from close range, and he narrowly cast a shield to save his head. He couldn't defend himself like this. He needed space, some room. His only hope was apparition, and he couldn't do it while surviving the fire and the attacks.
He jumped into the open side of the dumpster, thankfully empty, and closed the lid above him. The air inside was extremely hot already, and he could hear Lestrange mocking him, his voice crackling in the flames. His lungs burned, eyes tearing in the extreme heat. His skin seared with pain where it touched the black metal.
The tortured cry of the witch as she burned to death outside sent ice through him, but he didn't move. Not this time. He didn't want to die. He was afraid, afraid of death. There was no cowardice in that. The black power inside him thrummed in agreement.
He pictured himself on the roof, away from the fire, alive and well. He gasped for air, closing his eyes, ignoring the feeling of his hair sizzling as it brushed against the lid above. He could barely breath…
With a quiet hiss of air he disappeared, pressed through space, crushed from every direction as he vanished from the inferno and reappeared above. Harry fell over, greedily taking in the fresh, cool air. He rested his forehead against the cool concrete. He was alive.
"Are you dead yet, Harry? I can burn forever!" Lestrange raved from below.
Harry rose to his feet slowly and walked over to the small opening. He gazed down to the hell below. The spinning, laughing figure of the Death Eater below was visible inside the flames, lighting up the night around him.
"Not without air, you can't." He lifted his wand and traced the four corners of the opening, magic gathering in the space. With a few spoken words the magic solidified into a thick block, sealing off the smoke and heat in the enclosed portion of the alleyway below.
The feeling of anti-apparition wards slamming into place interrupted his moment of triumph. He froze – apparition was tracked and monitored at all times. He had just given away his location.
Harry ran across the small block to the other building, dashing across the rooftop to the intact fire escape on the other side. The stairs screeched and shook as he made his way to ground level. There was no one about for a couple blocks. It seemed as if people were studiously avoiding the area, most likely due to a muggle-repellant charm. Outside the charmed area, pockets of people moved about their daily business in the city, but not a single one glanced his way.
He looked behind him to see one older lady hobble on his way on the other side of the street. She had the look of witch about her. There seemed to be no other people about. Lestrange must have either killed or scared off all the other employees. If they weren't home or dead, they were too afraid to leave the Ministry.
Harry stepped cautiously toward the muggle occupied blocks, aiming to leave the wards and hide amongst the muggles. He didn't know how to disappear off the Ministry recorders, so if he were to escape he'd need a way to hide completely – it was nearing the end of the day, and HT-6 was about to be let loose.
He broke into a run and soon neared the muggles. He felt the magic brush his face as he left the muggle repellant territory, but the anti-apparition wards remained. It had to be the Order tracking him. They wouldn't fire on muggles, which left him free to disappear in the crowd. He dipped his head and pulled his cloak around him.
He walked for a few minutes with his head down. After another couple blocks he looked up. The old witch was next to him, hobbling by his side. He narrowed his eyes and reached for his wand, but before he could she had latched onto his arm. The feeling of a wand pressed into his side made him follow her lead.
She pushed him off to the entrance of a small apartment. The crowd passed them by without a glance as they stood on the front steps. The old lady ducked for a bit before rising to his height and straightening up. Her face, wrinkled and grey, was now heart shaped and smooth. Tonks kept the wand pressed against him as she stared angrily in his eyes.
"Where the fuck have you been, Harry? You just run off like that as if every dark wizard around doesn't want to see you dead. What the hell were you thinking?" Harry didn't bother to meet her eyes. His mind worked furiously to find a way out. He couldn't draw his wand faster than she could disarm and stun him, and he was too tired to duel.
"It's none of your business. You're not taking me back."
"It's every bit my fucking business. My job is to keep you alive, Harry. Do you know what kind of laws I'm breaking in the Ministry to keep tabs on your magical activity, floo, and apparition travel? I had to pull in every favor and then some to just find out you took off the Trace."
"I bet being a Metamorphmagus helped you there." Tonks' face colored in anger and she grabbed his robes, pulling him forward to face her. Her eyes lost their playful pink color and swirled to a deep blue, almost violet. Her hair lengthened and darkened to an inky black.
"You ungrateful bastard," she spat, "You're lucky I found you – "
Harry pushed her away violently. "Or what, Tonks? The big bad Hit-Wizards are going to come and knock me around? I don't care. They're not going to stop me." She watched him carefully, somewhat shaken.
"Stop you from doing what? What are you doing, Harry?" She asked quietly.
Harry kept silent, avoiding her face.
She pressed forward, moving around him to meet his eyes. "Are you going around looking for revenge? Is that it? Are you throwing around dark magic to kill some Death Eaters? Look at you – you're bloodied, dirty, you have cuts everywhere, and there are burns all over your cloak."
She touched his shoulder gently. "You're hurt, Harry. You're tired. Come back with me to Grimmauld Place and get some rest." It sounded like heaven. Harry felt his muscles trembling in exhaustion, his head pounding painfully. His fatigued body begged for respite. He took a deep breath.
"I can't go running back to the Order anymore. It's different now. I just killed three people in that alley back there. I burnt two to death, and stabbed another with a stake." Harry was sure it was only the fact she was an Auror that she didn't back away in disgust. Her grip on his shoulder tightened. "You think I can sit around and gossip with Ron and Hermione after that? I can't even let go of my wand anymore."
"Who were they?" She asked, pursing her lips.
"Rabastian Lestrange and some of the criminals that escaped Azkaban. They killed at least two Aurors and were beating a witch to death when I intervened. Two of them were killed in the crossfire and I took care of the rest. I don't think there's much left of them." Tonks rubbed her eyes.
"Jesus. Look, it's nothing anyone will have to know. It'll just be me, you, and Dumbledore. We've got people in the Ministry who can make this all disappear. Hell, they'll be grateful you took care of their problem." She paused for a few moments to let him mull it over. "I've got a portkey right there. Please don't make me take you in by force."
Harry found his wand gone. Tonks pocketed it silently, and before he could take it back, his hands stuck together in front of him. The apparition wards were still in place and he doubted he could physically overcome Tonks in his present state.
"You're not giving me much of a choice." He grumbled, testing his binds.
"I can stun you." She said with a smile. Despite his predicament, an alien sense of courage prodded him to reply.
"That would take the kinkiness away." He grinned as she took his hand. She rolled her eyes and brought out a medallion he assumed was the portkey. He prepared to bolt, but Tonks tightened her hold as if she knew what he was going to do.
"Elebria,"She intoned, but the activation code didn't seem to do anything. She frowned and tried again.
Harry looked around them warily. "I think there's more than an anti-apparition ward in effect." Tonks brought out her wand and gestured toward the sidewalk. The normally busy crowd was thinning rapidly. Harry saw one woman step on their side of the road and look around in sudden confusion before running away.
Tonks swore and pulled him out to street. "Looks like I wasn't the only one waiting for you to slip. They're here early."