Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.
Grey Maiden IV: Darkness Rising
WARNINGS: Violence, Gore, Multiple Character Deaths, Some Language, Dark Themes
Summary: Harry's training has begun at last, and so has the difficult task of gathering allies. Daphne and his friends will prove invaluable in this effort, but when Harry finds himself hurled into a legendary and deadly competition against his will, the challenge becomes even greater. Because before he can build a force to fight the Dark Lord, Harry must endure the rigors of the Triwizard Tournament, because the penalty for failure might just be death.
The dreams came in the dead of night, long after Harry had fallen away from the physical world. They were garbled, with cut-off screams and cold, muffled voices hissing back and forth between one another. Occasionally he would see an image: a snake…a pair of glowing red eyes…a cowering figure…a wand held in a red-scaled hand.
And when he awoke, his scar would burn. Burn like it hadn't since he'd confronted Voldemort during his first year. It burned like it did when the Dark Lord drew close to him.
He fought back, using everything he'd been taught by Snape to block out the Dark Lord's thoughts, to fend off his mental assault.
He felt he was partially successful. He'd often feel frustration, but he could tell that it was not his own. The emotion was alien, laced with hatred and loathing of a kind he simply didn't possess. A kind of loathing and hatred that made it possible for a man to relish his enemy's pain, to gain pleasure from inflicting agony and suffering.
The pains in his scar worsened with each night. Daphne was helpless to stop them, unable to comprehend how her sworn enemy was reaching across the distance to harm her ward. She helped him with his Occlumency, sleeping lightly, occasional reaching out and entering his mind to help him fight off Voldemort. It was cold and dark when Voldemort was in his head.
He protected the Prophecy by sheer will, building mental barriers by himself. The architect of the Great Wall of China could have hardly done a better job. And in Harry's mind, there was no traitor to let the enemy in. There was only resistance, both from himself and his magic, which would lash out and burn Voldemort when he came too close. There was no way of scaling the walls, for they stretched infinitely upward. It was all a matter of will, and that Harry possessed in abundance.
He came again, pushing through his Occlumency barriers with ease. Harry allowed a bit of his panic to slip through, then struck. His magic blasted Voldemort's presence away, hurling him out of Harry's mind and back to wherever he came from.
Harry's eyes opened wide, and he stared into the darkness of his room in the ancestral home of the Dressler Family. He closed his eyes again, taking several deep breaths in an effort to calm his racing heart. His scar burned, but the pain was distant and more uncomfortable than painful.
He sat up in bed, and shivered in his sweat soaked pajamas as a breeze wafted through the partly open window. He swung his feet down onto the floor, then reached onto the nightstand for his wand. Tiredly, he performed a Time Spell. It was just after six in the morning. He'd actually stayed asleep for longer than usual. The dreams hadn't been as bad recently, though whether it was because Voldemort wasn't sending them or he was getting better at blocking the Dark Lord was unclear. Daphne seemed frustrated by how helpless she was to stop Harry's suffering. But no one knew where the Dark Lord was. Most didn't even understand that he was still…in existence.
Harry waved his wand at his curtains and they opened, letting in the morning sun. He'd actually been fooled by how little light had penetrated the heavy emerald green curtains of Dressler Manor. He'd been decieved into believing it was still the middle of the night.
Yawning, he stripped out of his pajamas, slipped on a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, and his trainers, and left his room. He headed down the hallway to one of the staircases and down to the ground floor. If Daphne was awake, he couldn't tell. Her room was pretty far from his, almost in the opposite wing of the large manor. He went down through the kitchen and out one of the side doors, and began to run.
Physical training had been a part of his life ever since he'd arrived home at Dressler Manor. Daphne had been working him hard, trying to prepare him for his combat training. She had been among a number of Aurors who believed that physical strength and endurance were as important as magical strength and endurance. A good duelist didn't just stand there and allow a spell to break through their defenses; he dodged, advanced and retreated, continuously moving about to keep his senses sharp and make himself a harder target. And if the opportunity presented itself, it was always easier to physically take down an enemy than wear them down in a prolonged duel. Daphne described how she'd used her strength and agility to take down both Sirius and Pettigrew. Another important point was that although Daphne didn't believe in dueling with swords, it was a good alternative to be able to draw upon, especially if one was fighting an opponent they matched in skill and power.
Harry knew that Blaise had been training with swords for years, proving that some pureblood families still did it. But if he were to have an instructor in that area, it would not be Daphne. But on the subject of dueling with wands and spells? There weren't many better.
Daphne had taught him a number of curses, though only a few of them were classified as Dark. She'd taught him the Severing Curse, one that was clearly Dark and might get him expelled from Hogwarts if he used it at the wrong time. It was potentially deadly, as one might expect. But Daphne insisted that he know it. She'd worked hard with him to refine his Slicing Curse, working on his accuracy and power. He had to be careful not to overcharge it, but Daphne hoped that the amount of power he possessed would not just allow him to cast more powerful spells, but also to last much longer in a duel. His Slicing Curse could now rattle Daphne's Servos Shield, which was quite an accomplishment in itself. He'd also worked hard to refine his Striking Curse, and had begun to learn the Bludgeoning Curse and Flinging Hex. The latter was an extremely useful little spell, one that allowed a person to temporarily hurl his opponent away, and get a chance to recover physically and magically. It could also be used to throw objects at an opponent.
However, what Daphne had done, almost to the point of obsession, was work on his defense skills. She'd taught him a half-dozen defensive strategies, including a variety of dodges and their accompanying recoveries. She'd had him practice his Shielding Spell over and over again, improving both the resilience of the shield and the speed at which he could conjure it. He could not deflect everything Daphne threw at him, but he was more than capable of defending himself. Daphne even complimented him on several occasions, and getting a compliment out of her while dueling was about as difficult as getting water from a rock.
He continued to run at a leisurely pace, moving onto a path that traced along the outside of the Dressler's land. There was a small lake about a half-mile from the back of the house, and Harry would often run around it. Harry had hardly been in poor physical shape to begin with, but Daphne insisted that he build up his endurance. Truth be told, he enjoyed his morning runs, as they gave him a chance to clear his mind of everything that was troubling him.
It was early August now, just days after his 14th birthday. He'd received letters from all of his friends, along with some birthday gifts. He'd been slightly surprised that no one except Tonks had shown up to see him. He knew that Hermione was spending most of the summer in France, traveling with her parents. But he didn't know what was up with Ginny. Her letters told him nothing of the small redhead's mental state. She seemed…perfectly normal. He often thought of the way she'd behaved after her ordeal in the Forest, when she'd be tortured with the Cruciatus Curse, with Daphne arriving just in time to save her. But he'd always sensed that something else had happened, something else that she hadn't told either him or Hermione about.
He'd received gifts, of course. Hermione had included with her letter a rather interesting, self-translating book about French Magical History. It was always interesting to find out how many Muggle legends were, in fact, Muggles. Accomplishments often said little; Charlemagne was a Muggle, while Henry IV was a wizard. So was Louis Pasteur, who had invented a process using Muggle technology that killed bacteria in milk and other liquids.
Tonks had given him a set of combat robes. While charmed so that they remained light-weight and easy to move in, they were reinforced in crucial areas by dragon hide. They provided remarkably good protection, and were highly coveted by those outside of the Ministry. The Aurors were, naturally, issued them at graduation. Tonks had managed to procure an extra pair and charmed them black, rather than the usual red. Daphne had been a bit wary of the risk that the recent Auror School graduate had taken, but the young woman had blown it off, obviously unafraid of being caught. She'd just been happy to have a chance to see the boy she thought of as a younger brother. And Harry, in turn, looked at her as an older sister. She was just enjoyable to be around, and she could always brighten his spirits. And despite her clumsiness, she was a damn good Auror, and getting better. At this point, the Aurors weren't exactly acting as Dark Wizard Catchers, more as policemen. Despite this, Tonks had already been commended for showing excellent leadership skills during a particularly difficult raid on an illegal potions shop, when the owner had attempted to resist and injured one of the other young Aurors. Tonks was quite humble about the whole thing, even somewhat embarrassed by the attention she was getting. She'd continued to work with Harry's Metamorphic abilities, trying to move past simply changing colors and styles of physical features and moving on to changing bone structure. That wasn't going so well, and Harry was beginning to wonder if he'd ever be able to do it. He'd messed himself up and been unable to fix it three times in all. Daphne had healed him while Tonks rolled on the ground laughing.
Harry felt a sharp pain in his left calf and stopped, coming up lame. He cursed at the pain and tried to massage the tightness away. He limped over to a tree stump near the side of the path and sat down, kneading the hard muscle. He knew he should have stretched before he went running. However, lost in his thoughts, he'd forgotten to, and now he was paying the price. He gritted his teeth and tried to focus elsewhere. It wasn't difficult; he had so many different things to think about these days. He still eagerly awaited a letter from the father of Daphne Greengrass, but as of yet, nothing had arrived. He'd toyed with the idea of talking to Blaise about this latest development, but he had gotten the idea from the Greengrass heiress that he was supposed to keep the news of the possible alliance secret, with the exception of his guardian, of course. Daphne had been wary, but not as much as Harry had feared. She didn't trust Aiden Greengrass, but she didn't seem to dislike him as she disliked Blaise's parents.
Harry had regularly sent and received posts from his only friend in his dormitory. The two had established a solid, if cautious and occasionally awkward, friendship. And Blaise knew a lot more about Purebloods than Harry did. The complication was that he was exceedingly loyal to his parents, and that their were few thing he'd be willing to keep from them. Blaise could be witty when he wanted to, and the boy was quite good at implanting hidden meanings in his words. Some of them Harry picked up on, some of them he didn't.
There was also the letter he'd gotten from Luna. He still was trying to decipher the meaning of it, despite the fact that it had arrived in mid-June. It hadn't been a letter so much as sixteen separated sentences that mostly seemed to be alterations of conventional sayings and phrases in a way that might have been trying to send a message, or at least had some significance. But To be curious is to be a cat wasn't exactly the most clear of signals. He'd need to run down the enigmatic Ravenclaw. They were long overdue for a conversation.
The pain slowly began to fade from his calf and the muscle softened, he tested out his weight on it. He'd probably have to move gingerly to avoid re-injuring it, but he could probably finish his jog around the property. He got up and set off at a slow pace, and managed to keep the strain to a minimum. He was soon lost in his thoughts once more.
School would be beginning in less than a month, and Harry was already trying to anticipate the kind of reception he would get. Many now knew that he possessed well-above-average magical power. Would he be respected? Feared? Envied? He honestly couldn't be sure. He knew that he might at least gain the attention of some purebloods he'd been seeking to impress for the entire school year, but, with the exception of Blaise and possibly Greengrass, failed in his efforts.
He managed to make it back to the manor house without that much difficulty, his senses assaulted upon entry by the aroma of fresh eggs and sausage. He entered the dining room to find that the House Elves had prepared their usual morning feast. Daphne sat at the end of the table, reading the Daily Prophet; she was scowling at something. "Skeeter?" he guessed. Daphne despised the vindictive, petty commentary of the glorified gossip columnist, who was for some reason taken as the ultimate authority on a number of issues that, it was clear, she knew nothing about. She'd emerged towards the end of First War with her pieces on the trials of Death Eaters putting her into the national spotlight. She'd risen meteorically from there. Daphne had disliked her well before she'd written an article about how unfit she was to be the guardian of the Boy-Who-Lived. Another piece about how Harry was potentially going Dark earned her further enmity from Daphne. Harry found it somewhat amusing that some day she might report the same thing…only that time, she would be right.
Daphne lowered the newspaper, staring at him in mock awe. "How did youguess?" she said, feigning astonishment. Harry smiled, and she returned it. "How did you sleep?"
"Better," he told her. "I'm still not getting anything clear from Him, but the disconnected images are still troubling. And my scar hurt. It's almost as if he's…well, he's happy about something.
Daphne frowned. "Your scar is the first of its kind, so I don't know anything about its properties. It is possible that you are able to feel the Dark Lord's emotions. I believe that you have enough will and mental defenses to prevent him from possessing you at a distance, though I wouldn't be so sure if you were in close proximity to him." She said this in a matter-of-fact manner, but her voice was somewhat distant, neutral. She obviously wasn't comfortable with the idea, not that she should have been, but she still didn't want to deny that the possibility existed.
Now if only she'd talk about herself in that way instead of me...
It took a great deal of self-control to not betray any emotion in his facial expression, but he did blink. Daphne had gone back to reading and didn't notice. What in Merlin's name is that supposed to mean?
The previous year, he might have been expecting a response from a piece of his fractured consciousness. Now, healed mentally as well as physically, there was no answer. I know exactly what it's supposed to mean, he thought, Daphne is as fatalistic as they come, even if she's never said it to me, and she's able to handle that. But what she can't handle is the slightest thought that she might be slipping, that her mind might be cracking. Daphne's mind might be her deadliest weapon.
Wary of drawing his guardian's attention by staying quiet for so long, he asked, "So is there anything we're going to be focused on today?"
Daphne lowered the newspaper. "You didn't stretch," she said. It was not a question.
Harry sighed. "I was…disoriented and forgot. How did you know?" The answer came to him seconds before the woman sitting across from him answered.
"You are limping. What was it, the calf or the thigh?
Daphne nodded. "Come here. I know a spell that will loosen the muscle. You should learn it too; a strain is much easier to repair than a tear. You'll need a trained mediwizard to repair muscle damage. If you stretch regularly, you won't run the risk of either. Come over here," she said again. Harry did and presented his left leg. She drew her wand and twirled it in a half-circle. The pain abated instantly, replaced by a lingering soreness.
"Don't let it happen again," she replied, going back to the newspaper.
This sort of conversation had been rather typical. It wasn't that Daphne was cold to him in general; she took on this persona because she felt it was a motivational tool. She would praise him, but not to an extreme. She was trying to be a mother and an Auror instructor at the same time. This was the result.
"To answer your question," she said, not looking up, "We're going to work on defense mostly. I also want to test out the Flinging Hex. I promise you, if you do it right, there is no better way to get a few seconds of relief in a long duel. Because the spell covers a wider area, it's much more difficult to block. Needless to say, we will be doing exactly that later today; that is, learning how to block it. Never learn a spell you can't defend against. At best, you will look foolish."
She reached underneath a pile of post for something and held it out to him. "It's from Hermione. Hedwig came while you were out."
Harry took the letter from her and ripped it open, then unfolded it and read.
France is amazing! We've visited all sorts of historical sites, both Muggle and Magical. What's even better is that some of them are both. My parents have had a lot of questions about the role that wizards played in French history, so naturally, I bought the same book that I gave you. I hope you've had a chance to start it; it's absolutely fascinating. We're coming home in a week, which is too bad because there is still so much to see. We ran into a few friends of my parents and stayed at their house in Normandy for a few days. They have a girl two years older than me, but she's not very interesting, and she also smokes! What a disgusting habit to pick up that young! I tried to engage her in conversation, because I was desperate, but she blew me off. Called me all sorts of rude names, which I won't repeat for the sake of propriety.
That's been one of the few negative experiences I've had on this trip, though. I've even picked up some of the language. It's very different from English; it flows more. I've heard it's similar to Italian and Spanish. Most students my age at Muggle schools have to learn language, so that is one of the few things I'm missing out on by going to Hogwarts. Not that I regret it or anything!
I hope you are well. You said you were having some problems sleeping? I hope Daphne's trying to help you with that. What specifically is it that is bothering you? Maybe I could find a book about it…
I'm very jealous of you, though. I can't wait to see what you've learned from Daphne this summer. I bet she's a terrific instructor. You'll have to teach Ginny and me a few things this coming year. I do hope you haven't been learning anything illegal, though I suppose that the Ministry is somewhat strict in that regard. Still, the last thing we need is Aurors coming to haul you off to Azkaban for cursing Ron.
Speaking of the Weasleys, I've been exchanging letters with Ginny all summer. She seems to be doing better than she was at the end of term, though she still won't tell me what was bothering her. Do you have any idea? I don't mean to imply I think she tells you more than she tells me, although that is possible, but I'm just concerned for our mutual friend.
Have you gotten your letter yet? I noticed that in addition to textbooks (the DADA books seem quite intense; I wonder who our new teacher is?) that we're supposed to bring dress robes. I haven't heard of any formal occasions during our time at Hogwarts; so I'm wondering if something is going on this year. Some kind of special event? It should be interesting, whatever it is.
Dad's in a panic trying to find everything right now, so I'll have to cut this short. We're going to spend the last week of our trip in Paris, and we'll get to see the remains of the Bastille. What interesting is that in order to make sure that wizards understand their role in French history, there are markers and plaques at the sites that only magical people can see. I've had to dictate the contents to my parents, which has gotten me some strange looks.
Hope to see you soon.
Harry smiled as he read the letter. He could easily imagine Hermione's voice saying every word. Her letters tended to be like this; more of a stream of consciousness than a thought-out piece of writing. Ginny's letters were either completed in several sittings or subject to a lot of thought before quill hit parchment.
Harry's thoughts were interrupted by a loud crash from the living room and a series of un-lady-like curses. Tonks.
Daphne looked up in surprise. "I wonder what she's doing here," she said, obviously coming to the same conclusion as her ward. Harry got up and went to meet his friend. She was sprawled on the carpet, her face red with embarrassment. Tonks sported bright blue hair today with green eyes a shade or two lighter that Harry's. She smiled lazily at him as her entered. "Wotcher, Harry. Mind giving me a hand?"
Harry moved over to her and extended a hand. She pulled herself upright and dusted off her robes. She grinned at him, and Harry felt his own face taking the same expression. Tonks's grin was literally contagious. "I've got some good news for you," she said in a sing-song voice.
Harry refused to be baited, and stayed silent. Then she hit him in the arm. "OW!"
"Wuss," she said, "You're no fun," she pouted. "Alright, fine. You, Daphne, Mum, and me are going to the Quidditch World Cup."
That got Harry's attention. He gaped at her. "Are you serious? You got tickets?"
"Rank has its privileges," she told him. "She's Scrimgeour's secretary now, and he was given five tickets as a courtesy, but he's way too busy for that. He's a big Quidditch fan, actually, loves the Magpies, but like I said, he's not going to be able to go."
Harry had been following professional Quidditch all summer, through the newspaper and listening to the occasional game on the Wizarding Wireless Network. He didn't really have a team, so he supported Ginny's favorite, the Hollyhead Harpies. He knew that on the international stage, Bulgaria and Ireland would be the two teams in the final. The Bulgarian team wasn't remarkable as a whole, but their Seeker was the best in the world. Viktor Krum was a phenom, a wunderkind, a seventeen-year old physical specimen with unheard of reflexes and Quidditch instincts. What made him even more amazing was that he was still a student, a 7th year at Durmstrang. He was known to have a cold and unfriendly demeanor, but his focus and dedication on the pitch was unquestioned. Ireland's team wasn't too bad, either. Aiden Lynch was a fine Seeker, a veteran of many international tournaments, but the highlight of the Irish team were its three Chasers. Troy, Mullet and Moran were skilled players in their own right, but what set them apart was that they had tremendous chemistry, almost to the point of being to predict improvisations and deviations from the playbook.
"I can't wait," he said, letting some of the excitement he felt into his voice.
"Wait for what?" Daphne's voice asked from behind him.
"Barring any unforeseen calamities, the three of us, Hermione, and Mum are going to the Quidditch World Cup," he told her.
Daphne seemed genuinely surprised. "Andi's good at getting what she wants," she remarked. "I'm sure we'll all have a very good time. It will be good to get our minds off of everything that's going on. When does the World Cup begin?"
"In about a week," Tonks answered. "You'll owl Hermione?" she asked Harry. He nodded.
"Great. Maybe we'll run into one of those Seekers and have Harry show them a few things about handling a broom." Harry blushed, embarrassed. He knew that he was a great Seeker, and displayed some of the same instincts and feel that had made Krum a rising star, but he simply wasn't on the same level. In addition, Quidditch would never be anything but a diversion. He certainly wouldn't be able to make a career out of it.
Plus, no matter how famous he was, he doubted that Krum would want to associate much with him. Harry's star had faded, as was inevitable when all of his accomplishments and failures took place at Hogwarts, where surprisingly little news made it back to the students' parents. And he didn't want that kind of publicity; the kind that made it into Rita Skeeter's columns.
"So, Harry, what have you been learning recently? Last time I was here, you were still working with the Burning Curse. I've actually got a new one you might want to learn. A bit nasty, mind you, and borderline Dark," Tonks said, snapping him out of his daze.
"What is it?" he asked. He noticed that Daphne had slipped away.
"S' called the Fire Whip Curse. Quite literally, it makes a long tendril of fire sprout out of your wand. It's actually tangible, and it's capable of doing physical damage outside of the fire itself. You can imagine the uses if you are properly trained. Mad Eye taught me that one. Actually took me aside and gave me a little private lesson. He's creepy, that one, but I don't think they've ever made one better."
Harry had heard the story of Alastor Moody. He'd been orphaned early in life, his parents killed in a firefight between a notorious criminal gang of Dark Wizards, and from that moment forward had been determined the join the Aurors and avenge his parents. He'd been one of the best students in the history of both Hogwarts and the Auror School. When Daphne had been coming up, it was Moody that they had compared her to. Quite appropriately, as Moody had personally taught Daphne most of what she knew about combat survival. Alastor Moody had retired two years after the end of the war, but apparently he still tried to pass on the tricks of the trade. "I doubt they have," Harry replied. "Can you show me?"
"We'll need more room than this," she said, waving at the entrance hall. "Or at least, we need to be surrounded with less valuable objects. I don't want to destroy half of the Dressler family's heirlooms."
"No, I think we'll skip that," Harry agreed.
They proceeded quickly to Daphne's training space, a large, multi-purpose room that could be used as a target range, a gymnasium, or a combat simulator, depending on what they needed. Daphne had left the door unlocked, as Harry had free access whenever he wanted it. They stopped in the middle of the floor, and Tonka gestured for him to stay where he was as she moved above five meters away from him. She drew her wand with a flourish, drew it back, and then snapped it forward, shouting, "Flagro Flagello."
There was a sharp hiss, and a long, thin tendril of fire shot out of the end of Tonks's wand, ending up about two meters long. She whirled it around with spectacular effects, and then lashed down at the floor. The heavy duty material was durable enough to partially absorb the blow, but it cut a deep grove with singed edges. Harry imagined it might split a person right down the middle. Tonks grinned at him. "Like it?"
He stared at the slash in the floor, then back at Tonks. "Wow."
She laughed. "That's what I said, and mind you, his was much bigger than mine. I'm still learning how to sustain the power." As she spoke, the whip rapidly drew back into her wand, disappearing with a loud crack. "See what I mean?"
Harry nodded. He had to admit he was anxious to try it out. "What's the mental process?" he asked. He presumed that such an advanced spell involved special focus and concentration in addition to the wand movements and incantation. He was right.
"It's basically visualization. There aren't many spells that require that, but this is one of them. You have to have an image of the whip in your mind. Don't close your eyes though, or it won't work. Moody wasn't real happy when I did that a few times."
"I can imagine, he told her. "When can we get started?"
Tonks laughed. "Aren't we in a hurry?"
You have no idea, Harry thought.
A/N: And so it begins.
Don't have much to say, except that you'll get a peek at Aiden in the next chapter.
Hope you liked the Fire Whip Curse. You'll be seeing it again.
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