Disclaimer: I own nothing; it all belongs to J.K.Rowling. I'm just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only, no profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Note: Just a brief heads up. I doubt I'll manage long chapters every week for this story, like I did for Browncoat, Green Eyes. That was too much work and too much like work for an unpaid free time hobby. I think it kind of showed in the writing near the end too. I'm expecting this will be an erratic update schedule with probably shorter chapters. Though not as short as this prologue. If this may frustrate you, perhaps you should wait until there's a dozen or so chapters of this fic posted. Consider yourself warned.
Harry stepped into the lift, trying to ignore the looks on the other people's faces. He pressed the button for level nine, despite the fact that it was already lit up. Two witches, both much older than him, were failing to keep their voices down and Harry did his best to not respond to the whispered comment of "I'd gobble him right up."
He couldn't resist letting his mind wander onto the benefits and drawbacks of a turkey animagus form.
He'd grown accustomed to the stares, though he doubted he'd ever like them. Over two years ago, he'd defeated Voldemort. After a brief stay in the hospital wing at Hogwarts subjected to Madame Pomfrey's tender mercies, Harry had emerged a healthy young prophecy-free wizard with just as much purpose as the next.
In other words, Harry didn't know what he wanted to do with his life.
He'd missed out on his seventh year of schooling, but Hermione's tutelage ensured that he sat his NEWTS and passed with flying colors. It took six long years to locate and destroy all the pieces of the Dark Lord's soul but they had been successful. Like any leader, Harry got too much of the blame and too much of the credit.
Four months ago, after another unsuccessful meditation to determine his animagus form, Harry finally decided on something that he wanted to do, or more precisely some questions he wanted answered.
Three months ago Harry swung a bit of his political might and pressured the Ministry into allowing him to conduct a research project on a dangerous magical artifact in their possession: the veil in the Death Chamber or, as Harry's research had called it, the Exit.
Two months ago, Harry, Hermione, and Professor Vector had developed a rudimentary way to activate and interact with some of the primitive runes carved into the keystone on the mysterious archway. That very first day Harry was permitted physical access to invoke the runes the entire stone dais shifted and settled, lit up like the night sky for less than a second, and the mysterious constant slight wind blowing through the archway became still.
The veil just hung there like a perfectly normal, inanimate, harmless curtain. Until something was thrown in, then a gentle breeze would fluff the veil outward just slightly and suck the offending item in, never to be returned.
Harry's elation at his immediate success lasted about an hour.
Since that day two months ago, Harry hadn't managed a single iota of progress. Nothing was reacting to anything he tried. Nothing seemed to change and Harry couldn't even get the archway back to the way it had been before.
Voices and whispers from beyond were now nothing but silence, except for the brief moments when an object would be sent through.
Rocks, food, plants, bugs, objects tied with every sort of string imaginable. They all just disappeared into the Exit. Timed portkeys never returned and even the magical sensors got no readings the instant an object disappeared.
The Department of Mysteries was giving Harry neither help nor materials so he went "ingredient shopping" at a muggle pet store.
Hermione drew the line at three puppies when she discovered Adios, Sayonara, and Geronimo's empty collars. Perhaps Harry shouldn't have blurted out in anger that the last one in his closet was going to have her name changed from Toodles to Hermione.
Needless to say, Ron and Hermione reluctantly got a new puppy. After refusing to call the young poop factory either Toodles or Hermione, they settled on the name Padfoot. Primarily as a preventive measure in hopes that it would keep Harry from chucking her into the Exit as well.
The longest the gateway had stayed open was when Harry cast Serpensortia and tossed the oversized snake into it. That time, when the voices and whispers could be heard, Harry swore that there was a very clear pronouncement of, "Hey guys! It's open agai-," before being cut off.
Unspeakable Vargas had been observing that day, and she claimed that there was no such exclamation. Harry and Vargas had a small vocal disagreement, resulting in Harry having a private session with the Department psychiatrist before he was allowed to work on the Exit again.
Even still Vargas was one of the nicest Unspeakables Harry had interacted with. She at least didn't scowl when she saw him. Pretty much everyone else in the Department of Mysteries considered Harry and his project an annoyance and a burden.
A chime rang announcing the lift's arrival at level nine and Harry stepped back allowing Gruber and Gruber to walk ahead of him. He nodded at the witch manning the front desk and entered the circular spinning room, smiling happily, unconcerned with the matching looks of disdain on the two Unspeakable brothers in the rotating room with him.
The doors stopped spinning and the two Unspeakables walked out towards their offices. Harry waited for the door to close and the room started spinning once more. Harry was humming a cheerful tune to himself, as he walked through the door and down the steps of the Death Chamber.
"Good morning, Vargas," Harry greeted seeing she was already set up at a station and digging into her paperwork.
"Hmmph," Vargas grunted back. "I'm hung over and have two weeks worth of paperwork here. So how abouts we make it a quiet day, alright?"
Harry nodded silently and floated himself up into the air, ensuring he wouldn't even make the sound of footsteps.
"Show-off," Vargas mumbled to herself after glancing up.
Harry magically held his satchel in place in the air next to him, while it unlatched and opened up. The diagrams for a few basic runes floated out and in front of Harry. These were the oldest ones and therefore most likely to be capable of interaction with the archway. Harry diligently worked his way around the rougher sections of the veil where the rune carvings were only partially visible.
Harry continued in silence for over three fruitless hours. He was tempted to try some more firecrackers and whizbangs. Unfortunately as fun as those were, they never produced any results and seemed to be somewhat of an unnecessary risk.
"You getting lunch, Potter?" Vargas asked curiously.
"Why Vargas, I never knew I was your type," Harry smirked back.
"You're not," Vargas snapped. "But I'm hungry. And you look like you're planning to work through lunch."
"I was hoping to crank through another foot of the rough stuff," Harry said pointing towards the lower right side of the stone archway.
She nodded. "Alright, I'll be back in five minutes. Can I trust you not to do something stupid in that amount of time?"
"I think I can handle myself," Harry attempted to placate her.
Vargas had left him alone many times before, but her inner eye still felt like a bug had flown into it. "You want anything from the cafeteria?"
"You mind grabbing me a sandwich?"
"Whatever looks freshest," Harry said before adding, " Turkey maybe." He summoned his money pouch from the hovering satchel when Vargas interrupted calling over her shoulder, "Keep your money. You manage not to do anything stupid in the next five minutes and this one's on me."
Her parting remarks triggered some previous musings in Harry's mind. All the potential, plausible and hopeful ideas on the Exit had been failing. And there was still that category of ideas with the one he thought might make the difference, the stupid category. Jumping into the veil and a few of the sacrificial plans on that list were admittedly somewhat questionable.
In the past Harry had sent spells through the veil, he'd sent transfigured objects, conjured objects, charmed objects, cursed objects, and enchanted objects through the veil.
He'd even stuck his arm into it, up to the elbow, before the Unspeakable working had tackled him to the ground and forced Harry to swear an oath to not intentionally do that again without approval. Harry had reluctantly acquiesced banking on the unclear aspect of just whose approval was required.
What Harry hadn't yet done was to stick one of his magical arms into it. In the early planning stages with Hermione and Professor Vector, Harry hadn't disputed the lack of brilliance in that particular idea with the two witches. But after all these failures, Harry figured it seemed like the next logical step and a sound, reasonable move.
Harry knew that he'd sent spells and magic in many times before, so poking around with one little magically manifested arm should be okay. He gave it a good three and a half second's worth of thought before deciding he should at least try testing the possibility now before Vargas returned.
Conveniently forgetting all promises not to do anything stupid, Harry cast his favorite magical sight spell on his eyes. For experimental work, the ability to observe them was necessary. Not to mention Harry was more confident in his abilities when he could see what he was doing. He called up a half dozen of the invisible magical arms as that was the number he was most comfortable with and had spent hundreds of hours extensively training with. The spell on his eyes permitted him to see the long, thin white tubes of magical light spreading out from his body with amorphous hands and fingers at the ends. They were slowly waving on the ambient flows of magic, waiting for a purpose.
Harry looked towards the Exit and saw it looked the same way it had for the past two months, a solid empty black void from which no magic was emanating. He conjured a small ball that was glowing soft grey light from the magic and tossed it through the archway. The black in the gateway flashed white ever so briefly, and the sounds of distant whispers disappeared as quickly as they appeared.
Harry's bottom pair of magical appendages was positioning him directly in the center of the void and halfway up its height.
Harry knew that if he thought much more on the issue, he'd probably stop. So without hesitation, he quickly moved a magical arm right up to the surface of the void. He gently pushed through ever so slightly and pulled right back.
The magic didn't even flicker.
Deciding he hadn't pushed far enough into it, Harry readied a magical blade to cut off his own magical arm if need be. He took a deep breath and stuck the exploratory magical manifestation deeper into the void, over a foot of it now submerged in the gateway.
Harry pulled it right back out only to see that once again, not even a sliver of magic responded.
Figuring he might as well try a little deeper, Harry plunged a single magical arm and kept it sending it through hoping to feel something in there or at least trigger the magic of the Exit to respond when his control over the arm disappeared and he was pulled violently face first.
Two of Harry's magical arms grabbed on to both sides of the stone archway and held him back from falling in further. They were struggling mightily to pull Harry back out. With barely a thought the two arms below him swept backwards and grabbed onto on the first row of steps in the Death Chamber.
The sirens in the room started blaring, and lights on the ceiling were flashing.
The sides of the archway began to crack and crumble. Harry quickly let go of the ancient artifact and sent those two magical arms across towards the steps, trying to pull himself back that way.
His fifth magical arm was fighting to pull his trapped one free. The magical blade seemed to have no effect on the trapped arm that was outside of Harry's control. He was losing ground and it was only a matter of time.
While trying to hold on for dear life and ignore the blaring alarm, Harry was reminded of one of the early conversations he'd had with Hermione and Professor Vector.
"It's obviously a gateway to somewhere," Hermione explained. "A few texts allude that it is a gateway to death, the afterlife, or even Hell."
"None of them have ever conclusively known where it leads to," Professor Vector added. "All the history is conjecture."
"So it just as likely is a gateway to Heaven as it is to Hell," Harry theorized.
"Doubtful," Hermione scoffed.
"Hey now," Harry argued. "All it takes is for the portal to be one-way, or for some other reason impossible to go back through. Maybe once you get there, no one wants to come back. Sirius could be living it up surrounded by all the strippers and snausages he could ever want."
"Fine," Hermione grumbled in agreement. "The physical evidence indicates it could be a gateway just about anywhere. But for all intents and purposes to the known world, it leads to death, so don't go and do anything stupid!"
Harry looked at his current situation with the lower two thirds of his body sucked into the Exit, which was currently blinding with magic to his spelled eyes. This would more than likely count as something stupid.
Harry could hear strange voices and whispers, but most of the sounds from the Exit were drowned out by the blaring alarms.
"Potter!" Vargas shrieked as she sprinted back into the Death Chamber.
Harry's forehead was dripping with sweat and he was feeling his energy fade. He saw Vargas extending her hand towards him.
"Grab on to my hand!"
Harry shook his head slowly. "Can't," he grunted through the strain. "I'd just pull you in."
Vargas winced as she spotted the solid rock stairs scraping the ground, being dragged towards Harry in his efforts to hold on. She tried to summon him but her spells were insignificant against the pull of the Exit.
Harry grunted and had slipped into the gateway so deep only his head remained visible. He knew he could destroy the archway and likely the Exit, but if he survived that, then he'd truly have no answers or way to reach Sirius. His energy was being depleted so quickly that any decision he had to make better be made soon.
Harry's answer came in the form of a clear voice mixed in with the whispers inside the veil. The voice scoffed, "What's the matter? You chicken?"
Never one to back down from a challenge, Harry calmed significantly and used one of his invisible magical arms to grab his satchel. He smiled with a mix of resignation and determination at Vargas.
If Harry had been thinking clearer, he might have come up with something more profound to say with his last words on this world.
"You can keep my sandwich."
Author's Note: Big thanks to IP, JJ, Chuck, Jim, Chris, and everyone else who's been helping me nail down this outline and edit this fic. All feedback, flames, criticisms, mindless praise, and marriage proposals are always welcome.