Disclaimer: All non-original Harry Potter characters belong to JK Rowling and her affiliated companies. I'm just taking them out for some overdue cleaning.

Previously, Harry retrieves the Horcruxes from odd Goblin and Animagus subdimensions with reasonable ease. Slughorn is killed by an unknown spell when he reveals secrets to Voldemort, and Fleur and Bill ask the Weasley Twins for assistance with destroying something. And then, Harry shows up...


"Alright, here's the last one," Harry said, dropping the corpse of Nagini on the floor next to the other gathered Horcruxes.

Fred held his nose. "That's foul, Harry. Say, wasn't this the bugger that attacked Dad?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah, exactly. Difficult to kill, but I was able to wear it down."

George kicked the dead snake and spat on it. "Rot in hell, you monstrous mutation."

Fred clasped Harry on the back and grinned at him. "Although I wish we'd been the ones to take that bit of revenge, I'm glad we'll at least be able to incinerate it into nothingness."

"You really think you'll be able to destroy them all?" Harry asked Bill, who was carving some runes on a large metal box.

"Oh yeah," Bill said distractedly. "Normally I'd say a Horcrux could only be destroyed by the most destructive elements or magic - you know, Basilisk venom, lava, and of course, Fiendfyre. We'll be using a variation on that here."

"We've never made a Fiendfyre bomb before," Fred confessed. "But I must admit, the challenge of making something so stupidly dangerous and volatile. Well..."

"It's us!" George put in with a smile. "Although the stuff Fleur's adding isn't much like anything I've ever seen. Bill, do you have any idea about all that 'recyclic convergent foci' drivel she keeps going on about?"

Bill glared at his brother. "Don't be an arse, George. I have a pretty good idea now, since Fleur's lent me a few books. The whole point is to cascade the explosion through the lower reality layers so that the connective Horcrux... fragments, I suppose is the right word, all get destroyed simultaneously." He looked over his handiwork and sighed. "But these limiters are a bit of a pain. We don't want to blow up Hogsmeade - and the kind of forces we're dealing with could easily get out of control."

"Blowing up Hogsmeade..." George mused.

"Childhood dream, innit?" Fred smirked."

Bill rolled his eyes. "Always thinking small, you two. I should probably reinforce the wards on the building too."

"What, so if it goes pear-shaped only our store will be destroyed?" Fred asked with a slight touch of anger.

"Exactly," Bill replied as he walked up the stairs. He began to mutter to himself as his voice faded. "And maybe we should also think about..."

Harry yawned. "I'm knackered. You guys mind if I come back in the morning?"

"Of course, of course, Harry," George agreed and waved him off. "We'll be busy and the Horcruxes ought to be pretty safe here with us down here and the happy couple upstairs. With luck and a touch of hard work, we should be ready to destroy the lot tomorrow. That is, if you've managed to get the last one."

Harry rubbed the one remaining red gem on his Charm - the one all the way at the very left end. "I'll leave first thing in the morning and be back for lunch. I like your Mum's sandwiches, so bring those by when I come back."

Fred bowed and waved his hand in a flourish. "Your will, great one."

Harry rolled his eyes but couldn't contain a small smile. "Tomorrow, then."


CHAPTER 8: LOCUSTS


Elsewhere, as far West as the Sun from the Moon and back again

The first thing Harry noticed was the lack of anything at all. The sky was a dirty gray, with no visible clouds and no clear light source. He stood on a muddy hill in the middle of even more muddy hills, some looking quite rocky and dangerous to navigate. If there was a Horcrux around, it wasn't at all obvious. It wasn't buried, was it? That'd be a pain to search for, digging through endless dirt for something Harry wasn't even sure about. After all, he still didn't know what the Horcrux was- or if he'd even recognize it on sight.

Harry decided to walk up one of the hills to get a better view of his surroundings. He walked through the mud, his boots making unpleasant squelching noises as he made his way up the hill. Harry coughed suddenly; there seemed to be a sort of dust in the air, and it was getting worse. A quick Bubble-Headed Charm fixed this problem, although the dust was beginning to be difficult to see through. After several minutes, Harry finally reached the peak of the hill and looked around. There seemed to be this miasma of dust in all directions, and nothing but dirty hills and dark barren plains. Except... a spot of green! Harry squinted and looked in the distance - a forest! A small one, but it was something different. And unusual, sticking out there in the middle of nothing but dirt and rock.

So Harry began the arduous task of carefully walking down the hillside, trying not to lose his boots in the disgusting mud. The dust got worse all of the sudden, piercing his Bubble-Head containment, and a speck got in his eye. Harry flinched and tripped, falling into the sticky glop. Cursing, he got to his feet while unsticking himself from the ground. Several angry Scourgify spells helped a bit, but there seemed to be mud soaked into his clothes that just wouldn't come out.

"The hell with it," Harry grumbled, and recast the Bubble-Head Charm. It didn't take that long to reach the bottom of the hill, and Harry grinned as he saw dry ground ahead. As he reached the dry, parched earth, he yanked hard out of the mud and stepped forward, only to fall as the ground crumbled under his foot. The ground was so dry it seemed closer to sand, and now Harry was severely annoyed as he trudged through crumbling dirt and gravel. After what seemed like hours, Harry finally reached the edge of the forest, and he gingerly stepped onto the grass surrounding it. He shifted around a bit, but the earth seemed quite stable. Well, that was something good, in any event.

"So, you've finally arrived. I was wondering how long I'd end up waiting."

Harry whirled at the unexpected voice to see a young red-haired woman floating nearby. She wore sensible, hardy clothes, although the style of her robes was a bit odd. She seemed a firm sort of presence - not quite stout, but very solid, and she smiled widely at Harry.

"Ah, Harry Potter, is it? Do you know who I am?"

Harry peered at the witch and blinked in surprise when he realized he could see through her form. "Are you... a ghost?"

She shook her head. "Ah, no, not anything like that. I'm a sort of temporary manifestation with limited knowledge. I can interact with you and answer questions, but I don't have the full memories of my creator."

"Like a portrait?" asked Harry.

"Yes, exactly! Well done, young man! But you haven't answered my question, not truly. Who am I?"

Harry frowned and inspected the form of the woman, who smiled and turned in a circle. "You do look awfully familiar," he admitted. "Not sure, though. Should I know?"

"Yes, Harry Potter," the woman replied in a pleasant tone. "You have seen my face, although not quite as I look in this form. If you were my in my House, you'd certainly have recognized by now, I think."

"Your House..." Harry repeated, then his jaw dropped as he recognized the woman. "You're a Founder! Helga Hufflepuff... but you look so young."

"Thank you," Helga said with a short curtsy. "I was fairly young when I created this form. Not much older than you are now, as point of fact."

"What are you doing here?" Harry asked. "Do you know about the Horcrux?"

The Hufflepuff Founder looked confused for a moment, then broke into a smile. "Ah, yes, I see. Don't worry, the Horcrux will be yours - if you can complete the Trials."

"Naturally," grumbled Harry. "And I suppose you're here to help me do this... Trial?"

Helga nodded. "Precisely." She gestured into the forest. "In the heart of this Forest, my Ultimate Weapon awaits one that can bear it willingly and with the ability to withstand its power." The floating apparition looked back at Harry. "If you defeat the Guardian of the Grounds, the Weapon shall be yours to wield. You will need it to complete the next Trial. But to win this first Trial, the Trial of Stamina and Strength, you may only use what you currently hold. Your charm will not work here."

Harry grabbed his Anubis bracelet worriedly. "Wait, you mean I can't travel away from here?"

"No, no longer," the Founder told him sternly. "There are Rules. And until the Trial has been completed, none may leave the flow of time." She shrugged. "It's for your own good, trust me." Helga winked and began to disappear. "Oh, and one more thing. Everything will be trying to kill you. So try not to die." Without another word, she faded away entirely.

Harry sighed and pulled out his wand, walking carefully into the dense wood. It seemed that enough light had permeated the forest that a Lumoswas unnecessary - one bit of good news, anyway. He kept an eye out for any of the "everything that was trying to kill him" - could be anything, after all. Harry was still looking around when the vine attacked. He leaped aside as the long tendril smashed into the dirt, and readied himself to defend any further strikes.

Out of the shadows, a small tree with the carved face of something almost but not quite human slithered forward on roots made of vines. The face shook with what seemed almost like laughter. Suddenly a vine shot out, catching Harry off guard and curled around his foot, dragging him forward.

"Incendio!" Harry cried, and a burst of fire enveloped the tree, which began to shriek in pain. The vine slackened its pull, and Harry angrily cut it with a silent Diffindo. The tree attempted to crawl forward, but it was entirely ablaze this point. Harry felt a bit bad and extinguished the fire with Aguamenti- the now blackened and shriveled tree twitched a bit and stopped moving entirely.

"Poor little thing," Harry said sadly. And he heard the sounds of slithering behind him and jumped to the side instinctively. Three vines grasped at the ground behind him, and Harry snarled in annoyance to see three more of the crawling trees. No longer feeling quite so sympathetic, he set them all ablaze and continued to walk through the forest. It took nearly an hour walking completely at a normal pace before the shrieks could no longer be heard.

The forest seemed quite peaceful then, with the sounds of leaves rustling and a gentle wind the only real accompaniment. Harry walked for nearly another full hour, just breathing in the pleasant air and keeping one eye out for more dangers. And then he stepped into a puddle of slime. Harry jerked back, but his foot was stuck in a greenish pool of sticky muck.

"What is this...?" His voice trailed off as the slime began to shift and rise out of the ground into a shambling pillar of green jelly. The tower of sludge began to extend tendrils of goo towards Harry, and he spat out "Incendio" in shock. The slime instantly caught on fire, starting to spread to the tentacle wrapped around his leg.

"Hell!" Harry cursed as he frantically tried to extricate himself from the advanced flaming glop. "Diffindo!" A small bit of fiery sludge burst out of the back of the slime, hitting the ground - but that was the only effect, and then it was almost on top of him. "Reducto!" The slime exploded in all directions, and Harry quickly cast Aguamention himself to put out the little fires that had started.

Harry scowled at the little fires all over the place. "Stupid thing. I don't even know what that was!"

A shuffling sound alerted him, and he turned to see a muddy skeleton shambling towards him, covered in grime and dirt. "Well, this is just perfect," Harry muttered, until he heard the same sound behind him. Another two skeletons. They made no other noise - although that sort of made sense, no vocal cords after all. "Reducto!" The spell smashed the skull entirely off one of the shambling pile of bones, and another reduced the legs to powder.

"Bloody undead... least they're not Inferi. Reducto! Reducto! Reducto!" Harry kept throwing curses until there was nothing but twitching bones on the ground. With a deep sigh, he walked forward in the same direction, noticing it was a bit darker than before. After a short while, he spotted a row of thick bushes nestled together in all visible directions. It seemed that the only choice was to go through. Harry began to push his way through the bushes, getting slashed a few times by thorns and branches as he went. And then he heard a sound behind him.

Getting a terrible feeling, he turned and saw several skeletons approaching in their slow, lumbering manner. Behind them, nearly a dozen oozing pillars of slime slithered across the forest floor. And over twenty of the stupid trees on vines could be seen rapidly covering the ground between them and the hedges.

Cursing again, Harry slashed at the leaves with his wand, but every hole he smashed open quickly closed again with the leaves. He turned behind and threw flames and curses at the approaching monsters, trying to buy some time, then began to inch his way through the magical hedge. It was worse as he became more and more enveloped in the brambles. Every step brought a new whip across the face of thorns or hard smack on the shins with a heavy branch. Harry didn't dare look behind him, hoping that the creatures were having just as difficult a time navigating the bushes. And suddenly, it was over, and Harry stumbled out into an empty part of the forest, a circle surrounded entirely by the hedge.

"Hmm, not bad," a voice said. It was Helga Hufflepuff again, apparently she had followed Harry into the forest. "Not so great, either, but a solid effort. It's not how I would've done things, but you made it. Well done, Harry Potter!" She smiled at him.

"So... do I get your 'Ultimate Weapon' now?" Harry asked gingerly, wondering what it was - or if it might even be the Horcrux.

Helga laughed. "Hardly, young man. First you must defeat my Champion. It wields my Weapon; defeat it and it is yours to carry. Good luck!" She then turned and faced the center of the circle. "Si̱kó̱ne Minótavros tis láspis!" Whatever this meant, the spell seemed to work, as something began to happen.

Mud started to rise from the ground, higher and higher, slowing forming into a shape - it was almost humanoid, but not entirely. Then the mud began to solidify into the form of giant monster, nearly eight feet tall - some sort of beast with the body of a muscular human but the head of a bull. Harry felt he had heard the word for it before... Hermione would be annoyed that he couldn't recall it.

But this was no ordinary beast - instead of flesh and bone, it seemed entirely made out of solid rock and dirt. Its eyes were rolling balls of mud and as it stretched, tiny cracks appeared and disappeared all along its body. The beast stared at Harry and growled incoherently, and then it charged. Harry jumped out of the way, but was clipped hard by a glancing blow and fell to the ground.

He quickly got back to his feet as the mud monster growled again, rubbing his injured shoulder. It charged once more, but Harry was ready and cast Protego- when the beast hit the shield, Harry fell back a bit, but the monster tripped backwards and fell to the ground with an enormous sound that echoed.

"Incendio!" Harry quickly cast, and a wave of flames burst over the the best. The dirt and mud shifted, and suddenly the fire was gone entirely. But it seemed to be annoyed by the spell, and jumped to its feet with a freakishly fluid motion. The thing reached behind its back and grabbed onto something Harry couldn't see. And then, with a very audible grunt, the monster pulled, seemingly from itself, an enormous axe, nearly half the length of the monster. With a roar, the monster smashed the axe into the ground and the ground shook, throwing Harry off his feet again.

Harry rolled aside, and kept a tight hold on his wand. "Reducto!" The spell smashed some of the dirt and stone in a spray from the monster, but it seemed otherwise whole. Harry frowned, and considered... time to pull out all the stops. "Sectumsempra!" More dirt sprayed as visible grooves appeared, then healed after a moment. But the beast screamed in pain and raised the axe. Suddenly, the ground burst upwards, surrounding the monster with a ring of dirt.

Harry blinked in surprise, then cautiously walked around the ring, waiting for the monster to attack once more. And then he had an idea - but he'd need to time it exactly right.

The charge came suddenly once more, the monster bursting through the protective layer of stone and dirt like paper, but Harry was ready.

"Aguamenti!" He yelled as he jumped to the side, the water splashing into the surprised bull's head. "Reducto! Sectumsempra!" The now muddy head of the monster exploded and the beast fell to the ground with a great thump. Harry stood behind, wand at the ready. The beast's body shifted, as rock and dirt moved around - but Harry was prepared to find a weak spot yet again.

The headless giant slowly came to his feet and Harry backed up, still holding his wand aloft. But then the monster dropped to one knee and held out the axe across its palms.

"Take it," advised a now familiar voice.

"I can't," Harry admitted to Hufflepuff's floating form. "It's almost as long as I am."

Helga laughed. "Don't be foolish, Harry. I'm shorter than you, and I used it all the time."

Harry looked at her incredulously and then back at the axe. It seemed too heavy for even maybe even Hagrid to lift easily, much less a girl shorter than Harry. Even if she didn't exactly seem weak at all.

"Just take it already," Helga said in a bit of an annoyed tone. "You defeated the Mud Minotaur - with a bit of cleverness, I admit I didn't expect. So the Ascia Gigantis is yours to wield."

"Minotaur!" Harry exclaimed. "Right, that's what it's called. But... um, what's the Asha Gigantos?"

"Ascia Gigantis," Helga said slowly. "That means "Axe of Giants". You really ought to catch up on your Latin, young man. It's useful, I assure you."

"Probably," agreed Harry and took the axe, readying for its inevitable weight. But shockingly, it was incredibly light, almost as light as his wand. His miscalculation of strength caused Harry to drop the axe on the ground, where it hit with a decidedly heavy sound. Harry picked up the Axe and looked it at curiously.

"Charmed to be lighter than it is, of course," Helga explained. "Naturally." She began to laugh. "What did you expect? 'Strength of the giant's hand, held by a human's.' Not exactly poetry, but there you are."

The weapon felt slim but powerful in his hands, and Harry grinned. "It's great, but it'd be hard to use my wand at the same time."

Hufflepuff scoffed. "Don't be ridiculous, Mr. Potter! It doubles as a wand, of course - although I should warn you, it's specialty is Earth-elemental spells, so any other spell, like your fire and water ones won't be as effective."

"Earth-elemental?" Harry took a few practice with the axe, finding it incredibly easy to handle. He pointed it the hedge. "Reducto." Several bushes exploded, before quickly reforming into a solid hedge once more. "What do you know? It does work as a wand!"

"I'm not surprised you don't know about Elemental magic," Helga said with a kind smile. "We intended to hide it from anyone after returning to the primary reality."

"Oh, so you know - that is, you knew about the split reality business?"

Helga raised an eyebrow. "A bit obvious, isn't it?"

Harry coughed in embarrassment. "Yes, well, good point. You said 'we' - you mean the other Founders? Are they here too?" He paused as a thought occurred to him. "Are the other Trials to do with them as well?"

"Exactly!" Hufflepuff said proudly. "You'll do fine, I believe. Now, you will need to use the Axe's powers of Earth manipulation to escape the forest. Easy enough, just create a simple walkway out of the wood, and you're done! You'll see the Pyramid on the other side. That will be your next place of Trials."

"And another weapon?" Harry ventured.

Helga nodded. "Now, get to it!" She began to fade away, and Harry held up a hand quickly.

"Wait, I don't know how to use the Axe to do all that stuff!"

"Just do what feels right," Helga advised as she disappeared. "Elemental magic is more about thought and energy than words." Then she was gone.

Harry frowned and looked down at the enormous double-bladed Axe, trying to get a sense of the weapon. The minotaur had shaken the ground with a mighty blow to the ground, but had also raised a protective wall of dirt and stone - without using anything other than grunts and snarls. So it was worth a shot. Harry raised up the axe and tried to imagine the feeling of pulling up from below. Instantly, the ground under his feet shot up and propelled him several feet into the air. After a moment of making sure he wasn't about to fall off the dirt pillar, Harry glanced around, now with a better view of the forest.

The circle of hedges was tightly closed around him, stretching for quite a ways in each direction, but not impossibly long. But it wasn't like he could just jump from treetop to treetop like a squirrel. So Harry practiced for a few minutes, trying to control just where he could raise and drop walls of earth. It became increasingly easier with each success, which seemed reasonable enough. With a wave of the axe, Harry pulled a walkway directly through the hedge and raised it high enough not be overrun. After that, it was a simple matter to walk down the sturdy dirt and stone and jump off the other side.

It was almost pleasant to walk through the forest then, without the constant worry of attack. But soon enough, Harry reached the end of the trees and grass, and walked out to see a lake that stretched miles in all visible directions. A ways away, a visible blue and grey pyramid was directly in the middle of the water.

"Great..." Harry grumbled. "I hate swimming." But it was good opportunity to test spells with the axe, so Harry applied the Bubble-Head Charm with only just a bit of difficulty, and began to swim towards the pyramid. Considering what he had already faced, Harry kept an eye out for anything terrible and monstrous. But the waters were peaceful, albeit murky and increasingly cold, the closer he got to the pyramid. By the time he reached the pyramid, after nearly thirty minutes of nonstop if casual swimming, Harry was exhausted and shivering. The Pyramid itself seemed to be constructed of frozen stones, with literal icicles dripping everywhere.

Harry cast a few warming charms to dry off - they didn't seem quite as effective with Hufflepuff's Axe, so multiple instances were required. Feeling a bit better, Harry looked back over the lake and the now distant forest. It seemed so long ago already. He decided to sit down and take a quick break before continuing. What was the harm, after all?

"Are you quite finished?"

Harry jumped up in surprise. Another floating apparition, and another woman - a rather pretty, if unsmiling woman of similar age to Hufflepuff, with long black hair. She wore elegant, if still fairly functional travel robes, and had all manner of jewelry, from rings on each hand to a delicate tiara on her head.

"Hello," Harry said with a smile. He had a pretty good idea about this one, after all. "Rowena Ravenclaw, right?"

"Indeed," the Founder replied a bit icily. "And you are Harry Potter, wielder of the Ascia Gigantis and victim of ridiculous circumstances."

"It's nice to meet you," Harry said politely, a bit taken aback at Ravenclaw's cold manner. Wasn't she supposed to be a teacher? "I've always admired the Ravenclaw house."

Rowena smirked. "Blatantly sycophantic. That sort of tactic would be far more effective on my colleagues than myself. But valiantly attempted, nonetheless."

"Um, thanks," Harry answered with a chuckle. "So, does your element happen to be ice? Or water? Seems logical, considering we're in the middle of a lake. Or sea, hard to tell."

She nodded. "Yes, that is well reasoned. It is a bit complicated to define precisely my relationship with the Water Element, unlike the simplicity of Helga's affiliation, but I'll explain if you survive my Champion and win my Weapon."

Harry nodded, trying not to roll his eyes at more secretive nonsense. "Anything I should know before going into... whatever this is?"

"A fair question. And I suppose you deserve an answer to that at least. Consider this Pyramid to be similar as it appears to be - ice and stone, glass and steel. This is the Trial of Intelligence and Intuition, although to be frank, it is scarcely that." Ravenclaw smirked. "But a fool is not something I suffer mildly. If you can avoid that, you shall be fine, I am certain."

"And survive?" Harry asked a bit acidly, although he couldn't really help it.

Ravenclaw chuckled softly. "Indeed. Luck to you, Harry Potter." And then her image faded and a doorway appeared in the stone structure where she had been.

There were torches lit across the hallway as Harry walked for a while, although there flickered with a more bluish color and gave off not discernible heat at all. The walls and floor were just stone, unlike the actual ice blocks he had seen outside. After a few minutes of walking in silence, a brighter light was visible up ahead, so Harry hurried to see anything new.

He found himself in a large atrium, still with stone floors, but the walls seemed to be made of a nearly transparent glass blocks - there were vaguely moving forms and shapes of an unsettling nature somewhere nearby. Harry touched one of the the glass blocks carefully to verify, and they certainly felt like glass, albeit incredible cold. As he looked more closely around him, Harry realized there was an exit built through the glass - actually, there were three of them. Perhaps a sort of maze, as this was a Ravenclaw sort of test.

But there seemed to be no way to determine the correct path to take, so Harry shrugged and chose one at random, walking briskly through a cold glass passage that kept twisting and turning. Occasionally there would be a few steps going up or down, until Harry wasn't sure if he was higher or lower than he started. Of course, the peace was not to last, as after an hour of wandering through the complex, he began to hear a sort of clicking and shuffling noise.

Harry held the giant Axe closely, still a bit taken aback by its seeming lack of weight, moving quietly and slowly. He spotted the creatures before they saw him, two giant blue crabs nearly six feet high, almost seeming made from ice themselves. Their swiveling eyestalks caught the trespassing traveler after a moment, and they stood still. For a second, Harry wondered if he'd just be able to pass unmolested, and then the crabs attacked, enormous pincers snapping in his directions.

Deciding to use the power of the Axe, as it seemed the proper sort of way to proceed, Harry smashed his Axe into the stone floor, sending shockwaves across the room and knocking one of the crabs entirely off its feet. It sputtered about uselessly, but the other crab lunged, and Harry instinctively defended with the Axe, not intending to use much force. But the magically enhanced power of the Axe sheared entirely through the enormous claw and caused the shell to crack with the impact. The crab shrieked and ran off before leaping into a ravine Harry hadn't seen, as the edge had been hidden by its similar appearance to the rest of the wall. An obvious splash was heard, and Harry peered over the edge to see a churning pit of dark water, where the crab was already swimming out of sight.

Well, perhaps it was a shortcut, but Harry wasn't in the mood to swim in ice cold waters anytime again soon. So leaving the upended crab behind him, Harry continued through the complex, continuing to find random steps up and down. Slowly it grew darker and darker, as the light source permeating through the translucent glass grew further away - Harry suspected he was either getting near the top of the complex or the bottom. A sudden smacking sound startled him, and Harry froze in place, looking around. Nothing odd... and so he continued walking, only to hear the sound again. And the ground felt different. Harry looked down, feeling terribly worried, to see he was now standing on a floor of perfectly clear glass.

Below was water, deep and dark, with something moving about. Deciding discretion may be the better part of valor, Harry turned to go back the way he had come, and then the glass shattered below, dropping him into the icy pool beneath.

"Damn!" Harry cursed, trying to get his bearings. It was nearly completely water in all directions, with only a few islands of rock in the distance. And then something grabbed his leg. Feeling like he didn't want to accidentally cut off his own leg, Harry held up the Axe to get ready for a precise strike.

Another tentacle shot around him, and Harry could delay no longer. "Diffindo!" A slice of flesh burst off one of the tentacles, and the other shuddered. "Diffindo! Blast, fine!" He swung his axe at the tentacle, severing it completely. Before he could target the other one, it retracted, leaving Harry in silence for a moment. And then he could see something in the murky water, something large and round. An eye!

A giant squid, although not as large as the Hogwarts version, began to raise itself from the water.

"Hell," spat Harry, readying himself for a difficult battle, when he noticed a second squid appearing. And then a third.

"Ah, no, no, I don't bloody think so!" Harry yelled at the aquatic monsters. The rocky islands had given him an idea. Harry held out his Axe and pulled as hard as could will it - an entire sheath of rock broke off and sped towards him, cutting one of the squids in half. Harry leaped on the rock and pointed towards the shattered glass he had fallen through. The rocky piece began to shift and change, becoming a sort of stairs that raised Harry almost to the floor above. The stairs shook suddenly, as the squids had begun to attack it. There wasn't much time.

Harry took a flying leap and managed to grab the edge of the floor, cutting himself a bit on the glass, although not too badly. He pulled himself up with a bit of effort, then checked around frantically - only to discover the Axe had come up with him on his back. Well, that was convenient. It took Harry another two hours to finally get back to the main atrium, passing by the still upside down crab as he went.

"Hmm," Harry considered his options and he looked at the other two possible ways to go. Walking down to the water and darkness below didn't seem correct, which meant that he needed to go up. Which meant bloody math.


Before it there was never a locust-swarm like it and after it there will not be its equal.

"That's... plus sixty-seven... I think." Harry had managed to count the steps down and up as he had walked through one of the other passages. As the steps were always the same height, as long as he kept finding more upwards steps, he had to be going the right direction, or so he hoped. But keeping track of the subtraction and addition was a pain, as he hadn't really even bothered with simple math for ages at Hogwarts. Ah well.

Then he saw the chamber. A room as large as the Great Hall, with rows of glass on all sides. The floor was mostly transparent, with the faint look of watery depths far below. There were no exits in sight.

The sound of a throat clearing loudly startled Harry, before he saw the floating spectre of Rowena Ravenclaw frowned disapprovingly at him.

"Oh, now what?" Harry groused. "Not fast enough solving your silly puzzles?"

"They were ludicrously simplistic," Ravenclaw riposted with a sneer. "Even a child could count steps. And your grasp of spellwork is utterly horrendous, especially considering the well crafted curriculum which you have mostly ignored over the years."

Harry grimaced at these insults. "I don't need your condescension. I know I'm not the best student, but I'm the one that's here, aren't I? So shall we get on with it?"

Ravenclaw smirked slightly, looking marginally less frosty. "As you say, Harry Potter. But aye, hear this: Sometimes wrought iron must be tempered with the hottest flames to become the finest steel." She closed her eyes and raised her hands above her head. "Vaki thu, Jotnar!"

A circle of light blazed suddenly into appearance on the surface of the glass floor, and a cold wind blew in suddenly. Harry shivered without being able to help it, but he barely noticed it; his eyes were on the magic circle. A cylinder of water began to grow upwards from the floor, freezing as it expanding, until finally coalescing into the figure of a something akin to a troll, but with no face to speak of, and seemingly entirely consisting of ice.

Then it made a high, keening sound, like a scream.

Harry decided not to wait for the ice golem to attack first and hit Hufflepuff's axe into the floor. A wave of force spread out in a circle, shaking the giant ice troll monster. The floor seemed to crack slightly, with the distant look of water below. But nothing else.

"Incendio!" A puff of steam surrounded the monster, and another angry scream. Before Harry could react, the creature charged and Harry leaped aside, just before a giant icy fist smashed into the floor. Flakes of ice and snow burst off the fist, and Harry thought that perhaps it was not the most efficient weapon. Well, so much the better for him.

The ice creature shuddered and pulled up its shattered first, brandishing it in the air. With a sudden motion, it thrust towards Harry, sending a cascade of pointed icicles and freezing water at him. A instinctual Protego blocked the dangerous projectiles, although much of the water fell from the sides and above, turning Harry into a sopping mess.

He shivered and growled, casting a quick drying charm on himself. But in that moment, the monster raised its hand again and made an odd, whistling sound, like a rush of wind. And then the ice golem's hand exploded and several metallic spikes burst out.

"Ah, hell," Harry muttered, and leaped at the creature with his Axe. He smashed down on the ground, shaking the room yet again, then raised the wand and tried to Banish the creature. It staggered back slightly, and Harry slashed at the closest leg, which collapsed immediately. Harry ducked back as the ice golem toppled, and sent out another Incendio, although it seemed more muted than normal.

Faster than Harry could react, the monster shrank slightly and regrew its leg, then swung its spiked mace at him. Harry tried to move and cast a spell simultaneously, but the weaponized arm swung too fast, catching him in the left shoulder and tearing out a chunk of his flesh.

Harry couldn't help but grind his his teeth at the sudden agony, but managed to raise a magical shield in time to defend against another lightning quick strike, followed by another, and another in rapid succession. Finally another strike send him falling backwards and Harry tumbled onto the glass floor. He got another glimpse of the water below before rolling out of the way of another strike.

"Reducto!" he shouted, breaking off a piece of the monster's other arm. Harry cast it again, aiming for the elbow, and the non-metallic arm broke off entirely. The creature stepped back and began to reform, now only about as tall as Harry himself.

Feeling a bit woozy from the injury, Harry realized he needed to end this soon, but he wasn't sure how. And then the sight of that water below gave him a mad idea, but possibly one that might work. Hopefully.

As the creature began to run at him again, Harry gripped the Hufflepuff Axe and focused on something a thousand feet below or more. The entire room began to shake, and the creature actually stumbled off its feet. Suddenly a pillar of stone exploded through the glass floor, smashing it against the ceiling and into pieces.

Harry leaned against the wall for a moment, catching his breath, while the arm of the creature fell at his feet. The ice melted quickly and left behind a spiked mace with a slender handle. It was not so big up close, it seemed, but perhaps that was more of the magic at work.

"You really should take care of that," Ravenclaw's voice told him, and she walked on air nearby. "I am surprised you aren't fully aware of all the various ways to heal, considering the dangers you frequently face."

"That's actually a pretty good point," grumbled Harry.

"Take the Macia Volantis at once, Harry Potter," Ravenclaw said and gestured at it. "Once you have it, I will explain a way you can heal yourself."

Harry leaned down, wincing a bit at the throbbing wound, and picked up the weapon. The mace felt absurdly light in his hands, although there was just enough heft to keep from dropping it. Harry took a few practice swings with it, and each time it was as if the world slowed down slightly as he swung.

"So..." he started to say.

"The flail of Quicksilver. The Mercury Mace - that's what Macia Volantis means, of course, as you would know if you knew Latin," Ravenclaw chuckled softly. "Yet I can hardly deny your efficacy, brutish though it may have been. It would seem your talent lies in the area of blindly smashing your way to victory, hoping against hope you do not stumble along the way."

"Thanks a lot," said Harry dryly. "So I assume the mace is charmed to be faster than normal or something? And is it about controlling ice or water?"

The Founder nodded primly. "Naturally. 'As a lightning bolt strikes the earth, flows like the wind'- perhaps it sounds close to the wrong element, but that is due to a little problem we had. Helga had affinity for the Earth, as the prophecy foretold, while I had Air, Salazar had Water, and Godric with Fire. But due to... something that I will explain if you defeat each Champion, we had the idea that we could get around a limitation by switching around our affinities. It did not work, I am afraid, and left us with a reliance on our weapons instead of our natural capabilities."

"Right," Harry said and blinked slowly, feeling suddenly quite tired. "I think I follow."

"Oh!" Ravenclaw put a hand to her mouth. "I had forgotten! We must cure your injury. Repeat after me and use this wand motion: Recuperare Afflictatio." She then waved her wand in a marginally complicated manner, but Harry thought he had it.

"Recuperare Afflictatio", Harry cast and suddenly his shoulder burst into agony and he fell to his knees. But before he could complain, the pain fled - all pain. Harry looked over at where he had been hurt and could find no evidence of the injury besides torn robes.

Ravenclaw raised an eyebrow. "That will do, I think. In any event, that should explain why our elements may seem out of sorts."

"Except for Hufflepuff, right?"

"Indeed," the Rowena replied with a nod. "Helga declined to participate in our experiment and came out the better because of it. Now, you will need to proceed to the next Trial - and you will need the protection of my Weapon." She waved a hand and one of the walls simply vanished, revealing a long expanse of water, and the distant sight of a smoking volcano.

"You can't be serious!" Harry cried out. "First of all, I don't like swimming, and second, I can't survive in a volcano. That one's a bit more serious, I would think"

"Do not be a fool," she chided him. "We thought this through. The Mace will provide just enough protection to survive the conditions without duress, and will also make it simple to travel - via the manipulation of water, of course."

Harry pointed the Mace at a pool of water and concentrated. Instantly the water hardened into ice and he grinned.

"Catching on, I see." Ravenclaw smiled slightly. "Very good. As Helga already told you, Elemental magic is only useful when your instincts are faster than your wand. There are great powers with the raw forces of nature, but great limits as well. There is a level of finesse in wanded spellwork that is simply impossible with Elemental magic. It can also be easy to defend against if you know it's coming - but that foreknowledge will be your greatest ally. Hold to it carefully."

Harry nodded and stepped out to the edge of the room. He took a deep breath and concentrated, causing a spout of water to shoot at him and then froze into an icy slide. Harry nodded at Ravenclaw and grinned as he turned back to the slide.

"Wa-hoo!" It was quite a fun ride - and with the power of the Mace, Harry felt no discomfort from the cold at all.


Next time…
Darkness falls, but some still may see.

Aseret HaMakot
BLOOD FROGS LICE BEASTS PESTILENCE BOILS HAIL LOCUSTS DARKNESS DEATH OF THE FIRST BORN