This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros. Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.


CHAPTER 1

An Unpaid Debt


Harry found himself surrounded by darkness. A faint rumbling filled his ears and a hot, dry breeze blew across his skin. For a moment, he wondered just where he was. It felt quite familiar, yet strange and foreign. Suddenly, a voice cried out in urgent rage:

"Harry! There is no time!"

He knew the voice. Despite the darkness, he felt as though he could see it's source: a turbulent cloud of red smoke somewhere behind him. Harry felt himself moving backwards, though he couldn't tell just where he was headed. He just knew he needed to go in that direction.

The voice called out again, but it was harder to hear this time. It was being drowned by a great swell of sound like the growling of some horrible beast. He looked around frantically. He knew what it was. He remembered. Ahead of him he began to see the faint shape of an arch, glowing a sickly green through the darkness. The memories flooded back to him with almost painful detail.

He had to escape. He had to find Ginny. He had to keep her safe.

It felt like he was reading the thoughts from a book, and yet he knew they were his own. He felt detached, unable to do much more than wait and feel himself moving away from an invisible terror he didn't want to see or remember. Slowly, the darkness faded and the world began to slip back into focus around him. With unsettling clarity, he looked around and found himself in the Veil Room again. The arch still stood on its platform. One side was cracked severely, but it was otherwise intact.

Grigore Tarus was standing nearby and watching him with anger and fear. "What are you doing, Harry?" he called out threateningly. "You're not thinking. You know this has to be done."

"No!" Harry shouted. "It's a trick. You're afraid of me. You know that I will stop you." He stared at Grigore and saw the answer in his old mentor's face.

"You do have the power to stop this, Harry," Grigore replied, "but I am not the one who you must stop. This is your duty, Harry. In one instant— in a single act— you can prevent centuries of war and death. Now is not the time to be selfish. Do this for your friends. If you do not, they will surely die."

"You stay away from them!" Harry cried. He looked at Grigore and swore he could see the changes already. How had he missed them earlier? He looked both older and younger at the same time. He was corrupt and evil. There was a shadow on his heart and it had twisted him. Harry didn't understand what it was, but he knew it had to be stopped.

"Come now, Harry. I won't ask you again." Harry stared in outrage as Grigore pulled his wand and raised it against Harry.

In a flash, Harry drew his own wand and shot a quick hex at Grigore. He fired one back, but Harry was too quick. The spell missed him by feet while Harry's hit it's mark. Grigore was tossed backward as dark rope like shapes wrapped around him, pinning his arms to his sides.

"Treachery!" he shouted as Harry bounded up the stairs. "Josef! Stop him!"

Moments before he reached the top of the staircase, the heavy doors in front of him swung open and Josef strode forward with his wand in his hand. With a surge of anger at the betrayal of someone he had thought of as a friend, Harry let out an enraged shout as he drove himself up the last few steps. Josef hadn't been prepared for such a sudden onslaught, and Harry rammed into him with surprising force.

Harry spun away from the impact and through the door, stumbling a few steps before regaining his balance and sprinting across the small antechamber. Red light flared behind him, displaying his shadow against the floor of the inclined path.

Josef and Grigore had called for help. He wouldn't have much time. He was in the bowels of the castle. If the other members got the warning and began hunting him, he'd never make it out. He'd taught too many of them all the tricks he'd have used to save himself. He scolded himself for trusting them all so quickly. He hadn't even thought about what he was doing. During all the midnight training he'd not only taught them how to evade other wizards but how to hunt him if he should ever need to hide from them.

He needed to do something abnormal, something they would never expect. Few of them knew of him beyond the somewhat impersonal training sessions. They would never be able to anticipate his moves. They would simply assume he would follow the rules he'd taught them. What he needed to do was break a few of those. The first one would be pretty easy.

He stopped where he was and quickly turned around, sprinting back toward the Veil Chamber. He pointed his wand at himself and cast a hasty Disillusionment Charm. He came to the very last junction at the top of the stairs that would take him back down to the chambers he'd just left. Just as he expected, he found a number of unlit recesses in the areas carved out to provide light. None of the lamps were lit and the small alcoves were dark and out of the way. He carefully slipped behind the metal lamps and crouched down in the darkness.

Seconds later, he heard footsteps echoing down the corridor. With his wand in hand and his body coiled and ready to strike, he watched them stride past him without paying any attention to their surroundings. The turned and started down the steps but paused as another voice echoed up the staircase.

"What are you lot doing here?" Josef nearly scolded them.

"There was an alarm. We were told Grigore was down—"

"He was, but he's not anymore," said Josef. Harry could hear the strain in his voice. Something wasn't going as planned. "How many others are coming?"

"I don't know. Quite a few I expect. What's happened? Why isn't Harry with you?"

Josef's answer came in a flat voice: "I can only guess that he thinks it will be easier escape if I can't find him." Another set of footsteps echoed down one of the nearby corridors. Before they even stopped Josef was calling out to them.

"Stop, all of you!" he shouted. "Grigore is climbing the staircase to his study. I need two of you to see that a pair members are waiting for him when he gets there, four if possible. I don't care if you do it, just get the fastest people there as quickly as you can. The other two should send word that the Castle is to be shut tight. Lock the gates to the lower corridors, the courtyard gates and the Castle gates themselves. The moment that is done, go to the Gatehouse and tell them to lock every door they've got." As soon as he stopped giving orders, Harry heard footsteps moving away from him quickly.

"As for you two—" continued Josef, obviously talking to the first pair of members to arrive, "—go find Dragomir and Andros. Tell them to meet me by the door to the potion storeroom. I urgently need to speak with them. "

"We were told to guard these corridors," one of them replied. "We can't leave our post."

"You can and you will. The lowest levels of the Castle are to be emptied. All guards —every last one— is needed. I want every exit guarded by at least four members. No one is to leave the Castle."

Another pair of footsteps echoed down the corridor, headed away from Harry at a quick pace. He listened as closely as he could to the sounds, but it was impossible to tell just how many wizards had made them. At least two, for certain, but he didn't need to hear their footsteps to guess that. The question was: Where was Josef?

Harry remained crouched in the alcove weighing his options. How long could he wait? What was Josef doing? Why had he sent away all of the guards? As he waited for some sign that he was safe, his mind starting trying to work out a plan. Without any guards in the lowest levels, he'd be able to move around at will. Of course, there were no exits in the lowest levels, and though he might be able to fight his way past four of his friends, he would never make it to the Gatehouse without the rest of the Brotherhood on his heels. Perhaps he could simply hole up in some obscure hiding place and wait. Even if they were all searching for him, he might have a better chance of slipping out of the Castle.

"Show yourself, Harry!"

Harry felt himself jump at the sound of Josef's voice. It was closer than he would have liked, though he still could not see him.

"I don't know what happened between you and Grigore," he continued. "Whatever it was, you are not making this any easier on yourself. I have looked into the Veil, too. I don't know what you saw, but you cannot let it cloud your judgment. If you run now, the situation will only get worse. Will you come out?"

Harry felt a peculiar sensation. He felt the same betrayal, suspicion, and anger that he remembered feeling, but now it was mixed with new emotions. He was trying to help, proclaimed a voice in the back of his mind. Josef had always been trying to help him.

"It doesn't have to be this way, Harry!" Josef called out. "I don't understand what it means, either. Please, come out and we will search for answers together."

From an oddly detached perspective, Harry felt the conflict within himself. He knew now what he should have done. He should have trusted Josef. Of course, at the time it felt as though everyone had betrayed him. Instead of stepping out into the corridor and trusting his friend, he sat back and brooded in the shadows.

"Harry?" he called out again. "If you're still here, I just want you to understand that it had to be done. I wasn't trying to betray you. I was trying to help you." Harry didn't respond. After another minute or more, soft footsteps announced Josef's departure. Harry waited another minute before slowly creeping out of his hiding place.

The whole area was completely silent. When Josef left, he had left a number of lamps lit, suggesting that he hadn't completely believed that Harry had truly left. He had some light, he didn't have much else to work with. Where was he supposed to go? Even after three months in the Castle, he still didn't know all the corridors. The Brotherhood was undoubtedly already guarding exits he didn't even know about. Once Dragomir was helping them, there would be no hope of escape. Only the very oldest members the Castle as well as he did. A thought suddenly struck Harry and he froze in place. Josef's words echoed in his mind:

...find Dragomir and Andros. Tell them to meet me outside the potion storeroom. If there are any other ways out, Dragomir will know them.

Though Harry barely knew his way around the lower parts of the Castle, he'd been to the potion storeroom many times. Repeated injuries during training meant repeated trips to collect the ingredients needed for salves and healing potions. He knew the storeroom well. He also knew that there was more than one way to get into it.

Walking quietly along the walls of the deserted corridors, he cautiously made his way up to parts of the Castle that were more familiar to him. He still hadn't seen any other Brotherhood members. Whether that had anything to do with Josef or Grigore was difficult to say. He was walking in parts of the Castle that few members went even when they weren't searching for traitors.

Even calling the place he was walking a castle seemed inappropriate. The castle structure itself was low and squat even compared to Hogwarts. Though impressive from a distance, its size was easily dwarfed by the enormous collection of underground halls, corridors, and darkened passageways. There was no telling just how far beneath the entrance level he currently was. Perhaps no one even knew. Only the Brotherhood really knew of the existence of the lower levels. The rest of the world only saw the large fortress on the surface.

Perhaps that was its true purpose. It was little more than a mask meant to hide a more sinister truth. Like the cloaks the Brotherhood wore, it put a familiar veneer over something evil, giving the people who saw it every day no reason to look any deeper.

How long had it been there? The Castle itself was easily older than Hogwarts, and yet the corridors he was currently walking through were obviously much older. It was almost more accurate to call them tunnels, though that might be an insult to the artisans who created them.

There were no lamps or torches and Harry was forced to use his wand to see the path ahead of him. As he ascended a set of spiral staircases, he began to worry about how long it was taking. He knew he had to be in the right area, but the complete lack of any signs of human habitation made him second guess his instincts. At the very top of the stairs, he came to a heavy wooden door. Faint orange light flickered from the crack between it and the stone floor. With a simple charm and a firm shove, he pushed it open. A second later, he leaped out into the corridor on the other side, wand ready for attack.

The corridor was just as empty as all the others. This was a relief to Harry, but it wasn't nearly as encouraging as the fact that he recognized his surroundings. He was standing in a cavernous passageway under the Castle that passed from one end to the other with just a few large access tunnels cut to the surface. Josef said it had been built to allow for easy movement of food and supplies through the enormous fortress. Though they no longer stored any food that deep in the Castle, it still connected to many of the storerooms. Most importantly, it was connected to the cellar of the potions storeroom where Josef was headed.

Harry moved quickly, searching for the large arch Josef had shown him weeks earlier. He couldn't read any of the writing, but it was easy enough to remember what the word looked like. After only a minute of searching, he found what he was looking for. He quietly opened the door and slipped into the room.

The cellar was completely dark. Harry held up his wand, letting it glow as only bright enough to keep him from injuring himself as he wove between old broken crates and the odd rusted cauldron. Finally, he spotted what he was looking for: a set of notches carved into the stone wall itself. It acted as a permanent ladder to the storeroom above.

At the top of the ladder was a heavy wooden trapdoor. In the past it had been used to haul heavy crates from the cellar into the storeroom. As far as Harry knew, it hadn't been used in years. There was no telling just how much noise it would make it if was opened —or if it would open at all. After a moment of thought, Harry scolded himself for making things harder than they were. He pointed his wand at the door and spoke in a quiet voice:

"Evanesco!"

With a puff of dust and sand, the door disappeared, letting faint light filter down into the cellar. He climbed up the wall and pulled himself up into the storeroom. As quickly as he could, he walked to the door and pressed his ear against it, hoping he wasn't too late.

He could hear distant rumbles and other indistinct noises. How long had it taken him to get there? Had Josef already come and gone? As he stood waiting, he heard another noise. It was faint and somewhat rhythmic. He listened closely and it stopped, then started again, getting slightly louder. There was a slight scuffling noise, then it repeated.

Someone was pacing outside the door.

Was it Josef? Harry gripped his wand tighter. There was no way to tell for certain. How long could he wait? As the person turned and began traveling back toward the door, Harry decided that there was nothing much to lose. The echoes he heard through the door made it clear: The Brotherhood was moving faster than he was. He needed some advantage. The chance to overhear Josef would give him that. If he was too late, then he would just have to hide out in the tunnels and wait for a better time.

"What are you doing here?" called out a muffled voice from the other side of the door.

"My business is my own, Tiberiu," replied Josef. Harry let out a relieved sigh. Josef was still waiting as well.

"You should be looking for Harry," the other voice responded gruffly. "Grigore said he needed to be found as soon as possible."

"And what is it that you think I am doing?"

"Minding your business, it would seem. Though, unless you think Harry has locked himself in the potion storeroom, I would guess that your business doesn't involve doing as Grigore told us."

"And what would you have us do, Tiberiu?" Josef snapped. "Run about the corridors, hexing anything that moves? We'd end up creating so much havoc that a troop of trolls would be able to escape. I don't care what Grigore says. Something happened down there. I think Harry angered him in a way that few others have. I don't think he is acting rationally. I know Harry. He's rash and impatient. If we watch all exits and simply wait, he will come to us."

"Grigore will hear of this."

"Yes, and when he calms down, he will agree with me. If you truly wish to help, go to the Gatehouse. Even if Harry escapes the Castle, all routes out of the city pass through those gates."

Tiberiu answered with a growl: "Very well."

Harry heard footsteps walking away, but Josef's voice called out over them: "Where are Dragomir and Andros? If you see them, send them here. Nothing is more important."

"They are on their way," Tiberiu replied. "They were held up by a foolish desire to do as Grigore told them."

The two wizards said nothing more, and for another minute or two Harry was forced to wait and listen only to the tense pacing on the other side of the door. Finally he heard a voice echo down the corridor outside the storeroom.

"Good evening."

"It would have been better if you two had arrived earlier."

"Perhaps you didn't notice, but something terribly interesting is happening, Josef," Dragomir said in a hushed voice.

"I'm aware," answered Josef. "I need your help."

"We've already got other orders."

"Ignore them," Josef replied stiffly. "Find Harry. Find him and bring him to me."

"To you? Grigore gave orders that we should bring Harry to him."

Josef lowered his voice to a whisper. "This is a Brotherhood matter and Grigore is not a member of the Brotherhood."

"Is that your ambition talking," Andros interrupted, "or you trying to imply that Grigore has done something wrong?"

"We've all done things that are wrong, Andros, and we've all made mistakes in tense situations —even Dragomir," Josef added. "I am only trying to make sure that Grigore's mistake doesn't cause any more damage than it must."

"And what mistake is that?"

"He underestimated Harry's will and let him escape. There's no telling where he is right now, but I'm certain he'll be looking for a way out."

"He won't be looking for long," said Dragomir. "All the exits are blocked. If he even approaches one of them, he'll be spotted. No matter how talented he is, he cannot stand against a dozen trained wizards."

"And there is no other way out of the Castle?" Josef asked. "No forgotten passageways he could use to slip away?"

"This place is terribly old, Josef. We've covered all of the exits Harry might possibly know about, but no one could ever be certain that they found them all. There is one perhaps, but I don't think anyone has ever used it. It has probably been sealed off."

"Where is it?" asked Josef.

"I think we found a hidden doorway just off the main Guards' Hall."

"And it leaves the Castle?"

Dragomir let out a skeptical grunt. "It leaves the hall. There's no telling just how far it goes after that. Maybe a few hundred feet. Maybe all the way to the Gatehouse, though I doubt that. It's more likely that it's been blocked by a cave in before it gets that far."

"That's where he'll go," Josef declared. "Gather a few wizards you know you can trust and meet me there. I have another errand, but I will be there shortly."

Harry listened closely as all three of them walked off at a brisk pace. He had what he'd come for. There was no other way out. It was risky, but no more than facing the rest of the Brotherhood. The biggest obstacle now was time. How long would it take Dragomir and Andros to gather the others and get there? What other errand did Josef have? In the end, it didn't matter. His goal was simple. He had to get to the Guards' Hall as quickly as he could. He would need time to find that doorway.

The Guards' Hall was one of the larger rooms in the Castle. At one point it had been used as a central place for guards to gather and collect everything they would need for their duties. There were quite a few large cabinets made to hold everything from bread to robes to collections of archaic weapons. It was two or three levels above him, but it wouldn't take all that long to get there. There wouldn't be much time to waste, though.

Slowly, Harry opened the door and checked the corridor on the other side. As he hoped, it was completely empty. He left the cramped room and starting making his way down the passageway as quickly and quietly as he could. There was a set of stairs nearby, but it was frequently used. He tried to think of any other route he might take, but every other option he came up with would take far too much time.

Gathering all his courage and ignoring everything Josef had taught him over the last three months, Harry urged himself forward. If he moved fast enough, perhaps it might not matter if he was spotted. If it came to that, he could barricade himself in the room and search for the exit. As he climbed the stairs, he heard his footsteps echoing ahead of him. He paused for a moment, imaging that he heard voices calling out. After a moment of waiting, he heard nothing more and pressed onward. The quicker he reached the top, the quieter he could travel. He crested the top and quickly dashed across the corridor to crouch against the far wall.

Hearing nothing, he stood and continued down the corridor. Rounding a corner, he froze suddenly. Standing at the far end of the corridor was a wizard in a grey cloak. He made no movement, but simply stood there with a statuesque stare. For a second, Harry wondered whether the wizard could actually see him. Slowly, he retreated, stepping around the corner he'd just turned.

"What is happening, Harry?" a voice asked from a frighteningly close distance.

Harry spun around violently. Standing only a few feet away from him was Stefan Buscan. He had his wand out and pointed at Harry. A number of possible reactions ran though his mind. Stefan was close enough that he might be able to grab his wand —as long as was able to dodge the first hex.

"Don't try anything, Harry," Stefan warned him. "I don't want to attack you. I really don't."

"Then just turn around and walk away," Harry replied. He heard the other wizard walking up behind him and finally come to a stop.

Stefan remained calm. "I can't do that. Grigore gave us orders."

"Grigore is using you," Harry whispered. "He's not even one of you," he added, remembering how Josef had used the same argument. "I don't even know what the Brotherhood is. It's certainly not what everyone told me it is. How many lives have you saved?" he heard himself ask. Stefan was a good man. He didn't like helping dark wizards any more than Harry did, and Harry knew that was his best chance. "We're supposed to be helping the world. That's what Grigore and Josef told me I'd be doing, but it seems like all we do is watch while the world gets worse."

"We're doing our duty," argued Stefan. "This is the way things must be done. This is our way."

Harry could see the conflict in his eyes. "It's your way. It's not mine. I have no desire to destroy the Brotherhood. I'm not trying to stop you. I want to help the world just as much as you do, but I can't do it here." His heart pounded with urgency to leave, but he stared into Stefan's eyes with all the sincerity he could muster. "I just want to leave. Nothing more." Slowly, Stefan's posture relaxed.

"You can't leave," he replied. "All the exits are watched."

"Not all of them. There is one off the Guards' Hall. A hidden one. Do you know of it?"

"Yes," he replied quietly, "but I would not trust it."

"Do you know exactly where it is? Is it still open?"

Ignoring a glare from his partner, Stefan stepped closer to Harry. "There is a fireplace carved into one of the long walls. There were rumors that it led to an emergency passage, but too many people know about it. If it led anywhere we'd be using it. Since we aren't I have to assume they have sealed it shut."

"I'll take my chances," Harry said as he attempted to step around the two wizards. To his relief, they stood where they were and made no attempt to stop him. "Thank you," he whispered.

"I've done nothing to earn your thanks, Harry," Stefan said. "I will not lie to the others. I will tell them I saw you. However, they are all guarding the upper Castle. I suspect you will have a few minutes before they find out about your intentions. Now, go quickly. Grigore is organizing patrols."

Without taking too much time to question his sudden luck, Harry turned and began walking away. As he made his way down the hall, he looked over his shoulder. The two wizards were talking to each other. There was no telling just what they were discussing, but they weren't coming after him either. After turning another corner, he broke into a run. If Grigore was sending out patrols, he had even less time.

He sprinted through the corridor and climbed the staircase without any thought of the noise he was making. He was close enough that it no longer mattered. After another few stretches of empty corridor he passed through a large arched doorway and into a long, cavernous hall. Long poles tipped with heavy, weathered blades hung nearby, blocked by a pair of tables with purple and grey cloaks. A number of doorways opened on either side of the room, leading off to various parts of the Castle. The open spots on the walls were filled with cabinets or shelves or other specialized cloaks hanging from hooks.

It was the Guards' Hall. At one point it had been the organizational center of the defense of the fortress. Now it was little more than a glorified closet where the everyday supplies of the patrols were picked up for their daily duties. A few large tables in the center of the room offered a place to sit and rest, while a small kitchen area at the far end provided the ability to make simple meals. The center of the kitchen was a large fireplace cut into the wall. Considering the size of the rest of the kitchen, it was curiously spacious. As Harry strode toward it, a voice boomed out behind him.

"Harry, stop!"

Harry ducked and dove behind a table, quickly spinning around and aiming his wand at the direction of the voice. Standing just inside one of the many doorways was Josef. He stepped calmly into the room with his wand at his side. Walking behind him were Dragomir and Andros, looking slightly more tense.

"Take a moment to think about this, Harry," he said in an even tone. "If you leave, you cannot come back."

"Yeah, that's pretty much the idea," replied Harry as he began inching toward the fireplace.

Josef walked forward, but kept his calm, non-threatening appearance. "No one has ever been allowed to leave the Brotherhood. We will be forced to hunt you down."

"I'll take my chances."

Josef's expression became more stern. Something was bothering him. He was getting impatient. "No, Harry. You need to stay. If you run, it will only get worse. You have to trust me."

"Trust you?" Harry heard himself bark with a short laugh. "How are you any better than Grigore? You'll just put yourself in his place."

"If that's what it takes," Josef replied flatly.

"I'll pass, thanks," Harry said with a sarcastic grin. He wasn't far from the opening to the fireplace. Stefan hadn't really said how to find the passage, but the alcove wasn't really large enough for too many possibilities.

"Harry, stop," Josef said in a softer voice. "You don't know what you're doing."

"No, but I know I'm not helping you." He took another step backward and heard the soft grinding of ash under his boot.

"You're not helping yourself or your friends, either," warned Josef. "The Brotherhood is coming. There is no escape. I am the only way out of this situation."

"I don't think so. If that were true, you wouldn't be trying to convince me. You taught me that, Josef. If you're in control of the situation, there is no need to negotiate. Negotiation is only worthwhile when you've lost the advantage."

"I'm trying to save your life!" Josef called out. Behind him, Dragomir and Andros were inconspicuously watching the other doorways. "You must be patient, Harry! Think about what you're doing. There is no safety at the end of that tunnel. It's not an escape. It only leads to even greater danger."

The sound of voices began filtering down the corridors and into the room. Josef's face fell and he turned quickly to look at one of the arches behind him. "There's no time, Harry. If they see you with your wand raised against me—"

Harry's wand wasn't. The instant Josef had looked away, he'd jumped fully into the fireplace and was now searching desperately for the passage Stefan had said he'd find there. Seconds of looking felt like hours. All of the walls were covered with black soot, making it difficult to see, but not so impossible that he wasn't certain of their existence. A pair of shafts split at the top of the large hollow and led off toward the surface, but both of them were too far to reach and too small to climb through even if he could.

"Harry!" Josef shouted angrily.

There was no time. Harry could hear other voices now. Dragomir and Andros were arguing with someone, but other wizards' voices rose over the noise calling for Harry and shouting orders from Grigore. Harry's mind raced. What was he supposed to do, now? It seemed there were no solutions. A sharp, hissing sound cut through the air, giving Harry just enough warning to leap aside before bright purple sparks exploded against one of the walls of the fireplace. Recovering quickly, Harry leaned out of the alcove just far enough to get a look at the group of wizards in the room.

There had to be eight or more of them, not including Josef. He was still at the front of the pack, but he looked more angry than Harry had ever seen him.

"Stop this!" he yelled in fury as a pair of wizards bounded past him taking aim at Harry with their wands.

Before they could get their spells off, Harry's wand flashed and a cloud of grey smoke burst in front of them. A pair of hexes shot through the haze a second later, but their aim was wild and neither posed any real threat. Josef began shouting something and Harry didn't wait to hear just which curse it would be. He threw himself against the wall which would give him the most shelter and waited for the inevitable.

Suddenly, the world around him slowed to a crawl. Something was wrong. There was no wall behind his left hand. Spinning around as quickly as he could, he reached for the side wall close to the very back of the fireplace. Instead of landing against blackened stone, it sank through the wall effortlessly. Without a moment of hesitation, Harry ducked through the illusionary wall. After no more than a few feet, he struck a real wall. He panicked for a moment before realizing that the narrow passage continued in a different direction. Hearing shouts coming from behind him, he pressed onward. Suddenly, he heard a sharp explosion followed by a deep rumbling as the sound of tumbling stone roared through the tunnel.

Harry began running into the blackness of the passage. He heard large chunks of rock falling down behind him as his hands passed over freshly cracked stone. He continued running until the sound died away, leaving him in a completely dark tunnel somewhere under a mountain of stone.

Harry lit his wand to get a better look at his situation. The tunnel was narrow, but the masonry of the walls was straight and precise. He continued onward for some distance before a horrible sight loomed ahead of him.

Another cave-in blocked the tunnel. Judging by the dust on the rock, this one was much older. Harry struggled with his panic for a few minutes, uncertain of just what he could do. In the end, there were only three options: try to clear the obstacle in front of him, go back to the other cave-in and hope the Brotherhood would try to clear it, or simply sit and do nothing. Considering that the last two options would almost certainly end with his untimely death, he decided to try the one which might give him a chance to continue living.

The stones blocking the tunnel were heavily enchanted, and it took him quite some time to find a spell which could be used to help move them, but after almost an hour of work, he succeeded in clearing a small hole at the very top of the tunnel. Though the jagged edges of other chunks of rock tore at him, he slipped through the claustrophobic opening and found himself on the other side. Shining the light from his wand down the tunnel, he could see it stretching off into the darkness.

Letting himself relax for a moment he turned his thought back to the pile of rock behind him. With a few choice spells he managed to block up the opening he'd crawled through. If any of the Brotherhood managed to follow him that far, it might buy him another hour or more. Pleased with his work, he stood up and turned to continue his journey.

"Hello again, Harry."

Harry froze in place and stared at the figure standing before him. It was Josef, and yet it couldn't be. Josef was on the other side. He hadn't been there. The memory was still clear in his mind. After closing off the tunnel, he'd walked off. An hour later, he'd found the old shaft leading to the abandoned shop. Josef hadn't been there, and yet, in his dream he was.

"What is this?" Harry asked. "You shouldn't be here..."

"I shouldn't be anywhere," Josef replied. "I should be dead."

"Why... are you here?"

"To tell you that I'm not angry with you," Josef replied. "You and I... we were almost brothers once. I never thought I could trust someone like I trusted you. I always hoped you would realize that. That's why I need you to know that I don't blame you for what you've done. You needed to keep her safe. I understand that. In fact, I'm proud of you."

"You— what?"

"Don't you see, Harry?" Josef said, pointing back where Harry had come from. "Back there, I did what needed to be done to keep you safe. You were right. Grigore would have killed you. The others would have done it for him. I turned my back on you because if I hadn't, they would have killed us both."

"I don't understand—"

"No, you do understand," Josef said. "You couldn't save me. You couldn't fight me —not like that. You had to see it for what it is, first. That is why you were doomed to fail." A smile spread across his face. "But you didn't fail, not completely. You saved Ginny. You saved your friends. You finally understand the sacrifice I made for you and you showed me by making one yourself."

Harry felt his throat tighten. "But I—"

"It's alright, Harry," Josef said with sympathy. He turned and began walking into the darkness. Harry wanted to follow, but he couldn't will his feet to move. Just before Josef disappeared completely, he stopped to look over his shoulder.

"Good luck, Harry."

"Josef!" Harry called out as he stumbled forward. There was no response. He called out again as he ran into the black tunnel. There was no sign of Josef, but as he ran, the tunnel began to get brighter. There was a soft golden glow which seemed to fill it, though Harry couldn't tell where it was coming from. He slowed down, but the light grew. Suddenly, he felt cold air against his skin.


Harry's eyes snapped open and he felt the chilly air of his bedroom against his skin. The lamp on the other side of the bed was lit but Ginny wasn't there. A faint rustle of drapes caught his attention and he turned to look toward the window.

Ginny was standing in her nightgown and staring out into the night. She had something in her hand, but Harry couldn't quite make it out.

"You were dreaming," she said clearly. "It was about Josef, wasn't it?"

Harry blinked. "How did—"

"You called out his name," she answered as she turned to face him. She was wearing the emerald necklace he'd bought her for Christmas. It sparkled and shimmered happily in the light of the lamp, but there was little happiness in her face. "What did you see?" she asked, though she didn't sound as though she thought she'd like what he was going to say.

"Just memories," he replied.

"Yeah," she said, "I have those dreams, too." As she walked closer to him, he recognized the object in her hand. It was the black stone amulet Justinian had given her last September. "Do you ever wonder—" she began, staring down at the amulet, "—do you think there was anything more we could have done to—"

"No," Harry said with absolute certainty. His voice took on a hollow tone as thoughts swirled in his head, crystallizing into realization.

"We couldn't have saved him. We couldn't have fought it. Even if we had tried, we would have failed. That's what the Seer at St. Mungo's told me. He said that I would try to stop it, and that I'd fail. And he was right."

Ginny stared at him for a moment. "We had to try."

"Yes," he agreed stiffly. Then, like a beam of sunlight through the clouds, the realization struck him. "We had to try and fail." He understood now. Throwing his legs over the edge of the bed, he stood up and walked over to the wardrobe where he kept his robes. He picked one of the heavier ones and tossed it onto the bed.

"What's going on, Harry?" Ginny asked. "Are you going somewhere?"

"We are," Harry answered. "I'll need your help." He tossed a set of robes at her. "We need to get Ron and Hermione. We should also find Lupin and Tonks. Maybe Simon as well, if he'll do it. Maybe a couple more if we can find them."

Ginny tossed her robes on the bed and glared at him. "What are you planning, Harry? Where are we going?"

"We're going to repay a friend, Ginny," Harry answered. "We're going to kill Josef."


Author's Notes:

I must apologize to everyone who was hoping for some sort of resolution to the end of 'Amulet of Stone'. If you've read enough of my stuff, you should have known the story would start this way. However, you did learn some valuable stuff and you got another glimpse of the more action-oriented style that should be the norm for this story.

I hope everyone enjoyed it.