At first, Harry started to think he'd definitely made the wrong choice. Nothing looked familiar. They passed very few candles, each indicating a doorway to another room, but Harry had no idea which rooms they were.
They had been walking nearly ten minutes when Harry finally decided they should turn around while it was still possible to find their way back…but suddenly, they came to a split in the passage…and that was all it took.
"This way," he said quickly, indicating the left corridor. The small group quickly made their way down into the darkness, and for Harry, it was as if a light had been turned on. The tunnel at last looked familiar…despite his only having been in it once before…moving in the opposite direction, no less.
The four walked in silence, Harry leading the way down through the twists and turns of the passageway, all consumed in their own thoughts. The only thing on Harry's mind right now, however, was Mel…and the baby. His gut twisted with sick and worry every time he thought on what Jared's plan was…and could only pray he would arrive in time. He had no idea what he'd do to stop the older wizard…but it didn't matter, if it cost him his life, his child would not come to harm…
"Do you hear that?" Draco's voice broke through his thoughts then. Harry glanced back over his shoulder as they walked, listening.
"Hear what?" he asked after a minute.
"The sound of Malfoy being paranoid," Ron spoke up, sarcastically.
Draco opened his mouth to reply, looking suddenly irritated, when Hermione spoke first.
"No," she said, a sense of urgency in her tone. "Listen…I hear it too."
The four came to a cautious stop in the middle of the dark tunnel and Harry strained in the silence…until finally a very faint sound reached his ears. It sounded like footsteps…but there was something off about them, he couldn't tell what…but he didn't want to find out in this narrow, dark passageway.
"Hurry," he whispered abruptly, motioning his friends to move. No one argued, and the four set off at a much quicker pace than they'd previously been going. Harry knew it wasn't far…he knew they were almost there…and kept glancing almost anxiously at walls…searching for the right candle.
The sounds from behind them were growing closer now…it was definitely following them, whatever it was…and closing the distance with amazing speed.
"How much further?" Ron asked quickly, the same alarm which Harry felt coming across in his tone.
"Shouldn't be too far…" Harry began, trailing off as he finally spotted it. The candle which opened into the dungeon area, it was less than 20 feet away. "There!" he said, pointing to it as he quickened his pace at once…but no sooner had he done this, then an abrupt chill momentarily turned his veins to ice, caused him to shudder involuntarily.
"Cold down here," Draco remarked briskly, and Harry glanced back at him quickly. They'd both felt it at the same time? But a gasp from Hermione caused Harry to spin back around at once, feeling his heart begin to race in his chest.
"Wormtail," Ron spat angrily, and Harry's gaze swept up the corridor to see the silvery hovering form of Peter Pettigrew just near the candle he'd pointed out seconds ago. Wormtail instantly looked up at the mention of his name, but barely spared the small group half a glance before gliding silently through the wall and into the hallway beyond.
"He's going to tell them we're here," Draco said worriedly, as they all came to a hesitant stop.
"I think they already know," Hermione said apprehensively, glancing back up the dark passageway. The noise was much closer now.
"We can't leave this way then," Harry said suddenly, "we have to use another door…Wormtail must've been following us, staying invisible, he waited until I pointed out the candle before passing by…Draco and I both felt him. He'll tell the other death eaters exactly which door we'll be using and it'll only make it easier for them to find us…"
"But Harry you don't know where any of the other doors lead do you?" Hermione asked hastily. "We don't even know if this corridor goes on much further…what if this is our last chance to get out?"
Harry paused half a second…the hurried noises now sounding as if they were barreling down the corridor.
"Let's go," he said at once, still not sure he wanted to use the candle he'd originally intended on. But as they reached it, the loud noise came to an abrupt halt, and as Harry glanced back up the hallway, he felt his stomach flip.
There were Skeins in the tunnel…at least half a dozen of them, their white eyes piercing frighteningly through the darkness. None of them were using their human legs…they'd somehow managed to contort the lower half of their bodies, bending their legs unnaturally up under them, and instead used the spider-legs protruding from their backs…it obviously made them move much faster.
The group of spider-like women paused when they caught sight of the four friends, their arms still visible and their long, matted hair hanging limply down the sides of their faces…before surging forward in a terrifying charge. And that was all it took for Ron to panic.
Before Harry could do anything, hearing his friend's breathing quicken in terror, Ron had lunged for the candleholder and gave it a desperate twist. The wall slid aside as if in slow motion and Harry took in the sight before him in horror, before he was forced forward through the opening, as Ron pushed past him to get out of the tunnel. Hermione and Draco jumped through only seconds later; not having much choice as the Skeins in the tunnel had caught up to the door, but the four friends were now at the end…there was nowhere left to go.
There were a few more Skeins out here, as well as death eaters…slowly forming a semi-circle around the friends. However, Harry's eyes were fixed on someone else…as her inverted eyes stared coldly back at him, a small wicked smile on her lips, Lilith came forward from between her servants.
For a moment, there was only tense silence. The four friends all had their wands drawn, but were far outnumbered… Harry glanced around anxiously; dread building in the pit of his stomach. They were entirely surrounded, all the death eaters' wands were out and aimed at them…he didn't see a way past this….
"I knew Lucius would never be able to handle such a simple chore," Lilith spoke slowly, icily, before glancing sideways to see Wormtail hovering a few feet away. "Good work, Wormtail."
Harry understood in that moment. Jared hadn't fully trusted Lucius to his task, and had left Wormtail behind as a spy. They would know everything now…where Sirius and Marzia were going…where Hadley was…
"Harry," Lilith began again, her eyes narrowing as she turned back to face him. For half a second, the hint of electricity was in the air, when suddenly Harry felt something gripping him, though he could not see what it was. He heard his friends' shocked cries, but he was ripped away from the group, feeling his wand torn from his grasp as he fought to stop the movement.
It was no use, however; Lilith's fingers closed painfully over his neck as he came to a sharp halt before her and was forced to his knees.
"Let him go!" Ron shouted angrily, aiming his wand at Lilith, as Harry's hands flew to his neck, trying to loosen her grasp, which was slowly tightening, while sweat began to trickle down into his eyes. Lilith glanced up at Ron, and a look of hatred passed over her face in a flash, before she smiled emotionlessly.
"Fine," she replied curtly, and in the next instant Harry felt her hold on his neck loosen, a split second before he was flung backwards, his feet lifting from the floor for a brief moment. But as he touched ground again, barely having gone five feet and feeling his knees buckle beneath him, Harry felt two death eaters grip his arms at once, forcing him upright.
"Take him upstairs," Lilith said hastily. "I don't care where you put him just make sure he can't get out."
"No!" Ron and Hermione shouted in unison, but with a faint movement of her hand, their wands were ripped from their grasps, along with Draco's.
"You still want the Shadow Walkers to find me, right?" Harry asked fiercely, struggling against the ones holding him. "Am I too close to Jared…is that it?"
Lilith glared at him for a half a second before looking again to the death eaters.
"I said go," she hissed darkly. "Get him out of here."
Harry did all he could to free himself, trying to twist his arms free as the death eaters began to drag him back up the hall, but glanced around sharply, looking over his shoulder as he heard Hermione's cries, feeling his blood run cold.
Lilith wasted no time, and was now pulling Ron's struggling form forward in an invisible grasp, taking him by the neck as well, as several death eaters grabbed Hermione and Draco, holding them in place.
"Time to repay you for taking one of my children," Lilith hissed maliciously, lifting Ron into the air as he thrashed, clawing at her hand. She glanced sideways then and two of the Skeins began to move forward.
Harry couldn't stand to do nothing as his friends were killed. He was breathing quickly, his heartbeat echoing in his ears, and he continued to try to free himself of the death eaters' grasp…they were nearly all the way up the hall now, the sounds of struggling from behind him following him up the corridor…soon his friends would be out of sight.
Suddenly the death eaters stopped moving, and Harry glanced up, curiously.
"Did you see that?" the one to his right asked quietly. Harry looked to see him staring at the wall just a few feet ahead of them.
"It was probably nothing," the other replied a little too quickly. "Come on, you heard Lilith…we have to get this one upstairs," he said, glancing at Harry before tightening the grip on his arm and starting forward again. The first death eater nodded faintly, looking unconvinced, but moved forward anyway.
Harry glanced helplessly back towards his friends, still barely hearing their cries…but couldn't make them out through the Skeins and other death eaters. His heart sank…there was nothing he could do…
Without warning, Harry felt the death eaters' hold on him torn away, barely having time to register the pain of something slamming into his stomach, before it knocked him to the ground.
"Found you," a menacing voice hissed close to his face, and Harry looked up through the haze that was his vision, to see a Shadow Walker, whose face he didn't recognize as it phased in and out, only inches from his face. He tried to move…while gasping to catch his breath, but was pinned to the ground by long tendrils of the shadowy being, who was hunched over him. The death eaters merely stood back, watching with interest.
"W-wait," he coughed out roughly as the shadow raised its hands. They were so close to Jared…he had to make him realize this. "Please…"
"Not this time," the voice replied. Harry could do nothing as the shadow placed its hands over his heart, and he felt a sharp, agonizing pull. He didn't hear himself cry out…didn't know what was happening as his eyes rolled up into his head and his back arched up off the floor from the power the creature was using.
Harry could feel his heart clearly now…it had been beating so rapidly before, but now it was slowing down…more than it should be. He struggled weakly against the Shadow Walker…but he was no match for it in this state. It was becoming increasingly hard to breathe, it felt like the walls were closing in…it was so hot, sweat was stinging his eyes, his throat was dry…and black spots began to cloud his vision, as he started to lose consciousness…
Suddenly, Harry felt as if something had punched him in the gut. His back hit the floor hard, and he winced in pain…but his heartbeat began to quicken… Blinking slowly, Harry was glad to feel he could move again, as he shakily pushed himself up off the ground…
"Are you alright?" an anxious voice asked, and Harry looked up to see Troy's face staring back at him. He glanced immediately to where the two death eaters had been standing, seeing they were lying still on the floor. "I stopped him," Troy continued, explaining. "They thought you were…"
"Troy," Harry interrupted, his
voice coming out as a raspy whisper. "Ron…the others…Lilith is
going to kill them…we…we have to…" he trailed off, pointing
up the hall hopelessly…it looked so far away, and he felt so weak.
Troy glanced up quickly, before jumping to his feet and spinning
around to face four Shadow Walkers whom Harry only just realized were
standing there. He couldn't see any of their faces at the moment,
but it didn't matter, so long as they stayed away from him…
"You heard him," Troy stated evenly. "Go."
Harry watched, amazed, as the shadows obeyed him. In the space of seconds, they splashed against the stone wall, before racing up the corridor towards the large group.
"What…what will they…?" Harry began, worriedly. There were only four of them, and his friends were at stake…
"They'll take care of it," Troy interrupted gently, kneeling down beside Harry. "I'm really sorry…David got ahead of me…"
"David?" Harry asked, his eyes narrowing.
"The one who attacked you," Troy replied quickly, apologetically. He took hold of Harry's right hand then, and in half a second, Harry felt a warmth spreading through him…moving slowly…but healing him from whatever the shadow had tried to do. "I told them that their might be two people with the same scent…but they're anxious to get to Jared now and…"
"He's here," Harry said urgently. "He's somewhere down here, I don't know exactly where but…"
"We know," Troy cut in, "But we just when we thought we had him…the scent was gone…the Orb is here too, so are the crystals."
"What?" Harry replied, his eyes going wide. "What do you mean gone? And if the Orb is here…then that's great, isn't it? You can get it and the cult can get all their powers back and…"
"No, we can't," Troy said darkly, his eyes flashing with anger. "None of us can actually get to the Orb…they have a barrier around it."
"Can't…can't it be broken?" Harry asked slowly, seeing Troy avert his eyes a little too quickly.
Before Troy could answer, however, the loud sounds of screaming and shouting made their way up the hall.
"We have to get down there," Harry said uneasily, his stomach flipping slowly in his gut. "They need help…"
Troy only grinned back at him.
"That's not my friends screaming," he stated evenly. "And it's not yours either."
Harry glanced up at him, not sure if he should be horrified or not. He let his eyes fall again on the two death eaters a few feet away…he'd assumed a few moments ago, that they'd been stunned.
"They're dead, aren't they?" he asked, looking at the lifeless bodies. He could see now, their eyes were open.
"Yes," Troy replied evenly. Harry made no reply, but felt a sudden jolt run through him, only not a painful one, as Troy finally pulled his hand away.
"Better?" he asked, and Harry realized, gratefully, it actually was. He felt better, physically, than he had all day.
"Thank you," Harry replied sincerely, taking Troy's extended hand and getting quickly to his feet. It took only one glance up the hall, where there was no longer a great deal of noise, before he started up it, worried and hopeful. In seconds he was at a dead run, praying his friends were alright…praying it hadn't been too long…
As he neared the spot, Harry skidded to an abrupt halt near two more bodies…death eaters…sprawled on the floor. Feeling his stomach knot as Troy came up beside him, Harry glanced around to see more…death eaters and Skeins alike, littering the floor around them. He didn't want to see this…but he had to look…he had to make sure none of them were his friends…
"Harry!" Draco's voice called out and Harry glanced up to the pale wizard, standing a short distance up the hall, only a few feet from where Ron and Hermione still sat on the ground. At first Harry was relieved, until the image sharpened in his mind.
Ron was cradling Hermione in his arms. She looked very pale…her eyes were closed…though it looked like she'd been crying, and there was blood soaking her shirt.
"What happened?" Harry cried fearfully, rushing to her side and dropping to his knees. There were loose cords on the floor, and a cloth around Hermione's neck…which Harry realized had been used to gag her.
"I'm going to kill her," Ron spat hatefully, faint tears streaking his face as he held Hermione's shallowly breathing form close to him. Harry could also see dark bruises beginning to show on his best friend's neck
Harry looked back down, seeing Hermione's tear-filled eyes flutter open just barely; a small smile touched her lips when she focused on Harry…but as she tried to talk, nothing would come out, and she began to cough, roughly.
"Shhh, don't…just rest," Harry spoke gently, smiling reassuringly down at his friend…feeling his heart tearing just seeing her like this. When the fit subsided, he looked up at Ron.
"What happened?" he asked again.
"Lilith," Ron whispered sharply, his tone dripping with venom.
Someone came quietly up beside them then, and Harry glanced up quickly, to find Troy beside him.
"Can you help her?" he asked immediately, looking imploringly up at the redhead. "Like you did for me?"
"I'm sorry," Troy replied quietly. "I was able to help you because it was a Shadow Walker that attacked you…but it wasn't the same for her…"
"Well we have to do something…" Harry began, feeling desperation setting in. He hadn't even seen what had happened…but he knew it was bad.
"Can…can I see the wound?" Troy asked, hesitantly, and Ron looked up sharply at his words.
"No, I don't trust you," he said bluntly, moving a hand protectively around Hermione's waist as she winced from the motion.
"Ron, he saved my life," Harry said quickly. "He won't hurt her…and if he can help…"
Ron brought his glare down at Harry instantly, but after a moment, took a long, shaky breath.
"Fine," he said quietly. "But don't touch her," he added warningly, eyeing Troy.
"I promise," Troy said sincerely, before kneeling down beside Harry. Ever so slowly, Ron moved a hand to Hermione's shirt, lifting it just enough to reveal a bit above her stomach, and Harry felt a wave of nausea pass over him, which he struggled with before finally forcing it away.
What appeared to be thin gouges were all over Hermione's abdomen and a bit below, but something about them was different from any cut Harry had ever seen. Some of the marks were crisscrossed, and some alone…but they were all bleeding freely.
"I know it will hurt her, but you need to put more pressure on those," Troy said evenly, calmly. "She's injured…and it's bad, but not fatal…though she needs medical attention, as soon as possible…"
Harry listened, only half hearing what Troy was saying…wondering how this had happened, when he felt Draco tapping him on the shoulder. He looked to see the fair-haired wizard motioning him to his feet, and Harry stood quickly, following him a few paces away.
"What did Lilith do?" Harry asked tightly. "I thought she was after Ron…"
"She was," Draco interrupted quickly, gravely. "She was using Granger to get at Weasley…she said it was to show him how it felt to lose someone you loved."
"But…what caused those…gashes?" Harry asked with a shudder.
"The Skeins," Draco replied grimly. "Lilith tied her up…then the Skeins took her. They started with her stomach…" he trailed off, a green tinge coming up in his face as he swallowed hard. "They didn't just cut her, Harry…they started to skin her…a little bit at a time…"
Harry's stomach flipped slowly, and he could find no words at that moment, horrified and appalled, feeling his jaw drop and a new wave of sickness wash over him as Draco continued.
"Lilith intended for them to keep going…piece by piece…they were moving so slowly…and she kept trying to scream… Weasley tried to get to her, but Lilith was half strangling him as it was…all we could do was watch…" he trailed off, his voice catching for half a second, looking away quickly. "They were just taking their time…that's all," he finished shakily.
Harry let this all sink in, feeling the sickness slowly being overcome with anger.
"Where is Lilith now?" he asked, realizing he hadn't seen her among the others.
"She got away," Draco replied darkly. "Went further into the dungeons…"
"And abandoned her children," Harry stated bitterly.
"She knows when she can't win," Draco shrugged faintly, though he still looked angry. After half a moment, he spoke again. "What about you? Something hurt you…I felt it…"
"It's nothing," Harry said stiffly, "Just a misunderstanding…" he trailed off, turning and walking back towards the others. Troy was now speaking with one of the Shadow Walkers and Harry figured the others must be about somewhere, as he reached his two friends again.
"We have to take her to the hospital wing now," he stated quickly. "And we still have to get to the other professors…"
"And find Lilith," Ron added menacingly.
"Ryan will take her back up, he can get there quickly," Troy spoke up, looking down at Hermione.
"Not a chance!" Ron spat, horrified. "I'm not letting one of them touch her!"
"They won't hurt her, I swear to you," Troy began quickly.
Ron looked as if he were going to argue when Troy continued.
"Or you can take her yourself…but the rest of us must find the others…"
Ron seemed to consider this for a brief moment…and it looked as though his anger won out, as he looked back up with steely resolve glinting in his eyes.
"You promise he'll take care of her…he won't let her get hurt?" he asked, clinging protectively to Hermione.
"She'll be in good hands," Troy replied. "I swear she'll be kept safe…"
Looking back down at Hermione, a lump rising in his throat, Ron nodded faintly, before leaning down and kissing her gently.
"I'll be up to check on you soon, okay?" he whispered, forcing a reassuring smile to his lips.
Hermione looked back at him, a hint of fear in her eyes…but the pain she was feeling was written all over her face as she finally managed to speak.
"Just…be c-careful…" she whispered, pleadingly.
"I promise," Ron replied, kissing her again, before reluctantly letting one of the shadows lift her from his arms. He watched apprehensively as the shadow moved away from him, staring for a long moment, before forcing his gaze away.
After Harry, Ron and Draco had found new wands to use from among the lifeless death eaters, the small group, including Troy and three Shadow Walkers, set off, moving further into the dungeons.
As they went, Troy explained, at Harry's prompting, what had happened while he was away.
Troy had made his way back to the shadows' village without much trouble, since Adrik had assumed his memory was gone, he didn't consider Troy a threat in any way, and hadn't expected anyone actually trying to get into the cult's home.
It was talking to his former family that had taken the longest…none of them quite willing to believe they had made a mistake. There simply could not be two people with Jared's scent. After nearly a week, however, Troy had finally worn them down…convincing them at least of the possibility…and so Pollux had granted him the help of four Shadow Walkers. They were to obey Troy, no matter what…and bring back the real Jared…but if it ended up the only one they found by the end of everything was Harry…then he must be who they were looking for, and they were to bring him back instead.
"The only problem is they're telling me they don't sense anyone else…they can't find Jared," Troy explained.
"But you said they did before, right?" Harry asked, anxiously.
"Yes," Troy nodded. "But it was a bit complicated…you see, I felt the Orb the moment we entered, so we went for that first. I led them downstairs…though like I told you, we can't get to it…there's a barrier. We found a barrier around another room as well…but since it was blocking the door, and I could barely see inside, I could only make out what was near the entrance to the room…and that's where I saw your chest, with the crystals."
"So we can't get to the Orb or the crystals?" Draco asked quickly. "There's no way to get around the barrier? Or break it?"
Troy was silent for a long moment, and the grave look on his face only made Harry's stomach tighten in worry, before the redhead finally spoke up.
"David," he said, looking towards the shadows gliding silently beside them. "You have to get to the professors…find where they've been locked up…and take care of anyone trying to hurt them…"
"And you?" David asked, stiffly…it was obvious to Harry in that second that they were only listening to Troy because they'd been told to…they didn't believe his story.
"I'm going to see if we can get to the Orb," Troy replied simply. "Meet us there when you're done."
Without another word, David nodded, before motioning the others to follow him. Harry watched as they seeped into the wall, much as they'd done just a short while ago, before turning his attention back to Troy.
"Come on," Troy said, beginning to quicken his pace. "The Orb is this way…"
"What about the stones?" Draco asked at once. "Shouldn't we do those first?"
"We can't," Troy replied evenly. "The way the barrier is set up…it won't work that way…"
"What do you mean?" Harry asked, uneasily. Troy looked over at him quickly, before replying, his tone even.
"I'll show you."
They walked on, further into the dungeons, and Harry couldn't help but glance around every so often…wondering if they were being watched or followed. Ron, he noticed, was being utterly silent, and finally he stepped up beside his friend.
"She'll be okay Ron, I know she will," Harry began in a hushed tone, sounding more confident than he felt.
Ron only looked back at his friend, fury brimming in his reddened eyes.
"I just want to find Lilith," he finally stated evenly, no emotion whatsoever in his voice.
"So do I," Harry said quickly, "but Ron…"
"I'm going to kill her, Harry," Ron cut him off sharply. "Don't try to stop me."
Harry looked at his friend for a long moment…torn. What had been done to Hermione was unforgivable…and Harry could think of no more fitting punishment than death, but he didn't think Ron should be the one to do it…
"Ron," he began, hesitantly, as they were turning yet another corner. "If you kill Lilith-"
"Kill me?" Lilith's voice interrupted, sounding quite amused. "Well…you can give it your best shot…"
The four wizards came to an abrupt halt and looked down the hall…where both Lilith and Oren walked slowly out of the dark shadows, less than ten feet away.
"Incendia!" Ron shouted vehemently, standing his ground as a burst of flames emitted from his wand, and raced towards the two death eaters. Neither one budged, however, seeming quite unconcerned, and seconds before the fireball should have hit them, it splattered up against nothing, dissolving.
Cursing vehemently, Ron raised his wand again.
"It won't do any good," Oren spoke up then, grinning. "Nothing you shoot is coming through the shield," he paused, "but if we shoot…" he trailed off, raising his wand. "Crucio!"
The four wizards scrambled, ducking out of the way as the torturous curse barreled towards them, sparking harmlessly into the hard, stone floor.
"Too bad you sent your bodyguards away," Lilith sneered. "They would have come in handy."
"And leave the other death eaters to kill McGonagall and the rest of the professors?" Troy shot back angrily.
Lilith and Oren smiled, wickedly.
"We decided the other death eaters were needed elsewhere right now," Lilith began, almost pleasantly.
"It's much more important that Dumbledore is taken care of first," Oren added. "And of course…Hadley…"
"No," Harry began weakly, feeling a stab of panic.
"I'm afraid so, Potter," Oren grinned. "It was most generous of Marzia to give the password to young Miss Weasley back in the office. Wormtail overheard easily, and delivered it to us. As soon as Dumbledore is taken care of…and that highly irritating Black, Hadley will have a visitor…"
Harry clenched his teeth, stepping away from the wall he was near, but Oren had hoped for this, and had already begun to shoot the curse again.
"Get back!" Draco yelled, jumping sideways and knocking into Harry, both of them falling to the floor as the bolt of light crackled just inches short of their feet. Hearing Oren's voice again, Harry and Draco glanced up fearfully, but scrambled up half a second later when Troy fell to the ground, screaming. He'd been distracted for a brief moment, watching Harry and Draco, that he didn't realize Oren had taken new aim.
"Let him go!" Harry cried angrily, standing helplessly over Troy's thrashing form. He tried to touch the young professor, to pull him out of the curse's path…but couldn't so much as bring his fingers close without getting a nasty jolt.
"Maybe…in a minute or two…" Oren replied casually, as he and Lilith laughed, seeming unconcerned as Ron finally stepped forward, kneeling down beside Troy whose cries were growing weaker, and aiming his wand towards Lilith.
"You really don't learn, do you?" she laughed, but Ron ignored her, and began to speak.
"Aegis repercutio!" he hissed fiercely, and in an instant, a shimmering white shield seemed to umbrella out from the tip of his wand, only this particular type of shield didn't just block a curse…it reflected it.
At once the spark of light coming from Oren's wand rebounded, right back where Ron was aiming his own wand…straight at Lilith. She realized what was happening far too late, as the curse smashed into her full force, knocking her to the floor, writhing and screaming. Oren tried to lower the curse, but couldn't…he was held there by Ron, unable to control his wand as the two spells were now attached.
Harry and Draco helped Troy shakily to his feet…waiting…but as the seconds ticked by, Ron wasn't letting up…
"Ron, you've done enough," Harry spoke up finally. "Let her go."
"No," Ron replied flatly, his eyes fixed on Lilith's twitching form.
"Ron-" Harry began again.
"Lower the shield," Ron interrupted sharply, shifting his gaze to Oren.
"Do you think I'm stupid?" Oren replied, concentration etched into every line of his face as he tried to pull his wand away. "If I lower it, I'll still be stuck in your spell…while the rest of your friends are free to shoot me…"
"Fine," Ron replied smoothly, " I can stay just like this then…as long as it takes…"
Harry could hardly believe Ron's completely detached and cold attitude…he had no care for Lilith either, but it was still a life…
After another minute of Ron still showing no sign that he would give in, and a final look at Lilith's now completely limp form, Oren spoke again.
"Fine I'll lower it…" he said, breathing quickly now, "but you have to let me go…I need my wand to-"
"Don't lie," Ron spat. "You need Dimanare Powder. I know what the shield you're using is…and you know why? Because Hermione told me about them…" he paused only a brief moment, his eyes flashing, his face flushed with emotion, before continuing, his tone becoming more intense by the second, and his gaze boring into Oren's with such ferocity it was frightening. "She tells me a good many things, you know…and most of them I usually think don't matter much in the scheme of things…or that I'll never need to know them…useless information. But I listen to her…even though she thinks I don't…I always do…she's the smartest witch in the world, you know…and could beat either of you on any given day if you had any honor at all, but no, you always fight dirty, don't you? Well now I'm fighting dirty! Put the shield down now or I'm aiming this at you next! And then you can think about what we can do to you when you're both unconscious on the floor…" he trailed off darkly, looking furiously back at the death eater.
Harry couldn't make a sound, too shocked to speak as he stared in disbelief at his friend. Everyone was standing perfectly still, looking back and forth between the two wizards, old and young…until finally, Oren's left hand slid stiffly into his pocket. For a moment, Harry tensed, but a second later the older wizard's hand emerged with a powdery substance drizzling from between his fingers. He glared hatefully at Ron, before tossing it in front of him.
The moment the powder hit the shield it started to fizzle quickly, and almost immediately, it had completely evaporated. Ron waited only a second longer, before slowly rising to his feet, keeping the shield aimed perfectly as he moved, when without warning he flipped it upwards, aiming it so the spell cracked angrily against the ceiling, before dropping his barrier.
Oren's arm raised with Ron's motion, unable to control the wand, and at the last second, when the reflecting shield had finally been pulled back, he let go of the wand, collapsing to the floor and shaking from all the energy that had just been drained from him. Harry knew from experience, how much energy performing that curse required…but doing it for that length of time, straight…he couldn't even imagine what it would feel like… Despite this, however, he wasted no time in summoning both death eaters' wands to him, before starting forward.
"Nice one, Weasley," Draco said quietly, breaking the silence that had settled over the small group. Ron looked up quickly, surprised to see Malfoy looked sincere, and nodded faintly.
After tying up Oren and Lilith, Harry turned to Troy, who was still looking quite pale from his encounter…but nowhere near as bad as Lilith looked…
"Where to now?" he asked the redheaded professor.
"Down that way," Troy replied with a nod. "The way they were blocking."
"Let's go then," Harry said evenly, looking towards both Ron and Draco, who followed, after a brief moment. Ron paused near Lilith, looking down on her limp form, and Harry feared he might do more…but Ron merely took a deep breath, letting it out shakily, before forcing his gaze away and following the others down the corridor.
After just a short while longer, the group came to a split in the hall.
"Both of these lead to a dead end," Troy began quietly, looking down both dark, dimly lit corridors in turn. Harry couldn't see the ending of either one from where they stood, and figured they had to stretch back quite far.
"The Orb is down this one," Troy continued, pointing to the path on their left before starting to step towards it.
"So the crystals are down there then?" Draco asked, nodding towards the hall on their right.
"Yes," Troy nodded.
"Why can't we go down there first, again?" he asked.
"Because you can't get to the crystals without letting the barrier around the room down…and to do that, you need to get the Orb…"
"But there's a barrier around the Orb too, right?" Draco asked as he finally started down the left path with the others.
"Yes," Troy replied simply.
"So what do we use to get passed that?"
Troy was silent for a long moment, before replying, hesitantly.
"You…don't need magic…you just walk through it. Once you touch the Orb, both barriers drop."
Draco stared back at Troy, his eyes narrowing in confusion, and Harry could honestly say he suddenly felt the same.
"Well…then why haven't you just gotten it yourself?" Draco asked, arching an inquisitive eyebrow.
"And if we can walk through it…can't we just do the same to get the crystals?" Harry added. Troy glanced over at the both of them, sighing reluctantly, before speaking again.
"The second barrier is controlled by the first barrier, so no…you can't just walk through that one. And I can't get through the first one…neither can anyone else that is or has ever been a Shadow Walker, with one exception."
"And that is?" Draco prompted.
"Whichever one of us cast the barriers," Troy replied.
"So Jared then," Harry replied darkly.
"He can walk in and out of either of them," Troy nodded. "The rest of the Shadow Walkers, former or present, can't get past."
"And the first one…the one around the Orb…is the shield that we can walk through, and you can't?" Draco asked, smirking in faint amusement. "Why would Jared let there be any way through at all? Sounds like a stupid idea…why even bother using it…the other way is obviously more effective…" he trailed off, when at last they reached the end of the cold, damp corridor.
"Because it's impossible to put that particular type of barrier up around the Orb," Troy explained, "it won't allow it, so he had to do it this way…"
There was a thick metal door to their left, and Troy easily turned the latch, before pushing the heavy door open and stepping in. The others followed silently, and Harry had to shield his eyes from the brightness. The barrier was the same luminescent blue that had been surrounding the temple in the woods near the cult's village… It was forming a half moon shape in the center of the room, and the dim outline of what had to be the Orb was barely visible from within.
"And this barrier is more effective than you know, Malfoy," Troy said gravely, unable to meet the eyes of the three wizards any longer as his gaze fell to the floor.
"Troy…just tell us," Harry pressed, after a moment of nothing. "Because you're obviously nervous about something…and from what you've already said, all that has to be done is one of us goes through this shield and gets the Orb, and by doing so we lower both barriers, right?"
"Right…" Troy nodded, hesitantly.
"Well then what…?" Harry began.
"They took you into the temple, right?" Troy interrupted suddenly. "Castor and Pollux…I know they did."
"In the village…? Yes," Harry nodded, narrowing his eyes in confusion. "But what does that…?"
"Do you remember what happened…when you first stepped through…into the temple?" Troy asked, evenly.
Harry looked back at him for a long moment, before realization dawned in his eyes…and then horror.
"Wait…wait a minute," he said, suddenly straining to stay calm. "You can't mean…if one of us walks through this…" he trailed off, seeing Troy nod grimly.
"What?" Ron spoke up, anxiously.
"We won't be able to breathe," Harry stated quietly.
"What?" Draco cried in shock. "Then…how're we supposed to…?"
"The way to break the barrier, is simply to touch the Orb," Troy said evenly. "But the atmosphere inside the shield will begin to suffocate you from the moment your fingers brush its surface."
"But…how…?" Ron began, nervously. "Can't you…er…hold your breath against it, maybe?" he paused, glancing again at the half moon barrier before him. "It doesn't look that far around, either…I bet we could make it in and back quickly enough…"
"No," Troy said, apologetically, reluctantly. "You can't stop it from happening. Once a witch or wizard touches the barrier, it starts. You get drawn in…it slowly drains your energy…your life. You won't be able to breathe, it's going to be painful, and you can only move as fast as it will let you"
"So then…when does it stop?" Draco asked. "As soon as you reach the Orb? Or do you have to make it back as well?"
"It stops when the Orb is touched," Troy said quietly. "But-"
"Well that might not be so bad then," Draco cut him off quickly, looking warily at the blue barrier.
Harry looked at Troy for a long moment, staring straight into his eyes. With a sinking feeling, he realized what the transfiguration professor was so reluctant to tell them…
"Whoever goes in isn't going to make it out, are they?" he asked quietly, his voice surprisingly calm for the sudden dread that had settled in his gut.
Troy nodded slowly, and Harry had to look away, feeling helplessness settling firmly over him. How would they get it now?
"What do you mean?" Draco asked, a hint of fear in his voice and his eyes wide. "Whoever goes in there…they'll die?"
"I'm sorry," Troy began quietly.
"You're sorry?" Draco shouted, looking suddenly furious. "Did you just expect one of us would willingly end our lives for your stupid crystal ball? Why does it have to be one of us? Why not just grab one of the death eaters…make one of them get it for you?"
"It has to be someone who's willing to do this," Troy stated evenly. "Or the barrier won't let you in."
Harry glanced around at his friends, seeing the horrified expression on Draco's face as he took a step back, and then looking to Ron, seeing his best friend standing utterly still, a blank expression on his face as he stared fixedly at the barrier, before turning back to face Troy.
"If you have the Orb…can you use it?" Harry asked him seriously.
"I can," Troy nodded hesitantly. "What do you-?"
"Will you call the other Shadow Walkers…ask them to help?" Harry asked. "Mel is somewhere close, I'm sure…Sirius and Marzia are heading into a trap at Nabakza, if they haven't already been caught…and Hadley…"
"We'll get them out," Troy nodded firmly. "I promise you."
"Thank you," Harry nodded sincerely, taking a deep breath before looking towards the barrier again. "Then I'll get the Orb."
"No, you won't," Ron spoke up immediately, coming forward at once and blocking his best friend's path.
"Ron, it's the only way," Harry said quickly, wishing his friend would just let him go. He couldn't think about it…he just had to do it. "We can't save everyone…there's not enough time…but if we get the Orb…"
"No, I agree with that," Ron said evenly, his tense eyes locking with Harry's. "We need the Orb, there's no other way to win this…but you aren't going to get it. I am."
Harry's jaw dropped in horror, and he shook his head faintly.
"No," he stated quickly, almost pleadingly. "No you can't…Hermione, she needs…"
"Don't," Ron said, his voice faintly shaking. He swallowed hard, looking away for a brief moment, before glancing back to Harry again. "Listen to me Harry," he began again, straining to keep his voice even as his eyes became glassy. "If you walk in there, it'll be the dumbest thing you'll ever do…and you've done some pretty stupid things, I can tell you. But Jared needs you dead, and this way you'll just be doing it for him."
"But no, Ron…the cult…they can…they'll help…" Harry began, earnestly. He couldn't do it…he couldn't let his friend die for him.
"Will you just stop?" Ron spat, sharply, and Harry's mouth snapped closed. "You heard what Troy said…the Shadow Walkers sensed Jared when they came…down here…while we were still upstairs…and now they can't anymore. The crystals are in the school; we know Jared isn't leaving without them. My guess is…Mel is here too…probably in the very same room with the stones. He's already inside her, Harry. He must be, or the shadows would be able to pick up on him. Once you die, he can do what he needs to…he can be born again…once you die, he'll become more powerful than all of us. The only way to get him out is with the crystals…and the only one who can do that is you."
Harry couldn't find his voice as he stared back at his friend. His vision blurred as tears started to build in his eyes. Ron had been the first friend he'd ever made, and despite the fighting that came and went, Ron would always end up by his side in the end, forever loyal. To think of life without him…
"No, you can't," Harry said angrily, looking away as he furiously blinked back against the tears. "I won't let you," he paused, fingering the wand in his hand, before lifting it into the air, aiming it at Ron. "I'll stun you if I have to," he stated quietly, but his hand was quite unsteady.
Ron only shook his head faintly, before stepping towards Harry calmly.
"Just tell Hermione something for me, alright?" Ron asked, smiling ever so slightly despite his strained voice. "Tell her I'm sorry, and I l-love her…and…a-and that…there's s-so much…" he trailed off, his voice breaking.
Harry couldn't look away from his friend…his best friend…who was going to sacrifice his life…
"Promise me you'll tell her?" Ron asked slowly, looking back up, and directly into Harry's eyes, when he managed to regain some of his composure.
Slowly, reluctantly, Harry nodded to his friend…feeling sicker than he'd ever felt in his life. Feeling as if he were the one killing Ron, just by allowing his friend to do this…it wasn't fair… But Ron had been right as well, as much as Harry didn't want to admit it…if Jared gained control of the crystals, all of this would be for nothing.
"You better get going then," Ron whispered, nodding towards the door. "I'll have the barrier down for you to get to the crystals in no time."
"Ron," Harry began quietly, his voice thick with grief. "I-"
"Just go Harry," Ron said quickly, his face looking ready to crumble again, but he quickly forced the emotions back. "I've got this one covered, trust me."
"I always have," Harry replied. He stepped forward, and pulled his best friend into a brotherly embrace, screwing up his face against the misery inside of him, howling to be unleashed. It was Ron who broke the hold though, pushing Harry gently away.
"Mel's waiting," he said simply, and Harry nodded faintly, before starting for the door. He passed by a white-faced Draco Malfoy, and suddenly wanted to be mad at him, but realized just as quickly, that he couldn't. No matter how much he wanted Ron's life spared…he couldn't ever ask or expect Draco to have accepted this task…
"Good luck," Troy's voice called out from back near the barrier, and Harry turned to look at him quickly. "I'll call on the others the second I have the Orb," the redhead continued.
"Good," Harry nodded stiffly; forcing himself to think only of the task that now lay before him. "And I'll be back when I have the crystals…and Mel."
As Harry stepped through the door, he thought about asking Draco to come with him, in case he needed the help…but realized it was probably better to leave him out of this. If he was going to be using the crystals, and Jared was, in fact, already inside of his child…there would be nothing Draco could do anyway.
Moving quickly through the damp corridor, Harry forced any thoughts of Ron out of his head…he had to, or he'd never be able to do whatever was going to be needed of him when he reached the crystals. Instead, he concentrated on Mel…and their child…no matter what it cost, he was going to save them.
Harry ran, as fast as his legs would take him, through the dark corridor. He reached the end where the group had first come across the split, and quickly turned, heading down the hallway on the right. He wouldn't let himself think…wouldn't let his mind wander…and any time it started to, he would simply put on a burst of speed, concentrating on getting to the room.
As he neared the end, however, breathing heavily, Harry skidded to an abrupt halt still a good fifteen feet from the door. There was a blue blanket of light covering the entrance, which he knew had to be the barrier…and standing just in front of that, smirking in smug satisfaction, was Adrik Lestrange.
Harry decided in an instant not to let Adrik have the first move this time. Bringing up his wand immediately, he aimed it at the death eater.
"Expelliarmus!" he yelled, his voice echoing through the corridor as Adrik's wand was ripped from his grasp, and flew to Harry's waiting hand. He slipped the wand he'd been using into his pocket then, but before Harry could speak a word, the death eater's amused laughter filled the dank air.
"Feel better?" Adrik asked with a dark grin. "Got that out of your system?"
"You've lost," Harry stated with much more confidence in his tone than he actually felt. "Soon the other Shadow Walkers will be called on, and they're going to take care of everything…Dumbledore, Sirius…Hadley…"
"But they can't help whichever of your friends you left to die back there, can they?" Adrik asked tauntingly, and Harry flinched. "No, certainly not," Adrik continued, laughing quietly. "Just as they can't help Melanie…" he trailed off, leaning his head closer towards the doorway, near a tiny barred window. Harry wished the barrier would shock him…but Adrik stayed just outside of its range "She doesn't sound very comfortable," he mused, and Harry realized with dread that he could hear someone…a barely audible whimpering…his heart twisted just thinking about it. He had to get her out of there. "Though," Adrik continued nonchalantly, "I suppose having someone force their way inside of your unborn-"
"Shut up!" Harry yelled angrily, his blood boiling, not wanting to hear anymore as the death eater turned an amused smile on him. He had to get into that room… "Just step away from the door," Harry continued, tightly, keeping the wand he'd just taken trained steadily on his mark.
"Oh but I like it right here," Adrik replied pleasantly, producing another wand seemingly from thin air as he spoke. Harry opened his mouth at once, but Adrik cut him off. "Disarming me won't work with this one," he said quickly. "I've made sure over the years, that my wand can never be taken from me by magic. So now that we both have our own wands…" he trailed off, and Harry glanced down, realizing in surprise, he did have his wand…his real wand. That's what he'd taken when he'd disarmed Adrik…
His thoughts were interrupted by a sudden noise near the door, and Harry heard what sounded like running water, as the blue barrier seemed to soften, before forming a puddle on the hard stones…and vanishing.
Harry felt his throat tighten at once, but choked back forcefully on his grief. He had to concentrate on Mel…
"Oh…look…he's dead now, isn't he?" the death eater sighed in mock sadness. "Whoever it was. I have to admit; I honestly never thought you'd let someone else take on that task. I suppose I misjudged you," Adrik hissed tauntingly, and Harry's eyes narrowed in hatred, feeling a sudden rush of anger towards the older man.
"Get out of my way," Harry stated slowly, icily. He had to find a way past…and for half a second, he considered closing his eyes again…but thought better of it. He wasn't going to be far enough away from Adrik this time…and the death eater could easily feel his way into the hallway's only room to go after him…
"I'm afraid that's impossible," Adrik shrugged casually. "You see, I can't let you get to the crystals…and since it's obvious now, that the cult is not going to kill you in time…I guess I'll just have to do it myself," he said, raising his wand and aiming at Harry.
Harry reacted instinctively, bringing up his wand in a flash and calling out a stunning spell. The light barreled down the dark hall towards the large death eater, who dodged out of the way, leaving the doorway unguarded.
Without wasting a second, Harry lunged forward, making a mad dash for the door but skidded to a halt at the sound of Adrik's voice, shielding his face as an intense light streamed past his face. The curse missed him by mere inches.
"No you don't," Adrik spat as he stood upright once again. He had his wand aimed directly at Harry, as he slowly began to step towards him.
Harry didn't even think before he brought up his wand again, moving so quickly that Adrik didn't react until the curse had already been called out. Instead of trying to move out of the way, however, the death eater simply brought up his left hand, which took on a red tinge, just a split second before the curse slammed into it. To Harry's horror, the spell rebounded, and the unexpectedness of what he'd seen slowed his reaction…he tried to dodge, but it did no good. The curse hit him in the gut, knocking him up against the wall before he fell stiffly to the floor, in a full body bind.
Immediately, the dark sound of Adrik's triumphant laughter filled the air, and Harry could do nothing but stare up at him, helplessly. He'd been so close…
"I think," Adrik began tauntingly, starting to walk slowly around Harry's rigid form, "that I'll ask to have Melanie's life spared after the child is born…it'd be a shame to simply kill her off, so young and beautiful as she is," he paused, coming to a halt. "Besides, my dearest wife will need to heal after that horrid incident she's just been through…and I do get lonely…"
Inside, Harry was struggling fiercely against the invisible hold over him, his anger and rage building up as he heard what Adrik was saying, but on the outside, he remained motionless as ever, the hateful glint in his eye being the only indication of his feelings…though the death eater couldn't see that…
"And that other girl," Adrik went on, quite cheerfully. "Hermione…I'll have to find her as well. It would be only fair that my wife get to finish what she started."
The death eater began moving again then…coming around to Harry's right side and kneeling just beside him…the place where his eyes should have been staring straight back at Harry as if he could see him.
"I can hear you breathing," Adrik whispered, leaning down, their faces quite close as the cold voice echoed in the corridor. "Fast…so fast…you're scared, I know…" the dark man trailed off, a small smile suddenly touching his lips. "What was it, do you know?" he asked quietly. "Boy or girl? Not that it matters…it will never really live…and there's nothing you can do to stop it. The child of the great Harry Potter…a prisoner in its own mind for all eternity…and its father powerless to help it…" he trailed off, laughing at the joke he obviously considered to be quite amusing, while Harry lay still…wishing him dead with every fiber of his being. He felt murderous at that moment.
"Ah well," Adrik sighed at last, slowly pushing back, and rising to his feet. "Enough of this…Jared is waiting…"
Harry wanted to scream, feeling tears of hatred stinging his eyes, still unable to move. He didn't want to believe this was the end…but the body bind was showing no signs of wearing off…and he was out of time…
Without warning, a rush of energy surged within him, and Harry would have laughed out loud if he could've. The crystals…he realized…of course…he was so close to them now…the barrier was gone…his life was in danger, and so there they were.
Adrik seemed to sense the change as well, however, as Harry saw the confused look wash over the death eater's face, but it didn't matter now. Just as Adrik pointed his wand at him, preparing to say the deadly words, Harry unleashed the energy. All of his anger, rage, hatred and helplessness that had been roiling in his gut flooded out through the stream of energy.
With a wave of power so strong that his hair whipped about, and the air crackled with electricity, Harry sat up with a start; as the body bind immediately faded away. Adrik was struck full force, by the strength of the blast. Harry watched him, his broad, tall figure, flung the length of the hall as if he were a rag doll, only seconds before the large man's body impacted, with a sickening crunch, against the hard stone wall, and Adrik slumped limply to the cold, solid ground.
Harry stood up slowly, shakily, wanting to run at once into the room behind him, but also wanting to make sure Adrik wouldn't be following him anytime soon.
He crossed the hall in silence, stopping slowly as he reached the death eater's lifeless form, and realized as his eyes grew wide with shock, there was no chance of him getting up.
The stone wall, which was cracked and crumbling from the impact, was smeared with thick blood, as was the back of Adrik's now irregularly shaped head. He was dead. For all his powers and protections that he'd studied over the years…they all meant nothing now
Taking a step back as the image set in, Harry swallowed hard, choking down a wave of sickness that had so readily rose in his throat. He hadn't meant to…
Yes, you did, another part of his mind told him, and he knew it was true. The way Adrik had spoke about Mel…and his child…he'd wanted nothing more than to see the man dead…but now that it was done…
Shaking his head, Harry fought back the thoughts of what he'd just done…he couldn't think on it now…Mel…he had to save Mel. Turning away from the vile scene, Harry stalked quickly across the silent hall, reaching out and grasping the latch on the door, turning it at once, and stepping into the room.
A muffled sound from his left caused Harry to look that way at once, and he felt a rush of relief and horror, as his eyes found Mel. She was on a large, very out of place, white bed, but her wrists and ankles were tied to the guardrails along the sides and she struggled against them. She'd been put into a position that made it clear to Harry that they'd expected her to deliver the baby like this, and the thought of it made him sick.
Rushing to her side, Harry immediately and gently removed the cloth they'd used to gag her with; his heart breaking as he looked down upon her tear streaked face…how could he have let this happen?
"Harry…I'm sorry," she whispered, sniffling softly. "There were so many of them…at the shop…I just…I…" she stammered.
"Shhh, it's alright," Harry cooed gently. "You have nothing to be sorry about," he whispered. "Now let's get you off of here…" he trailed off, drawing out his wand and waving it over her. The cords fell loose at once, and Harry every so gently slipped his arms under and around Mel's form…she was shaking uncontrollably. There were several chairs on the opposite side of the bed, and Harry carried her over to them at once, setting her down easily into the nearest seat, and suddenly seeing they were not alone.
A young boy was lying, unmoving, propped up against the wall near where Harry stood, and he recognized him at once. The child looked exactly like Devon, which meant this was Tom Riddle Jr.…the boy who would be Voldemort. Harry went to him instinctively, realizing he was alive, and his breathing sounded normal enough. Lifting him off the floor, he carried the boy over to the bed, not really thinking about who was actually in his arms, and placed him gently on the sheets.
"A man c-came in," Mel spoke up then, her voice unsteady and hoarse, and Harry moved back towards her. "Not too long ago…he j-just looked at me, Harry…he didn't say anything and all he did was l-look at me…and finally he put his hands on me…and I…I felt something…it…it was…I'm not sure…but it felt like s-something going th-through me…inside…" she trailed off, fresh tears spilling down her face as she sobbed. Harry immediately knelt down beside her, pulling her into a fierce embrace.
"Th-The man turned into h-him," Mel continued through her tears, pointing weakly towards the unconscious boy. "And then I c-couldn't feel him anymore…"
"Mel I'm so sorry," Harry said, his heart pounding in his chest, wishing he could take back all she'd been through. "I'm sorry for everything…"
"What did he want?" Mel cried suddenly. "What did he do to me?"
Harry paused for a brief moment, staring sadly into her deep blue eyes.
"He's after the baby," he said at last, and Mel's jaw dropped, her eyes betraying both shock…and terror.
"How?" she cried shakily. "Who was he? Why would…?"
"Mel I don't have time to explain," Harry said quickly, apologetically. "Please just believe me…that was Jared…he's inside of you right now…inside of our child."
"Jared…" Mel whispered, horrified, her eyes widening even further as her hands flew to her stomach instinctively. "As in…Jared Graham? Grindelwald?"
"Yes," Harry nodded regretfully. "And I have to get him out…"
"You can do that?" Mel interrupted, looking pleadingly…fearfully…into Harry's gaze with her red, puffy eyes.
"With the crystals, yes," Harry nodded gravely. "I believe I can…" he paused, feeling a wave of sadness wash over him. "I'm so sorry to ask this of you Mel…but-"
"Do it," Mel stated suddenly, looking piercingly into Harry's eyes. "Do whatever you have to…please, you can't let him have our-" she stopped abruptly as her voice caught in her throat, and she swallowed hard, shivering.
Harry wanted nothing more than to just hold her right now, to ease her pain and comfort her…but he couldn't yet. Giving one of Mel's hands a reassuring squeeze, he rose to his feet and glanced around. The chest containing the crystals was there…back near the door, and Harry immediately crossed the room, coming to a halt and kneeling in front of the trunk.
Taking a deep breath, Harry lowered his head until his eye was at level with the keyhole and with a loud click; the chest was unlocked. As the lid slowly rose, Harry looked down upon the fourteen crystals…it had been so long since he last used them.
Without wasting another second, Harry lifted his hand, placing it over the courage crystal, and with one swift motion, activated all of the stones.
The rush of colors swirled at once into the air around him and Harry felt the same familiar rush that he remembered from what felt like ages since he'd last possessed the crystals. But as the stones were a part of him, and would be until he died, they seemed to know already what was going on…and what needed to be done…
Are we sure we want to enter another mind? the fear crystal spoke up at once. After what happened last time.
We have to, Harry thought back. Jared has to be stopped.
We'll have to kill him, the resolve crystal's voice came through, evenly.
We have to get him out of my child, Harry shot back quickly. And if that means…well…we'll do whatever it takes.
Then let's go, the courage crystal stated.
Wait, Harry stated quickly. He knew the crystals would obey him, Snape said they would if ever his life was in danger…however; he needed to have complete control over them, not just their help…
Professor Snape…you have to cut him off…he isn't going to help anymore.
Are we sure? all fourteen voices asked in unison.
Harry nodded faintly.
In an instant the colors around him began to grow brighter, starting to spiral around him…faster and faster, brighter and brighter, Harry wanted to shut his eyes, but couldn't. He could feel the wind of their movement, and his hair whipped about wildly, before the light became so intense he could see nothing else.
With a forceful surge, the auras lunged forward, and into Harry. Through his pours, filling his veins, his lungs, his heart, his head…he could feel more energy than ever before in his life…and what was more…he realized…he knew how to use it…
When the last of the light vanished into him, Harry shuddered involuntarily, but slowly, a smile spread across his face. Glancing back towards Mel, he saw her staring back at him, questioningly. He knew she wouldn't have seen the light…no one had every been able to view the crystals in that form other than him, but she would have seen his reaction.
"Are you alright?" she asked as he crossed back to her, looking concernedly up at him and following his gaze as he knelt down beside her.
"Never better," he grinned lightly, taking one of her hands in his, preparing for what he had to do. "Ready?" he asked.
"The sooner the better," Mel nodded quickly, unable to hide the worry she was feeling completely. "Please just be careful…please…don't…don't let him…"
"I won't," Harry stated gently, evenly. "I promise."
With one last nod from Mel, Harry let go. Clutching her hand in both of his, he did what he had to…almost shocked at how natural it felt now. There were no more voices…the crystals were there…he could feel them, but they were no longer voicing their opinions. They were a part of his thoughts, and the source of his power.
Harry let his energy flow, pouring himself into Mel, feeling himself sliding forward, and suddenly everything blurred. Images merged into one another as Harry finally made the jump.
For a split second, everything went pitch black, and Harry could neither see nor hear…and suddenly, it was as if a light switch had been flicked on.
Harry stood; looking around cautiously…he appeared to be in an empty room. There were no doors or windows…everything was white…when suddenly his eyes fell upon the far left corner…he wasn't alone…
A young boy was kneeling in the corner, Harry didn't recognize him. He looked to be about six or seven years old, with light brown hair, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. There was a good amount of dirt on his hands, face and clothes, the sure sign of a child who's been having fun…and currently, he was scribbling furiously on one of the pristine white walls, with a broken black crayon.
"Hello," Harry began, guardedly, slowly starting towards him. The boy glanced up over his shoulder; his light hazel eyes meeting Harry's, and a dark scowl crossed his face.
"You can't stop me, you know…I've already started," he spat angrily.
"Jared," Harry hissed, his eyes narrowing as he realized instantly who the boy was. Jared only smirked at him, and went back to his coloring, but quicker than before.
"What do you think you're doing?" Harry asked tightly.
"Changing someone's mind," Jared replied calmly. "What did you think this was, arts and crafts time?"
"Stop now," Harry stated evenly, clenching his fists as he moved closer still.
"No, don't think so," Jared replied. "It's far too innocent in here…have to fix that."
"No you won't," Harry hissed, raising his right hand. The crayon was ripped from Jared's grasp and Harry caught it easily, before throwing it to the floor, and crushing it with his foot.
Jared stifled a laugh as he smiled up at Harry.
"Congratulations, you've annihilated a crayon…I surrender. No, wait…I don't," he said, chuckling. "Honestly…did you think it would be so easy?"
"We're leaving now Jared," Harry stated evenly, feeling the energy surge through him as he prepared to release it. "I'm taking you out of here."
"Not so fast," Jared spoke quickly, motioning for Harry to wait as he stood. "If you take me out now, you're going to take your child as well…"
"You're bluffing," Harry shot back icily.
"Suit yourself," Jared shrugged with a laugh. "Let's go then…"
"Explain," Harry demanded curtly. "What did you do? Why would it harm the baby?"
"Harm the…why would I do that?" Jared asked sweetly. "I can't do that, actually. I intend to live here, you know…harming it won't help me any."
"You are not going to live here," Harry stated fiercely. "What good would it do you now? I'm alive…you can't get the crystals…and when the baby is born, it will be without the powers you want so badly…"
"True," Jared said darkly. "I realize this body can't be my permanent one now…but it doesn't matter…it still holds the bloodline. Once the baby is born, and grows…then the next child born from it will be the new Psion."
"Only if I'm dead," Harry stated icily. "And you might have a bit more trouble killing me off now…"
"Oh I'm sure I won't," Jared laughed. "I'll be in this body, after all…your child. Will you be able to kill me then? I think not…and you won't be able to stop me from killing you…"
"Which is why I'm not letting you stay here," Harry said quickly.
"I've already told you," Jared laughed coldly. "If you take me out now…the baby's as good as dead."
Harry opened his mouth to reply…he had to find out what Jared had done, when suddenly the wall they were standing near shifted. A doorway appeared, as well as a window. It looked like brilliant sunshine shown through over an expansive green lawn, and Harry could barely make out a playground in the distance, when suddenly a little girl, who could only be five or six years old, ran through the door…literally. The door remained shut as she passed through, and it all disappeared behind her.
"Jared!" she yelled happily, skidding to a halt as her little white skirt swirled around her legs. Both of her knees looked slightly skinned, and her hands, elbows, and the front of her light purple top were dirty, but she wore a large smile as she spoke to Jared. "I've been waiting…you said you were going to help me find-"
"Sorry, I'm coming," Jared interrupted, sounding like a good-natured, friendly kid all of a sudden as he smiled back at the girl, who looked intensely familiar to Harry…and for a moment…he couldn't move, his heart pounding in his chest. She had long blonde, slightly wavy hair that fell halfway down her back, and the most piercing green eyes…his eyes…this was his child. His daughter.
"Who's that?" the girl asked, when she spotted Harry, who was glued to the spot on which he stood.
"I don't know," Jared shrugged. "He just showed up…"
"Oh," the girl said, glancing curiously between the two, before taking a hesitant step towards Harry.
"I'm Olivia," she smiled. "Who are you?"
Harry opened his mouth…but Jared spoke first.
"Olivia c'mon," he said, with a mischievous grin. "Let's play hide and seek!"
"You're it!" Olivia cried eagerly, smiling widely.
"No…he's it!" Jared said quickly, pointing at Harry.
"No!" Harry choked out, suddenly fearful of what Jared was up to. "Wait, don't…" but it was too late, Olivia had already turned, the door appearing in front of her again as she ran through it, laughing in the anticipation of the game she thought they were playing, and after a triumphant smirk at Harry, Jared set off after her.
The door started to fade at once, and Harry put up a hand, stopping it long enough so he could get through as well.
He didn't step out into the brilliant sunshine he had seen before, however, but instead onto a dark path, dead trees on either side of it, in the middle of the night. There was a cold wind whipping through the air, but he could hear nothing else. Reaching out with his mind, Harry could feel Jared nearby…and set off immediately towards the far end of the pathway, coming to a surprised halt as a man stepped out from the trees, seemingly from nowhere, and coming to a stop about ten feet away.
"Nice, isn't it?" the man asked, gesturing around them. Harry only gritted his teeth.
"Where is she?" he asked angrily, recognizing Jared, only a much older version than he'd seen a moment ago. This Jared was older than he was, with bits of grey speckled through his light brown hair, and wearing a long black coat, which hung to his ankles. His eyes were now black.
"She's hiding from you," Jared laughed, his voice much deeper…and menacing. "Feel free to play if you like…it won't be much longer now."
"Why is she talking to you?" Harry asked. "Why is she six years old? And why does she have a name?"
"She told me the name," Jared shrugged. " And she's not six, she only appears to be. You're not seeing her…you're seeing the form her mind has taken…because I need her mind to grow a bit before I finally take control," Jared grinned. "I just gave her a push…that's all…I'm teaching her, you could say…"
Harry had to force himself not to lash out at Jared. If there was any ounce of truth whatsoever in the notion that hurting him would hurt his daughter…then he couldn't chance it.
"Not talking now, are we?" Jared asked, seemingly bored. "Then I guess I'll be on my way…"
"Wait," Harry started, reaching out with his right hand and stepping forward. "What did you do to her? What did you change?"
Jared stared back at Harry for a moment, before laughing quietly.
"It's quite polite of you to ask so nicely, really…it is. But please understand that, I can't tell you…"
"I thought you might say that," Harry said coolly, taking another step forward, and Jared seemed to suddenly notice he was coming closer. He started to step back, not realizing Harry had already had a hold on him. With a swift clench of the fingers on Harry's outstretched hand, Jared couldn't move.
"You don't want to do this," the older man said quickly, nervously as Harry stepped up to him. "If you hurt me…"
"I'm not going to hurt you," Harry said stiffly, not wasting any time as he reached out again, but this time with his mind. He had to find a way to get Jared out of here…and since only Jared knew this information, he'd have to search the source…
Before he could even scratch the surface, however, Jared suddenly pushed out at Harry…with both his own mind, and Olivia's…Harry felt the two of them…mingled, and his stomach twisted.
"Try that again," Jared hissed furiously, staggering back a pace as Harry released the hold on him. "And you'll regret it…"
"Jared," Harry began, hatefully, seething with anger, "I swear if you…"
"Sorry, must run," Jared interrupted, backing sideways off the path before disappearing into the trees.
Harry started after him immediately, when an excited squeal from further up the path caught his attention, and he looked up.
Olivia was standing there, looking ready to run as she stared at him.
"Can't catch me!" she taunted playfully, daring him to come after her.
"Olivia, wait!" Harry called, starting slowly up the path, hoping she would see he wasn't playing, but she only shrieked in excitement, and ran off in the opposite direction.
Harry didn't have a choice, setting off quickly now, he raced up the path, closing the gap between them. Olivia only laughed as she saw him growing closer, but before he could fully reach her, she turned suddenly, and ran off the path…vanishing into the deadened trees.
Without hesitation, Harry turned off after her, racing through the trees, not feeling it as the dead branches whipped against his face, and coming out next to what looked like a jungle gym in a playground, in the middle of the day. Whether or not it was the one he'd seen earlier from the window, he had no idea, but he didn't care. Olivia was busy trying to climb across the ladder rungs that hung high in the air, he had a chance to talk with her…and hopefully she wouldn't run when she saw him…
As he stepped towards the play set, Harry had an idea…Jared, it appeared, had won Olivia's trust by taking on the form of a child…
In a flash, Harry felt his form taking on a new shape. His arms shrunk…his legs shrunk…everything became smaller. And less than thirty seconds after he'd first thought it, Harry was seven years old again.
"Hi!" he called out, smiling, just as Olivia jumped down from the rungs, standing and dusting herself off carelessly as she looked up at him.
"Who are you?" she asked curiously.
"Hi," she replied. "I'm Olivia."
"What were you doing, Olivia?" Harry asked innocently.
"Um…playing hide and seek…but the man didn't want to play, I think."
"Oh," Harry nodded. "Well we can play something then," he ventured.
"Like what?" she asked, her eyes lighting up.
"I don't know," Harry grinned. "What were you doing before you played hide and seek?"
Olivia seemed to consider for a moment, before her hands flew to her face and she gasped eagerly.
"The puppy! Jared and I were supposed to find her!"
"Puppy?" Harry asked, confused.
"She got out of my room when Jared came," Olivia explained, already setting off across the lush grass, looking around as she went.
"Oh," Harry replied, masking the suspicion he was suddenly feeling. What did a puppy have to do with anything? If it escaped when Jared arrived that could only mean he needed it away from that spot…
"Want to help?" Olivia asked then, bending down and looking under some bushes.
"Sure," Harry replied with a grin, anxious to do so. This could be it, the way around Jared. "What's her name?"
"I don't know," Olivia shrugged, not too concerned over this fact.
"Olivia, I've been looking for you!"
Harry looked up sharply to see the younger version of Jared walking towards them again, and he tensed, ready to do whatever it took should he try anything.
"Hello Jared," Olivia smiled pleasantly.
"There's something I want to show you…it's really wicked," Jared began, gesturing for Olivia to come with him, ignoring Harry.
"Really?" Olivia asked, excitedly. "What?"
"It's just over this way," Jared began, taking her by the arm, but that's where Harry stepped in.
"Olivia wait, what about the puppy?" he asked, gently tapping her other arm to get her attention.
"She'll be fine," Jared brushed him off quickly, trying to pull Olivia away. "It's really warm out…she'll want to play…"
Harry glanced up at the sky at once, and in the next second, grey clouds began to emerge, as the sun was blotted out.
"You know, when you do that, you're changing her mind too…" Jared hissed angrily, finally looking at Harry.
Harry didn't reply. He'd known that anything he changed in here was part of his daughter…but he felt it was necessary at that moment…
"Oh no," Olivia said in dismay, frowning up at the sky. "Jared, we have to find her now…she might catch a cold if it rains."
Shooting Harry a dark glare, Jared nodded stiffly, before turning back to the small girl.
"Alright," he began, forcing a smile to his lips. "I think I heard her back this way though…" he trailed off, his face growing pale as the sound of a small dog's yapping sounded from a short distance away…opposite from where he'd been trying to make them go.
"That's her!" Olivia cried excitedly, starting off in the direction of the noise.
"Olivia…wait!" Jared called helplessly after her, but she paid no attention. Harry looked at him cautiously, wanting to follow his daughter…but wanting to see what Jared was going to do as well. Suddenly Jared set off at a dead run, and Harry immediately gave chase. The two boys tore recklessly across the grass, passing a beach filled with palm trees, and an elegantly decorated ballroom. They skimmed the edge of a desert at night and barely missed going down a city street lined with shops, as they caught the sound of Olivia's voice from just a bit ahead of them.
Finally Harry saw her again, they had bolted between a set of marble pillars that held up nothing, and everything changed. They were in a dungeon…straight out of a fairytale, complete with spiders, bats, fire, chains, candles…and an enormous green dragon. Harry inhaled sharply…feeling his heart skip a beat. Olivia was far too close to the towering creature, several stories below where he and Jared stood, kneeling down and looking through the crack under the room's only doorway. Harry assumed the puppy must have squeezed through there, as the small girl paid no attention to the enormous beast coming up behind her, swiping at the air furiously, as the sound of excited barking echoed through the room.
"You lose," Jared laughed then, seeming perfectly happy with the scene before them. "Welcome to the back of your daughter's mind, Harry Potter…in a few minutes, she's going to be here forever…and nothing you can do will ever set her free…she'll be under my complete control."
Harry clenched his hands into fists and forced his breathing to slow…he wasn't going to let this happen. Racing forward down the stairs to his right, Harry glanced at the dragon, wondering if it was something he could hurt without hurting his daughter…but he had to do something…it was nearly on top of her now, smoke flaring from its nose.
Looking quickly to Olivia, he saw she still seemed oblivious to this fact, as she finally pushed herself up from the floor and reached for the handle to the door. Good, Harry thought, at least if she can make it in there…the dragon couldn't follow…it would buy him time to figure this out.
As his eyes swept back towards the monster, however, the barking noise echoed through his head, and Harry suddenly realized something…and as he fixed his eyes on the large creature, watching it's almost playful movements, he became certain. In that moment, knew exactly what he had to do.
Grabbing hold of the wooden railing beside him, Harry hauled himself over the edge and leapt to the floor, still several feet below. The moment he touched the ground he set off at breakneck speed, straight for Olivia.
She was swinging the door open now…he had only seconds left, and felt a sudden rush of adrenaline as she began to move into the doorway she'd opened.
Harry didn't bother to slow as he grew closer, and with a loud crack, and a surprised shriek from Olivia, he slammed full-force into the heavy wooden door with his shoulder, but managed to block her path.
"Harry!" she cried, anxiously. "What-?"
"I'm sorry Olivia," he said breathlessly, ignoring the pain, straightening himself up. "But that room isn't safe…you have to stay out here."
She gave him a questioning look.
"What's not safe about it?"
"The door might lock," Harry replied, honestly. "Wouldn't want to get stuck in there, would you?" he grinned, and Olivia smiled then.
"No, that'd be bad," she replied, knowingly, glancing away from him as something caught her eye.
"Jared you found her!" she cried excitedly, and Harry spun to see the fuming boy holding a small white puppy with a green collar, and glaring at him. There was no dragon in sight.
"How did you know?" he hissed darkly at Harry.
"The dragon was waiting too long," Harry replied icily. "Olivia was here before we were…it had some time."
"And that was all you based it on?" Jared asked incredulously. "What if the dragon had been real? You'd both be dead…"
"You told me you couldn't harm her," Harry stated evenly. "You said you couldn't hurt her because otherwise you couldn't live here. You'd never let her near a real dragon. Oh…and it was barking."
"Clever," Jared said quietly.
"Isn't it?" Harry shot back. "You knew once she told me about the puppy I would want to find it…so you pretended to want to lead us away, when in actuality you wanted us to follow the trail…the sound of barking…that way Olivia would walk into your little cell, hearing her puppy, but not seeing her…you knew she'd search…"
"What are you talking about?" Olivia said, looking back and forth between the two boys, confused.
"You still lose, Potter," Jared stated sharply. "The dog is the key…the only way back to the center of this mind…"
"Puppy!" Olivia cried out then, obviously bored with the argument around her. "Here puppy!"
Jared's face grew pale as he struggled to keep his grasp with his small hands, but couldn't hold the tiny animal as it squirmed against his grip, not having expected the sudden struggle. Finally he let out a yelp, as the tiny dog closed its teeth over his thumb, dropping it instinctively. The dog scrambled to its feet and raced to where Olivia was crouched, arms outstretched. Harry couldn't help but grin as he saw the large smile spreading across his daughter's face, but as her hands touched the dog, the room went blindingly bright for a brief moment, before softly fading into quiet darkness.
As his eyes adjusted to the change, Harry blinked slowly, gazing at his new surroundings. He was in a light pink room, with a tiny white crib in the center of it.
He barely had time to register that he was now back to his regular age again, before his eyes settled on the floor, and the delicate baby resting peacefully at his feet.
Slowly, gently, Harry leant over, and lifted the tiny, fragile girl into his hands, feeling an overwhelming sense of pride and joy swelling in his chest…for a long moment, he simply held her in his arms…before placing her gently down into the crib, smiling to see her clutching tightly to a small, stuffed white dog.
He wanted to stay and sit with her…hold her for hours on end…but he knew he couldn't. There was too much to do, and there would be time enough for that later…
Reluctantly turning away from the little girl, Harry started away from the small crib, and towards two large double doors. He slipped silently through, shutting them gently behind him, and turned to see the older Jared standing just a few feet away, his black eyes flashing dangerously.
"I'm not leaving," he said vehemently before Harry could utter a word. Harry only smiled wanly at him for a moment, before speaking quietly.
"You are," he replied coolly, pausing briefly before going on. "The puppy was the key, that's what you said, right?"
Jared didn't reply, glaring in hatred.
"I'm just trying to understand," Harry went on, casually, allowing a small laugh to escape him. "I mean…do we all have a puppy in our minds somewhere? Is that how that works?"
"It's what I used to get her to leave the room," Jared said stiffly. "The stupid stuffed animal…she loved it…so I turned it into a real dog for her…and then I let it out. She left the room to go find it…so it became her key back."
"And that's why you kept distracting her," Harry stated knowingly. "You waited until the dog…the key…was where you wanted Olivia to be before letting her know where it was…" he trailed off, pausing a brief moment. "Why not just put the dog in that cell you wanted her to walk into? Why the whole dragon façade?"
Jared looked away, fuming, his eyes narrowed to dangerous slits.
"It was because of me, wasn't it?" Harry asked, suddenly realizing. "Something to keep me occupied while Olivia walked into your trap…you wanted me to fight it…two birds with one stone, right? My daughter would be trapped, and the key would be destroyed."
"It's still going to be destroyed," Jared hissed darkly, his black eyes finally shifting away from Harry's, to the double doors which led to the room. The latch clicked, and Harry heard the doors start to open, but with deadly resolve, he reached out, feeling the air around him, sensing Jared's power, and pushing it away. The doors swung shut slowly, and Jared's eyes narrowed dangerously.
"Time to go," Harry said icily, taking a step forward.
"No!" Jared shrieked, enraged. With a furious swipe of his hand, he formed a large ball of flames, and held it, threateningly. Harry froze.
"If I can't have this mind, I'm going to destroy it…" he spat, releasing the fire from his grasp, straight towards the baby's room. Harry lifted a hand, easily halting the progress of the flames, and extinguishing them in mid-air.
Jared seemed to be expecting this however, and had already formed another fire, tossing it towards the far corner of the room they were in right now. Harry reached out, barely halting its movement before it slammed into the wall, and quenched it. But Jared was prepared again…he was forming the balled infernos at an alarmingly fast rate now, and sending them out every which way…Harry felt his stomach twist…he couldn't catch them all, and he knew it, but he hadn't lost yet.
Shutting his eyes gently, Harry took a long deep breath, letting the air fill his lungs completely, tuning out everything around him, waiting…until there was only him, and utter silence, before slowly, purposely, releasing it, along with an icy chill that spread fiercely over the room. All of the flames were instantly choked out of existence and Jared let out an enraged scream.
"Quiet," Harry stated, his tone calm and deadly as he glared at the dark wizard. "You'll wake her."
Jared took a step back, his face contorted in a grimace of fury, but Harry could feel him suddenly drawing together an enormous amount of power. At first, he feared it was another attempt to harm the baby, but suddenly realized Jared was going to make a break for it…he was planning on leaving. Harry knew at once what he had to do. If Jared made it out, Tom Riddle was so close he could easily take him over once more…and should he decide not to use that body again…Hadley might be near enough as well…
Harry reached out, waiting patiently, masking all emotion on his face, as Jared continued to step further away, a sly grin slowly spreading across his lips…he believed he was going to get away with it.
With just seconds remaining, Harry raised his left hand slowly, and pushed out, watching as a thin, petite, seeming flimsy bubble formed in his palm, before raising his eyes again to Jared. In the same instant that the dark man tried to make the jump, to escape, Harry's right hand flung out, and he pulled…pulled with all of his strength, calling out with his mind and forcing Jared towards him.
The anger that spread across the older wizard's face was quickly overcome by fear as he realized he couldn't get away. He was trapped, struggling in an invisible hold. Screaming obscenities, Jared thrashed about wildly, madly, but it did no good, and as he finally neared Harry, he turned on him imploringly.
"Don't do this Harry, you can't…I know you won't…I'll die…"
"You tried to kill me," Harry stated calmly, evenly, and Jared shook his head.
"It wasn't personal…and look, you're alive, right?" he laughed nervously. "The cult knows everything…they aren't after you anymore…"
Harry laughed, emptily, his eyes cold as he held Jared's fearful gaze.
"So you think that makes everything alright?" he asked, stiffly, his words dripping with poison as he continued. "I don't care that you went after me…but I do care about my friends. One of them is dead," he stated, feeling a small shake in his voice, and forcing it back as he went on. "Another was tortured…horrifyingly tortured. You helped set up an innocent man for murder, you've killed innocent people, you planned to take vengeance on those you believe betrayed you, by means of a little girl who never did anything to you. And you kidnapped my fiancée…the woman I love…and threatened the life of my child. Maybe it's nothing personal to you, but to me it is. This ends now," he stated coldly.
"You…you can't…" Jared pleaded, his black eyes becoming hazel again as he gazed up at Harry. He started to become younger, taking on the form of a little boy once more. "It's not in you to kill someone…I know it…" he stated, his voice shaking.
"You think so?" Harry asked, his voice so quiet it was barely above a whisper, and Jared's eyes only widened.
"It would be murder…I'm defenseless…" he explained frantically.
"It would be," Harry agreed, nodding slowly, and a mixture of triumph and relief seemed to wash over Jared's face. "But," Harry continued then, and the boy visibly tensed in the invisible hold he was under. "You're already dead," Harry stated emotionlessly. "Albus Dumbledore killed you over fifty years ago. You don't have a body, or a soul, for that matter…you're a leech…a parasite…the only way you can survive is by living off of others…but that ends now."
"Wait…Harry…" Jared began, earnestly. Harry only glanced down at the tiny bubble in his left hand, watching as it took on a soft white glow.
"No!" Jared screamed finally, letting all of his rage fill him as he began to grow again, but it didn't matter…
The sound of air being sucked through a small opening filled the room, and Jared cried out in pain and rage. He lashed out at Harry trying to claw at him, hit him, kick him…he didn't want to go down alone…but he was powerless against the forces pulling against him. Harry held up the bubble higher then, and Jared began to crumble…literally. Pieces of his face, his arms, his chest…everything, began to flake away…and Harry could see straight through him in these places.
The wind became higher…almost deafeningly so, as Jared screamed, but his voice was drowned out, and soon his form simply gave out, scattering into a billion tiny particles of dust, that were immediately caught up in the pull, and drawn into the bubble that Harry held.
With a resonating pop, everything stopped. Harry looked emotionlessly at the bubble in his hand, its pristine white sheen gone now, having been replaced with a muddy brownish red one. He could feel Jared struggling, frantically, the dust within the small cell thrashing about, trying to force through, but it was no use.
Letting out a long shaky breath, Harry glanced quietly towards the double doors again, and the peaceful darkness in which his daughter's mind rested before pulling his gaze away. Closing his eyes, Harry relaxed at last, and let the flow of his body pull at him, drawing him back out…and into himself again.
Harry opened his eyes slowly, his vision a blur, and he could barely make out the shape of someone hovering over him.
"Harry!" Mel's anxious voice cried out as he blinked, forcing his eyes to focus. He realized he was on the floor…he must've fallen after he'd left his body. He could feel Mel's arms around him, cradling him…her body felt so tense against his as he gazed up into her eyes.
"Is the baby alright?" she asked at once, her deep blue eyes looking back at him, imploringly.
Harry smiled softly and gave a faint nod.
"She's fine," he whispered, raising his arm and taking one of Mel's hands in his. "She's safe now."
"She?" Mel repeated, a hopeful smile spreading over her face.
Harry nodded, and Mel let out a joyful laugh as happy tears scarcely streaked her face.
"A daughter," Mel said contentedly as Harry finally pushed himself up, turning so he was seated beside her on the stone floor. "Our daughter."
"And I have a hunch you already have a name in mind," Harry grinned, slipping one arm around her waist, his green eyes glinting happily as she looked up into them, and his smile widening as she blushed.
"Well…we can pick one together, of course," she began quickly.
"I don't know," Harry said softly. "I'm sort of fond of the name Olivia…"
A look of surprise crossed Mel's face, before she smiled, curiously.
"How did you know…?"
"I'll tell you later," Harry said gently. Mel started to nod, but stopped suddenly, the tense look returning to her eyes.
"What about Jared?" she asked stiffly, a hint of fear entering her voice. "What if he tries to get her again?"
"He won't," Harry replied gently, shaking his head. "He can't."
Mel looked at him, her eyes searching his for a long moment, in silence, and finally Harry continued on.
"I'll tell you everything," he began, seeing that she believed him, but wanted to know what had happened. "I swear I will. But first we have to…" he trailed off at the sound of voices in the hall outside the room and started to stand as the door was slammed open, but felt a wave of relief at seeing who'd entered.
Minerva and Snape strode in, wands ready, but lowered them quickly as they spotted Harry and Mel.
"Thank goodness you're both alright!" McGonagall exclaimed with relief as Harry finally got to his feet, helping Mel up as well, and turning to see the two professors.
"It's good to see both of you too," Harry smiled widely.
"What is he doing down here?" Snape spoke up then, and Harry followed his questioning gaze to the bed a short distance to his left.
"Oh my…Devon!" McGonagall exclaimed, worriedly as she started across to the small boy.
"No, Minerva," Harry said quietly. "That's not Devon…it's Tom Riddle."
For a brief moment, a dead silence settled over the room, and Harry could see the surprise and confusion on the faces around him, before Mel's shocked voice spoke up.
"Then…then he's…" she stammered, and Harry nodded gravely.
"Voldemort," he finished for her, quietly. "Or at least…he could be. Though when he wakes up…he won't even know what that name means yet."
"But how?" Snape asked sharply.
"Long story," Harry replied. "And before we get into that…I think we need to find the others…" he trailed off, thinking of Ron again…and his throat was suddenly so tight he couldn't speak. Mel noticed the change, and looked up at him, concernedly.
"Severus," Minerva spoke up then. "Please take … Tom, up to the hospital wing. We will have to speak to him when he awakens."
Nodding curtly, Snape crossed quickly to the bed, conjuring a stretcher and easily transferring the boy's limp form to it, before silently exiting the room.
"Harry what is it?" Mel finally asked, seeing the grief Harry was feeling clearly in his eyes, despite his attempts at masking it.
"Yes, is everything alright Mr. Potter?" Minerva asked, noticing as well.
"What about the others?" Harry asked suddenly, forcing his strained voice to remain steady…not prepared to go into that particular explanation yet. "Sirius, Albus…Marzia. Someone has to make sure they're alright…"
"I spoke to Troy not long ago," Minerva replied at once. "From what he told me it sounds like his talk with the cult went fairly well…and that you, yourself asked him if they would help. Several of them should be at the prison already."
Instinctively, not even realizing what he was doing at first, Harry suddenly reached out with his mind…he had to be sure…
In the space of mere seconds, Harry found his godfather, felt him, with Marzia at his side and Dumbledore there as well. The three of them were still at the prison…but Harry couldn't feel apprehension or worry on any of their minds…instead there was only calm relief and determination. If they had been in danger, it appeared that it was gone…and now he knew what he needed to…they were safe. Letting himself drift back into focus, Harry looked towards Minerva, and she looked back at him, curiously. Taking a long breath, he let it out shakily, before speaking again.
"Did Troy happen to…to mention anything else…?" he asked stiffly, feeling thick emotion rising once more in his throat, threatening to spill over…but he couldn't bring himself to say it…
"We didn't have much time," McGonagall stated quickly, her eyes searching his as she spoke. "Troy was helping Mr. Weasley to the hospital wing…I'm sure you can-"
"Wait…what?" Harry interrupted, confused and hopeful, as his eyes grew wide. "What do you mean?"
"Don't worry," Minerva replied with a grin, obviously assuming Harry's concern was over his friend needing to go to the hospital wing, having no idea that in actuality Harry had believed Ron dead. "Mr. Weasley has a nasty cut on his head, and he's a bit dizzy…but Poppy will take care of it right away."
"You mean…he's okay?" Harry asked, his heart leaping within his chest. "He's alright?"
"Mr. Potter I just told you-" Minerva began, impatiently, but she never got to finish, as Harry stepped forward, throwing his arms around her in a fierce hug. For a split second, McGonagall's eyes widened in complete and total surprise, before Harry released her.
"Will you be explaining this later too?" Mel asked in curious amusement as he turned to face her again. Harry simply beamed back at her, too happy at that moment to even think about forming words, let alone speaking, and quickly embraced her as well, lifting her easily off her feet and spinning around twice, before setting her gently on the floor again as she giggled.
"If you're quite ready…" McGonagall began seriously, but unable to completely hide the happiness in her tone. She obviously had no idea why Harry was suddenly behaving this way…but it was definitely contagious. "I think it would be best for both of you to visit Poppy as well."
"Yes, I'm sorry," Harry replied at once, followed by an uncontrollable short burst of laughter. Ron was alive! Somehow he'd survived, and Harry could hardly wait to see his friend…his best friend… Clearing his throat again, he tried to put on a straight face.
"Right then," he nodded, stifling a grin, never having felt more eager in his life about visiting the hospital wing. "Let's go."
As they moved quickly through the corridors, Harry noticed with relief, that the rest of the professors seemed to be combing the halls, searching for any remaining intruders. Adrik's body had been taken from the spot Harry left it, and he supposed Lilith and Oren had been rounded up as well. McGonagall explained, on the way, how she and the other professors had been quite surprised when Shadow Walkers released them from their cells. Their wands were returned to them, and the death eaters who had been guarding them were nowhere to be seen.
One of the shadows notified her of Troy's location, and after asking the rest of the instructors to do a thorough search of the castle, she and Snape had started downstairs. They'd met Troy and Ron about halfway there, however, and that was how they'd known where to find Harry and Mel.
"What about Draco?" Harry asked then, realizing Minerva had yet to mention his name. "Was he there as well?"
"No, I didn't see him," McGonagall replied quickly. "I didn't speak with Troy for very long though. He told me that the Shadow Walkers were on their way to help Albus…but when he told me where you had gone, I wanted to get downstairs straight away. Though it seems you didn't need much help…"
Harry was barely hearing her words anymore, however. Draco hadn't been with Troy and Ron…and Ron was alive… At first Harry had just assumed something had gone wrong with the barrier…allowing Ron to survive with just the injury Minerva had mentioned…as surely Draco never would have given up his life…sacrificed himself…would he?
Ignoring the questioning looks he was receiving from both sides, Harry quickened his pace. He had to find out what had really happened with the barrier…
The three reached the hospital wing only a short while later, and as Harry started to push open one of the large double doors he was forced to step back, when someone did the same from the opposite side.
"Troy!" Harry said quickly, seeing the redhead halt in mid step….
"You're alright," Troy observed with a smirk, looking mildly surprised at seeing Harry standing before him.
"What about Draco?" Harry asked hastily…needing to know. "Minerva said you brought Ron back here but…" he trailed off, seeing the transfiguration professor shake his head slowly. Harry felt his throat go dry…
"What happened to Draco?" McGonagall's voice spoke up then, as she narrowed her eyes apprehensively.
Harry tore his eyes away from Troy, turning quickly to the headmistress.
"He's dead," Harry spoke quietly, feeling a surprisingly strong wave of grief pass through him.
"How?" Mel whispered, her eyes going wide with shock and sadness, and Harry slipped a hand into hers, squeezing it gently.
"It'll be too confusing to explain right now," Harry said quietly, not entirely sure himself, exactly what had happened after he'd left the room with the Orb. "Is Ron alright?" he asked, glancing back at Troy.
"He seemed well enough, yes," the transfiguration professor nodded. "And he should be able to have visitors…but I can't stay, I have to report back to Castor…"
"Castor's here?" Harry asked, his eyes going wide. He didn't like the idea of him in the school…
"He was," Troy stated quickly. "I think he's at the prison helping the others now though…but they should be back soon enough…oh and both Ginny and Hadley have been brought in…and not a moment too soon either…"
"What do you mean?" Harry asked worriedly. "What happened?"
"Apparently someone decided to send the dementors after Hadley again…they were in your house, Harry…"
Harry felt his breath catch in his throat, and beside him, Mel tensed.
"They managed to hold the dementors off though," Troy continued, smirking slightly. "From what I was told, they knew how to cast a Patronus…a rough one…but solid enough to buy them some time. The shadows found them upstairs, in the furthest room, after they arrived and took care of the dementors…and Madam Pomfrey has already gotten both girls settled in now, I believe. All that's left is to finish up at Nabakza…Pollux said that would be as much as he would allow though…for anything else you're on your own…sorry."
"Tell him thank you," Harry said sincerely. "It might have turned out much worse if they hadn't helped…"
"Well consider it repaying a favor," Troy said quickly. "The Orb was returned to them…and after what you did, I'm sure Pollux will admit to having been wrong in suspecting you…even without finding the real Jared…they can't sense him in the school…or anywhere nearby…"
Harry immediately reached into his pocket, feeling for half a second, before closing his fingers around what he was looking for. Bringing up his hand, Harry extended it towards Troy, opening it to reveal a small delicate looking ball, filled with what appeared to be murky brownish red ooze…
"That's…um…foul looking…" Troy stated evenly, staring disgustedly at the object. "What is it?"
"Jared," Harry replied quietly. "Or what's left of him…"
For a brief moment, a shocked silence settled over the small group, but was ended abruptly as Troy let out a light laugh, smirking at Harry as he finally reached out to take the bubble.
"Nice work," he said sincerely, examining the small round object before sliding it gently into his pocket.
"Minerva!" an anxious voice called out then, causing the four of them to turn towards it. Harry saw Professor Flitwick moving as quickly as his short legs would carry him, towards the headmistress.
"What is it Filius?" she asked, not failing to hear the urgency in his voice.
"Someone's arrived at the school," he stated breathlessly as he reached her, "the floo in your office was just used…several of the instructors are already on their way to investigate…"
Reaching out, Harry traveled the halls in his mind, reaching the head office and feeling inside…
"It's Sirius," he said at once, snapping back into himself. "And Marzia…they're all coming…" he trailed off smiling; glad they were okay.
Minerva looked at him questioningly, but knew that asking him what he'd just done was only going to be answered with another promise of telling her later, so instead she shook the question from her mind for the time being.
"Whatever the case may be, I should get upstairs to make sure everything is alright…and it's time the both of you got rest," she added, staring pointedly at Harry and Mel.
"And I need to get back now," Troy spoke up. "If Sirius and the others are arriving then Castor will be waiting to see me."
He started down the hallway then, telling Minerva he promised to come see her after…while the headmistress then started off in the opposite direction, Flitwick rushing along beside her, heading towards her office.
Harry sighed inwardly…it had been such a long day…but strangely, he'd never felt more awake…or energetic…then he did at this moment. After all that had happened he knew he should be ready to fall flat on his face right now…but instead, he felt ready to run out and play a game or ten of Quidditch.
As he felt Mel slipping her arms around his middle though, his thoughts came back to the moment, and he hugged her back tightly.
"How did this happen?" she whispered. "We all could have died…one of us did…and I have no idea how or why…" she shuddered in his grasp, and Harry leant down, kissing the top of her forehead before resting his chin again her soft hair.
"I promise I'll tell you everything," he whispered back. "But Minerva's right…I think you should see Madam Pomfrey now…"
Perhaps because she was too weak to argue, Mel simply nodded against his chest, allowing him to lead her into the hospital wing. Poppy was on top of them the moment they'd entered, and after just a few moments, was busy ushering Mel away from Harry, towards a bed. She, of course, believed Harry needed to be checked as well, but he brushed her off, and after a minimal amount of nagging, finally managed to get her to tell him what room Ron was in…
Promising Mel he'd be back soon, Harry set off through the hospital wing…going up just one floor and down a short hall, before knocking lightly on the door he'd been looking for, and pushing it open.
"Harry," Ron smiled wanly, leaning back against several soft, fluffy pillows, a large bandage wrapped neatly around the right side of his head, but besides looking slightly pale, he seemed fine. "How's Mel?"
"Downstairs right now, being fussed over by Poppy, no doubt," Harry grinned in reply, inwardly overjoyed at seeing his friend looking so well. He came up beside the bed and lowered himself into a chair, before turning serious. "Are you alright?" he asked concernedly. Ron snickered emptily.
"I have no right to complain, really…I'm alive…" he said quietly.
"How did you get that?" Harry asked, his eyes flickering to the bandage before meeting Ron's gaze again.
"Draco," Ron replied quietly, shaking his head faintly, a look of mild disbelief on his face. "Can you understand that? Because I can't… Why? What would make him…make him…?"
"Take your place?" Harry finished, gently.
"He hates me," Ron said simply. "Or…well, he did…hate me…"
"He hated me too," Harry said quietly. "But Draco hasn't been the same since last year…and it wasn't an immediate change either. But it really started after his fight with his father…the day Lucius found out Draco was the defender…"
"But still," Ron began, "With all that's been happening over the past few months…Malfoy's done nothing except make it clear how much he didn't want to help us…" he trailed off, a mixture of confusion and guilt in his eyes, as a brief silence settled over the two friends.
"I don't know why he did it Ron," Harry said at last, seeing the questions eating away at the injured wizard "And I wish there'd been some way to make it so nobody had to die…"
"I do too," Ron whispered, his eyes dropping to gaze at the sheets.
"I…I think I might…" Harry began slowly. "I'll miss him," he finally stated, deciding there was no other way to say it. "I hated him for so long…but today I would have called him my friend."
Ron looked up at him for a long moment, his expression unreadable…before he finally nodded slowly.
"I would've too…" he trailed off, solemnly…but after a moment, he snickered, and Harry looked at him questioningly.
"Well," Ron began, a small grin on his face. "You know he had to enjoy one thing anyway…he did get to smash me in the head on his way out…stupid git…he used a fairly large stone too…it really hurt…"
"Oh shut up," Harry laughed, rolling his eyes. "That bump on your head is part of the reason you're alive…" he trailed off as the sound of the door opening caught his attention and both men looked towards the entrance…
"Dad," Ron smiled as Arthur Weasley stepped quietly into the room, gently shutting the door behind him.
"Minerva told me you'd be here," Arthur began, looking concernedly at his son as he came up to the bed. He glimpsed at Harry and nodded. "Hello Harry…you're doing well, I hope?"
"Yes, thank you," Harry replied politely, starting to stand from his chair. "I'll leave you two so you can talk…"
"I can't stay too long," Arthur said apologetically, looking down again at his son. "I need to get back to the ministry, Dumbledore's there already…"
"He is?" both Harry and Ron asked in unison.
"Well, his name was cleared when Thurston tried to accuse you," Arthur explained, glancing at Harry. "Once we made it out of the prison, Albus refused to go anywhere other than the ministry, after he knew Hogwarts was out of danger, that is. He's got a lot of work to do though…oh, and Harry…Sirius mentioned you had something that would help us…the vrid…"
"Oh…yes, of course," Harry nodded, fumbling around in his pockets for the tiny, thin item, nearly having forgotten he even had it. It felt like ages ago that he'd used it…but it'd been less than twelve hours… He handed it to Arthur, who immediately tucked it away in his pocket.
After saying his goodnight to Ron, and thanking Mr. Weasley for everything he'd done to help, Harry quietly exited the room, leaving father and son to talk. As he walked back through the hospital wing, Harry reached out through his mind…feeling Hadley and Ginny were nearby. He made his way to their room, only to find both girls sleeping soundly, the remains of a sleeping potion on the bedside table near each of them.
Smiling gently, he shut the door, and continued on his way, searching out Hermione next. She was asleep as well, but her breathing was a bit jagged and her brow was creased tensely as she whimpered in her slumber. Stepping fully into the comfortably dim room, Harry crossed to his friend, concerned. Her long brown hair was damp, and several strands were sticking to her face from sweat. The pillow beneath her head was balled up and wrinkled, and the covers were in a heap at the foot of the bed. One of her hands was hanging off the side, while the other was clutching at her stomach, visible under a bunched up night shirt, where a large gauze had been wrapped around her middle several times. Madam Pomfrey had done all she could to help, Harry could tell, and had tried to make Hermione as comfortable as possible…but whatever medicine was used would still take a while before she was fully healed…and he could see she was feeling some pain.
Reaching down gently, Harry wiped the few sweaty strands of hair back away from his friend's face, and smoothed out the pillow as best he could without disturbing her. Then, moving his hands towards the bandages, Harry felt his palms grow warm as he drew on the power within him, and softly rested his fingers against her stomach.
Hermione inhaled sharply in her sleep, but as she breathed out, it was suddenly smooth and even. The crease in her forehead slowly vanished and the tension in her body seemed to ease at once. As he pulled his hands away, Harry looked lovingly down upon his friend, relieved to see, even in the dim light, some of the color return to her face. Reaching down, he smoothed out the blankets near her feet, and drew them up over her, tucking her gently in. He leant down quickly, giving her a kiss on the forehead, hearing her sigh contentedly in her sleep, before finally stepping away from the bed, and quietly exiting the room.
As he reached the main floor of the hospital wing once again, he crossed to the bed that Poppy had brought Mel to earlier, and found she was sound asleep as well. Smiling softly, Harry settled into a chair beside his fiancé, and relaxed. He could sense everything around him…throughout the entire castle…and knew they were safe. The death eaters, the skeins…Oren, Lilith…even Wormtail…none of them were there any longer. He didn't know how many had been captured and how many had escaped…but at the moment his only concern was that the people he loved were safe, and they were.
The sound of light footsteps approaching caused Harry to glance up, and he grinned lightly as he saw his godfather coming towards him.
"How is she?" Sirius whispered, nodding faintly towards Mel as he neared the bed.
"She wasn't injured," Harry replied quietly, "though I'm sure she's confused…and scared…"
"I think we all are a bit," Sirius stated gently. "I can't tell you how much of a shock it was to have the cult show up…even more of one when we realized they were there to help us…"
"It worked out alright then?" Harry asked. "Is Marzia okay? And how was Albus when you got there?"
"Marzia is fine," Sirius nodded with a grin. "She's a fighter, my wife is," he chuckled, finally lowering himself into the seat beside Harry. "And thanks to Arthur, we were able to take the ministry entrance into the prison…though Albus had already been taken from his cell by the time we arrived. They'd brought him downstairs, and my guess is, they were waiting for orders from Thurston…or maybe Jared…but either way, Albus knew something was up. When we finally found him, it was easy enough to get past the guards and get in…but getting out was going to be a problem…there were too many guards…more than there should've been…but before they got to us, the Shadow Walkers showed up…and like I said, it was a bit more than just unexpected. But they didn't say anything…and it was because of them that we were able to get out of there…in one piece, anyway," he grinned, wryly.
"They really did come through for us," Harry mused quietly.
"They did," Sirius nodded, eyeing his godson curiously before continuing. "Any ideas on why that is? When I left for Nabakza the cult was still after Jared, and as far as we knew, still believed that was you…I come back to find out they're helping us and you're the one who asked them to."
"Well no, I asked Troy to ask them," Harry said quickly. "But the rest is a long story Sirius…and I'd really rather explain it all later…"
"Can I ask about Jared, at least?" Sirius spoke quietly. "Minerva also mentioned a tiny bubble, with what you apparently said was what was left of him…"
"I can tell you he's gone…for good, this time," Harry said evenly.
Sirius was silent for a moment, simply staring at his godson, as if trying to read him…but finally looked away, and Harry heard him sigh quietly as his gaze fell to the floor.
"Harry," Sirius spoke quietly, sounding a bit nervous, "about before…when we…" he trailed off, looking back up at his godson, apologetically, "when we locked you in the school…"
"Sirius, forget it," Harry said gently…honestly not angry any more over it. Too much had happened since then.
"I'm sorry," Sirius went on anyway, his gaze locked with Harry's. "It was wrong of me to do that to you…because you were right…if it had been Marzia, and I couldn't get to her…" he trailed off, shaking his head, seeming ashamed.
"You thought you were doing the right thing," Harry said quietly. "And maybe you were," he added quickly. "But either way, it's passed now…and I'm not mad at you for it…"
Sirius looked hesitant to believe this at first, but after a moment, he nodded, letting a small smile touch his lips.
"I'll leave you alone with her then," he said after another moment, glancing towards Mel's peacefully sleeping form. "Make sure you get some rest as well…" he added, pointedly.
"I will," Harry laughed quietly, and saying goodnight to his godfather, before the older wizard made his way silently back across the hospital wing.
Glancing away, Harry brought his gaze back to Mel, before looking around for a window. He wasn't surprised to see the sun was starting to rise now…and surprisingly, that was what it took for him to feel the tiredness set in. Pushing himself out of the comfortable seat, Harry crossed to the nearest bed just a few feet away, before climbing upon it slowly, feeling his eyes begin to droop as he rested against the soft pillow. Better to rest while everyone else is…because there was more than likely going to be a busy few weeks...months…ahead of him, and he was going to do everything in his power to make sure everything turned out alright…no matter what.
Time can pass quickly when there's much to be done.
"Mel, come on, we have to go!" Harry called out for the fourteenth time…he was counting.
"I'm coming!" came her rushed reply, also, for the fourteenth time. Harry shook his head in good-natured exasperation…Mel was never on time. Sitting back down on the soft couch in their apartment and looking down to his left, Harry smiled widely as his beautiful one-month-old daughter goggled up at him with her large green eyes from where she was laying in a bouncy chair.
"Never take after your mother Olivia, please," he said quietly, leaning over as he reached out towards her tiny hands. She squealed happily, she loved the sound of his voice…before going back to making the tiniest little gurgling noises, as she gripped tightly to one of his enormous fingers. "I don't know if I could take having to always wait for the both of you…"
"This apartment isn't that big you know," Mel's voice floated out from the bedroom. I can hear you…"
"Well he's going to give up waiting if we don't get going soon," Harry called back, teasingly.
"Alright, just five more minutes, I promise," Mel called back, and Harry caught a blur of movement as she emerged from the bedroom, and made directly for the bathroom.
"Five more minutes…hopefully we're out of here in half an hour," Harry said to himself, looking back down as he felt something wet and gooey on his finger, and finding his daughter had decided to taste it…or rather, was trying to drink it…as she sucked determinedly on it…
"Sorry baby girl," Harry cooed, "Nothing in there for you," he continued, reaching down with one of his free fingers and tickling just under her chubby chin. She immediately ducked her head to block him, gurgling up spit all over her light violet jumper, and letting go of his finger as a large smile spread across her face…and Harry's heart swelled. He beamed down at her…loving her so fiercely and wonderfully…he wanted to give her everything…and felt nothing but grateful every day of his life, that she was here with him now…and that he was alive to see her…
After the battle with Jared so many months back, and a lot of explaining all around to make sure everyone knew what exactly had happened on that night, there had been several months of clean-up.
The vrid had been more than enough to use against Thurston, and he had been arrested immediately. Being a man who could not brag about his bravery or courage, it was easy enough to make him give the names of those who had been working with him…and they were arrested as well.
Azkaban was filling quickly, as death eaters were tracked down by Aurors and the disloyal ministry members were sought out…and Dumbledore would no longer stand for the dementors as the guards of anything. They were banished from all populated areas of the wizarding world…leaving them forests and mountains to live in. If they should come back at any point, they would be executed.
Sirius and Marzia, along with several other ministers, had helped with hiring and training new guards for the prisons over the course of the summer. By the time the fall came around again, both Azkaban and Nabakza were considered quite secure.
Oren and Lilith were handled quite differently from the other prisoners, however, and were locked under the tightest security available, until their fates could be decided…though it seemed a long way off… Oren barely spoke…if he did, it had to be forced out of him…and Lilith, it seemed, had forgotten how. She would babble, incoherently, every so often…but normal speech seemed beyond her reach at this point, and Harry knew exactly why.
Another low point came when it was time for Draco's funeral. Harry and his friends all attended, of course…but besides a few ministers, that was all. Even his mother, Narcissa, was nowhere to be found, and Harry began to understand a bit more about what reason Draco had had, for doing what he did…and felt horribly for him…
The only thing that remained
unresolved, was Wormtail…again, it appeared, he had gotten away…but
this time, there was no one who he could turn to. Jared was gone,
Adrik was gone, every convicted death eater was in prison…and
Dumbledore had taken Tom Riddle…to live with him. He refused to make the same mistake, of letting the young boy grow up in an orphanage, and wanted to watch over him personally…there was a chance for him this time…a fresh start…
Tom, for his part, seemed a bit confused…but put up no argument about living with the head minister…his memory reached up until he had received a letter of acceptance to Hogwarts…and simply assumed this was part of that… Harry didn't see him much yet though…not caring to spend much time around the boy…though he realized that soon, he would see him everyday…
Halfway through the summer, Harry had decided to stay on at Hogwarts. He wanted to play Quidditch…quite badly, in fact…but this seemed more important to him, now. Hadley's parents were appalled over what had happened, but after a long talk with Dumbledore and Minerva, a talk which neither of them would speak about with Harry…or anyone else…they had agreed not to pull Hadley out of the school…and Harry wanted to be there for her. He wanted to help her learn more about her power…and to keep a close eye on both her and Tom…
In August, Harry and Mel had finally decided to get an apartment…it was nearing the time that the baby would be born, and they wanted a place of their own before that happened, so when Ron and Hermione told them of an apartment for rent in their neighborhood, the young couple jumped at the chance. Harry had spoken with Minerva as well on the matter…professors were supposed to remain at the school during the school year, but due to the fact that he had a newborn on the way, and since Hogsmeade was so close to Hogwarts, Minerva happily allowed Harry to live at home while school was in session.
The summer ended, and classes began again, but Harry wasn't so nervous this time around, and felt much more comfortable in front of his students. He and Snape got on no better than they had before…and that was about the only constant. Snape never mentioned the talk he and Harry had had regarding the crystals again…and Harry never brought it up. It was a silent agreement on both parts, never to be spoken of again. Troy had left, but not to return to the cult, he simply didn't feel he could work at the school any longer, though he was replaced by a young woman by the name of Dominique Wayland…and Harry got along with her from the start…
By this time, both Mel's and Marzia's stomachs had reached a point that Harry felt had to be as big as they were going to get…though he knew he was going to miss this later on… He loved to rest his head every so slightly against Mel's stomach…and would feel shivers up his spine whenever the baby would kick…
Olivia Gail Potter was born on October 2nd…just three days before Marzia gave birth…to a gorgeous baby boy, with red hair and blue eyes. Remus James Black. Harry had never enjoyed his time spent in a hospital so much…but it was after they brought the baby home, that Harry finally got out the ring Sirius had give him…his mother's ring. He had wanted to take her out…maybe dinner, a walk in the park…but somehow, as they stood, in nightclothes, for a few precious moments while their beautiful baby girl slept soundly in her crib, Harry decided that was the time to do it.
He sat on the couch beside Mel, pulling her close to him as she smiled tiredly into his eyes, and silently slipped it on her finger. As she saw the gorgeous stone, catching sparkling glints of light in its cut…she looked back up, and he leant forward, kissing her deeply, and passionately. Neither one had spoken a word…
Now it was November, the wedding was still a few months away…they'd decided on having it in March…for the beginning of Spring…but before that would happen, there was something that needed to be done…
"Over here," Harry said quickly, taking one of Mel's hands in his while the other held tightly to the baby seat in which Olivia sat. She was sucking away on one of the ears of her favorite stuffed animal…a small white puppy with a green collar, as her parents made their way down a small path in a scarcely wooded area…coming to a stop when they reached the end. It was very quiet…they were standing in a picnic area, a short distance away from a playground, but nobody else was around from what Harry could see…
"Shouldn't he be here by now?" Mel asked anxiously, as she and Harry took a seat at the nearest table, setting Olivia's chair on the surface gently, before Harry easily unbuckled the straps, and lifted her out. "Are you sure this is the right place?" she continued.
"This is where he said to meet….and hey, if you hadn't made us late…" Harry stated, teasingly, cradling the tiny figure in his arms, as she dribbled all down her shirt. Mel immediately grabbed for one of the bibs to wipe it, when her eyes went wide. Harry glanced around over his shoulder, to see the person they'd been waiting for.
"Jack!" Mel cried happily, practically leaping up from her seat and crossing the distance to where her brother stood. As she reached him, she flung her arms happily around his neck and he hugged her back, tightly.
"You…you look great…" Mel said, with tears in her eyes, smiling up at her older brother.
"And you were late again, I see," Jack laughed, light shadows swirling around him as he spoke. Harry had been able to contact Jack through Troy…who wasn't exactly eager to help, but agreed for just this once.
Even with everything working out as it had, Harry knew Mel still missed her brother terribly…but also knew they would never be welcomed guests in the shadow world. So the only way to do it, was to have Jack come to them, and he had gladly agreed…telling them to meet in this particular park…that was rarely used any more…
"Hello Harry," Jack grinned as he and his sister reached the table where he sat.
"Good to see you again, Jack," Harry grinned, dimly remembering that Jack couldn't say the same thing…the Shadow Walkers went by scent…not sight… The only thing Jack could see right now, was their shadows.
Nevertheless, Harry wanted this visit to go well…he wanted Mel to spend time with her brother…and he wanted Jack to meet his niece…though he seemed almost saddened by Olivia…and gave her back to Harry rather quickly.
As it was somewhat chilly out, Harry and Mel couldn't stay long…not wanting Olivia to catch a cold, so Harry waited at the table with his daughter, cooing and playing with her...making her smile...he loved to make her smile. Sometimes all it took was his voice, and she just lit up…something Mel was a bit jealous of, though he would never point that out to her…
Jack and Mel took a walk…having more to talk about then could ever be taken care of in such a short time…and Mel looked as if she'd been crying by the time they returned.
"Everything alright?" Harry whispered concernedly when Mel took her seat beside him, and held her arms out for the baby.
"Fine," she replied a little too quickly. "We should go…it's too cold out here for her…
Harry glanced over his shoulder to see Jack waiting…probably hearing their conversation, but staying back as they spoke.
"Just give me a few minutes, alright?" Harry asked, quickly, standing from his chair as Mel nodded and heading towards Jack…
"Can we walk?" he asked quietly, starting forward as Jack nodded.
"She's mad at me," Jack said after a moment, when they were away from the bench. "I guess this wasn't such a good idea…"
"No, she needed to see you," Harry said quickly. "It would be nice if she could more often…"
"I can't," Jack shrugged quietly, almost helplessly. "They don't like us to come up here often…"
"I know," Harry nodded.
For a moment, the two remained silent, making their way slowly around the path which would eventually lead back to the tables…
"You're stronger now, aren't you?" Jack asked suddenly.
"What do you mean?" Harry asked.
"Well…I can feel it…even though I didn't have the powers I have now the last time we spoke…I can feel a change…" he paused, before rushing on quickly. "Are you still a werewolf?"
Sighing quietly, Harry nodded glumly.
It had been the only thing he couldn't do, it seemed…for some reason, with all of his newly acquired power, he couldn't find a way to get rid of this curse…and had spent three nights of every month alone… However, this past month had been the hardest he couldn't stand not being able to listen for his daughter to go to her if she cried.
"Will you let me help you?" Jack asked quietly.
Harry hesitated, looking at him questioningly.
Jared simply held out his left hand, and after a moment Harry took it… Suddenly a fierce pull seemed to tug at his insides, and Harry clenched his teeth, having to use all of his strength just to keep the stones from reacting for him…
Jared let go abruptly then…and Harry staggered back a step…
"What…what did you do?" Harry asked, almost breathlessly…
"What you couldn't," Troy replied, grinning through the shadows, and Harry stared up at him in disbelief…
"Remember when Castor changed you back, Harry? The night of the full moon…?"
Harry nodded slowly.
"I did the same thing he did…but this time it's permanent…you're cured…"
Harry was silent for a long moment, before finding finally finding his voice again…
"Jack…I don't know what to say…" he began, then quickly rushed on. "Thank you…I…I mean…" he trailed off, almost dizzy with the feeling. He'd immediately reached into himself with his mind…and couldn't' sense it anymore…the werewolf curse was gone…as if it had been erased…
"Just take care of my sister, alright?" Jack said, smirking, a look of sadness coming into his eyes. "And my niece…" he trailed off, taking a step back.
"Wait!" Harry said at once, glancing up the trail, seeing Mel looking for him. "Do you want to see your Olivia? I mean see her…with your own eyes?"
"You know I can't," Jack replied quietly. "Not while I'm a Shadow Walker…and if I turn back…"
"You said you wouldn't accept help that you didn't feel you deserved right?" Harry asked. "You wouldn't accept help from a wizard because you could never repay the debt…"
"Well I couldn't have," Jack shrugged. "What could I offer to someone who can do anything with a wave of their wand?"
"Look what you just did for me," Harry pointed out.
"That's different," Jack began, "I did that for my sister…"
Harry looked at him for a moment, before doing the exact same thing Jack had done only moments ago, and extended his left hand.
"That's who I'd be doing it for as well," Harry stated evenly.
Jack looked at him hesitantly, skeptically…
"I would still be a Shadow Walker if you took it away you know…the cancer…"
"I'm not saying you have to leave them," Harry said quietly. "But at least this way…if you ever wanted to…you would have the option…"
It seemed like ages passed in the few minutes that actually ticked by…but finally, Jack extended his hand…
"All set?" Mel asked with a small smile as Harry returned to the table. "Where's Jack?" she asked quickly, glancing over Harry's shoulder.
"He had to leave," Harry said gently, easily lifting Olivia from her arms and placing her back into the seat. Mel nodded faintly, looking almost sad…and in that moment, Harry was tempted to tell her what had just happened…but Jack has made him promise not to tell…he would do that, when he was ready…
They made their way slowly back up the path…and Harry slipped his arm around Mel's waist. Things were so different now…he wasn't running from someone…he didn't need to hide away…and he lived with a family who he loved and cherished. It wasn't just a new start…it was a new life…without fear or pain…or death… For the first time in a long time, he could look forward to tomorrow and not worry about what it would bring…
A/N – Thanx to anyone who's read all of these and to everyone who left a review, no matter if you loved it or hated it. I know the ending of this particular story was rushed, and I apologize for that, at the time I was writing it I really had too much going on to give it a proper ending, but I'm leaving it as is. Hope you enjoyed the stories and thank you all again!