Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by J.K. Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to, Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoat Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
The Dungeon Books
Chapter Fifteen: The Sea Witch
These were my companions, going forth by night...
It is only fitting, thought Diane Jones, that the end of a trail so twisted upon itself should be its very beginning. Even more appropriate, given the presumptuousness of their enemies: the serpent that swallows its own tail.
The dignified woman, warrior till the end, stood poised before her sitting room window, muscles taut with readiness, binoculars in one hand, the other shading her eyes: her glittering orbs were lost in contemplation of the sunset. The sky bled profusely as if from a mortal wound; the shroud of incoming twilight stifling the last bravely pulsing shards of the day star. Now her senses pricked, the wisps of magic in her core, love-gift from her adopted son, stirred from the nearness of greater power. Diane needed no gift of Seeing, to know the time had come. The wildest of her latent wishes was about to be granted. Her lips curved, slightly parted; there was a suppressed panting as her tongue licked her upper lip briefly, then retreated, leaving only the glint of her canines, so very like those of a she-wolf with the moonlight upon them.
Battle was at hand.
"The Lame One and his jackals... Here they come."
Irwin Jones stood up from beside the small cache of weapons cleaned, loaded, and sorted in the appropriate order according to their battle plans. The modern firearms would come first, before the enemy's magic disabled them entirely. Then, out of earlier times, the ballista, modestly sized—a backyard was no great battlefield—yet perfectly calibrated. Finally, the age-old implements of the ancestral hunt: arrow and crossbow bolt, mace and finely tempered blade.
Irwin too licked his lips as he fingered the throwing knives belted across his chest; his smile grim and feral as he adjusted the quiver at his back, excitement stretching taut his every nerve and sinew as he ran a loving hand across the curvature of his bow. Privet Drive was empty but for them: despite the containment efforts of the Ministry of Magic, the neighbors had begun selling after the attack on Number Four—no one wished to stay in a place so mysteriously become of interest to terrorists. Overconfident in their eldritch power, the enemy would not be expecting such foresight from lowly Muggles: that something of the Wild which humans would never lose. Self-preservation instinct.
The better for all involved.
For me, look you, for me...
Not a further breath did the mighty reptile waste on the piteous spectacle of her wayward human hatchling. Twenty feet of coiled muscle slithered away from the Hogwarts Head Office with awesome speed belying their ponderousness. The trail was familiar for Tomoe, whose guardianship of Slytherin House remained uncontested since she claimed it. Now she angled, a supreme marksman's arrow, toward the Forbidden Lake.
Murkus of the Mer-folk awaited the rock python at the farthest shore of the lake. The Mer-chieftainess had absented herself from the war council; she had no need of the gifts of the hoofed stargazers to ascertain the gathering's degeneration into meaningless squabble. Tomoe of the Serpents would report to the water-folk should items of importance be addressed. Here came the legless one now, her whole carriage an advertisement of the futility of the proceedings Murkus had disdained.
A nod from Tomoe confirmed the mer-queen's assessment. Into the depths Murkus dove with the grace and purpose of her kind. Python in tow, the mermaid rode the subterranean waterways toward her ancestral realm—the ocean, cradle of all life, vastest unchallenged domain of the Wild Kindreds. The water-folk too, had a stake in the conflict against Tom Riddle. No wielder of that unnatural bane of all living beings—labeled Dark Arts by the biped apes, to whom absence of light symbolized death—could be permitted to ascend to power.
Two decades prior, the Hidden Clans of Ocean had discovered a foul place in their domains near British shores, a poisoned abode ever vomiting pollution upon the surrounding waters. Thither rested an army of Inferi—dead humans, reanimated against the Law by the wizard Riddle, the Abomination. After the failed attack on the Potter humans, when the stargazers foretold the Abomination's second rise, the water-folk took immediate measures.
Another lay imprisoned within the Inferi lair, a concealed sentinel against the heinous threat: a daughter of the Hidden Clans, exiled to this alien northern shore from her far southeastern haunts, in penalty for her vicious attacks on humans helpless against the tempestuous fury of the sea. It was a golden chance at redemption—an Unbreakable Vow bound her to protect those she had so harrowed before: to undo the deeds which had damned her in the first place. Now that Voldemort had loosed his Inferi, the menace stealthily creeping across the land toward the Forbidden Forest and Hogwarts, the time had come to fulfill the Deep Ones' end of that old deal.
Murkus and Tomoe entered the forsaken cavern unchallenged. The Inferi's absence was palpable, their putrid influence waning. The mermaid queen's torso rose above the silent waters; throwing back her head, she screeched a ritual call unto the air.
The rock wall directly facing them shuddered, groaned, yawned open explosively like the strike of a great beast's maw. Noise ebbed and dust settled, and a body crept forth from the stony wound. At first glance it seemed another Inferius, a straggler from Voldemort's horde: an emaciated humanoid shape, every bone protruding from its fungous sheath of wasted flesh. The visage, a sallow mask of devastation, retained a vague hint of femininity. A few thin strings of mouldered gray still hung from the battered skull. Yet it drew breath, unlike a true Inferius: an awesome testimony to the creature's power, for magic alone had sustained its life for long years.
The ghastly apparition crawled, slowly but resolutely, toward the lake. Mid-plunge its shape began to alter: limbs shortened; flippers replaced hands and feet; spine lengthened; an insulating layer of fat wove itself around the cylindrical body; the skull elongated, forming a pointed snout crowned with whiskers and seeded with a carnivore's signature dentition. Silvery gloss enveloped the creature, obliterating sickly pallor, and twin rubies glittered with intelligence and defiance from within large orbs. Elated at her freedom, the sea lioness frolicked heedlessly, until another screech from Murkus rent the air. The curse froze the sea witch mid-jump, and hurled her, human once more, into the rubble of her former prison.
"It is most discourteous, mermaid," spat the former specter, "to spite one you have need of, however despicable you may find her."
A charmed bubble shimmered into existence around Murkus, rendering her speech intelligible to the witch.
"I remember well the day we brought you here, Kalea daughter of Rahab. Arrogant to the last, foul curses foaming from your rabid maw. It is satisfying to see that madness vanquished."
The sea witch glowered.
"Yet you've finally raised me. Whither roams my quarry? I wish to be done with that hunting."
"You shall not." An arm halted the witch's protest. "That fate belongs to the Hunt-Master."
"Yes," nodded Murkus. "One of human blood, yet raised under the Law. He was brought before the Hidden Ones, and learned at the feet of the Great Elders. He even attracted the attentions of a Serpent Slayer, who chose him for a life-mate. He remains young, however, and has tangled his trail most foolishly. You shall be his guide, and his protector."
Kalea barked a laugh in cynical disbelief.
"I am to aid a Hunt-Master?"
"Sa. Lost in the tangle the twain shall be." sneered the hitherto silent Tomoe.
The sea witch whirled toward the python, crimson eyes blazing.
"Mock me not, Land-Serpent! I am no hatchling!"
Tomoe reeled, astonished at the sound of Parseltongue. The sea witch chortled.
"Surprised, serpent? Twas your sea-brethren that taught me the Speech—that and much more does the Scourge of Bass Strait know."
"Enough!" cut Murkus imperiously.
The mermaid instructed the sea witch. "Your chance of redemption has come at last, Kalea daughter of Rahab. Here's an end of every trail..."
"And here my hosts are fed." finished quoting Kalea, shaking her head wearily. "That is, if the Eaters of Carrion will deign to answer my call, after so many years."
"O, they will!" exulted Murkus. "Well you fed them, and they never forget a gorged gullet. Let us be on our way."
Murkus dispersed her bubble with another sharp gesture, while yet another allowed Kalea to morph back into a sea lioness. Tomoe gathered a great breath. The three dove into the ocean, and followed the currents back toward the Forbidden Lake, and Voldemort's threat.
Now come I to whistle them the ending of the fight...
"You have fought bravely: Lord Voldemort honors bravery. Yield; surrender Harry Potter unto me, and your lives shall be spared. It is I, Lord Voldemort, who speaks."
Irwin Jones could not help a snicker, swiftly smothered against a sleeve. The crazy chap is impressed, as well he should be. Two of his henchmen lay in broken heaps, blood pooling round them upon the ground, brothers by their looks: one with more holes than a colander, the other harpooned off his broom and dashed to the ground like offal. The others all sported nasty cuts and bruises under tattered cloaks and cracked masks. These had retreated prudently, leaving their "lord" alone to clean up the mess.
It was quite good hunting.
That thought made Irwin glance sideways at his wife. His beloved Diane, fearsome in her battle fury, adrenalin masking the strain and weariness in her frame. How many years had they been together? It seemed like centuries, more so after the advent of their extraordinary son.
I have reason to be maudlin, thought Irwin grimly. He had no illusions: the disfigured megalomaniac would slaughter them. Moreover, the Joneses could not take Riddle with them; not without ruining every scrap of strategy Harry and his allies had come up with. Irwin closed his eyes, deepened his breaths, summoned his fondest memories.
Irwin had always known he would be a soldier, and a trainer of soldiers. If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs... He would forge his mind into a finely tempered blade; mold and sculpt his flesh to reach the highest limits imposed by nature. If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone... He would likewise discipline his emotions, be neither stone nor quicksand. If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch... Above all, however, he would live truly, joyously, fully. If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds' worth of distance run...
Irwin smiled inwardly: both he and his wife shared the same source of inspiration. No wonder Diane had chosen him for a mate—much like young Octavia had chosen Harry. Both elder Joneses had stirred to their marrow with déjà vu at the sight of the young witch, pursuing the reticent Harry with such single-minded tenacity that Harry hadn't known what hit him, until his heart thrashed like a hooked fish at the thought of bidding Octavia farewell, likely forever, when duty called the Joneses back to Britain.
Indeed, it has been bloody brilliant, quoth my dearest son. But now... to shift hunting grounds, quoth my redoubtable, deeply beloved Diane-my very own Diana the Huntress, who must yet live, for our son's sake.
Irwin slung his quiver off silently. Equally quietly he unstrapped his knife belts and other weapon sheaths: they would only hinder him in his final strike. The ruckus when he bowled Voldemort over would buy his wife time enough to escape.
Diane, however, was having none of that.
"And it is I, Diane, who answers! Harry is mine, Riddle, mine to me! Get back to the hole you crawled from under, you miserable spoor of a jackal—or I shall do my son's work for him. I'll tear off your wretched hide, drape it over an ottoman, and rest my feet upon it!"
Irwin had to grant it to his formidable wife: she had balls. But... taunting a psychopath who could snuff her life with two words—which the bastard was beginning to utter just now? Time to act. One, two, three steps, each one of increasing speed, each adding power to the next. A high forward leap, tucking his limbs close in, head aligned with his target, just like a bucking buffalo, like a stampeding rhino, like a cannonball, all its fury and force directed toward the threat, the enemy, the Abomination.
Diane saw Voldemort's wand slash the air, heard his thin cold drawl utter the Killing Curse. She felt the lethal green jet scorch the air as it hurtled toward her, but did not deign to flinch. Death, the lot of all living beings, was not something Diane Jones feared nor retreated from. She would welcome it triumphantly.
Tonight she did not have to.
In the millisecond between Avada and kedavra, another life sprang forth, sacrificing itself to lengthen hers. Deep earthy eyes locked with beloved lighter ones as they sped by. Diane saw the spark leave them, as her warrior husband's last declaration of love thundered in her ears, borne on his last breath. Irwin's body slammed into Tom Riddle's with the force of a battering ram, and the Dark Lord Voldemort relived the humiliating irony of being thwarted by a supposedly helpless victim. Riddle's wand flew in a soaring arc as he crashed backwards, feet flying, thin neck snapping, grotesque head meeting the ground with a wet crack; and not stopping there, as the momentum behind Irwin's dead weight drove him several meters further into a tree trunk, scouring a telltale furrow in the unyielding, summer-baked soil.
It was all she had time to utter, before her body seized with pain, pain, pain. Bellatrix Lestrange's insane cackle was completely unnecessary. Diane knew very well that she had cast the Unforgivable Cruciatus Curse, seeking revenge for the deaths of her kinsmen Rodolphus and Rabastan.
Just as abruptly the torture paused. Booted feet arranged themselves in a circle around Diane. Wands were being drawn. The Death Eaters were about to toy with their prey; try to break her before the end. Bellatrix cackled once more.
"Miserable Muggle filth! We'll teach you to defy our lord!"
Diane's battle rage inflamed her anew. She struggled to her feet.
"Oh?" she drawled nastily. "And how do you propose to do that? I mean, seeing as the murdering freak is eating dirt over there, trampled like a cheap Halloween decoration?"
Bellatrix howled, incapable of stringing word or thought together in any semblance of an effective curse. Diane's lightning-quick reflexes sparked into action: like a whirlwind she spun, a volley of throwing knives radiating outwards. Grunts and gasps indicated her success. So sweet it was, though regrettably short-lived.
"Together, you fools!"
Antonin Dolohov rallied the battered and bewildered Death Eaters. The ordeal of Diane Jones began in earnest.
Diane found herself undergoing the curious phenomena of dissociation. Above the foul spectacle of her gruesome torment she hovered, witnessing the snapping of her bones, the tearing of her flesh, the collapse of her internal organs, the searing of her blood. Automatically, impassively, she cataloged the growing list of grievous injuries. Many times, during her years as a combat nurse, she had heard accounts of such experiences. She could not suppress an otherworldly chuckle, a reaction denied her cruelly seizing body, but weirdly available to her disembodied consciousness. Next came outright laughter, born of fierce pride in her physical self, for it would not give her enemies the satisfaction of reading defeat in its stony expression, or hearing it from her ravaged throat. No, her flesh and blood, heart and nerve and sinew served her turn long after they'd gone, just like her beloved Irwin's, in his charge against Tom Riddle.
Speaking of Riddle, there he was, finally digging himself from under Irwin's carcass, taking advantage of the diverted interest of his henchmen to fetch his wand and smooth himself over before joining them. How predictable this coward, this Shere Khan of her adopted son's tale; and how she rejoiced, knowing his end would be precisely as predictable, and that it hurtled toward him even now. Harry would be merciless in his vengeance.
Reinforcements arrived. Diane recognized the Wizarding law enforcers. Some of them, she had the pleasure of meeting personally; others, Harry had merely pointed out. Kingsley Shacklebolt, stately as a lion. Alastor Moody, savage as a Kodiak grizzly. Nymphadora Tonks, steel wrapped in satin—a young antelope, not expected to know how to wield hoof and horn and blinding speed. Gawain Robards, grim as a bloodhound. Dawlish, often mocked for his less than stellar investigative skills, but good enough a file soldier under an able commander.
"Why don't you pick on someone your own size, you bloody sniveling bastards?"
The unmistakable, jaunty drawl of Sirius Black, whom Harry had once named Baloo. Absent was the playfulness he embraced life with, or the solemnity he affected when imparting wisdom he did not always remember to apply in his own life. His eyes blazed, promising death, and Diane was touched that he should be so vehemently incensed on her behalf—she who had once utterly despised him.
Diane's bodiless reverie ended in welcome surcease. Sirius rushed to her side and grasped her hands in his. Diane saw Black's lips move, his frame become taut with effort: he was taking her pain unto himself, stabilizing her waste of a carcass until it was safe to move it. The Death Eaters and their Dark Lord had fled. Sirius's strong arms lifted Diane impossibly gently; held her close in preamble to that magical mode of transport that always disoriented her, as jet lag never did.
"Hold on!" prayed Sirius, face awash with tears, teeth gritted against the pain he was enduring for her sake. "Don't you dare let go. You hear me, you pig-headed, adder-tongued, Slytherin-loving, dearest old bat? Don't you dare!"
Diane twitched her shredded lips in a parody of a grin, before succumbing to unconsciousness.
Mine! Vanguards of mine!
Healer Poppy Pomfrey swore quite expansively as the peace and quiet of her domain were abolished by yet another emergency. Her oaths ended when she beheld the roster of casualties, and learned their provenance battle. Ghostly avian shapes shot from her wand, winging madly toward the Hogwarts Head Office.
Lamentably little had changed within the highest turret of Hogwarts Castle. Around the conference table, Bane of the Centaurs still looked to the firmament for answers. Griphook of the Goblin Nation radiated silent smugness. Minerva McGonagall, Rufus Scrimgeour and Amelia Bones were locked in ruthless struggle of Legilimantic glares. Only Remus Lupin and Severus Snape had abandoned their stations to surround the anguished Harry Jones and Octavia Ríos—the Gryffindor to soothe; the Slytherin to chastise. Frustrated with the impasse, Fawkes the phoenix had made a show of returning to his perch, and tucking head under wing.
The nightingale Patronuses broke the stalemate with their urgent trills. Poppy Pomfrey's message was curt but dire, summoning Potions Master and Healer to the Hospital Wing, where a life dear to both teetered at the edge of the abyss. Obsidian and hazel orbs sought and found each other. All reproaches were forgotten as Head of Slytherin and Serpent Slayer moved as one, marched resolutely out the door, down the spiral staircase, past the gargoyle guardian and on toward the Hospital Wing.
"Professor..." Octavia briskly wiped all offending moisture off her face.
Octavia stifled the urge to gape.
"Severus, then." she cleared her throat. "I must apologize for my abject lapse of all rationality."
"No need. Your mere instant of puerile stupidity diminishes in importance rather drastically, once compared with the greater scheme of things."
"It was not a mere instant."
"It is now."
They had arrived at their destination. Snape flung open the doors with a flick of his wand. So far Octavia had matched both Snape's ground-eating stride and his curt demeanor. As her eyes discerned the identity of a particular patient in critical condition—and of the lifeless body immediately beside, forever frozen in the proud and fearsome pose of a charging, snarling, indomitable predator—ice cold sweat and violent tremors broke all over the mongoose Animagus's body. The Potions Master grabbed her shoulders; turned her around; drew her close; steadied her. Snape's voice was soft, kind, and compassionate as he released the young Healer.
"We must set our emotions aside; now more than ever, Octavia. Diane needs us. Go."
Squaring her shoulders, clenching her fists, biting down on her lower lip, marshaling all the resources of her magic and training, Healer Octavia Ríos entered the fray.
After long and grueling hours, Octavia succeeded in postponing Diane's journey to the other side of the Veil, if only for a limited time, not longer than a month. Still it was testament to her skill, and welcome vindication after her failure with Karkaroff. A hand at her shoulder woke her; she had not realized she had fallen asleep.
"Well done, Octavia." Snape's voice was warm with praise.
A tray floated up to her. Octavia plowed into it, depleted after the long struggle.
"Thanks, Severus." she murmured, slowing down. "What about you?"
"I already ate. My task was not as dire."
"Any more... f-fatalities?" Octavia's voice broke.
Snape placed a hand upon one of hers.
"The Lestrange brothers, Death Eaters. On our side, just..."
"Irwin. O Circe... Harry."
"The Lady Tomoe restrained him, while I dosed him with Draught of Living Death."
Octavia's eyes glinted red.
"As soon as I have rested, we shall hunt down the Abomination. You will not try to stop us."
"That will not be necessary. The Dark Lord is on his way. With an army of Inferi, Dementors, and renegade giants, I might add."
"You went to him?"
"Of course not. An ally brought us the information."
"An agent of the Wild Kindreds." Snape drew a vial from his robe. "Dreamless Sleep. We will speak more later."
Octavia made to protest, but a look from the beetle-black eyes stopped her in her tracks.
Word they gave me overhead of quarry newly slain...
Harry struggled with sleep. It was not natural; that much he could tell. Someone had slipped him a potion. An enemy? No; they'd been trying to stop him. Stop him from doing what? It was all hazy, but he could almost reach it...
"Enervate. Rise 'n' shine, matey. There's much t' do."
Everything came back like a tornado, but before he could jump off the narrow hospital bed, familiar coils tightened their hold, rendering him immobile.
"Release me, Tomoe!"
"She will do no such thing."
Harry ceased his efforts, bewildered. He scouted his surroundings hurriedly, half-expecting Voldemort to be his captor. He shook away the foolish idea. He recognized the Hospital Wing, but this was not the main floor. Obviously they had isolated him; he had gone nutters when they'd told him...
"Mum! Dad! Please let me go!"
"Sorry, chappy. Won't do no good, y'know. Enemy'll use it against you."
Harry finally looked for the owner of the other voice. On the single chair beside his bed sat a strange woman, spindly thin, long of arm and leg, with a look of hunger about her, as if she had very recently ended a long fast. She wore a silvery robe that seemed grown from her body, secreted by her own skin. Harry thought, at first, that the robe was cowled, and that the stranger hadn't uncovered her head despite being indoors. On closer inspection he realized her hair was the same silver-gray shade as her weird garment. Then he met her eyes, and gulped. They were red.
The stranger laughed, a sound almost like a bark.
"My name, not that it'll mean anything to you, is Kalea. I'm here to help you defeat the one called... how is it? Ah, yes. Voldemort. Made up name, right?"
"I don't need any help. Voldemort's mine."
"I'm not arguing that, matey. But he won't be sauntering up to you all like a noble gent; issue a challenge and keep it 'tween the two o' ya. He's got an army, and you'll have to get past it first. That's where I come in."
"What's so special about you? The People of the Forest will not let the Death Eaters pass."
"Do you wish your precious Forest turned to ashes?"
"What are you on about?"
"That's what'll happen, y'know, when his undead army reaches your Forest. Fire is the weapon of choice against Inferi."
"Damn. You say you have another way?"
"So I do. And they'll not be expecting it."
"Well spit it out! What can you do, and why are you not doing it, instead of sitting here talking!"
Kalea sprang from her chair, a fluid motion that carried her toward Harry until she was nose to nose with him, still managing to somehow loom over Harry, crimson eyes sparkling. The overpowering smell of seawater assaulted Harry's nostrils.
"What is an Inferi but ambulating carrion, Hunt-Master? A sumptuous banquet, for those with the appropriate taste buds. As well you know."
The sea witch was wondrously fingering the inky-black feather Harry wore, at the end of a small braid, to the side of his left temple.
"Oho! Kept it from becoming common knowledge, hmm? Why's that? It's no shame, y'know. Although it does make for excellent joke material, in your case. Right, Hunt-Master?"
Harry blushed beet-red from toes to crown. Kalea smirked.
"The mermaid was right; ye are but a pup. C'mon, they're having war council over brekkie, and I'm starving."
Kalea snapped her fingers, and Tomoe released her charge. The witch turned around while Harry dressed. A thought crossed Harry's mind.
"Didn't I hear you speak Parseltongue?"
"Yup. Learned it from sea serpents."
The witch paused, a wicked glint in her eyes. "Always been fashionable for a Dark mage to speak it."