Well, this one hit a wall halfway through, but I managed to climb over and/or blow up the wall, so all is well. I've made up for it by making it another longish chapter. I'm shooting for around 8k per chapter, since the old 4k quota wasn't near enough words.
This chapter features SYMBOLISM! Isn't it great?
7. List two charms useful in conjunction when dealing with a possibly hostile creature/animal.
Harry pondered, staring down at the test paper. Mister Dawson had said that each question had multiple possible right answers, as long as they accomplished the goal. He wrote:
A calming charm and cheering charm would be useful in calming a hostile foe.
Calm down the hostile intent and put him in a good mood.
They had recently begun a unit focusing on the responsible use of charms on other living creatures. Of course, there were very few cases in which the law allowed such actions, but Mr. Dawson insisted they know and even spent a whole period discussing the "Vigilante Clauses", as they were called. Ron was particularly excited to find out that there were even wizard bounty hunters.
"I know what I wanna be when I grow up," he'd said.
8. Which state has the most lenience in regards to vigilante actions against known/wanted criminals? Cite one example of an action that would be illegal in other states.
He glanced at the textbook next to him, flipping a few pages. Next to him, Hermione had already finished her take-home test from Dawson and was now scribbling away at an essay for Political Science. After a few failed attempts at pacing herself so that she could help Harry with his assignments while working on the same ones, Harry had finally decided that they should simply work at their own paces and he would ask for her help if a particularly tough question came along.
"I know you're smarter than me," he'd said, overriding her protests, "and it would be criminal to hold you back just because I suck at theoretical stuff."
He finally arrived on the page he needed and went back to his test.
Utah is currently the most lenient state with vigilant actions. Dawson insisted that all answers be in complete sentences. It is legal to use the Cruciatus Curse on someone convicted of a capital offense.
"How you coming along?" Hermione asked, looking up from her essay, blowing a tendril of hair from her eyes with a puff of air. The action was so ridiculous that Harry found himself laughing at her antics. Blinking, she pouted and stuck her tongue out at him. "Yes, yes, my hair is atrocious."
"You should get it cut," Harry said, reaching out and tugging at a lock gently. "I bet it'd look great short, maybe to your shoulders. And there are plenty of cosmetic potions to take some of the bushiness out.
"You don't like it?" Hermione asked, her eyes widening as she pulled at her hair. Harry smiled.
"I didn't say that," he said. "It's just that you don't seem to like your hair all that much. I see you fighting with it all the time."
"Maybe I ought to cut it," she said ponderously, pulling a lock in front of her eyes and staring at it cross-eyed. "But I'm afraid I'll look silly with short hair."
"Hermione Granger is never silly," Harry said solemnly. "Maybe you get a bit goofy during the summer, but never, ever silly."
Hermione bopped him playfully on the shoulder. "You're such a prat," she said, standing. "I'm thirsty. Pepsi?"
She strolled off to the kitchen, and Harry went back to his test. He'd no sooner glanced at the number nine when a knock sounded on the door.
"Dobby, could you get that?" he called, standing. Sirius was out at Mr. Mason's with Hagrid, so Harry had free reign of the house. When asked how he could trust his godson alone with a girl, the Marauder had only barked a laugh and replied, "That girl's more responsible than I am. I'm surprised she leaves us alone."
He had a point.
"Professor Dumbledore, sir!" Dobby's screechy voice called from the entryway, sounding frantic with delight. "Dobby is honored to see you again, sir! Master Harry Potter, sir!" he called as Harry stepped into the entryway. "Professor Dumbledore is here to see you!"
"I can see that, Dobby," Harry said with a faint smile, staring up at Dumbledore. "Hello, sir."
"Good afternoon, Harry," Dumbledore said with a twinkling smile. "I wonder if I might have a word with you about this disturbing revelation you've recently had?"
"About the horcrux, sir?"
"Yes, dear boy," Dumbledore said, nodding gravely. "Might I come in?"
"Oh, yes, please," Harry said, motioning toward the dining room. "Um, something to drink?"
"Oh, I couldn't – " Before he'd even finished, Dobby cracked into their midst with a tray of tea, balancing it as he followed them into the dining area, where Hermione stood with two cans of Pepsi, looking dumbstruck at the headmaster's presence. "But it seems it's no imposition on such a fine elf."
Dobby blushed right to his ears as he served the headmaster a cup of tea. "Dobby is honored to serve the esteemed Albus Dumbledore! Dobby is being a big fan of Dumbledore's!"
"You do me much honor, Dobby," Albus said, sipping the tea and nodding a greeting at Hermione. "Good afternoon, Miss Granger."
"Dobby, could we have a moment?" Harry asked, and Dobby bowed, disappearing with a crack. "What did you want to talk about, Professor?"
Dumbledore set his teacup down and sighed. "I merely wished to know how you're feeling, Harry. I know that this news is likely quite distressing."
"Very," Harry said, staring blankly at his open textbook, the words and sentences a jumble of meaningless letters. "Did…. Did you know?" he looked back up at the headmaster, who closed his eyes and gave a sad shake of his head.
"I suspected for some time that Tom Riddle would have gone to great lengths to attain some measure of immortality," he said. "I even began to suspect that he would have employed horcruxes. Until the incident with his diary last year, though, I could not be sure, and I could never have made the connection with your scar."
"The diary?" Harry asked. "That's a horcrux as well?"
"I suspect he has made multiple horcruxes," Dumbledore said, nodding once. "The diary was one, although you destroyed it with the basilisk fang."
"But to make multiple horcruxes…" Hermione's voice made Harry jump; he'd almost forgotten she was here. "To rip your soul into that many pieces…."
"Tom Riddle cared only about power and immortality," Dumbledore said. "The condition of his soul was likely of little concern to him. This, I believe, is what led to your…condition, Harry. By the time Tom confronted your parents, his soul was so shattered, so unstable, that when the killing curse intended for you rebounded back, it broke another piece of him off, and that bit of his soul latched onto the only other living thing in the room."
"And now a little piece of Voldemort lives in my head," Harry said, and Dumbledore nodded.
"Harry, I want you to know that I'm consulting every source at my disposal, and that is a considerable many," he added with a small smile. "I will do all I can to find a way to eliminate the horcrux inside of you without harming you."
"Thank you, Professor."
"We're looking, too, Professor," Hermione said, "and we're going try a form of meditation I looked up that allows a magician to communicate with his soul. Maybe Harry can communicate with the portion of Voldemort's soul that's connected to his and…eject it somehow."
Dumbledore looked thoughtful for a moment, giving a slow shake of the head. "I'm not sure if that would be advisable, Harry. At the moment, the horcrux in you is in a dormant state. Provoking it may have unforeseen consequences."
"I have to try, Professor. Knowing this…thing is in my head…. It's awful. I want it gone, even if I have to fight it and make it leave. It's just a piece of his soul against my entire one. And I've got the home field advantage." He smirked, and Dumbledore reluctantly smiled back.
"I have faith in you, Harry," he said, standing. "I must be off, however. I merely wished to make sure that you were alright in the face of this news and offer my full support. You aren't alone, Harry."
"Thank you, Professor," Harry said, standing as well. "But…you traveled all the way here, just to tell me this?"
Dumbledore smiled, a genuine smile this time, and patted Harry's shoulder. "I hold you in great esteem, Harry. A letter just seemed…insufficient."
With that, he made for the door, Dobby showing him out with wishes of another visit very soon. Harry sat, looking down at the forgotten homework. Dumbledore's visit had left a ringing silence and a keen awareness of their situation.
"Maybe we should finish this quick and figure out this whole meditation thing?" Harry proposed, and Hermione nodded.
"That seems like a good idea."
There were, Harry found out from Hermione, dozens of different methods of communing with one's soul, devised by quite a few different cultures, subcultures, and even a few cults.
"Oh, but don't worry," she insisted. "We're staying away from the cult ones. Most of them involve drinking blood first, and that's just icky."
"Too right," Ron muttered, lounging in Harry's gaming chair and playing some Japanese game system special-ordered by Harry (he'd gotten to pull out his Lord title for the first time, calling in a favor some Japanese family had apparently owed the Potters for near a thousand years) with the assistance of a transliteration spell that rendered the indecipherable Japanese text into perfectly translated English. "So, we're all doing this? I've not got some bit of You-Know-Who in me, so…."
"Ronald Bilius Weasley," Hermione said, sounding alarmingly like Mrs. Weasley. "Maybe you should be a little more sensitive to Harry's situation."
"No, it's alright, Hermione," Harry insisted, smiling wanly. "Joking about it takes the edge off. Besides, if this goes right, the bit of Voldemort will be gone in a few hours, right?"
"We can only hope," Hermione said, pointedly ignoring Ron's wince at the name. "Of all the meditation spells I've looked up, this one seems the most promising. Since magic is primarily tied to the soul, this spell will actually convert the magic into a second brain and dump your consciousness into it, basically allowing you to experience your soul like a physical place. It's tricky, but I think if it works right, Harry will be able to find the part of his soul that Voldemort is latched onto and get rid of it."
"What kind of culture came up with this?" Harry asked.
"An obscure monastery in Asia," Hermione said. "The original name's difficult to pronounce, but it translates to 'The Children of the Arcane Sun'."
"Neato," Ron deadpanned. "And we're doing this because…?"
"Because, it can be a very insightful process," Hermione said, frowning at the redhead. "I for one really want know what my soul looks like. I bet it's just a great big – "
"Library," Ron and Harry spoke in unison.
Hermione was silent, glancing between them for a few seconds.
"You two are insufferable."
She sat next to Harry on the floor, drawing out her wand and folding it between her fingers, lacing her hands together and resting them in her lap.
"Now, we just say the incantation…."
They all three spoke the incantation Hermione had provided them, and the world before Harry exploded in a kaleidoscope of colors.
"You alright, Nev?" Seamus asked as he sat down at the Gryffindor table, pulling a plate of sausages toward him. "You look beat."
Neville offered him a small smile. "Nothing wrong, just stayed up half the night on this History of Magic essay. I still don't miss Binns, but he was never strict with grading."
"You got that right," Dean said, sitting on Seamus's other side. "I remember last year, on a dare, I actually ripped four pages out of my History book and submitted them as an essay. Binns gave it an A."
"It's funny how the actual textbook is only 'Acceptable' to him," Seamus chuckled, grinning as Luna drifted over and sat on Neville's other side. "Morning, Luna."
"Good morning," the blonde girl said with a breezy smile.
"Sleep well?" Neville asked as Seamus and Dean fell into conversation about their last Defense class (a very popular one among all years, due to the fact that the professor was the actually competent Remus Lupin).
"Exceedingly," Luna said. "Although, I was awoken around two in the morning. Fred and George Weasley are quite good at defensive wards, though they can be frightfully loud."
"Did someone try to break into your trunk?" Neville asked, frowning.
"Yes, although they were very unsuccessful," Luna said, turning and gesturing toward the Ravenclaw table, where a cluster of about four girls was sporting matching lime green mullets, glaring daggers at the girl.
"Have they tried to get back at you?" Neville asked, unable to stop a giant grin at the sight. Luna shook her head.
"I've gathered that they're too afraid of you," she said, her dreamy smile brightening slightly. "Apparently, word has gotten around that you're in contact with the Weasley twins, and they're terrified that you'll resort to something more drastic if they retaliate."
"Well, good," Neville said, feeling a sense of fierce satisfaction. "I'm glad they're leaving you alone, Luna."
They settled into a comfortable silence, Luna pilling oatmeal on two fried eggs and adding sausage gravy. Already well-accustomed to her eating habits, the three boys made no comment, tucking in to their more orthodox meals.
"So, first Hogsmeade visit today," Dean said, grinning at the other three. "Excited?"
"Of course," Seamus said. "We have to go to Honeydukes first."
"Yeah, right!" Dean said. "Porting's Art Studio. They have moving portrait paint! I can't wait to give it a try!"
"Will you be alright on your own, Luna?" Neville asked, and the girl smiled breezily at him.
"Oh, you needn't worry," she said. "I expect I'll be spending the day in the library. Unless I go somewhere else. Who's to tell?"
Giving her a wry smile, Neville took a bite of his breakfast as the morning post streamed into the Great Hall. Long accustomed to only receiving a biweekly letter from his gran, Neville didn't even bother to look up. He was thus quite surprised when a nondescript brown owl dropped a letter on his near empty plate.
"Expecting post?" Dean asked, and Neville shook his head, reaching for the envelope and slitting it open with a tap of his wand. Inside was quite a short message written in curly lettering.
You're making a lot of noise standing up for Lovegood. I think we can work together on a similar project.
Meet me at the Hog's Head at 2pm today.
You can bring your two cronies only if they can keep a secret.
Don't be late.
There was no signature, nothing to indicate where the letter had come from. The parchment was no different from any that a student could get in stacks from their Head of House. No doubt there was some sort of tracing spell that could pinpoint a sender, but Neville didn't know it, and he really didn't trust his fledgling magical abilities not to botch one and set the letter aflame even if he tried.
"Who's he calling a 'cronie'?" Seamus asked indignantly, peering at the letter. Neville rolled his eyes at him. "Well, you going?"
"I dunno, mate," Dean piped in. "The Hog's Head's a dodgy place. If it was the Three Broomsticks…."
"What if it's a trap or something?" Seamus added. "After what happened with those 'Claw girls, they're probably itching to get you."
Staring at the letter, Neville pondered. If it was indeed a trap, it probably was the Ravenclaws that he'd pranked on Luna's behalf. But even if they tried something at the Hog's Head, the proprietor was unlikely to let students fight in his bar, even with the place's reputation. Shady deals and unsavory customers, yes, but an all-out brawl? Unlikely.
And if it was genuine, someone wanted his help in another situation like Luna's. He couldn't help one victim and just let another suffer. It wasn't fair.
Since the visit to Hogsmeade began at noon, the trio had a couple of hours to devote to shopping around the bustling village street. Seamus had to be dragged from Honeydukes after nearly buying half the store, while Dean filled the pockets of his greatcoat with all manner of paints, brushes, expanding canvases, and even a camera.
"I want to broaden my horizons," he explained, already snapping a few pictures with the camera. "Plus, if I really like a shot, I can do a painting of it."
They stopped by the Three Broomsticks (Hogsmeade's premier tavern and inn), where Seamus's tongue nearly hit the floor after he caught sight of the busty barmaid, Madame Rosmerta, who was probably in her late twenties and had a gypsy-like beauty to her, Neville had to admit. As she winked toward the trio and gave them a coquettish little smile, Neville came to the conclusion that flirting likely came to her as naturally as breathing.
"So, you think the guy who wrote that letter is in here, maybe?" Dean asked as they drank their butterbeers. Neville felt a warmth grow from the pit of his stomach as he took a long draw of the warm amber liquid, and suddenly the prospect of meeting a stranger in a dodgy bar in half an hour didn't seem quite as dreadful as before.
"Huh?" Seamus asked, watching Rosmerta pour a couple more flagons for a couple of goblins at the counter.
"I don't think so," Neville said, his eyes roaming over the crowd. Certainly, there were plenty of Hogwarts students from nearly every house, including a couple of Ravenclaws who had trimmed their hair up to pixie-like dos, though the lime green tint had only started to fade.
Fred and George did good work.
Ignoring the hateful stares and menacing grins from the two 'Claws, Neville went back to his drink.
"Wonder what Luna's up to," he pondered out loud.
"You really like her, eh?" Dean grinned, taking a drink from his own mug.
"She's a good friend," Neville said defensively.
"No need to get all bent up," Dean said in a placating tone. "Look, I'm not trying to take the mickey out of you, and I'm not trying to warn you off her, either. She's a good sort, and you two really get along."
"Yeah, but – "
"All I'm saying," Dean overrode him.
"I'm saying, don't let what other people try to say influence where you go with her," Dean continued. "They might tease you and rib you or even outright make fun of you. But if you like her, go out with her, and dash what they say. I'm sure she doesn't give two shits, anyway."
"I know," Neville said, feeling his face heat up. "And…maybe I will ask her out someday. But I'm only thirteen, and she's only twelve. I don't see why we should rush anything."
"Alright," Dean said, sounding satisfied. "But really, you two are perfectly suited for each other."
"Oh, shut it."
The Hog's Head was nothing like the Three Broomsticks. While Rosmerta's establishment was warm, clean, and bustling, the Hog's Head (run by a long-bearded man as grungy as the actual place) was cold, gray, and quiet, all conversation conducted in hushed tones and mutterings. Neville led the way in, his hand in his pocket, gripping his wand in case things went south.
"Where is he?" Seamus whispered in his ear, and he glanced around for someone around their age, his eyes falling on a pair at a corner table.
"I think you should be asking 'Where is she?'," he muttered, nodding toward the pair of girls that he vaguely recognized from his own Sorting two years ago. If he recalled correctly, they'd both gone to Slytherin.
"Blimey," Seamus breathed as they approached. "Neville, since you're with Luna, I call dibs on the blonde."
"You wish," the blonde in question said with a smirk, her voice cool and quiet. She gestured at the empty chairs around the table. "Well, have a seat. Please."
The glanced at each other warily, and Blonde rolled her eyes. "We're outnumbered three to two, and I don't think Beardy over there would just let a couple of students leave after attacking someone, if only for liability issues. Sit. Please."
They complied, Neville sitting between the other two, across from the Blonde. Her name finally came back to him in a flash of realization.
"Daphne Greengrass," he said, and she smiled at him, cool but not mocking.
"That's me," she said, then gestured at her friend, a shorter girl with curly dark hair and a face full of freckles. She didn't have the same regal beauty as Daphne, though she was cute in her own way. "This is Tracey Davis."
Daphne let a quiet little snort. "Now that we all know each other," she said, "let's chat."
"You…can't be getting bullied," Neville said, shaking his head. "You just don't seem the type."
"Aw, thank you," Daphne said, seeming to find that a genuine compliment. "No, I'm not actually getting personally bullied. All of Slytherin is, along with a lot of kids from other Houses."
"Malfoy," Daphne spat the name. "The little ponce has been on a constant temper tantrum since Potter left. Now that he doesn't have the Boy Wonder to flirt with, he's been taking out his aggression on pretty much anyone that gives him a reason. It's like having a bridge troll living with you."
"No one in our house wants to stand up to him because it would just cause us all grief," Tracey said. She had a pleasantly husky voice, Neville noted. "And no one from other houses will bother helping us, since they just have to put up with him in classes. And we're Slytherins."
"So we're eeeeevil," Daphne held up her hands and waggled her fingers threateningly at the three before letting a sardonic giggle. "But, when I heard about you helping out that Lovegood girl even though she wasn't a member of your House, I started to keep an eye on you. When I saw those three bimbos with their new hairstyles, I knew you were the one to help us. That was nice work."
"Well, the spell wasn't really mine, it was the Weasley twins'," Neville admitted. "They did all the work."
"You used a resource at your disposal to take care of a problem," Daphne said. "That's taking initiative, using your cunning, and solving a problem effectively. If you didn't have such a noble streak, you'd make a decent Slytherin."
"Um…thanks," Neville said. "But…taking care of some bullying girls is one thing. This is Draco Malfoy."
"Oh, please," Daphne said. "Don't lose your steam now. For Merlin's sake, you gave the kid a bloody nose back in first year! When word got out it was you that did it, no one let him hear the end of it. You were my hero for a little while!"
"You really don't like Malfoy, do you?" Seamus asked. Daphne rolled her eyes.
"He's an arrogant little ponce whose favorite words are 'my father'. The only reason anyone goes along with what he does is because the only kid that ever tried to stand up to him wound up in the Hospital Wing after Crabbe and Goyle were through with him."
"Damn," Seamus muttered.
"Yeah," Daphne nodded. "But, Neville here is subtler than that. An out-and-out fight wouldn't go well. But a warning prank, with me as your inside girl…."
"Prank Crabbe and Goyle?"
"We get them first, send them a message," Daphne said. "If they keep backing up that git, they're in for worse. If we can scare them off, maybe Malfoy'll calm down. If not, we'll have to up the ante."
"What are we doing to them?" Neville asked. Daphne shrugged.
"Those two are your supplier, not mine," she said. "Ask them. Please."
Well, at least she was trying to be polite. Neville did remember a homemade pamphlet of sorts detailing a few other projects the two were working on. Maybe he could piece together a plan.
"Alright. I'll see what I can do."
"So, any ideas?" Seamus asked as they strolled back toward the castle.
"None at all," Neville admitted. "I'm rubbish at this sort of thing. We need Hermione or maybe even Ron."
"Well, what do Crabbe and Goyle hate?" Dean asked. Neville shrugged.
"All I know is they love food," he said. "Other than that, I don't think even Malfoy knows them that well."
"Shame," Dean said, frowning. "I know just about everything about Seamus, right mate?" He moved and tugged Seamus into a one-armed hug, the shorter boy squirming away from his grip.
"Geroff me, you weirdo!" he said, though his smirk took most of the edge of the statement. "People are gonna start to think we fancy each other."
Neville stopped dead in his tracks at that, something forming in the back of his head. The other two noticed and paused as well.
"Something wrong, mate?" Dean asked. Neville only shook his head.
"No," he said, "everything's going to be fine."
Hermione was almost disappointed to realize that her soul actually was a library.
It was one thing to have the boys (correctly) interpret her statement, but to have it actually be a library? That was just annoying.
Nonetheless, as she strolled across the gray flagstone floor, staring at shelves that towered twenty feet over her head, she couldn't help but feel a certain sense of rightness about this place. If her soul was to be equated to a place, a library was very appropriate.
The place was huge, probably the size of an American football field, and it was completely empty. Along each wall, ceiling-high windows let in a stark white light that bleached the colorful spines of the books stacked impeccably on the worn wooden shelves. Interspersed along the shelves were tables and chairs for reading or taking down notes. The only sound was the faint rustle of wind, though there was no apparent breeze.
It was efficient, well-lit, and quiet.
It was perfect.
Making her way along the shelves, Hermione's footsteps seemed to echo strangely, the echo actually starting before her feet touched the ground and continuing for longer than she thought plausible. Still, this was her soul, so physics probably didn't account for much of anything.
She stopped at a shelf at random and picked a book from the shelf, opening it and studying it. The words looked like English, but for some reason, they were indecipherable. It was like reading a book in a dream (which she had done, actually); as soon as the words started to form coherent words, they changed.
Well, again, it was her soul. It couldn't store earthly knowledge, just spiritual changes.
She put the book back and moved on down the shelves, wondering when this whole exercise might actually bear some fruit. She wasn't feeling impatient just yet, though; it was fascinating to actually explore a sensory representation of the very core of her being.
She came upon a section of shelves that looked different from the rest. The wood was much newer, deep and rich in color, not sun-bleached like the ones she'd just passed. They were also empty, as though waiting to be stacked with more books. As she watched, actually, a few more books seemed to fade into existence on the shelf, though a cursory check showed them to be full of the same gobbledygook as before.
Finally, she reached a wall, finding it the same gray flagstone as the floor. Strangely, though, the windows were, upon closer inspection, barred from top to bottom, the gaps big enough for Hermione to slip an arm through but little else. On the other side, she saw a green field lit with warm afternoon sun and ringed by a sparse forest that stretched out of sight. Oddly, scattered amongst the trees were yet more bookshelves.
She tried to tug the bars aside, though unsurprisingly, they wouldn't budge. The next window was much the same, and the next. Five more windows passed, each one barred solidly against exit or entrance, and just as she was beginning to feel frantic, like the other library was firmly out of reach, she discovered a window with its bars blasted inward as though by some explosion. Even the surrounding wall bore a spider web of cracks.
She climbed through the window, and the almost oppressive silence was immediately replaced by the chirping of crickets, the distant calls of birds, and the intermittent buzzing cicadas. She immediately made for the trees and their mysterious bookshelves. Out here, the shelves were nothing close to uniform, comprised of every type of wood Hermione could imagine and every shape under the sun. Some shelves were only large enough for ten or twelve books, while others were the size of buildings, holding more books than she could read in several years. The books themselves were a ragtag bunch, as well, stacked haphazardly on top of each other. One slab of a tome was the size of tombstone and nearly as heavy as well. Another could have fit in her pocket, the words so small that she couldn't have read them even if they were legible.
One book was made of water that flowed between her fingers when she tried to pick it up.
Out here the books were badly organized, the light was sketchy at best, and there was a constant din of noise in the background.
But it was gorgeous.
Walking between the trees, smiling as the occasional winged book flew by, she eventually became aware of the sound of rushing water in the distance. Picking up her pace, she finally reached a cliff that dropped straight down into crystal blue water that shimmered, stirred slightly by a nearby waterfall.
As she watched, a nondescript shimmering figure appeared, floating in the air before her, one arm outstretched.
"W-what?" she asked, her voice a muted echo, barely audible to her own ears. "Who are you?"
The figure said nothing, and even if it did, Hermione was sure that she wouldn't be able to understand a word. Instead, it only floated there, giving its hand a little beckoning shake. She wasn't sure how she knew, but she almost felt a sort of desperation from it.
"O-okay, then," she said, reaching out and taking its hand. It gripped tightly and tugged her forward, as soon as her feet left the cliff, she felt herself plummet toward the water, but the figure wrapped its arms around her, and she couldn't feel scared, only comforted that she wasn't falling alone….
"Mental, all of this," Ron muttered, though he couldn't even hear his own grumblings. This place was weird.
And it was supposedly his soul, so he must have had a weird soul.
The ground was packed red sand, a light breeze kicking up clouds of dust that left a pinkish film on everything around him. "Everything", in this case, consisted of pretty much columns and pavilions right out of Greece or Rome or France or something, along with enough statues to fill a really big museum.
Stretching out of sight were dozens upon dozens of enormous statues depicting various men and women in stereotypical heroic poses: hands on hips, arms folded impressively across the chest, and one with a hand curled under his chin, looking impressively thoughtful. Around the large statues were throngs of smaller carvings, these of what could only be admirers, arms lifted over their heads or reaching toward the larger sculptures.
Wandering among the effigies, Ron saw no end in sight. Everywhere he looked, crowds of stone people were forever lavishing praise and adoration on the massive figures.
A thunderous roar in the distance made him turn his head, stopping in his tracks.
A massive cloud of red dust billowed up into the sky, the cause very clear; one of the statues had just been reduced to a pile of rubble by a glowing red…thing. Made of pure red light, the beast was vaguely human-shaped and not quite as tall as the statues, which seemed to bother it quite a bit. Even as Ron watched, it lumbered toward another of the larger sculptures, crushing a few of the smaller ones as it moved. It raised a hand, and another thunderous roar filled the air as the limb hung in the air before descending in a cataclysmic crash, sending another statue tumbling.
"Oi!" Ron yelled, aware that maybe yelling at the beast wasn't the best idea. But still, someone had gone to a lot of trouble to make these things, and it wasn't right for this thing to be tearing them down. "Hey, cut that out!"
The beast either couldn't hear him or didn't care, as it lumbered toward its next target without so much as a glance toward Ron, who grew irritated as it tore down another monument.
The beast lumbered toward him, and the last thing Ron was aware of was a giant red foot descending toward him before his world went dark.
The kaleidoscope faded, revealing one of the oddest landscapes Harry had ever seen. Black sand shifted beneath his feet as he padded through a forest of bare trees bleached bone-white. The sky was a solid pearly white, though the occasional shaft of sunlight peeked through. There was a slight breeze, carrying the smell of salt air, but it was slightly chilly, like the morning after a storm, before the clouds had fully cleared out.
"Hermione?" he called, his voice reverberating oddly in the still silence. "Ron?"
Well, if this was his soul, they weren't likely to be anywhere.
He made his way through the trees, aware of the occasional soft crashing sound in the distance, which he recognized immediately as waves crashing against a beach. Picking up the pace, he reached some sort of seaside shanty that had clearly seen better days; the wood was a colorless gray, and a carpet of black sand had shifted in from the constant breeze ruffling through the trees. Once, the place might even have been cozy.
On the opposite side of the shack, dark blue waves lapped at a derelict beach that curved out of sight. An island? Perhaps. He set off along the beach, wishing that his soul could be a little more straightforward with him and just tell him where the little chunk of Tom Riddle was hiding.
The beach revealed that it was in fact an island, though there were no redeeming features, and there didn't seem to be any land in sight, just featureless black ocean broken occasionally by a wave.
Was his soul really such a bleak place?
As if in response to his question, he spotted something that stuck out like a beacon amongst the black and gray.
A white lily.
He knelt to examine the plant, which seemed to flourish under his touch, before he spotted another nearby. He hurried over to it, and that was when he saw the light in the corner of his eye.
Turning, he was almost blinded by a bright white beacon that faded to reveal a woman made of pure light, a long plait of gleaming hair down her back and a shimmering sundress fluttering around her ankles. Harry didn't know how he could tell, but she seemed to smile at him before crouching and tapping the sand at his feet. Abruptly, another white lily sprouted, blooming before his eyes. She stood and gave him a little wave before trotting off between the trees, which budded as she passed. Harry hastened to follow, carefully avoiding stepping on the flower.
"Who are you?" he asked, but she remained silent, just tossing another invisible smile over her shoulder. She led him back to the beach house, stepping inside and dusting away a bit of sand to reveal a trapdoor. Though there were no visible cues, the hatch seemed to radiate pure malice. He took an involuntary step back.
No. He couldn't go down there.
An impossibly close light flared in his eyes, and he felt a warm touch on his cheek as the woman gently caressed his face, pulling him into an embrace.
Yes. He would go down there and annihilate whatever he found.
The woman seemed to sense his bolstered courage, pulling away and giving him one last little smile before trotting out of the shanty and down the beach, stepping into the water. Strangely, every step she took, a small rock seemed to sprout from the water, providing a path of sorts to wherever she was going.
Watching her fade into the distance, Harry turned his attention back to the trapdoor, steeling his resolve. The white lady obviously believed in him, and he couldn't fail her. She was important, somehow.
He knelt and gripped the handle of the hatch, tugging it open.
With a howling roar, black tendrils floated up and engulfed him, turning his vision dark, and he was falling.
He landed hard, and he was sure that had he met such an abrupt landing in real life, he would be a stain on whatever surface he ended on. As it was, he felt nothing more than a mild discomfort as he stood and surveyed his surroundings, which weren't much more than a featureless black pit lit by a giant green brazier in the center. A small bundle of rags sat nearby, and as Harry watch, it shifted, revealing what looked like the most grotesque toddler ever seen. Mottled red skin, a flat nose, and slits for eyes that gleamed in the dim light made the small figure look like something out of a horror movie.
"Harry…Potter," the creature said laboriously. "I suppose you're…the reason behind all…this…."
"Tom Riddle," Harry concluded.
"My name…is Lord…Voldemort."
"You call yourself Lord Voldemort," Harry said, stepping forward. "But you were born Tom Marvolo Riddle, weren't you?"
"Silence!" Riddle shouted, though that seemed to take a bit of energy, as he stopped to catch his breath. "I will not…be belittled…by a mere child."
"You're little enough already," Harry smirked. "You don't need my help."
"I said…silence!" Riddle said, pointing a stubby finger at Harry.
"You're pathetic," Harry said. "Look at this," he gestured around at the room. "Do you know what this is? It's your soul. Or at least a piece of it."
"You know…ab – "
"Yes, I know about your horcruxes," Harry said. "Modern technology is a wondrous thing. Did you know, that Halloween, when you tried to kill me, you accidentally turned me into a half-cocked horcrux? This room? This is the piece of you that's stuck to my soul. And I want it gone."
He glared at Harry, but he'd had enough of the constant fear, the nagging doubt in the back of his head, the doomed feeling that always seemed to follow him around thanks to the pall cast by Riddle. He strode toward the little creature, which scrabbled feebly to get away, but Harry gripped Riddle by the shoulders and lifted the little monster. The thing's thin lips parted in a wail of agony.
"I've had enough of you!" Harry shouted at it. "I want you gone! I'm destroying you today, and whatever little bits of your soul are floating around the world are next. You should've died long ago, Tom, and I'm not talking about Halloween twelve years go!"
The screeching rose in volume as spider webs of white light crisscrossed Riddle's body, growing until he was a ball of light, which burst upward, crashing through the roof of the cavern and revealing the blasted-out ruins of the shanty. Around him, the black pit faded to reveal a simple wine cellar, which Harry climbed from.
Around him, the skeletal black trees were all dotted with buds, and clusters of white lilies bloomed throughout the trees. Up in the sky, two clouds parted just right, and the island was bathed in warm sunlight.
It wasn't pretty, but it was a start.
Neville felt truly satisfied in the knowledge that an owl was winging its way toward America bearing the solution to the "Malfoy Problem", as Dean had put it, even as he was digging into some eggs.
The feeling didn't last, though, as he looked up to see Luna making her way toward his table without the usual skip in her step, though she was still smiling brightly at him as she sat. For some reason, this seemed to amuse a couple of Ravenclaws that Neville recognized from Hogsmeade, as they burst out laughing when they saw her.
"Something wrong, Luna?" Neville asked as she sat, beginning another of her odd breakfast concoctions. "You're usually a lot…well, bouncier."
Luna smiled up at him. "Well, it seems that all of my panties have come up missing – "
Neville choked on his milk, and on his other side, Dean dropped his fork with a clatter while Seamus glanced up so fast that Neville feared he might get whiplash. Surrounding students noticed their reactions but paid the quartet no more mind.
" – so I didn't want to cause a scene in case my skipping got a little too spirited," Luna finished, oblivious to the impact her words had made on the three boys. "Mummy always said modesty is a girl's last virtue."
"Your…. They've stolen your…?"
"My panties, yes," Luna said, and Neville valiantly fought to keep his eyes on hers. "It seems that the thieves waited until they were all in the laundry and nicked them before the elves came to collect it."
"But…." He shook his head. They hadn't thought about clothes that weren't being kept in her trunk. The laundry hamper was fair game, a fact that the bullies had exploited. "This has gone too far."
"What are you gonna do, Nev?" Seamus asked. "I mean, you could corner them and make them stop, but…a boy intimidating a bunch of girls…I think they wouldn't believe you'd go through with it."
"I wouldn't," Neville grumbled, glancing over at the Slytherin table, where Daphne Greengrass caught his eye and gave him a small wink. "But I know who will."
Panty raids: not just for cliché eighties high-school losers.
Okay, so I would actually like some comments on the whole soul journeys thing. Was the symbolism too overt, too subtle, just right, not even obvious at all?
Input would be nice.
Thanks for reading!