It was an unseasonably cool evening as Harry finally sat down to rest. The trek had been harder than he had anticipated, and a smiling Dumbledore had refused to transport them via apparition. Instead, the old man had smiled and noted that a bit of physical exercise was good for a growing boy. And as they walked Harry found, to his frustration, that he could hardly keep up with the wizened wizard's healthy pace through the thickening brush.
They'd walked for several hours, skirting some places through the forest that seemed to Harry to be disquieting at the least. Dumbledore had again and again reminded Harry to stick to the path that had been cleared, and Harry was careful to obey this directive completely.
They had arrived at a clearing in the wood and set up camp. Harry truthfully had no idea where he actually was. There had been a point during the trip where Harry realized that while, yes, they were merely walking; something else was in play as well. Some other force of Dumbledore's making had developed along the way, and Harry understood that had he been traveling alone he never could have reached this place so quickly. They had traveled much farther than the few miles it felt to Harry like they had paced on foot.
And now Harry was seated on a log, huddled around a magical campfire that his companion and mentor had set ablaze with a mere wave of his hand. And then, after telling Harry to remain where he was, to not fall asleep, and that he would not be gone for long, Dumbledore vanished.
And so, Harry waited.
It seemed to him like hours passed with him still seated on that log, warming his hands and feet by the magically tempered heat that radiated from Dumbledore's casual creation. Harry felt himself grow thirsty and tired, but he did not give in. The clearing had darkened and night was fully upon him, and he did not trust his surroundings. He did, however, trust that Dumbledore would not leave him alone unprotected in an old and strange wood.
Where they were headed, Harry wasn't exactly sure. It had been two months since his completion of his second year at Hogwarts. He had spent the days between then and now with Sirius back at Grimmauld Place, which had been deemed safe for residence after Dumbledore had completed a new set of rather complicated wards. Ron had visited several times over that span, and Harry had also managed to make a trip out to Ottery St. Catchpole and the Burrow, where the Weasleys had welcomed him with open arms. He would miss Ron, but Dumbledore had promised that the time would be there for periodic visits with friends and Sirius throughout their travels.
Their trip had begun from the outskirts of Hogsmeade. Sirius had left him with the professor at the Three Broomsticks, where they'd enjoyed a mug of butterbeer before leaving, Dumbledore suggesting that Harry might need the warmth later. He'd certainly been right about that. They had started walking through the brush and into what Harry had assumed was a bit of the forbidden forest, although now he was not so certain. It didn't look anything like what he'd seen of the forest from the outside, there was a small path but otherwise the trees were far closer to one another and there was precious little room to maneuver. And Harry had ended up here, in the clearing, waiting.
And still more hours came and went with no sign of the old man anywhere. Harry began to consider in his mind a number of possibilities, each more concerning than the last. His grip on his wand became tighter with each passing moment. But just when Harry finally started to think that he'd better start worrying about where he was going to spend the evening and what he was going to do after, Dumbledore reappeared with a snap, a small gleaming object clutched in his hand. With a benign smile the trinket disappeared into a pocket in the old man's robes.
Before Harry could speak, though, Dumbledore snapped his fingers and the fire vanished.
"Come, Harry," he said as if nothing had been amiss, "our evening's respite still lies a walk ahead of us. I trust you are well rested and refreshed from your break. We must be on our way."
Dumbledore turned and began to walk. With a light groan, Harry stood and followed in the old man's wake.
The way was dark. That much hadn't changed.
It had been so many years, decades at the least, since Albus Dumbledore had last traversed this path, this way that he'd carved himself from the stone and earth. To his knowledge only one other man had ever been here, had ever seen this way. And he was gone.
Albus slowed for a moment as he took the steps down, down, down to the depths of a chamber created for a very singular purpose. It was the safe house. It was their bunker, a resource that any enemies would never know to account for. He had almost forgotten how much he'd sacrificed, how much he and Gellert had devoted to the creation of this place and the artifacts housed within. So many experiments left uncompleted, work into the very nature of magic itself that had gone abandoned. His practice in alchemy, working with the uses of dragon's blood, all had been accomplished here.
It had been so long.
The place had no name and many protections, but Albus still remembered and was able to pass down the seemingly endless staircase with a whispered word and a wave of his wand. The stairs truly were endless; if one didn't know their secret they would never reach the bottom, and turning around and heading back up was not an option, not until you reached the bottom. Once you began you could not stop and you could not rest.
The defenses had never been tested against an unwelcome foe, and Albus could not foresee a situation in which they would. That war was over. And he was alone with their past.
He was here for their masterpiece. For one completed device that had been untouched for fifty years. He smiled softly to himself. Had others known of this creation they would not have left this cave alone until it had been acquired. It was, in truth, dangerous for the average wizard.
But he smiled more widely, as he descended, at the thought that Harry Potter was no average wizard. And just as Albus had stumbled upon a way to enhance his own studies and experiences, so would Harry be able to experience the world and the magic within it in a way inconceivable to most.
The floor lay ahead of him as he took the last step down and tread upon the solid ground of the subterranean cave. He looked about at the wide room which remained exactly as he'd left it, several objects still littering the worktable that was tucked away in the far corner. The rest of the floor was bare, the walls sleek and solid to the touch.
It took him several minutes of running his fingers along the walls in order to find what he was looking for. With the tap of his wand and another password, a frame in the wall melted away, leaving a small pathway though the solid rock around him. Without pause, Albus took to the winding tunnel that took him on a journey through the rock and towards his prize.
But somewhere in the darkness through the stone and rock, a presence that had lay dormant for decades began to stir and awaken, shocked into awareness by the sheer magic that radiated from the man, the man who had been gone for so many years from the place from the shelter he had built.
But Dumbledore continued towards his prize.
And soon enough, that familiar presence was gone. The old man came and went, only bent on one singular purpose; to retrieve the object that had rested at the heart of the labyrinth.
And the shadow had awoken.
With a soft rustle the shade took to the air, on the heels of the old man, the bond with the trinket clutched between his fingers enabling the being to feel the wizard's presence, his path back to the surface.
And now that there was light, the air was about him, the chance could not be missed. Through the maze and up the dimly lit stairway it flew, careful not to get too close. For if a certain perimeter was breached there would be no way to remain hidden from the man's enhanced senses.
And for a moment it was almost stunned as it tasted its first pseudo breath of fresh air in almost fifty years. There was no sun, for it was evening, after all, but that was of no matter. No matter at all.
Because finally there was hope. Hope in the invigorating breath of life and air and freedom.
And he was the reason. It was fitting, in a way.
And through the connection the shade traveled behind the old man and the boy who had joined him. Through many paths and journeys, across continents, they were followed. The trail would sometimes go cold as they jumped from one place to another, but the scent was never gone. They were carrying more than they knew, and they would never be alone while they did.
It would take time. But time, after fifty years lying dormant, was no obstacle. And so it remained.
And following in their wake.
And so that's officially the end of this story. Look for the sequel (as of yet untitled) within the next few weeks, maybe three. Till then!