Disclaimer: This story is based on characters created and owned by JK 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. Any original plots, ideas, and characters are mine.
Here's another speedy update!
First off, I've seen that there are many mixed feelings about Kasimira, and I'm glad for it. That was my intention, since when I was imagining her I also had conflicted opinions, lol. The point is that she is very selfish and capricious, obtained Julian through coercion, is not above using despicable means, is still foolish and immature in some ways, like when she disregards all Durmstrang students and sees herself above them all, when of course not all can be 'sheep-like', and is dangerous and ruthless when she's fighting for what she wants. Anyway, she did bring Julian a peace of sorts, and –to clarify a doubt- they never had sex. She came to highly value this eventually.
Also, in this 'secondary timeline', she's the one who raised her son Lucius while Abraxas was off gallivanting with 'Lord Slytherin', and she went to live to Argentina when Lucius was a teen yet old enough to manage on his own. In the original timeline –the canon's past imagined for this fic- it was Abraxas who raised Lucius, until he died of Dragon Pox when Lucius was in his last year at Hogwarts. But it's the 'secondary timeline' that matters, since it's now, due to Harry, the one that will remain.
On another note, thanks to the reviewer pointing out the mistakes in German terms. I've corrected them, though, as you well said, the Haupte Kommandanten one will remain as is, for continuity's sake ^.^ I'll still appreciate if you can keep pointing out similar mistakes in the future.
Also, another reviewer mentioned he's not getting the update alerts for this story. Please let me know if this is still going on, so that I can see if there's a way of fixing it. Thanks!
As for the pacing, well, I do always like to take my time, as readers of my other fics know. And I'm sorry for those impatient, but I'm not changing that. I like to give a deep understanding of the times and characters, especially in this fic that's taking place during WWII. There are just so many things to cover! And I'm already skimming through most.
So, this Part I will be extensive. The boys are now ending their Third Year and there are still a few more to go. Regarding Part II – that someone asked about- I'm not sure yet how long it will be or the length of time-jumps I'll be making. I don't even know if I'll write it in this same fic or make a sequel. What would you prefer?
Now, on with the story – enjoy!
Part I: Chapter 66
Tapping the pendant with his wand and muttering the incantation, Julian said urgently in the clearest English he could muster, "Hello? Is anyone there? Riddles?"
A startled yelped answered him, before a voice bellowed as though Toke's pendant was being pressed against a mouth, the other person clearly under the impression that it had to somewhat work like a muggle telephone, the voice sounding panicked and yet also so loud that it made Julian flinch backwards, "Who speaks? Identify yourself!"
Julian stared at his own pendant. "Harry? Is that you?"
"I said, who's that?" growled what was certainly Harry's now infuriated voice. "If you're one of Grindelwald's minions you can go stuff yourself and leave us alone – you hear! Isn't it enough that we're bound to be in Germany by tomorrow-"
"Harry," interjected Julian swiftly, feeling his heart thundering in his chest with elation. "This is Julian. Julian Erlichmann."
A brief pause answered him, before Harry's voice barked, "Prove it! I'm not falling for any dodgy tricks-"
"I saved you and Tom in the Norwegian Ministry," interrupted Julian hastily. "I gave you my magical flute and turned it into a portkey that took you to-"
"Erlichmann!" breathed out Harry, staring at Tilly Toke's pendant with a gobsmacked expression.
He had just halted in his mad sprint across Hogwarts' grounds, still with Tom hot on his heels, his brother giving him chase since the dungeons, like some rampaging, berserk bull, the pain in his scar killing him.
Even now, he shot a wary look over his shoulder and saw Tom quickly gaining distance, about to reach him in a few moments.
It was sheer luck that he had just stopped in the middle of the bridge over the waters – he'd been about to furiously hurl the pendant into the Black Lake, hoping it would end up in the Giant Squid's bowels.
Thrilled excitement encompassed him as he returned to the pendant. "Where are you? What-"
"Listen to me," Julian's voice pressed urgently. "Listen carefully, this is of the utmost importance, even if it doesn't make much sense to you now. You must-"
"Give me that!"
The locket was snatched from Harry's startled hands as Tom suddenly loomed over him, panting and looking crazed with rage.
"Who's there with you?" came Julian's voice, sounding deeply wary.
"It's my brother," Harry retorted, shooting said brother a dark glower, as he added angrily, "Give it back, Tom – it's Erlichmann!"
"I see," muttered Julian's voice sounding distressed. "Well, it will have to do, even if he listens-"
"Erlichmann?" spat Tom, looking livid as his dark blue eyes narrowed, darting from pendant to Harry and back. "What does he want?"
"He's about to say, you idiot!" snapped Harry heatedly, shooting out a hand to tear the pendant from his brother's grubby hands. "Give it!"
"I think not!" snarled Tom poisonously, swiftly raising it in the air, way above Harry's reach.
"Will you listen!" thundered Julian's voice with urgency.
"I will – as soon as the prat of my brother gives it back!" bit out Harry hotly, glowering at Tom and not about to make a fool of himself by attempting to jump to reach the pendant dangling above his brother's head.
"Of course," hissed out Tom, fulminating him with a murderous glower. "Because you can use the pendant to speak to Erlichmann, of all people, but I can't to speak to Grindelwald? Your self-serving hypocrisy never ceases to astonish me, little brother-"
"…Harry, you must…"
"Oh," snapped Harry, glaring daggers at Tom. "So now I'm back to being your 'little brother', am I? And you're speaking to me again too, I see!"
"…. but don't…"
Harry jabbed a finger hard into his brother's chest, fuming. "Who's self-serving now!"
"… do you understand? And also…"
"At least I don't pretend, as you do," spat Tom seething, his dark blue eyes flashing. "Beware, however - that I'm trading a few words with you now doesn't mean I've forgiven everything you've done. You backstabbing, two-faced, little-"
"Backstabbing?" roared Harry furiously. "Because I stopped you from murdering a girl, Tom? Really?"
"Did you hear!" boomed Julian's voice, sounding both exasperated and anxious.
"No!" barked Harry irritably, then shooting his brother a dire look of warning. "But we will now, Erlichmann – promise. If you can repeat it?"
"Will we?" Tom jeered, his gaze fixed on Harry's, a nasty smirk spreading on his face. "You've always been one for fairness, have you not, little brother? If I can't use this to communicate with Grindelwald, then you shall not with Erlichmann!"
"Yes, I'll repeat. Harry, you must-"
"No, you idiot!" bellowed Harry, as the pendant soared through the air, splashing far away into the Black Lake, making him instantly jump after it.
"What are you doing, you lackwit!" snarled Tom's voice as Harry was violently yanked backwards by the scruff of his school robes, the moment he had been about to topple over the bridge's railing.
Wheezing, Harry rounded on his brother, spitting mad with fury as he howled, "It sounded important, you git!"
Tom sneered acidly at him, "As if I have any interest in what he has to say." His dark blue eyes narrowed to slits, as he demanded sharply, "Why were you so adamant in speaking with him?"
Staring at him incredulously for a moment, Harry then spluttered, so outraged that he could barely string two words together, "Y-you – you-"
He finally clamped his mouth shut, shot Tom his most filthy of looks, and stomped away in high dudgeon.
Let's see who wasn't going to speak to the other now! He couldn't believe his brother – Tom was absolutely incredible – the nerve!
Harry angrily raked a hand through his hair in frustration.
Well, he would just have to find a way to see Julian in Germany, that was all. It wasn't that bad.
Julian stared at the pendant in his hands when a strange, gurgling and then chirring sound came from it, until it all suddenly went silent.
With a deep sense of impotence and devastation, he angrily hurled it, hearing it smash against a wall.
Breathing hard, his sky blue eyes desperately roved around his chamber, until he leapt towards his desk, taking hold of the yellow parchment, hurriedly scribbling what little he could on it, knowing he had wasted too much time already.
With a frantic whisk of his wand and a spell, the parchment swiftly folded itself back into the origami songbird and Julian clutched it in his hands, as he had seen Kasimira do in the past, and he intoned, "Kasimira Von Krauss!", blowing hard on it.
The origami bird shot forwards, out his window, like a shooting bullet, soon spreading its small paper wings as it continued zooming at top speed, becoming a dot that disappeared in the horizon.
Hopefully, Kasimira would receive it in an hour or less.
Finally, he tightened his grip on the velvet pouch and leaped to open his chamber's door.
Abruptly, Julian halted with doorknob in hand, when he felt a wash of immensely powerful magic tingling his skin.
Spinning around with a hopeful hitch of breath, he stared at the new arrival, as he breathed out, "You came back."
In all his ethereally glowing luminescence, Santi muttered, "Of course."
Julian's sky blue gaze roved over his friend's countenance, frowning at what he saw. Santi looked wane and exhausted, his usually bright, milky-white eyes opaque, even his sheen of golden glow looked dull and muted.
"You look terrible," Julian said with raised eyebrows, before a deeply worried expression spread over his face. "Things not going well in the future? With – Antares?"
Santi rubbed a translucent hand over his face, as he muttered under his breath, "I've made a mistake. I don't know exactly how it came to happen…" He shook his head, looking apprehensive. "I didn't foresee it – this turn in events… He…"
He trailed off, looking immensely troubled, and Julian stared at him in alarm. "He? Harry – Antares, you mean? What's happening!"
Santi shot him a dull look, and Julian sighed, as he mumbled, "Of course. I can't ask about the future… It won't matter to me in a few moments anyway, will it?" He then shot him a frown. "But what mistake are you speaking of?" Becoming angered, he added, "Because I need your absolute certainty right now, Santi! – You do know what date you've landed in, don't you?"
"Your twenty-fifth birthday," said Santi quietly, with a jerky nod of the head. "Precisely in three hours and twenty-nine minutes from now."
Julian nodded and then dryly chuckled. "Yes, indeed. If I'd know that you had been so literal when you told me long ago that I wouldn't live to see my twenty-fifth birthday… just a difference of mere hours…"
"Would it have made it easier if I had?" interjected Santi, gazing at him with a tight expression on his face.
Julian glanced at him, considering, before he sighed. "No. I'm glad that you were vague."
Santi mutely nodded and Julian stepped closer to him, as he pressed, "But nothing has changed for me, right?"
"No," muttered Santi quietly, slowly meeting his gaze and holding it.
Julian let out an exhalation of breath, not quite knowing if he was relieved or crushed by the extinction of a sudden frisson of foolish hope.
He glanced once more at Santi – his friend didn't look well, he looked sorrowful and pained- and Julian couldn't help it, as he took another step forward and crushed him in a hug, as Santi immediately became solid to his touch, for his benefit, and embraced him back.
"I regret nothing," muttered Julian into Santi's ear, as he tightened the embrace. "Every choice I made, I made with eyes wide-open, and I have you to thank for it. Do not mourn me, my friend-" he released him, and quirked a reminiscent smile "- my father, my brother, my guide and mentor – remember?"
"I do," said Santi softly, giving him a warm yet strained smile.
Julian chuckled, before he hesitated. The first time he had attempted to carry out the most important mission Dumbledore had given him, he had been glad he could spare Santi from witnessing it. Now, he found he didn't feel that courageous or selfless any longer.
"Will you -" he began tentatively, not liking the hint of plea in his voice or the reason for it, yet unable to mask it, as he held Santi's gaze with his own. He swallowed thickly. "Will you be with me?"
"Of course," said Santi firmly, placing a hand on his shoulder and giving him a gentle squeeze.
"Good," whispered Julian, before he heaved a deep bout of breath, and added determinedly, "Let's do it then, once and for all."
With Santi like an invisible specter by his side, they soon reached the first dungeon level, and they made short work of the few guards that had remained behind. They took the wizards by surprise, as bored and off-guard as they had been, quickly stunning or petrifying them.
Julian dove for the rings of keys in the immobile hands of two of the guards, and jumped back to his feet, panting haggardly as he ran to the nearest cell.
"Get up! All of you!" he cried to the prisoners inside, as he clicked the lock open and swung the barred door to a side.
The emaciated people stared at him, slowly dragging themselves up, swaying and staggering, using the walls to support themselves.
Quickly identifying the Guardians amongst them, Julian tossed one set of keys to one of the men, along with Dumbledore's pouch of galleons. "You know what to do – open the other cells, begin distributing the galleons amongst yourselves!"
"Aaron-" croaked the cadaveric man, with previously dull eyes suddenly blazing.
"I'm going to get him right now," yelled Julian hastily over his shoulder, already sprinting towards the other distant cell. "Group here and wait for me - I'll return with the rest!"
He ignored the weak calls of other prisoners stirring awake as he dashed past their cells – he couldn't afford to release anyone but the Jews and their Guardians, his time was running short already.
"Aaron!" Julian bellowed loudly the moment he halted before the man's cell, quickly opening it and pelting inside.
The muggle's two small children, girl and boy, stirred and cracked their sunken eyes open, as Julian grasped Aaron by the shoulders and lifted him up to his feet.
"The time has come?" wheezed Aaron weakly, as he staggered against Julian's frame.
"I need you to help me release the others," Julian said urgently, fishing out a small flask from his robes and pressing it into the muggle's bony hands. "Drink it – it's Pepper Up Potion – it will help."
Aaron nodded feebly as he downed the potion in one fell swoop, color almost immediately rising to his gaunt cheeks.
"Go to the second and third subfloors," Julian instructed hurriedly as he handed him the other set of keys. "I'll take the other levels – we all meet back here."
He pointed a finger at the other end of the corridor where the first Guardian had already gathered a large group of his people, still opening more cells.
Aaron nodded in understanding and Julian dashed away, seeing Santi's blur accompanying him as he took the stairs.
He heard Aaron's voice instructing his children to reach the other Guardian, before he heard Aaron's footfalls following them deeper into the underground dungeons.
Acting to clear Aaron's way, Julian wasted no time in disarming and then disabling the guardians in subsequent levels, always getting more rings of keys and distributing them amongst the prisoners he went releasing.
However, on the sixth level things took a turn for the worse, as the guards there seemed to have caught on that something untowards was happening, no doubt having heard the sounds of unusual activity coming from above.
Julian was deluged by a storm of curses as soon as he jumped the last couple of steps and landed on the floor's corridor, making him dive to a side, wildly taking aim as he roared, "Avada Kedavra!"
The green jet of light struck one of the guardians, who instantly toppled over, as another one seemed to have gotten a clear glimpse of him, bellowing irately, "Erlichmann? Filthy traitor!"
"Santi – help!" Julian yelled as he took cover once more and shot a curse around the corner that was shielding him.
A resounding crack and the ensuing silence made him take a peek, seeing Santi standing behind a limp guard with an oddly twisted neck. But there was still one other standing, with a look of utter horror and fear in his expression, eyes fixed on Santi, backing away, with wand trembling in hand.
Julian jumped forwards, heart pounding hard and fast in his chest as he swiftly took aim. "Avada-"
The guard shot him a look, eyes widening before he grasped his own chest.
"-Kedavra!" roared Julian, but the beam of bright green light struck empty air, and he stared, utterly dismayed. "No!"
"He's apparated – he's gone to fetch him," Santi said sharply as he dropped the body in his arms, instantly reaching Julian's side. "You have no time left."
Julian jerked from his numbness, and rushed to the nearest cell as he aimed and bellowed, "Bombarda!"
There was no longer need for subtlety. Indeed, he instantly heard the loud, deafening shriek of Nurmengards' wards as the cell's door exploded into bits of metal.
"Get to the first level!" Julian yelled at the prisoners, as he sprinted for the next, and the next, and the next. "Bombarba – Bombarda – Bombarda!"
Wheezing and panting hard, he jumped into the following stairway, but something clutched him from behind.
"He is coming, Julian-"
"But – the seventh floor-" Julian gasped out, frantically struggling against Santi's hold "- there're still Jews there-"
"You have no time left!" snapped Santi sternly, shaking him hard. "Grindelwald will be here in a matter of seconds!"
Julian swiveled his head around, horrified. "I can't leave them behind!"
Santi gritted his teeth, and Julian suddenly found himself wrapped in tense, hard arms, his feet leaving the floor as he felt a pull around his body.
A split second later, his stomach giving a sickly lurch, Julian staggered as his feet landed hard on stone floors.
"Save those you can," said Santi curtly as he released him, making Julian stumble against a wall.
Cries and yells, joyful yet anxious and urgent, made him realize he was back on the first dungeon level, hundreds of Jews and their Guardians congregated together in tight groups, galleons in their hands, wary, hopeful expressions on their faces as they all caught sight of him.
Swallowing thickly, Julian straightened and rushed towards them, swishing his hand in the air as he ran, yelling the incantation Dumbledore had long ago created to momentarily disable Nurmengard's wards.
The shrieking siren abruptly stopped as Julian reached the Jews, and urged loudly, "Raise your galleons – all of you!"
As though as one, they all complied, bony, stick-like arms weakly lifting in the air with bright, shiny golden galleons clutched hard.
"LIBERTATI!" Julian shouted with a flick of his wand, Dumbledore's keyword for the activation of the portkeys.
Hundreds of golden galleons bobbing in the air began to glow blue in the gloomy darkness of the dungeons, it was a beautiful, eerie sight as Julian observed, riveted.
A hand on his shoulder made him glance to a side, seeing Aaron with his two small children, their hands around a glowing blue galleon – extended towards him.
"I'm staying," whispered Julian, understanding the offer, meeting Aaron's sunken black eyes.
Aaron frowned at him. "Why?"
Abruptly, Julian winced as the mark on the nape of his neck burned and blazed, the pain piercing, thunderous, ravaging, his hand automatically going to it.
"Because there's no escape for me," muttured Julian as he rubbed the Dark Lord's mark.
Aaron's eyes darted to the motion, understanding crossing his shriveled features as he nodded. "You have my people's eternal gratitude, Helper. May your journey be peaceful-"
Julian didn't hear the rest of the Guardian's words, as several things seemed to erupt at the same time.
Spine-chilling dark waves of power flooded the narrow corridor of the dungeon, roars and shouts of fury booming, meshed with cries of fear from the Jews as jets of light exploded and careened towards them – but met nothing but thin air, as the galleons flashed their brightest and the prisoners vanished in the blink of an eye, leaving Julian behind, standing alone.
"Julian," said a very familiar voice, the tone disbelieving, furious and murderous, meshed with so many unfathomable feelings that it almost sounded garbled and incomprehensible.
Julian stared at the Dark Lord.
Grindelwald had not come alone, there were countless followers by his flanks, all with wands aimed, yet they all seemed to have frozen and halted their curse-casting at the Dark Lord's uttering of his name.
Lifting his own wand, trembling, Julian gazed into Grindelwald's hawk-like eyes, seeing the expression contorting the wizard's handsome features. There was no boyish, charming mischief there any longer, but rather a hint of insane rage, like that of a wild, savage beast that had lost its wits.
"Why?" snarled Grindelwald, breathing hard, skewering him with his eyes, wand rising straight at him.
With something twisting in his chest, Julian mutely shook his head, before he cast a furtive, desperate glance at his side – where only he could see Santi, shimmering, standing by his side, an inscrutable expression on his face.
"Not like this," mumbled Julian from the corners of his mouth. "Please – not by his hand."
He had no chance of winning a duel for his life against Gellert, he knew well. Nevertheless, he didn't want his last moments to be such – to have to battle a man that had come to mean so much for him, a man he still held contradictory opinions and feelings for.
Not only to not give Gellert the pleasure of killing him, in the most brutal, torturous and savage of ways without a doubt, but also because it would be insupportable for Julian to have his lover be the one to end his life, it would be painful and devastating, and not only in the physical sense.
"I understand," came Santi's quiet voice, and for once, there was no disapproval or judgment in it, but sympathy.
Julian's breath hitched when a flash of light erupted at a swift wave of Santi's hand, accompanied by Grindelwald's roar of fury as the wizard leaped towards Julian, image and sounds which were instantly blurred and muted when whatever spell Santi had cast produced a block between them – like a thick wall of rippling water that stood dividing the corridor in half.
With heart thundering hard in his chest, Julian panted as he saw the blurry image of Grindelwald, who seemed to be shouting and spitting and roaring from behind the block, moving his wand frenetically, casting spell after spell at it.
"It will only hold for a few moments."
At that, Julian turned to face Santi, mumbling, "I understand. Thank you."
He clutched Santi's forearm in gratitude and farewell, Santi soon returning the hold, and Julian gave him a half-smile as they remained connected so, in a strange embrace of forearms.
Suddenly remembering, Julian quickly broke it, as he plucked something from his robes, handing it to Santi as he intently peered into his eyes. "I've thought about it and I want Harry to have it. Will you give it to him?"
Santi stared down at Julian's most treasured possession, the magical flute Laurent Didier had given him long ago. He eyed Julian and gently took the flute without saying a word.
Julian shot him a smile of gratitude, before he swallowed thickly and looked down at his wand. Already knowing what he wanted to do, he took a deep breath and muttered the spell, seeing how the tip of his wand became sharp, like the blade of a dagger.
He raised his eyes to meet Santi's gaze, as he lifted his wand and brought it to his neck.
It helped staring into Santi's glowing, milky-eyes, it even felt soothing, like being enveloped in a warm, loving, comforting presence, for a moment chasing away his fear.
Holding the gaze, Julian finally swiped his wand's tip hard and quickly across his neck, gasping and letting it fall in the next second, as the wound felt as though it was burning, as spurts of bloods shot out and began to copiously drench his robes, as he felt dizzy and weak, his knees buckling.
Santi caught him in his arms as Julian's head rolled backwards, his eyesight becoming blurry as he felt cold and wet all of a sudden. He wondered, distantly, as he felt Santi gently lowering him to the floor, if it looked like he was gracefully falling to the ground in slow-motion – if Gellert was seeing it through the block of magic.
With distending pupils, Julian gasped, gurgles of blood spurting from his mouth and neck, as his head was rested on Santi's lap, as Santi's hands caressed his face tenderly and he saw his friend's regretful, torn, and pained look.
Santi brought his face inches from his own, for a moment making Julian wildly and insensibly believe he was going to be kissed, but instead, Santi lifted the magical flute, as he whispered softly, "I will not give this to Harry. I will give it to you, Julian."
Julian stared up at him, his body completely immobile now, not feeling an ounce of strength or warmth, feeling as though everything had flooded out of him, yet his eyes widened in faint understanding a second later as he drew his last, gurgling breath, an expression of vague hope remaining forever etched on his dead face.
Kasimira Von Krauss sat in an armchair in the Headmaster's office, tense and wary, across from the wizard. Two of her father's underlings were still standing guard around the room, while one other had already vanished into the Headmaster's fireplace with her trunk.
It had made her spitting mad and fretful, for Mahala's portrait had been in her trunk and she had no doubt where the minion had taken her possessions to, and to whom.
She had been sitting there, waiting for her father's arrival for over an hour, and her nerves were getting the best of her.
Kasimira shot her Headmaster another silent, filthy look, and then looked away, gritting her teeth as she fingered the wand on her lap. She could not take them all or she would have attempted so.
"What's that?" spat one of the guards, making Kasimira glance around to see one of her father's minions raising his wand, towards one of the office's windows.
Frowning, Kasimira took a look for herself. Apparently, some sort of bird was making its way towards the Castle.
She scoffed acidly, nearly turning her face away in sheer disinterest, before she suddenly recognized the 'bird' as it kept approaching at a dizzying speed.
Her icy blue eyes widening and her heart racing fast with elation and hope, Kasimira instantly jumped to her feet, flicked her wand and shouted, "Alohamora!"
The window flew wide open just as the 'bird' came shooting inside.
"Fräulein von Krauss!" boomed the Headmaster thunderously as he angrily rose to his feet with wand in hand. "Get back to you chair-"
"Accio owl!" roared one of her father's minions, making Kasimira nearly snort derisively at the wizard's utter ignorance.
"Accio origami!" she bellowed instantly, jumping to catch the paper bird as it abruptly turned and zoomed towards her.
Utter havoc seemed to unleash around her as the Headmaster and her father's underlings yelled and shot spells at her, as her heart thumped and the blood in her veins coursed frantically and excitedly, as she ran towards the door and shrieked, "Bombarda!"
With a deafening explosion of splinters, Kasimira ducked and ran with all her might through the blasted door.
She pelted down the corridors with her pursuers hot on her tracks, panting haggardly as she willed her willowy legs to move faster, to let her reach Durmstrang's entrance doors and grounds, to allow her to set one toe outside the wards to be able to Apparate – she knew how, and it no longer mattered that she didn't have the license at her young age, let the German Ministry of Magic try to find her in Argentina if they could!
Julian had written back! Julian had to be waiting for her in their flat, had to be wondering concernedly at her lateness - she had to get there!
Screams, shouts, and roars of fury followed behind her as she dashed madly through the hallways under a deluge of curses, as she ducked and swerved to avoid them, as she shot her own, nastiest of curses over her shoulder in an attempt to halt her chasers.
"Exprimo!" she snarled as she flicked her wand, seeing one of her father's underlings being lifted off his feet by the Dark curse and blasted against a wall as a series of cracks ensued, meshed with the wizard's screams as his ribs cracked and caved in, sinking into his chest.
Moments later, she cried in jubilation as she saw the Castle's entrance before her, just a few feet away, as she ran faster, as she momentarily halted her haphazard curse-casting to be able to read Julian's reply, in the off chance he had decided to meet her somewhere else after being tired of waiting in the flat.
Without halting her mad sprint, Kasimira tapped the origami bird with the tip of her wand, the bird's folds unraveling until it was a smooth piece of parchment, her eyes instantly devouring Julian's words-
And she froze.
She suddenly halted, her body chilled to the bone, her eyes wide and unseeing as she held the letter in stiff, trembling hands, as she lost all color in her face, as she felt as though something had pierced through her body like a lightning bolt.
Because she knew what those words had to mean. But it was simply not possible… the Romani Ritual…
"Mahala!" Kasimira screamed in distraught, betrayed rage, her eyes burning and wet as she crushed the parchment in her hand.
With a chocking sound from the back of her throat, Kasimira toppled over, her stiff body crashing hard against the stone floors, crumbled piece of parchment still trapped inside a frozen fist, as one of her father's minions stood over her, a snarl on his face.
"Let your father deal with you, slut!" the wizard hissed with fury and disgust, bending over to tie something around Kasimira's immobile neck, before he tapped it with his wand and snapped, "Nurmengard!"
Kasimira shrieked and roared maddeningly inside her own head as her lips refused to move, as she felt a familiar pull around her navel, as she felt her heart being torn and shorn with the distraught sobs she couldn't release, as she suddenly vanished.
Harry tripped as he was about to toss a Valerian root in his cauldron. Swaying, he clutched the edge of the table.
He shook his head for what felt like the umpteenth time, trying to clear it.
He was well into his Potions practical examination, with only five minutes left, and he'd been making mistake after mistake for the past few minutes.
He felt disoriented, as though he had forgotten something. But having checked the brewing instructions on the board, he knew it was not the case.
Frowning and rubbing his chest, he checked that he had not forgotten to chop the beetle eyes. But there they were, on his table.
He kept feeling he had misplaced or forgotten something, he kept retracing and re-checking all the potion-brewing steps, he kept feeling weird and dizzy. He kept feeling a hollow, strange emptiness inside his chest.
Perhaps it was the fumes? Making him feel so ill and sick?
Harry staggered backwards, trying to cover his mouth and nose, but the movement only served to make him dizzier.
"Mr. Riddle? Are you feeling well?"
The jolly face of Professor Slughorn came into his line of sight as the wizard peered down at him worriedly.
Harry could only muster the will to slowly shake his head. He could already feel his scar blazing with pain, and it only worsened his condition. It was no time for Tom to be mad at him because he wasn't managing to perfectly brew a stupid potion!
Horace Slughorn sighed, shooting a glance at Harry's cauldron, his expression falling with disappointment, before he gazed back at him.
"If you're feeling ill, m'boy, you're excused to go to the Infirmary," said Slughorn kindly. "Let us hope your scores in the theoretical examination will compensate for-"
The wizard's words were swallowed by the ringing of a bell, making the Professor boom jauntily, "Time is up! Please leave your flasks on my desk and clean your workspace…"
"Are you alright?" said a voice worriedly as Harry was straightened up to his feet.
Seeing Alphard clutching him, Harry croaked, "No."
"Want me to take you to Miss Nightingale?" said Alphard softly, giving him a very concerned look as he helped Harry towards the door.
Harry scrunched his nose at that. "No – thanks. Common room."
Alphard nodded as they began to make their way, followed by the other Slytherins quietly discussing and comparing their brewing results. Thankfully Tom was being deluged by questions and the attention of their housemates, and thus didn't get a clear chance to nastily berate Harry for his lackluster performance in the test.
As soon as they entered the common room, Harry dropped on one of the couches, Alphard swiftly sitting by his side, fretting like a mother hen.
"I'm fine," groused Harry under his breath, rubbing his chest. "I'm feeling much better now-"
"You're still looking very pale," insisted Alphard, intently peering at him, to then press a hand against Harry's forehead, his grey eyes widening in distress. "You're cold!"
"I'm fine," grumbled Harry crossly as he batted the hand away. "It was the fumes-"
They both nearly jumped off their seats as loud whooshing sounds resounded all around them, as the students gathered in the common room jerked in startlement and attention, as a veritable army of owls seemed to have swept in, pouring from the fireplaces.
Harry blinked dizzily, taken aback. He'd only witnessed such in very few instances, only when the Slytherins' parents had pressing news of great importance to relay to their children and couldn't be bothered to wait for meal times in the Great Hall.
The moment a nasty-looking, enormous black eagle owl settled itself on one of Alphard's knees, Harry leaned closer. "What's happened?"
Alphard shrugged, looking befuddled as he rid the owl from the rolled parchment it carried.
"Well?" pressed Harry wheezily as he felt another strange, dizzying spell about to cloud him, seeing Alphard reading his father's letter with gobsmacked, widening grey eyes.
"…he's dead?" a Slytherin loudly gasped, sounding utterly stunned.
"… a traitor…"
"…the Dark Lord killed him…"
"… but he couldn't have been! He was the Dark Lord's favorite, wasn't he?"
Harry slowly moved his foggy, swimming head around, glancing at his housemates with a frown, their words incomprehensible to him.
He stared back at Alphard, blinking slowly. "What's going on? Who's dead?"
"The Dark Lord's lover," murmured Alphard, staring back at him with a perplexed expression on his face. "Julian Erlichmann."
"What?" croaked Harry feebly, all air escaping from his lungs in a pained, piercing, choked wheeze, before everything seemed to swirl and go dark.
Drowsily cracking his green eyes open, feeling as though it was costing him tremendous effort, his eyelids heavy and draggy, Harry caught sight of a face inches from his, so close that it was blurry.
It took him a moment to recognize it as Tom's face, heavy with a frown, even looking mildly concerned, though it must have been his imagination because his brother instantly jerked backwards and gave him a scathing sneer, "Finally awake, I see."
Harry blearily blinked at him, before he gazed at his surroundings. "I'm – in the Infirmary?"
"Yes," hissed out Tom, shooting him a contemptuous look. "You fainted. Could you be any more pathetic? You've been unconscious for nearly a quarter of an hour-"
"What?" Harry incomprehensibly stared at him, before his green eyes widened and he sat bolt upright, gasping, "Erlichmann!"
"Yes," jeered Tom venomously, his dark blue eyes flashing with relish. "The traitor has been found out and dealt with. Good riddance, at long last-"
"But it can't be!" Harry choked out in a strangled voice, as he jumped to his feet – or attempted to, that was, because he was soon clutching the edge of his bed, swaying.
"Go back to bed and lay still, you imbecile!" snarled Tom, clutching one of Harry's forearms in a restraining, hard grip, as though about to slam him back into place with a surge of angered violence.
"Geroff!" hissed Harry furiously under his breath, giving his brother such a hard shove with all the strength he could muster that Tom released him as he staggered backwards.
Harry instantly took his chance and rushed towards the Hospital Wing's doors.
He heard Tom snarling and thundering behind him, but worst, Miss Nightingale just then walked out of her office, mere feet ahead of him, with a flask in hand, staring at him.
"And where do you think you're going, Mr. Riddle?" she snapped angrily. "Back into bed, young man - you need a dose of Pepper-Up, I should think! You're still looking rather peaky-"
The Mediwitch's eyes widened and she shrieked, though, when it became evident to her that Harry was not pausing as he rushed towards her like a determined, stampeding bull.
"I'll take it - Thanks!" shouted Harry as he snatched the flask from her hands and dove around her, breaking through the swiveling Infirmary doors.
He heard Tom raging after him, as he quickly downed the potion and threw the flask over his shoulder, beginning to feel a bit better, gaining speed and strength as his heart fluttered anxiously in his chest, beating chaotically.
It made no sense! They all had to be wrong – the news mistaken. He had spoken to Julian Erlichmann a mere hour ago!
Blanching, feeling as though he was drowning with lack of breath, with a sudden surge of panic, of frenetic need to disbelief, of sheer horror, he knew he had to know the truth.
And suddenly he knew exactly how to find out. Exactly who could aid him. Whom he could blackmail.
The time had come, and for what better cause than to ascertain that Julian Erlichmann had to be well!
Harry turned around a corner like a madman, and entered the corridor of the girls' loo.
The moment he tore the door open, there was a furious yell and a jet of light struck the wall just behind Harry, barely missing him by an inch.
Swirling around, Harry stared at the sight of his brother, who looked livid as he caught up with him.
"What do you think you are doing?" snarled Tom under his breath the moment he reached him, wand upheld and aimed at him.
"I'm going to the Chamber," spat Harry, incensed. "Not that it's any of your business – now, stand aside!"
"To the Chamber - what for?" bit out Tom, narrowing his dark blue eyes at him, his expression then turning into one of scorn and anger. "What harebrained plot are you up to now?"
"Stand aside!" snapped Harry furiously.
"No." Tom eyed him with a frosty, quelling look. "I'm not letting you do anything stupid." He gave him a scathing sneer. "If this has anything to do with Erlichmann's demise and your disgustingly maudlin display of sentimentality-"
Seeing red, Harry launched himself at his brother, pushing him hard against the wall as he clutched him by the lapels, roaring, "You shut up about him! He's not dead – so don't interfere –"
"Unhand me at once!" hissed out Tom, glaring at him and at the hands gripping and crushing his robes, as he menacingly brought his wand's tip to Harry's neck in a flash of movement.
At that, Harry let out a hard laugh as he instantly retaliated, pointedly raising his wand as well. "What – two can play this game, brother. Want to have a go at the Priori thingy again?"
Tom pierced him with eyes narrowed to slits. "There are other ways I can employ to restrain you. Do not forget."
"Oh – the memory of that is still painfully clear," bit out Harry hotly, as he used his free hand to rub his neck, now only baring faint bruises of the time Tom had used his magic to strangle him.
"Good," sneered Tom caustically as he lowered his wand and shoved Harry away, straightening up from the wall. He took a step forward to loom over him, scrutinizing him, before his expression turned contemptuous. "You cannot possibly believe that Erlichmann is still alive. Furthermore, you have no means by which to ascertain the veracity-"
"Spare me your puffed-up drivel," snapped Harry short-temperedly as he briskly tucked his wand away and faced him head on. "I know what to do. And I need you to leave me alone and go away-"
"Not until you tell me-"
"I'm telling you nothing!" bit out Harry heatedly. "If you care one bit about me, you'll pull your nose out of my business and you'll do me the favor of-"
"Favor?" jeered Tom nastily, looking down his nose at him. "Why would I do you any favors after the things you've done?"
Harry caustically chuckled at that. "Of course – what was I thinking?" He shot him a filthy look as he quickly fished out the piece of parchment from his back pocket, waving it in front of Tom's face. "Know what this is? I wasn't planning on showing you this soon, but…" He trailed off, giving his brother a sharp grin. "Tell me, would you like to know the address of the witch who has the Slytherin locket?"
Tom's dark blue eyes darted from Harry to parchment and back, with an excited, hungry and greedy look, before he pulled himself up to his fullest height and scoffed acidly. "You lie. Where would you have acquired that from?"
Harry shot him a toothy grin. "From Borgin and Burke's, naturally. In fact-" he waved the piece of parchment again "- there's plenty more from where this came from. An entire ledger, filled with entries of dark artifacts sold throughout the years – the description of what they do, and the names and addresses of those who bought the items."
He paused to widen his grin at his brother's expression. "Yes, imagine all those dark artifacts – so many of them, so nasty and powerful – and you used to complain that you could get galleons and rare Dark Arts tomes from students in exchange for tutoring them, or doing their essays or helping them study for their examinations – but not one was willing to give you any family heirlooms in return." He quirked an eyebrow mockingly. "Wouldn't it be nice to have pages upon pages of information of how to get any dark artifact that struck your fancy?"
Harry waited as he saw his brother mulling things over, undoubtedly weighing what was most advantageous for him. Though, certainly, he had no real intention of giving Tom such information.
Borgin and Burke's ledger was safely tucked away with the original Slytherin diaries and Tom's notes, in the Fidelius-Charm-protected hidey-hole. And it certainly held information about tons of very nasty dark artifacts that had passed through the shop. Harry shuddered at the mere idea of any of those in the hands of his brother.
Nevertheless, it served as a bargaining chip. And there were some artifacts that were mild in comparison – those, he could trade for more favors from Tom, in the future.
Remaining silent, Tom eyed him carefully, a look of calculation on his face before he hissed out quietly, "You are bluffing. I don't believe you. How could you have anything from Borgin and Burke's?"
"Because I've also discovered," retorted Harry coolly, "a way in which to go to London." He shot him a smug smirk. "To Knockturn Alley itself, actually. Directly from Hogwarts – without anyone knowing, without raising any alarms, without Hogwarts' wards taking notice."
Tom's dark blue eyes narrowed to slits, before he snapped in an imperious, whiplashing tone, "How?"
Harry chuckled, shaking his head. "Surely you don't expect me to tell without getting anything in return." He gave him a broad, hard grin. "This is how it's going to work. I'll give you the location of the Slytherin locket right now, as proof that I'm not lying. And in exchange, you'll go to our common room and wait for me there. And you'll let me do what I want to do with no questions asked."
"I think not," griped Tom sharply, giving him a dark, threatening look. "I want the whole ledger."
"Nope," said Harry with a forced, bright smile on his face. "It's going to be tit-for-tat and one artifact at a time."
"I could take it forcibly," hissed out Tom venomously, his eyes narrowing to slits, his gaze flickering to the piece of parchment in Harry's hands as he fingered his wand.
"You could also Legilimize me, I reckon," quipped Harry nonchalantly, quirking an eyebrow at his brother, "to find out where I've stashed the ledger – but then again, you must know that if you ever try that on me, I'm through with you, brothers or not."
Indeed, he knew that Tom's progress in their studies of the Mind Arts far outstripped his own. His brother simply appeared to have a knack for them, whilst Harry still struggled with Occlumency alone, barely being able to construct feeble mind-shields to protect his thoughts. While Tom's mind seemed to easily build the most impenetrable of fortresses, and just as easily could pierce through the mind of others, brutally so.
Thus, Legilimency was the one thing that Harry had never allowed his brother to practice with on him. And Tom was well aware of how he viewed the matter – Legilimency having always felt to Harry as one of the most horrible of violations.
"If you accept," added Harry in a soft, cajoling tone, as he waved the piece of parchment in his hand once more, "I'll even help you get the locket. We can plan it over the holidays."
The parchment disappeared from his hand as Tom brusquely snatched it, giving him a flat look as he jeered venomously, "Very well, we have a deal. It's not as if I truly care what you're up to. Something imbecilic and dim-witted, as usual. Don't come to me crying if you get in a fix."
And with one last scornful, malicious look, Tom quickly pocketed the parchment and turned away.
Harry contently watched as his brother disappeared down the corridor. A second later, he ran inside the girls' loo.
Harry ran a hand through his hair, agitated. He was standing in the middle of the Chamber of Secrets, knowing that much depended on whether he was absolutely right in every guess and speculation he had made lately.
This was not the circumstance he had imagined when planning the situation. Nevertheless, needs must, and he was already beginning to feel dizzy and ill once more, Miss Nightingale's Pepper-Up Potion only having served as a momentary relief.
He needed to get to the bottom of it. He needed to see Julian Erlichmann.
Harry eyed the green and silver magic that he saw interwoven in the cavernous walls of the Chamber, seeing the glittering Ancient Runes dancing across, and strengthened his resolve.
Taking a deep breath, he opened his mouth and yelled loudly, "Fawkes! I need you – FAWKES!"
With heart beating hard in his chest, breath hitched, Harry waited. When nothing happened, he was quick to change tacks.
"Salazar is here!" he bellowed in a distressed tone. "Fawkes – please, HELP!"
Abruptly, there was a blinding flash of flames and the Phoenix was suddenly there, soaring high in the Chamber, letting out a shriek as he apparently caught sight of his surroundings.
"You can hear me, no matter the distance," muttered Harry under his breath, one point of his theories proven, as he eyed the wand in his hand.
He wondered vaguely if it was just a general Phoenix ability or if it had something to do with the feather. Though that issue still left him mightily puzzled and uncertain.
That one of Fawkes' wands had chosen Tom was understandable, as brilliant as his brother was. But that the last of the wands had chosen him made little sense – he wasn't a prodigy like his brother and the other five Slytherins of the past.
Granted, he had some bizarre, uncommon talents, like his Magic-sight ability and his Animagus Transformation into a magical creature, not to mention the fact that he could get inside wizarding portraits and that ghosts could touch him…
Harry shook his head. Still, it must have been because he was Tom's twin. After all, how intelligent could a magical feather be? It must have been confused when it chose him, must have mistaken him for Tom or something of the sort.
Another piercing shriek from the bird made Harry break out of his musings, turning his head back to observe the creature.
Fawkes now seemed to be immensely and fiercely excited, as he kept soaring around the Chamber, black-eyed gaze darting right and left, intent and determined, apparently inspecting every nook and cranny of the room.
"He's not here!" yelled Harry, his jaw clenching. "I lied. Zar is safe in his Lair."
Fawkes' neck instantly snapped around, the Phoenix skewering him with his black, hard gaze as he let out an ear-splitting screech, sounding angry.
Harry shot him a tight-lipped grimace. "And no, I'm not telling you where his Lair is, or how to access it."
Fawkes shrieked again, this time sounding furious and undoubtedly about to vanish after the trickery.
"But I've given you something, haven't I?" Harry shouted. "This is the first time you've ever been able to get here! You knew about the Chamber, but not where it was, exactly – and you could have never gotten inside if a Slytherin and Parselmouth didn't call you – because of the wards!"
Fawkes flapped his fiery wings violently as he took a turn and shot towards him, flying nearer and nearer at top speed.
Not too sure what the Phoenix was planning on doing –perhaps even doing him some harm in retaliation- Harry roared, "I still can't let you hurt Salazar Slytherin! But I can make you a deal!"
Mere feet from him, Fawkes seemed to come to a halt, suspending in mid air as he kept batting his wings, his black-eyed gazed zeroed in on him.
Harry exhaled with some relief, before he continued speaking, his tone now quiet as he met the creature's gaze, "I've hidden the Slytherin diaries – they contained instructions of how to liberate Slytherin. My brother thinks them destroyed. No one will ever be able to find them. No one will try to free Salazar again. The secret will die with me."
Fawkes pierced him with his eyes as he let out a sharp trill. It sounded grudgingly accepting, in some small measure, yet not fully satisfied, as the Phoenix then proceeded to cast his gaze around, searchingly, as though not giving up in his mission of finding the Basilisk.
"That's not all," gritted out Harry, feeling a flare of anger at the creature's behavior. "I'm going to blackmail you now."
The bird let out a loud trill that sounded more like a vastly amused, dismissive chuckle, before he took flight once more around the Chamber.
Gnashing his teeth, Harry roared at the top of his lungs, "I'm serious – Gryffindor! GODRIC GRYFFINDOR!"
Suddenly, there seemed to reign nothing but silence, and some faint swishing noise as Fawkes dropped to the floor as though poleaxed, landing on his talons, clicking on the stone floors as he gave one shaky hop.
"Yes," whispered Harry with much relish, a wide, sharp smile spreading on his face. "I finally know who you are. I was right."
The Phoenix let out a strange, strangled sound, sounding partly like a chirp of agitation meshed with a sharp cry.
At that, Harry cocked his head to a side, grinning broadly. "You'd like to know how I figured it out, I suppose? After all, you should know what I'm planning on spreading around if you don't do what I'm going to ask."
Pausing to crouch on the floor, to be at eye-level with the creature, Harry resumed in a cheery tone of voice, "I reckon it began when Santi told me how someone had witnessed the last moments of Sherisse Slytherin's life – someone who tried to help her, despite her being a Slytherin. That always sounded odd to me – who would refuse to help someone just due to their blood? And then, when I discovered that it had been you, and also you who raised the alarm, who made the teachers give chase to Morgon Gaunt as he fled with his newborn son…"
He shot the bird a large grin. "Well, it makes sense now, that you didn't want to lose track of Slytherin's descendants. You had them all under your watch when they were at Hogwarts. It must have worried you when Gaunt vanished with his son, never to be heard from again. Until, centuries later, my brother and I came to Hogwarts…"
He trailed off, raising his wand pointedly. "With your feathers having chosen us. You must have known then, that we were Slytherin's descendants – that the line hadn't died off, as you must have hoped."
Harry chuckled under his breath. "Keeping track of Slytherin's descendants by giving your feathers to the Ollivanders throughout the ages was smart, I grant you. And to have your feathers pick only those of Slytherin blood who were powerful and bright enough to be able to release Salazar! It ensured that you were alerted the moment anything of the sort was attempted – you would act then, to put an end to it!"
He shot the bird a pointed look, as he added coolly, "Because you didn't manage it before, when you were a wizard. Helena Ravenclaw's ghost told me much." He gave Fawkes a sharp grin. "Her reaction to you, when we all met for the first time, was also a clue. Though the things she told me later cinched the deal – how you came back from your duel with Slytherin, mortally injured, Rowena Ravenclaw and Helga Hufflepuff working hard, trying to save you, but they couldn't. You were dying, and you had seen how Salazar had turned into a Basilisk, you cast the charm to imprison him in his form, but he was too quick. He escaped, he used the caves and came to Hogwarts – to the Chamber, where you couldn't go."
Harry eyed Fawkes, who was staring back at him in complete, frozen silence, and musingly tilted his head to a side. "I suppose you had no other choice, in your view. You knew Slytherin's son Saturnus would recognize the Basilisk as being his father. You knew Saturnus would work tirelessly to free him from your charm. But you also knew that he wasn't smart enough to pull it off. So it wouldn't end there, and you had to be alive for as long as there were Slytherin descendants trying to free their ancestor. The only way was for you to change to your immortal Animagus form."
Frowning as the thought struck him, never having thought of it in that way, Harry mumbled quietly, "It was your sacrifice of sorts. Being forever a Phoenix, and not only for as long as Slytherin was the Basilisk. Because even if you one day had the chance to kill him and fulfill the duty you took upon yourself, you would find no peace after that. Phoenixes cannot die."
Shuddering, and unwittingly wrapping an arm around himself, Harry stared back at 'Fawkes', suddenly feeling a frisson of sympathy and compassion he didn't want to be experiencing.
Though, admittedly, the fate that Godric Gryffindor had chosen for himself was a lonely, grim one.
It made him wonder just how very desperate and guilt-ridden the wizard must have been at the time. Sorrowful, for having his own best and closest of friends become such a menace that he had to duel him, to imprison him in his Animagus form? Then perhaps also guilty, because he botched the duel and Slytherin escaped, forever to be a threat inside the castle and to its students - an unresolved problem and pending burden that Gryffindor had chosen to carry on his shoulders alone.
Abruptly, a soft, quiet chirp echoed in the Chamber, and Harry blinked, to then gaze at Fawkes, who had hopped closer to him.
The Phoenix laid its feathery head on Harry's knee, and Harry gazed down at him, green eyes narrowing.
"I bear you no ill will," gritted out Harry, not liking what he considered to be a play on his emotions, a clear attempt at manipulation. "But I'm still blackmailing you."
Fawkes raised his head and stared at him keenly, black eyes piercing and intense.
Harry huffed, before he shot him a hard look. "I don't care about your tiff with Salazar Slytherin. He'll not be freed, and that's that. You, at least, know who you are. While he's paying whatever dues he owes – if any. But I don't want him dead – he's no threat to anyone. It wouldn't be right."
Fawkes jerked away, letting out a shriek that certainly sounded sour, disagreeing, and angered.
"Let's get to the point," snapped Harry crossly. "I'm going to tell everyone who you are unless you-"
The Phoenix let out a loud, deep trill that sounded exactly like a bout of laughter.
Harry shot him a filthy look, as he bit out, "I'm not saying I'll be believed right away! But I can write to the Ministry. They won't believe the letters from a schoolboy, at first. But they're getting pretty desperate, aren't they?" He shot the bird a nasty grin. "Especially since, according to The Daily Prophet, they've been trying for ages to convince Dumbledore to battle Grindelwald personally, and he still won't do it."
He sardonically arched an eyebrow when Fawkes skewered him with his black gaze, and he continued placidly, "Yes. The Ministry is getting so desperate that they might just decide to believe the insane ramblings of a schoolboy, in the off chance that they could have a Founder in their hands. And you were supposedly one of the most powerful wizards to have ever lived – a 'good', noble one, to boot. The perfect savior against Grindelwald, no?"
"Not to mention," added Harry loftily, "that I can also tell your 'master' – because Dumbledore has no idea, does he?"
Fawkes let out an infuriated shriek, brusquely hopping away from him, batting his wings fiercely.
"And," continued Harry, raising his voice as he shot him a large, stony smile, "I could also decide not to wait for the Ministry or Dumbledore to believe me or act on it. I could do it myself." He lifted his wand demonstratively. "I know the spell that forces an Animagus to switch back to his human self. Your natural lifespan as a wizard expired ages ago, what do you think will happen to you if I cast the spell?"
Fawkes suddenly stilled and leveled a hard look at him, while Harry's smile widened as he ticked off his fingers. "Only two possible outcomes, really. One, the instant you are a wizard you'll crumble into a pile of dust and bones. Two, if you just happen to be incredibly lucky, your Phoenix's immortality is one of the traits you've acquired, and you'll live." He shot the creature a mock-mournful look. "Just, who-knows what kind of human-creature hybrid you'll be! Do you want to take the chance, Gryffindor? Especially when Salazar is still alive?"
The Phoenix stared at him, before he let out a low, nearly grumbling trill.
Harry beamed a sharp grin at him. "Thought so. I'm glad to see you're a sensible bloke."
He jumped to his feet in hurried excitement and triumph. "I'll keep my mouth shut and you'll just be one more secret I'm keeping. In return-" he eyed the Phoenix who was now shooting him a baleful glower, and grinned wider "- you'll come to me whenever I yell your name. Wherever I am, in whatever circumstance, you'll come to me, and you'll aid me in the ways your Phoenix form allows you to."
Fawkes gave him a sharp, keen look at that, and Harry nodded as he pointedly fingered his wand. "Yup, you heard correctly. I know we're linked because of the feather in my wand. I know you can hear me no matter how far away I am. You proved that today." He gave the bird a smug look, as he lowered his voice, "And I also know that you can cross any magical barriers, and not only when someone is calling out in distress."
The Phoenix squawked in some sort of attempt at denial, and Harry sighed impatiently. "I was in the Norwegian Ministry of Magic, Gryffindor. No one called you or yelled for your help, yet you arrived, even though the wards were still up. I remember clearly."
He shot the bird a speculative, scrutinizing look. "I think your ability must work kind of like Apparition. As long as you've been there before, as long as you can visualize it, you can appear again – and you're powerful enough that magical barriers are no impediment, even when no one 'worthy and good of heart' is asking for your help. Except, of course-" he added smugly as he gestured at their surroundings "-when there's the impediment of having to be able to speak Parseltongue –that, you can't bypass on your own. Salazar certainly knew what he was doing when he warded this place."
Fawkes ruffled his feathers in jerky, agitated motions, and Harry pierced him with a grave look, as he pressed flatly, "So, do we have a deal?"
The creature shot him what Harry could only consider a dour, grumpy glare as he trilled a reluctant sound.
"Good," said Harry swiftly, his blood abruptly rushing fast in his veins again. "Now tell me, Gryffindor, have you ever been to Nurmengard?"
It earned him an alarmed look, yet it all proceeded without any further delays.
And as Harry grasped the Phoenix's tail feathers, he vaguely discerned that the whole affair of having unmasked yet another Founder-in-hiding, on top of having carried a conversation and even blackmailed the famous and revered Godric Gryffindor, should have felt surreal and even staggeringly bizarre and overwhelming.
Yet, as he vanished, Harry felt nothing but tiredness, and that strange and persistent empty numbness. And fear.