The beginning includes direct excerpts from JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the time in canon wherein the divergence begins, to set up the story and blend into fandom. I take no credit for JK's writing.
Harry Potter and the Assassin's Creed
Chapter One: Fire the Chapel, in the Name of God
"The Ministry of Magic wishes you a pleasant evening," said the woman's voice.
The door of the telephone box burst open; Harry toppled out of it, closely followed by Neville and Luna. The only sound in the Atrium was the steady rush of water from the golden fountain, where jets from the wands of the witch and wizard, the point of the centaur's arrow, the tip of the goblin's hat and the house-elf's ears continued to gush into the surrounding pool.
"Come on," said Harry quietly as the six of them sprinted off down the hall, Harry in the lead, past the fountain towards the desk where the watchwizard who had weighed Harry's wand had sat, and which was now deserted.
Harry felt sure there ought to be a security person there; sure their absence was an ominous sign, and his feeling of foreboding increased as they passed through the golden gates to the lifts.
"Where do we go then, Harry?" Ron asked.
"I don't -" Harry began. He swallowed. "In the dreams I went through the door at the end of the corridor from the lifts into a dark room – that's this one – and then I went through another door into a room that kind of… glitters. We should try a few doors," he said hastily, "I'll know the right way when I see it. C'mon."
He marched straight at the door now facing him, the others following close behind him, set his left hand against its cool, shining surface, raised his wand ready to strike the moment it opened, and pushed.
It swung open easily.
After the darkness of the first room, the lamps hanging low on golden chains from this ceiling gave the impression that this long rectangular room was much brighter, though there were no glittering, shimmering lights as Harry had seen in his dream. The place was quite empty except for a few desks and, in the very middle of the room, an enormous glass tank of deep green liquid, big enough for all of them to swim in; a number of pearly white objects were drifting around lazily in it.
"What're those things?" whispered Ron.
"Dunno," said Harry.
"Are they fish?" breathed Ginny.
"Aquavarius Maggots!" said Luna excitedly. "Dad said the Minitry were breeding -"
"No," said Hermione. She sounded odd. She moved forward to the side of the tank. "They're brains."
"Yes… I wonder what they're doing with them?"
Harry joined her at the tank. Sure enough, there could be no mistake now he saw them at close quarters. Glimmering eerily, they drifted in and out of sight in the depths of the green liquid, looking something like slimy cauliflowers. Shuddering slightly, not wanting to look too much at the brains, Harry's eyes searched the outside of the aquarium – the only inscription anywhere on the glass was at the bottom, near Hermione's feet, which read 'programmatium animus conmemoratio'.
"Let's get out of here," said Harry. "This isn't right; we need to try another door."
"There are other doors here, too," said Ron, pointing around the walls. Harry's heart sank; how big was this place?
"In my dream I went through that dark room into the second one," he said. "I think we should go back and try from there."
So they hurried back into the dark, circular room; the ghostly shapes of the brains were now swimming before Harry's eyes instead of the blue candle flames.
"Wait!" said Hermione sharply, as Luna made to close the door of the brain room behind them. "Flagrate!"
She drew with her wand in midair and a fiery 'X' appeared on the door. No sooner had the door clicked shut behind them than there was a great rumbling, and once again the wall began to revolve very fast, but now there was a great red-gold blur in amongst the faint blue and, when all became still again, the fiery cross still burned, showing the door they had already tried.
"Right, we're leaving that room," said Hermione decisively.
"But what if that's the one?" said Ron, staring at the locked door with a mixture of apprehension and longing.
"It can't be, Harry could get through all the doors in his dream," said Hermione, marking this third door with a fiery cross as Harry replaced the now useless handle of Sirius' knife in his pocket.
"You know what could be in there?" said Luna eagerly, as the wall started to spin again.
"Something blibbering, no doubt," said Hermione under her breath and Neville gave a nervous little laugh.
The wall slid to a halt and Harry, with a feeling of increasing desperation, pushed the next door open.
"This is it!"
He knew it at once by the beautiful, dancing, diamond-sparkling light. As Harry's eyes became accustomed to the brilliant glare, he saw clocks gleaming from every surface, large and small, grandfather and carriage, hanging in spaces between the bookcases or standing on desks ranging the length of the room, so that a busy, relentless ticking filled the place like thousands of minuscule, marching footsteps. The source of the dancing light was a towering crystal bell-jar that stood at the far end of the room.
Harry's heart was pumping frantically now that he knew they were on the right track; he led the way down the narrow space between the lines of desks, heading, as he had done in his dream, for the source of the light; the crystal bell jar quite as tall as he was that stood on a desk and appeared to be full of a billowing, glittering wind.
"Oh, look!" said Ginny as they drew nearer, pointing at the very heart of the bell jar.
Drifting along in the sparkling current inside was a tiny, jewel-bright egg. As it rose in the jar, it cracked open and a humming-bird emerged, which was carried to the top of the jar, but as it fell on the draught its feathers became bedraggled and damp again, and by the time it had been borne back to the bottom of the jar it had been enclosed once more in its egg.
"Keep going!" said Harry sharply, because Ginny showed signs of wanting to stop and watch the egg's progress back into a bird.
"You dawdled enough by that old arch!" she said crossly.
"Goodness," breathed Luna from a distance behind them.
"What now?" Harry hissed, whirling to face Luna and the others.
Luna was standing with her back to Harry by a bookcase which was littered with smaller clocks – stopclocks and wristwatches of all variety – and a thick black timeturner, staring at a marble bust of a woman's head, mouth cast open in agony, which seemed oddly alive in the shimmering light from the bell jar as shadows were cast across the cold stone face.
Exasperated, Harry couldn't see anything to have merited such a reaction from her, until Luna turned to the group.
"The Circlet of Ashima!" said Luna reverently, holding a spindly golden tiara in her hands, a look of avarice in her eyes.
"Luna," said Harry impatiently. "We don't have time. Put it back. We have to move on."
She looked up, surprised, as though he'd interrupted her and she'd forgotten he was there. Harry shot her a look, beginning to feel uneasy about them becoming too engrossed in any of the objects in this strange place.
"Yes," she said simply, turning back to the marble bust.
Harry turned to see Ginny already moving towards the door. He beckoned to the others and stepped up behind her, wand at the ready, suddenly unsure of what to expect. Ginny paused at the door, hand outstretched. Harry went to push past her when he was stopped by a hand on his shoulder.
He turned to find Luna looking at him dreamily, arm still on his shoulder. He hadn't even heard her approach.
"Luna," warned Hermione in a low voice, stepping forward.
Furious, Harry took in a breath to tell the blonde to get her act together, when without another word she raised the golden tiara in her hand and placed it on his head.
Harry was too surprised – incredulous - to react as he felt the metal press his hair into his forehead.
"Good luck," explained Luna, before the world went black.
Falling was undoubtedly the best way to describe it.
Harry's world was rushing past him – or was he rushing past it? – and lightness, darkness and everything inbetween flashed before his eyes.
He was falling up. Head first. Without much time to consider what was happening, the only thought that solidified in his head as he clenched his jaw was that, thus far, this was the worst form of magical travel that he'd ever experienced.
With a squelch, he tumbled face-first into the mud and promptly vomited, the golden Circlet flying off of his head and landing in the muck.
Heaving and spluttering, Harry's fingers sought out his wand and he squeezed it for comfort as he propped himself onto his knees, panting, with only a single thought on his mind; Sirius.
However, nothing in the world around him as it came together before his eyes indicated that Sirius – or even the Department of Mysteries – was still nearby. After recovering and wiping his spectacles, he discovered that he was in a very narrow, crooked alleyway that blocked out the light from the sun. With black, brown and grey outer walls surrounding, claustrophobically close, he thought it looked a lot like Knockturn Alley, with the notable exception of any kind of paving.
What is this? he wondered. A trap by Voldemort – a type of portkey? Was Luna in on it, or was she just being Luna? Was she under Imperius? Would they even be able to tell it from the dreamy state she was usually in?
After clutching the crown and reclaiming it from the muck, he rose unsteadily to his feet, deciding that the artefact had somehow teleported him up to the surface. It would be just like Voldemort, he knew, to put him into some hideout in Knockturn Alley, away from his friends, and deal with him there, just like the Triwizard Cup in the previous year took him and Cedric out of the school.
He could certainly hear a commotion in the background – there was shouting somewhere in the distance and a waft of woodsmoke billowed down the alley on the wind, stinging his nostrils through the muck that covered his face.
Pulling his wand out slowly, he raised it and pointed it ahead of him… before deciding against using it. He didn't want to announce his presence if he could help it. And who knew what sort of nonsense the Ministry might cook up if he used his wand now that he was out of the immediate vicinity of Voldemort.
As the image of a crumpled and pleading Sirius forced its way into his mind once more, he grit his teeth, determined to make his way out and back into the Ministry, and set off down the direction that seemed to face towards the noise.
Traversing the alleyway was not easy – Harry's feet were repeatedly stuck in the muck that was weighing down the bottom of his robes, which seemed to be comprised of straw, mud and some other, fouler substance that clung to his trainers, the musky taste of which caught in the back of his throat and made his eyes water.
As he made his way through the alley, past wooden and stone-based building corners and fetid water pools that hummed with flies, he became slowly more disgusted; what dark corner of Knockturn was left in such a state?
At last he reached a wider corridor between buildings. Still there were no paved or cobblestone paths, but he was able to stick to the side of the thoroughfare near the bottoms of buildings and risk losing his shoes less in the harder mud. Looking over his shoulder into the darkness he'd emerged from, he shuddered slightly – if Voldemort had attacked in there, he'd surely have been dead within moments; he could hardly have moved without falling on his face.
The sounds, from somewhere to his right, had grown steadily louder as he'd approached; unintelligible shouts and cries and the sounds of fire crackling filled the atmosphere as he drew slowly nearer. After a few moments catching his breath after his feet slid into the mess once more and he fought to get them free, Harry was brought up short.
It sounded like a riot was taking place just a few roads away. A riot… or a Death Eater attack.
His heart was gripped with terror. Are they attacking London? he wondered, terrified. Have they revealed themselves, and launched an assault against Diagon Alley? That would explain why the Ministry and even Grimmauld Place had been completely deserted… people were out fighting, even as he and his friends had descended into the Department of Mysteries.
'But Voldemort is in the Ministry,' a little voice said in his mind. 'So is Sirius. And now your friends – even Ginny and Neville – are in there with him, without you.'
So this was a diversion. Harry's jaw set in anger and he quickened his pace, cursing the Circlet and Luna and especially Voldemort in furious mutters, hurrying along so fast that when another person went by, it took him a moment to even notice them.
A little man with a bald head in faded brown robes, looking almost like a monk, shuffled past quickly without looking up, not worrying about his feet getting stuck in the mud as he squelched by.
"Hey!" shouted Harry after him, finding his voice. "Hey! What's going on?"
The man ignored him, his little bald tonsure ducking into a crevice between buildings and disappearing. Harry had a chilling memory of a shuffling, snivelling Peter Pettigrew in the graveyard a year ago, but knew the man wasn't Wormtail in anything more than stature.
Cursing more vehemently than ever, Harry sped up, jogging down the alley towards the sounds of the cries. He knew that if he could find a shop, he might be able to get in and Floo back to the Ministry atrium before anyone realised.
Or should he help fight the Death Eaters?
Conflicted and growing angrier, he twisted and turned through the winding alley as dexterously as possible for a few minutes more before emerging, quite suddenly, into daylight.
The sight that greeted him as he slid to a halt was one that burnt itself into his consciousness in a way that his first glance through the wall into Diagon Alley, the first sight of Hagrid in a broken, stormy doorway, even his first view of Hogwarts, never had.
It was a riot. A riot unlike anything he'd ever seen.
People, garbed in tunics and, if not barelegged, in what looked like girl's tights, were throwing buckets filled with flaming hay through open, glassless windows. There were hundreds of them, tearing around and screaming incoherently. They threw rocks – some at each other, some into buildings. A few were wielding swords. Women and children screamed out from second storey windows as the floor below them went up in flames. Bodies littered the thoroughfare – still no more than muck and straw and, now, blood – which had been cut down or brained with flying rocks.
Inexplicably, an old woman wearing an ancient green and blue dress hurled herself from a high window into the swell of the crowd with a frail, wordless scream, which ended abruptly as she hit the muck and someone brought a mallet down on her windpipe and the mob of shouting people crushed inwards.
A rush of nausea surged through him.
Standing a little out of the general fray, Harry saw a filthy man with blood running from a gash in his shoulder stagger past, arms full of gold and silver trinkets. With a start, Harry pushed the gold Circlet still dangling from his fist into an inner pocket of his robes, but kept his wand out, although none of the screaming crowd seemed to have noticed him yet.
Wondering what on earth he'd walked into the middle of, he began edging back towards where he'd come from, not turning away from the butchering mob for a moment but feeling gently behind him for the opening to the alley, his stomach lurching uncomfortably as his brain began to slowly register the atrocities he was witnessing.
This, he decided, is not Knockturn Alley.
His every instinct was telling him to simply turn and run and never look back, and at that moment, just as Harry was about to disappear into the alleyway from which he'd walked, a bearded man on horseback rode towards the crowd, waving a club and shouting, a wild look in his eyes.
"I nam but avayler o' th'povereste," yelled the man, whirling his club around his head in a frenzy as the crowd turned to him and cheered. "Do ye, oh povereste, who hath freden th'fundie a eadi cuth's handes, drench a mine burnes th'waters a th'crede o' dyvine ascaypen, an' ye may do his gaily; as th'elde o' thy comers ist hware!"
Harry gulped as the shouting man, club aloft, met his eyes, but the man turned his horse again, riding into the swell of the mob. Harry realised – with no small relief – that covered in muck as he was, from head to toe, he looked indistinguishable from any of the others running about in the street… with the exception of the clean, colourful few who were being pulled apart or battered in the violence.
In some vague recess of Harry's mind he tried to decide if he ought to be grateful that he hadn't walked into a Death Eater attack, or horrified at what it appeared to actually be.
From nowhere, more men on horses – armed, Harry noticed, to the teeth with medieval weaponry – began to trot towards the fray from down the street.
"This is madness," muttered Harry, to nobody in particular, still not quite comprehending what he was seeing. The chainmailed men on horseback began to shout, gesticulating with their spears and swords, and the crowd had responded by throwing rocks. Harry noticed, however, that the mob's leader – the man with the club – was not looking quite so confident anymore, faced with so many adversaries.
"D'Osbern!" shouted one of the armed horseman, his deep, gruff voice carrying easily over the crowd as he deflected a handful of excrement with his shield. "Sargant li paur! Guyerez efacer li caucie!"
There was a brief pause as all eyes turned to the man with the club. Harry watched, entranced.
"As afere deelen th'waters a th'waters!" the man 'd'Osbern' suddenly shouted, to further cheers from the mob, who raised their hands in adulation. "He duheðe ist thy waters. As afere deelen th'éaðmód a th'daungerous an' fel. As afere deelen eleccious a th'badde, as liht a derkhed!"
There was an almighty roar as they screamed his name - "FitzOsbern!" – over and over again, swelling in mass as those who'd hidden in buildings nearby rejoined their comrades, defiant against the dozen-or-so horseman.
Harry couldn't believe that just fifty or so people could be so loud – it sounded like he was in heaving Quidditch stands just after a miraculous catch of the Snitch.
The leader of the armed horsemen, who as a group were beginning to look very annoyed at the flying rocks and muck, handed his spear to a man beside him and held up a crumpled piece of parchment to the crowd.
"Dur un veult d'Arcevêcue de Walter pur -" attempted the man, before he was pelted by several handfuls at once, some of which made contact with his face below the helmet. Spitting out what was either a swearword, excrement or both, he barked "Renaud!" at the man holding his spear.
Renaud rode forward, his challenge met by a loud jeer from the mob. Harry, eyes wide, realised with a jolt that he was standing almost between the two parties, who looked very much as though they were about to come to blows, and began moving backwards once more.
What the man 'Renaud' would have said was lost because at that moment the swelling, pulsing crowd seemed to burst like a dam and, screaming unintelligible warcries, a few men broke free from the mass of people and ran at the horsemen, swinging improvised weapons, their filthy faces masks of wild madness.
Harry turned and ran back down the alley to the sound of those crazed few being cut down. Blades hitting flesh was the most horrific sound Harry thought he'd ever heard. There was more screaming and shouting and the barking of orders in French before he felt, like a strike between the shoulder blades, the sound of the charging line of horsemen meet the crowd.
Cries of anger became terror. Jeers became howls of agony. Another, fouler smell pierced the air as stomachs were torn open with spears, gushing their acids into the muck.
Harry didn't just run, he flew – there was nothing else for it. He had no idea what sort of nightmare he'd fallen into and had no idea how to wake up from it, so he ran as fast as his legs could carry him, struck with disbelief at the sequence of events that had led him to this point and numbly thinking of nothing but his own survival.
Considering, chest heaving as he ran, he knew he was there. It wasn't right – the where and when were off – but he knew he was there, with real people in a real situation, and somehow… somehow, he was there. The cold, sticky mud that clung to his ankles, the hoarse itch in the back of his throat, the pointy, bulky shape of the crown in his pocket that dug into his side, the weight of the mud on his robes… it was all far too real to be a dream.
To his horror, over the blood-curdling screaming and clash of weapons, a sound took precedence; a horse was following him down the alley, a few corners behind him. That meant a horseman likely was as well.
Why are you chasing me? thought Harry desperately. What have I done?
Terrified in a way he'd not been since the Dementor attack during the summer, certain that at any moment he'd be butchered by a sword-wielding maniac on a horse, he cast a quick 'Lumos!' to better light the way – Ministry be damned! - as his eyes were not adjusted to the darkness. Wand held before him, he felt more confident and ran farther, sure that by now the alley would be too narrow for a horse and rider to squeeze through, sure that he'd be safe in just a few more yards, sure that –
His foot jammed into a sinkhole and he went flying, wand spiralling out of his hand and landing tip-down in the mud as Harry's face was driven by the full force of his own velocity and bodyweight into a stinking pool of liquid muck.
Sound cut out and once more the world went black, but a different black this time – a fetid, muddy black that drained away as he wrenched his head back, gasping for air, and a little light and sound flooded back into his consciousness.
He tried to wipe his eyes clear, but the disgusting mixture covered his hands and only made the situation worse. He spluttered and moaned in desperation as he heard the horseman draw closer.
"Accio Wand!" he tried, his voice croaking, but nothing happened.
As the hooves thundered through the squelching mud, echoing off of the wooden walls, Harry blindly tried to find his wand. His hands slipped through the slimy, putrid mud as they searched for the solid comfort of the hardwood. Harry's heart was fit to burst and he thought he might pass out.
The horseman was almost upon him.
He dove, flicking mud up into the air as he rolled onto his back and pointed his still-aglow wand at the corner he'd just come around, as a man ran through – and tripped over Harry's legs. In shock as the horseless man went flying, Harry stared after him for a moment before returning his attention to the pursuing rider and steed.
The huge stallion shouldered its way through the narrow gap and advanced quickly. It was going to trample them. With nothing in his mind but fear, Harry closed his eyes, wand outstretched, and whispered, "Stupefy!"
The light from his lumos extinguished and a flash of scarlet replaced it before everything went dark. There was an inhuman grunt and Harry shielded his head as the horse, stunned in the underside of its neck, collapsed and threw its rider to the floor. Harry's life flashed before his eyes as the rear end of the horse came crashing down towards him.
With a groan, Harry came to, pain shooting up his arm and jolting him like electricity.
He was in a stone room with a wooden ceiling – but not at the Ministry. Not anywhere he recognised. The vaulted wooden ceiling he was staring at was dark, save for the flickering relief of candles and flaming torches. But no light from a bell-jar or blue-flamed candles or brain tanks – Harry couldn't believe he missed the brain tank, but he'd rather have seen that chilling sight at that moment than any other.
Harry turned his head with some difficulty – nearby stood a small group of men, including – to his surprise – the man FitzOsbern who'd been swinging the club and riling up the crowd. They were speaking in low voices, most of them nursing injuries and one of them having his bare, bloody knee seen to by a monk.
He was in a church. A modest, simple church with stone and mud walls, with an altar, benches and door. He was currently laying on one of the benches.
Lifting his arm, or trying to, Harry saw it'd been wrapped in grey rags and set to a splint. The memory of the unconscious horse tumbling towards him came flooding back and he groaned again.
"Dede bie elde, deuine," said a voice nearby.
Harry, teeth clenched in pain, turned his head to the other side. A mournful looking man, dressed like the others in a strange, brown tunic-shirt and dull leather tights with a mallet in his belt, was staring at Harry.
"Sorry?" grunted Harry, trying to use his rudimentary Occlumency to blot out the pain.
The man with the hammer frowned.
"Esse normaund?" said the man. "O angles?"
"I – I don't understand you," Harry said slowly, breathing deeply.
The man tutted impatiently, turning to the others, saying; "Hit wæcnan, Will. Heden s'bresten, biþenchen, o hit normaund. Abaue."
FitzOsbern strode over, having cleaned his face a little but still for the most part covered in dried mud. Harry saw now that his thick, wiry beard was almost as long as Dumbledore's. He nodded to Harry where he lay, and smiled shortly.
"Mèrcé," said FitzOsbern, before seeming to consider. "Canne cors crées arriol, hardil?"
Harry shook his head helplessly, looking from the man with the hammer to FitzOsbern.
The latter held up Harry's mud-encrusted wand between two fingers, and Harry froze.
"Arriol," said FitzOsbern pointedly. "Sorcíe."
Guess I don't have to worry about the Statute of Secrecy, Harry thought suddenly and inexplicably. He raised his uninjured right arm slowly and pointed a finger at himself.
"So – Sorcíe?"
"Mi Deau," breathed the monk who'd been treating the other man's knee. He crossed himself and ambled off down the chapel.
FitzOsbern nodded, with a smile on his face that looked predatory. When he wasn't bellowing to a crowd, he looked quite unsettling, Harry thought.
"I don't speak French," said Harry, wincing. He'd guessed it was French by the noises he made – similar to the Delacours he'd met last year though more guttural, like Madame Maxine's dialect. "Do you speak English?"
"Hmm," said FitzOsbern in a completely different accent which sounded almost German, frowning once more. "Thou carpede ellende, deuine. Aut fremde; lond's sondry. Hight Palmere?"
FitzOsbern sketched the sign of a Christian cross on his chest.
Harry let it wash over him, moaning in despair and feeling queasy. He was stuck here – in a crooked church in this strange place where nobody spoke English and everything seemed to be stuck in the Middle Ages. They knew he was a wizard, but he hadn't seen a wand on any of them, and now this man thought he was some kind of priest wizard.
So, Harry considered forlornly, am I stuck in the past, or some future Voldemort's descended the magical world into?
He turned once more to the man, ignoring the throbbing in his arm, saying; "I'm Harry." He tapped his own chest once more. "Harry."
"Ay," the man said with an acknowledging nod, before putting his forefinger against his own chest. "Guillaime FitzOsbern, Forspeak o' pov'rest."
Harry thought he understood that, after all that he'd seen – he 'spoke for the poor'.
There was suddenly shouting near the other end of the church. Most of the men ran down towards the commotion but after a moment FitzOsbern turned back to Harry, leaning over him and speaking suddenly like a desperate man.
"Deuine – aed we – min cuth haen't ariue apoint!" hissed FitzOsbern. "Dede mine elde! Craue, bowe!"
Harry got the gist – he was asking for help. That much was clear. But Harry was exhausted and his broken arm was shoot pain through half of his body – he was apparently stuck in a strange world and desperately wanted to get back to the Ministry… speaking of which, how long had he been unconscious?
Struck by another thought, he awkwardly reached his right hand into his pocket – the circlet was gone.
"Where's the crown? The – the circlet?" asked Harry, staring at FitzOsbern angrily for taking away what had got him into – and would hopefully get him out of – this mess.
The man handed him his wand.
"No," breathed Harry, but thanked him silently when he felt the wood press into his palm. "Where is the crown? The golden tiara? Circlet? Erm… hat!"
He tapped his head with his wand, gesturing, lost for words that might have translated. FitzOsbern's eyes brightened and he nodded, then leant down and picked up something from the floor near the bench. When he saw it, Harry's heart sank.
It had been crushed. It was a spindly, soft thing anyway, and obviously either his weight or that of the horse had flattened it in his pocket – whilst still in one piece, it was bent so severely it wouldn't go back on his head. Harry doubted that with his arm in the state it was he'd be able to bend it back, either.
He sat up, groaning, wishing he'd simply tried to put it on again when he'd first got here, cursing his own stupidity, and knowing he had to find a wizard healer soon… his arm was killing him.
FitzOsbern held the Circlet out reverently in a cruel parody of Luna in the Department of Mysteries, and when Harry met his eyes he shook the golden headpiece slightly, asking; "Gramméire?" is what sounded like French, and then in the Germanic language; "Fayerye o deuine?"
The banging and shouting at the other end of the church grew more significant. There was just too much going on to concentrate, Harry decided. One step at a time.
He put the circlet back in his pocket and FitzOsbern's face fell, until Harry raised his wand and gestured for him to help him to his feet. After a moment, the man complied and Harry, feeling sick from the pain in his arm, swayed slightly where he stood, loosening his clammy grip on his wand, and attempted to take a step forwards.
Deciding that Harry could manage on his own, FitzOsbern nodded once and raced off down the hall, snatching up his billy-club from a pew as he passed. There was some shouting and banging for a little while longer while Harry got his bearings and made his way to the centre aisle of the church before it went, suddenly, deathly quiet, save for a reedy hymn a monk was humming, huddled in the corner on his knees.
Then Harry smelled smoke.
His eyes widened and he stared at the large door, which was allowing smoke in at all the cracks, and he raised his wand as the shouting resumed inside the church and some of the men ran for water.
"Ag – ague – agua…" stuttered Harry, his brain clouding and making him unable to remember the incantation. "Agua – aguamo… Damnit!"
It was a 6th Year spell, which Hermione had taught he and Ron so that they might gain extra credit in their Charms OWL. It was only a few weeks ago… he'd forgotten the damn thing in the exam, too…
The outside walls, which though made with misshapen stone was little more than dry mud and wooden support beams, were beginning to catch. There were very few windows in the church – Harry couldn't remember whether this was good or bad for fires – but everything became brighter as the doors to the church began to glow from the heat.
Harry was forgotten. Monks were singing defiant hymns or muttering vehement prayers at the altar as the men-at-arms at the other end of the building rushed to try to contain the fire. FitzOsbern himself lifted a great rock basin off of its pedestal and spilled the Holy Water against the door. Some began to wrap rags around their mouths.
Harry stood in the middle. His brain was swimming and he was having trouble keeping his balance – combined with the pain was the heady, smoky atmosphere from the fire and incense and candles, his throbbing arm clouding his vision…
He coughed, doubling over, nearly falling. He couldn't remember the bubble-head charm, flame-freezers, water conjurers… he was useless. He felt like he was dying.
"You are dying, you idiot," a voice in his head suddenly hissed. He stood straighter. "You bloody useless wizard – couldn't save Sirius, couldn't save your friends, couldn't save these innocent monks or a man who's asked for your help… couldn't even save yourself."
With that, things clicked into place with the bang a roof beam made as it fell to the stone floor.
"Aguamenti!" he screamed, pointing his wand at the door. A torrent of water rushed against the wood and hissed and fizzled as it made contact with the heat, beating back the flames a little. Harry opened his mouth to cast again when a thud from above him made him look up – the roof was already catching. Another beam dislodged and he barely cast a "Wingardium Leviosa!" before it landed on a pair of monks by the altar. He lowered the beam harmlessly to the centre aisle. The noise of the rushing flames was terrible and all-consuming, but the monks, oblivious, went on praying.
It suddenly struck him, despite how dreadful he felt, just how bad this situation was – two monks had nearly just been killed – two real people. The likelihood was that everyone in this church would die, at the hands of the men outside – probably more armed horsemen – who had set the building on fire. FitzOsbern, these monks… everyone in this church would die unless he did something about it. He was the only wizard here. He didn't have his friends, or Dumbledore or anyone to back him up… it was down to him.
It was a sobering thought.
Casting upwards blindly as black smoke consumed the ceiling, he cast multiple "Reparo!" spells at the vaulting roof, willing it with all his might to stay up. Turning towards the altar, he stabbed his wand in the air towards the sparsely decorated wall and shouted "Reducto!" over the flames, blasting a three-foot circle in the mud, brick and wood to dust. The stone pillars in the building trembled slightly with the loss of a support beam in the wall, but they held.
He turned back to the front door. Even from half way down the church the heat was unbearable – everything there was bathed in orange and the armed men just black blurs against the hot glow. He shouted and his voice was lost in the maelstrom.
He cast a spell at his head – pronounciation was an issue when he couldn't hear and half of the oxygen was being sucked from his lungs by the fires above. The bubble-head wasn't totally successful but he had a cold, clear mask over his mouth and nose which supplied him with clean air. He raised his arms and began to make his way down towards the doors.
Still shouting – although he realised that they all were as well – and feeling as though the skin on his face was burning to a crisp and peeling away, he felt another tremendous rumble from above and saw the ceiling, despite his 'reparo' charms, begin to give way. He grabbed the arms of the two men nearest him – they looked at him with narrow eyes, faces blackened above the sooty rags around their mouths, before staring towards the hole near the altar when he pointed. After a moment, they ran immediately, leaving Harry with the others.
He swore violently into his bubble and turned back to the men nearest the door when without warning it burst open – daylight flooded in to mix with the horrendous orange fireglow and the fresh air rushing into the room made the fire burn hotter and brighter, enveloping the doorway and everything in front of it. Black smoke billowed around them all.
In horror and on reflex, Harry had time to cast a single-person Flame-Freezing Charm, flailing his wand wildly. He wasn't sure who it had got, if anyone, as nearly everything in front of the door and the entire open space was engulfed in blazing fury, looking to Harry where he stood as though they were within the very jaws of Hell.
He turned and ran, extinguishing the blaze on the bottom of his robes as he did so and thanking Merlin he still had so much mud on him, as it seemed to have been slowing the fire's progress across his clothing.
Next to the hole in the wall of the church – out of which most of the monks had already disappeared – one monk was attempting to pull a comrade through. The second monk, who was steadfastly refusing, had planted his feet in front of the hole and seemed determined to stay inside and burn up with the church.
A cross-beam landed right next to Harry, showering him in sparks and embers, and he cast a wordless Banishing Charm at the foremost monk, magically shoving the two out of the hole forcefully as he legged it towards them, jumping over a beam that fell in front of him, certain beyond certain that he was about to die.
The rumbling in the ceiling grew louder and the walls began to cave into the fire and it seemed, as he neared it, that the hole was growing smaller...
There was an almighty groan from the foundations, and Harry dove through.
He landed, unceremoniously, on the back of one of the monks he'd banished through the wall as the church crumbled inwards behind them in a great, puffing ball of flame.
White hot pain shot through his arm.
Harry rolled, scrambling and grunting, to get up, anxious to get away from the blazing church and moving awkwardly, stiffly, away from the two monks in the mud, holding his arm gingerly and sure he'd aggravated the injury beyond repair. He had burnt black splinters in his legs which he didn't dare stop to remove just yet. He was certain his hair was singed and doubted the continued existence of his eyebrows.
And, he realised, he hadn't had his glasses on since he'd woken up – so they were still in the inferno somewhere. Despite the annoyance of this particular revelation, he was alive. The cool evening wind was refreshing on his raw face and, with a start, he remembered to cancel the bubble-head charm at the last minute. The acrid smell of burning filled his nostrils and he wiped his eyes, not having realised they were watering.
Filled with a sudden empty coldness, he made his way around to the front of the church, keeping a safe distance from the burning skeleton of the structure, because he wanted to see – wanted to look into the eyes of – the kind of man who would burn down a church full of people.
In front of where the doors had stood, FitzOsbern was somehow still on his feet. He was remarkably uncharred – so the flame-freezing charm did hit someone, thought Harry – and stood defiantly, staring at the man on horseback who'd spoken to him in front of the crowd when Harry had first arrived. The armed horseman – leading considerably less men, now – was talking to him.
FitzOsbern, most of whose beard had been burnt right off of his face, replied – Harry realised he could barely hear a thing after the roar inside the church.
Without further preamble, the armed man on horseback leant forwards and pushed his sword into FitzOsbern's gut; the burnt man fell to his knees, clutching his stomach. The horseman looked down impassively, cleaned the blade on a saddle-cloth, and turned his horse around, signalling to the other horsemen to bring him along.
It was done with such coldness and malice that Harry shuddered, disgusted, and had to look away from the injured FitzOsbern as he was dragged over a saddle, holding in his own entrails… the man who had asked for his help.
The man who was now dying.
Harry staggered away, eyes watering once again, wondering where – and when – in the world he could possibly be.
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