Pre-Chapter Garble: Endless thanks to all those reviewers who have lent their time to the story. It's got pretty mixed write-ups so far, and I can understand why - it's going to be a long one, and I'm precious over this beast like no other, getting very OCD/perfectionist over various things. Anything you can point out that I've obviously missed is extremely helpful and goes toward making a better story in the end of it - I'm not a pro writer, as is obvious, and need all the nudges I can get. Even more of my thanks for being patient while I undergo this process - I'm going to do as much as I can to not let this end up abandoned, no matter how long the wait between chapters. When the new year's workload eases up I'll have more time to write.
A little note about the Assassin's Creed element to the story - it's titled as it is because of how important the AC arc will be to the story in the end, but it will not be an AC crossover for a very long time yet. I'm trying to make this novel-length and also maintain an element of realism in it, and while the AC parts will be crucial (enough to name the story after it) we won't be seeing it for a while. When you see how many words it's going to take to even reach Hogwarts, you'll see what I mean. Hopefully you can keep up with it until then, if that's specifically what you're reading for, but I'm writing an adventure and in the next couple of chapters it's going to get very exciting - forget about the AC bits for now and when it happens, it'll be there before you even realise it became an important part of the story - Altair isn't just going to jump out of the woodwork in the English countryside, though he will be a major character. For those who aren't familiar with AC at all, keep calm and carry on. These early bits are setting up future characters, subplots and arcs (and most importantly, a believable, tough main character) that will come into it throughout, and Assassin's Creed will be one of many adventures. So anyway, enough of the AN rambling - please enjoy the 18th draft of Chapter 4, and I'll try to not keep you waiting so long for the next one.
Oh, and this is updated on Patronus Charm before it's updated here.
Harry Potter and the Assassin's Creed
Chapter Four: Of Scrutiny and the Vault
The sunrise glared through the trees and he glared back.
Finding that he was engrossed, Harry tore himself away and staggered on. Through the prior day and night he'd walked, ignoring his pangs of hunger, the throbs of his arm and the aches of his blistered feet, punishing himself and refusing to stop.
He knew he was being stupid – he knew he needed sleep and food, that he was doing himself more harm than good - but as his brain caught up fully with what he'd done he simply refused to indulge himself. The thought of doing anything other than just reaching Scotland and getting out of this cursed place made him nauseous.
Harry wondered vaguely as he stomped through the undergrowth if he'd done the right thing by leaving the family.
But it was too late, anyway. Far too late for him.
He wasn't sure how long he'd walked for, but he'd come onto a road again somewhere. Other people were on it… he didn't remember faces, but there'd been other people there as he burst from the undergrowth and staggered up the track. Mere shapes in the shadow, now, as the world grew darker.
He debated whether or not he should keep going through the roots and bramble - facing people felt as though it should be avoided - but the scratches and cuts on his legs and thorns in his shoes convinced him to stick to the road. He decided, as he stumbled over yet another protruding root in the misshapen dirt track, that when he was back in his own time, in the 20th century, he'd probably find the nearest muggle road, get to his hands and knees, and kiss the smooth asphault.
The pain in his stomach was causing him to black out periodically, but he didn't stop walking. It was getting dark – a lot harder to see through the thick shadows – and fires sprang up around him as people started to get ready for the night on the sides of the road.
He cursed his own resolution to walk until he couldn't, knowing that he was reaching that point fairly quickly. He raised his wand and summoned a bird. A woodpigeon soared into his hand, looking as though it was flying backwards, and he stunned it with a muttered "Stupefy'" before pocketing the wand and staggering over to the quietest looking camp.
A man looked up at him as he approached, and Harry held out the bird as an offering.
"Can I share your fire?" he croaked.
The man nodded, saying nothing but eyeing him warily, and Harry collapsed next to the glowing pit. The stranger – muscular and barrel-chested - leant over and plucked the bird from his grasp, and set about de-feathering it.
Harry pulled off his torn shoes and a little blood that had welled at the bottom of them poured out. His feet were a mess. The soles were in shreds. He tossed the ruined shoes aside and pulled the thorns from his feet, wincing at the pain his blisters caused him but bearing it. He dry-retched when he burst one, grinding his teeth together. He wished he'd thought to Scourgify his feet before approaching the muggle and his fingers itched for his wand.
Swaying, he started slightly when the man held a wing out to him… how long had he been sitting there? In no time at all, it seemed, the bird was cooked. Harry's blood-smeared fingers almost snatched it from the man and he sank his teeth into it, burning his mouth on the bird's meagre meat and relishing the pain.
Then he remembered that he hadn't killed the bird – he'd merely stunned it. It had still been alive when it was put on the fire.
Harry felt himself begin to cry, and he fought – Merlin, did he fight it – but the tears came anyway as his mouth, mechanically, kept chewing.
He saw the men, heard them singing, and saw the burning head, the flesh blackening on the skull, and the cut in the man's neck exposing his vertebrae…
Then Harry opened his eyes to find nothing but darkness. He still could hear singing, though… he was inside. Nearby was an echoing, achingly vast cavern, a choir in full voice shaking it to the foundation.
He sat up and groaned, his joints protesting the movement, and found himself undressed and in a bed. He could scarcely believe that he was really hearing the thunderous choir, but he couldn't stop to think – it was hard to concentrate on anything but the singing. He found he didn't know if he could move any further and worried for a brief, foolish moment that he might have died.
Laying back, the nearby voices clanging through his skull, he tried to remember what had happened… he'd been eating the bird's wing, burning his mouth on it – yes, he could still detect a metallic coarseness on the top of his dry tongue – and had begun to cry. He'd walked for days - what had felt like weeks – and must have collapsed, the tears finally sapping the last of his strength. But what had he been crying about?
'It doesn't matter,' he instructed himself blithely. 'No more crying.'
The bed was straw and something softer – wool? – and it scratched against his bare back. It occurred to Harry that he should locate his robes and possessions, but it was still too dark to make anything around him out and he didn't think he'd be able to walk. His nose felt blocked; in the wilderness, everything around him had smelt crisp and fresh, but the air here seemed muskier than he could remember. There was something heavy on it too – something thick and sweet and smoky that caught in the back of his throat.
Harry realised with surprise that his arm wasn't hurting. Even his feet felt a little better, and it was mainly his joints that ached. He rubbed his eyes, vaguely wishing he still had his glasses, before turning his head laboriously to where he imagined the door to be.
Nothing. Somewhere out there, the singing had come to an end. A noiseless void hung in its wake.
He looked back up at the ceiling, an immeasurable distance from his face, and before lapsing into blissful oblivion once more he searched his sling for his wand, which he found to be missing.
"You're starved, lad."
His eyes flicked up to the old man leaning over him. The wizened old monk was holding a wooden spoon with thick, sticky pottage on it, trying to coax Harry into eating it.
"I've eaten more than half the bowl," said Harry, hating how petulant he sounded. He opened his mouth anyway, feeling like a six year old Dudley under a fawning Petunia, and scraped the thick, oaky mixture off of the spoon with his teeth. 'I've killed men,' he thought but didn't dare say, as though saying it might make it somehow truer.
As Harry showed his teeth, the old man bared his own, eyes on Harry's mouth as he chewed. He sported a grimace full of black teeth and gaps and his breath smelt like milk too long left in the sun, and Harry had to look away, struggling as it was to keep from throwing up the food.
"Where am I?" Harry asked the wall after forcing it down.
"St. Martin's," the monk replied, digging into the bowl for another spoonful. "Near Bedford."
"How far is that from – from Hertford?" asked Harry, his stomach aching. When the old man looked puzzled, he instead asked, "Or from London?"
"London? Oh – p'raps twenty leagues? A little less?"
"Twenty?" Harry gasped, sitting up sharply and making the old man jump back. "Hertford was twenty leagues from London! The carter said so! How could I have – unless I went west instead of north? The carter told me -"
"Hold, now," the old man snapped, his kindly visage melting. "Enough questions! I'm trying to help you, boy. Bedford – well, I don't know about Hertford, but Bedford's due north of London, or so says Brother Sander. He's our Sacrist. Now listen; I don't care who or what you're running from, but you'll be going no further with your feet in that state. Nor until I can find you some proper cobbles. It'd be ungodly. Whatever it is you're trying to get away from, where you'll end up like this'll be worse! You're in a house of God here, and whatever's after you can't hurt you."
Eyes clamped shut and swallowing hard, Harry breathed to calm himself down before nodding, the comments about him 'running' hitting home. He had decided in that moment to get himself a map, no matter the cost, and to never again end up helpless in a bed under the compulsive care of male, medieval, muggle Madam Pomfreys.
At the thought of the stern Healer and the soft-spot she seemed to have for him, he felt a longing for his school. Injuries here could not be fixed with the wave of a wand and a good night's sleep... embracing the warmth that even the dreaded hospital wing inspired in him, Harry held on to the feelings that Hogwarts stirred, determined to channel it - to use it as fuel - and to not forget where he was heading - nor to forget that he'd need his health to make it there in easily mended pieces.
"Sorry," he said shortly.
"S'no problem," the old monk said blithely, digging into the bowl again as though he'd not just lost his temper. "Dealt with men after a battle – bloodier than this, but fussier too, to no end. It's pride, hear?" He sniffed, pursing his lips. "You're at St. Martin's-'pon-Ouse now, and old Patrick's is looking after your wellbeing, and St. Martin was one of the main saintly examples of charity! He cut his cloak to share with a clotheless man, a beggar, going naked himself. Saying no to our help in the state you are – s'just nonsense. I'll speak to Brother Sander. He's even been to London, which is more'n most of us here, so he'll be able to say if I got it wrong, or if this 'carter' did. But you'll be doing the grand sum of resting while I do, hear?"
Harry nodded, and this time accepted the spoonful of cold pottage without protest. He'd been stupid, trying to torture himself, and it would help nobody if he died in this bleak place.
"I had a stick of wood," began Harry after swallowing. "In my pocket, or in my sling - it's quite important."
"A stick of wood?" asked Patrick with a puzzled frown. "That's enough for now, I think. Plenty enough. I'll be off to mass - the Deacon's taking the services today, and'll need to know you're awake! We'll make you another splint in no time. You rest up."
He was confined to the bed for an entire day, unable to move even if the old monk – Brother Patrick – had let him.
The old man had spent the day between services, of which there seemed to be an awful lot, feeding Harry, cleaning him up with a rag and a pail of salt water – he had still been covered in dried blood when they'd brought him in, and had weakly defended the mess with "I was attacked," hating himself for it afterwards – and telling him about the monastery and surrounding diocese. His demeanour was slightly stiffer around Harry than it had been before, it that were possible, and the opportunities to ask his own questions became rarer.
Resigned, Harry had let most of Patrick's monologue wash over him. He had to leave as soon as he was able, and as grateful as he was to Brother Patrick for helping him, the sooner he reached Hogwarts, the sooner he could be home. He'd managed to ask the crooked monk about his wand again - his 'stick of wood' - but Patrick had simply assumed he was talking about a splint for his arm, and produced a new one that he'd had a 'novice' fashion him.
In spite of his growing frustration, Harry's feet were on the mend - thanks mainly to whatever salve Patrick had been applying - but his wounded shoulder ached profusely, he was sure his arm would never now set properly, and he still had the cold, hard weight in his abdomen which he'd first thought was hunger and now knew was guilt.
He was feeling sorrier for himself than he cared to admit. The guilt was slowly consuming him from the inside, bubbling away with a pang and making his fingertips itch whenever his mind cast back to the forest clearing. He told himself he was annoyed more than anything else – he'd delayed his own departure from this place through his own stupidity - but the worse he felt both physically and mentally, the angrier with himself he became.
He also felt, deep down, that he should be more repentant for what hadhappened in the clearing…
That evening, however, Patrick told him that if he absolutely must, he'd be able to try and walk. Harry had expressed concern that his feet might not be properly healed, but Patrick had waved away the fretting with a frown as he'd handed him his robe, telling him that the callouses on his feet were mostly healed and that feet, after all, are tougher than anywhere else on the body.
Before he was going anywhere, though, he was determined to find out what they'd done with his belongings. Checking his pockets as he slipped the robe on, he found them to be empty.
"Patrick," he said, setting aside a wooden mug and wiping his chin. "When I came in -"
"Brother Patrick, lad," the old man admonished, busying himself with rinsing the bloody rag in the pail.
"Sorry," said Harry, reminded uncomfortably of Dumbledore correcting him when he talked about Snape. "Brother Patrick, when I came in, I had things in the pockets of my robe – my clothes – some coins, a crumpled bit of gold and – and a wooden stick, about a foot long - not a splint for my arm, but a different stick."
"No, lad," the old man shook his head, still not looking at him and suddenly colder. "Nothing on you but clothes and whatnot, and those strange ruined shoes."
Harry said nothing. The way the man wouldn't look at him while saying it led him to believe that there was probably more to it than he was letting on. Either way, though, it looked like he'd been robbed. He shuffled his way to the side of the bed and hung his legs over, not yet touching the soles of his feet to the rough wooden floor.
"The stick is the most important thing," said Harry. "I have to have it."
"What's so important about this stick, then?" said Patrick, looking at him finally through narrowed eyes.
'I'm a wizard,' Harry thought, but didn't dare say, having a sneaking suspicion that it might be something exactly like what this old monk wanted to hear.
"It's – uh - it holds a lot of… value. To me, personally. It – it was a family heirloom," he managed, Ron's brother's old wand and how he'd acted about that springing to mind. "It was given to me by my brother. It's his, really – I'm just borrowing it. And he's going to really want to have it back. It's important to him. And to me."
He gulped, hoping he didn't sound as much like he was lying as he thought he did.
"What does it do?" asked the monk quietly.
"Nothing," said Harry quickly, thinking 'Oh Merlin, help me, he knows.'
"But it's important. To your… brother."
Reminded forcefully of Ollivander when he'd suddenly become very sinister, Harry was fast deciding that he didn't much care for this monk at all.
"Yes. And to me – it belongs to our family, and it's an important family… tradition."
'He knows, for God's sake,' the voice in his head was screeching. 'He knows what it is and what it does…'
Do they burn wizards? Harry wondered, before deciding he'd probably be happier not knowing. He met the old man's eyes with what he hoped was an honest expression.
"Well," said Patrick, finally breaking off his stare. "I'm sorry to say that it seems the man who brought you in took 'em off you. A big man, I'm told, big strong man, carried you all the way here. Robbed you. He did confess his sins while he was here, confessed to Brother Duncan, but he's gone now, well on his way, hear?"
"There must be something you can do," said Harry desperately, the sinking feeling returning in full force. "It's all I have…"
"You have God," said the old man reverently, but if the statement was meant to reassure Harry it failed in the attempt. "And St. Martin."
Only a few minutes later the old man excused himself, muttering something about 'vespers' and, after collecting a few pots of salve, shuffling out.
Harry, figuring that any attempt he made at walking he'd have to manage alone, placed the soles of his feet gingerly on the floor – to his surprise, the monk hadn't lied; there was no pain. He lifted a foot up onto the opposite knee and stared at the bottom of it. It was still a mess, but healing quickly… everything about this place was becoming more and more confusing to Harry, as he had no idea how they'd have possibly healed his shredded feet without the assistance of magic…
Unless he'd been there, in that bed, for a lot longer than he'd thought. It had felt like mere days…
He put both feet on the floor again and his hands on the bed beside him, readying himself, before heaving and pitching forwards, trying to get them to take the weight. He managed it, but only barely; his legs and joints still ached from the near-endless walk he'd put himself through.
As he took a few tender steps away from the cot towards the sandals supplied for him, his sole working arm extended to keep himself from overbalancing, Harry wondered what on earth he was going to do about getting his wand back. He couldn't remember what the man had even looked like who was supposed to have taken it, as everything to do with that fire and the bird was a haze - he'd barely been conscious by that point. He couldn't get to Hogwarts without a wand… of this he had no fantasy. He would be completely unable to survive in this world without it. Merlin knew, he'd barely survived as it was.
St. Martin's-upon-Ouse was tiny. In the centre sat a squat chapel, surrounded by a quarter-ring of outbuildings, with a little track to a mill working the crystalline river about a mile downstream. All around it on the monastery side of the river was farmland, with distant, brown-clad figures working on it right up to the forest's edge.
The evening was cold but clear and Harry sucked in the fresher air gratefully, chest heaving as he leant against the chapel wall, almost irrationally irritated by how small the church was… it'd sounded louder when it was filled with singing monks.
After being confined to the bed for a day, swamped in incense and snipes from the 'charitable' Brother Patrick, Harry was glad to be able to walk even this far away from it. It was perfect, almost, though he had to admit that the monks were ruining it: Since they'd emerged from 'vespers', which seemed to be some sort of evening prayer ceremony, any of the fifty-or-so monks who hadn't gone to do a little more in the fields before sunset had taken it upon themselves to stare at Harry. One or two small groups hung in the shadowy doorways of the outbuildings, casting furtive glances at him periodically, and others simply stared openly as they walked past, as though at a particularly curious insect on the wall of their church.
It was making him uncomfortable, and the guilt within him was threatening to rear its ugly head as a small, foolish part of him incessantly hinted that they knew what he'd done in the clearing of the woods. He squashed it repeatedly, knowing that the sheltered men in this forgotten corner of the world were likely just unused to strangers… but it annoyed him nonetheless, the discomfort, reinforcing the feeling of being a stranger, of being someone different, and finding yet another beautiful part of the world that would forever be forbidden to him.
Shaking his head clear of the reverie, Harry pushed himself away from the wall and once more bore the weight on his wounded feet. He had no time to reminisce, and the serenity of the location after the chaos of past days was lulling him into complacency. As he shuffled over to the infirmary's door, bracing himself for the onslaught of sickly incense, he considered that in reality his situation here was very, very serious.
He had no wand. It had been stolen. By this stranger in the woods, the stranger who'd so deftly de-feathered the woodpigeon and confessed to 'Brother Duncan', or whoever else it could have been. The very suspicious Patrick, for one. Any of the other monks. For all he knew he could have dropped it in the woods as he was carried to St. Martin's, on a road somewhere, since trodden in half by a horse… Harry winced, feeling a pain far more potent than any he'd felt for his own broken arm at the thought of losing his wand.
And no money, to top it off. No Circlet either, which he grudgingly accepted was probably the most important tool for getting home, but still the wand frustrated him the most, for the simple fact that it was his wand. One does not simply lose their wand.
He didn't even entertain the notion of trying to continue without it. Money he could technically survive without, and the Circlet of Ashima he could describe from memory, so distinctive was it in its spindly, lacewing design and annoying trait of time travel, but his wand… it was, simply put, what made him a wizard. Without being a wizard, he'd not make it half-way to Scotland and had barely made it this far – as a muggle, though Harry hated himself for the prejudice, in this era he'd be killed. He was not big or strong or selling something. He didn't have the kill-or-be-killed attitude that mankind seemed to thrive on in this time, as wizards didn't need to. They didn't have to be ugly and violent – of course some were anyway, but that was their own choice, and those men and women were by and large Harry's sworn enemies.
No, he concluded as he used the wall as a crutch, he didn't have the brawn or the ferocity to get to Hogwarts as a muggle… though he snorted slightly at the thought of Dudley being right at home here, if he wasn't crying for his mother and puddling in a heap.
The smile deserted him as he reached his room: a monk sat on Patrick's cot, an impassive look on his face that dissolved into shock at the sight of Harry, and a spark of recognition lit up Harry's mind.
"Good God," the monk said in a strange, thick accent.
"You – you were in the church," said Harry, frowning. "In London."
The monk said nothing. His dark eyes beheld Harry's face for a long moment, and he visibly swallowed before standing – he towered over Harry.
"As were you," the man said quietly. "I am Brother Sander."
But Harry's mind was past this fact, and he turned and swung the thick oak door closed before facing the monk again.
"You know I'm a wizard!" hissed Harry, eyes wide. "You know I am, you already saw me do magic!"
Sander looked as though he'd been forced to swallow something unpleasant. He cleared his throat, further enforcing the illusion, before turning on his heel: Harry thought the man was going to walk past him and out of the door, but instead Sander began to pace.
"I have to ask you some questions," said Sander uncertainly. "It's important that you answer them."
Harry didn't care.
"My wand's been stolen," he said anxiously. "It could have been one of the monks."
Sander abruptly stopped pacing, turning to Harry and meeting his eye, saying, "Monksdo not steal!"
"Well – I don't know who it was," said Harry, feeling his cheeks grow hot. "But it's been stolen. I have to get it back… can you help me? You already know I'm a wizard - "
"Yes," Sander said quietly. "I do. But you will answer my questions."
'Fine,' Harry thought, impatient. 'If it means he might help me then fine.'
At his silence, Sander asked, "Where are you travelling to?"
"You told Brother Patrick as much, yes," said the monk, as though it was of profound significance.
"Then why did you ask me?" growled Harry, growing annoyed. "Why would I tell him and you something different?
"Because you already lied to Brother Patrick, and told him the wand was taken from someone else… and as you said," Sander sneered, "I know you're a – a…"
'Wizard,' thought Harry, shaking his head. 'He's like some sort of pious, medieval Dursley.'
"I'm not dangerous or anything," said Harry with a scowl. "I just want to go home."
"Well, yes, speaking of the threat you pose," said Sander, "why were you covered in blood?"
"I was attacked," said Harry, a little more comfortable with the idea now. "By bandits."
"So all of the blood upon you was your own?" asked Sander, an eyebrow arched.
"No," said Harry, and the spirited defiance fled. "No – I defended myself."
"With your… wand."
Harry nodded, feeling the cold, dark core inside him start to pulse. He sighed angrily.
"Same as anyone else would have done," he said, forcing down the guilt.
"No," said Brother Sander with an uneasy laugh. "I expect they would struggle in their… 'defence' of themselves. At least a little more than you did."
"Why are you asking me this?" he challenged again, trying to tear his mind's eye from the woodland clearing. "You know I'm a wizard. Can you help me?"
"Help you with what?"
"With – with getting my wand back and getting out of here," said Harry, with a glance at the closed door behind him as he heard someone walk past beyond it.
Sander was quiet for a moment, his features changing to show confusion, anger and fleeting remorse.
"No," said the monk slowly. "It would be ungodly."
"This is a church for charity!" hissed Harry. "Saint Martin, and all that! Taking his clothes off to help a beggar... Brother Patrick said it was a church of charity. I'm grateful for the help, obviously, but why am I - why am I being treated like a prisoner?"
In that moment, he realised that he wasn't just saying it – he was indeed imprisoned. If the monks had taken his wand hostage, there was nowhere else he could go… their stares began to make more sense…
"You are not a prisoner," said Sander, with an air of finality. "And the monks do not have your wand. It was taken from you before you came here, and whilst we'll care for you as best we can while you're under our roof, I'm not going to help you track down an instrument of – of heresy."
As the monk made his way around Harry to the door, Harry grudgingly saw that it made some sense – magic probably went against Christianity in a number of ways. Even so, he wasn't convinced that a monk hadn't taken it. And if a monk had taken it, and someone like Sander knew what it was…
"I saved your life," said Harry quietly. Brother Sander froze in the doorway. "In the Church. You and the other monks. I'll die without a wand… I saved your life."
Sander still had his back to Harry… who had a sudden, vivid memory of the man knelt in front of the hole in the church wall, praying, refusing to be dragged through the hole, perfectly content to die... For a long moment the monk didn't move, or say anything.
"But not my immortal soul, child," said Sander, before squaring his shoulders and disappearing into the hallway.
Harry was left staring into the space that Sander had occupied, trying to work out what had just transpired. As it came together before his eyes, he felt the fear he'd managed to escape since waking up in the monastery start to return, creeping in unbidden: Sander knew he was a wizard.
'He thinks I'm evil,' thought Harry, more to the point.
The night was not a pleasant one. He'd had no more visitors for the rest of the evening and had lain on the cot almost reluctantly, not sleeping until well after the singing in the middle of the night had come to an end – it had lasted for at least an hour, after which he'd been plagued by dreams of blood and broken little girls and had woken up in a cold sweat, the world still dark around him, thinking he was in his room at the Dursleys'.
At dawn, almost to prove he could, he left the room immediately and joined the monks in the church for 'matins'. This service - Harry's first and last - involved yet more singing and a service entirely in Latin. Though he was largely ignored, it felt good to have some sort of company after the fraught night, and he spent half the time trying to think of a plan beyond the monastery, and the other half wondering why the monks even bothered to do all of these services every single day when it was only other monks who attended.
A great fat man with small, shrewd eyes and a sour smile took the service, arms raised for its entirety and straining the seams on his pristine white habit; his voice carried to the rafters of the squat chapel and was always the loudest during the long, droning hymns, raising in volume and exuberance when he felt the singing of the other monks was lacking. Harry thought the man looked like a great, floury dumpling.
During the service, the large white monk was the only person who would occasionally stare at Harry – every other monk ignored his presence in the church. In the front row Harry could see the blonde Brother Sander, the back of his tonsured head standing out among the browns and blacks. Harry could not spot Patrick.
As the monks filed out after the last song's rousing harmony had come to an end, Harry followed the crowd of men out and into what he heard called the 'refectory', where he sat and ate with them – a watery, alcoholic yellow stew and husk of rock-hard seedbread – and endured their stares once more. He kept his head down while he ate, absorbing all that went on around him. The whispered talk was mainly of 'Old Richard', who apparently was very ill, and the near-approaching Cooper's Fair in Bedford.
When Brother Sander stood and left, Harry followed him across the cloister. Harry called out to the man before he disappeared into the doorway of one of the outbuildings: the monk turned and looked about to admonish him for the lack of appellation before he saw who it was. He grimaced and turned away once more, pushing his way through the shadowy doorway – but leaving the door open behind him.
Harry sighed at the 'invitation' and followed the man through.
"You are becoming comfortable," said Sander the moment he was inside.
The room was cold and dark, despite the numerous candles dotted in tiny stone alcoves around them. Sander was at a lectern of some kind, similar to the one the fat monk had been using at the service that morning, scrutinising the end of a goose-feather quill carefully in the dim light. There were stacks of parchment scrolls and stretched vellum tomes on tables around the room, and away in the corner a very old monk sat perusing one.
"I wouldn't say 'comfortable' was the right word," said Harry. "But if I'm not going to be leaving anytime soon, I may as well get used to how things work here."
"And why won't you be leaving soon?" asked Sander slowly.
"Because I'm not going anywhere without my – my possessions," said Harry, eyeing the ancient monk in the corner. "And I'm getting frustrated, because I'm going around in circles, achieving nothing, and I have somewhere I've got to be."
Sander produced a tiny bone knife and began sharpening the end of the quill.
"I have told you," said the monk. "We do not have your magic wand, nor whatever else you said you had."
Harry's eyes snapped to the old monk in the corner, but there was no outward reaction from him.
"Brother Jacques," said Sander, guessing at Harry's sharp intake of breath, "is quite deaf. Speak freely."
"He's deaf?" asked Harry, moving around the wall of the room as though scared to be noticed by the old man.
"Yes," sighed Sander. "It is a shame, as he was a wonderful Cantor. As it is, he still looks after our modest library…"
"I wish I could help," said Harry, not untruthfully, glancing at the sparse shelves as a memory of Ron and Hermione in the near-endless Hogwarts library, from long ago, came up from the depths of his mind. He dragged himself back to the conversation. "What does a Sacrist do?"
"A Sacrist?" said Sander, turning to him. "I run the monastery on behalf of the Dean."
"Really?" said Harry, feigning interest but watching the monk carefully. "Telling everyone what to do…"
"No, not as such," the monk said with a shrug. "I ensure we are stocked with what we need. I oversee the care and harvesting of the Church's land, the collection of levies… A little more nowadays, admittedly, since Dean Richard has been ailing."
Harry had listened carefully to his voice, but there was no trace of pride in what the man said. In fact there was a note of sadness in the otherwise drawling accent. He couldn't think of a way to ask more about the Dean without making his attempts too obvious.
"Who was it taking the – uh, the service, then?"
The brief melancholy that had occupied Sander's face was gone before it could truly manifest itself. His features fell back into impassivity as he said, "Brother de Castelnau is visiting. I apologise if the singing in the night disturbs you – we normally pray in silence, but the Deacon prefers to hear the choir at Midnight Matins. He's in residence for another two days. He - his visit was unscheduled, and has had us in disarray."
"Okay," said Harry, unsure of the significance as Sander stared into space. "So – so as the Sacrist, you get to travel a lot? Patrick said you were one of the only monks who got to travel… Can you tell me how far are we from London?"
Sander turned away from him, saying "Why do you want to know? I thought you were going to Scotland."
"I am – I need to know how close I am."
"Close?" cried Brother Sander suddenly, spinning to face him once again. "Nowhere near close, boy! Hundreds of miles! More! You're not – you're not twenty leagues from London!"
Harry swore inwardly as his stomach sank, but said, "Someone told me Hertford was twenty leagues from London."
"No," Sander said, seeming to get himself under control again. "Hertord… twenty miles, if that. Not leagues. You aren't anywhere near, so you'd best set off."
He stood, staring at Harry with wide eyes as though waiting for him to leave. Harry didn't move, or say anything, annoyed that the carter had been wrong and growing angrier with Sander by the moment.
"Go on, then, boy," hissed Sander, actually making a shooing motion with his hands. "Go on to Scotland. You'll be given everything we can spare."
"Do you have a map?" asked Harry through his teeth, trying to reign in his temper.
"A… map? No – no I do not have a map, we don't have any maps here. You'll have to make do without."
"What is it that you don't understand?" Harry shouted, the monk's dismissal the last straw as far as he was concerned. "I'm not leavingwithout my wand!"
Sander's eyes went wide at the volume of Harry's voice, and his eyes shot to the doorway over Harry's shoulder.
"Do not raise your voice in this place!" the monk hissed, as though to a co-conspirator. "Have you not heard of Pierre de Castelnau?"
"I can't leave without it!" yelled Harry, uncaring. "I'll wait for this bloke to come back, this guy who confessed to Brother What's-His-Name, if I have to, but I will not walk out of this place without it! I need it: it belongs to me and it's been stolen. Sander - Brother Sander - I cannot survive without it."
Everything was very still and quiet when Harry stopped shouting, Sander staring at him with an unreadable expression on his face, the candles flickering and the ancient monk in the corner reading away, oblivious, muttering inaudibly to himself.
Without further preamble, Brother Sander turned back to the lectern and softly closed the volume he'd been writing in. He lay the quill down on top of it and gathered the folds of his habit, sweeping them over one arm and turning to march around Harry to the door.
"On your own head be it," said the monk, not meeting his eyes as he passed. "It is the seventh hour - I must lead my Brothers in their writing."
Harry almost snarled in frustration, feeling practically helpless, and wanted to throw something at the bald spot on the monk's head as he marched through the door.
The smell didn't go away.
Harry had been shovelling manure with a stretch of misshapen wood for hours, having been found and recruited into the labour by Brother Patrick after lunch and yet another service. When the monks had gone in to pray and sing yet again, Harry had stayed out and continued working, wheeling a small hand-cart along and pitching the excrement evenly onto the field - doing, he believed, a a very good job of it considering that he was working one-handed.
It felt good to be doing something manual, despite the initial awkwardness that had arisen before working out which crook in his arm to use and what angle was best for the job. After days of lying helpless and having no hope of finding his wand or continuing to Scotland, doing anything to be helpful and achieve something was good, and the monks didn't stare at him while they all worked together in the spreading of manure, even though he was half as slow as the worst of them. They'd even loaned him a baggy habit to wear.
But the smell did not leave his nostrils.
Eyes watering yet again, Harry stood straight and sniffed, trying to clear the fumes and get his breath back. He leant on the spade-like instrument and absentmindedly cleared the muck from between his toes with it, his feet caked in a purer mud than any he'd seen in London. With every heavy step each foot sank to the ankle in the cold, sodden dirt and Harry found it to be an oddly liberating feeling on the mangled soles of his feet.
He'd been thinking about what the Sacrist had said. He'd had very little else to occupy himself with mentally as he underwent the menial task, and Sander's entire manner that morning had been peculiar. Harry was trying to figure out what the man was hiding… the obvious answer was 'my wand', but somehow Harry didn't think it would be that straightforward.
He tried to assimilate what he knew thus far; Patrick was a very strange, crooked old man who flipped from 'kindly-grandfather-mode', as Harry had christened it, to 'Ollivander mode' and back again within the blink of an eye… he also managed to achieve this both ways without losing an ounce of piety in the process. St. Martin's was a very small monastery – though for all Harry knew of the religious institutions of this time it might be enormous by comparison – and housed about fifty monks and one very fat deacon in a white habit, who was just visiting. It was twenty leagues from London and a league was farther than a mile. They had no maps – or maps didn't exist yet, which was a concept Harry struggled to believe - or Brother Sander had been lying. Harry had been brought here by this stranger in the woods who he'd shared the pigeon with, and at some point during that process someone had removed his wand, and everything else he'd been carrying.
It was obviously robbery: he'd been robbed. It was simple… and, admittedly, robbery didn't feel like the penchant of humble, reclusive monks, who forswore all worldly possessions to undergo lives of religious servitude. It was a crime of opportunity, and either guilt or the robbery being spontaneous had made the barrel-chested man carry him to St. Martin's... but he couldn't escape the feeling that there was more to it. Just a few feet from the surface he was being dragged deeper.
Harry couldn't figure out the monks themselves. Half seemed inclined to want him to leave as soon as possible, and the other half seemed to want him to stay so they could take care of him – or get some free labour on the farmland. Either way, they were clearly very uncomfortable with his presence in the monastery itself. This was either caused by the fact he was a stranger, and they didn't get a lot of those taking prolonged advantage of their hospitality, or because they knew or suspected that he was different to them somehow.
Harry looked around him as a few monks began to amble slowly back out onto the fields, released from their afternoon service. He felt a prickle on the back of his neck as he watched them refuse to meet his eyes, and realised he couldn't discount the possibility that Sander had told everyone he was a wizard… Brother Sander, who thought either he or his magic was evil – his wand a 'tool of heresy' – and who would rather have died than be saved by magic in a church that was burning to the ground around him.
'Mental,' he heard Ron say in his head, and smiled wryly. He watched as the nearest monks began to remove their boots and sandals, piling them neatly in the footwell of one of the carts. Harry watched them surreptitiously from the corner of his eye, vaguely wondering what he was going to do for shoes for the remainder of his long walk to Scotland, when a thought struck him like a physical blow and he stood up straight, staring at the skyline.
He'd removed his shoes in front of the muscled stranger's campfire. He'd taken them off, shredded as they were, and discarded them... he'd sat trying to clear up his feet as the bird cooked on the flames.
He'd taken off his shoes.
Patrick had said he'd had his shoes when he'd been brought in. 'Those strange ruined shoes' were the words he'd used. But he'd thrown them aside into the darkness... why would the stranger have brought his shoes with him, injured as he was? And... Patrick had even said he'd had them on. Why would a stranger who was robbing him find his shoes in the undergrowth, put them on his feet, then carry him to the nearest church?
None of it made sense and he hated himself for only just now seeing it. What's worse was that of everything Brother Patrick had told him, the cursory way he'd mentioned the shoes was one of the few things Harry would swear was the absolute, unembellished, subconsciously imparted truth. He began to get a very uneasy feeling up his spine, a chill not unlike the type a Dementor's presence brought, and he tried to tell himself that nothing was certain - there was an awful lot that he didn't remember - and a charitable stranger may well have put his shoes back on. He could have even done it himself.
'I just don't like Patrick,' he told himself. 'He rubs me up the wrong way. Reminds me of Ollivander.'
The feeling didn't go. He found himself to be holding the length of wood in his hand very tightly, and scooped another chunk of manure onto the field one-armed. Clenching his jaw, Harry decided that he'd be leaving on the next day. One way or another, he'd walk away from the monastery and leave them all to it. He continued watching the monks from the corner of his eye as they set to work on the fields before a way of knowing for sure who had taken his wand – and maybe why - contrived itself before his eyes, and he carried on at the spreading with his mind whirring.
Even if he was grasping at shadows, his problems weren't going to solve themselves, and he wasn't just going to sit around and do nothing. Not anymore.
He lay under the blanket, eyes clamped shut, in case somebody looked in. Nobody had on any prior night, but Harry was taking no chances.
Harry heard the monks shuffle past, some muttering sleepily, smelt the thick incense a couple carried down the hall, and kept his eyes closed as he went over his plan for what felt like the thousandth time.
He was dressed beneath the blanket - his stinking borrowed habit, the hem laboriously washed in the river during supper to rid it of the speckling manure, was far from clean but at least now smelt a little less. He could feel it, still damp, rubbing against his calves and he begged to scratch, but dared not move upon the worn old cot. His plan was to not be seen at all... but just in case he was, he hoped he'd pass as a monk from a distance.
The hallway quietened down as the last monks travelled through it and Harry waited, barely breathing, his mind seeing only the route he'd memorised during the 'Vespers' service, remembering his distances in paces and his corners by touch.
He thought he probably had the right destination... but he'd know soon enough.
He counted to thirty silently and, when he got there and the world beyond the doorway was still silent, he tossed back the cover and opened his eyes.
Darkness. He was almost, stupidly, surprised before his brain caught up with him and Harry reminded himself he'd planned for this.
He stood, careful despite the deserted building to not shift his weight on the cot too much, and moved forward in the darkness with his one usable arm held out before him.
'...five...six.' he counted out internally, and the oak door brushed against his outstretched fingertips. 'Easy.'
Finding the latch, he delicately lifted, and briefly considered before pulling it open that this almost, almost compared to the nerves he'd had before the First Task. The tournament that seemed an age away... and in a way was.
He stepped into the corridor, light on his bare feet, and crept towards the turning he'd trained his mind to recognise - twenty paces, yes - and turning along the wall he moved forward a little faster, a little more confidently, and found the door after thirty-six paces, not thirty-four, but didn't care. It was working. Harry's fingers found the latch -
He nearly jumped out of his skin when the singing started. His heart, already beating fit to burst, was now going at a rate of knots. The hairs on the back of his arm rose as the basses roared in under the trebles and he felt like he'd just drained Pomfrey's entire January stock of Pepper-Up.
On the brink of a nervous chuckle, stifling the foreign urge, he opened the latch and pushed the door outwards. The iron hinges squealed but were muffled by the deafening choir, and he took a moment for his eyes to adjust – the moon was out, and the world was blue, save for the chapel: candlelight flickered red through the shaking wooden shutters and made the squat building look like an ominous, shuddering Jack-o'-Lantern which, with the nerve-rending din from its depths, combined to create an effect that was uniquely unsettling.
Trying to ignore it - to block out the thunderous voices and concentrate on the task at hand - his eyes scanned the cloister with a Seeker's precision before he moved into the open.
'A count I didn't need to remember,' he thought, trying to distract himself. 'Forty paces.'
The singing had thrown him off a little. He'd expected it, but forgotten in the heat of the moment just how encompassing it could be. He was within a few yards of the church at his nearest; the ceaseless, fervent canon from within gripped his chest like a vice, the song travelling through him, and he hurried on.
He actually gasped when he reached the alcove opposite, breathless, surprised at how distracted he'd become. Steeling himself with his back toward the church, he squared his shoulders and walked straight into the shadows, his hand finding the ring-latch on the door before him.
It was stiff - he applied a little more strength and it gave. The door swung in, swallowed by the darkness beyond, and Harry stepped forwards.
He'd thought it was twelve paces to the next corner but found it in seven, furious with himself for the mistaken count and trying to get the order right again. He turned the corner and got his angle wrong, knocking his injured arm painfully into the wall before correcting himself, forcing his lungs to take long, measured breaths and trying to regain his concentration as he shuffled forwards, the chanting still looming over him in the jet-black hallway...
He remembered that he'd forgotten to close the outside door. That's why it was still so loud.
'Too late,' he told himself. 'Carry on. Fifteen - sixteen - seventeen - '
At twenty-two, he found the door on his right hand side. Glad he'd got the count right, instructing himself to not just forget it on his way back, he found the latch - it was a lot stiffer, this one, and he'd not been able to test it earlier. He'd not seen a lock but had the brief, worrying mental image of a wooden bar across the inside flutter through his head before it clunked and opened.
As much darkness within as there was without. He took his hand off the latch, wryly acknowledging that an older outbuilding meant stiffer doors, and held his arm out before him as he stepped in - this was unexplored territory.
It was a smaller room than he'd expected. It took him only a quarter of an hour to search it thoroughly, finding nothing that would indicate a hidden wand or even so much as a locked trunk. Biting his lip in annoyance, Harry found his way to the door by simply following the direction in which the singing was loudest. He moved back into the hallway.
With a sudden crescendo, the choir stopped singing. Despite his fraught nerves, Harry didn't panic; there was a spoken service in Latin between hymns. There had been every night, and there would be tonight, too. There was at every service. He reassured himself of this as he walked down the hallway further, visualising it as it had looked when the brackets on the walls were lit during vespers, finding his way to the next door.
The singing started again. A slightly more melodic tune filled the silence, not quite as droning and driving - less fire and brimstone, more 'glory of God', Harry guessed, and a good omen. The image of Trelawny making predictions out of hymns amused him for a moment, vivid in the darkness, before he found the next doorway.
He became conscious of the fact that he'd need to move faster. He didn't know how long he'd been so far, but they were through the first song already and into the second. He pushed the door inwards and moved forward, surprised to find some moonlight filtering in through an empty window. He looked around the room, eyes straining in the dim light, and moved to a shadowy corner to begin his search.
A few minutes later and he'd finished. He'd raced through the room, shoving instead of shuffling things out of his way, working with a renewed vigour out of desperation. He'd not planned further than the first room - what he'd thought was where Patrick was sleeping in lieu of his own cell, based on the monk's own description - and thoughts quickly turned to the possible need to come back and try again the next night, and the night after, until he'd ransacked the entire monastery and found his wand.
Back in the corridor, white smudges blurring his vision where the moonlight had burned into his retinas, he marched further and dragged his right hand along the uneven wall until he found another door. With no preamble this time, he jammed the latch upwards and threw it open, striding into the pitch black room and wondering which direction he should start in.
"Sack..." said a weak voice.
Frozen to the spot, Harry thought he might have imagined it.
"Sack..." it said again.
Silent, hoping irrationally that he'd not been heard, he felt his heartbeat start up once more. He tried to decide what to do. The music was still pouring in through the doorway... he wondered whether he should just back out and close it again, skipping this room.
For lack of a better idea, that is what he did - trying his hardest to be silent, he moved directly backwards, and when the change in acoustics told him he'd entered the corridor once more he leaned in and pulled the door slowly closed.
And then he stood staring at it, trying to restore order to his own thoughts. Oddly, after the nerve-wracking experience he'd had by the chapel, he wasn't scared or worried in any way. He was simply confused, wondering who on earth might be in the room, saying 'sack' over and over again, whatever that meant...
The Dean's quarters - the only 'bedroom' built for more than just a bed, desk and coffer - was on the other side of the monastery, in the same building Harry slept in. He had assumed, since he'd heard that morning about Dean Richard - or 'Old Richard' - being sick, that this is where the head of the monastery would be if not in the church itself.
The image of a very large man in white came to mind, and Harry grit his teeth in annoyance - the Deacon, de Castelnau, whoever he was. He had no idea what a 'Deacon' was, but if it outranked a 'Dean' there was no reason he wouldn't have taken Richard's room. But even if the man was ill?
Harry remembered the white monk's shrewd, glittering eyes and flabby jowls and decided grimly that yes, he'd probably have kicked the sick Dean from his quarters if so inclined.
The door swung open in front of him and a figure moved out. Harry inadvertently stepped backwards as a small, crooked shape lurched forward from the shadows. The figure stopped, and so did he, his back to the wall opposite the door, his eyes straining to make out the silhouette of the man in the darkness.
After a deep, shuddering breath, the man said, "Wine, idiot..."
"Wine?" repeated Harry, eyes wide in the black, his sense of smell overwhelmed by the decrepit figure's reeking presence.
"Sack!" the man wheezed. "Wine! Sack! Bring me some - something to drink!"
Harry nodded, astonished, before realising the daftness of the action. He turned and started to walk back the way he'd come.
"Wait," said the old man behind him, and Harry found he'd paused - following an order again despite himself. "Can't wa - walk around in bloody bla - blackness."
The man, who by this point Harry had to assume was Dean Richard, turned and shuffled back into the room. Harry simply stood, staring at where he guessed the door was, unsure why he was obeying but starting to subconsciously develop a course of action.
With a click and a spark, an orange light flickered to life within the cell, illuminating the doorway and the floor beyond it. Harry winced at the sudden light, coming just as he'd become accustomed to the darkness, and the old man appeared in the door with a squat candle held in one hand. In the firelight, Harry got the chance to see him properly - very old, much older than he sounded due to the belying strength in his voice, and covered in sweat. He was also shivering slightly, his eyes flicking from one vacant space to another and then finally settling on Harry.
The Dean thrust the candle at him.
"One of - of his lot," the old man stated, before turning back into the room and disappearing into darkness once more.
Harry stood holding the candle, his shock still outweighing all other reaction, until he remembered the command for wine. Wanting to get the potentially raving Dean into conversation, he hurried up the hallway and went into the nearest room - one he'd missed while searching - and found a clay jug by the cot. There were no cups there. By the proximity of this room to the Dean's and the rags piled up on the floor, he guessed that this was where his retainers had been relocated to.
He smelt the contents of the pitcher and verified it to be very weak wine. He balanced the candle carefully on his injured hand, grasping it with what little strength he had in his fingers, before carrying the jug back into the Dean's room just in time to find the old man relieving himself in a chamber pot - and on the floor nearby. He turned his back, astonished at the course his midnight sojourn had taken, until he heard the grumbling and spattering stop.
"Pour," the old man wheezed.
Reminding himself the man was sick, Harry made his way to the cot and found a metal goblet - the only opulent thing he could see in the room - his eyes anywhere but on the old monk. Standing it upright, he poured a half-measure in and left it by the bed, moving aside so that the Dean could get in. The whole bed and room reeked of urine and sweat, as though the feverous Dean had grown to be a part of it.
The old man staggered forwards and lowered himself awkwardly onto the straw, his night-clothing a stained, grubby long shirt and hampering his movement. Harry stood awkwardly, looking resolutely away, wondering what in Merlin's name he'd done to end up where he was.
"Frenchmen," spat the old man after a slurp of wine. "Bloody Fre - Frenchman. His music. In..."
Harry waited despite himself, until it became clear that the Dean had no intention of finishing his sentence. Harry put down the clay jug next to him as he knelt by the cot, expecting to see the old man asleep already and surprised to find the man's eyes were focused on him.
In a moment of surprising clarity, the Dean said breathlessly, "What were you do - doing in my room?"
"I - the Deacon sent me," said Harry, hoping his lie would hold.
"To - to kill me?"
Harry wondered how many times he could be shocked speechless in the space of an hour. He decided that the old man was raving, and that it was time to take control of the conversation.
"No," he said. "To see... uh, rather, to fetch the stick."
"What stick?" hissed the old man after another shuddering breath. His eyes were flicking around again, as though he was constantly noticing things in his peripheral vision. "Blo - French music … in white..."
"The - uh - the magic stick."
The eyes slammed back onto Harry and after a moment the old man shook. Harry saw he was laughing and knew he'd made a mistake.
The old man didn't seem amused in any genial way - it was a cruel laughter, even though it was silent, and Harry felt himself begin to lose his temper. He knew it would sound ridiculous if the old man didn't know what he was on about, but he'd suspected - or, if not suspected, at least hoped - that the monks might have taken his wand. That the Dean might know about it, and thus be able to tell him where it was...
As the laughs became coughs, no longer silent, Harry dashed some more wine into the cup and thrust it to the old man, who sucked the pink liquid in gratefully between heaves. His frustration was growing, and with it, desperation.
"Sorry to disturb you, Dean," said Harry, trying to sound like a humble monk despite his annoyance. "Goodnight."
He stood, taking the candle from his injured hand and holding it before him as he turned to the door.
"M'not the Dean," said the old man as he reached the hallway.
Harry paused. The singing was still going - they'd changed to a new hymn, and he hadn't even noticed when, but he was certain he'd heard the man correctly.
"What?" he asked, his voice hollow to his own ears.
The old monk didn't answer. Harry turned and moved back to the bed, standing over the now-asleep old man - an old, sweaty monk once more cast into flickering light, and suddenly understood the stink of piss and wine on him.
"You're not ill," he said. "You're drunk."
The man's eyes remained closed.
"And you aren't the Dean," said Harry, again more to himself than the old man.
Mixed in with the fury and embarrassment was the slightest glimmer of hope. He put the candle down on the floor and leaned over the drunkard, grasping him with his arm and giving him a good, hard shake.
Spluttering, the old man came to, his eyes rolling to meet Harry's and his face contorting. He opened his mouth, but before he could get a word out, Harry pushed his face very close to the drunk's and bared his teeth.
"Who are you?" he bit out.
"Ge - get off - "
"Who are you? Answer!"
"Bro - Brother Duncan," stammered the man, his eyes focusing and now looking a little scared. "Let go - "
"Where's the Dean?" spat Harry.
"I..." stuttered the old man, his eyes widening and now apparently terrified. "Don't hur - hurt me..."
Harry let him go and picked up the candle once again.
"If you don't tell me what I want to know, I'll burn you with this candle," he said.
"He's in his bed!" whimpered the drunk, lip shaking. "Don't burn me! He - he's in his quarters - weren't my fault, I didn't know - I tho - thought he were sleeping!"
'No good, too close to the service,' thought Harry, wracking his brains for more to ask before his brain caught up with what the monk had said and he felt a chill run down his spine.
"What do you mean you thought he was asleep?" asked Harry quietly.
His sudden change in demeanor seemed to scare the old man even more.
"Be - because he's dead! He's dead - don' hurt me - I found him, I found him - old Richard, dead in his bed..."
So Sander was lying, Harry realised. Or was he?
"The Dean was dead," clarified Harry, and the old man shivered, muttering. "I thought he was just ill?"
Despite his terror - or perhaps because of it - there was no answer in anything more than a slight increase in the old man's trembling. His eyes were still slightly glazed over from the alcohol.
'Maybe Sander didn't lie to me," he considered, and as his thoughts turned to the Sacrist, his mind cast too to Patrick and he tried to think of something to ask. Failing to come up with anything relevant, fearing his time running out, he jumped to the nearest thing he could think of.
"Why were you visiting the Dean?"
"I sat with 'im," whispered the old man. "I sat with 'im, in the ni - nights, during matins... he hated the music - hated it, and I'd sat with 'im - but toni - tonight, he were dead..."
"I'm sorry to hear that," said Harry, a little guilty to be brushing it aside so swiftly. "You were - um - friendly with the Dean?"
The old man nodded, still staring terrified at Harry. The boy took a deep breath and decided to simply outright ask it.
"Do you know about the wizard?"
The old man barely blinked, and nodded. Harry stared, feeling his pulse behind his ears, growing angrier - no surprise, no confusion, nothing. Yes, he knew about the wizard, of course he did - everyone knew about the wizard.
"Where's his stuff?" spat Harry.
Lip quivering, the old man eyed the candle as he shook his head.
"I will burn you," said Harry, hoping the old man didn't call his bluff. "Where are they keeping the wizard's belongings?
"I don't - I don't know!"
Harry actually growled in frustration. Yet another person he'd never heard of.
Unwilling to actually burn the old man, no matter how infuriated he was, Harry stepped away from the bed with the candle, his mind whirring as he tried to piece together the extremely confusing conversation; the Dean was actually dead, for some reason. In his bed. This old drunk - Brother Duncan, a normal monk - had found the man. This man was also 'Old Richard'. Now someone called Pierre had his things - despite himself, he felt a thrill of justified loathing as he thought of Sander. The man had been lying to him. Everyone there knew he was a wizard, and yes, the monks had taken his stuff.
But he had just as many unanswered questions. He looked at the fat, soft candle in his hand and, hating himself for it, decided he'd have to do something to get the drunk to say more.
'I'll just scare him,' Harry told himself.
He turned back to the old man and approached with the candle, holding it threateningly. To Harry's surprise, it worked a bit - the man wheezed out a yelp and flinched.
"I'm going to burn you now," said Harry. "Unless you tell me more. I'm... I'm going to burn your hair off."
He moved the candle over the monk's head. The old man cried out slightly, covering his thinning hair, and Harry felt disgust with himself creeping into his sternum... but still, the old man didn't speak. Harry sucked in breath through his teeth.
"A'right!" screamed the old man, finding his voice abruptly - the volume almost caused Harry to flinch. "He had them! I don't know where, but he brought them in with 'im - "
"Who!" Harry shouted back. "Who had them? Tell me names!"
"Pierre - Brother Pierre! Your master - the bloody Frenchman!"
'My master?' thought Harry, confused, but things were beginning to piece together in his mind. The Frenchman was Brother Pierre - Pierre de Castelnau, the 'just visiting' Deacon. The fat monk in white. The one who had his gold, the Circlet, and his wand... one and the same. It was as though a veil had been lifted... but beyond was only shapeless smoke.
"Wait - did you say the Deacon brought m- er, the wizard, to St. Martin's?" he asked.
"Yes," said the old monk. His eyes were barely focusing on anything in his drunkenness.
"What about the mug - er, the man, the man who wasn't a monk - the big man, huge chest, who..." Harry paused for a moment, astonished that he'd not seen it sooner. "Who you interviewed! Who confessed to you! You're Brother Duncan, you heard the man's confession!"
But the drunk was shaking his head, muttering, "Di'nt hear no confession. Don't take confessional."
"Brother Patrick said you - said Brother Duncan - took a man's confession. The man who brought me here."
The drunk's eyes widened and he finally met Harry's eyes again.
"Witch," Duncan breathed.
Harry realised his slip, but it was too late, and he didn't care - he was so close! He knew who had his things, now he needed to know how and why and figure out what on earth he was going to do to get them back.
Harry adjusted his position, taking a breath to ask again, and forgot about the candle still poised over the man's head. It tipped, causing a dollop of hot, sticky wax to drop onto the man's forehead - presumably it felt a lot like the flame had been pressed to him, because the monk screamed in pain and terror, flailing reflexively and striking the candle with the back of his hand. It blew out half-way across the room, and the two were suddenly plunged into darkness.
The man kept flailing, screaming louder, and Harry was horrified to hear a lack of singing in the background. As he was struck in the face by the man's swinging fist, he jumped away from the bed to head towards the door, but put his foot down on the jug... which smashed.
Shouting in pain, he fell to his knees before trying once again to get up.
Voices began to echo down the corridor. Shouts rose up, calling Duncan's name - the monks were back from their service, and Harry hadn't even noticed. Orange lights from handheld candles illuminated the wall outside the doorway.
As Harry stood, not putting weight onto his newly ruined foot, the last thing he saw before Duncan grabbed something from the floor behind him and a swinging, piss-filled chamber pot smashed into his skull was Brother Sander in the doorway, sheer astonishment naked on his face.
Never again, he decided. Never again would he complain about being 'imprisoned', or use it as any sort of metaphor. Until now - bleeding and shackled as he was in a cell beneath the Refectory - he'd had no idea what being imprisoned really was.
He felt embarrassed; he'd used the term to complain to Brother Sander about having a bed and an open door and three meals a day. He'd used it often to describe his life at the Dursley house during the summers; he'd even described it like that to Sirius, who had actually been imprisoned for twelve years, Dementor guardians et all.
Unwilling to shackle his broken arm - they were still monks, after all, and apparently had some sense of humanity despite his 'evil' - they'd strapped it tight to his body with rope. His remaining arm and two legs were clapped in manacles, chaining him very effectively to the wall and floor. Even had he been able to escape the shackles, the room had no breach - a small pail beside him was intended for his waste, judging by the smell from it, and the entrance to the tiny cell was a thick oak door that he'd only seen one side of. Other than the chains and manacles, these were the only features in the tiny cell. He only knew the Refectory was above the cell by the sounds the scraping benches made above the ceiling as fifty monks sat down to eat.
He'd woken up, head pounding and habit drenched in sour-smelling urine, what felt like days ago - he'd lost count of the amount of meals he'd heard take place ten feet above his head. The frustration he felt with the whole thing - with himself for getting caught, with the monks for imprisoning him, with the Sacrist for lying to him, with the Deacon for stealing his things - had bubbled down into a simmering, justified anger that was the only thing standing between himself and utter hopelessness.
This anger allowed him to forget the pain in his broken arm, strapped as it was to his chest. It allowed him to ignore the cutting iron manacles that dug into his wrist and ankles, to forget about the pangs of hunger that were starting to clasp his stomach, to shake his head free of the guilt that pressed down upon it at the thought of what he'd done to Duncan in an effort to gain information. Most importantly, it allowed him to stay resilient.
There was little to no warning, after this eternity of sitting, angry, chained to the wall, when the lock in the door clunked and it opened, admitting a fat monk dressed in a white habit that looked yellow in the torchlight.
Deacon de Castelnau stood before Harry as another monk closed the door behind him. An enormous silhouette, he cut an imposing figure in his voluminous robes... or would have, had Harry not been quite so angry.
"Well," he croaked, sitting as confidently in the chains as he could. "You must be room service."
There was no reply. Harry tried to reign in his anger a little - enough to coherently decide whether to try and reason with the man, or just piss him off. He had a strange feeling that neither would prove fruitful, despite the perverse satisfaction that the latter might yield.
"Could you let me out, please?" he asked sweetly.
The fat Deacon raised an eyebrow at him, sniffing in distaste as he peered around the cell. Harry felt annoyance bubble up at the man's attempt to pretend he wasn't there - and even after he'd asked nicely. 'Ignore me, will you, fatty? After chaining me up like a sideshow?' Beyond mere annoyance, though, he was swept up by a perverse recklessness - a need to repay every physical trauma he'd endured thus far back onto the huge monk tenfold, mentally if necessary, no matter the cost to himself. He refused to simply back down and let the man have his way.
"Shining example of the impoverished monk you are," spat Harry, glaring at the man's enormous gut. "You know you're supposed to be charitable to something beyond your own appetite, yeah?"
Face bathed in shadow, the monk's eyebrows rose in surprise at the barb before a small smile crept onto his features. Harry smirked back, glad at a reaction - no matter how small - and though he was unsure where he was finding the words from, he suddenly had a whole lot more to say.
"Devil," de Castelnau suddenly announced to the cell, deep voice ringing with a trace of French. "I stand before thee in the name of the Almighty God, and His Church of Rome, to denounce thee."
"You're not going to try and eat me, are you?"
The man's smile flickered and a barely noticeable flush crept onto his flabby cheeks.
"Oh God," said Harry, miming horror. "That's exactly what you're going to do, isn't it?"
"A trial has been held," intoned the Deacon. "Over which I have presided as senior official of the Church. For the murder of the Dean of St. Martin's, and the general practice of Witchcraft, Satanic worship and Devilry against the Church, you have been found guilty - "
"Wait," said Harry, wincing at the comment about killing the Dean and wishing he'd not been so rough with Duncan. "I wasn't invited to my own trial? But - but I've been there for all my trials..."
The Deacon stood in silence, staring at Harry as though he were insane.
"I do not understand," the monk said flatly after a moment, his smile now gone completely.
"You don't... well, that's fairly obvious," said Harry, shaking his head in mock disapproval. "What you do understand wouldn't fill a teacup. I'm asking: Where's my chance to defend myself?"
"Your judgement will be before the Almighty. We do not wish to hear what you have to say, devil!" hissed the Deacon, composure slipping as loathing flashed onto his face. "You will speak in riddles and bewitch us."
"Not as long as you have my wand, you bastard," growled Harry, leaning forward as far as his chains would allow. "I've been meaning to ask you about that."
The fat monk's smile grew once more as he seemed to remember where he was. His eyes flicked to the manacles and briefly to the waste bucket before sliding back to Harry.
"You are powerless, demon," said the Frenchman with relish. "Entirely powerless. The Church has decreed that you are to be burned. Your sacrilegious imitation of mortal flesh will blacken and turn to ash as you are cast into the hellfire from whence you came."
His eyes had glittered more and more as he spoke, and despite his anger and fun at the monk's expense, Harry felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck. He glared ever defiantly, though, despite the quiver of unease he was starting to feel.
"You get a real kick out of this, don't you?" spat the boy, forcing his expression into a fierce grin. "It's got nothing to do with God. Be honest - you do it for kicks. You get a real pleasure out of this - sexual pleasure, right? It turns you on - gets you all hot and bothered - that's why you disappear for twenty minutes to the confessional after a good burning, eh? Get a little release - those robes do look bloody tight on you - "
"Silence!" stuttered the Deacon, looking mortified.
" - maybe go find a nice, plump altar boy to have your way with. A fresh-faced novice - "
"QUIET!" roared the monk, jolting towards Harry with his bejewelled fists clenched as though to strike him.
"That's a pretty ring," said Harry, louder, unconcerned. "Did your husband buy you that?"
With an outraged roar, the monk heaved a huge leg up and drove his booted foot into Harry's face.
The back of his head hit the stone wall and he felt his nose crunch and collapse under the weight. He saw white for a moment at the impact and his head slumped forwards, his arm chafing against the manacle on his wrist where he half-hung from the wall.
"Your blasphemy will not go tolerated, witch!" the monk was screaming, his voice reverberating around the tiny cell. "You will burn under a purging flame! Your witchery will not work on me!"
As the Deacon gasped for breath, the physical exertion of kicking a shackled prisoner seemingly too much for him, Harry spat blood into his lap and smiled brokenly up at where he swam in his vision.
"Did I hit a nerve?" he mumbled.
He expected the fat monk to kick him again, but the man simply stood, shaking with rage, staring at Harry with his fists clenched.
"Your gold will go towards my palace when I am Archdeacon," hissed the monk, voice trembling. "The broken crown will be melted and made into jewellery for the Bishop of Rome."
"Returning the favour?" asked Harry, the coppery taste of his own blood driving him to recklessness. "He did get you that ruby one for your anniversary, after all."
"His Holiness' favour will be used to put a company of armed men out to catch the rest of your brethren... and your wand of sorcery will join my collection," finished the monk breathlessly.
That was perhaps the most chilling thing of all, Harry realised as he met the furious Deacon's shining eyes... eyes that seemed to catch some ethereal light that had no source. He'd burnt others - who knew how many? And who knew how many were actually witches and wizards? He really did enjoy it. He got some perverse satisfaction from doing this sort of 'God's work' - more so than forcing monasteries he visited to sing earth-shaking songs in the middle of the night, than bullying other monks and currying favour from his superiors. There was no holiness, no piety, in him, he knew. He burnt people for a living- probably children, too, knowing how accidental magic could be...
As he stared into the glittering depths of Pierre de Castelnau's eyes, Harry decided that he would remember this man. For as long as he lived. He decided that if he could, if he had time before returning home, he'd put a stop to his trail of burning 'justice'... because Harry felt sure that one day he'd be the one standing over a bleeding, broken Deacon de Castelnau. How, exactly, he didn't know, but by Merlin he was Harry Potter. That had to count for something. He'd lost count of the amount of people who wanted to kill him. He'd lost count of the amount of times they'd tried.
Anger was replaced with firm, cold resolution, and he communicated as much with his eyes as the monk continued to spit on him and quote scripture at deafening volumes... indeed, even after the Deacon left, Harry held on to it like a lifeline.
The Deacon didn't visit him again. He started to be fed - presumably, they didn't want him starving to death before the burning - and the deaf Brother Jacques was usually the one spooning sticky oats into his mouth a few times a day. Throughout this process the ex-Cantor didn't meet Harry's eyes once, but simply knelt in front of him, fed him the quarter-bowl, placed a wet rag in his mouth for him to suck the moisture from, and then stood, knocking on the cell door again to be let out. The one exception to this routine was the first time the old monk had entered, when he'd used the damp rag to clear some of the blood from Harry's face around his broken nose.
Despite the added pain he was in, Harry was glad he'd shaken up the Deacon. His company wasn't entirely appreciated, first of all, but mainly it reassured him that he still did have some sort of power. De Castelnau's diatribe about him being 'entirely powerless' had played over and over in his head while he'd been trying to think up a way to escape; short of the most convenient burst of accidental magic ever, he was growing crucially short of ideas.
What's worse was that despite his defiance, Harry really was in a bad way. Even though he was now being fed occasionally, he'd been unable to do anything more than doze for a few minutes at a time before pain jolted through his manacled wrist where it was suspended above his head, and he jerked awake, still in the unending, sputtering orange that the sole torch on the wall of the cell provided. His broken arm, strapped so tightly against his chest, no longer hurt in the same incessant way - it had become a dull throb, and Harry was sure the trauma it had endured was causing it to set improperly at the strange angle across his chest.
The rest of his joints had grown stiff in the time he'd been there, stuck in the same position, to the point where even free of the chains he wasn't sure if he'd be able to move. He was fairly sure he was concussed - the repeated hits to the back of his head had caused a migraine that was as painful as it was constant. Having his eyes open for too long or staring directly at the flaming torch made it worse - he'd resolved to stare only into the shadows in an effort to quell a little of the pain.
Perhaps most embarrassing of all was that the stench of excrement on him no longer belonged solely to Brother Duncan. The waste bucket was impossible to reach, much less use, without access to any of his limbs... despite it being the least of his worries, faces kept coming to him as he lapsed in and out of consciousness; faces from Hogwarts, friends and enemies both, leering at him out of the dim with appropriately delighted or horrified expressions at his situation. He saw Hagrid more than anyone else, bizarrely - the half-giant's big, child-like expression of horror and angst, appalled to see his friend in such a state, came to him constantly. Harry knew his brain was playing tricks - that he was wallowing somewhat when the resilience slipped and the faces of those he loved and hated looming out at him was his own way of feeling sorry for himself... but he couldn't fight it. Nor did he want to. There were only so many ways his brain could deal with sitting in his own mess, and if he was projecting self-pity into the shadows around him then so be it.
...and he missed his friends. Seeing them hurt, but not as much as not seeing them.
He'd been fed by Jacques only six or seven times, but Harry was starting to grow impatient. He had no idea what he was going to do, but whatever it was he knew it wouldn't happen in the cell. He'd have a chance - a small chance - when they took him to be burned... but six or seven small meals could have spanned the length of two days or ten. He had no way of telling. And he was starting to grow very weary of his situation.
'Why won't they get on with it?' he asked himself repeatedly. 'How complicated could it possibly be? Build a pyre or whatever, drag me out and crack on with the fire and brimstone. They've already done the trial - I'm a wizard, I even confirmed as much to him in this very cell. What's he waiting for?'
When he was up to it, he imagined all of the things he could do with a wand at that moment. He'd squint around the cell, mentally performing the wand movement and incantation, envisioning his grand, dramatic, magical escape from St. Martin's-upon-Ouse in a flash of spellfire. Alohomora on the manacles, he'd think, starting small. Diffindo on the ropes. Confringo on the door - a big one, blasting it out of the way and into dust. When he had his wand, he knew, he wouldn't be sneaking around much more - big and loud and scary was the way to do it. In the hallway now - a Stupefy on the guard ought to suffice. Maybe a Petrificus Totalus, depending on whether he recognised them or not - he'd want them to be conscious, unable to move, if he knew who they were. Patrick, maybe. Or Sander. Maybe a jinx with a little sting in it if it was one of those two.
But then he'd get creative - Anapneo! he'd cry, forcing air into the nearest flame and causing a small explosion. He'd always wanted to try it, ever since learning the 'Airways Charm' which forced air into something and was intended as a Healing spell, but he'd never had the chance... the Gryffindor common room not being the optimal location for practicing explosions. Expulso he'd use to banish any and all from his path, invisible barges on everything on his way just like he'd used on Sander to propel him from the burning church. And when he found the Deacon... Sagis! was one of the only real curses he knew. Something painful, which he learnt only to learn the counter to and swore to himself to never use - the 'Arrow Firing Curse', which supporters of Appleby used to celebrate with before it was outlawed, and barring an Unforgivable the most dangerous spell Harry knew...
And then he'd jerk awake again, staring at Malfoy or McGonagall or Hagrid or Neville or Brother Jacques in the shadows, and aware all the more of the pains that wracked his body.
Then at one point, before Harry had become aware, the torch on the wall gave one last little sputter before dying, and he was plunged into darkness.
'Count your paces, Harry,' he told himself, grinning stupidly. 'Feel for the corners. Listen for the singing.'
Harry started as dozens of benches began to scrape around above his head. Blearily, he stared at where the vaulted wooden ceiling would be in the darkness, and listened as the monks sat down to whatever meal it was they were now having. The low buzz of hushed conversation drifted down to him and he imagined that they were discussing him - discussing the impending burning, hopefully blessedly soon, and whispering about the evils of the 'witch' they'd all caught. The 'witch' that had worked with them on their own field, that had sat in their own church one morning... that very young man who lay just a few feet below them in his own excrement, feeling as though he was rotting away.
The door clunked - Harry stared into the darkness in the direction of it, realising that there was no noise from the ceiling and the meal had ended, then unsure suddenly of where he was before he remembered... 'is this it?' he wondered, suddenly nervous.
It wasn't - the door swung inwards and from a tiny window in the hallway light poured in. Harry flinched and tore his eyes away, agony screaming through his brain at the burning on his retinas, but not before he'd caught a glimpse of tall, blonde Brother Sander in the doorframe, an expression of utter contempt marring his features.
As Harry struggled to shuffle away from the light, trying to get his body to respond, he heard the priest mutter, "The brand's out. Fetch us another."
There was silence after the other person trotted off to find a replacement torch. Harry still hadn't opened his eyes, and was trying to remember how to speak, trying to get the words out, trying to protest any more light in the room - surely no more light was necessary? Were they trying to blind him as well as burn him, now?
But he couldn't. Instead he lay there, silent, not moving, waiting, and Sander said nothing.
Within a moment more light lit the corridor beyond, and Sander took the torch from the other monk - Brother Jacques - and held it before him as he entered the cell. As the firelight illuminated him, Harry heard a gasp.
With the shadow of a wry grin stretching itself over his broken face, Harry found his voice.
"I'm told St. Mar - St. Martin was one of..." he muttered weakly, trying to remember the words Patrick had used. "- one of the main saintly examples of charity."
Sander stood silent, seemingly shocked into a stupor, until he remembered what he was doing and pulled the old brand from the bracket on the wall and replaced it with the new, merrily burning one.
"I - I did not know you had been chained."
He seemed almost unwilling to look at Harry.
"Turns out I'm harder to kick in the face if I can move around," said Harry, coughing a laugh and wishing his voice wasn't quite so hollow. "You here to take me out?"
"No," said Sander, still staring resolutely at anything but Harry. "It will not be today."
Harry bared his teeth, swallowing dryly, before asking "What the hell is he waiting for?"
"He wants you weaker," said Sander quietly. "He is scared of you. All of us are."
'Oh,' thought Harry. 'That makes sense - and bugger, it's working. Much longer in here and I won't even be conscious when I'm dragged out.'
"Brother Pierre still believes you to have some hidden tricks," continued Sander, as though his curiosity was getting the better of him. "But you cannot be in such a hurry to be burnt."
"What the fuck are you even doing here?" spat Harry suddenly, his voice gaining a little strength as he remembered his anger at the man. "Come to gloat?"
"I - "
"You are lying scum," Harry said, coughing hollowly again. "You are no monk. There is no God here."
Sander seemed surprised at his sudden vehemence, and grew angrier himself.
"I came here because I wanted to ask you why," the Sacrist hissed. "Why would you do such a thing when we were trying to help you?"
"Because you lied about my damned wand," growled Harry. "I told you I wasn't leaving without it."
"The Dean didn't have your wand!" shouted Sander, looking genuinely upset. "He didn't have it! Nobody knew the Deacon had taken it!"
"What's the Dean got - oh, in Merlin's name," croaked Harry, realisation setting in. "I didn't kill your blasted Dean."
"You were attempting a ritual!" the blonde monk screamed. "A dark rite! And it killed a pious man - an innocent! An ailing monk! A man of God!"
"I didn't kill the fucking Dean!" spat Harry, coughs wracking his body again. "Ask Duncan! He found the man in his bed - he'd died in his sleep. I wasn't anywhere near the Dean."
"You bewitched Duncan!" said the monk, sounding horrified. "He screamed for hours - hours - that his head was on fire, that you'd tortured him. Brother Pierre had to exorcise him!"
"What a load of bollocks!" laughed Harry, jubilant despite the state of him, and thought he probably sounded quite insane. "That bloody monk - that Deacon - has you chasing your own tails. 'Had to exorcise him' - I've never heard anything so ridiculous in my life. The old bastard was drunk. Wax dripped off the candle and landed on him, and he freaked - before braining me with his sodding chamber pot."
Sander stared at him, shaking his head, refusing to believe a word he was saying.
"How would I have 'bewitched' him without my wand, stupid?" said Harry, now determined to prove the monk wrong. "I can't do magic without my wand, remember? That's why I've refused to leave this disgusting excuse for a - a 'House of God.' Without that, and the crown, and the money that I do not have, I can't go anywhere."
To his surprise, and joy, he saw the tiniest flicker of doubt appear in Sander's eye as the man stared at the floor, face contorting in confusion... but just as quickly it was gone, and the monk met his eyes, expression hard.
"Silence," commanded the Sacrist. "Be silent now. You are bewitching me as well. Your tongue still has magic. They were unsure at first, because you are not a woman, but I knew and I - I stupidly convinced them that you might not be. I tried to save you, to give you time to leave... and all for this. The murder of Old Richard."
"That's amazing, thanks so much for the help," Harry said sarcastically, frustrated. "But what now? You're completely happy for them to burn me. You don't honestly believe I killed the Dean, because I didn't, because it wouldn't make sense, and yet you'll put aside every great Christian value you hold so dear and let them burn an innocent boy - a boy who saved your life, no less - because I was born with something I can't control, and because you're happy to listen to the nonsense of that fat, psychotic, torturing Deacon who just wants to burn me for the hell of it!"
He was panting - his voice had risen as he'd gone on, and now he was short of breath, wheezing in the chains and glaring pointedly. Sander stared at him icily, eyes narrowed, and several times seemed on the point of saying something. The silence dragged as Harry kept his eyebrows raised, as if to say, 'Anything else?', furious that anyone could be so short-sighted.
Eventually, quietly, the Sacrist huffed a breath and turned away, standing for a moment with his back to him.
"I will inform the Deacon that you are still capable," he said. "You will be kept in here for a few days more, at least. You... if you had been repentant, then perhaps..."
He trailed off. Harry simply stared, still infuriated but feeling as though he'd just missed an important opportunity, as Sander took the torch from the bracket on the wall and walked out of the still open door.
"Thou Shalt Not Kill," quoted Harry quietly as the door slammed shut and he was plunged into darkness, left to dwell in pain and discomfort on the unfairness of it all as he began to slowly, carefully acknowledge the likelihood of being burnt alive.
The shock of falling jerked him awake. His arm, stiff and bruised, had been released from the manacle that held it and his head bounced off the stone as he slid down the wall.
Drool and dried blood down his chin, vision blurred, he took in the shadowy shape leaning over him and the single tiny candle by the door, the darkness beyond the doorframe, the distant singing pouring in from outside and the large iron key that was now being put into one of the shackles around his ankles.
"No," he breathed, trying and failing to move - to shuffle, even - away from the figure, use his stiff arm at all to bat away the threat, determined to fight, to not let them take him without some sort of resistance -
At his renewed groan of pain and frustration on finding his right arm completely dead and his left still broken and roped to his chest, the figure clamped a hand over his mouth. On instinct, Harry tried to scream or shout or bite, but the weight pressing onto him was too strong and the edge of the palm pinned the ruin of his nose... his eyes began to water, and he succeeded in thrashing weakly, but couldn't get away from the hand.
Not quite resigned, but determinedly searching all around him for something - anything - that he might be able to do without the use of his limbs, he looked again at the darkness beyond the door frame... the total darkness.
It was the middle of the night. Midnight Matins, to judge by the singing. There was only one person here, trying to free him from the shackles. They used a candle for light, an inconspicuous candle, instead of a bright, flaming torch. They were unceremoniously, clumsily removing him from his restraints.
If Harry had undergone an easier time of it in the cell, his heart would have leapt at the possibility that this person was trying to help him escape. As it was, however, after the prolonged tortures he had endured, the unending starvation since Sander had left, his mind immediately jumped to the possibility that whoever this was had far more sinister intentions.
And he'd never felt quite so helpless.
The final shackle came free - he heard it, but didn't feel it - and Harry wished he could move, wished could spring up, taking the man by surprise, and sprint to his freedom... but instead he simply lay there, hoping the man would be near enough to bite, hoping that the residual stiffness would wane so that he could fight back.
He caught sight of the man's face finally, and was astonished to find himself staring into the crinkled visage of Brother Jacques, who was now pressing a finger to his lips, signalling Harry to be silent.
Could it be..?
The monk removed his hand from Harry's face and used it to pick up the key, folding it into the sleeve of his robe. He turned away, picking up a wooden cup from behind him and holding it to Harry's chin.
He drank greedily, grateful beyond expression for the moisture in his parched mouth and throat, feeling on the brink of incredulous tears.
Could it be..?
"Why?" he mouthed at the monk.
The man stared at him, looking torn, before reaching into the folds of his robes and withdrawing a small, wooden cross on a piece of string. He leaned forwards and pressed it into Harry's cheek... the wood felt warm and clammy against him, and he stared in confusion as the monk pulled the cross away again, with an expression that said the single act had told him all he needed to know.
"But the others - " wheezed Harry, unable to believe what was happening.
His eyes on Harry's lips, the monk shook his head, tapping his earlobe and pointing to the hallway, where the sound of distant singing drifted in.
Harry shook his head, too confused to dare to believe that he wasn't dreaming.
"You're deaf," he muttered.
The old monk ignored him, and put his hands on Harry's arm, which was still numb. He began to drag his hands down it, fast, driving the circulation in it and trying to make it usable - Harry still only barely dared to hope, but after a few minutes - what felt like more - he began to sense pins and needles in the limb, and the distinctive pain of cramp.
"Ok," he wheezed, "the legs. It's working. Do the legs."
The monk ignored him yet again. 'Perhaps he is deaf?' thought Harry as he motioned down to his legs with his eyes and head, and the monk moved to them. The boy concentrated hard on trying to move the fingers in his hand as feeling began to return. He'd reached the internal decision to simply not over-think what was happening - if this really was what it appeared to be, time would be short. He'd just have to assume Jacques had seen the monks enter the church, slipping away when he could. It didn't matter. This was his opportunity - probably the only one he'd get - and it was now or never.
He managed to make a fist. Fighting the pain, driven by something deep within him, he opened and closed his fingers again and again, driving the stiffness from them, as he started to feel his legs once more.
"Ok," he muttered. "Ok - thank you - I can feel them. Can you get the rope off me?"
He caught the man's eye and used his own to signal about the rope. The monk's trembling hands began to try and fight at the knot in the rough hemp on Harry's left side. The constant bothering of his broken arm made him catch his breath. 'You think you're nervous? They'll punish you, sure, but they'll kill me.'
He started trying to lift his arm repeatedly, making it no higher than an inch from the ground, still making fists, and began to wiggle his toes to the extent that he could. The pins and needles pain in his legs was a thousand times worse than it had been for his arm - it felt almost like he'd been beaten continuously for weeks on end with truncheons, from one end of each leg to the other, tenderising them for the upcoming Roast.
At the suddenly very real fear of being burnt alive, he tried harder. It was just as Brother Jacques loosened the knot sufficiently that he managed to use his right arm to pull the ropes away from him. As his trapped limb was freed, a wave of nausea overcame him at the feeling that his twice bent arm invoked.
The monk stood, and from behind him pulled a crumpled, muddy robe into view, dropping it next to Harry. He could barely make out the ruined Hogwarts Crest on them in the low light.
"Alright," he breathed, fighting back the dry retches and the black smears in his sight. "Thank you - thank you, Jacques. Can - can you find my wand? Can you bring me my wand?"
He made a waving motion, trying to get it across to the monk, who simply shook his head and pointed at the robes before making a beckoning motion, shuffling out into the black corridor. He left the candle where it was.
"Merlins' boots," breathed Harry at the difficulty in communication, trying to set his arm at the least painful angle in the sling.
Unsuccessful - his arm hurt more than ever and he simply had to stop touching it, swallowing the bile that had risen - he turned his attention to the habit he was wearing. He wished Jacques had brought something sharp with him, for cutting himself out of it would surely have been easier. He gingerly, slowly, wrestled his way from the habit, pulling it off of his shoulders with his one half-functioning arm, removing the sling that held his broken arm and putting it between his teeth to bite down on as he pulled the habit from around the lifeless limb, before sitting up and ignoring the tremendous ache in his back as he pulled his filthy, smeared legs from within it.
He ended up nude against the wall, shivering and fighting the nausea, before reaching towards the Hogwarts robes and began the same difficult process, in reverse.
Cramp caught his foot as he tried to extend his legs. He rubbed it with his arm, the sling in his mouth stifling his moan of agony, before finally managing to get the robe on him. He didn't try to get his broken arm through the sleeve - he was worried he'd black out - and hung the still-tied sling around his neck inside the robes before, in one sweeping movement, pulling his broken arm through into it.
He succumbed to dry retches for a minute, lying on his side with his face against the cold stone floor and with his vision wavering in the darkness, before he was able to try and crawl up to the wall and support himself on his knees.
Yet again, cramp took hold of his foot like a vice grip, and with tears pouring down his face he rubbed it until the pain went away, flexing his toes back and forth all the while. As he readied himself to try and stand, an image came to him - his imaginary magical escape, running through the halls with wand held high; he hissed self-mockingly.
And then he stood. One leg at a time, he dragged his feet beneath him, leaning heavily against the wall, steadying himself all the way until he was on his feet. His legs were still a little numb and ached immensely, but he was up.
He'd started to take steps when Jacques re-entered - Harry thanked the man again, for he'd refilled the wooden cup with water and now gave it to him to drink. Unsteadily, he did so, wondering if all the kindness in St. Martin's-upon-Ouse had been gifted to this one, silent monk and denied to the others.
"Jacques," said Harry, his throat a little less scratchy, making the wand-waving motion again. "I have to find my wand."
The Ex-Cantor's eyes widened and he shook his head.
"I know you don't want me too," said Harry. "I know. But I have to, or I'll die, and all this would have been for nothing. We've got to find it."
The monk stared at him, seeming torn between helping and simply walking away. Harry wanted to let him go - God knew he'd done enough for him, more than enough - but he wouldn't even make it into the courtyard before the singing ended if he was on his own. He needed the help. He searched his addled mind desperately for a way to convince the man, before coming up with something he thought might work.
"Give me the cross," said Harry, pointing at the pocket in the man's habit it had been swept into. "The wooden cross."
Confusion in his eyes, the monk frowned, but reached into his robes and withdrew the tiny crucifix and string. Harry took it from him, putting it around his neck one-handed and tucking it into his robe. He could feel the warm wood against his chest and, despite it being nothing more than a symbolic gesture, did feel slightly comforted.
"God - God will love you for this," he said, before wincing - it sounded like blackmail. Thank Merlin the man couldn't hear him. "You're the true example of a monk. Of - of the image of Saint Martin, helping a peasant. You're a true Christian, and God loves you for what you're doing. Men like - like the Deacon... they aren't God's children. You are."
The monk was staring doubtfully at where the cross would be against his chest, looking more uncertain than ever. Harry cursed the man's deafness and put his working hand to his injured one, pressing the palms together as gently as he could. The man's eyes followed his hand up as he went on to cross himself, then put his hand on his heart.
"Please," begged Harry, for both understanding and help.
The mute monk shook his head absently. He didn't seem mollified in the slightest. After a long, torturous moment of Harry trying to think of some way to entreat the man, a seemingly reluctant Brother Jacques moved next to Harry and put his arm over his shoulders, and together they began to move forwards. Despite his age, the old monk was a lot stronger than he looked, and Harry put a little weight on him with no outward effect.
They stopped near the door and the old monk left Harry leaning against the frame, breathing laboured from the exertion, to bend down and pick up the candle. As one, they moved into the hallway, and Harry felt a shiver run between his shoulder blades as they left the cell in darkness.
Though the stairs had been a challenge, they reached the cloister fairly quickly. The chapel was groaning with the noise of the singing but the moon was behind cloud and, without the eerie blue light settled across the night, the building didn't look quite so foreboding.
Harry took his arm from Jacques shoulders and thanked him for the fiftieth time. The monk was staring at the church in the heart of the monastery, eyes fearful, expecting the service to end at any moment. How - and why - the monk had hidden his ability to hear for so long baffled Harry. He could only guess at the secrets that this strange, benevolent old man held from the rest of the monastery - he was probably another that knew Old Richard well, and Harry was glad there was at least a single monk in St. Martin's who didn't believe that he'd killed him.
After the man managed to tear his eyes away, he pointed to one of the outbuildings in the murky black. Harry squinted at it - if it was the building he was thinking of, it stood alone and he'd never been in it. He hadn't seen much activity around it either. He didn't know what it was.
"Where is the Dean sleeping?" he hissed. He was whispering out of habit - unnecessarily, from the racket the singing was making. Then he shook his head at his own daftness - what made it unnecessary was the monk's deafness.
Trying to get his brain in gear he put his hand under his head like a pillow and tried, with a complex series of hand gestures, to ask the same question again to the silent Ex-Cantor. After a moment, Jacques shook his head, pointing again to the outbuilding somewhere in the shadows.
"Is he sleeping in there?" wondered Harry aloud.
Only one way to know for sure.
He turned and patted the front of the monk's habit, mouthing 'Thank you' over and over again, and the old man nodded, seeming preoccupied, and shooed him away. Harry shuffled extremely slowly across the cloister and away from Jacques' candelight, hoping beyond hope that his luck held out and the singing didn't end, flooding the world around him with monks who were determined to kill him, and when he stopped to catch his breath and try to ease the pain in his legs he turned back only briefly towards the doorway he'd emerged from that led to the Refectory.
Brother Jacques was gone, and the space was black.
'God bless that man,' Harry thought vehemently, still not quite accepting that everything was really happening. 'God bless that deaf old monk.'
As he moved on in the darkness, quicker now that he was perilously close to the church and wouldn't even be able to hide were the monks to appear, he wondered if he'd ever find out why the man had chosen to help him. Was it solely a case of charity or was there more to it?
He finally reached the other side of the cloister, breathing shakily, and put his hand against the large, splintery door, trying to guess what might be on the other side.
When his hand found a ring-pull he carefully, stiffly opened the door and, as he did so, felt his stomach drop. To his astonishment there was candle-light from within, completely undetectable from the outside, and movement.
Someone was in there. He froze in place, willing his brain to work. 'Do I walk away, or do I go in?' he wondered, torn. 'What have I got to lose? Nothing if I walk, everything if I enter...'
He didn't deliberate for long. His nostrils caught up with him - piercing the soft country air was the smell of animals, and hay, and manure. The movement from inside began to make sense. Taking a deep breath and steadying himself, he moved sideways inside through the crack in the door.
Stables. And horses. Which he'd never even realised were there.
Harry let out a shuddering breath as one of the beasts turned to eye him balefully. He saw the central horse had a saddle on its back, and seemed set up to have a rider this evening, and suddenly wasn't sure whether to thank Jacques or curse him into oblivion... he'd never ridden a horse. More importantly, he'd never planned to.
He cast his eyes around the tiny stable, looking at the candle that was illuminating the entire thing and then onto the shadows in the corner. There was a large, bulky shape at the other end of the building.
Biting his lip, wishing he had more time, he picked the candle up from the alcove and carried it down. It was a large cart, he now saw, almost like a rudimentary carriage. It had an awning over the back part. Harry had a sneaking suspicion that it might belong to the Deacon, and looked inside of it... nothing. No bags or trunks or anything. He looked behind it, remembering a cartoon he'd seen at a child wherein the belongings had been kept on the back of the carriage and young paupers had stolen from them in busy streets... still nothing.
"I'm going to need my wand, Jacques," said Harry to himself, annoyed, wanting nothing more than to get his wand and leave as quickly as he could. He couldn't decide whether to leave without it - a slightly higher chance of survival, he supposed - or risk being imprisoned and burnt... there was always Ollivander, who could in theory make him another one...
But it wasn't really a choice.
He readied himself to go back out into the night, trying to decide whether or not to wait for the service to end and then go searching, or take his chances and get in and out of the monastery as soon as possible, but then he noticed the other side of the stable... or more specifically, the set of saddles piled up there.
They were all plain brown leather or cloth. None were the sharp, clean-cut black leather of the saddle currently on the horse. Harry stared between the animal and pile, hardly daring to hope that Jacques might have been quite so organised, hardly daring to believe that it might be that easy.
He approached the beast after leaving the candle in the alcove, trying to seem confident despite his unease, speaking softly under his breath just as he'd seen people do with dogs and moving up to it. It whinnied slightly but made no move to viciously kill him, so Harry put his hand on the beast's forehead and rubbed it. The animal stared at him dolefully. The boy briefly wondered if it was like a Hippogriff and didn't like being met in the eye, and had brief visions of himself struggling to bow before the animal in the pain he was in.
"Are you the Deacon's horse, horsey?" he whispered, keeping his voice airy and feeling like an idiot as he started to stroke the neck. "Are you the nasty man's horse? Good horsey - hold still - "
His hand moved from the neck to the saddle, wary of any sudden movements from the beast, and then down to the large bags hanging from it. He felt for the connecting strap, still mumbling nothings to it, and released the saddlebag.
It thudded to the ground and Harry moved away, but the horse didn't even bristle. Surprised but still cautious, he thanked Merlin that he seemed to have been supplied with the tamest horse on planet earth. Thinking of the man's savagery, he then had to force the thought of what the Deacon 'training' an animal might look like from his head.
He bent, his legs still aching profusely and protesting the movement, and opened the bag.
Harry felt, mixed in with the exultation, a wave of sadness overcome him. Along with several fat, clinking leather satchels there were nearly twenty 'wands' in the bag, half of which he could tell with a glance were simply innocent twigs. At least ten of the Deacon's victims had been ordinary muggles, burnt as 'witches' at Pierre de Castelnau's command. Just under that figure was the amount of real witches that had been murdered, somehow removed of their wand in perhaps the same way that Harry had been, imprisoned and probably tortured for days in cells beneath a dozen other monasteries...
This realisation, as he tipped the contents of the saddlebag onto the ground, severely dampened the joyous feeling of finding his wand. He picked it up from the pile on the floor and felt the familiar, whooshing feeling roll through him at its long-absent touch, but didn't take his eyes from the other wands amongst the hay and satchels.
'You evil bastard,' he thought, feeling horrible. 'You evil, evil man, for killing those people. For making this moment feel so guilty.'
Swallowing hard, fighting back angry tears, he renewed his promise to bring the man to justice. Some day, somehow, he'd make him pay.
His jaw set, he pulled the real wands back into the saddlebag and, after a moment's consideration, did the same with the non-magical ones. He left the coin bags on the floor for the moment.
Feeling anything but a heroic Gryffindor, the first practical thing he did with his wand - his wand, finally back in his hand! - was to Scourgify himself in a very impolite location, grimacing. He knew he'd probably leave that whole part out when it came to telling Ron and Hemione about his time there.
"Wingardium Leviosa," he muttered, relishing feeling of real magic running through his veins once more, even if only figuratively, as the saddlebag lifted next to the horse. "Ligo!"
The saddlebag reattached itself to the buckle at the side of the horse. With two more quick spells, the satchels of what he assumed was money were back in the bag, which was stuck shut. Harry wanted to find the Circlet, but didn't have time to go searching for it and didn't want to risk summoning it, knowing the Deacon may well have it with him. He remembered what it looked like. He'd probably be alright.
On to further practical matters, he pointed his wand at his face, whispered "Episkey!" and the spell corrected his broken nose in an instant. He grunted - loudly - in pain and staggered backwards, his days old broken nose crunching horribly as it righted itself, and wished he knew a basic pain relieval charm as the spiking feeling lanced through his skull.
He let himself recover. For the moment, he left the blood on his face as it was. It wasn't vital to remove it. He tried to establish whether there was anything else he could do - it was strange, but now he actually had his wand in his hand after so long, he was having to think hard about what exactly to use it for.
Though, he considered darkly, it was a very real possibility that he'd have to Imperio the horse. He had no idea how to ride one, or control one.
He didn't think about it for the moment. Despite his sadness at the discovery of the other wands, he was starting to feel giddy now he had his back in hand. For fun, he conjured some birds and watched them fly about at the top of the stable in the shadows - the horses bristled and, with a smile, he vanished the conjurations.
And then the singing in the distant chapel came to an end.
He admonished himself for wasting time, and had a sudden idea as to how to give himself some more. He moved as fast as his injured legs would carry him to the door of the stable and outside, into the darkness, where he could see the dimly flickering candles in the shutters of the chapel not two hundred yards away.
He pointed his wand carefully, aiming with precision, and whispered "Colloportus!" at the door of the chapel. He had no way of knowing it had worked, from this distance, but moved back into the stable. Walking over to the horse, he whispered to it again, airy voice less strained this time, and rapidly cast both a cushioning charm and a light sticking charm to the seat of the saddle. He put a bare foot in the first stirrup and awkwardly clambered up, trying not to get himself stuck to it, swinging his other aching leg over with a wince before settling down onto it. He hoped that would be enough to keep him astride.
He looked down at the ground and briefly considered that he was indeed a lot higher up than it looked before trying to figure out how to get the horse to move forwards.
"Go!" he tried, tugging slightly at the beast's mane. It shuffled uncomfortably at his weight. "Ride! Mush!"
At the last, the skin of his heels brushed the horse's flanks and it lurched forward. He yelped a little in surprise, before grabbing the reign and quickly figuring out how to turn it, which was achieved by simply pulling the side he wanted to turn in the direction of. It was awkward in one hand and the horse shook its head slightly, shuffling about more with a whinny, but Harry held firm.
The idea of riding to Scotland was fast becoming more appealing. No more walking aimlessly North, trying to reach a place he had no idea how to get to. No... he'd ride there. On horseback, like a knight.
The horse didn't seem to like this idea quite as much and made it difficult for him, but he cast a Dissendium! at the doors and they flung open as he heeled the beast in the flanks again and was almost torn from the sticking charm as it jumped forwards. He was in pain by the time they'd made it twenty feet, and pulled up on the reigns, shouting at the horse to stop which, blessedly, it did. He breathed the night air deeply, his back already hurting from the jolts, pain gripping the spine where it'd not long ago met a cold stone floor, and he cast his eyes up to the church.
The doors were still closed, the candles still lit inside, and Harry imagined he could hear their consternation as they found it impossible to open the doors. They were probably already blaming it on him, he knew, and smiled.
But suddenly images flashed into his head - memories of a burning church, of Sander kneeling in front of an escape, perfectly happy to be burnt alive or crushed or suffocated, the huge 'Brother Pierre', the tormenting Deacon, spitting on him and shouting at him and kicking him... he realised they were all within that building.
Every one of them. Every one but the one who had actually been kind to him, who had saved his life while the rest of the monks there were perfectly willing to let him burn alive. The one monk out of more than fifty.
The thought of the wands came to him, unbidden, as he realised that this was a chance to rid the world of Deacon de Castelnau. Maybe his only chance. He remembered his vow...
The grip on his wand was now slick with sweat and he was barely breathing. He realised he was actually considering it. He was considering killing them all.
'One spell is all it would take.'
But in response, the image of a crying family and two dead men in a forest clearing speared through his thoughts. The image of FitzOsbern, desperately trying to put out the unstoppable fire that was consuming a church. The image of Brother Jacques, alone, trying to fight a tremendous pyre that had once been his beloved monastery, from which rang the death cries of his fellow monks and friends. The image of Ron and Hermione, of Hagrid's large, childish features, of Mrs. Weasley, the image of his mum and dad, waving at him from a photograph, and finally of Dumbledore, staring at him, disappointment in his dull eyes through his half-moon spectacles...
He felt disgusted with himself and turned away, steering the horse by its reign, before coming up with something more practical.
When they realised he was gone, they'd come after him. He was pleased with himself for realising this and tried to push down on the self-loathing he was feeling at having actually considered... he shuddered. He turned in the saddle to face the stables and, through the door, could make out the other horses standing passively. He raised his wand and summoned the doors shut, locking them with the same charm, before turning to face the darkness once more.
"Point Me Hogwarts," he commanded after a moment, his wand on his palm, and felt a thrill when it span and pointed over the river.
He breathed deeply, feeling as though something important had happened, but he couldn't put his finger on what. He told himself to continue thinking practically - to forget about the monks, for the time being - and concentrate on getting home.
"Lumos," he cast, igniting the end of his wand and illuminating the path in front of him. Touching his bare heels lightly to the sides of the horse, he held on tight with his legs, wand aloft, and the beast began to walk away.
He didn't look back at the silent monastery. Fate would either have the Deacon suffer for his sins, or it wouldn't, but he wasn't going to sacrifice any more of himself in his retribution.
He knew, somehow, that he'd meet de Castelnau again. As he rode away on the white monk's horse - his jaw set tight, unseeing eyes cast forward - he wondered how, and why, and when...
And time would tell.
This chapter was approximately 21,122 words.
The real Pierre de Castelnau – I won't go into detail about who he was, because it's significant to a later plotline – was actually thin, not fat. Thin as a wraith, in fact. Apologies if this bothers you, but when writing the character I preferred the idea of a glutton, the bone-thin penitent having been over-portrayed in recent media. I also couldn't risk any reader sympathy for him, a trait more associated with frailty than greed. The Cistercian habit, geography and zealous fervour are genuine.
VoiceoftheNephilim deserves masses of kudos for helping me with this chapter, making some of my ramblings a degree more legible, and for also wanting to go ahead and co-found a gangsta cru.
I think that's about it. Many thanks for reading; see you next chapter.