A/N: So here's the third chapter. There's not been much response to this fic so far, but that's fine. This is a niche fic at best, of that I'm well aware. But hopefully the action will pick up for you guys soon, so keep at it! As always, Read and Review.
I looked at the man, Benedict, strangely. I shrugged my shoulders.
"I really have no idea what you mean."
Benedict and Martin exchanged glances. There was a moment of pause before Benedict turned back to me and narrowed his eyes.
"I think you're lying."
"I'm really not."
"It shouldn't be possible to shift through shadow without knowing what you're doing. Especially without having walked the Pattern."
I sighed and went through my mind. For the life of me I really couldn't decipher just what in the hell they were talking about. The Pattern? Shifting through shadow? It didn't make sense.
"This doesn't make sense," I said, stating what seemed obvious to me.
Martin shook his head and pulled a stool close. He sat down and faced me directly.
"Harry. You really don't know where you are?"
I shook my head, but didn't respond further. Martin looked me directly in the eyes.
"Harry. The reason Benedict here is holding you at swordpoint – the reason I brought you here in the first place – is that I've trailed you since the moment we met. And while I watched you and followed you, I witnessed you doing something that only a very select number of people can do."
I looked at him oddly, trying to think of what might have set him off. Was it my use of magic? That was the only thing I could think of.
"Harry," Martin continued, "I watched you shift through Shadow. I watched you move from place to place, world to world, in a manner that shouldn't be possible."
"Unless you're one of us." Benedict interrupted.
My mind was buzzing. They both looked deadly serious, but I couldn't believe or even comprehend what they were saying. I spoke then, quietly.
"What is shadow? How could I be doing something like shifting through worlds without knowing I was doing it?"
Benedict spoke then, in his low but smooth tones, "Shadow is the stuff that makes up most of the universe and seemingly the entire world you've seen and inhabited. Shadow as a whole is made up of an infinite number of reflections, splaying out from here to the Courts of Chaos. One could travel for many, many lifetimes and never even experience a thousandth of what exists in shadow. And for those who understand and who have the knowledge and the ability and the blood, Shadow is essentially whatever you wish it to be."
I thought for a moment in silence. "You said that Shadow is a reflection. But a reflection of what?"
"Amber," Martin said, "the one true world to which everything else is but shadow."
"And the only people able to manipulate shadow, to walk and create their own path, are those who are members of the royal family – sons or daughters of Amber – who have walked the Pattern and harnessed its power."
"Initiates of the Logrus in Chaos also have this ability." Martin interjected.
"Chaos?" I inquired.
Benedict ignored us both and continued to speak. "And the Pattern lies right in this room alongside you. The glow you see – that's the Pattern."
I nodded softly. "I haven't walked any Pattern. How could I be moving through shadow?"
"We don't know." Martin answered. "It doesn't make sense. Even if you were a son of Amber or Chaos, which you may well be, you shouldn't be able to traverse the worlds without knowledge of it."
I went silent. In truth I was sitting there sort of gobsmacked, for lack of a better word. Thoughts were whirring through my mind and slipping out again as soon as they'd occurred. It was simply too much to be introduced to so quickly.
"So Shadow," I started, "isn't real? The world I come from isn't… real?"
Benedict looked thoughtful. "I once heard Corwin speak at length on the subject. Corwin – my brother – spent a large amount of time on your shadow Earth, it seems – and he held a strong conviction that places in shadow, while reflections of the true world and quite easy to manipulate, are still inhabited by real people – their deaths are real death. The nature of shadow versus substance is fluid and hard to define in any terms. To die in Shadow is to die anywhere. That much is certain."
"What makes this place, Amber, different?"
"One cannot simply slip through substance just as one can't walk through walls. Amber is real, solid. Amber is the true world – everything else is a reflection of some aspect of this place in which you sit. There are close shadows and then there are those far away – some so far that they may seem unrecognizable. Amber represents the Pattern, which represents Order and the universe itself. There's much more to the world than what you see."
I interrupted, "But the Pattern lets you understand."
Martin nodded. "The Pattern gives you a certain understanding, yes. Although Corwin discovered much more than I, he could discuss it at far more length than I am able to. Walking the Pattern is a challenge, that much is sure – I still remember that moment myself when I reached the center and felt for the first time the power of my blood flowing through my veins. From that spot one can go anywhere in Shadow, the Pattern has the power to send you anywhere you can imagine."
While Martin was speaking a hazy look appeared in Benedict's eyes. I watched him while I listened and noted that he appeared to be holding a conversation. Once again, I assumed it was via trump. As Martin finished he looked over to Benedict, whose voice under his breath had become rushed and hurried. I couldn't quite make out what he was saying. There was a pause while we both waited for Benedict to speak.
Benedict looked up. "Martin, your father wishes to speak with Harry."
Martin looked confused. "How does he even know about him?"
I watched as Benedict shrugged. "I couldn't say. It sometimes seems he's become almost as omnipotent as Oberon in the old days."
I cleared my throat and they both turned to me.
"I hate to do this, guys, but I've really got to be going. I need to get back home, my friends are in danger and I need to get back to help. They'll be worried about me, looking for me, and apparently they'll have literally no way to find me."
Martin frowned. "Harry. It'd be better if you stay here. Random, my father, will want to meet you. There's a whole host of questions he'll have and we need to know just how it is you traveled through Shadow. If you can do it, others might also be able to. That could present a real danger. It's a matter of security; we can't allow you to leave."
One thing occurred to me then. These people had absolutely no reason to care about who I was. They knew I could travel through Shadow. And despite what Benedict had said I couldn't imagine that they cared for Shadow even a tenth of the way they cared for Amber. It wouldn't matter to them if Voldemort won. It wouldn't matter to them if the entire wizarding world disappeared. To them it didn't really exist in the first place.
I decided then and there that even if I was in some way related to these people, Amber was just a place to me, something I'd never even heard of. Hogwarts was my home, and I couldn't abandon it to wait here in as far away a place you could get.
I fiddled with my wand and judged my chances with them. Benedict had relaxed his sword and held it down at his side. Martin seemed unarmed, or at least he was not displaying a weapon. I could hit at least one of them before anything could be done – Benedict for certain – and then make a break for it. Not that I knew where I was… but I had to do something.
Benedict looked at me with something akin to pity. "I understand your frustration, Harry. There is a place in shadow very dear to me as well. It would be hard for me to leave it alone in a time of war. But this is Amber. Now that you're here, how can you think of going anywhere else?"
I smiled darkly. "You'll have to excuse me – all I've seen of this grand city is a dungeon."
Martin scowled. "All you've seen is the Pattern – the most important part of the most important city."
"Looks a bit like a dungeon to me."
Martin sighed and turned away in frustration.
This was my moment.
I leapt from my seat and shouted "STUPEFY!" swinging my wand in Benedict's direction.
That couldn't be good.
Martin swung back in my direction and Benedict jumped back and lifted his sword into an en garde position.
I paused as they looked at me, a bit confused but also very on edge. In the moment, I made the only decision available to me.
I ran. And I ran towards the only thing I could think of.
Martin had said that the Pattern, in its center, could transport you anywhere you wanted to go. He'd said it was a challenge, but I couldn't imagine it being worse than several things I'd gone through in my lifetime. So I would walk it and I'd transport myself home. They were pursuing, but they wouldn't reach me in time to prevent my starting. The plan was foolproof.
Until I took that first step onto the Pattern and off of the safe and solid ground.
Small flames flew from the new ground I tread upon. The path was outlined by blue-white sparks, and with my first step I felt a current run through my body.
I could hear shouting behind me, but it was strangely muted. I was not about to turn back now. I surveyed the Pattern as it lay out before me. The line was long and curved, inlaid upon itself over and over again, with long sloping curves. As I took my first steps, following those sparks, I came to the realization that where I to set foot away from the Pattern without completing it I would most certainly perish. I don't know where this information came from – I just suddenly knew.
I hit the first curve and took ten more paces before I felt the first hints of resistance – almost like walking through a thick fog, but one that pushed back just the slightest bit. I moved several more paces forward before hitting what seemed like a wall – substance that pushed back at me with every step I took. I was almost halted, but determined I strode against the resistance. I fought it. I felt sparks course through my body and leap from my hair and arms. I concentrated on the line before me and made to move forward – sweat dripped from my forehead.
And then it lifted. The pressure faded and I walked forward.
That was the First Veil. Another thing I knew simply by knowing it. As I moved forward along the lines and curves of the Pattern, moments from my past flashed before me – images of friends, of Ron and Hermione, images of Voldemort laughing.
I was well into the Pattern, I was also very disoriented. I could not tell in which direction I was facing or where I had begun. All I could do was follow the line laid out in sparks before me as it twisted back upon itself.
I came to a straight line and felt a force leap up to challenge me – nothing material, but substance like I'd faced previously only far stronger – my head split and my boots were laced with fire. Every step was a minor miracle; I could feel my scar throbbing violently in protest.
The Second Veil.
There was a right-angle turn and then several more. Another curve, my heart threatened to burst. And then the pain vanished and I was free from resistance once again.
I'd passed the second test the Pattern offered.
My head ached still and my breath was labored. My pace had slowed to a crawl and I dreaded what was to come – there was no clear end in sight.
But I pressed onwards. I had no other choice.
Ten more paces – fires swirled about me and the Pattern and seemed ready to engulf me completely. I continued to step, my body was wracked but I had no other choice – there was no going back.
I turned on to the Grand Curve and felt the universe bending me and breaking me and I felt myself become more aware of the world than I'd even been. I marched forward beyond the curve through several more angles and twists and turns – ten in a row which left me dizzy – and suddenly I was in agony.
The Final Veil.
Agony was all I could remember. It felt as if all I'd known was pain on an order beyond imagination. Primal forces were batting at me and it was all I could do to not be blown aside.
I would not falter; I simply could not allow it. Sparks showered above me and I felt the weight of the world quite literally force itself in front of me. I stepped –
And it was done.
I did it.
I turned around and looked over what I'd done.
I stood for a moment and thought. I could literally go anywhere I could imagine. The entirety of the world and all of Shadow was open to me. I felt myself – I was almost seduced by that power.
And then I remembered Hogwarts. And I knew where I had to be. I took a deep breath.
Then I was gone.
The familiar corridors were dark and empty as I looked around at the place where I'd appeared.
Hogwarts. At last.
I tried to calculate how long I'd been gone for. It couldn't have been more than a week. I drew my wand silently and moved down the corridor. If the Pattern had sent me exactly where I'd imagined, I'd be situated two floors below the Gryffindor common room. I'd wanted to appear somewhere non-descript and out of the way. I assumed that tensions would be running high given the recent attack, and I didn't want to risk someone pulling a wand on me for appearing out of nowhere.
It was night, though, that much I can tell. There was a slight breeze passing through the hall and I began to walk towards the common room. My steps echoed on the hard ground as I walked up the flight of stairs. I listened for any signs of activity but heard none.
I sighed a little bit. It was almost surreal being back. I pictured Martin and Benedict and the Pattern in my mind – it almost felt like a dream.
But the Pattern in my mind told me it wasn't. I'd beaten the thing, and a part of it would remain in me always. Just another bit of information I somehow knew without knowing. I wondered how they were reacting. Were they out looking for me? Would Martin try to track me through Shadow?
And then there was the fact that Benedict seemed aware of London and my home at least vaguely. They might know where to look.
As I walked, I considered the wand held in my hand. My magic hadn't worked in Amber – or at least in such proximity to the Pattern. Why was that?
Was my magic the stuff of Shadow, unable to mix with the real thing? That could end up as a problem were I ever to return.
But I had to put Amber out of my mind. I had to focus on my home and my friends and Voldemort. Firstly, I had to find out what had happened after I fled.
I quickened my pace and came to the portrait of the Fat Lady. She was snoozing lightly as I approached and I rapped lightly on the surface of the painting in an attempt to wake her.
She opened her eyes just slightly and spoke, "Password?"
I spoke the phrase and waited for the portal to swing open, but the Fat Lady just shook her head.
I sighed heavily and turned away. Of course they'd changed the password. There'd been an attack – they'd have to ramp up security. I thought about my next course of action. It was extremely unlikely that Dumbledore would be in his office, although I'd certainly need to talk to him soon.
I flicked my wand and the time appeared above me in slight glowing phantoms. It really was late - getting near to four in the morning. I tramped down the hall somewhat in a daze. I was tired, I'd undergone an incredible ordeal walking the Pattern, and I really needed sleep.
I walked for a while before I finally found myself outside the corridor that housed the Room of Requirement. I smiled lightly – I hadn't even thought about it, but this was the perfect place. I paced back and forth and entered through the newly materialized doorway.
It was a simple construct, with a comfy looking bed and plush couches decorating the room. I wasted no time in collapsing on the bed. I was asleep within moments.
I awoke the next day somewhat disoriented.
I shook my head to clear away the morning's fog. Dreams I was already beginning to forget batting around in my mind, I stood up and stepped to the door. I opened it and looked around.
There was still nobody around, although at least there was light. For lack of a better idea I trudged towards the Great Hall, still wiping sleep from my eyes. I came to the great wooden doors and pushed them open.
The Great Hall was empty.
I gazed up at the enchanted ceiling and noticed that a heavy snow was apparently falling, something that seemed odd given the time of season – it was only November after all.
Taking another step forward I surveyed the space and wondered just what the hell was going on. The four main tables had been swept to towards the walls on both sides, replaced by a single long table situated in the center of the hall.
I stood there for a few moments, quite confused, before I shrugged and turned back to the corridor from which I'd come.
I strode towards my new destination, trying to order my experience into some sort of logical flow for retelling. Professor Dumbledore would want to know specifics, this all could be very important. Or at least something of a side note.
The way to the Headmaster's office was barred by the two Gargoyles as per usual. I tried several of the typical password possibilities but none seemed to be working. Eventually I resorted to testing out muggle candies, and the Gargoyles finally leapt aside as I pronounced "Rock Candy". Bizarre.
Shrugging, I ascended the staircase and knocked on the door. There was no answer.
I knocked again, this time a bit more forcefully.
There was still no reply. I tried the handle but found it locked. A simple Alohamora wouldn't do the trick either. I turned away, not wanting to try anything more serious. It was Dumbledore's office, after all.
Tramping down the stairs I was at a loss. What could I do? Hogwarts seemed totally empty, I'd yet to see a soul. I looked around as I once again walked the empty halls of the school, searching for any sign of life.
And then a thought occurred to me – the Owlery. I quickened my pace and soon found myself climbing the ladder that lead the birds that could carry a message to Ron – if he was in the castle he'd get it quickly, if not at least I could tell him where I was.
Not that I had any ink or parchment…
Sighing, I doubled back to the first classroom I could find and snatched some paper and a quill. Sitting at one of the empty desks I scribbled out a quick note.
I'm back, I'm at Hogwarts, and there doesn't seem to be anybody here. Where are you?
I'll explain where I was when I see you in person. Don't worry, I'm not hurt. Write me back as soon as you get this.
I nodded, satisfied at the brevity of the writing – Ron would take it seriously – and headed back to the Owlery. Once there I tied it to the nearest owl and sent it flying through the air. I watched it as it went and noted that it was definitely not doubling back towards any place at Hogwarts.
So Ron wasn't at the school. Why not?
Worried, I headed back to the Room of Requirement, which I figured could act as a safe haven for some time, certainly. I didn't think it could provide food or drink, but there were always the kitchens for that. At the very worst, there was always Hogsmeade.
Once back inside the room, which now appeared to me in the form of a small but cozy study, I sat in one of the plush chairs provided and allowed myself to think.
It was snowy. It was evidently quite cold, hence the snow. The castle was empty.
It sounded like the holidays to me. But that didn't make any sense – I'd left only a week ago. The only other alternatives I could think of were grim indeed. But if that were true, it would mean that I'd actually been gone for almost an entire month instead of the few days I'd thought.
Which didn't make sense. Not that anything else I'd come across while lost was any more sensible…
This notion of shifting through Shadow kept coming back to me. I'd never done it consciously, but I'd walked the Pattern, which meant that I was certainly capable of it. In fact, I even understood the basic principles behind it – thanks once again to the Pattern. But I'd no experience with it.
But why not try? What harm could it do?
I stood up from the chair and left the room. I walked down the corridors through the Great Hall and finally found myself facing the giant doors that led to the grounds. Breathing deeply, I pushed open the doors and ventured out into the cold.
And it was definitely cold. I quickly cast a warming charm on my shirt – a long sleeved garment that would definitely not be considered trendy (I still had one what Dara had given me) – and began to walk.
As I did, I began to picture in my mind a large oak beside the lake. And when the lake indeed came into view, there it was. Smiling, I began to slowly shape the rest of the world around me, gradually moving from the grounds of Hogwarts to the grounds of the Burrow just outside of Ottery St. Catchpole.
I went slowly, I didn't want to rush. I didn't trust my intuitive ability so much that I'd be willing to risk attempting to shift all in one go. So the thing was gradual, and I felt myself reshaping the world around me, walking through Shadows that were no longer my own in an attempt to reach my destination.
It took me more than an hour of slowly shifting and holding the place sharply in my mind while I went, but finally I was there. I stood outside the makeshift house and the snow covered hill upon which the Burrow was situated.
I was sweating, too, despite the cold. The shifting seemed to have taken a lot out of me. I started towards the door and as I did I noticed an owl hooting above me as it clattered at one of the upstairs windows.
I snorted. It was my own owl, I recognized it. I'd almost beaten it there. I smiled to myself and knocked on the door with a closed fist. A moment passed and I knocked again.
I could hear a rustling behind the door before a voice shouted out from behind the solid oak frame.
"Who is it?"
"It's me. Harry!" I replied.
There was another rustle, and I could hear whispers that were just too quiet to make out.
"Prove it!" Another voice shouted, a voice which I recognized belonged to one of the twins, either Fred or George, I wasn't sure which.
I thought for a moment.
"How would you like me to do that?"
Another pause from inside, and then, "Cast your Patronus!"
A small slot in the door opened up and a pair of eyes peeked out. With a sigh, I drew my wand and spoke, "Expecto Patronum!"
A white silvery stag erupted from my wand and I heard sighs of relief from the other side of the door. It opened for me.
And suddenly, something occurred to me that I really should have thought about before.
Did I really want to tell them everything about Amber? Should I tell them anything? The whole notion of Shadow versus Substance was one that could cause a real questioning of life and/or the point of living.
Then there was the more likely take – it'd be stunning if they actually believed me. Hell, I hardly believed it myself, and I'd just proven the veracity of it by shifting a bit through Shadow. I held the image of the Pattern in my mind and thought for a moment.
As I entered the familiar building filled with warm and encouraging faces all inquiring as to where I'd been and what had happened, I made a decision.
I wouldn't tell them anything about Amber.
So there's that! Drop me a line, tell me what ya think.