They landed, well it felt like they landed to Harry, after the longest Portkey he'd ever had the misfortune to hitch. In fact, it could have been several all tied into one instead of a single extended journey if Dumbledore and Flamel were to be believed, yet that was beside the point. For Harry had landed in total, and complete darkness.
It was a strange experience, he decided, to feel like you're somewhere when you have absolutely no idea where you actually are. To Harry, the closest analogy would be a traveller intent on convincing himself he did know his way, when, in fact, he was inexplicably lost in a forest of dense trees and little guiding light. He could feel sweeping arms of wind, the type that steadily travel indoors, searching out the small open windows or doors two floors down, just as he could feel the damp stone walls and lofty ceiling. But he could not see anything, and that lent a sort of warning characteristic to a scenario that was already shrouded in dense fogs of mystery.
"Professor?" He whispered, to which he received no reply. "Professor Dumbledore? Are you there?"
As the silence stretched on, Harry began to feel anxiety worming its way into his stomach; certainly not the freeze-up-and-die sort, rather the cold sweat breaking on his forehead and prickly itch spreading across the nape of his neck and unreachable spine. Just as he was about to give the situation up as a malfunctioned Portkey and begin to find out how similar it would be to splinching yourself via Apparation, his surroundings began to simply thrum with unreleased energy.
All of a sudden, a stunning strand of fiery light erupted in front of his eyes, spreading out like the threads of a spider's web. Distantly, Harry considered the fact that though he could see its luminosity, it did not actually illuminate any of his vicinity for him to identify, or at least give rest to his racing mind, his environs.
The strikingly bright energy coalesced into a set of words, then a sentence. Finally, Harry realised that he was probably supposed to read the thing since it popped up right under his nose.
Welcome, to the Hall of Titans. Surrender belongings to proceed. The hand of strength shall rise.
Harry quirked an internal eyebrow. He had felt that his invitation note had been strange, but Dumbledore had refused to show him his own and so he'd had nothing to compare his with. Just as his name, or where he thought his name would go, was empty on his slip of enigmatic paper, so too was it empty here. He unclasped his right fist and brought it up to eye level, causing the message to dissipate in a shower of golden sparks.
As soon as one light source was lost, the hall blossomed with unseen light, bathing its enclosure in grey steel. The unappealing colour was mostly due to the walls that were indeed made of stone, most importantly though, Professor Dumbledore suddenly stood right beside him, tucking something into the folds of his robe.
"Ah, there you are my dear boy. Let us be on our way. Quickly now," the headmaster said, striding off immediately with a gait belying his true age. Harry hurried to catch up, his mind reeling from the events of the past few moments.
"Professor, where were you, I mean, I couldn't see you and I called out, but nobody answered," Harry said urgently.
"Not to worry, Harry. It would appear that when guests arrive, they are split into individual spaces until they answer the security question positively. Alas, I have never had the bravery to try ignoring it to see what the result would be."
"And our belongings?" Harry enquired.
"Held in those glowing orange balls where we were dropped so rudely," Dumbledore answered disapprovingly, pointing to the far, stone wall that was lined with glowing orange spheres. "Do not tarry any longer than necessary, Harry. This building is both as old and as dangerous as some of the most fearsome magic in our world. It would not do to be caught In it."
He nodded slowly, turning his face forward and examining this new world around him as they walked. What was bare, smooth stone, travelled upwards for a few hundred meters, the second half covered liberally with weeds and leafy clinging. At the very top, the roof was obscured by even more foliage, dotted with red berries and mahogany branches, letting in only sparse streams of intense sunlight. Having solved the obvious illumination issue, Harry's attention strayed downwards once again. The floor was clean, though slightly damp to the touch. It was a strange combination, to be intermittently bathed in warm sunlight, though he could neither prove nor disprove if it truly was natural, and yet feel the moisture under his shoes. He felt trapped, at the same time as an uplifting feeling of energy, and as time wore on, he began to feel annoyed for no reason he could place. Maybe it was the warring emotions that his brain could not identify – was he wet or was he dry? – he only knew that by the time their eternal journey ended at the sight of humongous wooden doors swung open on their hinges, he was truly and utterly pissed at nothing in particular.
"Calm down, Harry," Dumbledore warned, and Harry only just managed to hold his tongue from snapping at the old wizard.
They entered the room, a soaring ceiling that disappeared beyond sight. Somewhere above, windows were cut into the walls, causing more of the strange, ethereal light to pour into the expansive space below. And the ground was warm, warm and dry, almost as if it were earth and soil and not the flagstones his eyes were telling him it was.
Set in the centre of this huge room was an equally sized table. It was both round and straight, and once again, Harry's annoyance grew at the fact that he could not quite interpret what his mind was telling him. Seated at the table in high-backed, uncomfortable-looking stone chairs, were various creatures, all as varied and unique as the one seated beside them.
"Take a seat next to me, Harry, and don't speak to anyone unless you are directly spoken to," Dumbledore advised warningly before gliding to a chair closest to the doorway. Harry placed himself as advised, his emotions tumbling in a messy tangle of turmoil within his gut.
"Albus Dumbledore," a voice rasped. "And who is the fledgling besides you?"
"Duncree," the headmaster returned with a respectful tilt of his head. "A pleasure as always. My young friend is a new Titan."
Harry's gaze fixed upon the large figure that had addressed the Professor, the being's eye having sharpened at what he'd heard. As they locked eyes, Harry felt a sudden surge of hatred at his plight; if you'd asked him before, he'd have said he didn't really mind coming, confessing to being mildly interested, but now…
Now he wouldn't care if they all burned down to ash.
Something of his ire must have shown upon his face for the creature before him smirked cunningly before turning back to whatever discussion he was having prior to welcoming Dumbledore. Nicolas Flamel had described the Elf Titan as 'smarmy' but that gave no justice to the absolutely hideous appearance before him.
Duncree was disproportionately shaped, his head inflated like a balloon upon a thin neck and similarly skinny shoulders. However, the neck and shoulders were probably the only features that reminded him of a house elf like Dobby. He wore a leather patch over his left eye, an injury from bygone days, and his choice of vestment was just as dated. Dressed as a swashbuckling pirate captain, complete with curling Cutlass and brass-rimmed boots, Duncree was an odd assortment of alien to Harry. He couldn't say for certain, but he was pretty sure he hated the Elf.
Seated to the left of Duncree was a creature that immediately alarmed Harry. It was a Dementor, its back erect as if pegged upon a pole of some sort. Harry immediately stiffened at the shadowy form literally floating above its chair. Idly, he wondered why he did not feel any emotions of despair or sadness; maybe because he was still so angry.
And so it went on and on: the director of Gringott's, suited up like a Mafioso and sporting shades of the deepest black, a stunning woman with hair flowing down to the middle of her back like molten gold, a tall, thin and pale man with blood-red lips and pointy ears and beside him a man who looked more beast than human.
And sitting beside him was a man that caused Albus Dumbledore to stiffen very abruptly in his seat.
"Gellert…" He whispered.
The old man's ears almost perked up as if he'd had an animalistic sense of someone saying his name from halfway across the room. His lined face turned to regard Harry and the headmaster, a toothy grin breaking out across his features.
"Albus!" He cried. "How good it is to see you again old friend! I trust you are well?"
Professor Dumbledore schooled his shocked features hurriedly, regarding Grindlewald appraisingly.
"Very well indeed. And yourself?"
"Simply fantastic!" Grindlewald laughed. "Well, as well as can be said for spending the last fifty years in Nurmengard!"
"I've been wondering about that. How exactly did you get out?" Dumbledore asked, peering over his half-moon spectacles curiously.
"Ah, a simple matter for one such as I! A trick learned from our pointy-teethed friends many years ago! They can take our wands away, but they can never take our blood without killing us!" He replied excitedly. Dumbledore recoiled in abject horror. Gellert Grindlewald had used an old Vampiric practise, an explosive through the use of his own life-s liquid. When he had inspected the prison, the whole cell had been blown out the side of the precipice which would mean, day-by-day, the old wizard had painted his blood diligently across every nook and cranny.
"I must confess to my surprise Gellert. I never took you for a masochist. Was it necessary to destroy your entire cell?"
"But of course!" He said exuberantly. "Utter perfection it was, don't you agree? You know me Albus old bean, perfection is our art!"
Harry watched as the headmaster almost grimaced. He had no idea what they were talking about, but the crazy old man was Gellert Grindlewald, not only the previous Dark Lord, but also, as it seemed, a re-instated Dark Lord Titan. And he had obviously lost a lot of screws along the way.
Turning his attention back to the clientele, his eyes swept over one after the other, lingering upon what looked like a mid-twenty-something woman with light brown hair cut to her neck and an empty seat beside her with a plaque reading the name 'Titan Aér England – Tom Riddle'. And to the right of the empty seat was…
"Did you miss me, Spotty?" Her cold voice drawled.
And like a primed explosive, he, well…exploded.
"WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ALL OF YOU? AND YOU! WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU EVEN DOING HERE YOU ARROGANT WOMAN?" He screamed.
The room fell into immediate silence, all eyes fixated on his angrily trembling form. His eyes were locked on the steel grey of the one person he hated more than anything else in the world. She was grinning at him, grinning stupidly like the stupid, arrogant, know-it-all, freak MSA agent that she was. His aggravation rose to even greater heights as she mockingly looked down at her wrist as if to check a Muggle wrist watch.
"Not even one minute? Wow, you're getting even better at this!" she snidely purred.
"Shut up! I don't want to hear that from you, Greengrass! At least I'm not ordered around by an ancient sleaze-ball who's so stuck up he can't tell the difference between his cane and his spine!"
Daphne rose immediately, a furious expression contorting her face.
"You want to say that again, Spotty?"
"You're just Golding's slave! At least I'm only here because I want to be!" Harry shouted.
Daphne screamed in frustration, leaping onto the ornate table and bounding into his personal space, fingers clawing for his face. Harry had truly had enough of everything. He neither knew nor cared why he'd been so angry, nor did he care that essentially, he was fighting a girl, maybe because he'd been fighting Daphne Greengrass so long with a wand that whether it were fists or not did not register in his mind.
She slapped him as hard as she could, throwing his head to the side viciously, following up by digging her fingernails into his cheeks. Harry pushed her backwards forcefully, kicking her shin out from under her causing her to fall to the ground with an indignant yelp. Their eyes burned into each other, fury at their smouldering rivalry and something else that neither could adequately understand.
A slow chuckle erupted from the other side of the table, causing both to pause, panting from their exertions, Daphne nursing a bruised leg and Harry a bleeding face.
"Enough," Count Dracula commanded. "While it is entertaining to see the MSA fighting without their prideful magic, we have more important things to discuss."
Daphne pushed herself from the floor, glowering at the tall Vampire. Dracula eyed her with a gleam of knowing shining in his red eyes. Abruptly, she jerked away, hobbling as fast as she could back to her seat, and Dracula chuckled again.
"You too…Mr. Harry Potter," Dracula drawled.
Harry sat down beside Dumbledore again, glancing up at the old headmaster who was frowning at him in consternation. Harry huffed and looked away.
"Now," the Vampire said. "We seem to have some absentees. Although, I must confess that I was not hopeful in seeing our…larger members today."
Perhaps Dracula should never have tempted the heavens with his thoughts, for it became vividly obvious that something was descending rapidly towards them from above, and judging by the noise and the shaking environs, it was both very large, and travelling at great speed.
The object collided with the stone ceiling with an almighty bang, rattling the teeth of everyone seated around the table, and almost causing Duncree and Ragnok to topple beneath the table top.
And then the thing roared. It was not an angry roar per se, but it was a cry of such power and force that Harry literally quaked in his shoes.
"Ah, it would seem that our aerial friends have decided to join us today," Dumbledore said, and Harry thought a little faintly.
As if upon command, the invisible ceiling opened with a groan, no doubt magically constructed to do so If the Dragon Titans ever decided to show up. Though light immediately streamed in, glittering like the otherworldly sight of a frozen waterfall, a shadow quickly took its place, darkening as the humongous being approached.
Landing with a great thump, this time sending the Elf and Goblin to the floor with multiple curses, a twenty-five feet tall beast coloured jet black from top-to-tail reared back on its hind legs and screamed at the seated Titans. Harry almost wet himself; the thing looked far more fearsome than the Hungarian Horntail he'd faced in fourth year.
Rippling muscles beneath scaly skin, a barbed tail that whipped from side-to-side with a crack definitely not reminiscent of a whip. It was more like a snapping pylon. The wings were ridged and curved, dangerously to a point at their ends, and as the dragon's yellow eyes took in the room, its wings snapped inwards to rest on its sinewy back.
As they all stared warily at the new-comer, some visibly frightened, the beast's lips curled upwards slightly revealing a glimpse of incredibly pointy, bleach white fangs.
It began to purr, at least Harry thought it was purring. It was a rumbling, whirring sound that shook him to his very marrow.
"It's…it's laughing," Ragnok muttered as he pulled himself back into his seat.
Two more huge missiles landed beside the first, sending the poor Elf and Goblin tumbling once again.
The second dragon was shorter than the first, its head more triangular. Its skin was a splotchy brown and grey, its eyes a dull pink. The third was very thin, its ribcage almost showing through the flesh of its chest. It too was as feral as its compatriots, shaggy fur covering its cranium as if to mimic human hair, the colour of sand.
Harry caught the black one's gaze and at that point knew exactly what the Dragon Titans thought of humans, or beings other than themselves. They were but specks of dirt compared to the power and might of these animals. As he locked eyes with the Dragon, an intense pain erupted like a vice around his brain, and ended just as quickly as it came.
And suddenly he knew that it had a name, a name that he could not pronounce, but a name all the same. He also somehow knew that these were the three Dragon Titans who had lived for thousands of years, and that they had come for the Council for a reason beyond him.
It was almost as if the Dragon had planted thoughts and information directly into his brain.
"We do not speak lizard-tongue, big lizard," Ragnok groaned as he pulled himself up once again, suit crumpled and tie bent.
The beast swung its gaze onto the Goblin causing him to shrink inwards like a worm sprinkled with salt. Harry might have laughed at the sudden analogy and how apt it was; they were all worms to these huge things, and Ragnok certainly wasn't pretty.
"Berb," Harry declared spontaneously.
"What?" Grindlewald asked.
"Berb. That's what I'll call you," Harry replied, looking at the Black Dragon eliciting another rumbling laugh from the beast until it suddenly cut off the throaty giggles and lashed its head right in front of his face.
Its narrowed eyes knifed into his own, gnashing its teeth as it did so and washing him in an almost burning breath. It was a warning.
If Harry had any doubts before, they were resultantly squished like bugs. Berb could kill him and roast his dead body in the blink of an eye. However, he was adamant that at least he could call it Berb in his mind.
Unless the thing could read minds.
The Dragon laughed again, its eyes dilating in amusement.
"Ok, maybe you can," he said with realisation.
The Dragons leapt from their landing space and landed with another crash in the space devoid of any seating at the far end of the table. Berb's black tail wrapped around its mid-section and its head drooped slightly so that the dragon could see the small beings gathered around the table almost lazily. It burped, causing a lick of flame to shoot from its open maw and send a drifting smell of burnt oxygen their way.
"Well," Dracula murmured, and even he looked a little paler than usual. "That was certainly unexpected."
"You could say that again," the beastly man beside him growled.
Dracula seemed to shake himself slightly, maybe deciding that the best way to overcome his shock was to ignore it entirely, and so he turned away from the Dragons and focused his attention on the others seated around the table.
"Why we have these gatherings, I do not know but let us see what the Council has prepared for us today."
A sheaf of parchment materialised in front of each of the Titans' noses, a cursive script spread across its surface. Harry squinted a bit, making out a list of some sort. He looked up just in time to catch Dracula sweeping his gaze to Daphne's seated figure with a malicious curl of the lips revealing the points of his eerily pointed canine fangs.
"The Confederation are makin' their move, huh?" The beast-like man beside the Vampire stated harshly.
"So it would seem, Harold," Dracula replied, his eyes still intently scrutinising the MSA agent.
"Be very careful Harry," Dumbledore whispered. "That is Harold the First of Norway, a terrible brute of a werewolf who wouldn't hesitate to devour you should he perceive even the slightest of threats from your existence."
Harry sighed inwardly. This was all a little too much.
"What would the ICW want with us this time Albus Dumbledore?" Ragnok enquired.
"As most of you know, the true intent behind the Confederation was to serve as a deterrent to our existence. I cannot speak for its individual members as they are almost as varied as we."
Duncree snorted, massaging the hilt of his Cutlass as if he longed to draw it against them.
"It couldn't possibly be that they are attempting to assassinate one of us, could it?" Dracula asked, still looking at Daphne who had by now, gone very pale.
Dubledore frowned at the direction of the conversation.
"Possibly, but then you make no effort to disguise your own endeavours, dear Count," he replied dryly.
Dracula smiled a chilling smile, waving a hand lackadaisically through the air.
"Of course, of course. We Vampires are looked down upon by the human society anyway. There's not much we can do to rectify this, as we've tried for many centuries."
"It would help if you didn't go around killing so many people, Vampire," Ragnok growled.
"Silence, Goblin. I was not speaking to you," Dracula snapped.
Ragnok looked as if he wanted to say something else but held himself back for some reason.
"It has come to my attention that you have been making your own alliances," Dumbledore said, addressing Dracula once more. "I should not have to remind you of this, Count, but turning against us would be an inadvisable course of action."
"Oh? And from where did you garner this information, Chief Warlock?" Dracula said challengingly, licking his unnaturally red lips.
"I have my sources," He replied, his gaze drifting to the empty seat titled to Tom Riddle.
"I have no plans to ally myself with anyone," Dracula purred. "Much less a filthy human acting far above his station."
Dumbledore nodded acquiescingly though Harry knew that he didn't believe the Vampire even a jot.
"There's another issue I think we should address," Ragnok interrupted. "Our Gold has been flowing freely to the far West. I am not comfortable with the Americas holding so much of our wealth over our heads."
"It's the ICW. We should eat the lot of 'em," Harold said.
"Perhaps it's time to pull your favour for the Council's ideals, Headmaster of Hogwart's. How can it be that we suffer while your own compatriots seek to drain our blood?" Dracula demurred, knowing full well the irony of the words exiting his mouth. Ragnok looked faintly nauseated at the metaphor, perhaps valuing wealth more than life. You never could be sure with Goblins.
"I shall make some discrete enquiries," Dumbledore said, inclining his head. "For the time being, we must agree on a common goal for dealing with the new Dark Lord in our midst."
"Turning against our own now, Albus Dumbledore?" Dracula grinned.
"I'll deal with him," Grindlewald spoke up. "An ally with no sanity is worse than an enemy with brains."
Dumbledore regarded his ex-best friend warily; just what were his goals now that he'd exited prison so explosively? He would have to dedicate a fair amount of resources to tracking this new threat. He was sure that should it come down to a fight between them, he could vanquish Gellert once more. His age and drain from incarceration giving the Headmaster a physical advantage over him. Magically, however, was another story. To what end had Gellert travelled in the old days to preserve his prodigious ability? It was a worrying consequence of oversight he chastised himself that he should have seen.
No, the most dangerous adversary in the room was the Vampire, even the ICW and MSA could come to that conclusion without being privy to the information he had. Almost half of the Titans seated in the room were working towards the same goal as he, though Dracula wanted a very different outcome than what the others envisioned. Voldemort was almost certainly playing into his hands, Harold was an old friend from what he'd seen today, and Grindlewald was an ex-compatriot of the Vampires from his reign of terror in the 1940s. Ragnok and Duncree were the only truly neutral parties in the room, though they too only cared about their own goals, the Goblins far more clear than the Elves. The Dementors had already sided with Voldemort and so were most likely playing right into Count Dracula's hands, but to what end?
Dumbledore could not see the whole picture, and in this game of political cat-and-mouse with everyone forming their own associations as it were…the picture was only becoming more blurred when the full implications were considered. The members of the ICW were each involved as heavily on the chess board as the Titans themselves, he was sure of it. Markie Scholowitz would never risk his business and trade agreements by dealing in Magical Russian Contraband unless there was a huge gain that Dumbledore was not seeing. And Schindig's embezzlement case that had been brought to the Confederation's attention at their last meeting…It must have something to do with the vast appropriation of money making its way to North America. If the Goblins could be persuaded to join a side…
Someone would have a very powerful and wealthy ally as old as the Earth itself beside them.
Dumbledore rose from his chair intently.
"If that is all, I daresay I have many commitments I must see to."
"Of course, Albus. Though I'd like a word with your young charge for a moment, if I may," Dracula said.
Harry stiffened as he made to follow the Headmaster. What would Dracula want to do with him?
Dumbledore glanced between them critically.
"If it's quick. I must be on my way you see," he replied.
The three Titans made their way out of the large doors towards the entrance area they'd first arrived at. As Harry exited, he caught Daphne's eye as she stared after them worriedly as they departed. From the distance he was at, he saw her look at him, pale as a sheet, bite her lip and shake her head slightly.
Nodding a tiny bit, he continued out of the room, his mind abuzz with the back-and-forth he'd witnessed.
"Now, young Harry, it would please me to extend an invitation on behalf of the entire Vampire race to our Castle in the Carpathian mountains. It is always an honour to welcome a new Titan into our group and I'm sure Albus will not have any objections to delivering you by portkey a week from now," the tall Vampire said smoothly. He smiled down at Harry, though he tried to make it look as friendly as possible.
"I-I suppose I could make it," Harry accepted, ignoring the warning look Dumbledore sent his way.
"Excellent," Dracula intoned. "Then I shall not keep you any further. You know where to send him, Albus."
And with that, he swept back into the chamber, black cloak trailing behind him as if to show he had walked the path he had taken.
"You should never have accepted his invite," Dumbledore said after a moment of walking.
"Why?" Harry asked, genuinely confused.
"Did you not learn anything from the last hour?"
"Well, sure. Dragons are damn scary," Harry replied caustically. "What were you expecting me to say."
Dumbledore frowned at his mood, the slight anger not having left him completely yet.
"I daresay the environment here affected you deeply within moments of arriving. Although, your reaction to Ms. Greengrass' presence could be expected," the Headmaster mused.
Harry nodded slightly, reaching for the Orange globe that held his wand and other belongings.
"Let us be off then," Dumbledore said, right before laying his palm on his own sphere, disappearing in a flash of magic. As his own palm touched his globe, a slight tingle erupted on the surface of his hand and spread quickly through his body before enveloping him in black and Harry Potter disappeared back to France.
"He knows, he knows, he knows!" Daphne mumbled as she entered the drab flat she had just rented in a small town on the border between Ukraine and Azerbaijan. It was a sleepy village, not very modern, its high street a simple cobblestone affair with a small assortment of essential shops without which the locals would have to relocate. She reached up to her head, pulling the small comb she had lodged within its curls and tapped it three times with her wand, before placing it in her lap. It vibrated for a moment before falling still, and then a voice spoke clearly from within.
"Agent 001, report," the voice commanded.
"Golding, we have a situation," Daphne started. "The target has become aware of the MSA's intentions."
There was silence for a moment, and then-
"Are you sure of that?"
"Positive. He took every chance he could to remind me of it without saying it outright," she said hurriedly.
"You may be overreacting. We've kept a tight lid on the whole operation, only those directly involved have any of the pieces and then it's on a need-to-know basis-"
"I know what I saw!" Daphne screamed. "Look, this is a suicide mission now. Can we please abort?"
Silence reigned once more and Daphne became frantic that Golding may have cancelled the link, but then he suddenly spoke again.
"No. No, we continue as planned. We cannot allow him to remain a menace to us. If he's caught on, then it means he's all that more dangerous to the MSA. Take him out as quickly as you can, and get it done in a week!"
"It's a suicide mission! I'll be killed-"
There was an audible click and the voice fell silent. Daphne could scarcely believe it. They were sending her to die, full-well knowing that Dracula would kill her at the first chance he got. Not only was her objective to murder him, but she was a titan that could oppose him given time. He had every reason to remove her and Harry from the picture at the earliest opportunity.
She cursed. She could make a break for it of course. She knew enough to throw the MSA's tracking runes from her person and wand, and she'd received enough money for the mission to get her halfway across the world and start a new life. But she knew they'd never rest until they'd found and quietly disposed of her. Just as she was dangerous to Dracula, she was dangerous to the MSA if not under their tight-fitting noose. She knew too much, had seen too much.
No, the only way out would be to take down the MSA directly, only then could she be free. Her feelings of anger and hatred threatened to overwhelm her as she stared, unwaveringly, at the communications device.
She could avenge her family, stoked under compulsion charms and potions every few months. She could avenge the life they'd forced her to live since as long as she could remember. The pain she had gone through, the despair she had felt. What if she obtained someone who'd help her take them down as well?
What if she asked to join Dracula and take them down together?
She almost gagged at the thought. No, he'd sooner stab her in the back than let her go once they'd done so. It would be an empty victory, devoid of any meaning and future for her.
No, she'd continue on with the mission and she'd kill Dracula, and then and only then, she'd make her move.
With her resolve strengthened, she changed into her night clothes and laid down to get some rest. Tomorrow, she'd catch a train to Moldova and reach Romania in two days. Locating the best place in the mountains to set up a recon spot would be the hardest task given the lay of the terrain, and her stakeout would have to be perfect if this was going to work.
She'd have to outfox the fox.
-present day, Côte d'Azur, France-
"Have a seat, have a seat," Nicolas Flamel said, bustling around the living room as Harry and Dumbledore re-acquainted themselves with their surroundings. Harry fell immediately into the cushioned seat proffered to him, closing his eyes with an indelible yawn. He was totally spent.
Dumbledore almost glided to his own chair, how he had the grace and energy after that was anyone's guess.
"How was it? I daresay 'tiring' must be an inadequate adjective!" The old Alchemist joked, placing a shining Ceramic Tea pot on a miniature circular table not a foot above the floor. Settling two bone China cups beside it with a clink, he poured them both steaming mugs of the aromatic liquid, nudging them outwards towards his guests.
"More so than usual I'm afraid," Dumbledore replied gravely. "It seems as if every time I attend the Council something more deadly appears."
"It can't have been that bad!" Flamel laughed, his jowels quivering ever-so-slightly.
"Oh, but it was. The Dragon Titans and the Dementor turned up today, Nicolas," the Professor said.
The small table toppled sideways with a crash, spilling scalding tea across the expensive fur rug beneath their feet, having been upset by Flamel's involuntary startle.
"Im-Impossible!" He exclaimed.
"Or so we thought," Dumbledore mused. "Something must have changed for them to attend. It's unheard of."
Flamel remained upright, his face pale and his mouth forming a small 'O' as the beverage slowly seeped into the carpet. Seeing as he was not in any state to clean his own mess up, Dumbledore retrieved his wand and vanished the broken bits of Ceramic and China with a flick, the burning liquid disappearing in the process.
"But why? Why would they come now, of all times?" He asked urgently before rounding on Harry. "Could it have something to do with the Potter boy?"
Harry would have protested being referred to in such a way if he'd had an ounce of energy in his bones. As it were, he was content to remain almost lifeless as the two old men talked.
"We could postulate that Ms. Greengrass may have the same effect as it was her first Council too. There must be some other reason for their presence, Nicolas."
"And the Dementor? Surely Voldemort would not allow his minions free reign when he, himself, has boycotted the meetings for over forty years!"
"Perhaps," Dumbledore considered. "Yet this is all conjecture, we have no proof."
Flamel, having overcome his shock though still visibly ruffled, seated himself sheepishly besides the headmaster.
"What of the war, Albus? There must be some good news."
"Unfortunately, the only good news I have is that the Goblins and Elves have not yet chosen a side," Dumbledore replied heavily. "And only time will tell should they reconsider."
Harry began to drift off, his mind buzzing at everything he had learnt in the last 24 hours. His world had been totally upended in the last couple of months and it was difficult to keep track of everything without focusing on what was at hand. For some reason, he felt his mind wandering back to his blonde-haired classmate, her pale, worried face as she stared after them on their way out.
Perhaps, Harry pondered, she'd looked just a tad too pale than normal.
It could have been a few minutes or a few hours, Harry could not tell, but when he opened his eyes to the drone of whispered conversation, squinting at the blurry shapes he was treated to, he began to pick up snatches of the two old men talking.
"…how much did you manage…"
"Not enough to get a location, nor an identity…"
"…stronger next time-"
"-if a chance should present itself…"
"We must find them before Dracula does, it is imperative…"
"Hush, Nicolas, he is awakening."
There was a small rustle of fabric and then-
And he knew no more.
Scene-setting ahoy! If anyone can link what happened at the end to the single sentence-hint in the first scene….I will forever respect your intelligence. Then again, I've meticulously planned this, and personally, I feel I am no slouch in the psychological games department, so I'm not too hopeful anyone will.
Also, everyone knows 90% of FFnet readers are mindless zombies anyway, right? :P
Hope you all enjoyed it and look forward to more soon.