The rain pounded the saturated ground so loudly that it was almost enough to cover the piercing wind, it seemed like so much more than just the two days it had been since leaving the quiet German village and setting out to find his target. Now that it was before him, Lucius Malfoy wondered how it had possibly taken him so long to find it. Nurmengard was as physically impressive as it was magically, the sight of such a towering, menacing construct would have been enough to send any who saw it fleeing in terror, questioning what a person would have to do in order to be sent to such hell.
It was a fortress, from both the inside and out. Gellert Grindelwald has personally overseen its construction, designing every aspect with meticulous and obsessive detail. Hundreds had died in order to facilitate it being built, legends spoke that the bones were the foundation...and looking at it now, Lucius Malfoy would be hard pressed to disagree. The magical presence could have been felt by the most mediocre of wizard, normally buildings of this stature and significance are extensively warded and then masked so as to make it difficult to detect and even harder to find. This however...it had been built to intimidate, so that anyone who found it would know of the power that went into forming it. Nurmengard was fearsome, unforgiving...and The Dark Lord wanted him to go inside and retrieve whatever was inside.
Lucius took a deep breath and carefully stalked forwards, the sodden grass sank with every step. Scanning the wards he found nothing that would cause harm to trespassers, this hardly surprised the Malfoy patriarch as his mind was cast back to a passage he had read as a youth about Nurmengard;
Geller Grindelwald himself mapped the wards, consulting with several goblin tribes before deciding the exact layout. Though it is completely known, those that have dared visit and enter the grounds have cited nothing particular happening at all, so while the magic is strong and of recognised origin, it appears the wards are not dangerous in nature. Though this may contradict the typical warding found on such buildings, Gellert Grindelwald was rumoured vowing his enemies "A fate worse than death." What fate this is thought to be is debated to this day, though it is generally accepted that the great man was referring to being sentenced to life in his own prison.
As a young man, Lucius had scoffed at the idea of "A fate worse than death." but now that he was looking at Nurmengard, living the rest of his days in such a place would rank high up the list.
He cast another spell to detect life around his perimeter and found no results, he was keeping his guard up all the same. After all, just because nothing was registering on his scans didn't mean the place might not be crawling with Inferi or perhaps some damned rogue werewolves. Nothing approached and nor was anything in sight or detected as he made it to the black wall, no seem or crack in the structure was apparent which after all these years untended gave credence to just how much magic was in these grounds. Lucius walked up to the wall, his hand out and fingers yearning to touch the surface of the wet stone, his mind prevailed and stepped back. He began walking parallel to the wall, he would find a way in even if he had to walk around the entire damn prison.
It didn't take long, a towering set of gates soon stood before him. With a flash of lightning revealing an inscription that was carved into the metal in an impossibly intricate fashion.
'For the Greater Good'
"Impossible..." gasped Lucius, how was it possible that Grindelwald, the second most powerful dark wizard of all time had the same mantra as Albus Dumbledore, the 'leader of light'. The absurdity of the situation however did not stop Lucius from noticing that although this was the entrance to the prison, not handle or doorway was visible. It was time for last resorts.
"Avis." muttered Lucius, commanding the conjured bird to fly over the gate, he waited for it to be incinerated or halt in mid-air and fall out the sky. Instead it flew above, unharmed and alive. And so, in a very undignified fashion Lucius Malfoy began climbing the gate.
It was the next morning and the Great Hall was full with students, all animatedly discussing the events of yesterday and in some cases, wild exaggerations...
"When I was walking down this morning, a bunch of second years went past me and I'm sure that I overheard them saying Harry transformed himself into a Patronus and chased the Dementors out of Hogsmeade." said Dean, sitting down next to Parvati.
"Ha! Who knows what happened after we were gone, all I know is that you could feel something shift in the air...it was like I could feel that everything was under control..." muttered Seamus.
"I know, it was so scary one second and the next...fine." said Lavender, looking up from the horoscopes in The Daily Prophet.
"You said Harry sent a Patronus before they even got there though, how did he know?" asked Parvati.
"I don't know, we were in the Hog's Head drinking a hot butterbeer and making...plans for tonight's activities. And Harry just jumped up and tore out of there, told us Dementors were coming and ran off." said Seamus, picking rashers of bacon from the tray in front of him.
"What are you lot talking about?" asked Hermione, sitting down and taking her Arithmancy essay out to read over whilst having breakfast.
"Same as last night, have you seen him yet?" asked Lavender.
"No, I haven't, you still don't think the divine spirits spoke to him and warned what was about to happen, do you?" Seamus coughed and gagged as he swallowed his bacon at the comment.
"Well, can you think of another reason?" demanded Parvati.
"That Harry is an exceptionally powerful young wizard, it's not unheard for witches and wizards being able to detect known magic, like the wards of Hogwarts or powerful spells like the one from last night." replied Hermione, confidently but not in her usual 'matter-of-fact' tone.
"Everyone knows by now that Harry is just...different. Detecting Dementors and sending them on their way is what he does." said Dean.
"Yes, with maybe two or three of them, not the amount that came yesterday! There must have been hundreds!" argued Parvati.
Hermione thought back to the end of third year when Harry cast the Patronus that saved his past self and Sirius from Dementors, she had felt the intense power of magic then just as she had done yesterday.
"It wasn't just him though, the Professors and Aurors were there and used the Patronus Charms as well...so did some other students." said Lavender.
"But it was still going to hell until that those that final one happened, and it was Harry's. At the Hog's Head we saw him cast a stag and later on it was a stag chasing the Dementors out of Hogsmeade." said Dean.
"Well, we don't know if it was a stag or not...it was too far away to tell." reasoned Seamus.
"It was Dumbledore, only he could scare the Dementors away like that. He's the only wizard You-Know-Who is afraid of." asserted Parvati.
"No...it was Harry Potter. Professor Flitwick told us last night." said a passing second year Ravenclaw, interrupting the conversation.
"What else did Professor Flitwick say?" asked Hermione, talking kindly to the Ravenclaw.
"Well, I guess there's no harm in telling you...Professor Flitwick mentioned something about Minister Bones being at Hogwarts last night. I think she wanted to thank Harry Potter for alerting everyone and getting them to safety, a couple of housemates think he might even get an Order of Merlin!" said a second year, he looked a bit sheepish as he talked to the much older students.
"Do you think that's true?" asked Lavender.
"Well, not bragging or anything but technically we got everyone to safety..." started Seamus
"I know, all Harry did was hold off the Dementors..." joked Dean.
"He got the easy end of the deal as far as I'm concerned." said Seamus, his voice full with sarcasm.
"Not that you idiots! Although I do think what you two did was very brave...I meant about Harry, fighting off all those Dementors." whispered Parvati.
"Well...Dumbledore had only just got into Hogsmeade when it happened. And I'm sure it was a stag chasing those Dementors" said Dean, adamant about that part of the story.
"Look, all I know is that if Harry hadn't told us what to do, we would have probably ended up wetting ourselves...He stayed and fought despite whatever those things were making him think or feel, I mean...it was bad enough feeling the effects from inside Hogwarts, who knows what it was like in Hogsmeade." muttered Dean, physically shivering at the memory.
"It was terrible, I never want to experience it again..." said Lavender, in a quiet voice.
"What do you hear? I mean, if you don't mind me asking...I hear my mam screaming at me at last Christmas, because I'd come to my senses and started believing Harry was telling the truth, she yelled and cried saying I would get myself expelled from Hogwarts, obviously she's fine with it now. With it being the truth and all." joked Seamus, though there was a bitter tone to his voice.
"Well...it was only for a second...but it was the news about my rabbit, Binky and when he was killed by a fox in my third year..." muttered Lavender.
"For me, it was when I was in Egypt for the summer holiday after second year. We were being shown around one of the tombs and one of the curse-breakers who had helped discover the place, he either animated or conjured a mummy and had it chase after us in the darkness. It was so scary...Padma thought it was funny afterwards but it gives me the creeps just thinking about it..." said Parvati, closing her eyes as for a second.
"Mine has changed, remember when the Hogwarts Express stopped on our way to start third year...it was the memories of me crying and how I felt when my dad left when I was a kid, but yesterday...it was last year when Umbridge was in charge, everyone was so miserable and horrible things were just starting to happen...the beginning of it all I guess..." said Dean, the mood seemed to drop slightly at the mention of Umbridge and how the Second Wizarding War effectively started.
"I think that wins so far...what about you Hermione?" asked Seamus.
"Oh...mine? It's...last year, when I went to the Ministry with Harry...the Death Eaters and getting injured...just awful." said Hermione, though it was a lie. Yesterday it had been when she heard about Harry being hit by the Killing Curse, and when he was so angry at her during the summer and how she had felt so alone at times, like when she had started at Hogwarts, a lonely girl that was scared and confused...but all the while excited and hopeful, only to hear "It's no wonder no one can stand her..." the words that still reverberated inside her whenever she thought about them.
Being that lonely, unimportant girl and feeling powerless is what scared Hermione Granger the most. And it was something she would not share here, over breakfast.
"Encounters with Death Eaters is the winner." said Dean, though it was without the usual joking nature.
"Maybe it's a good job Harry isn't here...don't want him reliving his feelings when around Dementors..." said Lavender, sounding sympathetic.
"Poor bloke, had more than enough bad things happen to him over the years..." muttered Seamus.
"Still fights though doesn't he? Was there yesterday, saving us all...again." laughed Dean, trying to make light of the situation.
"You know what, you're right, wait here for a sec..." and Seamus climbed up onto the table, knocking the platter of bacon onto the floor.
"What are you doing?" asked Dean, looking up at his friend. But he didn't wait for an answer as McGonagall was walking past at that moment, by now quite a few people had seen Seamus standing up on the table and had turned around to see what was going on.
"Mr Finnigan, get down and explain yourself." said McGonagall, in a quiet but forceful voice, her mouth very thin at the insubordination.
"Sorry Professor McGonagall, but I want to say something...Excuse me, everyone...can you stop for a second and listen..." shouted Seamus, by now Dean was nearly on the floor with embarrassment of whatever his friend was doing.
"Mr Finnigan, get down this instant." demanded McGonagall, aghast that a member of her house was behaving in such a manner.
"With all the respect in the world Professor, I'm going to have to go ahead now...otherwise I'll look quite foolish." joked Seamus, which made a few people around him a laugh.
"What is it Finnigan?" shouted a voice.
"It's about yesterday...myself and my good friend Dean Thomas, along with Lavender Brown, Parvati Patil and Hermione Granger...We've just been talking, as I'm sure all of you have, about what happened yesterday. I mean, sure the Dementors came but...they didn't stay for too long now did they? Rumours are probably flying around at this point and I want to clear things up. It was Harry Potter that gave us a head start in evacuating Hogsmeade yesterday...and it was Harry Potter that sent them all scurrying back to wherever they hell they came from...I hate to be a bother, but I think...I think it would be real nice and proper grand of all of us, to put our hands together and our hats in the air for Harry Potter...Because he's done this more times than I can count, and that's not because I didn't take Arithmancy. No, it's because he's done it so often, that I think it's about time we show some appreciation for it...To Harry Potter!" shouted Seamus, his words filled with Irish fire and passion, that when he stopped everyone was silent for a second...
"Yay, Harry Potter! shouted the second year Ravenclaw, who having not been told to scram by any of the Gryffindors and intrigued to what they were saying, had stayed. His lone cheer in his slightly cracked voice echoed around the Great Hall.
"To, Harry Potter!" shouted the vast majority of the Great Hall, in unison.
Cheers and claps erupted from the Great Hall, even a few of the Slytherin students were openly applauding; though most of them were the younger years. The rest either scowled or kept a stoic expression on their face, continuing with their breakfast as though nothing was actually happening.
Seamus clapped once more and whopped before climbing down from the table to face his head of house, Professor McGonagall.
"I'm sorry Professor, but if you're going to give me a detention then I'll be damned if I wasn't going to make it worthwhile." smiled Seamus, looking around his jubilant classmates.
"Ten points for Gryffindor, Mr Finnigan...and well said." commended McGonagall, a rare smile on her face as she walked on towards the teachers table. Leaving Seamus shocked and only coming out of his stupor when a fifth year Gryffindor clapped him on the back.
"By the way, thanks for including us in that. It wasn't embarrassing at all." said Dean, laughing as the applause and celebrations dwindled down and things went back to normal.
"Didn't get in trouble, did you now?" toyed Seamus, who was receiving several high-fives and nods from both his Gryffindor housemates and those from other houses.
"I thought it was kind of cool." muttered Parvati, blushing slightly as she stared at Seamus.
"That was a very nice of you Seamus." said Hermione, though she didn't know that if Harry had been present whether he would have enjoyed that or been mortified at the attention.
"Got everyone cheerful for the Valentine's Ball." said Lavender, looking around the Great Hall.
"Hopefully it'll be a good night...morning Neville, you just missed it." said Seamus, greeting Neville warmly.
"No, I heard it from halfway up the corridor." laughed Neville.
"Have you seen Harry?" asked Hermione, scrolling up her Arithmancy essay.
"No, I don't think he even came back last night, everything around his bed is the same as it was last night."
"Hmmm..." muttered Hermione, quelling the instinct to go looking for him. One thing Hermione had learnt this year was that when Harry needed time to himself, it was best to give it and not push or pester. Obviously something was wrong but she had realised that Harry doesn't respond to being constantly badgered and questioned about it. After all, knowing something is broken doesn't mean you have any idea on how to fix it. It was a quote she had thought to herself a couple of months ago, though it was something she wished of knowing a couple of years ago.
"Should we tell someone?" asked Parvati, sounding worried.
"He goes off on his own all the time, remember earlier this year? We nearly went a straight month without seeing the guy outside class. I'm sure he's fine." said Dean, confidently.
Actually, Harry wasn't fine. He was asleep. His head was resting on the table which he had first sat down at nearly sixteen hours ago. After the Forbidden Forest, he'd taken a small detour and slipped through the Gryffindor Common Room after placing a Disillusionment Charm on himself. And after picking up his Invisibility Cloak had come straight to the library for some information. Unfortunately the the Hogwarts library didn't seem to house books on how to decipher secretive schemes related to Harry Potter, so he settled for the two topics that were most pressing right now, unicorns and prophecies.
Bane had been just about as informative as a Centaur could be, he would unfold events of past and present, learn his true purpose and then do what is necessary. That was what he had been told, he would learn about things that happened in the past and are occurring now. Which would either unveil or lead him towards learning his true purpose and do something necessary. It was both maddeningly unhelpful but at the same time it gave some light on what to expect.
Then there was the Unicorn incident...It had appeared out of the blue and then disappeared so quickly, and the way it had looked at him...it felt like it had been looking at his very soul. There was no book he could find or text he had read that gave any inkling whatsoever about the meaning or significance of such an event.
It wasn't until a third-year student dropped a book in a nearby row of the library that Harry awoke, not feeling particularly well-rested Harry stood up and took care to place the books on a deserted shelf and left the library. He needed a place to hide out for a while, it was the Valentines Day Ball in a couple of hours and that was something he had no intention of going to. The Gryffindor Common Room wasn't an option and he just wanted a quiet place to mull things over and sleep for a while.
'Room of Requirement it is then.' thought Harry, still under the Invisibility Cloak. He walked up the the seventh floor, the hallways nearly empty with everyone already stowed away in their common rooms or already getting ready for the ball. Reaching outside the Room of Requirement, he looked around to check that nobody was around before he started thinking.
'I want a place to hide and sleep...I want a place to hide and sleep...I want a place to hide and sleep...' thought Harry, stood in front of the bare wall with his eyes closed. Opening them he saw a dark, wooden door in front of him and opened it.
Inside was all the necessities he needed, a huge, comfy bed with dimmed out candles surrounding the room. He collapsed onto the bed, not even bothering to undress and fell asleep within seconds.
"Where is he?" asked Dean, unknotting his tie for the third time.
"I've been with you all day, how would I know?" retorted Seamus.
"No need to snap...do you think we should tell someone?"
"Maybe, what time is it?"
"Just enough time for you to change that awful shirt." teased Dean.
"Funny, wait maybe this is him." Footsteps echoed through the spiral staircase, a couple of seconds later Neville stepped into the dorm room.
"Still not shown up?" asked Neville to the pair.
"No, maybe we should tell McGonagall."
"Well if he doesn't show up to the ball everyone will know he's missing."
"That's true, just think of all the disappointed girls."
"If he doesn't turn up then the professors will know about it as soon as the rest of us, it's not like this is the type of affair he's even interested in. Gets enough attention as it is, the last thing he'll want is to do is go somewhere that he'll be the centre of attention even more than he already is." argued Neville.
"True, must piss him right off at times."
"Can't even walk down a hallway without nearly everyone looking at him or talking about him, can't blame the bloke for wanting a bit of time on his own."
"I'll meet you two down there, need to check we've got enough mead hidden away." said Dean.
"I put a bottle of Firewhiskey with that lot, managed to convince Carmichael to sell me one."
"Great, should be more than enough for tonights after-party festivities." said Dean, leaving Seamus and Neville in silence for a second before the Irishman spoke up -
"Is there something wrong with this shirt?"
"What?" said Harry, not opening his eyes.
"Harry, I need you to wake up." said the voice again, Harry recognised it as Remus and for a moment forgot where he was.
"Wait...how did you find me?" asked Harry, sitting up.
"I'm a Marauder remember, that and my keen sense of smell and the fact nobody had seen you for the past day or so. All I had to do was figure out was the the type of room you wanted, took less than five minutes."
"Clever, now can I go back to sleep."
"Why are you up here?"
"To get away from everyone and sleep."
"Obviously that didn't work."
"Think about what?"
"About how I could be so wrong and stupid enough to think Voldemort wouldn't attack Hogsmeade when all of Hogwarts was there."
"Harry, you can't expect yourself to be able to know how that maniac thinks."
"I was so sure that nothing would happen..."
"Nothing did happen, nobody was hurt or injured."
"But they were exposed."
"The Dementors, the War, to Voldemort. People relived their worst memories because of me."
"It was because of you that it stopped."
"Exactly, I had to stop it all from happening. I'm in the spotlight again and I'll be expected to do it again and again." snapped Harry, he was stood up now.
"Nobody would expect that from you. Harry, you have had nearly everyone against you all your life but you are still here. Sometimes you might find it hard to fight, sometimes you might not even want to...but the man in front of me that I know is just too damn good a person not to."
"But I was wrong about Voldemort and Hogsmeade. I thought nothing would happen and it did. Remus, I can't afford to get it wrong because if I do then people get hurt." said Harry, in a defeated tone.
"Nothing you could have done would have stopped the Hogsmeade weekend from happening. Like you, Dumbledore was sure nothing would happen. And you know how hard it is to change his mind on something."
"Ha, right...what are you doing here anyway?" asked Harry.
"Well someone needed to find you, nice place to pick by the way." said Remus, gesturing to the surroundings.
Harry looked around, how he hadn't noticed the mountains of items hidden by past generations of Hogwarts students was beyond him. He probably wouldn't have slept such a deep sleep if he had known a wobbly pile of broken mirrors could have tipped onto him.
"I needed a place to hide..." muttered Harry, remembering the words he had been thinking at the time.
"And sleep." added Remus.
"That's right, how is the Valentines Ball by the way?"
"It was as awkward and dramatic as any group of adolescents in a romantic environment can be."
"Finished a couple of hours ago, I believe if Hogwarts traditions are anything to go by then the after parties will be dwindling down."
"Then maybe I should stay here for a while."
"Actually, Dumbledore said he would like to talk to you when I found you."
"Now, sounded important."
"Best get going then, oh and Remus...thanks."
"Not a problem, by the way...I smelt two different trails for you, one human and one wolf...something you want to tell me?"
"I'm a Marauders son and godson remember? Hardly surprising is it?"
"Not at all." smiled Remus.
As he ascended the spiral staircase for the second time in two days, Harry immediately detected something else was happening. The doors to Dumbledores office were open slightly and a hushed conversation was going on inside and by the voices it was between Dumbledore and an irate Snape.
"...don't think now is an appropriate time to even consider this."
"We must act, Voldemort won't delay forever and it will happen sooner rather than later."
"You can only blame yourself for this, if you had shared earlier things would be different."
"Unfortunately time cannot be spent to regret. I made my actions alone and suffer the repercussions of those decisions."
"Perhaps if you had consulted with those that they affect this wouldn't be happening."
"Advice you might have considered in your life, Severus."
Everything was silent for a moment before the Potions Master spoke again. His tone was softer and filled with less anger, but remained just as serious.
"Let me at least accompany you."
"I'm afraid the vacancy of a companion is already taken by the person outside my office, you can come in now Harry..."
Harry rolled his eyes, figures Dumbledore knew he was there.
"Potter? Just how long were you eavesdropping?"
"Enough to know I'm in and you're not."
"Such insolence! Though it is hardly surprising, what did surprise me was your absence from the Valentines Day Ball...pray, what was so urgent that demanded your presence elsewhere?"
"Sleeping." said Harry, looking into the Snape's eyes. They bore into him for a moment before his lip curled into a sneer.
"I don't know whether your Occlumency skills have grown from my tutelage enough for you to lie to my face...or if you are actually telling the truth."
"Is that a compliment, Professor Snape?" quipped Harry.
"Do I ever give you anything else?"
"Gentleman...I'm afraid this amusing conversation must be cut short. Severus, you will be kept informed and aware of the arrangements as a precaution. I believe you Harry here is eager to hear the details, if you may..." said Dumbledore, silently dismissing Snape from his office.
"Of course...let us just hope that Mr Potter is up to the task, perhaps if he displays half the aptitude shown whilst evading you before then this might just be able to work. I'll be awaiting your return and prepare for the worse, I suggest you do the same..." warned Snape, looking at Harry intently as he finished. It wasn't the usual snide insult or callous remark, the pretense even had an actual compliment from the Head of Slytherin House.
"That was an actual compliment wasn't it?" asked Harry, as Snape left the room. Dumbledore smiled slightly at Harrys remark.
"Thanks should be given to your prompt arrival, Harry...though I wish the circumstances were different." said aged Headmaster.
"It is a little late, Professor."
"Unfortunately I wasn't referring to the time, Professor Snape was not chaperoning the Valentine's Day Ball...he was returning from his other duties."
"Indeed...there was an attack this evening at a Quidditch match, twenty three souls lost their lives tonight..." The silence was encompassing, somewhere inside was the usual shock and horror of the news of death and destruction but that was overridden by the anger and resignation of how the times were changing and these occurrences were likely increase.
"Who?" asked Harry, sitting down wearily.
"Nobody you know, what..."
"Tell me their names." said Harry, defiant. He was staring up at Dumbledore, his eyes unmoving and unwavering. It didn't matter that he didn't know them, in all likelihood he would never have known them. But it was important to know of them because tonight families had their lives ripped apart and changed in the worst possible way. As Dumbledore listed the names, each slid into his mind and lodged inside.
"...this unfortunate incident is not the reason I invited you into my office at this hour."
"I was actually sleeping, bit of a rough weekend."
"Undoubtedly, but the reason I wanted to speak with you isn't your absence from the Valentine's Ball or any irregular activities that might be causing your changes in your sleep pattern...This is about information, it's something I have been working on for quite a while I must admit."
"Information about what?" asked Harry.
"Horcruxes. I believe I've found one...and I'd like you to accompany me and help destroy it."
End of Chapter