AN: So the stay-at-home orders finally pushed this chapter to completion. =) I really missed this story and hope you all are well.
Chapter 14 – Lost Souls
It had been seven days since Harry had gone missing, four days more since the other Harry had shown up from another world, and one day less since these odd events had begun to happen—events that had thrown the ministry into chaos...
And it was the renewed chaos of Diagon Alley that had convinced Sirius another one of these odd events had occurred and so he navigated through the crowds, determined. As an Obliviator, he was needed in at least a dozen other places—not here, but he had to see what was going on for himself.
The crowds thickened as he approached Gringotts and the still sparking fountain outside of it. There were fearful looks and whispers of You-Know-Who. In the distance there was shouting of "Stay back!" and "Go home!"
The crowds thickened further as he reached what he and James' referred to as Snore Alley. It hosted the library and the Daily Prophet and name had just stuck. Even Remus still used the offending nickname…
Right now though, it was anything but a snore because as the Daily Prophet came into view, he could see the reason for all the panic. Large flashing red words covered the front of the building.
VOLDEMORT IS ALIVE.
THE PROPHET IS RUN BY A DEATH EATER.
BELIEVE NOTHING YOU READ.
"Shit, kid," Sirius muttered. Then he hopped up onto a nearby bench to get a better view because with each message there had been a witch or wizard accompanying it. There were swarms of Aurors and ministry personnel in front of the building, but no unconscious witch or wizard.
"He was already taken away."
Neville Longbottom had found Sirius and joined him up on the bench. He was dressed in his Auror robes and looked as if he hadn't slept for days.
"Crouch Junior?" Sirius asked.
Neville nodded. "Same as the others. Missing left sleeve. Unconscious. And a note explaining how the Dark Mark works on his chest."
"And the message?"
Neville smiled grimly. "Spell Removal still can't figure it out. The letters were blue, half the size, and not flashing when I got here. I heard one of them say the magic was 'out of this world.'"
Sirius half laughed, half grimaced.
"We have to find him," Neville continued, low. "We have to find him before he gets Harry killed."
Two weeks ago, Sirius would have found this whole scene amusing—Voldemort exposed by a bunch of kids and magical graffiti. Now he, like Neville, only worried what it meant for Harry…
James and Lily were both wrecks. The Order's tracking system—both through the ministry and otherwise was not working. And though Dumbledore assured the Order that Harry was still alive, Sirius knew it was only a matter of time...
They needed a new plan and as Sirius continued to watch the chaos on the steps of the Daily Prophet, he realized he finally had one.
"Have I told you how brilliant you are? Because in case I haven't, you are the most brilliant witch I have ever laid eyes on."
Hermione blushed and beamed as Ron nuzzled her ear. Ron was speaking softly, but Harry could still hear him loud and clear. He was sitting only a few feet away after all. He cleared his throat and took a large, loud bite of his toast.
"I know they're your best mates," Malfoy said next to him, watching Hermione and Ron in disgust. "But if I have to endure this for another day more, I swear on the entirety of magic that they will be no more."
Hermione hummed. "That was lovely despite your intentions."
"And I'll have you know that I have a rebuttal about class and pure-blood wizards, but I'll keep it to myself."
"Thank you," Hermione said. "And we'll stop," she added, looking towards Ron. "Won't we?"
Ron swayed his head in consideration. "Okay, okay, okay," he said. "But did you see Crouch's face when you captured him? It. Was. Brilliant."
Harry couldn't help but laugh. Hermione had been brilliant. They all had been. Successfully capturing Crouch and defacing the building of the Daily Prophet had been oddly thrilling. In fact, the whole past week had been thrilling. The group had successfully captured and exposed four known Death Eaters, after all—five if you included Harry's impromptu Stun job he did on the streets of Muggle London the week before.
And having a purpose—this purpose of exposing Voldemort—it felt good and it had bonded the group far better than Harry had ever hoped for...
"Instead of flirting," Zabini suggested pointedly, "perhaps we should discuss our next move. I think we got lucky with this one. I'd be willing to bet the rest will have private wizardguards like Jugson did."
"Agreed," Malfoy said, "though to be fair Jugson was a paranoid bastard in our world as well."
"A Death Eater version of Moody," Ron said, winking at Hermione and taking a bite of toast. "Who knew."
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "Moody was in a league of his own."
"True," Hermione said, trying and failing to ignore Ron. "Though I'd still argue Harry is giving him a run for his money."
"Galleons," Zabini quipped. "And I'd say we can't complain about Potter's paranoia when it's only reason we have a place to sleep."
"Oh, I'm not complaining. I just wish it wasn't necessary."
"Hear hear," Ron said, raising his toast.
Harry smiled and leaned back onto his elbows, enjoying the easy banter. His fears of having to convince the group of helping this world were largely unfounded. Hermione still searched for ways home, but she seemed mostly glad to have something else to focus on. Malfoy had been an even bigger surprise. For reasons still unknown to Harry, Malfoy seemed to have no issue in using his intimate knowledge of old pureblood families in helping track down and expose this world's Death Eaters.
He only had one condition. The group had to spare Malfoy's own family—including Bellatrix Lestrange.
Harry didn't entirely like the deal, but he knew it was a fair one. Besides, he was hoping the group would only have to expose a handful of Death Eaters before Voldemort's carefully hidden presence would start to unravel.
"Back to Zabini's point though," Hermione said, "we've exposed three Death Eaters within the Ministry and one prominent member of the press." She buttered her toast as she spoke. "Perhaps we should gauge everyone's reaction to Crouch's exposure before we consider our next move. Besides," she added, glancing towards Harry, "there are other things that need to be considered."
"Don't forget about Gilbert," Luna said. She was standing nearby, feeding bits of her toast to a family of robins. "He was in the ministry too."
Malfoy sighed. "For the tenth time Lovegood," though his voice held no malice, "his name is Gibbon not Gilbert."
Ron had been correct in his assumption that Malfoy would know the unidentified Death Eater Harry had stunned in Muggle London. Malfoy had quickly identified him when Harry shared his memory of the event with him—Grady Gibbon. Malfoy was quite familiar with him because he was one of the Death Eaters who had invaded Hogwarts during the end of their sixth year—thanks to Malfoy's ministrations. Gibbon, had in fact, died that night. In this world, however, he was an Auror for the Muggle Division of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.
"Of course," Hermione continued. "But as far as we can tell the attack on Gibbon wasn't publicized."
"It was in the Muggle world," Zabini interjected.
"But not in the wizarding one. The Prophet had to report about Rookwood, Selwyn, and Jugson. We didn't really leave them a choice."
It was true. The group's exposure of Rookwood, Selwyn, Jugson, and now Crouch Junior had been loud and public. Rookwood had been left outside the ministry. He had been an obvious first target due to his so called research which had influenced this world's Muggleborn policies. Selwyn, their second target, had been left outside St. Mungo's. He was not only a Wizengamot member in this world, but also a member of St. Mungo's board of trustees—as he had been back home. And Jugson, their third target, was this world's Head of Ministry Finances. He had been left in the square just outside Gringotts, next to a sparking fountain...
And it was true that the Prophet reported these events, but instead of labeling them as exposures, they had been labeled as attacks against these individuals...
Thus their fourth target, Barty Crouch Junior, the editor in chief at the Daily Prophet had been an obvious choice.
The morning copy of the Daily Prophet only provided a vague story about Crouch Junior, but the group was hoping the Evening Prophet's tune would change once the dust had settled.
Besides, regardless of the reporting done by the Prophet, the group had left a hard to ignore message at each scene thanks to George Weasley's new Magical Graffiti. Their painted words would only morph and expand with each attempt to remove them—unless that is, the spell for removal was accompanied by the words, 'pretty please.' So far, this world's Spell Removal team hadn't figured out the trick. Harry couldn't wait to tell George...
"No you're right Hermione," Harry said, finally joining in. "We went after Crouch hoping it would change the Prophet's tune. We should see what the Evening Prophet has to say before we decide who or what's next. Perhaps today could just be a much needed break." He said this last bit hopefully. The past week had been a whirlwind.
Malfoy frowned. "I don't know Potter. We don't want to lose our advantage. What about these other considerations?" He glanced at Hermione. "Are they these Horcrux things Zabini was telling me about?"
Ron choked on his toast and Harry couldn't blame him. The Horcruxes had been blissfully absent from the group's discussions and when they had been discussed, it had been done so in whispers between only Harry, Ron, and Hermione.
"Who said anything about Horcruxes?" Ron said between coughs.
"Granger did," Zabini said. "When Potter went running off to Hogwarts. Remember?"
Ron grumbled something under his breath.
"It seemed prudent at the time," Hermione sighed apologetically.
"It was," Zabini said. "Six of them if I remember correctly, yes?"
Hermione sighed again. "Yes."
"Exactly," Malfoy said. "And if these...things need to be destroyed. If they are the reason the Dark Lord is immortal, shouldn't we be finding them?"
"No," Ron said. He had set his toast aside. His face was set. "Let us get one thing clear, it is not our responsibility to go after those ruddy things."
"Then tell me, whose responsibility is it going to be?"
"The Order's then?"
"It better not be," Zabini muttered.
"Not. Ours." Ron said again, shutting it down.
Malfoy turned to Harry. "Potter, while we are exposing known Death Eaters. While I am contributing to the efforts of getting this little group home and actively pissing off this world's Dark Lord in the process, who is to say he isn't moving these things and making your knowledge of them worthless?"
"I get what your saying," Harry said, "but he's not going to move them—not yet, anyway. Voldemort's placement of his Horcruxes were meaningful. And he's arrogant...he's not going to move pieces of his soul just because some of his followers have been de-sleeved."
Malfoy gave him a doubtful look. "What's so meaningful about the Room of Hidden Things?"
"It's not the room per say," Hermione said. "It's Hogwarts. His school."
"But Hogwarts is huge," Zabini said. "Why that room in particular?"
"Because the idiot thought he discovered it," Ron said. "Why are we still talking about this?"
Malfoy snorted. "He should have put it in the Chamber of Secrets. He was the heir of Slytherin, after all. Seems like the more logical choice."
"Too cliche, perhaps?" Zabini mused.
Hermione shook her head. "It was home to a Basilisk—its venom is one of the few known ways to destroy Horcruxes. He wouldn't have left it there."
"Ah right, the Basilisk—the big giant snake Potter managed to kill while the rest of us were still wetting nappies. How could I forget?"
"I assure you," Harry replied. "I was still wetting my nappy that day."
"All I really care about," Malfoy said, as Zabini laughed, "is that you have a plan for these things. I meant it when I said I don't want my efforts to be wasted."
"They won't be," Luna reassured. She had finished handing out her toast and had joined the group around the fire pit. The family of robins was following in her wake. "Harry always has a plan. You just need to trust him, Draco."
Harry smiled his thanks and tried not to look at Ron or Hermione because while the similarities to their current situation to the trio's own camping trip back home—when Harry didn't have a plan—couldn't be missed, he did in fact have a plan this time around...
And okay, the details weren't exactly laid out, but it was a plan...
And so far, despite the lack of details, step one of the plan—flushing out Voldemort by exposing the heavy presence of Death Eaters—was going well. The problem really was that it was going too well and Harry wasn't too keen about moving on to step two: Sharing his knowledge of the Horcruxes with Dumbledore and the Order.
Because while Malfoy seemed to be under the impression that Harry was eventually going to go after the Horcruxes, Harry was decidedly not—he had made a promise to Ron, after all. That said, helping this world unfortunately meant ridding it of Horcruxes which meant if Harry wasn't going to do it on his own, then he was going to have to relay the message to Dumbledore and the Order.
The question was how? Harry didn't want to get too involved. He just wanted to pass on the message and move on to step three: Going home.
The post had been tempting for obvious reasons, but not viable. Not when Harry couldn't trust it. He had also considered telling Luna's mother or even Mr. Weasley, but he couldn't bring himself to involve them—it wasn't fair to them. That and Harry felt it was wise to limit the knowledge of the Horcruxes to a limited few...
Just hearing Malfoy talk about them made him skittish.
No, what Harry needed was someone in the Order he could trust. Someone who had mastered Occlumency and wouldn't break under pressure because Malfoy was right, once Voldemort got wind of the Horcrux hunt, Harry's advantage would be lost...
And while Harry truly believed what he had told Malfoy—that Voldemort wouldn't move his Horcruxes over some of his followers being revealed—he also knew he needed to share his knowledge sooner rather than later...
"Trust Potter," Malfoy repeated slowly. "Fine. If you say so, Lovegood, but I better not regret this." He then stood and headed towards the tent. "How about that rematch you owe me, Weasley? We have a day to kill."
Ron shook his head, bemused. "Sure, but I'm warning you. Harry's set is a bit mad."
"I'm beginning to expect nothing else."
The morning then afternoon passed slowly. It was like one of those rare lazy Sundays at Hogwarts. Zabini and Hermione worked on the crossword in The Daily Prophet. Malfoy and Ron played rounds upon rounds of chess. Luna scribbled in her blue leather journal she kept in the inside pocket of her robes. And Harry practiced spells from a book featuring new and improved charms Hermione had checked out from the library...
Lunch then came and went, and soon after Ron and Hermione were slipping into the forest for a stroll. Luna slipped out shortly after, returning to the Lovegood home. And Harry dozed off whilst listening to Zabini and Malfoy debate ancient runes, catching up on his sleep from the night before...
It was Hermione who woke him and given her concerned look, the three curious looks behind her, and his damp robes, he had little doubt why she had.
He had been dreaming about Voldemort. It was such a regular occurrence now he chose to ignore it.
"Time?" He asked. The sun still hung in the sky, but it was sinking.
"Almost five," Hermione said. "Ron and I were going to head to Upper Flagley for the Prophet."
Harry nodded and smiled, ensuring her he was alright. They Apparated off, disguised, and an anxious excitement gripped him. The group had heard more and more whispers and rumors of Voldemort's return while they had plotted their attacks. Their plan was working, but Harry needed the Prophet on their side—or at least, not against them. It would be a huge win.
"This better work," Harry muttered.
But then Zabini cleared his throat and while Harry seemed content to ignore his dream, Zabini and Malfoy were apparently not.
"Look Potter," Zabini started, "in case you've forgotten, Draco and I were in Slytherin. We understand having secrets."
"Have a secret," Zabini continued, cutting Harry off. "Many secrets. I get it—we get it—but the thing is these secrets of yours," He pointed and circled his finger at Harry's robes. "You're not doing a very good job of keeping them. They are clearly tormenting you."
"Don't tell me you're worried about me," Harry said half laughing.
"We're mates now, aren't we?" Zabini said and Harry's smile faded. "What I'm saying is that we might be able to help you. Especially when considering our...alternative life experiences."
Malfoy snorted. "At least when compared to Granger and Weasley."
"And Lovegood." Zabini added fairly. "We might have some useful insight, that's all we're saying. Just consider it alright?"
Harry blinked, equally taken a back and grateful. Grateful for their concern, but also grateful for their respect of space. Because as much as he appreciated Ron and Hermione, Harry didn't think he could handle four people fretting over him...
"Yeah...alright. Thanks," he managed.
And yet, as grateful as he was, he also knew, deep down, there was nothing to consider. He didn't see what good would come of it. Harry had his own set of alternative life experiences and already knew the source of his dreams—his bizarre connection to this world's Voldemort, or at least Tom and the diadem...
And divulging this information meant thinking about it and Harry was quite content on focusing on other things, like capturing Death Eaters, and just hoping everything would return to normal once they were home...
And in that particular moment, all he wanted to focus on was the return of Ron and Hermione, and whether or not the Prophet's tune had changed...
Zabini and Malfoy thankfully returned to their ancient runes debate from before and Harry mostly tuned them out as he waited—runes had never interested him. Ten minutes went by, then twenty, then Ron and Hermione reappeared with a crack and a grin plastered on each of their faces.
"It worked! It worked!" Hermione said, waving the paper about.
Harry sagged in relief.
"I must say, Potter," Malfoy said, amused, "your luck is far less annoying these days."
"Here, listen," Hermione said. She then held up the paper and began to read out loud.
"Earlier this morning, on the 15th of August, the Prophet's editor in chief Bartemius Crouch Junior was found unconscious on the front steps of this paper's very building. His left sleeve had been torn off, revealing a Dark Mark tattooed to his arm, a symbol once synonymous with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. On the building was a painted message as seen in the image above. It was an upsetting scene and a disturbing accusation. Our editor in chief, known to many who worked with him simply as Barty, began working for the Prophet in 1980 and is a dear friend to many on our staff. However," Hermione paused for here effect and smiled before continuing on, "the disturbing aspects of this accusation also make it a serious one and coupled with the other similar attacks recently, the Prophet is taking it as such and suspending Crouch Junior from his position until further notice..."
Hermione read on and Harry tried to listen but her words began drifting away from him. He heard things like, "full cooperation with the ministry," and ,"dedication to the truth," but mostly Harry was focused on an image on the back page of the newspaper that had been bobbing in and out of view as Hermione excitedly read on—an image of himself.
And though his counterpart seemed quite happy in it, Harry couldn't stop the sense of dread...
"It not entirely ideal," Hermione said as she finished the article. "They seem eager to insinuate we're merely going after old Death Eaters rather than Voldemort being alive."
"Can't say I blame them," Ron said, shrugging.
"Yes, but it's a start, isn't it. Harry? I thought you'd be happy."
"I am," Harry said, smiling weakly. "I am. It's just..."
"Granger," Zabini said soberly. He sent Harry a knowing look. "Turn the paper over. Potter's mug is on the back."
Hermione and Ron frowned in unison. She then flipped the paper over. Her brows furrowed and her eyes jetted back and forth twice before letting out a soft gasp.
"What happened," Harry said.
"Bloody hell," Ron groaned. He had caught up with Hermione and shared a worried look with her.
"What happened," Harry repeated.
"Your counterpart—the Harry of this world," Hermione said, "he's gone missing."
Harry closed his eyes though he was hardly surprised. There were only a handful of reasons someone's picture was in the newspaper. "For how long?"
Hermione bit her lip. "Seven days."
Harry's stomach clenched as Malfoy whistled.
"He was last seen on the eighth of August, last Sunday, at The Tickled Toad in Tinsworth," Hermione continued without prompt. "Family and friends remain worried...any details on his whereabouts appreciated...owls can be sent to James Potter, Sirius Black, or the Auror Department."
At some point Harry had stood. He was pacing now, reaching into his pocket, and pulling out his DA coin.
"Whoa, mate," Ron said. "We need to think about this."
"Yes," Zabini agreed, warningly, "and whatever you are thinking, do not be so arrogant to assume this has anything to do with you."
Harry laughed once. "He went missing just days after we arrived. What's there to think about?" His mind was racing through events though, searching for clues. He wondered about Riddle and if he had seen through his disguise. He wondered about his Patronus casted before he was disguised or before he knew about the Ministry's heightened detection spells or their stricter laws on casting in Muggle regions. And he wondered about Malfoy's family and what they had done when his counterpart had snatched Malfoy away from Fortescue's... Harry had sent him a note...But he wondered if it had been taken to heart...
"We've also read this ruddy paper every day we've been here," he continued on furiously. "I hardly think it's a coincidence that the day we go after Crouch is the day we learn of this. The Prophet was corrupt. If we knew this, so did the Order. This is a message—to us."
Zabini pinched the bridge of his nose, Ron grimaced, but neither of them argued. Harry refocused his attention on the coin and sent Luna a quick message.
'Have you read the back of the Prophet?'
Her reply was swift. 'Yes. My mother is very upset. Rescue Mission?'
Harry couldn't help his smile. 'Don't know yet. Could your mother set up a meeting with Sirius?' He then took a deep breath, steeling himself. He sent the next line before he could change his mind. 'Tonight, if possible.'
'Be here for 8.'
Harry nodded at her reply, pocketed the coin, and looked up at the others. They were watching him quietly, apprehension and worry on their faces. He then looked at the campsite—at the chess set left mid-game to their books and various notes still strewn on the forest floor—and was sad to realize the easy joy of the day and of the past week was now gone. He sighed and told the others his plan.
Eight o'clock then came quick. He wasn't entirely sure what Luna had in store for him. He had intentionally left the details to her. It was something the others didn't quite like, but he trusted her—more than he trusted himself when it came to arranging a meeting with his dead godfather from another world. And when the time came, he arrived on the front stoop of the rook-like house with Hermione at his side. No one, his self included, had wanted him to come alone. Yet Malfoy had flat out refused. And Ron said he didn't think he'd have the patience. Then Zabini, the group realized, was still unknown to this world and they wanted to keep it that way. Hermione had been his only choice, but that didn't matter because she would have been his choice anyway.
Hermione took in the house with a shudder. She squeezed his hand and asked, "Ready?"
"Not in the slightest," Harry answered then he knocked on the blue front door.
Luna answered the door a moment later. She ushered them in with a smile but Harry hardly noticed because beyond her at the round kitchen table sat not only Sirius, but also Remus and Neville Longbottom. Remus and Sirius were how Harry remembered them, but this time, their eyes bored into him. They stood as he crossed the threshold. Neville, on the other hand, merely looked curious. He was a cleaner, more strapping version of himself. He was clad in Auror robes and Harry found himself distantly wondering if this Neville even liked plants...
His thoughts were broken by the sound of the door clicking shut. Hermione gave his hand another squeeze.
"Mother is upstairs if we need her," Luna said, sweeping past. "She wanted to give us privacy." She took a seat at the table and gestured for Harry and Hermione to do the same. "We also made tea and biscuits. The lavender ones are my favorite. You should try one Harry. It will help calm you down."
Remus, Harry noted, cracked a smile and Harry had to smile as well because of course Luna's solution would to be to have everyone over for tea.
"Thanks, Luna," he said. "This looks great."
"Yes, Miss Lovegood," Remus said. "Again, you have our sincerest thanks for arranging this."
"I told you. It was Harry's idea."
Remus looked to Harry for confirmation. Harry nodded fractionally, but he didn't know what to say—all of the right words for this moment eluded him—and when he didn't elaborate, Remus sighed and turned his attention to Hermione. "I'm afraid we are not acquainted in this world, but may I assume you're Hermione Granger?"
"Oh," Hermione started, snapping out of her revere. "Yes, of course. And yes, I'm Hermione." She approached the table as she spoke, her curls bouncing around his shoulders, and took a seat. "It's my understanding that I died in this world."
Neville was openly staring at her. "You're Hermione Granger? But you're so...so...so..."
"Don't strain yourself, Neville."
Neville flushed, sat down, and took a lavender biscuit.
"Your understanding is correct unfortunately," Remus said, taking his own seat. "It happened a few years ago. You were—"
Hermione waved him off. "I know enough details."
Remus nodded. "Of course. I trust then that you are acquainted with us?"
It was Hermione's turn to nod. "Remus Lupin. Sirius Black. Neville Longbottom. I'd say though that we are more than acquainted." She turned and looked towards Harry. "Isn't that right, Harry?"
"Wha—oh yes," Harry responded. He was listening, but he was more focused on Sirius. They were the only two left standing and Sirius's eyes hadn't left Harry since he had entered the house—they were assessing him, judging him, scolding him...
Harry forced himself forward, taking Hermione's hint to take a seat. Sirius followed suit, taking a seat of his own, but his eyes remained firmly on Harry.
Harry tried not to wince.
"We saw what we assume was your article in the Daily Prophet," Hermione continued on. "The article about the—well, Harry, I suppose."
"Yeah," Harry said, reluctantly joining in. "What happened exactly?"
Sirius's eyes narrowed.
"We don't know really," Neville said. "Not the details, at least. I'm the last person who saw him. We were meeting up with the girls in Tinsworth. Harry, he's uh, dating Susan—Susan Bones?" Harry blinked, but nodded in recognition. "Right, well, I'm usually the first to show up, but Harry was already there. He was...I don't know, upset, but you—I mean, he wouldn't tell me why. Then he excused himself to the bathroom and I haven't seen you since." Neville grimaced. "Merlin this is weird."
"Have another biscuit," Luna encouraged.
"You said you didn't know the details." Hermione said. "Does that mean you have an idea of where he is?"
"Yes," Remus said somberly. "He's being held captive by Lord Voldemort."
Hermione exchanged a look with Harry. They had wondered as much but had hoped it wasn't so. "You're sure of this?" she asked.
Hermione sighed. "And you think we can help."
Sirius laughed. It was a hollow sound that sent a chill down Harry's spine. It was a sound that reminded him far too much of his broken Sirius back home. "Think?" He said. "You lot knew this would happen." He reached inside of his robes and slapped a small piece of parchment onto the kitchen table. It was Harry's short note to his counterpart warning him about the Malfoys and staying away from Tom...
Harry couldn't help it, he winced.
"Yeah," Sirius said. "We found this in Harry's room."
"Oh Harry, you didn't," Hermione murmured, scanning the note.
"He did. And I must ask, did it ever occur to you, even for a second that this information might have been more helpful in the hands of your parents? Or me?—your very capable godfather. Or Remus or Dumbledore or anyone who might have been able to do something."
Harry bristled. "He's in the Order, isn't he?"
"In the Order?" Sirius repeated, at a loss. "What in the hell happened to you, kid!? We didn't even know who this Tom person was—we had to ask Albus! Imagine our surprise."
"Dumbledore's secrets are not my fault," he said, hotly. "Nor is Harry's decision to keep my warning to himself. I was only trying to help."
"A lot of good that did. Same could be said for your antics this week."
Harry's jaw clenched. "I didn't ask for any of this."
"Yeah? Well neither did Harry," Sirius growled, "and yet he's the one who's in danger."
Anger and guilt roiled through Harry. He could feel them trying to burst from his skin. The only thing that kept him seated was the thought of his counterpart and knowing Sirius's last words to be true. Underneath the table, Hermione squeezed his hand.
"Sirius," Remus said, eyeing Harry nervously. "This isn't helping. We're here to get help for Harry, not to place blame."
"Speak for yourself, Remus," Sirius said, glaring.
Hermione pushed the plate of biscuits towards Sirius and regarded him coolly. "I think it might be time for you to try one of these." She then turned her attention to Remus. "How exactly do you think we can help?"
"Well, for one," Remus said, "as much as your activities this week haven't been entirely unwelcome, we are concerned what they might mean for Harry."
"Of course. That is easy enough. What else?"
"Well, I suppose we are hoping you'll be able to help us find Harry. The Order, here, remains unaware of the location of Voldemort's hide-out. It's our understanding that Voldemort is no longer a problem in your world and we've... surmised that you lot may have had something to do with that."
"Is that so?"
Remus sighed. "Please, Miss Granger, I do not have the patience for this game. You are rounding up Death Eaters, quite easily I might add. There's your disturbing knowledge on Dark Marks and Voldemort's back story. There is your questionable circumstances in which you arrived here. And then there's the prophecy." Harry tried not to flinch, but he didn't know if he succeeded. "It was one of reasons Harry was so upset. He overheard his father talking about it and while James refused to give me the details, I have a strong suspicion you know exactly what I'm talking about. It was made before Harry was born."
Harry smiled tightly. So the prophecy existed in this world. He wondered then, what had happened to make this world so different. He also felt a small pang of sympathy for his counterpart. And he also knew, despite Hermione's wishes, that there was going to be no way out of this one.
"Fine. Yes," he relented. "I killed Voldemort in my world."
"Godric's balls, how?" Neville said, incredulous.
Harry laughed once. "It doesn't matter. What matters is I'm not going to be able to help. Voldemort's reign was very different in my world. I have no idea where he's hiding in this one. There's a reason we're going after known Death Eaters. We are trying to draw him out."
Remus sighed again. "Perhaps you know who Dumbledore's spy is then?"
"Spy?" Hermione repeated in surprise.
"Yes. We know your world has been different for awhile now, but this spy has worked with Dumbledore for more than a decade. The rest of the Order is unaware of their identity due to the spy's request, but they're the reason we know Harry is still alive and with Voldemort. If we could just talk to them...maybe we could come up with some sort of arrangement."
Hermione shook her head. "The only Death Eater spy in our world is in Azkaban in this one."
Sirius snorted, unamused. "I thought you lot knew not to trust the Prophet. There are no Death Eaters in Azkaban. They were released when the Dementors joined Voldemort—what three years ago now?"
"Yes," Remus said. "Please, we are desperate."
Hermione looked to Harry and Harry drummed his fingers against his knee, thinking. He was unsure if Snape was this world's spy. He knew there had been that confrontation with Pettigrew, but he wasn't sure what to make of it. Maybe Pettigrew was the spy—still alive and safe within Voldemort's ranks and unwilling to expose himself to the Order and his friends because they all thought he was dead...
Then Harry tried to imagine if it was Snape and what his reaction would be if James Potter, Sirius Black, and Remus Lupin came to him, looking for answers about Harry's counterpart...
'Not good,' Harry thought, wincing. It made his decision easy.
"It's not my place to reveal this spy's identity," he said. "Not when I'm not sure."
Sirius banged his fist on the table, rattling the cups and plate of biscuits. "Harry is going to die if we don't find him. So unless you can give us a better plan, I suggest you rethink your position."
"Hold on, I am thinking," Harry gritted out, righting his cup. "Just give me a moment, alright?"
Sirius glared and crossed his arms over his chest. Harry reached for a biscuit and took a large bite.
He was surprised that it actually helped.
And maybe it was because he was finally calm. Or maybe it was because Luna kept smiling at him, encouraging him on. Or maybe it was Hermione's small tick of rubbing her scarred forearm—an anxious habit she had picked up after their disastrous visit to Malfoy Manor...
Whatever the reason, the answer had come to him and it was both simple and obvious.
"You need a house elf," he said.
"A house elf." Sirius deadpanned.
"Of course," Hermione said. She was looking at her arm and had stopped rubbing it. "How did I not think of that? House elves are horribly mistreated. " She explained to Remus, Sirius, and Neville. "There is such a complete disregard for them that they are able to Apparate through Anti-Apparition wards."
"Merlin, you sound like Lily," Sirius said.
"Wait," Remus said, "are you saying a house elf could Apparate to Harry and rescue him?"
"Yes," Luna said wistfully. "Harry speaks from experience."
Remus blinked several times. "That's..."
"Unexpectedly brilliant," Neville finished.
Hermione beamed. "And it will work."
Harry smiled too. "It will. You would only need some way to communicate the location to the house elf," he explained. "I still had my two way mirror on me and I knew where I was being held captive, but maybe Dumbledore can convince this spy of yours."
Sirius leaned back into his chair. He then cocked his head and said, "Huh."
"What? You don't believe me?"
"Oh, I didn't say that," then he called out, "Kreacher!"
There was a small crack then Kreacher appeared next to Sirius. His eyes and floppy ears were barely visible over the kitchen table. Hermione let out a small, "oh."
"Yes, Master Sirius?" Kreacher said, bored.
"Tell me, Kreacher," Sirius said, his eyes still on Harry. "Can you tell me where we are?"
Kreacher's eyes scanned the kitchen suspiciously. "No," he said.
"Thank you Kreacher. That will be all."
Kreacher gave Sirius a scathing look before disappearing with a pop.
"House elves are bound to their masters. They do not need to know a location they only need to be called. In this world," Sirius explained. "Lily and James have owned a house elf for a very long time. His name is Leor. Our problem is not location. Our problem is getting Harry to call him."
Harry swallowed, feeling exposed. "Right, of course. I'll let you work that out on your own then."
"I bet you will," Sirius said, shaking his head. He then downed his tea in one fail swoop and stood. "Remus, Neville, I think we're done here." Then he headed towards the door. Neville followed suit, awkwardly dismissing himself and grabbing another biscuit on the way out. Remus nodded his thanks, then he too joined Sirius to leave.
And Harry sat there, feeling both relieved it was over and deeply unsettled. At first he attributed this unease to Sirius's revelation and his abrupt departure. Then he thought maybe it was not having a direct role in his counterpart's rescue... But then, as he stared into the dregs of his tea, he realized the true source of his unease.
A sense of unfinished business.
Because if Harry had to endure this meeting, he might as well start on step two of the plan...
"Wait," he called out, standing. "Remus, may I have word with you?...Alone?"
Remus shared a look with Sirius, but then he nodded and followed Harry to the other side of the room. He didn't say anything. He merely watched Harry curiously. His curiosity turned to amusement when Harry cast a quick Muffliato with a flick of his hand.
"I don't know why I'm here," Harry said, "and I don't know how to get home, but I do know exposing Voldemort to the public is only the first step. There's something else that needs to be done before he can be defeated—something I don't feel is my job, but requires discretion."
Remus raised a brow. "What are you asking me?"
"How are your Occlumency skills?"
Remus's brow rose further. "Occlumency is a requirement of all Order members, but I'm going to assume you need someone with a more refined skill set."
"It's preferable. Yes."
"Dumbledore or James is your best bet then."
Harry thought he schooled his features, but he must not have because Remus's brows furrowed. "First Leor. Now this. Is your father not an Unspeakable in your world?"
Harry didn't answer. He had wanted to help his counterpart—had wanted to help this world—but this meeting had just quickly turned into a reminder of why he had wanted to avoid everyone in this world in the first place because what good was reading newspapers when his whole life was different from his counterpart's? He felt like he was being read like an open book—a book he desperately wanted to keep shut...
"Harry," Remus said, gently, "you can trust us. We want to help you, but you're not making it very easy—there's something holding you back. I can tell. You and Harry are not entirely unalike."
Harry swallowed. He was far from wanting to have this conversation. There were times Malfoy's words in the library still haunted him...words about whether or not his family would send him back home to a world where he had no family...
But he also knew, as he glanced over Remus's shoulder, that this wasn't working. Sirius was still glaring at him, watching him suspiciously. Hermione and Luna were watching him too, but their expressions held more worry. He thought of Zabini and Malfoy reaching out to him back in the forest...
The group had stayed successfully hidden. He had kept his secrets, but at what cost? He was losing everyone's trust...
And he had also put his counterpart in danger...
And if Harry had to eventually rely on the Order for the Horcrux Hunt—if he had to go to Dumbledore...or his father, then maybe it was just best to find a middle ground—to get this part over with.
And Remus, Harry reckoned was a better—easier—choice than most.
"It's not that I don't trust you," Harry began. "I do. Mostly. I wouldn't be here otherwise. It's more that I don't trust myself."
Remus's brow furrowed in confusion, but then his features morphed with realization. "Of course," he said, glancing back at Sirius. "You looked like you had seen a ghost because you had, hadn't you?" He turned back to Harry. "We're not alive in your world, are we?"
Harry shook his head. "No."
"Dumbledore. You mentioned him and your parents—"
"Yeah. Them too."
Remus closed his eyes, pained. "How long? If you don't know Leor, how long has it been?"
"I...look," Harry said, just wanting this over. "It's been awhile—my whole life, okay? I was one. I never knew them, but it's something I've already dealt with and learned to accept."
Remus bowed his head, but when he looked back up at Harry there was no pity in his eyes. There was only understanding. "So not an Unspeakable then," he said ruefully.
"Well in that case, you need to know James is an accomplished Occlumens. Not only is it a requirement of his position, but he also has an annoying knack to master most anything thrown at him." Remus smiled kindly at him. "And you can trust James. You should know that your decision to reach out to Sirius over your father was not missed. There is a reason James is not here. He would respect your wishes, whatever they may be."
Harry nodded, considering.
"Dumbledore is also an option for what I assume are still obvious reasons, but you seem weary."
Harry shrugged. "Maybe, I don't know. It's complicated."
Remus gave him a sympathetic smile. "It often is with him. Moody would probably be your third option, but unfortunately he isn't too fond of you at the moment."
Harry grimaced. "I can't imagine so."
"Just owl me when you decide. That said, Harry needs to be rescued first. We're not going to be able to focus on much else until he's safe—especially James." He looked over his shoulder and Sirius nodded towards the door. "I'm being summoned. Just let me know, okay?"
"Right, of course." Harry said. He shifted guiltily, thinking of his counterpart.
"And Harry," Remus added causing Harry to look back up. "Thank you."
Harry smiled, nodded, and Remus left with Sirius and Neville, leaving Harry alone with Luna and Hermione. Their absence however was soon filled by Selene Lovegood and unfortunately for Harry, she had no qualms in letting him know how she felt about him avoiding his family and putting her in the middle of it. Apparently she had ignored a letter from Harry's mother and was guilt-ridden beyond belief.
Harry could only apologize and he did so profusely. He had truly seen the error in his ways and as she lectured on, he could only hope it was not too late for his counterpart...
'Please be okay.'
Long before his counterpart would learn of his plight, Harry sat debating. He was certainly stubborn, but he was also no fool and so the decision to take a second drink was an easy one.
"Very good," the mysterious man said, yet the tone of his voice was hardly approving. "I will not pretend to know what the Dark Lord intends to do with you, but I assure you, you will need your strength." And with a swish of his robes he left, his footsteps quickly fading down a long hall, leaving Harry alone with his shuddering thoughts.
...you will need your strength...
Harry knew this, it was why he chose to take a second drink after all. Because after the first forced mouthful, it was very clear it was indeed Vitality Potion...
Harry knew he was going to need his strength—whether for escaping or enduring some future torture session or both, he didn't know...
He knew all of this but the words still caused an uncontrollable sob to leave him...
Tears prickled up beneath his eyes and as he felt them fall down his cheeks, he laid down and curled his legs into his chest...
And as the tears kept coming he forced himself not to think...
Not about Voldemort...
Not about his counterpart or the Prophecy...
And definitely not about his own weakness and his failure to fight off the same curse he researched for a living...
No...he pushed these thoughts away and let his tears fall and eventually—blessedly—he fell asleep.
When he woke next, he reached into his robes hoping to find his pocket watch, but it was gone along with everything else he had been carrying. His sense of time felt muddled. He had no idea how long he had slept—no idea how long he'd been captured—hours?—days?—weeks? Surely not the latter, but he was unsure about the other two. The only indicator he had was his dry mouth and the grumbles of his stomach. At least, he reckoned he had a way to remedy that...
He sat up, reached for the cup, and took another gulp of the potion. His thirst and hunger ebbed away as he took yet another drink, emptying the cup with ease. And as the cup began filling itself again, Harry traced the animal on it with his fingers, studying it. It was a four legged creature of some sort, but in the dim lighting, Harry couldn't make out anything more. Curious, he stood. He found his legs to be shaky still, so he braced himself against the wall and slowly made his way along the edges of his cell towards the torchlight on the other side of the barred door. He gripped a bar and held the cup to the light.
"A badger?" He then said in surprise. He didn't know what he had been expecting, but it certainly hadn't been a badger. It was too reminiscent of Hufflepuffs. It was like Harry owning a set of silverware with snakes on it—no thank you...
But otherwise, despite the shine of gold, Harry thought the cup was quite ugly. The two handles were much too ornate for Harry's taste and he had never found badgers to be attractive creatures. Perhaps this was just Voldemort's cup for prisoners? Not that Voldemort had a habit of taking prisoners—weird deaths and mysterious disappearances were much more his style...
He had to get out of there.
He peered out the door, between the bars, hoping to see someone—something—anything other than blank stone walls. Harry was out of luck though. The only light was from the torch and after its reach there was only darkness.
"Hello?" he tried, hopeful. If the mysterious man was there maybe he could at least tell Harry what day it was... "Hello? Is anyone there?" But there was no answer. Harry was alone.
He reckoned he should be grateful. He wasn't being watched. He would be able to freely examine his surroundings—to freely plan his escape, but that would come later because right then his legs were shaking and so with a sigh, he slid down the wall to give them a rest. He took another sip of potion, hoping his legs would come around soon, and leaned his head against the wall, grateful in that moment for the torch's warmth...
Time then began slipping further away from him. He was still scared, but mostly he was just bored. He began singing old Muggle music his mum loved to play while brewing Potions. He began reciting his research hoping to understand why he had fallen victim to the Imperius when he had been able to resist it at work. He began tracing doodles in the dirt—including depictions of badgers, snakes, lions, and birds...
He dozed off more than once between the push and the pull of the stone walls. And he kept taking occasional sips of the potion from the small gold cup...
And it was while he was in and out of sleep—dreaming of Patronuses and flying—that he finally heard footsteps approaching. At first, he thought they were a part of his dream, but when he realized they weren't he scrambled to his feet and to the door.
The mysterious man was back. His face was still mostly obscured by his hood, but Harry could make out his mouth and sallow cheeks in the torchlight. Harry stared at those sallow cheeks hoping he might realize he knew them—that he could gain some sort of foothold. That realization though never came.
"Who are you?" He asked instead.
The man's mouth twisted. He then pulled his wand from his pocket, flicked it, and the tale tell signs of Scourgify washed over Harry.
Harry rolled his eyes despite being grateful. "Sorry. I didn't know I'd have visitors."
The man didn't take the bait. "How are you feeling?"
Harry laughed and leaned his head back against the wall. "Like shit. My legs won't stop shaking and my head hurts more often than not."
"I am not surprised. The Dark Lord is not known for his mercy."
"Yeah, I guess not."
"Keep drinking the potion. It may take several days, but your strength will return."
'Several days?' Harry thought, bereft, but this feeling turned into panic as the man turned and began retreating back into the darkness.
"Wait!" Harry cried out without thinking. "Where are you going?"
The man stopped and answered without turning his head. "My job is to ensure you are still alive and breathing, not to engage in idle chit chat."
"I'm not asking you to chit chat." Harry said, but even as he said it he knew it wasn't quite true. It was becoming painfully obvious how desperate he felt for human contact. "Please...can't you tell me something—anything?"
'Are my parents looking for me?'
'Does the world know I'm missing?'
'Am I going to die?'
Harry cringed at how easily the questions he had so carefully kept at bay came rushing forward. "Please," he continued, knowing he couldn't ask any of them. "Can't you at least tell me what day it is?"
The man didn't say anything at first. Harry had resigned himself with a sigh when the man finally answered. "It's Tuesday afternoon."
It felt both right and so wrong. He had been missing for two days then. Legs shaking, he slid back down the wall as the man walked away.
Two days of mostly sleep and Vitality Potion and he hardly felt better...
Two days alone and he was sad to see the back of a Death Eater...
Harry tried not to let these thoughts depress him, but it was hard. Especially with those questions now on the forefront of his mind...
Did his parents in fact know he was missing?
He had run away—disappeared inside the bathroom of The Tickled Toad. His parents had seen how upset he had been. So had Neville...and Susan too... would they put together the pieces or would they think he had disappeared on his own accord?
And what about everyone else? What about work—and Mr. Edevane? What about the Order—and Dumbledore? He wondered what everyone was being told—wondered what everyone thought...
He doubted Voldemort would claim responsibility...not when he was so well hidden...
Hell, even if he did claim responsibility it wasn't like the Order even had a clue where to look. Voldemort's hide-out was all but a mystery to the Order...
Unless his counterpart knew.
'No,' Harry thought to himself desperately. A painful gnawing hope had taken hold and he couldn't afford to let it. He couldn't afford to rely on his counterpart. Not when they didn't know where he was and not when he wanted nothing to do with them...
Never mind that his counterpart had bigger concerns to worry about...
Like saving the bloody world...
'No,' Harry thought again. He could only rely on himself.
Newly determined, he took another sip of potion and set to work. He was going to find a way out of there.
The idea would then come to him in a dream, because while his days—or was it nights?—were spent trapped between the darkness of four stone walls, his dreams were mostly spent in the sky...
He dreamt of broomsticks and stars and gliding through the air with black feathered wings...
And it was strange to wake up realizing he had forgotten a part of himself—the part where he could transform into a hawk without a wand.
Suddenly the barred door was only an obstacle. He knew his bird form could squeeze through. The question was what laid beyond.
Excited, he scrambled to the door and called out. When there was no answer, he retreated to the darkest corner of his cell, leaned against the wall, and envisioned himself in the air. His magic then sputtered to a start and slowly—much more slowly than usual—he felt his form and senses shift. The crackling of the torch now roared in his ears and in the distance Harry could hear screams.
He shuddered, realizing that perhaps he wasn't the only prisoner.
But these thoughts were soon pushed away because he was also realizing that his wings felt much too heavy to fly and that his clawed feet didn't seem to want to move. His whole body was shaking. He had a way to escape, but he was still far too weak to do so. All of his energy had been used to transform and not wanting to risk being found, he used every last bit of his energy to transform back to his human form then he collapsed on the cold dirt floor.
Harry was lying against the barred door when he woke next. His mind felt foggy. He didn't remember falling asleep against the door, but he must have.
"Potter?" The mysterious man said again. Then there was a burst of magic, jolting Harry forward.
"Godric's balls," Harry cried out, now fully awake. "What the hell was that for?"
But as Harry turned around, his question answered itself because next to the mysterious man stood Tom.
"Leave us," Tom said and the mysterious man complied.
Harry stood, unwilling to face Tom from the ground, and was pleased his legs were less shaky. He resisted the urge to grip the wall and took a step forward.
Tom studied him, cocking his head to the side, and it was then that Harry realized how long his hair had gotten. His fringe now reached his eyes and his face was covered in scruff. It was also, however, when Harry realized he was no longer scared...
Tom raised his wand then Harry felt the familiar push on the exterior of his mind. Yet this time it was different. Harry knew how to fight it. He recalled his desperation of before—his desire to hide his counterpart—and his mind shielded itself with ease. It then became impenetrable when Harry thought of his escape and knowing he had to protect his way out...
Harry, it turned out, didn't need to learn how to perform Occlumency, he only needed a reason why.
Tom growled in frustration.
"What do you want?" Harry said.
"There are more of them. There has to more of them."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Draco Malfoy. The Muggleborn girl. The travelers! I knew we stopped questioning you too soon. Who else came through?"
Harry laughed, yet his heart was beating frantically. What had happened? He echoed his thoughts out loud.
Tom didn't answer him though. Instead, he sliced his wand through the air, sending Harry flying backwards and writhing in pain. He left as Harry fell to the floor.
Harry groaned as the pain ebbed away. He wondered how many rounds of potion this would set him back...
And yet, he couldn't bring himself to care. He felt lighter than he had for days—long before he had been trapped in this cell even...
His resolved had remained firm...his shields had remained strong...his counterpart had remained a secret...
And something was happening. Something that had irked Tom enough to pay Harry a visit...
Harry though pushed his curiosity aside. He was thrilled, beyond thrilled at Tom's ire, but he also knew he couldn't afford to think about it. He had a singular goal of rescuing himself now and he was determined to reach it. So instead he hauled himself up with a grunt and made his way across his cell. He grabbed the cup and studied it, even though he had studied it what felt like a hundred times before. Then he raised the cup to his lips, took a swig, and set to work.
A routine then began to form. Harry would drink then he would sleep, drink then sleep, drink then sleep. After he felt like some time had passed he would transform—testing his strength. He would walk around his cell, then hop and try to flap his wings, and when it was clear he wasn't yet strong enough he would transform back and drink and sleep some more.
He was still bored. And he was still scared—of course he was—but his new mission dulled these feelings...
And during it all, between all of the drinking and sleeping and testing, the mysterious man would still make his rounds—his quiet footsteps had become a comfort to Harry. And it was on one particular visit the man assured him that Harry was finally looking better and that it was Sunday afternoon.
Harry thanked him and sat stunned as the man's footsteps retreated. Sunday afternoon...he had been captured for a week. He could hardly believe it, but he was hardly surprised when he thought about it. His sense of time had completely slipped from him. He knew he was sleeping but he didn't know when or for how long. Heck, sometimes he couldn't even remember falling asleep and more than once he could have sworn he had woken up in a different part of the cell...
But Harry had always brushed these feelings off—he had to, because they made him feel as if he were losing his mind and he couldn't afford that. He was alone, stuck in a dark cell, and surely it was normal for things to feel a bit foggy...
Yes, it was completely normal—anyone would feel this way in his shoes...
Instead, he focused on what else the mysterious man had said—that Harry was looking better. Harry smiled, because he indeed was finally feeling better. He could stand and walk around without having to take breaks. He could transform easily. He had even been able to fly around his cell a few times. Yes, he was feeling better, and after another swig of potion Harry decided it was finally time to do something.
Harry transformed and the roar of the torch sounded in his ears. He listened beyond the torch, listening for footsteps, and when he heard none he steeled himself then slipped through metal bars of the door. He had been tempted to slip through them so many times during his testing, but this was the first time he had allowed himself to do so. He felt exhilarated. And with one last look at that damn gold cup, he took off down the dark hall.
His ability to see in the dark wasn't great, better than if he were in human form, yes, but still not great. So he relied instead on his ears, listening for anyone approaching...
All was quiet and after a minute of careful walking down the hall, Harry arrived at another torch stationed at a fork. Straight ahead looked like another long hall. There was small flicker of light at what Harry presumed was the end. The left path curved into a stone staircase.
More curious what lie up above, Harry took the left path. He knew navigating the stairs on foot would be difficult so he listened carefully one more time then took flight. He flew around the first bend, then another, and after the third bend, Harry spotted the door. He landed carefully on the landing and approached the door, hearing voices on the other side...
"...I can't say this often, but I really think we may be the lucky ones this week. I tell you, we're dropping like flies out there."
"Again, Amycus, I appreciate the update but I have work to do."
The second voice clearly belonged to the mysterious man, Harry would recognize that drawl anywhere now. He edged closer to the door. It was metal with a small barred window towards the top. Harry reckoned he could squeeze through it with effort but it would be difficult to do so without notice, something he felt was doubtful with at least two people on the other side. Desperate to at least gain some sort of knowledge, he bent his head down to the floor and tried looking out under the crack in the door.
"Come on now. I know for a fact you were brewing this same brew only two days ago."
"The Dark Lord instructed me to brew Vitality Potion and so that is what I do."
The first man snorted as Harry took a look around. He couldn't see much, but it was clearly a dungeon with various stores of potions and brewing equipment around. At one of the cauldrons stood a man—presumably the mysterious man, but Harry could only see up to this man's waist. At a wood table nearby sat another man and when Harry squinted he recognized him as Amycus Carrow. Harry shuddered. Carrow had been locked up in Azkaban for excessively torturing Muggleborns when Harry had been young. He had even gone after Harry's mum...
It was when everything had started to happen—when Harry knew the world wasn't quite right. He remembered the constant worry on his parent's faces, he remembered the news of the riots, and then later that year Peter had died...
It had been a relief to hear Carrow had been arrested, by Moody no less, but now he sat there only feet away. He had been released from Azkaban when the Dementors had gone over to Voldemort's side...which made Harry suddenly wonder about the mysterious man...
"Of course, of course," Carrow said, "you have your orders and I have mine. Sadly for me, my orders are currently 'lie low.'"
"Yes, sadly for you."
"I mean, this Potter kid must be something, yeah? Why else would the Order finally grow a pair of balls?"
"Again, I am here to brew potions. I am not here to speculate."
"Come on, Snape, don't be such a bore."
Harry froze. The excitement that had been blooming in his chest after hearing the Order was taking action quickly morphed into horror. Snape? The mysterious man was Severus Snape? Snape had been the one who had killed Peter...
Snape had been his mum's friend only later to become a Death Eater...
Harry felt inexplicably betrayed. He knew the mysterious man was a Death Eater. He knew—even when he was desperate to hear those footsteps again—that he was no friend. But Snape? It seemed like such a cruel joke...
Suddenly, Harry had no desire to hear more. He felt drained. The Order was finally doing something, that was great, but hearing any details hardly helped him get out of his current position. Nor did Carrow and Snape seem apt to leave any time soon. So Harry turned around and began his descent down the stairs. He would try again later and hope those murderous bastards would be else where.
And yet, it was during his descent when Harry realized just how drained he really felt. His eyes felt heavy and his hops down the stairs became clunky. He stood up straight and ruffled his feathers and when his eyes still felt heavy, he decided to take flight.
'Just make it to the cell,' He told himself. He made it to the bottom of the stairs then took a right at the fork. Ahead was the flickering torchlight. It wasn't far...
'Just make it to the cell...'
He was so tired though...why was he so tired? Transforming must have really taken a toll on him...that had to be it. He shook his head again and flapped his wings. He was closer...so close...then as he reached the torch he landed in a heap. He forced himself up and squeezed back through the bars. The gold cup lay where he had left it. It glimmered in the torchlight, almost greeting him. He took a few more steps, transformed, then he collapsed on the cold dirt floor.
He woke next with a confused start. For a moment he couldn't remember where he was, but then it became clear because Lord Voldemort was standing in his cell.
Harry though still felt wrong footed. Yes he had been captured by Lord Voldemort. Yes he was still in his cell. But why was he sitting, leaning up against the wall? How long had Voldemort been standing in his cell? Then Harry saw the cell door which was no longer barred...
The door was now a metal grate.
Harry would never be able to squeeze through...
Harry felt sick.
"Did you have a nice flight?"
And if possible, Harry felt even sicker. Voldemort knew. He was smiling at Harry, clearly pleased, and Harry knew then that he had only one chance to escape and he had utterly blown it. He should have forced his way through the bars. Forced himself out of the dungeon and made a mad rush to any exit he could find. He had been too cautious...so stupid...
But he had made it back to his cell...he had transformed back...how did Voldemort know?
"Did you not think I wouldn't find out? I know everything that goes on under this roof, but I wouldn't fret too much. It could be worse."
Harry managed a scoff.
"Oh but it could. You see you have information that I want and that I so desperately need. I know you will never tell me and your mind shields remain strong." Voldemort waved his hand through the air. "I can sense them from here. So then my only other option would be torture and in case you've forgotten, I am quite good at torture."
Harry suppressed a shiver and glared. "Go ahead. It won't make a difference."
Realizing he had no escape brought a hopelessness and anger that Harry had never felt before. He felt emboldened.
Voldemort laughed. "I almost believe you, Harry Potter. Yet sadly for me, I will never find out. You are too important—far more important than anything the Order is doing and I need you whole. " He turned then and motioned for the door to open. "It won't be long now." Then he left, the door shutting in his wake with a deafening bang.
Harry sat there for a long time staring after the grated cell door. The hopelessness and anger that had emboldened him now consumed him. They coursed through his body, welled up in his eyes, and with an enraged scream he grabbed the gold cup and threw it against the door.
Heaving, he watched the potion drip down the walls. He had no way out. He was going to die, for that he was certain. He had been so careless—so stupid. Why hadn't he taken his chances and just squeezed through that bloody door? Anger still coursing through him, he laid down and closed his eyes. His only comfort, he realized, was that somehow his counterpart remained a secret... if he wasn't Harry knew he would hardly be considered worthwhile...
And this gave Harry some solace. It did because it meant he hadn't completely and utterly failed...
And yet, it wasn't enough to stave off his misery...
For now when Harry would awaken from a dream, after that brief moment of gathering his wits, the same hopeless anger would return to him in an instant. There was no reprieve. Even his dreams had taken note. His flights through the skies had been replaced by flashes of lights and screams...
And when he was awake, this anger of his had no outlet. He became listless, mostly pacing around his cell, kicking around the gold cup like a Muggle football, or sitting against the wall in the darkest corner of his cell just waiting for it all to end... And this is where he was when he heard the next set of footsteps approaching...
"Potter? Potter? Are you awake?"
It was Snape. Harry was half relieved it wasn't You-Know-Who, but Snape?—Harry had no desire to talk to him.
"Go away," Harry croaked out.
"You must listen to me. I will only say this once."
"I said, go away."
"No. You fool—"
And then Harry was on his feet and at the door. Snape's face was still half covered by his hood, but it didn't matter because Harry knew exactly who he was. "I don't care what you have to say. So just go away. Go!"
He had been goaded forward by his anger and it felt good to finally have a target.
"We do not have time for this outburst."
Harry scoffed. "Don't you see? I figured it out. I know exactly who you are!" Snape frowned as Harry laughed, "You're Severus Snape and I have no interest in anything you have to say to me! So please just let me be."
Snape didn't respond right away, but he didn't make to leave either. Then his hands reached up and lowered his hood. His face was more gaunt than Harry could remember—he had seen pictures mostly, including of him and his mother when they had been young— but it was unmistakably him.
"Who I am does not matter right now," Snape replied after a measured breath. "You must listen to me if you want to live."
Harry turned away with a huff, pushing down the grain of hope trying to take root at Snape's words. He had lost hope ages ago, at least that is what it felt like. Though Harry wondered if he had ever even had it at all...
He had given up, refusing to drink anymore of that damn potion because what was the point? He was just waiting for this to end. Clearly Voldemort had something big planned—something Harry was sure would end his life. He just couldn't see how it didn't. But he'd be damned if he let Snape get under his skin before that something happened.
"Did you not hear me? How could I trust anything you say? You were my mother's friend and now look at you. And you killed Peter! Peter who was like my uncle—"
"Fool," Snape spat. "Of course I killed Pettigrew. And I would blast him to smithereens again if I had the chance! You are fool, just like your father, too arrogant to see what is happening right under your own worthless noses."
Harry glared. His fingers itched. What he wouldn't do for his wand right then.
"Pettigrew was a spy. He was informing the Dark Lord on the Order and its members and their whereabouts. It is why you were being picked off so easily. And if you think that your family would have been spared you would be wrong."
Harry's heart was now beating against his chest. Peter was a Death Eater spy? No, that couldn't be right...
"You're lying." Harry said because he just couldn't believe it. Peter use to read to him and tell him stories about his dad from school. Peter would come over to the house at least once a week—like family. Family that Harry didn't really have beyond his parents since both of his parents were estranged from any living relatives that they had. Then there was his game of Exploding Snap that Harry still had. It had been a gift from Peter on Harry's eighth birthday. Harry use to beg Peter to play it with him because Peter would squeak and jump out of his chair anytime a card would explode and Harry would just laugh and laugh and laugh...
"Pettigrew was weak," Snape continued. "And weak men seek power. It was your father when we were at Hogwarts then it became to Dark Lord when he felt your father was on the losing side. It is as simple as that."
Harry swallowed. "And you just what? Killed him out of the kindness of your heart?"
"I killed Pettigrew for the same reason I am trying to save your skin and if you need me to spell that out for you then you are the very fool I pegged you to be."
Harry stepped forward then. He grabbed the metal grate door between his fingers and searched Snape's face. He knew what Snape was implying—that he was the Order spy. The spy that had remained a mystery to the entire Order sans Dumbledore. And really, Harry had been secretly hoping for this all along. It had been his original hope he now knew. And it was one of the reasons he had felt so betrayed upon discovering his guard's identity because how could Snape possibly be the Order spy...
Snape's face was unreadable. And Harry could still hardly fathom Peter as a Death Eater...But at this point, other than his pride, did Harry have to lose?...
"Tell me what I have to do."
Minutes later, Harry still sat half stunned—stunned at the utter simplicity of his escape.
Snape had told him not to wait and Harry had no intentions in doing so, but it was jarring to learn freedom was only seconds away.
He took a deep breath and stood. He paced around the cell, taking a final lap. The gold gleam of the cup then caught his eye. He picked it up and studied it one last time. Snape had instructed him to leave it and Harry had no qualms in doing so. He had no desire to bring home a souvenir, but he also figured one last burst of strength wouldn't hurt either so he took one last swig before setting it down on the small wooden table.
It was time.
He called out for Leor.
Leor appeared with a soft crack and Harry couldn't help it, he let out a sound that resembled both a sob and a laugh.
It had worked.
"Master Harry," exclaimed Leor in a whisper. "Oh we have been so very worried."
Harry nodded. He didn't know if he could speak. He knelt down and engulfed Leor in a hug. He smelled like home.
It really truly had worked.
"We must not stay here long, Master Harry. You must tell me where to bring you."
Harry pulled away from Leor. He was about to answer, but then he noticed Leor staring into the corner right at the gold cup. Harry glanced over at it. They needed to leave. Harry didn't know how Voldemort knew about his escape attempt as a hawk but he didn't want to chance this one...And yet, a gnawing urge had also come over him. He couldn't just leave the cup behind; it didn't seem prudent. He reached out and grabbed the gold handle.
"Master Harry. Leor does not know if that is a good idea."
"It's okay, Leor." And as Harry wiped away a stray tear he realized he really thought so. He was going home. He was going to live. And the cup? Well it had saved his life in a way, hadn't it? And it was clearly a magical object to be studied...it could refill itself with Vitality Potion over and over again...surely it would be an interest to Dumbledore? Or his mum even...It would be foolish to leave it and so he pocketed the cup and said, "Bring me home."
Leor nodded and in the next moment they were gone.
They reappeared back home in the kitchen and there was an immediate whirlwind of movement and noise. Harry spotted his parents, brother, Remus, and Sirius. There were cries of relief, shouts of joy, and a rush towards him and Leor. Harry's mum made it to him first, enveloping him in her arms. Harry clung to her, fresh tears falling down his face.
Harry's dad was next. He brushed back Harry's long fringe and held his face. "Harry...Son, you're home. You're safe now."
His mum pulled away, nodding, only to immediately pull him back into a hug. "I fear I may never let go of you."
"I'm alright, mum," Harry said quietly. "I'm okay." He looked around the room, gently peeling himself free, and added, "It's good to see everyone."
"You too, pup," Sirius said. "You gave us one hell of a scare."
Harry half grinned in apology as he wiped his face. Sirius winked at him, his own eyes teary, and as Harry took him in, then Remus and his father, a deep sadness overcame him. He was thinking of Peter and of Snape's revelation. Was it really true? Snape had gotten him home after all... But the thought of sharing even the possibility of Peter's betrayal with the three remaining Marauders overwhelmed him...
And Jude...Jude had been so fond of Peter...
And his mum...how could he...?
And did he reveal Snape as the Order spy...?
Harry suddenly felt so tired.
"Harry, what is this in your pocket?"
Harry tried to stayed focused. His dad was reaching towards the gold cup peeking out of Harry's robes. Behind his dad, Leor scampered off.
"It's a cup," Harry managed, but barely so and he knew then that something was terribly wrong...He could barely keep his eyes open...
His dad frowned. He was examining the cup now. Harry tried to stay awake—tried to stay focused, but when his dad pulled out his wand and aimed it towards the cup, Harry's world went dark.