Disclaimer: Not mine, not now, not ever.
A/N: Ah, you see - I promised you a new story. This was one of those ideas that just wouldn't let go, and demanded to be written. Who am I to argue with such demands? Merely the writer. Here we have an alternate universe, where Harry was sorted into Ravenclaw and a few other key elements that will all be revealed below. I see this being novel-length, and exploring an expanded wizarding world. But you'll see-tell me how it flies, ladies and gentlemen.
As always, my thanks for reading and reviewing,
An Unfound Door
Chapter One – The Dragonfly Queen
Harry raced across the rooftops of Hogwarts as if the devil himself were at his heels. His cloak whipped at the air in his wake as the wind whistled past his ears.
It was near sunset. Too near.
Still, he was burning with raw energy. He uncorked a thin vial of crystal-blue liquid and drank it quick, on the run. The potion hit him hard in one raw flash, clearing his mind and bringing the world into a stark clarity. His breath and heart hammered in his ears. He felt alive.
A burnt orange light bled over the snow-capped mountains to the west, and a blanket of bruised purple sky shone with the early stars to the east. The Giant Squid caught his eye, gliding across the lake down below, and the distraction was nearly his undoing.
A long, black claw of pure shadow leered up from the slate shingles. It was thin, skeletal—a shadow made real. Harry knew from personal experience that the three thin talons on the claw were razor sharp.
It snagged at his boot, severing the shoelaces along the tongue. It would have cut his shin open to the bone, but he had taken precautions against that. The claw of crude shadow struck a guard of hard mythril. It had taken Harry six months and nearly two thousand galleons to fashion that particular piece of armour. He had William the Conqueror to thank for the thousand-year old design.
"Concentrate, Potter," he breathed. He'd spent too long in the Arbiter's Vault. Sunset was a dangerous hour on the rooftops of Hogwarts, ever since Voldemort's resurrection.
More of the Shadow Folk (as he knew them) were taking shape, rising up from the slate like wisps of smoke. Not just ragged claws but whole skeletal forms. Harry stepped up his pace, his strides becoming longer and broader, his feet barely touching the parapets. Even at the best of times, with the wind and the slick tiles, the roofs were no place for speed.
Yet Harry had been coming up here for years, scaling the castle's towers and jaunting along the countless arched roofs. His favourite was above the Great Hall. It was how he'd found that damn Vault to begin with. The castle had so many secrets, if one just took the time to look. None of his schoolmates seemed so inclined, which suited Harry just fine.
"Come on," he urged himself. The potion he'd taken was surging through his veins like a dizzying high. He sensed the danger, but he felt immortal.
The Shadows were silent and, as far as Harry could tell, mindless in their hate. He skidded along a narrow buttress, leapt over weatherworn crenulations, and spat out a quick curse as the living shadows rose up in his path. As thin and wraithlike as cloud, yet one touch could cleave flesh from bone.
Harry tried to come to a skidding stop. It was impossible to see the Shadows for anything but simple tricks of light from a distance. They didn't exist from a distance. He had tried to point them out to others from inside the castle—more than once—but unless you were up close...
They were blocking his path back into the Astronomy Tower.
Damn it all. The Shadows slid across the rooftop, along the edges of light cast by the last of the day's sun. If I'd just waited...
No, it was even more dangerous in the Vault at this time of day. Harry laughed. Things were definitely messed up when the safer option was razor sharp nightmares that only he could see.
A shadow took a swipe at his throat, silent as the grave. Harry leapt down the arched roof above the sixth floor, near the Gryffindor common room, and slid down the slate tiles, slick with rain, on his rear. The shadow sliced a clean cut through his cloak, slicing it in two.
Harry slipped down the roof, gaining speed. Shadows chased after him, disappearing in the sun yet converging on his position as he passed into the shade of the Astronomy Tower. Expecting the move, Harry braced his feet against the slate and jumped up, hurling himself forward into the open air and—Oh shit—over the edge of the roof.
Two hundred feet in the air above the bailey courtyards below, Harry covered his face with his arms as he hurtled across the space. He smashed into the window opposite the roof he had just flung himself off—two floors down and twenty feet across.
The glass shattered against his weight and speed.
By sheer luck alone Harry tucked and rolled onto the red rug that lined the stone corridors inside the castle. He came to an abrupt stop against an old wooden bench outside of one of the Charms rooms.
With a groan, Harry forced himself to his feet and remembered to breathe.
The mythril plate armour on his forearms had protected his face, yet his upper arms were slashed, as was his chest and his left thigh. Blood flowed thick and free down his body. He winced and pulled a piece of glass from his hip.
"Could almost think I planned that," he muttered with a grin.
Harry drew his wand and vanished the glass all over the floor. He cleaned up and pulled his cloak of invisibility from the magically enhanced bigger-on-the-inside satchel at his side. It was a bit of a walk back up to the dormitory, and he was thankful there was no one in the corridor that had seen his rather spectacular, death-defying entrance.
Tossing the cloak over his head, Harry limped back up through the castle to his dorm, vanishing the drops of blood left in his wake.
"What about Harry Potter?" Hermione asked.
"What about him?" Ron said.
"The Boy Who Lived. He's a name everyone in the school knows, and people outside Hogwarts admire him, despite what the Prophet says. If anyone can help us deal with that-that toad of a woman, he could."
Ron stroked the scraggily stubble on his chin and leaned back in his chair. Hermione dearly wished he would shave more often. It just looked messy.
"He keeps to himself a bit, don't you think? What if he wants nothing to do with this?"
Hermione had to agree with that. Four and a half years at Hogwarts and she didn't know anyone who had spent more than five minutes in class, or shared a few words, with Harry Potter. He most likely had close friends amongst the Ravenclaws. Probably. Hermione honestly didn't even know that much about the Boy Who Lived. Gryffindors and Ravenclaws usually had opposite class schedules. She rarely saw him even in the Great Hall for meals, come to think about it.
"Well, we have Defence with the Ravenclaws this year. You've seen him at the back of the room. How Umbridge tries to goad him." Hermione was coming to despise the woman. She had never had such negative feelings about another human being, let alone a teacher. "We're four lessons into our term, and we haven't even cast a single defensive spell. I was watching Harry last week. It bothers him."
"I was his partner in Herbology during our third year," Neville Longbottom said from across the table. The flickering flames from the mighty Gryffindor fireplace cast playful shadows across his face. He was having trouble with his own Potions essay. "Bit of a quiet chap—and smart. Scary smart. Like you, Hermione."
Hermione suppressed a small smile. She had always been proud of her intelligence, and never more so than when others noticed. "Everyone knows he killed a basilisk a few years ago. And there was that rumour he repelled hundreds of Dementors when Sirius Black escaped Azkaban."
"Not to mention the Triwizard Tournament last year. Facing off against that dragon," Neville said, with a low whistle. "And… well, what he and Dumbledore say happened after it. You know, about what killed Cedric Diggory."
Ron nodded. "Yeah, but half the school and most of the Ministry think he's bonkers. Dumbledore, too. I heard his father was assigned to monitoring imports of illegal broomsticks for backing them up. Can you believe that? James Potter, best Auror to ever go through the Academy, counting brooms in Dover."
"I've been thinking about that," Hermione said, tapping her quill against an ink bottle. "Why would the Ministry be so concerned with Hogwarts if there wasn't some truth to what Harry Potter and Headmaster Dumbledore are saying? That You Know Who is back… back from the dead?"
Ron and Neville looked at each other and shrugged.
"My mum and dad think it's true," Ron said. "They wouldn't say anything, but one of them was always away during the summer break. Said they were doing stuff for Dumbledore." He shrugged again. "And Bill came home especially to put up some new wards around the Burrow."
"My gran says if Dumbledore believes it, then we should too."
Hermione felt there was more truth to the situation than was perhaps being reported by the Daily Prophet. Still, the problem at hand wasn't quite so daunting as whether or not the Dark Lord had returned. "Yes, well, we'll leave the fighting of evil wizards to the Aurors. Our problem is how we deal with..." Hermione lowered her voice, even though the three of them were the last people still up in the common room, "...Professor Umbridge. And I use the word 'professor' loosely. The woman has taught us nothing. Absolutely nothing so far this term. It is simply ridiculous. Our educations are suffering."
"And you think a defence club with Harry Potter as one of the members is the best way to fix it?" Ron shook his head. "I dunno, Hermione."
"We can teach ourselves, Ronald, if we must." Practicality was another thing Hermione prided herself on. "And Harry Potter is just the wizard who can help us make it work."
The next day in Defence Against the Dark Arts, Hermione sat between Ron and Neville near the back of the room, at the desk across from Harry Potter.
He was something of an enigma, all things considered. Hermione watched him out of the corner of her eye. He was writing slowly but surely along a roll of parchment, completely ignoring the woman at the head of the class—quoting some theoretically true yet ultimately useless fact from the Ministry approved text. He kept scratching at his upper arms, under his robes.
"Now, class," the toad-shaped woman said. Hermione truly despised what Dolores Umbridge represented. "As you know, the Ministry of Magic considers your continued education of vital importance..."
Hermione kept an ear on the lecture, but she was more interested in what Harry was writing. None of the Ravenclaws had taken a seat next to the Boy Who Lived, and that seemed to suit him just fine. He had his Ministry textbook on the desk, still in its crisp packaging.
That's a good sign, Hermione thought.
"...and despite what you may have heard, there is no need to be afraid. The Ministry has your best interests at heart, particularly when it comes to your education. We are entering a new era of openness, accountability, and perfected learning outcomes. All while ensuring you are not exposed to harmful influences."
For the first time, Hermione saw Harry Potter actually look up at their professor. An anxious, even vicious, expression on his face—he popped the cork out of a vial of sparkling blue potion and took a quick sip. After that, his face was calm, even. He placed his quill down on the desk and crossed his arms—no longer scratching at his shoulders.
Umbridge met his gaze, and for a split second Hermione saw through the gentle smile on her face—saw through the kind and caring facade she presented so well. A look of disgust and raw hate, as clear as day. Gone in a moment—so swift that Hermione could have imagined it—but she hadn't.
Dolores Umbridge hated Harry Potter with a passion.
"Continuing our lessons on risk identification, assessment, and treatment. You will turn to chapter five on defensive wand movements and transcribe the—"
"Excuse me, professor," Hermione said, raising her hand.
Umbridge paused. "Yes, my dear?"
"Is this not an exercise that would be best practiced using our wands?"
Umbridge offered her a condescending smile. "As I said in our first week, dear, a theoretical knowledge will be more than enough to ensure success in your examinations."
Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione saw Harry Potter watching her. Somehow, his gaze was more unnerving than Umbridge's. Ron kicked her under the table, shaking his head, but Hermione had decided to commit.
"Yes, but how will that protect us from what's out there?"
"Out there?" Umbridge lost her smile. "Miss Granger, there is nothing out there. Who would want to attack children such as yourself?"
Hermione turned her head to look directly at Harry Potter. His face was still unreadable, calm and even. And yet—a small, curious smile played about the corners of his mouth.
"Oh, I see," Umbridge said, in a tone that suggested long suffering. She opened her arms to address the entire class, all thirty students. "My dears, you have been told that a certain Dark Wizard is at large once again. This is a lie."
Silence followed her words, save for the shuffling of chairs as every person in the class cast quick, uncertain glances at Harry Potter. He took it all in his stride, and kept his gaze on Hermione.
"But at the end of the Tournament last year, Cedric Diggory was kill—"
"Such a tragic accident," Umbridge said. "And not something you children should dwell—"
Harry Potter stood up.
His previously calm and curious face had darkened. He wasn't frowning, nor did he look tense. Yet something had changed. Something... terrible. Hermione would bet her last sickle that the Boy Who Lived was furious. His eyes were so wide and so green. They almost shone.
"It was not an accident," he said. "It was murder."
"Sit down, Mr. Potter."
"No, I do not think I will. I can sit here and ignore your ridiculous lessons and blatant propaganda, Dolores Umbridge, because that doesn't matter. It's not important. The truth will out all too soon. But I will not sit here and listen to you lie about Cedric Diggory. We owe him that much."
Umbridge's face looked ghastly in the pale autumn light streaming in through the high windows. Sickly, vapid, like a corpse. She was enjoying this confrontation. Hermione suddenly wasn't so sure she should have provoked it.
"Take your seat!"
"It was murder," Harry repeated, addressing the class. "I was there. I saw it happen. Cedric Diggory was murdered by Lord Voldemort."
He sat back down.
Umbridge sighed—with relish. "Detention, Mr. Potter."
After the useless class ended, Harry Potter swept out of the room with his dark green satchel dangling from his shoulder.
Hermione spared Ron and Neville a quick look and took off after him as the throngs of students spilled into the corridor, heading in the opposite direction towards the Great Hall and lunch. The crowd seemed to part for Harry as he strolled with purpose through the mess of dark robes, disappearing quickly around the corner. She followed in the space left in his wake, wondering how best to approach the Boy Who Lived about her idea for a—
She rounded the corner and there he was, standing in front of her with a curious smile on his face, as if he had been expecting her.
"Following me now, are you?" he asked.
His eyes were so… so green. Hermione shook her head and found her voice. "I just… I just wanted to apologise for what happened in class. It was kind of my fault you got into trouble with Professor Umbridge."
Harry shrugged. He started walking away down the corridor and Hermione fell in step beside him. "You didn't get me in trouble, Miss Granger. You presented me with an opportunity."
"An opportunity for what? Detention?" Hermione couldn't seem to fathom the logic.
Harry read the look on her face. "Think about it—you're a smart one. I'm sure you see some of what's going on around here. The Ministry is interfering with Hogwarts. Umbridge is here to takeover, to oust Dumbledore and to see me fall."
"So as long as I'm carving goddamn lines into the back of my hand for half an hour a week then it keeps her happy, keeps her off the right path." Harry stopped and looked out of one of the windows into the sun. "Hermione, the bitch has to think she's winning."
Taken aback by his honesty, Hermione fumbled for something to say. Carving lines? What? She felt a rush of uncertain emotion tingle down her spine. It was not an unpleasant feeling, but it did lend her a glimpse into the mind of Harry Potter—and the events that spun around him.
She knew he had not had an easy life at Hogwarts. There were so many rumours and tales of impossible feats during his early years, not to mention the Triwizard Tournament, that even the truth had to be pretty amazing. In her mind, he was an adventurer—a slayer of dark creatures and a frighteningly influential teenage boy.
Now she was seeing something different. Something that was, perhaps, better than a reluctant hero. Harry Potter was smart—clever, even—and Hermione saw in that brief glimpse his words afforded her that there were a myriad of people pulling at the Boy Who Lived. He lived in a fast-paced world and had actual enemies.
It was something Hermione had never truly encountered before. She disliked some of her classmates, particularly Draco Malfoy and his bigoted beliefs, but there was no one she wished real harm. But Harry…
The Ministry considered him dangerous.
Harry took that in his stride and planned against it. Even goaded Umbridge into giving him detention. That wasn't the worst of it.
If what he and Headmaster Dumbledore said were true, then You-Know-Who had risen from the grave. The most terrifying Dark Lord in the last thousand years of recorded history had a personal vendetta against the quiet, thoughtful Ravenclaw boy gazing out of the window next to her with a bemused grin on his face.
Fifteen, Hermione thought. He's younger than I am and the entire magical world spins around his head!
Her glimpse ended and Hermione lost the thread of her thoughts. There were so many avenues and possibilities surrounding him that she couldn't keep it all in order. Suddenly the idea of a defence club with Harry at its head seemed not only silly but childish.
"You're frowning, Miss Granger," Harry said, turning from the window overlooking the arched roof of the Great Hall. "Something the matter?"
"I just..." Hermione paused, biting her lip. "It's just I don't think we've said more than five words to each other in the last four years. I had this idea of you in my head, and you're nothing like that idea."
Harry chuckled quietly. "People rarely meet our expectations. And when they do, it's usually because they've let you down. The Ministry gave you a time-turner in our third year, yes?"
Hermione gasped. "How could you possibly know that?"
"It was the only reasonable explanation to your course load. Also, I saw you once, from this window." He pointed towards the fifth floor Charms rooms. "It was after Defence, actually. I saw you over there then turned around just as you and Neville Longbottom walked by."
"Oh. I didn't think anyone ever noticed."
"I'm not anyone."
Harry was silent for a long moment. He traced the line of cement running between the bricks of the wall with his finger in a slow pattern back and forth. "You've got a keen mind, don't you. Can I show you something?"
Harry sat down in the window alcove with his back to the sun and patted the space next to him. Hermione sat. Their shadows bent toward the right in the chequered silhouette of the glass panes against the red carpet lining the lonely corridor. Sitting this close together, Hermione could smell spice and cedar wood on Harry.
He reached into his satchel and pulled out a scroll of elegant parchment. There was a broken wax seal, splitting some purple creature she couldn't discern in half.
Without a word, Harry unfurled the scroll and handed it over.
The words on the page were a mess. Written not with a quill but with—
"I think a fingertip," Harry said, answering her question before it was asked, and writing in the air with his index finger. "And yes, it's written in blood. Human blood, unless my diagnostic charm is way off. What do you make of it?"
Hermione didn't know what to make of it. She read the words again, slowly:
Dear Mr Potter,
Your presence is requested at the behest of our mother.
'Naked and alone we came into exile.'
A stone. A leaf. An unfound door. I'll be waiting where the river bends.
My warmest regards,
The Dragonfly Queen
Something jumped out at Hermione straight away. "I thought… forgive me, but your mother is gone, isn't she? She was—"
"Murdered, yes. Fourteen odd years ago now." Harry's smile turned a touch sad. He looked a lot older than fifteen. "And I've no siblings. I have no idea what 'our mother' could mean. The rest, I think it a riddle."
"The Dragonfly Queen…" Hermione frowned. The name tickled some thought in the back of her mind. Something... no, she lost it. "A woman, then? I take it you don't know who sent it?"
"I do not. Best guess is someone at Hogwarts, but even that's not certain. I found it on my pillow in my dorm room."
"A Ravenclaw then?" Hermione shook her head. "No, not necessarily. Some of the words seem familiar. I've read that line of verse before, somewhere. You should take this to Professor Flitwick, or even Headmaster Dumbledore."
Harry gently plucked the parchment from her hands and rolled it back up into his satchel. "No, I don't think so. Someone is sending me a message, Miss Granger. Someone who knows things they should not. I had an urge to trust you." He laughed. "Was that trust misplaced? Can you keep this a secret?"
Hermione crossed her legs at the ankle. The words were said lightly, but she was suddenly very aware of how alone and deserted this part of the castle was at lunchtime. Harry's words carried an inflection of—of a threat. "You can," she said, her tone a pitch higher. "Of course, yes."
"Splendid," Harry said, and stood up. "A pleasure speaking to you, Miss Granger. If you have any thoughts about that riddle do seek me out."
Hermione watched Harry depart and made no move to follow him. She was unnerved by the whole encounter. His piercing eyes, his play against Umbridge, the bloody note… Was this how he lived his life everyday? She felt a sting of pity for the Boy Who Lived. It must be lonely.
He had not struck her as someone with a lot of friends… if any. The small sting became sincere unhappiness.
Then she wondered how much of their conversation he had tailored to influence her. How much his 'urge to trust' her had been genuine, and how much a clever ploy designed for a scheme beyond her current understanding. That melancholy grin on his face…
Hermione clicked her tongue and tapped her heels against the low wall in the alcove. "Don't be silly," she whispered. Five minutes with Harry Potter and already she felt ensnared by his, admittedly, rather charismatic charm.
I didn't even bring up the defence club, she thought glumly. Still, there was plenty of time for that. Hermione stood up and brushed her skirt down neat. At the very least, and despite her increased confusion, she had opened a dialogue with the Boy Who Lived.
It was something she could work with next time they met.
Harry left Hermione to her thoughts and continued on to the Vault.
A smile played about his lips as he wandered up through the castle alone, passing only empty portraits and rusty suits of armour. He had enjoyed conversing with the Gryffindor girl. She was clever, innocent—and clearly wanted something—but seemed honest.
Harry had glanced into her eyes and mind beyond. There had been no sense of deception from her, which was rare these days. She had been a breath of fresh air, really—like light emerging from a shadowed forest.
And she was Muggleborn, which meant his trust could be more easily given. All said and done, there were very few Muggleborns willing to fight for magical blood purity. Still, he had no more insight into the strange bloody note. Something that he intended to change within the next hour, in the Vault.
Kind eyes, Harry thought. She had kind eyes. Something else all too rare these days.
Yes, it had been time well spent—with Voldemort having marked him for death, it was time to step out of the shadows, as it were, and forge a few alliances—and he suspected that wasn't the last he would see of Hermione Granger.
Given that it was time to make a stand.
The idea troubled Harry, as it always did. He would have preferred solitude and time to pursue his education, both magical and otherwise. There were so many questions to be answered—so much to discover! Hogwarts alone had enough mysteries to occupy a lifetime.
But no… all of his life and every damn year at this school had leant itself to snares and traps that led, ultimately, back to Lord Voldemort. It seemed fate, if he could believe in such a thing, didn't remain impartial when it came to his fair share of foiling the plots of madmen.
And now this latest—a note where there shouldn't have been a note, containing words that should not have meant anything to anyone.
A stone… a leaf… an unfound door.
Harry was intrigued more than anything else. Someone thought they could play with him. It was almost cute. Yet at the same time, that someone had access to knowledge he thought forgotten. Not so cute.
He took a winding staircase up to the seventh floor and, making sure no one was around, let himself out onto the balcony overlooking the courtyards and grounds a few hundred feet below. The sun was bright and the air warm. Harry licked his lips and rubbed his hands together.
"Good day for it," he said aloud.
Tightening his satchel around his chest, he turned and clambered up onto the parapets, reaching for the sturdy roof tiles up above the seventh floor corridor. He got a firm hold and pulled himself up onto the lower roof. It wasn't too windy, which was also useful.
Despite the significant drop, Harry had long since overcome his fear of heights—especially after his death-defying leap a day ago. His hip, although healed, still seemed to pain him—a reminder to not be so reckless next time.
Turning from the balcony, he took off across the roofs swift and sure. It was only a few minutes to the Arbiter's Vault, nestled between two towers about three floors above the Great Hall. Hidden in plain sight, really.
He covered the distance in short time—it was far too early for the shadows to bother him, and he knew the route well.
Harry fell into a gap in the roof that was all but invisible from every other vantage point in the castle. The towers—one that led to the Gryffindor common room and the other to the lower Charms rooms—were built in such a way that the architecture tricked the eye. It spun like a staircase that ended where it began. Harry had thought magic involved at first, when he'd stumbled upon this recess quite by accident, but it was simply clever stonework.
Hidden between the towers was an archway that led seemingly nowhere—into a solid brick wall. It looked like any other random part of the castle, save for a single detail. There was a pictogram on the heart of the wall that had drawn Harry's gaze three years ago, as it did now.
An old set of brass scales, perfectly balanced, crossed with two wands.
The Arbiter's Vault.
Harry walked up to the wall and into it. The stone that wasn't really stone absorbed him whole, granting him passage into a space that was larger than it should have been, given the dimensions of the castle.
In front of him was a well-lit chamber, hidden just beyond a curtain of shimmering waterlike magic. A thin sheet of falling liquid, transparent and wreathed in shiny mist.
Stepping through the curtain of falling 'water' cleansed his clothing and body of any magical tracking spells or other insidious hexes or curses. It was refreshing, too, and left him dry. Having been coming here for the better part of three and a half years, the waterfall had never actually discovered clandestine magic, but it was always better to be safe than sorry.
Harry entered the Arbiter's Vault proper, stepping into a wide circular room reminiscent of Dumbledore's office—minus the portraits and phoenix. Soft orbs of firelight hovered suspended in the air, casting the room in a bright warm glow. Besides that, the similarities to the Headmaster's suite were plenty. Dozens of uncertain magical devices littered the room, shelves of books and an entire living quarters at the top of a spiral staircase created a second floor.
Even after three years, Harry had no idea what some of the stuff in the Vault did. He was intelligent enough not to poke at the uncertain artefacts.
He let out a deep breath. "Let's get this show on the road."
On the left side of the room, between two perpendicular rows of bookcases, a dark form hovered three feet off the ground, suspended in a cocoon of otherworldly white light. Light so fine it was near radiant. Harry cast a quick glance over the man, who rested staring at the ceiling with eyes wide open, as if he were dead… and headed to the right.
The Vault held two main rooms. The initial circular room about fifty feet across and a secondary smaller room that Harry had converted into a laboratory, complete with workbenches and a row of bubbling cauldrons.
It was into his laboratory he stepped now, casting a quick critical eye over the twelve platinum cauldrons hissing on low heat. The crystal blue potion progressed nicely in the half-light and damp air—there was enough to fill a good barrel's worth of his special elixir. Harry shivered just thinking about it. This would be his best batch yet.
But it wasn't why he was here.
He cleared space on a fresh bench and summoned an old pewter cauldron, as well as a tome from the next room on blood magic. It was a simple potion and invocation he had in mind, and he probably could have fumbled his way through the process without instruction (which was much more enjoyable), but time was short.
"Always short," he mumbled. "Always everything…"
He filled the cauldron with water and all manner of exotic ingredients stashed throughout the lab. The stores in the Vault rivalled Snape's, and some of the rarer elements Harry doubted could be found anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
Once the potion was good and ready, he withdrew the Dragonfly Queen's missive from his satchel and tore off the blood-written name, tossing it into the cauldron along with a piece of magnetic iron.
The thick potion broiled, burning crimson and striking a harsh contrast against the soft crystal blue light emanating from his other cauldrons.
It was all said and done within five minutes.
Harry drained the cauldron and withdrew the piece of iron from the broth. It was stuck to a pivot of condensed liquid—and fused into a needle. He held it in his palm and watched as the needle spun of its own volition.
He had just created a blood compass. Simple magic, really, tracking something as unique as blood. The point slowed, and the shine on the metal dulled until it almost disappeared. According to his book that meant the owner of the blood was some distance away.
The needle pointed south beyond the walls of the castle, and the light was so faint that Harry estimated the blood didn't belong to anyone within a hundred miles or more of Hogwarts. He grunted in frustration and checked his watch.
Lunch was over.
He had Herbology that afternoon—in twenty minutes, actually. He had been known to skip class in the past, but did he have to worry about someone coming to look for him? He didn't think so. Dumbledore would offer him a lot more leeway this year, given what had happened in that graveyard in Little Hangleton. Still, he decided to make it quick.
It had crossed Harry's mind that the whole thing might be a trap to lure him out of the castle—and if so it was about to succeed—but the risk was remote. He had taken precautions against being ensnared since the resurrection. Never again would he be fooled by something as obvious as a portkey.
"Better to act than to wonder," he muttered. If I'm back by dinner, then it'll just look like I skipped class.
Standing rank and file against the far wall of his laboratory was a neat row of polished broomsticks. A half dozen Nimbus models and three fast and sure Firebolts, augmented with additional enchantments to enhance stealth and defence.
This mission—it pleased him to think of it as such—would require speed more than anything else, so he could be back inside the castle before he was missed.
He selected the Firebolt on the far right of the rack and attached the blood compass to its point. The broom thrummed in his hands as he slung it under his arm. Eager and ready to fly.
Collecting his satchel, Harry headed back into the main circular room of the Vault. He travelled left across the room this time, walking around the suspended form of his soulless godfather and toward a solid brick wall hung with purple tapestries.
"Don't wait up, Sirius," he called over his shoulder, and stepped straight through the wall as if it were an illusion.
Which it was.
He mounted the Firebolt in complete darkness and took off down the secret passage, heading through the bowels of Hogwarts alone with his wand a blazing beacon of ethereal light against the narrow lightless world.
After many twists and turns the passageway evened out. He was somewhere below the grounds now, having cleared the castle. Harry flew straight down the dark tunnel, wand aloft, for another few miles. The walls were slick with water, and groping roots had broken through the tiles overhead. He had been this way many times before, and could have done it in the dark. The tunnel was as straight as an arrow.
Still, it had been here for a thousand years or more, if records in the Vault were to be believed. It wouldn't do to fly straight into a fresh cave-in. Even magic failed, given enough time. Eventually the path twisted again—back up—and the rocks coated in slime and knotted tree roots became pure hard granite.
Harry was under the foundation of the mountains that bordered Hogwarts to the east, beyond the Forbidden Forest. Here he flew faster. The tunnel rose steeply and, at certain points, the ground dropped away suddenly into unfathomable pits below. To the centre of the earth, for all he knew. Not that he didn't like to explore, but heading down into depths unknown beneath mountains tens of millions of years old… Nope.
This wasn't a path that could be walked—it had to be flown.
After five more minutes of swift flight, Harry hurtled headlong into a solid wall and slipped straight through it—another illusion—out into clear blue skies three thousand feet above sea level.
Hogwarts shone like a crown jewel five miles away, the great lake a band of burning golden brilliance under the midday sun. He had bypassed all the security and emerged unnoticed against the clear heavens.
Harry flew a few lazy circles, blinking away the glare, and letting his eyes get used to the sun after a half hour in relative darkness. He cast his gaze up to the peak of the mountain range.
Up above were dilapidated and rundown old buildings nestled within the arms of the craggy sentinels, about a thousand feet short of the peak. Rowena Ravenclaw's ancient observatory, built alongside Hogwarts all those centuries ago. The telescope—one of the first in the world—still worked, even after a thousand years (and some significant cleaning charms), but there was little else of interest up there, beyond the magnificent view.
Once his vision was restored, he turned from the peaks. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, leant down low on the Firebolt, and set off chasing the horizon and his Dragonfly Queen.
A/N: Now you know that deserves a review, yes? Tell me your thoughts. Thanks to the magnificent bastards and bastardettes at DLP for fixing my numerous and obvious mistakes. From here on out, I'll be writing swift and true. I've nothing but time now that university has ended. No more scraping for a half hour of scotch-fuelled writin' time. Expect alternate updates of this and Heartlands of Time!