Disclaimer: Not mine, save in concept.
A/N:I know I've been away for a few months – with good reason! My original novel went live next month! Check out my profile for links, or Google: Distant Star by Joe Ducie
Or, you know, make me sad and don't. Either way, enjoy this awesome chapter!
An Unfound Door
Chapter 5 – Bad Girls, Honey
On Wednesday morning, three days after his diabolical poisoning, Harry sat alone at the Ravenclaw table in the Great Hall, sifting through his stack of owl post. He had made next to no progress on uncovering not only who but how he had been poisoned.
It was on his to-do list, close to the top, right after a piece of cinnamon toast and a cup of tea.
The correspondence was mostly junk, a few letters—those denouncing his claim that Voldemort had been reborn—even carried subtle, annoying hexes. Yet a gem or two hid amidst the drudge.
He put his copy of the Prophet aside for now, anticipating the worst there, and broke the seal on a fancy envelope bearing the Beauxbatons Coat of Arms: two golden wands crossed over one another, each shooting three stars.
Dear Mr Potter,
Thank you for you letter dated August 17th regarding my theories
relating to the invocation and application of Eldren runic warding.
This is a branch of magic I teach exclusively to post-graduate students
at the Beauxbatons Academy of Magic. I understand you are in your
fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Should
you conclude your seventh year of education with an Outstanding
result in Ancient Runes (or an equivalent field) please contact me
for an interview of admission.
However, on a personal note regarding the heart of your enquiry, I find
it unlikely that Eldren Law would be applicable in the context of
dark magic and the unique, unstudied situation concerning your
remarkable survival of the Killing Curse. Fourteen years ago that
was the subject of much discussion in the academic world. I am
sorry to say that very little progress was made on the matter.
"Well that's about as useful as a broken condom in a whorehouse," Harry muttered, quoting his father. Was this one of the rare occasions where the scatterings of knowledge in the Vault, which had only hinted at the ancient brand of magic known as Eldren Law, was flawed?
Harry filed the correspondence away in his satchel with a small reminder on his to-do list concerning a brief, polite reply. The rest of his post that morning was nothing of consequence. Letters of support, of admiration. Letters of vilification, of outright hate. The latter seemed to always outnumber the former.
As he spread a healthy dollop of peanut butter on a toasted roll, he wondered if the Ministry were screening his incoming mail. It wasn't beyond the realms of possibility. More than likely, in fact, given Dolores Umbridge's animosity and cunning hostility. There was never anything untoward delivered via owl post. Harry was smarter than that. No, the large amounts of hate mail—a lot of it badly written and poorly worded—were most likely sent out of fear.
No one wanted to believe Voldemort had returned. As it stood, the only evidence to the contrary was the word of a schoolboy and a doddering old man (as the papers were claiming) well past his prime—thrown against the weight of the government. Harry glanced up at the head table, gestured a good morning to Dumbledore, and returned to his breakfast.
With a wearied kind of resignation, he turned his attention to the Prophet.
A muffin floated into his nose.
Harry plucked it out of the air and took a bite. It had been spread with some mixed, mingled concoction of marmalade and what may have been hazelnut paste. It was delicious, and he ate the whole thing.
The next muffin that meandered down the table in slow loops and into his hand was spread with a fluffy whipped cream and topped with an egg and fried tomato. Harry took a bite. It wasn't to his liking. He'd never had a fondness for the tomato. That muffin he sent back.
A third muffin topped with a slice of bacon and chocolate sauce spun in lazy circles around his head until he snatched it. As unhealthy as it was, Harry had to admit bacon and chocolate went well together. He devoured the gooey, crispy concoction.
The Prophet was a depressing read. Nothing directly slandering him today, or even Dumbledore, but there was a section on how strong and solidified the Ministry had become under Cornelius Fudge. That was so much bullshit.
It was like watching a kid play with matches. Sure, you can tell him that fire burns, but he doesn't really understand until the flame licks his skin. Unfortunately that kid was a many-headed snake, powerful and self-serving.
The beginnings of a plan regarding the Prophet had been stirring in Harry's mind for a week or so now. It would require stepping into the limelight, somewhat, but then that was happening with or without his approval. The initial outlay of the venture would be somewhere in the region of ten thousand galleons... perhaps more.
And he would need an ally or two.
Harry glanced over at the Gryffindor table. Hermione Granger wasn't about.
A copy of the Quibbler landed in the bowl of peanut butter in front of Harry. He snorted, retrieved the magazine, and tore a corner off with his teeth, swallowing the papery-peanut mess whole.
Luna Lovegood exploded with laughter a quarter way down the table, startling the general quiet of the Great Hall into early morning alertness.
That made Harry smile.
Later that evening, after classes but before dinner, Harry sat in his lab compiling a shopping list on a scrap of old parchment. He wrote with a simple ballpoint pen, as time was of the essence.
Harry ran a quick estimated tally on his planned purchases.
So far, he'd spent all of the galleons earned during the last delivery—and a fair chunk of his saved funds. It was a costly business, potion brewing. But most of the insanely expensive items would be a one-off cost in order to step up production.
"Okay... what else?"
To the list he added:
A dozen platinum cauldrons ~2,400 galleons
Diamond dust, in essence of dragon's blood ~ 45 galleons an ounce
If he bought the ingredients in bulk now—those readily available—it would allow for about a year's worth of brewing. The steady fortnightly profit from this preliminary expenditure would soon eclipse the cost and could be funnelled into other avenues. Such as his research endeavours.
Such as dealing with the Prophet.
The paper is just a symptom, Harry, whispered the logical, intelligent voice in the back of his mind. Your real enemy is the Ministry, and Voldemort above all. True enough, but an attack on the Prophet could undermine the Ministry's propaganda machine and increase the lax pressure on the Dark Lord.
Three birds—one stone.
Harry tapped his pen thoughtfully against the parchment and allowed himself five minutes to think it all through.
It all came down to power. To understanding power.
Who had the power?
Who wanted it?
Where could it be directed?
The Ministry, Cornelius Fudge, wasn't the be all and end all of power in the wizarding world. Indeed, his government was only a fraction of the whole system. The real power, the majority of influence, rested in the hands of those that owned the society.
The goblins and their banking system.
Wizards such as Dumbledore, who commanded great supremacy over magic.
The Lucius Malfoys of the world—those with money and intelligence enough to use it for and against authority.
Unfortunately for Harry, a majority of those people were also Death Eaters. The deck was stacked well and truly in Voldemort's favour, and the Ministry didn't even know it was being played.
Not yet, and if someone didn't act, then Harry envisioned a not-too-distant future where the Ministry was the Death Eaters.
Harry thought back over the various headlines and stories in the Prophet over the last few weeks. With increasing interest, he was being discredited and attacked. But it was worse than that, really. He was being targeted to the exclusion of all else. Sure, there was debate back and forth over whether he was unhinged or not—there had to be.
But the ugly truth of the Ministry's propaganda system wasn't hidden in the disgusting and blatant opportunistic print. That framework was obvious, but only because the debate was presented within that carefully established and negatively geared agenda.
It was almost beautifully done, actually. A few subtle masterstrokes in the media, and the flawed 'discourse' over Harry and Dumbledore's wild claims only enhanced the strength of the assumptions being put forward by the Prophet. Basically, that he was an attention-seeking knob.
Well to remember that the Ministry isn't full of idiots, Harry thought. Not by a long shot.
So the solution was simple, really. If the state propaganda was as delicate and complete as it seemed, then one had to expand the framework. Short of forcing Voldemort to appear in the heart of the Ministry, there were ways that could be done. Ways to turn their own weapon against them.
A slow, careful chuckle escaped Harry as he thought of the look on Dolores Umbridge's face once his plans came into effect.
There was a greater game at play here than simple revenge against the woman but, by Merlin, that was still ample motivation.
Harry cut his thoughts off there. He had fallen from logical preparation into personal gain. There could be no further fruitful planning at this stage, and time was still of the essence.
He returned to his list, marking off his purchases against his available funds, and turned his deliberation towards travel plans. The Floating Markets, where he would make the majority of his purchases, were located in the south of France.
Digging through his satchel, Harry consulted a list of portkeys he had readily available. Near the end of his third year he had begun to study and practice portkey magic, when it became clear that owl post and stealing from Snape's stores just wasn't going to cut it.
Of his available portkeys, none got him within fifty miles of Lac de Saint-Cassien and the markets. He had one keyed to Beauxbatons, which was just two miles away, but that had expired a month ago. Portkeys were not shelf stable.
"Well, nothing for it..." he muttered.
Harry dropped his pen and pulled out his wand. If he skipped dinner, he could be in and out of the markets before midnight.
It was fast becoming a disappointing practice looking for Harry Potter in the Great Hall at meal times.
The one time you would think he'd be here, Hermione thought, tapping her foot against the cool stones under the Gryffindor table.
She had gotten here nice and early, as well, and watched the rest of the school file in and the sun set overhead in the enchanted ceiling.
She knew he was well and healthy after his poisoning scare—she had seen him in defence class, but Umbridge's strict no-nonsense teaching methods had prevented even the exchange of a quick note.
Hermione wanted back in the Vault.
She wanted it more than anything she had ever wanted in her life.
It was one thing to think there was magic she hadn't even considered outside of the Hogwarts curriculum. It was quite another thing to know that magic was within reach. The boost to her OWL results alone…
Hermione swirled some peas into her mashed potatoes and glared at the empty, far end of the Ravenclaw table.
Where in the world was Harry Potter?
"You ready, Jim?" Kingsley Shacklebolt asked, alone save for his partner after hours in the Auror offices below London.
James slid his wand into his wrist holster and shrugged on a non-Auror issue leather jacket. He and Kingsley were operating outside of established jurisdiction tonight.
"You flooed Audrey to let her know you're working late?"
James nodded. "She's not happy I'm back in Enforcements, but what can you do?"
"Better than Dover, yes?"
"Yes, yes." James zipped up his jacket and ran a hand back through his scruffy hair. "There, do I look like an Auror?"
"No more than I do." Kingsley shrugged and doffed a tartan deerstalker. "Portkey in five."
Harry spun out of the void on the shores of Lac de Saint-Cassien under a fading azure sky riding the edge of twilight, just a handful of miles from the Beauxbatons manor house. He was several hundred miles from the Great Hall and the magnificent house-elf feast back at Hogwarts.
He stuffed his impromptu bottle cap portkey, good for one return trip, into his pocket.
Rolling green hills meandered up and down over the French countryside, spotted with wildflowers and rows of neat lavender. The famed fields of Provence were only a proverbial stone's throw away. Clear water lapped at a sandy shoreline for a good few miles in either direction.
Not one to stop and admire the view, Harry trekked along the water's edge with his satchel slung over one shoulder. He wore a simple black cloak with an enchanted shadow-hood.
As he rounded a curve in the pebbled shore, an old rundown boathouse came into view and Harry lifted the hood to cover his head. His face disappeared into inky blackness, which would serve to protect his identity.
A steady stream of people, wizardly folk garbed in colourful robes, were shuffling in and out of the ramshackle boathouse. Harry fell into line with the inwards crowd and did his best to blend in with the masses. His face found its way into the Prophet every damn day – and if he was recognised it could only spell trouble.
Crossing into the boathouse, he felt the subtle tingle associated with passing a ward line—or a series of ward lines. Muggle repelling charms, at the very least, and some minor restrictive wards.
Inside the boathouse a set of old stone stairs, worn and wet, descended between the gentle, lapping waters. Thrust up on either side of those stairs, holding the water at bay, curved a sheet of strange, crystal-clear glass. Unblemished and unmarked, that glass had been forged several thousand years ago and was, through all methods known to man, indestructible.
Harry trailed his hand along the elderglass as he made his way down the well-lit steps and under the surface of the lake. The glass structure followed him down, and dark lake water formed the walls of his descent. He felt like a fish in a bowl—one of many.
"Masterful…" Harry muttered. The glass was warm under his fingers, even in the cold dark water.
Elderglass was always warm.
Dozens of similar structures were scattered across the world (and probably a damn sight more nobody had discovered yet) and their construction was as confusing as their origins.
According to the knowledge in his Vault, as well as the opinion of several high-profile academics, elderglass was constructed by a race of wizards several thousand years ago known as the Eldren. A nation of powerful sorcerers who could accomplish feats of astounding magic that made the silly wand waving done today look just that—silly.
But that was just an informed theory—an informed theory, based on slim facts—but Harry guessed the real picture might have looked a lot… bigger, and he would have given a lot to know the truth behind the glass.
The stairs disappeared below the water for about a hundred feet, heading toward the heart of the lake. At the bottom, amidst the noise of commerce and the scent of frying street meat, Harry saw an amazing thing.
An entire city—what was left of it, at the very least—made of elderglass.
He stopped to admire the view, cast in an eerie green light from the waters of the lake pressing in on the fishbowl from all sides. The glass beneath his feet was razor thin, and black water was all he could see, but indestructible. It was humbling to think that all that separated him from an unfathomable amount of water was a bubble of fine glass wrought by unknown means.
Buildings constructed of the strange glass were stacked high and low, through narrow alleyways and wide streets. Beneath the Lac de Saint-Cassien were miles of warm glass, a city founded millennia ago, and abandoned some two thousand years later.
Modern wizards—well, those around when the pyramids were under construction—had claimed the nameless, abandoned city as a place of strength and refuge, and across the centuries it had become a centre of commerce and trade.
The Floating Markets—miles of underwater glass suspended in the heart of a lake.
Having been here a few times before, Harry did not stop to admire the view for long. He set off in the direction of the apothecary district, his list of ingredients in hand and a substantial purse lightened and concealed in the folds of his robes.
With any luck, he'd be in and out in less than an hour and back at Hogwarts before half-eight and his detention with Umbridge.
Over the centuries, wizards and witches had altered the elderglass as best they could. No spell or tool could damage the glass, but folk had attached wooden boards and cloth hangings, and covered several of the buildings with bright paint and torches.
Harry strolled down a busy alleyway, heading downhill, and stepped out between neat rows of buildings on the edge of a boardwalk built above the elderglass base of the markets.
His boots clunked against the faded wooden planks. His first port of call that evening was a tavern on the edge of the boardwalk, constructed over a man-made lake on the far side of the district.
Away to his left, dark waters lapped gently at the wooden beams supporting the boardwalk. He was walking over a lake within a glass bubble within a lake. Amazing, he thought.
Amazing it may have been, but the waters didn't look too inviting. A thousand years or more of waste and refuse had turned the inner lake foul. It stank of rot and ugly, purple foam clung to its surface.
The apothecary district was an enormous plethora of various sights, sounds, and smells. Some wonderful, some not so much. Barrels of potion ingredients sat out the front of a dozen different shops. Dried or fresh meats hung from hooks over crooked, warped signs. The air was alternately fresh with scents of wildflowers and clogged with smoke.
"Fresh eye of newt!" a scraggly old witch called from the shadows. "As fresh as it gets, my dears!"
"Dementor's Bane, my friends. Perfect for those calming potions!"
Harry embraced all of it. He revelled in the throngs of people, the mix of old and new, in this old, alien city below the lake.
He had first come here with his father some years ago, just before starting Hogwarts. Already possessed of a keen mind, Harry had begged and pleaded to visit Loyal's Library—a bookshop on the other side of the Floating Markets that contained over one hundred miles of shelves, all fit to burst with magical texts.
Since then, Harry had taken any and all opportunity to visit these markets. In his third year, after he started developing his potion and had gained access to faster, swifter means of travel, he had come back here in earnest.
And discovered that one could buy almost anything, if one had the resolve and, more importantly, the galleons.
A three-storey wooden tavern, leaning forlornly to the side and lit with all manner of rich, colourful lights, extended out along a dock running adjacent to the boardwalk. Scatterings of dilapidated rowboats were tied against the dock, which in turn was covered in loose nets and sodden crates that probably hadn't been used in half a century.
A steady clientele made their way in and out of the tavern. Harry adjusted his satchel under his robes, made sure his face was still covered, and let himself into the Whale & Ale.
The air was hot and stank of stale beer, greasy food, and a heavy mix of all the nearby apothecaries. Again, Harry breathed it all in like he was coming home.
The tavern was busy, full of laughter and music. Old tables and chairs were scattered in no discernable order. Smoky, luminescent fog clung to the floor, and tiny magical sprites—creatures of fug with glowing yellow eyes—darted between legs and under chairs. The mice of the magical world.
Harry forced his way to the bar and sat on an empty stool, second from the left corner, as he had been instructed by Gus some years ago, when he first started selling his potion, and waited patiently for one of the bartenders to notice him.
After a time, a man appeared from between the bars and the kitchen. He was old, bald, and a vicious scar cut his face in half. One of his eyes was missing. He smiled into the darkness of Harry's hood, revealing rows of yellowed and gnarled teeth.
"What'll it be?" he asked.
Harry cleared his throat. He had to get this next bit just right, or the whole trip would be wasted. "I'll take a dragon steak with mallowsweet sauce and a pint of Brooklyn Brown ale."
"Mash and winter veg?"
"Chips and salad. Hold the rind and make it bleed."
The barkeep nodded and poured a pint from a wooden cask connected to a bridge of taps. He placed a coaster from his pocket on the bar in front of Harry and sloshed the pint on top of it. "That'll be the usual price, lad."
Harry reached into the folds of his robes. He handed the barman three thousand galleons exactly, magically light and shrunk in an expanded coin purse. The barman made it disappear with a sharp nod and walked away.
Harry sat a moment longer. He took a sip of the brown ale, found it delicious, and took another sip. He stood, pocketed the coaster underneath his pint, and headed back through the bar, his business concluded.
He made for the exit, through the sprite-clouds again between the tables, and soon found himself out in the cool air once more alongside the dock and the dark lake.
"Good work, Harry," he whispered. Now that that bit of underhanded business was out of the way, he could see about some of his more legitimate purchases. Cauldrons and burners and the like. He was making good time.
Walking back along the boardwalk, he removed the coaster from his pocket and snapped a seal on its underside. The coaster unfurled into a square piece of parchment, six inches by nine. Ink swirled across the page, and the number 7856 appeared in the top right hand corner.
Harry knew that the barman would be counting the galleons in the purse right now, and would match the tally to that order number—minus a small commission. Harry could then use the coaster to order what he needed, up to his balance, in less than savoury goods.
Satisfied, Harry refolded the coaster and hid it away in his satchel.
Something hard stabbed him in the back and a harsh, ragged voice whispered in his ear, "Make one move and you're dead."
"Walk," the unseen voice ordered. "Down the dock there. Go."
Harry did as he was told. His wand was in his right pocket, below the folds of his robes. Of little to no use at all. He silently berated himself for that, thinking of his mythril armour and holsters back in the Vault. Hindsight was a many splendored thing.
"What do you want?" Harry asked. "There's a coin purse in my right pocket if you'll just—"
"This isn't a mugging, you fool," the voice hissed. "Just keep walking, Potter, until we're away from these crowds."
Harry did as he was told, and soon he was alone, save for his attacker, away from the busy Whale & Ale and the crowds on the apothecary boardwalk, out over the unnatural lake on the edge of a dock. He was well and truly hidden from view by stacks of wooden crates.
"How could you have possibly known—?"
"The Dark Lord sees all. You think you can hide from him? No, you're a fool to leave the protections at Hogwarts."
His attacker jabbed his wand hard into his back and Harry stumbled forward, on top of a load of netting and ropes. He turned, raised his hands, and stared into a face hidden by shadow It was too dark to see who he was dealing with.
"Now don't move, or I'll slice you open from head to—"
"Avery! Drop your wand!" A voice full of command and authority came hurtling out of the dark.
Harry glimpsed two figures, wreathed in darkness, about twenty feet down the dock over Avery's—Harry's attacker, and, he realised abruptly, one of Voldemort's inner circle—shoulder, wand tips afire with silver light.
Avery cursed and turned on his heel. "AVADA KEDAVRA!"
A jet of emerald-green light burst from his wand and shot down the dock toward the two figures. One of them pulled the other out of the way and the light exploded against a stack of barrels behind them. Splinters of wood exploded and gouts of slick, oily green flame spluttered to death across the dock.
Harry's hand darted to his pocket as soon as Avery had focused his attention elsewhere. He tore his wand free and brought it up in a swift flick, just as Avery turned back—
"Confringo," Harry yelled.
A jet of red light erupted from his wand at the same moment a stunning spell left Avery's. Harry's blasting curse collided with Avery's stunner in midair and was deflected down into the wooden planks at his feet.
The far end of the dock exploded.
Harry was knocked back into crates, loose ropes, and netting. His wand went flying from his hand and toward Avery. He gasped as the force of his spell rent the old dock asunder. It collapsed beneath him and he plummeted out of sight.
Harry fell through the dock, in a tangle of ropes and splintered wood. He hit the freezing, filthy lake water and sucked in a harsh lungful of air before he went under.
The weight of the ropes and metal lashings dragged him kicking and screaming below the murky surface.
James and Kingsley kept their heads low and their eyes open as they strolled through the brightly lit streets of the Floating Markets, fighting the crowds under the pale green light from the gloomy lake.
Their destination was the Whale & Ale—a tavern on the outskirts of the apothecary district where a lot of under the table dealing in rare potions ingredients was done. Well, not so much done, but arranged.
As far as the potions masters at the Ministry could discern, the mysterious blue poison contained a mix of expensive and exotic ingredients that just weren't available in England. You'd need a lot of money and a lot of very specific people to ensure a steady supply.
Which was why two of the finest Aurors in London were in France tonight, operating a touch beyond their purview.
The specialists at the Ministry had also been at pains to explain to James during his briefing on the assignment that the potion was masterful. Despite what it did, they had almost been in awe of whoever was brewing it. They could identify a few of the items in the recipe, but how it all went together was beyond them.
Not so much a potions master, but a completely different way of brewing.
"Fresh eye of newt! As fresh as it gets, my dears!"
James kept a hand on his wand in his pocket. While not openly dangerous, this part of the Floating Markets was known to be a bit seedy—a sort of watered down Knockturn Alley.
He had Kingsley at his side, and at six and half feet of tough muscle, that should be enough to dissuade the pickpockets or worse.
The Whale & Ale was as packed and crowded as always when James and Kingsley entered. They fought their way to the bar and ordered two schooners of golden ale.
"Now we wait," Kingsley said, commandeering some bar stools with a stern gaze.
"Now we wait," James agreed. "And see what we see."
A few of the more prominent and, perhaps, careless black market dealers had made their way onto the British Ministry's wanted lists. In a place like this, at least one or two of them, or their known associates, would make an appearance. And if not tonight, then perhaps tomorrow night. Or the night after.
James was under no illusions. This blue potion distribution ring was as sophisticated as these networks came. It may be weeks if not months before he caught a break.
"So, Audrey is pregnant, hmm?" Kingsley asked, and took a sip of his beer.
James cursed. "Merlin, where'd you hear that? I only just told Scrimgeour."
"Office gossip, Jim. Congratulations."
He clinked his glass against Kingsley's. "Cheers."
"I have to ask, but was this planned? Given what we know… and what Dumbledore and your boy are saying."
James nodded. "I understand, I do." He sighed. "She fell pregnant before those rumours started circulating. Before what Harry and Dumbledore say happened last year. I believe them, I have to, but with any luck…"
"With any luck?"
James tossed back his schooner in one well-practiced flick. The beer fizzed down his throat. He thought of Lily. Of what was lost and what could still be lost. "With any luck this baby won't have to be the saviour of the goddamn wizarding world. One in the family is enough, don't you think?"
Kingsley laughed, but neither of them found it very funny. James ordered another round and conversation turned to milder topics. A few minutes later, Kingsley let out a low, careful whistle and inclined his head toward the door of the tavern.
"Well, well… look who we have there."
James followed his gaze and chuckled low. "Aloysius Avery, as I live and breathe."
James had attended Hogwarts with Avery, twenty or so years ago now. He had been one of Lestrange's crowd, one of Snape's and Rosier's friends. Death Eaters, all of them, through and through. Only Avery had pleaded the Imperius Curse after Voldemort's downfall and wormed his way out of trouble.
Avery was sipping at a glass of firewhiskey alone. His face was grim, covered in stubble, and his greying brown hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail. His eyes kept darting up and across the bar. James tried to see what was so interesting, but the crowds around the bar were thick and almost impenetrable.
"What do you think he's up to?"
"Nothing good," Kingsley said. "Look at how he's standing. Tense, rigid. He's barely touching that drink. Let's keep an eye on him."
A minute or two later Avery left his drink unfinished on a table in front of him and shrugged into a grey cloak. He drew his wand and hid it, clenched in his fist, within the folds of his cloak and disappeared back out into the eerie green light of the Floating Markets.
Without a word, James and Kingsley followed, curious as to where the ex-Death Eater (or, perhaps, reinstated Death Eater) was heading.
In case he was waiting just outside, they stood half a minute inside the entrance to the Whale & Ale before exiting. Stepping out into the cooler air, James cast a quick look up and down the boardwalk for their quarry.
"You see him?"
Kingsley shook his head. "He can't have gotten far—"
"There. Down the dock. Look at that stupid ponytail." Kingsley snorted. "He's with someone."
"Shall we have a chat, you think?"
James stroked his chin. "Wands out, I'd say."
Walking side-by-side, James and Kingsley set off at a steady but quiet pace down the dock after Avery. He was about thirty feet ahead, walking behind someone in a dark hood. The light was poor out here over the lake, but good enough to see that.
Avery and the hooded figure came to a stop at the far end of the dock. A pale mist clung to the crates and loose netting. James felt a chill shiver through him. Something wasn't right here.
He and Kingsley moved closer, close enough to hear what was being said.
"The Dark Lord sees all. You think you can hide from him? No, you're a fool to leave the protections at Hogwarts."
James and Kingsley exchanged a heavy look. This had suddenly gotten a whole lot more interesting. Hogwarts? Was the man beneath the hood one of the professors? Severus Snape? No, he wasn't tall enough. A student?
"Now don't move, or I'll slice you open from head to—"
That was enough for James. "Avery! Drop your wand!"
Avery turned on his heel, with a snarl, and bellowed, "AVADA KEDAVRA!"
James pulled Kingsley a staggering step to the side as a jet of dark green curse light burned through the air. It missed him by a cold inch and slammed into a wall of strapped barrels.
They kept moving, doing what they were trained to do, and sought cover behind a stack of wet wooden crates.
Sounds of a struggle came from the end of the dock. A younger voice, not Avery's, yelled a blasting curse and James felt the dock beneath him buckle as it struck wood. He peeked his head around the edge of his hiding place in time to see the dock collapse beneath the hooded figure and Avery leap back away from the edge.
"Son of a bitch…" James breathed. "A killing curse, Avery? Really?"
"Oh I recognise that voice!" Avery laughed. "Two for the price of one tonight. You think I'm afraid of you, Potter? You think anyone fears you bastard Aurors anymore? You've no idea what's coming for you."
Kingsley moved around the edge of the crates and nodded at James. He disappeared over the side of the dock, pulling himself along the old wooden planks by his fingers—out of sight.
"So tell me then, why don't you?" James called, keeping the attention on him.
"You can't arrest me, Potter. Not here. Your family will be one of the first to fall—"
James stepped out of cover and fired a barrage of neat curses, swift and sure, down the dock at the stack of crates next to Avery. The crates erupted in flame and Avery leapt to the side, toward where James knew Kingsley—
Kingsley's head popped up over the edge of the dock, face grim, and his wand arm followed him.
A silent beam of yellow light erupted from his wand and struck Avery in the chest. He snapped in place, stiff as a board, and fell face-first. James heard his nose break with no small amount of satisfaction.
Kingsley hauled himself back up onto the dock proper and nodded. "This is a development, don't you think, Jim?"
James darted past his partner and over to the destroyed end of the dock. The splintered wood smouldered with crimson flame. Whoever Avery had been with had gone down here, but there was no sign of them.
James cursed and dived into the black, filthy water.
Wandless, Harry struggled with the ropes caught around his legs. The weight dragged him deeper and deeper under the lake inside the elderglass bubble. It was dark, save for that eerie green light reflected through the thin glass.
A rush of angry bubbles escaped his mouth as he cursed and fought against the weight. One of his arms was wrapped tight to his side, caught in the wire mesh netting.
The heavy crates and ropes struck a thousand years of waste and refuse at the bottom of the elderglass structure, buried below the French lake overhead. Frantic now, the last of his air rushing out of him in a burst of invisible bubbles, Harry tore at the ropes, but that only served to pull them tighter.
He let out a soundless scream, almost gasping for air that wasn't there.
He had no wand.
He couldn't reach the portkey in his pocket, not with his arm strapped to his side.
Harry allowed himself to entertain the very real possibility that he was about to die in an unmarked watery grave.
A bright flash of silver light lit up the bottom of the lake-within-a-lake and severed the ropes beneath his boots. A pair of strong, solid arms grasped Harry from behind. He bucked in the grip purely on instinct, but was too weak to put up much of a fight—his lungs burned for air.
Whoever had a hold of him did not let go, and Harry felt a pair of legs kicking him in the back, paddling for the surface and salvation.
Half a minute that felt like three-quarters of an eternity later, Harry breached the surface and inhaled a lungful of crisp, clear air. He gasped and made a retching sound somewhere between grateful abandon and wearied relief. His rescuer kept an arm around his chest and used his free hand to swim over to the broken dock.
It was all Harry could do to keep his head above water as he was pulled up onto the dock by a pair of hands under each arm. Two rescuers then. His enchanted hood had fallen down, revealing his face to the world.
He was lowered gently onto the wooden planks on what remained of the dock, gazing up at the distant elderglass ceiling, reflecting the murky waters of the Lac de Saint-Cassien above. Two wands flared to life with soft, silver light.
Harry's rescuer came into focus, and he managed a short, startled laugh.
"Hello, Harry," James Potter said. "You here on a school trip, or something?"
A/N: Uh-oh, how's Harry going to explain this one?
Okay, again, my ORIGINAL NOVEL IS AVAILABLE NOW.
Google: Distant Star by Joe Ducie
Currently, it is an ebook for all formats, via Smashwords/Amazon/Barnes&Noble, and a paperback on Amazon. I demand you read and enjoy it!
Thanks, as always, for reading and reviewing,