Blinking. He could move. Harry turned his face to look around. He was in an empty space, but one certainly in part of the maze. The edges of his sight contained the same hedgerows that had filled the maze. That he could see them on two sides indicated he was in the maze and not just outside of it. Still, that didn't narrow anything down. It was a large maze.
He couldn't move his arms or legs, but his head was free. At the moment, though, he could not see anyone around him. Dubois had been the last face he had seen, but that man had gone away - possibly returning to his post. Others, dressed in Silver Scion cloaks and hoods had levitated him here and then left. Had they abandoned him here, protected so no one could find him? Was he meant to die of starvation, slowly? He shook his head. He would find a way out. He had to.
Harry tried to focus on what he could sense. His body was on soft ground - the grass he had been running through - but the earth below was solid. Through that, he could feel that his wand was in his pocket, wedged between him and the earth. The air was cool and the sky was still dark. It had not been very long since the end of the tournament. Surely, though, people would have begun looking for him. Cedric had heard him speak and all of them would have seen his spell join theirs to defeat the Acromantula. By now, they would have realised he was no longer in the area of the cup and…
And what? He couldn't think what they might do to find him here. Whatever they had done to him when they grabbed him, it had undone his own strong protections and added their own. Who knew what those might be? Dumbledore could probably see through it, but he wasn't allowed on Hogwarts grounds now. Even the more experienced of the professors could miss it.
Coming into view, a dozen cloaked and hooded Silver Scions approached, a few carrying things. There was a cauldron, flasks of various coloured liquids - a few vibrant even in the near darkness of the space -, and jars of solid magical substances. Each was carried as if it was precious, delicate. None of them appeared to give Harry any notice, setting down everything on the ground a few steps away.
One of them stood, imperiously over the cauldron, pointing to different ingredients and stirring with his wand as the others added what he requested. All of this happened quickly, in silence. The potion wasn't in Harry's view, but it began wafting a colourful fume that changed as its colour changed. Gold turned to blue turned to green and finally, it settled on a glorious silver hue. The air above the cauldron was somewhat mesmerising. The light danced, reflecting off any surface close-by, including the still figures standing there.
If Harry hadn't been bound and held by these people, he would have seen a little beauty in it. As it was, he grew more concerned about what the potion was for. The more ingredients a potion had, often the more dangerous and difficult to manage they became. If they missed a single step, a potion meant to heal could harm, a potion meant to make some invisible could transfigure into a shoe. Harry was at their mercy, now, too. If they wanted to feed him a potion, he couldn't do more than turn his head. It wouldn't take much effort for the group to straighten that out.
"Bring the Master," said the imperious one, his voice harsh, disguised.
One of the figures emerged out of the darkness behind. Its hood remained lowered, and appeared to be looking at something in hands held outward. From Harry's angle, he could make out bits of cloth dangling. The cauldron was blocking most of it. He strained his neck to see more, but it remained hidden as the figure walked.
The group of Silver Scions began chanting, "The Master will rise. The Master will rise. The Master will rise."
Harry frowned. What was this master? Who was it? Why did he/she have to rise? It couldn't be Voldemort. He was already back. What was going on here, really?
"Bring the sacrifice," the imperious one said as the approaching figure reached his side.
Harry rose into the air. He knew that he was the 'sacrifice' they had meant. That confirmed this was on the worse end of the spectrum. It had never been likely they wanted him for ransom or something more… common. With their hoods and cloaks, it could not be something so simple. Harry hovered, suddenly turned upright beside the cauldron. Now, however, he could see what it was that one figure had carried.
The cloth had been pulled back to reveal… a book. And not just any book. It was…
"Riddle's diary?" Harry asked, eyes wide. He was surprised that he could speak. His own voice sounded weird in his ears in the relative quiet.
"Silence," the imperious leader snapped. "The master will rise. Make the connection."
A large, ornate ladle was lowered gently into the cauldron. Harry's eyes followed it as it dipped into the silvery substance to draw up a measure. The ladle was raised, just as slowly, with the same calm, to his mouth. Harry closed his lips, but a hand on his forehead and another on his chin forced his jaw open just enough to drip some into his mouth. Before he could spit it out, a hand clamped on his mouth and his throat was massaged to force the potion downward. When his mouth was released, he coughed and sputtered, but he had swallowed some. Sometimes some was enough.
"Check his eyes," the leader said. "If they grow wide with a hint of purple, he is ready."
"No-," Harry began.
A hand clamped on his mouth again. Figures crowded about, close, but he still could not see any of their shapes. Harry could see the leader holding the book open. The chanting continued in the background, quietly. "The Master will rise. The Master will rise. The Master will rise."
The horror of all of this shook Harry. His eyes shot left and right. He tried to think of something. His wand was close, but he had no skin contact. He couldn't even trigger something accidental with it away from him. Not anything useful, really. His mind was going over every spell they had rehearsed, every contingency that had come to mind. This was a big hole. But, really, what was he supposed to do when he was separated from his wand and immobilised? Even if he could shout with the hands covering his mouth, could it get through the barrier they had set up?
"It is purple," one of the figures growled from close-up.
"Good," the leader said, opening the book and walking in front of Harry. "The Master will rise."
Light emitted from the diary, and Harry's world was swallowed. He felt a digging, a tugging at his mind, and then, a voice whispered in his ear.
"Magnificent! Yes, yes, what an opportunity!" the voice said. Harry thought it sounded like a young man, a bit arrogant, quite sure of himself.
"Who are you?" Harry demanded. His own voice echoed around him, but was drowned out by laughter.
"You don't know?" the voice asked. "How about you try this one?" The voice changed, saying, "How's this one strike you? Does this ring a bell?"
"G-Ginny?" he asked.
"Close, but no treacle tarts," the voice said, reverting to its original.
"Riddle?" Harry asked. "How are you talking to me? Weren't you in the book? Didn't Voldemort put you back there?"
"Oh, yes," Ginny's voice said. "That was a bother. The girl was out of my reach then. But, really, my connection there was far too weak. I needed something more… permanent. I thought I was finished, then. He certainly snatched me up to hide me from any other prying minds. No more little girls allowed near poor old Riddle…. But then… a miracle!"
"What miracle?" Harry asked, trying to keep the thing talking while he worked out a way to break free of this.
"You are so silly, Harry," Ginny's voice tittered in a way Harry could not picture Ginny speaking. "You think you can break free while I'm distracted? How silly. But I will oblige your query, while I take over. The Silver Scions. I … can see you are familiar with them somewhat. How curious. In any case, they are an old order that connected with a few of my…. other self's followers, ones who were not quite happy with His… shall we say, less direct approach.
"Heh. Anyway, His old followers acquired my book and we have been working with the scions ever since. They had records, ancient records that the governments of the world stifled, destroyed. Old magics, they said. There were many ways to make me real. We discussed, planned, plotted…and I saw this one way, and it was so very delicious. Who could fault me for enjoying it just a little? An old potion that, combined with my horcrux could resurrect me into the body of the little boy that my older self could never defeat? Ha ha ha ha!"
"You're mad," Harry shouted at the voice. "Won't your little friends be worried it's taking this long? Won't they start to freak out? What happens if they interfere without knowing you're not done?"
"Please," Ginny voice said, chuckling. It reverted to Riddle's own voice. "You think this is taking time? We are 'speaking' at the speed of your mind. We could converse for hours in a second. It'll all be over before you've had time to blink."
"This is my mind," Harry replied. "You have no foothold here. I've never touched your book, nor poured any of myself into it like Ginny did."
"Oh, but you have," Riddle replied. "That potion opens you up, and I leap right in. Can't you feel it? You've lost the touch on the real world, haven't you? Can you feel your toes? Your fingers?"
Harry struggled, trying to break out of it. He thought about his body, his digits, every muscle he could think of, but felt nothing. His mind was full, intact, but what control did he have from here? His thoughts drifted back, before all of this. Could he have done anything? What would Hermione think…?
"Oh, what would a Mudblood think, indeed?" Riddle asked, chuckling. "She knows less about magic than my six year old self. You put faith in friends, and that has let you down, again and again. You've got nothing. You are nothing. And soon, you will know that, too."
"No!" Harry cried, incensed. "They make me stronger. They give me a reason to fight. They-"
"Are… not… here," Riddle finished, mocking. "You are - ah… AHHHHHHH!"
Snap. Harry's eyes were open, he could feel himself and move, but he was greatly disoriented. Lying on the ground, he shook and his limbs jolted randomly. It was like he was a child trying to figure out how his limbs worked. How long had it been? A second? Less? Why did it feel like ages had passed? His head, though, despite it all, was clear. It hadn't been this open, clear and free in years. He could feel everything, and remembered what had happened with clarity, but he was sure that Riddle was out of his head.
Then, he saw the air above him was not as empty as before. Flashes of light flew hither and thither. Blazes of green, red, yellow and orange. The dark backdrop of the sky left with drifting smoke in the wake of the more intense bursts, the air igniting ever so slightly in the path of the spells. A fight! But whom? Was it his friends? Had they found the Scions and ended the attempt to get to Harry?
He regained control with supreme effort, and rolled his head from side to side. Amidst the bushes and in the open the two sides were made plain. On one side, fighting with fervor and slashing wands were the Silver Scions, the leader still clutching the book to his chest. On the other, Harry recognised the masks, and the robes of the Death Eaters. A worse combination of combatants to fight over Harry he could not think of. Still, he had a chance. If they had broken in, the Death Eaters had probably defeated the spell shielding this place.
Reaching for his wand without drawing attention, Harry whispered the spells from not so long ago, his fingers shuddering as he tried to keep them still and in careful control for all of the wand movements required. As the euphoria of freedom faded, the pains from the fight with the acromantula and the continued injuries from falling and being racked by an attacking entity in his mind began to well up. Everything hurt, but he couldn't stop. He had to get out of here.
When he had cast his spells, Harry crawled to one side of the open area, carefully making his way through a hedge. This led into another part of the maze. He was amazed to find it empty and that none of the people behind him had followed. Looking back, he could see no sign of pursuit, yet.
Burrowing under another hedgerow, Harry came to another place in this complex maze. He had no idea where he was. The other side of the next bit of hedge could lead to the entrance or the next fifty could reach an edge. If he tried to navigate naturally, his second turn could put him back in the same area as all of the fighting. A minute's pursuit could put them right beside him, in any case. He had no time to wait, and no way to get a message out - wait!
"Hermione! I am in the maze, still. The Silver Scions tried to do something to me, to put Riddle in me. They have that book. The Death Eaters stopped them and they are fighting. There are many, but I have escaped. I'm trying to make my way to the edge of the maze, but am lost. Help me find my way. Help. Please!"
He hoped Hermione could receive the message from here, from within his protections and in the midst of this crazy maze. But he couldn't wait. He had to keep moving. Turning his wand on the next hedge across, he quietly cast, whispering, "Reducto! Reducto!"
A hole large enough for him to easily squeeze through appeared. He pushed his way through once, and the next hedge. He hoped he had chosen the right way. Then, a voice interrupted, and he feared it was Riddle, again, but his heart leapt at the voice he heard.
"Harry! Thank goodness you're alright. I have messaged you dozens of times and you never answered. I will send up a flare into the sky. I'm near the entrance where you started. Let me know where you are and we will come to help. Please be safe!"
A flare did then shoot high into the sky, far, far away. It was behind him, well beyond where the battle raged. If that was near the far end, then perhaps he was almost to the other end. His best bet, then, was to go forward.
"Hermione, I see your flare. You are far away now. I think I am near the other end of the maze and will go out that way. The fighting is between me and you. They are in the maze now, but may not remain so. Please be careful. I will exit the maze and go left, out on the school-side back to the front. Be careful, my dear Hermione."
Then, he pushed forward, blasting hedges recklessly. If he got their attention, they would come after him, but he hoped he could break through first. Rushing blindly forward, Harry felt snags rip at his clothes and skin. There was blood on his hands and he was sure his face. A nasty gash across his forehead formed, and he had to rub his sleeves to brush the trickles out of his eyes. Still, he dared not stop. Hermione waited. Safety, maybe, but Hermione anyway.
The sounds of the fighting had long departed behind him. The only sounds he heard were from his own wand and the crinkle of hedges as he moved through them. The air was hot in each hedge as his spell's warmth had not had time to dissipate before he dove through. Blood and sweat mingled on him as he went.
His breath caught as he stuck a head through a hedgerow and saw no more hedges beyond. The air was chilly, colder without, than it had been inside. The wind was stronger here, and Harry was wet with sweat. He shivered and shook himself, pulling through into the free air.
"Harry Potter," said a voice. "Better drop your wand. I have no doubt you are a good duellist, but you are nothing on me."
"Professor Dubois," Harry said, his voice a snarl, "or should I say, traitor and member of the Silver Scions?"
He glanced around, not dropping his wand, but not moving in any dramatic movement, either. The man was standing there, looking smug.
"I thought those idiots might let you go," Dubois said. "They insisted on running the ceremony with their own people, that we weren't needed. Well, I have never been one to let things go. I was hands on in the old days, and I still like to think I am."
"Old days?" Harry asked, observing the man. "You weren't involved back then. Nobody from France was involved."
"Still buying the old stories from my arrival, are we?" Dubois asked, stepping toward Harry casually, confident. "A liar is always truthful unless you know he isn't, is it?"
"But Dumbledore-" Harry protested.
"Asked for a renowned wizard to come and teach," Dubois said. "When he didn't accept, I saw an opportunity to… change his mind, as it were. A few of the Scions' people are keeping an eye on the real Dubois, and you got me."
"Who are you?" Harry asked.
"Oh, it seems to be wearing off," Dubois said, looking at his hand as it seemed to melt. "I can drink more potion, but … why not? Show you the face of your despair before I return to who I have become?"
Harry stared in horror as the man transformed. It took only a second, but his body shook and twisted. Harry knew, somehow, that he could not have stopped the man if he had tried. Something dangerous about the man warned him from doing anything rash, just yet.
Then, it was done, and Harry looked across at… Barty Crouch Junior. Harry had seen his face, in books about the old war. He was … he was.
"You're dead!" Harry exclaimed. "How could you?"
"Oh, please," Crouch sneered. "I fooled the Ministry. They buried my simpering mother in my place. Then, I took care of my father, and well… here we are. Neat, isn't it? The trick in being dead is no one lives to tell. Isn't that nice? Speaking of…"
Crouch's wand was in his hand faster than Harry could think. His own was rising, not fast enough. Then, a shout from one side distracted Crouch. Harry's wand made it up and he struck, sending the man skidding across the grass, disabled.
"Harry!" Hermione shouted, her voice growing louder, her terror real.
He turned and ran to her. Her face was covered in tears and her eyes read of worry. He felt horrible, worrying her, but didn't have time to stop.
Grabbing her hand, he said, "We can't stop. Where is everyone?"
"I - I was alone," she managed as they ran. "Oh, Harry, you… you're covered in blood."
"I'm okay," he said, trying to smile her way. "We just need to get away from this. They'll stop fighting and - and realise I got out. Barty Crouch Junior… he was … he was Dubois. He came after me outside already. We don't know who will come next."
Hermione concentrated, looking about them. "No one was near the entrance," she said. "They're searching the maze and the grounds towards the forest. I sent McGonagall a message, but I didn't hear back. I don't know if she heard me."
"So, the Death Eaters could be waiting at the front of the maze," Harry said, "or the Scions."
"Yes," she said, sounding worried.
"Where are the twins?" he asked.
"They're checking the other side of the school," she replied. "I waited near the front in case you came out on your own. Mc- the professors said that would b-be best."
"Okay," he said. "Where should we go?" He looked around as they ran down the maze side.
"The school?" she asked. Then, her eyes widened. "The school, Harry. Remember what Vinken said. It will protect you."
"It's… yes," he replied, remembering. "If we go to the right we can cut across to the side entrance."
"Let's go," she said, gripping his hand tightly.
They raced then, in silence, hand in hand, running as hard as their legs could go. Harry was aware that Hermione might be going a little slower, for his sake. His body ached, including his legs. He forced himself forward though, running with everything he had.
"Up there," he said, pointing to a tiny valley between two mounds of grass. It was dark but he knew it was the way up to the side entrance.
They flew up and into the school. Harry looked behind when he could, but in the darkness, it was impossible to see what was behind him. Dark figures moved across the grounds, but were they students, Ministry, faculty, Death Eaters, Scions? Nothing he saw could give him clarity. There were still flashes of light in places as spells were cast. Whether they were offensive, defensive or other altogether he could not tell from here.
Hermione pulled on his arm, "Harry, come on. We'll go to the Room of Requirement."
"S-sure," he said, following her.
They flew up the stairs, passing points Harry had seen a thousand times in a thousand situations. Everything felt, surreal, less like home than it ever had. The darkness was not the reason. There were still torches. The fear was part of it, but also the realisation he had been moments from giving over to Riddle's mind. He could never have seen any of this. Never felt Hermione's hand in his like this. What would have become of them all? Would the castle - his home - have been at all different for his loss? Maybe that was the thing that bothered him. This ancient castle would continue on, no matter. His loss would not affect an edifice like this, no matter how much it meant to him. It was eternal, and would go on without any of them for eons to come.
At the same time, the familiar steps, even running, recalled times past. The twins dragging the pair of them into one of their schemes - reluctantly. The hurry to classes, or play of his youngest days. Time had meant nothing then. He had an eternity of it, but the horror of a moment before - was it twenty minutes? - had shook him. Time was too fleeting, too close to running away.
They reached the seventh floor after a blink. So many memories come and gone. And then, he was alone, again, with Hermione in front of the Room of Requirement. At the end of their date the day before, they had stood together as it closed, parting ways to their dormitories. Now, the events of tonight had brought them here, together.
"We need a safe place," Hermione said, pulling him into the required pacing. "We need a place no one will find, where we can keep you safe."
"Where both of us can be safe," Harry said. "Where we can make everyone safe."
"Yes," Hermione said, distantly.
They paced in silence, Hermione with a deep frown on her face. She was looking around, though, watchful for danger, but deep inside herself as the pacing finished. He concentrated on protecting everyone. Hopefully, the room would hear his thoughts. Hopefully, it would keep Hermione safe, too.
The door appeared, and they opened it. The room was much as it often was for general purpose. There was a place to sit, a library. Nothing especially different for all their thoughts. Frowning, Hermione looked at Harry as they entered. Why had it?
"Welcome," said a cold, high voice. "Mr. Potter and Miss Granger, yes?"
Harry's hand flew to his pocket, but his hand was stung before he could reach his wand. Turning about, he saw that Voldemort was walking from the library section flanked by a dozen robed figures. Hermione grunted at the same time, telling him that she had tried for her wand, too.
"You are well outnumbered," Voldemort said, his smile visible as he approached. "Did you think you were the only one who can use this place? Some of us have used it decades before you were born. By now, the rest of the school will be in our hands. The Ministry, too, of course."
"What have you done to the others?" Harry demanded.
"Oh, everyone will be just fine, as long as they don't resist," Voldemort laughed. "Oh, but not you. Don't look so hopeful. My former followers will be punished for their attempt tonight. Yes, of course, but you… you have been a thorn in my side for too long, Harry Potter.
"Tonight, you die and this ends," Voldemort said. "But don't fear, never fear for your little friends. They will all make good servants in my new order. Isn't that right, Minister?"
"Yes, My Lord," Wincress said, walking in from one side. "All has been prepared. Tonight, you will ascend."
"They'll never give in," Harry said, glaring. "We'll never stop fighting you."
Voldemort's eyes gleamed with amusement. "You can't even get your wand out of your pockets. Even if you did, you'd have a dozen spells on you before you could think of using it. And if you even think of it… Give him a taste of what we can do…"
Beside him Hermione screamed, falling to the ground in pain. She writhed, bouncing on the hard tiles.
"No! Please!" he cried, his arms out towards her.
Voldemort waved and the torture stopped. Hermione lay there, murmuring in pain. Harry stepped between her and the others, his arms extended.
"Do what you like to me," he said. "Don't hurt anyone."
Voldemort snorted. "You think I have learned nothing?" he replied, his laugh horrible. The followers joined in. "I'm going to kill you and hurt whom I want. If they don't resist, then, they may be spared. I am not without…." he smiled, cruelly, "mercy."
Hermione's murmuring continued, not pained, but insistent. Something repeated. Almost like a supplication, a prayer. Harry could only half hear it. "… protect… keep him… protect… keep him…save…"
He looked down at her, behind him. She was laying still, but her eyes were turned up to him. Something hard, strong, was in them. He wanted to reach out to her, to protect her. That same desire was in her eyes. He could see it, and he loved her for it. He would do anything to get her safely away, to protect her. Whatever it took…
If Voldemort was saying something, Harry couldn't make it out. All he could hear were the smattering words from his Hermione. She looked at him with so much hope, so much… need. And then…
A blinding light flashed. His vision dissipated into the light, the last thing he saw was her eyes, still staring, growing wide, growing more hopeful. Then, he could see the crystals, the ones he had seen before. The Room, the castle, whatever it was. That living thing he was told could protect them. It was here. He was with it. Where was Voldemort? The Death Eaters? Was Hermione safe? He couldn't see her. All he had was light and the crystals.
'Save her,' he thought, desperate. 'Keep her safe, please!'
The crystals flashed, and a phrase flashed in his mind. 'BE SAFE'. It was Hermione's voice, or an echo of it. Then, he felt a rush, a crushing force that went on forever. The darkness of Apparition had him. He was travelling, but could not control where. He was going, far, far away. So far away. He struggled to keep consciousness through it all. His mind struggled with it. He was exhausted, mentally and physically.
Everything seemed to flash, black and white spots in his vision as his mind faltered. He had to go back. He had to save Hermione. She was in the school. His home. He had to return. His… Hermione… Home. Then, his mind knew no more.
Continued in my next story: Return (coming soon)