Normalcy, Harry decided, was the true enemy of a fighter's soul. It was stagnate, monotonous, and trying in a way so very different to the labor of an objective driven life. How his teenage self had reveled in long summer days spent at home with an adventure book in hand or lazed away with quality time spent with his family, he could no longer comprehend. Yes, he appreciated the downtime and the time spent with his family. He did, in fact, need the time to recuperate and fully reassert his sense of self. However, he had found himself restless within a mere few days of being home.
Rather quickly, his mother had picked up on his inclination to scan his eyes about his surroundings, as she or Bethany spoke with him, as well as the way that he would get a faraway look in his eyes whenever he was left to his own devises. Bethany had not been blind to his restlessness either, though she seemed to attribute it to a new quirk of his personality. While their mother had fretted over him and the changes she saw in him, Bethany had just took the changes that she observed in stride. As for his father, Harry had not seen much of the man over the last week, as Scrimgeour had his father working double shifts to make up for the week that the man had taken off to 'vacation on the continent'. Apparently, Scrimgeour was not sympathetic to family plight.
Harry huffed a breath, into the cool, star blanketed night. He had spent his week at home. He had held off on all that needed to be done, in order to give himself and his family time to adjust to who he had become, as well as to establish a small buffer between his recovery from his supposed mental illness and the beginnings of his machination in the not-yet-begun war. With the week having finally passed, however, now - and for the foreseeable future, until Voldemort's soul was fully eradicated from this world - was the time for him to act. He was finally free to shed normalcy and do what he did best.
If events followed as they had in the other world, Harry knew that he would have a little less than a year before the Dark Lord would return. That meant that he had a little less than a year to prepare and put in place as many countermeasures as he could to counteract the Dark Regime's agenda in taking over the British Isles, before moving on to take over Europe, for he knew without a doubt that tracking down and destroying all seven of Voldemort's horcruxes in so little time was a fool's errand at best and a costly venture, paid for in innumerable lives, at worst. Europe could not afford for him not to be objective in his actions and not to know and obey his limits. While tracking down the horcruxes was a matter of grave importance, he knew all too well that it was not a simple matter, as at the current moment, all seven horcruxes' locations and very existence were unconfirmed and his ability to lay his hand on even one of them was dubious and, in some cases, impossible.
No, tonight Harry was not in pursuit of the pieces of Voldemort's fractured soul. In fact, tonight the thing that he sought was a far more tangible danger than any one of the Dark Lord's horcruxes alone. What he sought was the keystone to a sleeping power that expanded across all of Britain, just lying in wait to be activated - a promise of widespread devastation written into the rune stones that define its bounds and the lethal, very nearly tyrannical force that it possessed.
Upon reaching a great iron gate, Harry looked up the long winding, forest lined path behind him, his eyes piercing through the darkness in search of hidden dangers. The silhouetted branches of the trees swayed ever so slightly in the soft breeze whispering its way through the Cotswolds. An owl hooted off in the distance with another hoot answering its call, as the croaking of frogs and the song of crickets played merrily in background. For all appearances, there was nothing present that was out of the ordinary. Satisfied that he was still very much alone and that nothing lurked in the underbrush, preparing to attack him now that he was stationary and no longer on the move, he reached out to the lock baring his progression. With the brushing of his finger tips on the cold metal surface, a jolt of magic rushed through him, before receding back into the lock and altering the owner of the small, tucked away castle; the turrets of which he could see reaching up to the full moon high overhead just beyond the bend of trees up the way.
With a faint pop! a fraction of a second later, a bedraggled looking creature of a short stature with floppy ears and a humanoid posture emerged into existence a few feet away from Harry, just inside the gate. Its large eyes goggled at him warily, upon it conjuring a light to see his form more clearly in the shadows cast by the moonlight and the thick, intertwined iron bars of the gate.
"Master expects no one," the house-elf said uncertainly."Who is you, mister? What does you want? Master wants tos know, afore he decides tos lets you in or not."
"I do not seek entrance," Harry told the elf. "I seek your master. Tell Lord Black that his assistance is required in a matter of utmost importance."
The elf hesitated a moment, looking at Harry expectantly. When Harry still did not give his name and gave no indication that he would, it bowed and, with another pop!, Harry was once more left alone with only the sound of the night for company.
His wait was not long, which pleased Harry greatly, as well as amused him. His godfather was still pulling on his cloak, as he rounded the path descending from the castle and wearily marched his way down to the gate. At the sight of Harry, a pronounced scowl formed the man's lips.
"What the hell, Harry?" Sirius demanded and made to unlock the gate.
"It's not my fault that your elf didn't recognize me." Harry grinned. "It's probably better that it didn't, actually."
"And why's that?" Sirius asked, his grey eyes flashing with annoyance. With the gate unlocked, he stepped through it, though he hesitated in closing it behind him and held it open, as he looked down at Harry. "What are you even doing here? Do your parents know where you are?"
"Touchy, touchy," Harry chided; the grin never leaving his face. "I didn't wake you up, did I?"
Sirius gave him a sardonic look. "No, of course not, who in their right mind would be sleeping at one o'clock in the morning!"
Harry chuckled. "Come, we've got business," he said and turned to head back down the winding path. A large hand caught his upper right arm in a firm grip and pulled him back around forcibly. He gritted his teeth in response, fighting the instinctual urge to grab his godfather's hand and break every last finger, before drawing his wand and cursing the man. He did note with pleasure, however, that in grabbing his arm, his godfather had allowed the gate to swing closed.
"Harry," Sirius said seriously, regarding Harry with disapproval. "Do you parents know where you are?"
"Dad's working the night shift. Mum is brewing the base for her next batch of Wolfsbane. Bethany is at the Robins' house. No one, except you, knows where I'm at, and if you don't let go of me, I'll curse you, wipe your memory, and do what needs to be done on my own."
The matter-of-fact manner in which Harry spoke mixed with the promise to deliver on his threat that showed plainly in his infuriated eyes caused Sirius to release his hold on his godson, as if burned, and take a cautious step back from the teen.
A weighed silence passed between godfather and godson, before Sirius cleared his throat and seemed to come to a decision. "Where are we going?"
"That's not something that you need to know," Harry said, turning for a second time to head back down the path the way that he had come. Confident, this time, that Sirius would follow him without further interruption.
"At least tell me what we will be doing," Sirius said, as he hurried to fall into step beside Harry.
"You will be maintaining a diffuser stone. What I will be doing isn't something that you need to know."
Harry scanned his eyes about the underbrush lining the gravel leading away from Castle Black, continually checking for any signs of life outside of Sirius and himself. The full moon was not a good night to be out and about, but the power of the full moon was a promising means to locate the keystone that would power the other minor rune stones spread across Britain and would ultimately define the not-yet-activated Kill Wards. Back in the other world, he had had entire teams of warders and curse-breakers to trace the magic of the Kill Wards back to their individual keystones and figure out how to destroy the keystones in a relatively safe manner. In this world, he did not have such a luxury and had to work within his limits. An energy sourcing ritual performed on the full moon was the quickest and dirtiest way to discover the keystone's location, though highly costly and dangerous for a person not accustom to controlling and directing such a powerful flow of magic and only moderately costly, yet still highly dangerous for a person who was.
Harry and Sirius walked in silence for a full five minutes, before Harry felt them pass beyond the anti-apparation and anti-portkey wards protecting his godfather's property. He drew them both to a stop and offered his hand to Sirius. "We'll be apparating from here."
Sirius reached out a place his hand in Harry's outstretched hand without question or protest.
The moment that he felt his godfather's warm flesh against his own, Harry shifted his focus from his surroundings to a very specific set of coordinates. With a turn on his heel, the suffocating feeling of apparation consumed him and, a fraction of a second later, the cool, mountain air of the Scottish Highlands was wiping at his face and refreshing his lungs.
Just as Harry remembered the site being described to him in the other world by the team of ward specialist that he had working in the British Isles, a small valley spread between the mountainside that Sirius and he stood upon and the peak jutting into the night sky opposite them. Junipers and towering oak trees litter the valley floor below with wild grass creeping up the bowled sides of the narrow glen. At the center of the mass of trees was an oblong lake that reflected the stars and moon and the wispy clouds passing high overhead. An island protruded out of the calm, glass like surface near the lake's northwestern edge.
Harry breathed in deeply, stand as still as stone, as he scented the air and listened intently to the sounds of the valley. He grimace at the abrasive tang of lethal, immensely powerful magic that was only just detectable, if one were purposefully attempting to distinguish its odor. The silence that met his ears, outside his and Sirius's breaths and the soft rustling of the wild grass in the light wind sweeping up from the south, did nothing to alleviate the tension coiling his muscles or to assuage his suspicion of the problematic turn that his and his godfather's night had just taken.
Without a word of his worries to his godfather, Harry set off towards his target - intent on his objective, as he did not have time to rehash his plan and wait for the next full moon. By the next full moon, the opportunity to secure Bill Weasley's assistance in decoding the keystone with minimal suspicion would have passed, as the Quidditch World Cup and his ability to obtain the keystone prior to the international event would have passed as well. If he did not know of the power of the Kill Wards and to fear them as he did, he would have turned back, instead proceeded forward, and allowed himself time to build up his strength to face the deadly power lying before him and to come up with another way to acquire Bill's assistance sometime over the coming year. He did, however, know what the Kill Wards were capable of and knew the danger - intimately - that they posed to Britain and would later pose to Europe, if he failed to destroy them before they were activated. He could not help but feel pressured to proceed, as his gut told him that to turn back and allow an additional month to pass without any concrete effort put towards the Kill Wards'destruct would be to condemn this world to a horrible fate.
Harry's boot crunched noisily through the dry grass and scuffed loudly against the rocks that made up the pathless terrain down into the moonlit valley. He could hear his godfather's footfalls following behind him, echoing back at them off of the opposing mountain face much the same as his did.
"Is there any reason that I shouldn't light my wand?" Sirius asked, upon coming to a particularly treacherous decline that had required Harry to slow in his pace and proceed down the mountainside with sideways steps.
"No," Harry said, carefully testing the stability of the terrain underfoot with his every step. "But I wouldn't expect that even a light spell would work at this stage."
Harry did not need to turn around and look at Sirius to know that his godfather's face had taken on a perplexed grimace. Three...two...one...
And there it is, Harry thought with a faint hint of amusement at his godfather's predictability. Before he could answer his godfather, however, a wave of dizziness struck him, sending his head and stomach swimming - the disorientation threatening to send him tumbling down the mountainside. A strong hand caught his arm just time, steadying him and preventing his head first dive down the mountainside.
"Har-" Sirius began with concern and took at step closer to his godson to better support the teen. His inquiry cut off abruptly, as his breath was stolen from his lungs and a wave nausea very nearly caused him to double over and lose his own footing. His worry for his godson was the only thing that save him, as it strength him against the sudden sickness.
Harry could feel Sirius's entire frame trembling through the hand still gripping his arm and knew that their position was precarious. Slamming Occlumency against the disorientation afflicting him and reinforcing his strength of will, he glared down into the valley, his eyes focusing on the small island at the northwestern edge of the lake. 500 yards to the edge of the wards...perhaps an additional 700 to the stone, he calculated the latter distance, while knowing the former distance without a shred of doubt.
"A light spell definitely won't work," Harry said, a faint mixture of anger and agitation lacing his voice, as he forced himself to stand with strength. "You can wait further up the mountainside, if you want to, Sirius. You don't need to go further, not really. The diffuser stone won't work with these wards."
"No!" Sirius said, his voice surprisingly strong from a man standing of shaking legs. With two infusing breaths, he released his hold on Harry all together and stood at his full height, swaying only slightly with the remnants of his nausea. "You're not going down there by yourself. You asked for my help and you're going to get it. Just tell me what you need from me, in order to do whatever it is that you intend to do."
"The force of the sickness will get worse," Harry warned, looking up at Sirius. "How good is your Occlumency?"
"Good enough," Sirius said assuredly.
"We'll see," Harry said and started down the mountainside once more.
By the time that godfather and godson had reached the tight cropping of trees at the base of the valley and what Harry pronounced to be the edge of the wards, both were exceedingly pale and looked worse for wear.
Harry steeled himself, as he stepped up to the edge of the wards, knowing that he was about to feel a whole lot worse than he already was. With his right hand outstretched, he closed his eyes and fully opened himself up to the vicious magic radiating off of the wards. Revulsion and the urge to rid himself of his stomach contents hit him with such a fury that choking bile was half way up his throat before he could even attempt to consider quelling his body's reaction. With his head spinning anew, as he had dropped every last shred of mental protection against the sickness, he could only bend over and do his best not to sick up on his boots. He vaguely felt feel his entire body shaking, as well as his godfather rubbing soothing circles into his back and assisting him in remaining upright. Again and again, his stomach contract against his will, until there was nothing left within it and he was reduced to dry heaves.
Harry ignored the urgent inquiry of his godfather, as his weak knees gave out. Crouched with his elbows braced against his quaking knees and head braced in his hands, he forced his mind to muddle through the disorientation and sickness affecting him and focus on the magic assaulting him. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, he chanted in his mind in an effort to sooth his rolling stomach and befuddled thoughts. With his awareness somewhat restored, he was able to focus on the feeling of the magic from the wards steadily washing over him, as if it were a heartbeat - pulse after pulse creeping across his skin in a rhythm not-unlike the ebb and flow of ocean waves crashing against rocky shores.
Harry groaned, knowing what he had to do next, yet dreading it with every fiber of his being. He allowed himself an addition ten minutes to accustom himself to the hostile environment created by the magic pulsating off of the wards. Slowly, as the ten minutes passed, he was able to stop his body's quivering, though he wasn't able to do much for the way that his head continued to pound and his stomach clenched upon itself.
"I'm all right," Harry said, this time managing to answer to his godfather's inquiry.
"No, you most certainly aren't," Sirius said from this crouched position beside Harry, his hand still on Harry's upper arm and keeping the teen from falling forward into his own bile. "You were sicking up blood, Harry. You're not all right."
"Side effect," Harry said dismissively, while bracing his hands on his knees and pushing himself up to stand.
Sirius stood with him, his grip tightening the slightest bit in preparation to catch his godson should the effort prove to be too much for the teen.
"I'm all right," Harry reiterated, placing his hand over his godfather's hand on his arm and looking up at the man with confidence and stability in his stance.
Reluctantly, Sirius released his grip.
Harry gave his godfather's hand a reassuring squeeze, before stepping away from the man and turning towards the wards. He traveled several paces along the edge of the wards with somewhat wobbly steps in his magic addled state. After five paces, he outstretched his right hand towards the wards for a second time. This time, he was already accustomed to the sickness and his mind was already open to the magic radiating off of wards. He stepped closer to the wards, as he continued along his path, his mind focus on one objective.
This would be so much easier with active magic, Harry thought despondently, as he felt his fingers inch closer to the chill of the wards. Already, it was as if the very tips of his fingers had been dipped into a glacial stream. He knew that soon enough that he would be touching solid ice in a metaphorical sense - solid ice that would freeze him in an instant, stopping his heart mid-beat and his lungs mid-breath, if he let it. If he was able to use active magic, or wand magic as referred to by the uneducated, he would not need to tempt fate at all in such a manner, in order to locate a gap between the rune stones maintaining the wards. Unfortunately, with Kill Wards, the only form of magic that would work within 500 yards of their perimeter was passive magic and he wasn't quite good enough at utilizing passive magic to detect wards, active rune stones, and the like without direct contact, magic on skin.
It was a truly unsettling feeling, knowing that by necessity, he had to allow the very thing that could kill him to invade his being. As he pushed his hand deeper into the ice stream and allowed the magic to flood him, he closed his eyes and focused his thoughts on life. The memory of walking through the garden with Bethany not a week ago filled his mind: her vibrant face, the sun's warmth on his skin, the vivid colors of the plant life that they had passed on their leisurely stroll, Bethany's laugh ring true in the warm breeze of the afternoon, the sweet aroma of the flowers and his mother's cooking filling his lungs. The memory was so tangible in his mind that he almost felt as if he had returned to the moment. He could feel the press of his sister thin arm against his back, the grip of her dainty hand on his waist, and the press of her warm body along his side.
In a jolting, terrifying moment, Harry felt his fingertips press against ice and the memory was very nearly ripped away from him to be replaced with death - a cold, cruel, icy current attempting to penetrate his soul and still the vital functions of his body that provided him with continued life. He gasped and shook, his heart faltering in his chest and his lungs struggling to expand with the breath that would sustain him. The sickness twisted his insides upon themselves and threatened to split his head in two, causing him to fall forward and press his palm flat against the icy surface that he could feel, yet could not see.
"No," Harry refused through gritted teeth, as he felt the magic pulling at his soul, attempting to steal it from him and make everything that he was and would ever be a part of the ice. "No."
With great effort, Harry clawed at the memory of life that was quickly slipping away from him, desperately fighting against the chill of the ice consuming him. As Bethany's laughing face swam into his vision, he latched onto it with all that he was and poured his full concentration into rebuilding the safety of the memory around him. It was faint at first, but the musical laughter that was uniquely Bethany rang true in his ears and with it he felt the soft afternoon breeze brush against his face. The abrasive tang of death subsided, as it was replaced with the sweet aroma of flowers and fresh baked meat pie. At last, the sun claimed the clear, blue sky, providing him with its warmth and infusing him with life. There was a distinct crackling of fracturing ice, as the last vestiges of the frigid hold that the magic had on his soul was broken and fell away.
Harry let out a slow breath, holding the memory of life in his mind - a part of him acknowledging that the strength of this particular set of the Kill Wards was not as strong as the ones that had isolated entire nations in the other world. The grip of death had left him far quicker and much easier than the last time that he had done the same outside France. Fewer sacrifices, he thought with certainty. And fewer trapped soul since their creation, if any at all.
Very slowly, making sure that the memory did not slip away from him for a second time, Harry allowed awareness of his surrounding and the magic that he was touching to come to him. With caution, he opened his eyes, finding the moonlit forest before him superimposed with the image of his family's back garden. The cool wind from the south mixed with the warm afternoon breeze and the silence of the night echoed with Bethany's merry chatter.
Harry smiled, feeling the rush of the knowledge that he had control of an immense power. The magic of the Kill Wards pulsing through him and connecting him to the wards was his to tap into and his to command. While he couldn't destroy the wards or magically circumvent them without altering the rune stones powering the wards, he could trace the magic and locate the rune stones.
Wrapping the memory of his afternoon with Bethany in the back garden firmly around himself, he focused on the feeling of the ice barrier beneath his palm. It wasn't truly ice, he knew. It was something far more disturbing and sinister, but he'd rather not think about the trapped human souls woven into the impenetrable wall of deadly magic that gave the magic the true feeling of death, while assisting in fueling the magic of the wards with their life's blood, magic, and their very essence. He had long suspected that the memories of the sacrifices fueled the malevolence of the wards as well, as he had been told that Voldemort had used the blood of 100 convicted men to create the Kill Wards over Romania in the other world and those wards had been particularly fierce. He alone had been strong enough to confront them.
Just like Voldemort to make life difficult. Why not ward his inactive rune stones with a contained version of their total creation?Harry thought with irritation, as he reached out with his senses towards the wards, being sure to intertwine his will with the will of magic from the wards already pulsing through him. Dealing with Kill Wards was very much like dealing with a human mind. They had their own awareness and did not depend upon their creator for instruction - only abiding by the rune stones that define them - which gave them a very human like quality in that they were almost an independent entity; so alive, in a sense, that their defenses would lash out discriminatorily, cutting down a rabbit for barely brushing their surface with its tail hairs, yet allowing a person, such as himself, to trick them into believe that he or she was a part of their total make up.
Harry knew that as far as the wards were concerned, they believed that they had succeeded in collecting his soul, despite the fact that he had retained his life and his soul continued to inhabit his body. As long as his will appeared to align with their own, they would continue to ignore his intrusion, until the moment that he attempted to break his connection with them.
And for the easy part, Harry thought to himself, as he juggled the mental tasks of concentrating on the chilling flow of magic beneath his palm, keeping his memory of life clear in his mind, and sustaining his strength against the sickness inflicted by his proximity to the wards.
Harry shut his eyes and breathed deeply. Focusing a good majority of his concentration on the magic flowing through him and into the ward, he allowed it to submerse his overall awareness in its current. Instantly, he could feel the way that the magic spiraled upwards and followed along a determined path with one central focus point as its destination. The keystone, he acknowledged. Just as he had suspected, the keystone was roughly 700 yards west-northwest of his current position. He didn't doubt for a second that its resting place was beneath the island of the lake.
Locating the keystone, however, was not Harry's objective. He needed to know where the outlying minor rune stones were. To this point, he focused on reversing the flow of the magic. It was a delicate and complex process, but just like he was capable of leading a human mind to a specific memory without the person noticing his manipulations, even if the person was a decent Occlumens, the Kill Wards were susceptible to his will all the same. It was one of their two weaknesses: their human like quality. It was the souls trapped within them that gave them such strength and power, as well as such a weakness.
Through careful manipulation of the icy current of magic, Harry began to confuse the wards of their direction. He wasn't entirely sure how long his efforts took him, but soon enough, the current tentatively reversed. As he threw power into the new direction of the current, its pace picked up with more confidence. It was with surprise that he only picked up on three outlying points. The configuration was weak. Even with its contained area, he had been prepared for at least the five point configuration that was used as a standard for most ward schemes.
North-northwest. Harry pinpointed the closest rune stone. Southwest. He pinpointed the second closest rune stone. Fifteen paces to his left, along the outer wall of the wards, and he would be at the mid-point between the two. From that point, he could exploit the Kill Wards'second weakness and get on with his night.
And now for the hard part, Harry thought, as he began to pull his awareness away from the wards and focus a majority of his concentration on his memory of life. This was going to hurt.