The Story Arc involving Karina draws to a conclusion.
Acknowledgements - The Alpha Fight Club crew (Yes I am breaking the 1st rule of Alpha Fight Club) consisting of IP82, Nukular Winter, ChuckDaTruck, and Sirius009 all did their usual brilliant work. FairyQilan provides the wonderful beta services. I provided all the additional errors. I'd also like to give a special thanks to all those good people whom checked out the partial on DLP and left comments. You folks were a big help. (The Erotic Adventures of S, Gadriam, The-Caitiff, Dark Monarch, Duke, DvorakQ, Slasheh, Mbond98 and the one and only do not be fooled by imitations - Shezza88!) Finally, I want to give a big thanks to Crys for his thoughts and opinions.
Chapter 15 - I'm a Tiger when I want Love
Date - Wednesday August 7th, 1996
I am so glad you're okay! At this rate, you are going to drive me LOONEY! Sorry bad pun, but I am guessing you are smiling now. Are you healing okay? The other message you sent sounded a bit desperate. Any particular reason you need to know how to cast spells silently within the next day? Sorry I don't know any tricks that might help. Maybe, you could try visualizing the words in your mind? Let me know how that goes.
I contacted the bookstore about getting a few of those books you are using. Several of them are on the Ministry Restricted list, so I can't buy a copy. Thanks for sketching out your Flaming Spears of Death runic scheme for me. If I had any friends, I could tell them I am the first one on my block to have a custom designed rune from the Boy Who Seems to Finally be Using his Brain.
Speaking of which, here is the part of the letter where I make myself sound like the mature sensible lady I am. I appreciate that you want me to have 'real' friends outside of you, because you may not be coming back anytime soon. However, don't push me on this. I only told you because you caught me and I thought you could use a good laugh. I am quite happy with my life as it is. You, of all people, should be aware of how annoying it is for people to be telling you how to live your life.
Now that you have been sufficiently admonished, you may beg for my forgiveness in any way you deem appropriate. Normally, I would require more baked goods, but if I were to collect on all the desserts you presently 'owe' me, I would be a couple of stone heavier! Perhaps, we should look at having you cook full meals for me. Chicken and fish are good. I'm not partial to red meat. Pork and Lamb are only acceptable occasionally, as in once a week at most. Salads are nice. I am rather partial to Bleu Cheese dressing. I prefer my vegetables steamed or sautÃ©ed in a light butter sauce.
If you get the urge to buy me something, I advise you to think first and buy second. Ask your self 'wouldn't this look nice on Luna?' or 'I bet Luna could use this.' the final question you have to ask is 'Could this gift be opened in the presence of Luna's father without causing said father to name you as the latest person to succumb to the dreaded Rotfang conspiracy?'
So that is you care and feeding manual for Luna Lovegood. Please abide by these guidelines and you will not suffer my wrath!
Hopefully, you're well enough to put your Niffler Animagus form to use and go find some lost treasure. Well all this talk of food has got me feeling a bit starved, so I am off to rummage through the kitchen.
PS. You never exactly told me how much the 'Troll Love Doctor' charges? I am sure Daddy can find you some clients with all his contacts, after you have returned and dealt with that pesky evil wizard problem. You should consider giving up Ward Crafting and Curse Breaking for opening up a dating service for non-humans. There is a vast and untapped market there.
It makes me wonder how someone could have a food obsession like my traitorous ex-best friend and still maintain her girlish figure? If I can weasel (pun intended) that secret out of you, I can unite all the witches of Europe as my army and simply crush my pesky evil wizard problem! Then, I will be free to improve the love lives of non-humans everywhere!
You'll be pleased to learn that I am writing this letter to you by the feeble light of my own spell. The spell was cast with no vocalization on my part with only minutes to spare before I was forced to go to Day Three of the Kwan School for Wordless Magic. I would have written sooner, but I was busy scrubbing my mouth out with whatever I could find.
I know this is an odd request, but do you know a spell to transfigure or conjure piece of feminine underwear? I need one for a prank involving my instructor's food. Should I survive this prank, I will be eternally grateful for your assistance. The look on his face should be worth dodging a hex or two.
Anyway, I can do most first and second year charms with no words at all. Transfiguration is currently impossible and I doubt my wordless stunner would knock out even my cool Gypsy Moth Animagus form, but I'll get better at it.
I am feeling much better and I am out of bed again. Of course, that means I'm back to cooking, but at least Hack is handling my guard duty and Thundercloud has cleared me to practice my transformations again. I spent a couple of hours last night playing rock, scissor and paper with Hack. He doesn't quite get that paper beats rock yet, but we had a blast anyway! I believe his exact words might have been, 'Rock crush everything!!!!' Still he's cool to hang out with and he did save my sorry behind by getting Maria back here to heal me. Hopefully, he won't ask me to help him improve his chances with his 'Pretty Witch'. She has a thing about hexing people's naughty parts! Hell, she used some kind of partial disillusioning spell on our fearless leader, while he was sleeping and he screamed like a girl in the morning when he couldn't see something rather important to him. I am beginning to doubt the sanity of my current traveling companions, but they are a lively bunch.
I tried to learn how to shoot a gun today. Collins had me try his AK-47. It's kind of ironic that it's called an AK. I can add another item to the list of things that I am not very good at - like gift giving. It kicks. It's loud and provided that my intended target is a non-moving object between the size of a tree or a barn, then I should be able to hit it from roughly twenty meters away. Collins said that we're going to try again tomorrow and maybe try a shotgun instead. If I don't show any progress, then he threatened to let Kwan try and teach me. I think I need a break from Kwan's instructional techniques for a few days. Probably the best and worst thing I could ever do to Hogwarts would be to convince Kwan apply for the Defense position.
We're down to the final layer of wards before we can enter the ruins. It's too bad that I haven't been able to see it, except for a couple of trips into a pensieve. I should be able to check it out tomorrow.
Well that's all for now. I need to practice wordless magic a bit more, finish dinner and get some rest. I'll leave you with this final little tidbit of advice; there is no good way to remove duct tape from around your mouth. It's best just to pull quickly.
No sooner do you put your pen down then the book glows again. She must have written another letter. Once again, you watch as the letter writes itself. Your mood darkens slightly. It's not from Luna; it's from Looney. Is it some kind of game to her? Why does she have to keep pretending when it's just you and her?
I have heard you were traveling in the Southern Hemisphere, despite the propaganda from the Rotfangs that say you are dwelling with your relatives. Daddy says that the phlegm infested belly blowers migrate in that direction during this part of the year. The best defense is to tape a damp washcloth to your stomach. Otherwise you may well wake up with an embarrassing gooey mess on your stomach that others may tease a boy your age about.
I have just returned from a shopping trip to the mostly deserted Diagon Alley. Surprisingly, I encountered Ginevra in her brothers' shop the other day minding the cash register. She seemed a bit depressed. I offered to drive off the Skitterwings that seemed to have driven her into such a mood. She refused my offer of assistance, but I hope she heeds my warnings to avoid dairy products for the next two weeks.
Amazingly people seem mostly unaware of my presence. I overheard one of her brothers, the older twin or was it the younger? Oh well, I guess that's not important. He mentioned to his brother that some cursed object he was trying to destroy injured Professor Dumbledore. He was taken to the hospital in hopes of reattaching several damaged fingers. I suppose that is what comes of trying to destroy a Holiday fruitcake after the summer solstice.
I have also received a reply to my letter sent to Neville. He and his grandmother are well. She has such a lovely vulture hat, though I am uncertain why she would openly wear a symbol supporting Nordic creature rights, but I digress. He has a new wand to replace the one he lost just before school ended and hopes that you will be continuing your defense study group this year. He also mentioned that he tried to send you a letter on two separate occasions and the owls would not leave with the message. Daddy happily informed him that even though Fudge is out of official power, his control of the postal system continues to this day.
I look forward to further correspondence.
Did Dumbledore really get injured? Could you confirm without being 'Looney?' I know what you said before about 'staying in character', but this is very important!
You don't have to pretend with me. I know the real you and I prefer Luna to Looney. If it's not too much to ask could you drop the act, when it's just the two of us? If I wanted an actress in my life, I would have stayed at the Weasley family detention center!
Sorry, that might have been too harsh, but I really enjoy writing to you and getting letters from you.
Your last letter arrived just as I was finishing mine, so there really isn't much more to add. Glad to hear Neville is okay.
Did Dumbledore really find and destroy a Horcrux? She could have just told you! Of course, you haven't told her about horcruxes and quite honestly, you don't plan on it. When Bill comes back you really need to talk with him about this!
You tried to avoid mentioning what you really thought of her 'secret life'. For some stupid reason, she feels like she has to keep pretending with you! You also have stopped responding to her "Looney" letters. She seems to get rather touchy on that subject. After knowing that she is 'faking' it, it just seems like she is forcing it. You don't know why it bothers you so much? It's just strange that she wouldn't want friends. Maybe you should just let it go? Here you are spending your entire life being called a 'freak' and such, all the while wanting to be just a normal kid. Luna on the other hand wants to masquerade as a 'freak'. Then again, all those annoying fanboy wizard wannabes probably sit at home and wonder how cool it would be the famous Harry Potter! What a bunch of Creeveys!
You set the journal aside and start working on your wordless casting. Trying, but not succeeding, to quell the anger you are experiencing. You seriously wanted to hurt Bill after he described that he had learned with a silencing charm and a sticking charm to keep his jaw shut. He admitted that it took him about a week to get it. You had to admit that Kwan's way was much quicker though much less hygienically safe. If Luna can't come through with a spell for you, maybe Karina will know one. You can always buy a pair. You just want to see his face when he finds it in your stew. That's a Patronus memory just waiting to happen.
"You are putting too much effort into your casting. Again Mr. Kwan's techniques have produced results, but they are not always the best results. Now that you have learned to cast in desperation, you must learn to let the magic flow normally."
You look up from you concentration to give Thundercloud an incredulous face. Kwan and the Eagle are becoming a bad comedy act. Kwan terrorizes you into learning something and Thundercloud comes behind him and says whatever he just showed you will work, but this is how you really want to do it. It's like a game to the two of them or something.
"Cast your light spell again. See how you look at your wand? Do you normally stare at your wand waiting for something to happen? No, of course not. Like your transformation, you no longer are required to force your magic to trigger the transformation. You merely release your magic and allow it to follow a path it has already traveled before."
Thundercloud goes over to his trunk and comes back with a strip of cloth and some headphones. "I like to use sensory deprivation in my techniques. I will put this blindfold over your eyes and a silencing charm over the hearing protection. You will not be able to see or hear. Cast the spell with words five times. As you cast try and follow the sensation of the magic flowing through your body and into your wand. Then relax for a minute and cast the spell without words. Allow the magic to move down the familiar pathways of your body."
"But Kwan says..."
"You are not Kwan. You are also not me. He wields his magic like a weapon. I release my magic. By now, you should realize there are many different approaches to learning the same thing. It is like asking which is stronger Fire or Water? Which soaks the ground more, the torrential downpour or hours of gentle rain? There is no right or wrong answer. You must strive to find the path that is best for you to learn."
You want to protest more, but decide to give it a whirl. Even more fun than the 'True Animagus' debate you could have with Professor Kitty Cat, would be to watch her and Thundercloud go at it. She's pretty much cut from the same cloth as Kwan - Magic is a tool and you must learn to use this tool. Lone Thundercloud is more from the school of Magic is a force, guide it and allow your thoughts to shape the result. Harry Potter is a card carrying member of the 'I wish people would quit fucking contradicting each other around me.' school.
For the next twenty minutes, he alternates putting the headphones and blindfolds on you. The net result is a noticeably brighter light emanating from your wand than before. It is still not as good as using words, but more surprisingly when you use words it is brighter than ever. Gob smacked, you regard Thundercloud, who gives you a grandfatherly smile. "Always remember, the weakest part of any spell is not the magic, nor the wand, but the self-imposed limitations of the person trying to cast it. Keep the headphones and blindfolds. Add this to your regimen and learn how to better connect with the magic inside of you. Speaking of which, you seem to have hit a stumbling block after a minute in your animal form. Do you have any idea why?"
"No, I always loose focus at that point. Any ideas?"
"I think we should try something truly immersive. I would like to lock you in a cage in your form all night. I see you are most likely suffering from one of two common problems. The first is that you haven't truly accepted your animal. Your constant vomiting bouts lead in that direction, many of predators suffer from this. Like our experiment in Wordless magic, it is less about the magic then it is about the person casting it. The other possibility is your own fear. The fear that you are devolving into your animal and that eventually, you will simply cease to be human altogether. Many of those, who have undergone the change, suffer from this as well. The night of your initial transformation was the longest time you spent in your animal. I believe we can create a suitable cage to house you for the next two nights. Perhaps if you spent your evenings in your other form, it would become more acceptable to you."
"What if I get out of the cage? I could hurt someone or run off into the jungle."
"You already have a new tracking bracelet. We will come and find you. As for harming us, we are all adults, Harry. We will be fine." You aren't so sure about his answer, an entire night in your Jaguar form!
"Okay, if you think it will help." Screw it! Pettigrew spent years being a rat. You can handle a night as a cat.
You stop for now to pull dinner out of the oven - two pan's of 'Potter's Best Meatloaf' coming right up. The color looks right; it seems a little bit too cooked for you. Then again, it could just be the part of you that likes meat to be fresh and bloody. You shake a bit more pepper on the potatoes and carrots and hover everything over the table. Hack gets one pan and the rest of you split the other one. Hack certainly eats a lot!
You tap a small gong with your wand and know that within a minute the twin to this gong will ring informing the others that dinner is ready. Engorging a plate and a fork, you scoop Hack's portion out and get yourself a plate. Maria Sanchez is first in the tent. She looks more tired than ugly, which is saying quite a bit for her. She takes a big whiff of the air. "Smells good. Whoever taught you how to cook deserves an award."
She fails to notice the dark look that crosses you face. Oh, Petunia deserves something. Yes she does. That much is certain. People always assume that your hands are all rough from flying and Quidditch. Seriously, all you have to do is hold on to a broom. If you take good care of it and change out the grips every season, it isn't a problem! The stores sell gloves! They never stop to wonder about why the other side is rough as well. How many seven year olds out there have grease burns from pan frying fried chicken, because it's the fat pig and his walrus son's favorite. No, your hands are that way from cooking, cleaning, scrubbing, painting, weeding, mowing, and trimming. If this whole magic thing doesn't pan out, you can always open your own Handyman service.
Oddly enough, you plan on having pan-fried chicken tomorrow night. Having been exposed to the Wizarding world, you could actually perfectly duplicate The Colonel's recipe, as two of the eleven herbs and spices are variants only found in magical greenhouses and grown in Grapplehorn fertilizer. He was one of the most wealthy and powerful Squibs who ever lived. You picked up that little tidbit from the Alpaca Animagus who works in the greenhouses that help produce the special spices on the Lakota reservation.
Deciding you prefer Hack's company to people who stir up bad memories, you take Hack's dinner out to him and join him on a stump to eat. You cast a quick spell to drive away some of the bugs that are attracted to your food, while making a note to check on the strength of the 'critter' wards. The store bought wards might be misaligned or just weakening. Hack looks upset.
"What's wrong buddy?"
"Hack like crunchies! Add more flavor. Puny James chase away crunchies!" There's a joke in there somewhere. You just don't know what it is.
"Sorry, but I really don't like bugs with my food. I can go back inside if you want."
"No, James make good food for Hack. Hack never had wizard make him food before. It makes Hack feel special." Maybe, you could take Hack for a nice dinner at #4. The looks on their faces would be worth it.
"Thanks Hack. I've gotta feed you right if we're going to crush more skulls together." That gets a big toothy smile from a Jungle Troll twice your size.
"Old Animagus want Hack to get wood to make a cage for big kitty cat after dinner. Hack hasn't seen big kitty cat around." The word 'Animagus' sounds weird coming out of Hack's mouth. Hey, maybe he knows the answer to the question all the 'humans' seem to be dodging?
"Hack, I'm curious, if you have more than one Animagus what do you say? Is it Animagi or Animaguses? Are you sure it's Animagus and not Animage?"
The Jungle Troll looks lost in thought for a moment. "Goblins tell Hack to watch for Wizards and Witches who can turn into animals. Goblins say, 'One is Animagus. Two is Animagi. Three is get club, why three Animagi in bank at same time? Probably going to try to rob bank.' That's what Goblins tell Hack. Hack always listens to Goblins. Hack's brother Pogo not listen to Goblins. Goblins don't let Pogo guard bank. Pogo has to carry rocks in the mine. Hack beat Pogo at Plunk. Pogo more angry than Glurg, when Hack win. Pogo knock two of Hack's teeth out. For that, Hack sleep with both Pogo's girlfriends."
There is a certain logic that you can't argue with there. You just can't believe after all this time you find out the answer from Hack of all people! It's odd that what you had once considered the greatest friendship you'd ever know began with a fight against a troll. Now, your new friendship is with a troll after fighting alongside of him and saving each other's life. The world does work in mysterious ways.
The two of you finish your dinner laughing and making jokes. Hack likes knock-knock jokes. You know a few. Dudley used to tell them, usually finishing them with a punch to the gut or smack on your head. A cruel smile crosses your face as you picture Hack tell Dudley a joke using Dudder's method. You grab the empty plates and take them back into the tent. You sit down across Bill and show him your last letter from Luna. He gets a very thoughtful look on his face.
"Dark cursed object huh?"
"Yeah, you reckon?"
"Yeah, I reckon."
"Lets keep it in mind, if we get our hands on one. So Harry, are you up for a night out under the stars?"
"I guess so. I need to get passed this problem. How are the curses breaking?"
"Slowly, very slowly. We should have the last layer defeated soon. It's tough going. We've been at it for three straight days. Shit, I'd like to think I would be halfway into Hogwarts by now. Place is a fucking fortress. You did a nice job of badly carving runes on the sappers." Bill smiles and gives you a backhanded compliment.
He gets a big grin on his face. "Well inefficient is what we were aiming for. Sloppy and all over the place, well that might work for Karina in the sack, but it doesn't do anything for me out here in the jungle."
"You really are a pervert aren't you?"
"I once warded our bed so it vanished Fleur's clothes when she got on it. I figured it would save time. A bit of advice, don't do that. Women and their garments have a special relationship. Don't mess with it. She wasn't happy with the loss of one of her favorite nighties."
"What did she do?"
"Charmed the crapper to act like a bidet. She's not very good with runes or wards, but she knows some nasty charms. Even put a timer on it to wait thirty seconds. That reminds me, is Sanchez the first one up in the morning? I could use some revenge."
"Wow, a pervert with a death wish. I'll help if you show me how to transfigure something to look like women's underwear."
"And you say I have a death wish. Why not go all the way and use the real deal?"
"He would kill me or at least maim me."
"Yeah, that's true. What are you going to do with it?"
"I was thinking his stew, maybe sometime next week."
"How about a quick switching charm as he goes across the wards. He won't notice the extra tingle of magic coming across the ward line."
"Nice idea. I'll keep it in mind." Bill has an evil mind to match his grin. After about ten seconds of this maniacal grin you finally ask, "What's with the Cheshire cat routine?" Something's wrong, very wrong. Two rather strong hands clap down on your shoulder blades. Damn, shouldn't you have a spider sense or something?
"Stupid cook want to play a joke on Kwan. Maybe, stupid cook should look and see if Kwan is around first before opening big stupid mouth. I think it's time for you to have another lesson. Bring your wand. Let's have some fun..."
Bill's face is as red as his hair. "Mister Kwan, please remember to leave him in one piece. Don't do anything we can't reverse."
"I don't understand English that well. I think you said teach him a good lesson." The Korean Hitwizard chuckles on the way out the door.
Mouth dangling open, you look at Bill. "You! Fucking! Suck!"
"Such language! Out of the mouths of babes! The Golden Rule of Pranking is never say anything about it when your mark is in the room. Well, you better not keep Kwan waiting."
Forty-five minutes later you're rubbing ointment on various bruises and welts all over your body. You've already given yourself a nice hefty pain numbing charm. Kwan felt bad that he didn't get you anything for your birthday. Instead, he wanted to play a game of 'Pin the tail on the Harry'. The longest you were able to dodge that damn thing was eight minutes! At least it only stung you like a stinging hex and didn't draw blood. Bill sat outside and kept score. That's it. You're going to Sanchez! She's got some nasty stuff and she knows Bill is out to get her. You can make a deal.
Still, it was an educational game, though painful. You could banish the tail or shield yourself from Kwan's curses. You suppose the point of the exercise was to teach you how to react when fighting more than one opponent. So much for getting that rest you told Luna you were going to get! The cage is completed. Transfigured from the raw materials Hack gathered. It looks like a pen from the zoo. Bill's been nice enough to add a sign that says 'Don't feed the Harry!' They part the bars enough to allow you to get in.
Taking a deep breath and flipping Bill off, you make your transformation. Hack comes over to watch. "Oh, James is kitty cat. Why James ask Hack about Animagi if James is one?" This only serves to make Bill double over in laughter. He sure is having a good time at your expense isn't he?
The night passes in a haze. It was almost like being badly Obliviated. You were there, but you weren't there. It's hard to explain. You remember Hack being there most of the night. He kept talking to you, but you didn't understand what he was saying. It was like walking through a dense fog. There were patches that didn't seem so bad and others where you don't remember anything at all. Eventually, you must have slept for a time. You had bizarre dreams. They were full of sights, shapes and sounds. You felt like you were running through the jungle after all these shapes.
You're not really sure how long after Thundercloud forced you back into your human form that it took you to become functional again. You feel worse than that night you got drunk as you stagger to your feet. Mercifully, they let you take a shower. Collins is actually doing breakfast, though there's a rumor going around that he could burn a hard boiled egg.
Still not feeling well, you dress and sit down to your glowing journal. You shovel some scrambled eggs and cheese into your mouth. The writing lacks her usual fluid strokes. It looks more like a scribble.
Yes, I overheard one of the twins saying Dumbledore got hurt. Why are you being such a prat over my Looney letters? Considering you're hiding behind this 'James Black the mystery Animagus' faÃ§ade? Is this a case of the kettle calling the cauldron black? Is your insensitive Pig Animagus form is starting to bleed over into your normal personality?
I wanted to wake up this morning to a nice friendly letter from a friend. Instead I get this, 'Quit playing around and just tell me shit'! Sorry, I didn't realize that I was Harry Potter's personal news service. Let me spell it out for you. I don't need your approval and I certainly don't need your permission to be Looney.
Why are you being so stubborn about this? Don't you have enough going on right now? Do you really need to pick an argument with me? I haven't had many friends in my life, but I was under the impression that friends are supposed to be supportive and not be so judgmental.
I've got to go. Daddy's in a snit this morning. Scrimgeour's office just Flooed and they are sending someone to the paper today. I think it might be Umbridge! They are probably going to try and pressure him into becoming a Ministry Propaganda rag like that other paper. So, yeah it's just fun and games here in Jolly Old England.
Well that could have gone better! You're not really in the mood for this today. Wisely, you close the book. She wouldn't want to read anything you might write at the moment. You're tired and generally out of it. You'll write something later, when you are calm. Maybe, she will have calmed down as well.
Roughly two hours later, your 'transformation' hangover has cleared and you are supporting Sanchez and Shithead, otherwise known as Bill, out at the ruins. A repetitive ward chant has been going on for about ten straight minutes. Occasionally, the barrier flares, but for all intents, you'd be just as effective tossing rocks at the structure.
Sanchez stops abruptly. "This isn't working. What now?"
"See if the others can generate a seismic disturbance?"
"You really want to trigger and earthquake?"
"It would be nice, but I don't think they could make it big enough to really disrupt the wards. This last layer doesn't seem to be responding to our chants. What other options are open to us?"
"Destroy both our sappers and trigger a cascade. Start hammering away at any wards that survive?"
"Messy, loud, and likely to attract the local government's attention. I don't know if they would like us destroying this site. I'm thankful that they never knew about the other site. You're the local expert. What ward chants should we switch to?"
"None of the Aztec or Incan ones seem to be working. How about you try some of your Egyptian chants or Summerian if you know any. Harry sticks with the basic Nordic chant. I know a couple of African ones. These ruins look like they're much older than the usual ones. They could go all the way back to Mayan times. Babylonian, Greek and Summerian are just as close to Mayan as the Incan and Aztec ones."
"Let's let Harry go at them, while you and I use the omniculars to scan for the actual wards. Maybe we can see what we are really up against? If they have a reservoir, we could be here for a long time."
"Bill, what's a reservoir?"
"Harry, it's like a muggle battery. They're hard to craft and store energy for sieges. Hogwarts has at least two of them."
At their direction, you start chanting again. Your energy smacks against the wards, which aren't even budging.
"Over there to the left of the rock outcropping. I think I see a faint glow!"
They let you go at it for another ten minutes. It's the magical equivalent of being told to stand over there and hold something really heavy for a while.
You sit over on a rock, trying to catch your breath. Bill is walking with Collins around the backside of the ruins and Maria went back to the camp for a book that might have some of the runes in it. Oddly, you feel like a chill coming over you - in the jungle of all places.
A voice scares the living crap out of you, "I was hoping I had killed you." Then again, would you really want living crap in you?
There floating next to you is a ghost. It's the female goblin leader! Hey wait a second Goblins don't become ghosts!
"Uh, I didn't know Goblins could become ghosts."
Her pale face grimaces. "We can't! It was probably that damn relic allowing me to use human magic and now I'm some kind of thing! Curse you!"
"Curse me! Correct me if I'm wrong, but you were trying pretty hard to kill me. You got pretty damn close, if you want my opinion. You attacked our campsite first."
The two of you scowl at each other for a minute. "So what am I supposed to do?" Not exactly a question you expected.
"Go haunt someplace. I don't know, most people become ghosts because they're too scared to move on or they have unfinished business." At least that's what you got from all the ghosts you've ever spoken to.
"I'm not scared of anything!"
"Well then you have unfinished business. Look at it this way. You could walk, well float into the Goblin tunnels and they'll have to get a human to chase you out. You can go talk to your people and they can't stop you."
The renegade smiles at you. "I always said they could kill the messenger, but the couldn't kill the message. I'll be their worst nightmare."
She floats right through you sending a shiver up your spine before turning back to you. "So, why were you in the valley human?"
"We wanted to search the ruins."
"You'll find nothing there. You've already taken it from us."
"What? How'd you get past the wards?"
She looks at you with an open look of disgust on her face. "Where did we fight?"
"And what's inside a cave?"
"And the tunnels go where?"
"And you are supposed to be the dominant form of life on this planet? Maybe my job won't be as hard as I thought it would be. Goodbye, human. I'm going home."
"Before you go, do you want to piss off a human?" Inspiration is an amazing thing. It can strike at the most wonderful times.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, we could go tell Bill that you already beat him and got in to the ruins. I'll grab some omniculars. I want to record the look on his face for posterity."
Bill was still bitching when you got back to camp. You're not really helping his mood any. "Aw, just because a Goblin beat you to the treasure doesn't mean you're a bad curse breaker."
"I can believe the idiots didn't extend their wards below ground. Fucking idiots!" When he is angry, Bill repeats himself a lot.
The portion of the tunnels the Goblins collapsed had a passage that led right into the ruins. It took about thirty minutes to remove the rubble and walk right into the lower levels of the tomb. Bill contented himself by taking traces of the runes, which had now been positively identified, as Mayan. Bill points out a series of columns covered in runes. You briefly hid from a basilisk behind a group of ones just like them in the Chamber of Secrets.
"This is a reservoir. There is one near the Hufflepuff dorms and another in the passageway leading to Ravenclaw tower."
"There's also one in the Chamber of Secrets."
"Really! Wow, three reservoirs at Hogwarts. Always add two additional sappers for each reservoir you know about. At this point, I'd assume that Gryffindor has one too."
"Yeah, Slytherin's was just like these except the columns had snakes coiled around them."
You spent the next couple of hours tracing interior runes and looking for anything the Goblins might have missed.
Upon returning to camp, everyone sat around the table trying to figure out what to do next. Despite the fact that the expedition has currently made a profit and is 'in the black', the mood is somber. Two of the three potential sites have been investigated and the results are not promising.
"Damn! The only way to beat a Fidelius charm is to either have a magical map or a Portkey that predated the charm. Floos or Apparition points can't be found. We have no idea how he managed a charm that big! Most Fidelius charms can barely cover a house. He made a whole city vanish! Merlin, we don't even know who he might have made his secret keeper!"
Maria Sanchez looked over at the still angry Bill Weasley. "Maybe we should pack it in, while we are ahead of the game. I didn't believe we would ever find the lost city. So many have tried. None have ever succeeded, except for that guy with the expedition that stumbled on an active Portkey. We still have one last site to check. We hit it, get what we can and get out of here before the South Americans decide to 'audit' our expedition."
You can see Bill's frustrated face. He sure as shit can't say, 'Oh, well we're actually trying to find a Horcrux made by a Dark Lord that might be hidden in that dead city.' He's probably wishing that he were back at Gringotts doing pest patrol on their shipments of gold.
Wait just a damn minute!
"Bill! I just thought of something!" The words are moving too slow out of your mouth. "That city has a Gringotts branch in it right?"
"The Bulk Transfer System - did humans make it or Goblins?"
"Merlin's hairy balls! The goblins made it! I mean sure, wizards used some of the principles behind it to create the Floo network, but it might be entirely outside the Fidelius magic. It was meant for metals, but I think early on, it was used for animal barter. It might not work for humans though."
You can't resist. It's too easy. "Bill, some of us can turn into animals, you know? I've also heard there is this powerful force called magic. There are these things called spells and potions. They can actually change a person into an animal for a short time."
He claps you on your back. "If you weren't a guy, I would kiss you."
You idly wonder if you should lie and say it was Maria's idea and see if he is still willing to pucker up. No, even you aren't that cruel. Everyone else is picking up on his insane enthusiasm. Maria is muttering that it could actually work! The ugly mexihag must know enough about the system as well.
"So, how do we convince the Goblins to let us use their system?"
"That's going to take some negotiation. We'll have to cut a deal with them for a cut of the profits. Let's assume for a second that he didn't clean the place out. There could be a massive amount of galleons in that branch."
"Won't they have to give it back to the people that owned the vaults?"
"Maybe they will. That is if the Goblins tell their clients that they can now access that branch. They might have already settled with the former vault owners for insurance and liability purposes. We should go back there tomorrow and get the broom flying on this one! Right now, we've got a little clout having already participated in a 'business venture' with them. That might go away when a certain Ghost gets there, so we might need to cement the deal before she floats into town. It will probably take her a few weeks to float all the way to Rio, if she is even going there. She might head out to one of the other bigger settlements."
The rest of the evening passed with much excitement discussing the possibility of going to a lost city. You feel quite proud of yourself and justifiably so. Kwan even says that you get a night off from his 'lessons'. Thundercloud gave you a choice for another night out in the cage, if you want. You are tempted just to take the night off, but you need to put this behind you.
Bill follows you out. "Damn Harry, bringing you along was the best thing that could happen!"
"Can I ask you something? It's been bugging me for the last few days. Being stuck in bed gave me too much time to think."
"Sure, Harry. What do you want to know?"
"How much did you really know beforehand? You were able to pull together an awful lot of my financial information pretty quickly and get a copy of Sirius' will all in a couple of hours."
"I didn't know anything about what was happening to you at the Burrow. I'll swear an oath if you want me to, but I knew pretty much everything about your finances. It all looked on the up an up, with Remus approving everything and Dumbledore doing his whole 'Leader of the Light' thing. I probably could have asked more questions, but they offered to fund this expedition and I was too dumb to read further into it beyond getting to lead my own expedition."
You let that sink in. A few weeks ago, you probably would have thrown a fit and gotten irate. Since then, you've matured a bit. Bill has been instrumental in your growth both as a wizard and as a person. You consider him your best friend. "Thanks for being straight with me, mate. I don't need an oath from you. What I do want to know is this; eventually, we are going to go back there. I'm not exactly the old man's biggest fan right now. I will have to stand up to him. What happens to you then?"
"I already owe you my life at the very least for the whole escape from certain death incident. It is both a life debt and a personal debt of honor. I will never knowingly betray you, whatever the cost. If hurts my standing with my family, so be it. I hope it doesn't come to that, but that's a problem for another day."
"How much did Dumbledore tell you about the prophecy the Order was guarding?"
"That it concerned you and Voldemort. He said that you were important to the war. You told both Fleur and I the first two lines back in England. How much more do you know?"
"I know the full wording. I'm the one, who has to beat him. It comes down to him or me. One of us dies by the other's hand and it doesn't say which one. I'd prefer it was him that dies, but apparently he's cheating. I've learned more in the last month, then the last five years in Hogwarts. For the first time, I think I might have a chance against him that won't involve dumb luck."
"Sometime soon, we'll sit down and discuss the prophecy. I had good marks in the subject. Some people's 'inner eye' is just a well-developed 'gut instinct'. We can talk about the wording and whatever else you want. Tomorrow, we break camp and head back. You can give Karina enough money to get out of the country and I can start preliminary negotiations with the Goblins about using the Transfer System."
"Do you think they have already tried?"
"Maybe, but Goblins loath magical travel. The do most of it by Portkey or by flight. Floo and Apparition are physically painful to them, but they do love those One Speed Only Carts. Go get some more practice in your jaguar form."
After yet another blurry night out in the cage in your struggle for clarity, you sit again at the table fighting off the effects of several hours spent getting acquainted with your animal. You don't seem as bad off, but that could be just your imagination. The adjustment for herd animals like Michelle the 'Amazing Alpaca' is pretty easy. They can simply be put in a cage and allowed to graze for as long as it takes. She's probably already in full control. Thundercloud says he is headed home. You tell him to send his best regards to Lauren and ask how she is progressing in her own search for clarity with her animal. You still are weighing your response to Luna's last letter, uncertain if you should apologize or stand your ground. Maybe a day or two will allow you to approach it with a cooler head and prevent more of those embarrassing teenage faux pas?
You, Hack, and Bill head from the campsite back to Rio. The others depart straight for the International Portkey terminal in Sao Paulo. Hack told you that he is going back to win some more Plunk. Bill seems to have that on his mind as well, as a certain Mr. Weasley is giddy like a schoolgirl. Fleur is coming back into town. Heck, you might even be able to get her to give you some advice on Luna. Depending on the negotiations with the Goblins, he might ask her to hang around. He even hinted that he might finally be able to go to Paris with her and help her select a suitable engagement ring from the Delacour vaults.
You're happy for him. It reminds you that there is something worth fighting for. It would be nice to have something like that in your life. He's checking into the normal hotel out in town and you are heading over to Karina's to give her enough money to get out of Brazil. At the edge of her property you know something is wrong. You don't feel the perimeter wards. They're down!
You draw your wand, checking for the single use wards, also gone. You cast the tracking charm to determine where the tracking bracelet on Chico is. Your holly and phoenix feather wand spins in your hand and points to the North.
Making a cautious approach, you ease the door opened. The inside has been trashed. Scorch marks are on the walls and the furniture, which had been in poor general repair to begin with had been destroyed. The broomstick you hoped they had escaped on lay broken in two by the entrance to the bathroom.
You hear a voice from outside. "Who's inside? Come out. If I see a wand, I am going to start cursing. You glance out the window and see Paulo Vangelder standing at the perimeter with his wand drawn.
"Paulo! It's me, James! The wards are down."
"Come out where I can see you, now!"
You step out with your hands up in a non-threatening manner.
"I don't know. I just got here."
"I was sent out of town on assignment. I just got back this morning. Damn! They must have done it to get me out of the way." Paulo walks into the house with an angry look on his face. He goes in to Chico's bedroom and comes out. "It looks like some of his clothes are missing. If they took clothes that means he's probably still alive."
"I've got a tracking charm on Chico. It points that way."
"Shit, Nikolai Colastos' estate is that way. Can you apparate?"
"We'll go get my partner, Amanda. She can help."
He gives you the coordinates and you arrive at a small house near the ocean. You remember Amanda from the Dodgespell tournament. Paulo quickly explains the situation to her. Her carefree expression switches instantly to all business.
"Paulo, if Nina wanted her dead, they would have just done it there. That means she is probably torturing them. There's no way the magistrate will let us just walk onto Don Nikolai's property like that!"
Paulo nods, "We'll have to go 'off the record'. The Don's oldest son Miguel, he's a reasonable man. I doubt even the Don would condone torturing a child that shares his blood, especially when Nina does not. James, will you come with us? This could be dangerous?"
"You need me. I'm the one tuned to the tracking charm on Chico. I'm going." None of this treat you like a kid crap today!
"Yes we do need you. Good work putting a tracking charm on her boy. Damn good work! If it was any other family, we could take that to the magistrate and get authorization to search the grounds. Once we are there, we should be able to use it to home right in on the boy. Amanda, take him outside. I need to use your Floo to call Miguel Colastos and see if I can convince him to let us handle this matter on the quiet. It would be less complicated if I was the only one in the room."
Amanda leads you out onto her patio and tries to make some small talk. Your thoughts are focused on the rescue mission. Last time someone you cared about was missing, you went off on a reckless rescue mission. This time, you'll do better. What have you got to work with? You have your broom shrunken in your pocket, your Dodgespell glove and a box with four general-purpose healing potions and some bandages in it. You also have a carved 'Flaming Spears of Death' rune, a bag with five hundred galleons in it, and your Curse Breaker glasses. Too bad you didn't keep your Vipertooth armor on. Plus instead of five barely trained school kids, this time you've got two Aurors!
Fifteen anxious minutes go by before Paulo comes out. "It took some doing, but Miguel will help us. He will meet us at the back entrance. He needs about twenty more minutes to redirect some of his guards and disable a couple of wards."
After being coached on the Appartion coordinates, the three of you arrive on a paved road outside a well kept and fenced in property. It looks to be the size of Hogsmeade, with one massive building surrounded by several smaller ones. You even see a regulation sized Quidditch Pitch with a couple of people flying lazily around the goals. It's nice to see that your eyesight has gotten so sharp. Being and Animagus has it's definite upsides! Under other circumstances you would love to see the rest of this property. You recall Chico saying that this place had a menagerie complete with a couple of actual Griffins. Hagrid would probably pee his pants!
A man in his early forties in perfectly tailored clothing is standing waiting for the three of you. He has dark hair, penetrating blue eyes, and a square jaw line.
"Paulo, good to see you. My sister-in-law has been spending a lot of time at one of the vacant guesthouses over there. She has told Papa that she wants to redecorate it as a project. You said you had a tracking charm on the boy. Before we go any further, let us see where it points to?"
You perform the spell and the wand spins like a compass dial in the palm of your hand. As expected, it comes to rest pointing towards the guesthouse Miguel had indicated.
"Hmm, Papa has been too indulgent of her. I have told him that this is getting out of hand. He still grieves for my brother and ignores my warnings. Her bodyguards are in my father's employ. I have sent them on an errand. They will be gone for several hours. We need to get going before the guards make their rounds. Nina should be the only one there. The sooner we take care of this, the better."
Heading up to the guesthouse, you flip on your curse breaking glasses. The house lights up like a Christmas tree with size expansion fire suppression and other mundane runes, but out on steps you see some temporary stuff.
"What?" Everyone looks at you.
"There are temporary intruder wards set up, there, there and there. I'll cancel them."
Three quick spells and no more alarm system. Bill would be proud of you. The four of you enter the 'tiny' twenty-room guesthouse.
Paulo asks in a whisper, "Where do you think she would have them?" The pointer charm points Northwest.
"Other side of the house. Lock the front door and follow me." Amanda slides in behind him and Paulo motions for you to follow, as he covers the rear.
"James keep an eye for more wards."
You follow across floors of fine marble and rooms filled with elegant statues, portraits, and a room filled with hunting trophies. Yeah this place needs redecorating like you need more manipulative people in your life! Miguel picks up his pace and steps opens the door firing a disarming charm.
"Accio wand. Nina, you have no shame!" You hurry into the room. The sight sickens you. Karina is chained to a post and Chico to a chair. She's been roughed badly. She's bruised and badly beaten.
You hear Paulo's voice. "Stupefy." Good stun the bitch and take her in. The last thought that crosses your mind as the stunner hits you in the back and you slump forward is, 'How come he just hit me?'
"Welcome back James. Thank you for joining us." You pick yourself up off the floor, while listening to Paulo's greeting. You don't have your wand. You see it on a table next to the door. There's an old man in the room he looks about as disoriented as you do.
"What is the meaning of this Miguel? Treachery from my oldest son?"
"Ah, dear Papa, I grow weary of waiting for you to turn over control of the family. I'm afraid I have to make a change."
"You'll never get away with it! The rest of the family will test you with potions. You won't be able to lie your way out of it."
"But Papa, I'm not the one who is going to kill you. This little boy is. When they ask me if I knew your killer, I can answer and say I have never met him before. When they ask you if I plotted against you, well this was all Mr. Vangelder's idea. He is my screenwriter. I shall be your director tonight. I have a very nice little drama to unfold. Didn't you always say I had a flair for the dramatic?"
The ponce strutted around the room. "Our cast is assembled and it is time for the players to take the stage. We have our damsel in distress and her son. Then there is the young foreign tourist, distraught over his lover's disappearance. He's an apprentice Curse Breaker, you know? Managed to sneak in here to try and rescue them. Slipped by some of our wards. I'll have to make a note to strengthen them. He burst in here to find that the jealous Nina had them prisoner. In his rage he tries to kill her, but the grief stricken head of the Colastos family throws himself in the path of the deadly curse to save his daughter-in-law. That's when I burst in here with two members of the Policia de Magia and avenge my father. I suppose I will need to pay a fine and Nina has already decided to seek intensive therapy to overcome her grief. A terrible crime of passion, is it not? The public will talk about it for years to come. Most importantly, I have answers for every question the family could possibly ask me. Just because I cannot lie, it does not mean I have to tell the entire truth. It was one of the first lessons you ever taught me, Papa. Are you not proud of me now?"
"Why Paulo?" You ask. It's a simple question. You don't feel like listening to the Malfoy clone over there. He apparently needed more hugs as a child.
"Nothing personal James, just business. Mr. Colastos will need a set of private bodyguards. Amanda and I are looking for a career change. The money is right. I warned you that it was dangerous to meddle in local affairs. I'll probably have to use that memory in pensieve testimony during the official inquiry. Don't worry, you'll be under the Imperius curse. It'll feel pleasant. You'll be dead before you even realize it."
You look at Amanda, you notice she has the bag with five hundred galleons you were going to give to Karina. She smiles at you and drops the bag into her pocket. "Sorry kid, it's a rough world out there."
You lower your eyes and try to look defeated. In your mind, you're already working on a plan. You'll play along until you get your wand back. Someone will be trying to control you. Someone else will be controlling the old man. It's not good odds, but you'll have the advantage of surprise. Miguel is ranting at his father like some two-knut villain from a bad novel. You don't really care. Let's get this show on the road. The 'director' is in for a rude awakening when his star starts to ad lib.
"Imperio!" The calm feeling of euphoria tries to take over. You shake it off like a bad joke. Paulo is no Dark Lord, but he is the most dangerous opponent in the room. What he is about to be is one dead motherfucker. 'Nothing personal, Paulo. It's just business.'
"What curse should I have him use?"
Tell me what is the most lethal curse you can cast?
Oh what to tell him? You're tempted to say 'Wingardium Leviosa' and see the look on his face. Instead doing your best 'Looney' impression you answer in a dreamy voice. "Reducto."
"Hmm, that should do it. I am ready Mr. Colastos. Nina stun those two for now. We'll finish them afterwards. You'll have plenty of time to play with Karina after we're done."
Nina responds by walking over to Karina and casting a spell causing her wand tip to glow white hot like a brand. "Oh yes. The little whore and I will play. I'll make her watch me kill her spawn, but for now I will settle for burning her some more." Karina screams as the wand tip burns her cheek adding more scars to mar her pretty face. You concentrate on your plan and not Karina's screams. The only thing you could do right now is transform. You could probably kill one of them before they got you. You need your wand.
After burning Karina on her face and several other areas of her body. Nina finally stuns Karina and the crying Chico. The poor boy shouldn't have to see that. Nina definitely dies tonight too.
Miguel wraps up his little insulting little speech to his father. No wonder the Don wasn't in a hurry to turn things over to this tosser! He probably watched The Godfather too many times! Nikolai Colastos is placed under the Imperius curse.
Miguel goes back to his 'director' mode as they go to the other entrance about ten meters away. Nina and Amanda are standing by the bewitched Nikolai and the stunned bodies of Karina and Chico. You are at the door where you had come in. Miguel nods to Amanda who casts the Imperius curse on the unsuspecting Nina. Amanda then joins them in the back of the room.
"Oh, poor Nina. Did you actually believe me when I said you were going to be a partner in all of this? You get to die just like everyone else. You're too much of a loose end, an unstable one at that. Papa dies for you and you and our little foreigner duel. He kills you and we kill him. I apologize for not sending you this last minute change to the script. Now, the moment we've been waiting for - action!"
Pick up your wand and cast the Reductor curse at Nina Colastos.
You reach towards the small table grabbing eleven inches of holly and raising the wand. You're about to do one of those 'great and terrible things'. These people need to die. Dumbledore was wrong. You don't have to hate to be a killer. You just have to have the right mindset and the willingness to kill rather than be killed. You could forgive them trying to kill you. Far too many people have already tried. These aren't the first. They definitely won't be the last. The old guy over there is probably just as much a criminal as his scheming son. He's probably done enough unsavory things in his life to justify what his son is doing to him. Karina and most importantly Chico are innocents! That you can't forgive.
People think they know the real Harry Potter. They don't. You are still discovering him yourself. Most want to define you by the image they sculpt in their minds - whether they call you hero, glory seeking prat, delusional menace, or the light's ultimate weapon against Voldemort. They are wrong. One thing you've learned in the last month is that Harry Potter is a survivor and your survival is on the line here and now. It's time to roll the dice and make your move. The fates are watching. Times up! Someone's going to die.
You spin your wand towards Paulo and utter the words that a month ago you wouldn't have thought you could ever use - even against Tom Riddle.
Author's notes - Discussion on my Darklordpotter and Fanficauthor's threads. We are one chapter away from finally reaching the events of Chapter 1! The story has come full circle and Harry is almost the person you glimpsed at the beginning.