Categories > Books > Harry Potter > Echoes of Power, Part I: Anger

15. Revelations

by moshpit 1 review

Chapter 15

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: R - Genres: Action/Adventure - Characters: Andromeda Tonks, Angelina Johnson, Arthur Weasley, Barty Crouch Jr., Bellatrix, Bill Weasley, Blaise Zabini, Cho, Colin Creevey, Crabbe, Dean Thomas, Dobby, Draco, Dudley, Dumbledore, Ernie, Fleur, Flitwick, Fred, Fudge, George, Gilderoy Lockhart, Gi - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2006-12-31 - Updated: 2007-01-01 - 9140 words

Chapter 15: Revelations

Ginny pushed her wet hair back from her face. "What do I need to do?"

Harry smirked. "You need to start running around the lake."

"Around the lake?" Ginny gave him a look filled with disbelief. "In these shoes and in this weather?"

Harry shrugged. "Your enemies won't give you the chance to pick your clothes, the weather, or the place. Life happens. Adapt. Or die. Your choice." Without saying anything more, Harry started a brisk jog on the track around the lake, carefully folding the parchment and placing it into his pocket en route after a silent and discrete Impervius!

The ground was not particularly difficult to manouevre, lacking sufficient mud and debris to be inhibiting, but if Ginny really wanted to learn, she had to be dedicated and the rain was sufficient for testing that. Dedication had no room for whimsy or desire. As a smart man once wrote, moods are for cattle and love play, not for fighting.

After a moment, Harry could hear Ginny's muttering accompanied by the sounds of her feet squelching through the slight muck as she ran to catch up with him. She eventually managed to match his pace, and Harry resisted the urge to grin as she struggled to keep her sodden hair out of her face. Ignoring the glares she was shooting at him, Harry looked up and enjoyed the strange beauty of the grey sky and the feel of the lashing rain which poured down. It was cold and unpleasant, but nothing his body would fail to deal with one way or another.

After nearly two minutes of a respectable jog, Harry glanced over at Ginny. She was staring grimly at the ground, her brow furrowed deeply. He noted that her breath was already coming in uneven gasps. Harry shook his head. She had asked for this, even though she had no clue what she had really been asking for.

Harry barked out, "Stay with me," and promptly broke into a light run. He kept up the pace until they reached the halfway point around the lake. By this time, Ginny's steps were faltering. She was already out of breath and panting, but she determinedly tried to keep up with him. Harry's own body was unstrained by the activities so far, but Ginny was about to collapse. Slowing down to a very light jog, he waited until she was next to him again before he started speaking again.

"You never know when you'll have to attack or be attacked. Never wear clothes you can't fight in." Harry tried to get a clear look at her shoes. "Those are all right as shoes I guess, but they have no traction and aren't flexible or supportive enough for training or fighting your way out of a sticky wicket. Wear something else."

Ginny's breathing was still so uneven that she did little more than grunt at him. Her energy was clearly flagging - her body was obviously unused to even moderate levels of exercise. Riding around on a broom might require some mild athleticism, much like the dubious sport of golf, but the training she sought required hard work.

Most people lived in a comfort zone, willing to do the minimum to maintain their level of comfort. Physical exercise almost always violated the comfort zone of people, especially steady, repeated, and quite vigorous physical exercise.

The truly advanced practitioners of Muggle martial arts all started before they were five years old. They trained extensively and often brutally for the rest of their lives, in order to attain a level of mastery that others would ascribe to mere Hollywood style special effects. Harry had seen both types, the paper tigers and the real tigers, and knew that while he would never be the best, he would be far away and above what a couple of hours for two or three nights a week could achieve.

As Ginny continued to huff along and struggle in her unfortunate choice of shoes, Harry explained the real problem. "You want me to train you because you see me do something that I make look easy. What you need to realize is that you're making a request for years of training to reach this level, and you have to be completely dedicated to reach it. It will take nearly a year for your body to develop the conditioning you need for even half of the things I do. This little jaunt around the lake is nothing, Ginny. You can barely do it. You probably would have quit already if I wasn't here. Are you willing to give up everything for this?"

Ginny's response was to glare harder at the ground and ignore the question. Harry was happy that she was opting not to curse him, literally or metaphorically, but he knew it was still too early to be real to her. She had no idea just how much it took to get to the point in training where a mere two or three hours every day was sufficient to maintain an edge. Harry himself needed to train four or more hours every day to move on to the next level, but he knew that this would not happen, given his present schedule and the demands that life had dumped on him. Two hours or so was all he could afford at this point.

They were about three quarters of the way around the lake when Harry slowed down all the way to a brisk walk, giving her a chance to cool down and get her breathing under control. She was young enough that the abrupt beginning of her impromptu training exercise would not cause any lasting harm, but Ginny would hate him by tomorrow from the shin splints alone. If she was dedicated and willing, he might actually start to teach her, in which case he would instruct her on the proper methods for stretching, warming up, and cooling down. At the moment, though, he needed to see just how badly she wanted to learn.

When they reached the exact spot where Ginny had accosted him, her breathing was coming in ragged gasps, and she was very red in the face. Harry watched Ginny gradually stop walking, tottering a little to one side but managing to keep upright. He suspected her legs were feeling a bit rubbery. He was surprised despite himself, as he knew most people in the magical world eschewed physical labour, and few pushed themselves hard to maintain any kind of reasonable shape. He had frankly expected her to give up before they made it to the half-way point.

"Right, now that you've had a little bit of a warm-up, I've got a little exercise for you." Harry smirked to himself. Ginny would want his head on a platter for what came next. "Put your hands in front of you, like this." Harry extended his forearms at a 45 degree angle relative to the ground, his elbows pointing downwards and at a slight distance from his hips. His hands were half-closed, and neither arm crossed the other. This was one easy starting point for either defence or offence, something that had only become natural to Harry after more than a year of training.

Once Ginny was in a reasonable facsimile of his posture, Harry slightly bent his right leg, short of locking the knee. As Ginny copied him, Harry grinned evilly. With his stance not changing the slightest, he lifted his left leg and held it straight out in front of him, parallel to the ground. Ginny tried to copy him but fell over into the wet and muddy ground. She groaned for a moment then resolutely rose to her feet. Paying no heed to Harry, she rapidly got set back into position and laboriously dragged her left leg into the air in front of her. Her left leg wobbled a bit once it was out there, but she was able to hold her posture with only a mild bit of wavering of both legs.

"Right, what we're going to do next is called a 'diver'." Harry kept his extended left leg parallel to the ground and slowly bent his supporting right leg until he was all but sitting on his right heel. His left leg was still perfectly horizontal to the ground and a few inches above it. Harry then gradually stood back up to the point just before his knee locked straight, the extended leg never wobbling. "You try one."

Harry knew better than to laugh as Ginny struggled and almost fell over a couple of times as she tried to work out how to make her body perform the move. As she got near the bottom, her right leg crumpled, and she sat down hard in the mud. Harry waved it off with a grand gesture. "Since you can't go that far yet, just stop right before you find yourself sitting down."

Ginny got up and tried again a few times before she found the distance she could drop without collapsing. Harry watched as she slowly rose back up. After finally completing one diver exercise, both her supporting and elevated legs were shaking visibly. "Excellent!" Harry said. "Now do that 49 more times, then switch legs."

Ginny's stared at him in shock and her eyes began to sparkle with angry fire. Harry cut her off just as she opened her mouth to start cursing him. Shaking his head quickly, he pointed to the doors of the castle. "Do it, or go back to the others and whatever you're running from," he said coolly.

Ginny shut her mouth with a snap and glowered at him. As she toiled through almost 15 more divers, Harry was treated to the very colourful vocabulary that Ginny managed to come up with in describing Harry and his apparently twisted version of a good time. Harry watched impassively when she collapsed in the mud on the fifteenth diver. "Your body is trying to tell you it can't do any more. Don't listen to it. Get up. Switch legs. Keep going."

Gritting her teeth and panting from all her efforts, Ginny gradually rose to her feet. Neither of her legs was stable, and both were shaking like a leaf in the wind. She was clearly doing her best to ignore her body's slow betrayal to her mind, but this time she fell down before she could complete even five divers. "Your body thinks it can rest by failing. Failure is not an option. Failure is death. Get up. Switch legs. Go." Harry folded his arms and stared down at her.

Ginny looked like she was ready to cry. She got up shakily and forced herself back into position, switching legs yet again. Before she reached four, she was again on the ground, her clothing now a uniform muddy brown. "I can't," she panted as she lay on the ground. "I'm not in good enough shape."

Harry shook his head. "Push-ups. Let's go." Ginny groaned but rolled over and did her best to copy the ramrod straight posture Harry was displaying. "Hands in front of your shoulders, feet together, on the balls of your feet, chin up, look in the distance, slowly down to just before you touch the ground, slowly up, no fast bouncing moves. Go." Without even trying, Harry shrugged off fifty pushups before standing up. He kept an eye on Ginny as she fought her way through a few, doing her best to keep her posture.

As much as he hated to admit it, Harry was impressed. She was doing a lot better at this initiation than Harry did when he received it. He had tremendous respect for the fact that she kept her posture and sacrificed speed and quantity for quality. It was one of the subtle signs that would distinguish someone who would give their all from someone who just went through the motions.

Ginny finally collapsed face down into the mud again. To Harry's amusement, she carefully rearranged her mass of hair into a pillow of sorts and rested her head on it. She was looking at him with a mixture of resignation and fear, knowing that she was only on the tip of the journey into hell that Harry held in his pocket. Before Harry could tell her to roll over and start some crunches, the castle doors opened and a tall figure in blue robes carrying a pink umbrella came walking toward them.

As the figure drew nearer, Harry realized that the umbrella appeared to be similar to the paper umbrellas found in Muggle cocktail drinks, although from the looks of it, this one had been hit with multiple Engorgio spells, and at least one Impervius as it kept the rain off without disintegrating. The Headmaster obviously had a seriously deranged sense of humour. Cyril had warned Harry that though his Mentor had been but four years behind Dumbledore in Hogwarts, the Headmaster had already earned a reputation for being quite a bit of an oddity by the time Cyril met him.

Ginny, however, looked with what could only be described as utter adoration at Dumbledore's interruption. Harry suspected she would have been grateful to Voldemort himself if it would have resulted in her being saved from any more physical torture.

"Mr. Potter," Dumbledore greeted him solemnly, although his eyes were twinkling merrily. "I trust today is finding you well."

Harry nodded politely. "It's a glorious day to be alive and outside, Headmaster."

"Ah, I suspect not everyone is as fond of the day as you are, Harry." Dumbledore looked at Ginny lying in the mud. He showed no reaction other than a faint twitch of his lips. "I'm sorry to interrupt your discussions, Miss Weasley, but Mr. Potter has a prior engagement this afternoon. I thought you might excuse Harry a bit early so that he could get cleaned up before we meet."

Ginny looked absolutely delighted and waved a nonchalant, albeit weary, hand in the air. "Of course, sir." Ginny paused to let her arm drop to the ground with a wet squelch. "As much as I was enjoying spending such quality time with the dashing Mr. Potter over here, if you need him, please, do take him." Her sarcastic tone was only slightly marred by the exhausted warble of her voice. After panting for a second, the glint of fire was back in her eyes as Harry watched her try to collect her dignity from the mud. "I shall try not to miss him too much. Although I dare say that for his part, he will miss me terribly."

Harry rolled his eyes a bit before nudging her shoe with the tip of his boot. "Right, be out here in the morning at 10 sharp tomorrow, Gin-Gin. We'll see how you do after a day of rest." Ginny groaned again and remained motionless. Sighing at her dramatics, Harry reached down and hauled her to her feet. She swayed slightly but got her body mostly under control. Nevertheless, she let Harry keep one hand on her upper arm while he guided her inside, taking on an air of tolerance, as both of them followed in the wake of Dumbledore. Harry knew that she would collapse if left to her own devices, and tolerated her humour in turn to get her inside from where she could make her own way forward. Or into unconsciousness, as she chose.

They finally reached the inside of the castle despite Ginny's repeated stumbles as she climbed the short stairs to the entrance hall. Pushing through the doors, Harry carefully led her to a stone bench, saying nothing of her body's state. Ginny promptly slumped down on the cold stone, looking half-dead for the entire world to see. Harry glanced up to see Cyril exit the Great Hall. He looked around for a moment before joining Harry and Dumbledore.

"Is there a problem?" Cyril asked as though it was a perfectly normal occurrence to see such things as the muddy wreck that was Ginny Weasley.

"Not at all," Harry replied. "I think she found what she was looking for, but it wasn't quite what she thought it would be." With a cheery wave at Ginny, he ran up the stairs to change out of his wet clothes, regretting he had not thought to have his broom on him.

By the time Harry arrived back in the entrance hall, this time on his broom, Fred and George were on either side of Ginny, propping her upright in between them. The twins were interrogating her on how she had managed to achieve such a woebegone state. Dumbledore and Cyril were standing by the entrance doors, gazing into the rain and quietly talking, probably of days long gone, something Harry had caught them doing many times over the past few days.

Harry landed lightly and pushed his broom into the special case Sirius made for him. He dropped the case into his bag and strapped it on his shoulder. As he passed by the Weasleys, he caught the tail-end of Ginny's monologue extolling all his loathsome and vile qualities. The normally jovial twins turned towards Harry with identical frowns marring their faces. "What did you do with our sister?" George demanded.

Harry looked searchingly at Ginny. He thought there might be a hint of a challenge in the way that her chin lifted and her brown eyes defiantly glared at him, but she was still mercurial enough that he was uncertain if he was imagining it.

"Nothing she didn't ask me to," Harry calmly replied. He ignored the scowls that appeared on the twins' faces and gave Ginny a sardonic salute before walking over to stand with the Headmaster and his Mentor.

Dumbledore turned as Harry approached. "And are you ready then, Harry?" The two elders led Harry to the centre of the entrance hall. Dumbledore reached into a deep pocket in his robes to withdraw a rather worn and beaten tea cup. "If you would both touch this, we'll be off."

Cyril immediately placed one finger on the rim of the cup, but Harry hesitated. "Er, Headmaster, what's the situation like where we're going? Is it friendly or not?" Cyril looked sharply at Harry before raising one eyebrow at Dumbledore.

Dumbledore paused for a moment before answering. "I do not know, Harry." At this, Cyril and Harry both drew their wands. As Harry reached out and laid a finger on the rim of the cup, he noticed that all three of them had the same garments on under their clothing, the bits peeking out from under the long sleeves.

"Harry?" Ginny called out quietly.

Harry glanced at her while Dumbledore gave the cup a light tap with his wand.

"Why are you all wearing dragon hide armour?"

Harry was faintly surprised that she had noticed, but as the Portkey had already been activated, he merely winked at her before they all disappeared with a jerk behind the navel and a soft pop!

Harry kept his knees bent as he landed and promptly spun in a fast circle to get a bearing on their location before spinning a second, slower time to look for magical signatures. They appeared to be on the thinning edge of a small forest that spanned a few acres and were currently standing in the middle of a path to a small stone cottage in the distance. The small forest appeared to be a boundary on the slight hill upon which they stood, looking down over a village nestled in the valley below them. There was a manor style house on the hill opposite them on the far side of the valley. A small river or large stream flowed through the valley, but it seemed to be a fairly rural area all in all.

When Harry relaxed and put his wand away, Cyril and Dumbledore both copied his actions. "I take it you see nothing of consequence, Harry?" Cyril asked.

Harry shook his head. "There's a flux line near here, down the hill a little, but otherwise I can't see anything magical of note."

Dumbledore regarded Harry for a moment. "That does help me understand a bit more," he said quietly. Gesturing toward the stone cottage, Dumbledore motioned for them to begin walking. "We are approaching the house that was the last dwelling place for the once mighty Slytherin family. At the time of their end, the last remaining descendants of Salazar Slytherin were the members of the Gaunt family, pathetic paupers clinging to what little dignity they had left, without their money, and all of them suffering from the genetic consequences of inbreeding and delusions of grandeur. Their once vast estates and social networks were reduced to ashes and bitter-sweet memories."

The three of them slowly walked down the path. Harry and Cyril repeatedly scanned the surrounding environs while Dumbledore told them the story of the Slytherin family. Their entire history was dismal - the bad investments, the absolute and unswerving belief in blood purity to the point of inbreeding, and the abuse toward their own children all contributed to the inevitable demise of the once powerful Slytherin name. Dumbledore mentioned that he never understood why the Gaunt family chose to live so close to a Muggle village when their money and power ran out, given their open contempt for Muggles. The presence of the flux line explained much in that regard, considering how it would alter the abilities of everyone nearby that had magical talent.

Harry was of the private opinion that had the orphaned child of Merope Gaunt been raised by his true family, the entire Voldemort situation could have been completely avoided. The constant abuse and criticisms would have probably turned a young Tom into a bitter and shallow individual with a crushed spirit and only vague dreams of forgotten power and knowledge in the glory days of history. Instead, they had a bitter and powerful Riddle whose unchecked ego and vengeful spirit drove him relentlessly to pursue his aspirations of world domination.

Harry thought that the fact that Tom Riddle was the final descendent of Slytherin made no difference at all. It was tantamount to pointing out that Harry was a descendent of the mythical Adam and Eve -- it was inconsequential, to say the least. Only Voldemort's pride and ego, and the fact that most of Wizardkind were so easily impressed with bloodlines, made his connection to Salazar Slytherin one of his most feared qualities.

As they reached the area just outside the low, rotting wooden gate leading into the now-wild cottage garden, Harry held up his hand, stopping Cyril and Dumbledore from going closer. Harry squinted a little as he looked around. "It looks like the flux line runs straight through the house - in the front door, and out by the chimney. It's close to the surface, maybe twenty feet underground. It's in line with this gate, too."

Dumbledore nodded slowly. "That would make defending the house remarkably easy."

Harry continued to look around, his eyes half-closed. If he turned his head quickly side to side, he could almost see a flicker of something around the house, almost as if it was somehow linked to the low stone wall running around the property. "I think there are some wards here," Harry said quietly. "There's some kind of magic on the wall and the house."

Dumbledore surveyed the area around them before rapidly firing off three Notice-Me-Not charms to keep any Muggle eyes averted. If anyone happened to be watching, they would barely notice the trio of interlopers simply fading into the background. Harry started walking around the edge of the property outside the wall. When he moved away from the blazing energy by the flux line, he could just about make out an intricate network of wards around the property, linked in mid-air to runes, some of which Harry was unable to recognize immediately. He knew that Remus had more knowledge of Wards and procedures around them than the limited bits Harry had learned about, but he also knew that Remus and Dumbledore were not on friendly terms at all.

After one complete circuit of the property, Harry returned to stand next to Dumbledore and Cyril, who were each casting various detection charms on the property. "Did you learn anything?" Dumbledore asked, pausing from his efforts.

Harry shrugged. "There are wards here. I don't recognize them. Do you?"

Cyril looked at Harry carefully. "How many did you find?"

"Uhm, maybe a couple of dozen. I wasn't counting exactly." Harry smiled a bit sheepishly, but Cyril just exchanged a long look with Dumbledore.

Dumbledore nodded, and Cyril turned back to Harry. "We cannot detect any magic on the house. Moreover, we cannot detect the presence of the flux line under the house. You are certain of what you see?"

Harry scratched his head for a moment. "I believe so. Before your little aura masking trick, I had no idea that was possible, but I've never been wrong otherwise. The flux line is just too big to hide or to fake. Can you detect it back by where we came in?"

Cyril blinked once, abruptly Apparating away with a pop!

Before Harry could make a sarcastic comment about it, a second pop! announced his return. "Very good, Harry. As you said, it's quite large, and quite close to the surface."

Dumbledore absently stroked his beard. With a few complex twists of his wand, a large sheet of parchment appeared with a Never-Out Quill. Harry rolled his eyes at the materials, but grabbed them before they fell to the ground. "Would you please sketch what you can see, Harry?"

Having immediately anticipated the question, Harry had already begun a much slower circuit of the house, trying to draw each side of the house and the web of magic around it. He made rough approximations on the edges of the parchment of those runes he could make out, indicating where each one was floating in mid-air and what lines connected to it.

When he finished, Cyril and Dumbledore studied the parchment and argued quietly over the possible meanings. After listening to the two men for nearly five minutes discussing whether a particular rune was ehwaz or /eihwaz/, and the implications for how the Wards would work accordingly, Harry could take it no longer. He actually thought it was /iwaz/, the focus for death, but their conversation was so reminiscent of Hermione and some Ravenclaw named Corner that it was like sitting through Charms with two geriatric students. "Look, there's a really simple answer to this," he interrupted them in a much sharper voice than he intended.

Dumbledore regarded Harry with an indulgent expression that was quickly erased at Harry's next words.

"First, it's /iwaz/, and second, Remus could do this in his sleep. Let me go and get Remus and bring him here. We'll have this solved in a trice, and you two can kip under the trees over there or argue about the evolution of runes or something."

Cyril was also frowning by now, but Harry really was uninterested in petty personal biases of old history or ancient history, be they Lycans or rune lore. Dumbledore clasped his hands behind his back and paced for a few moments. "And how is Remus these days, Harry?" the Headmaster asked quietly.

"Remus? Oh, he's fine. Quite nice and friendly." Dumbledore looked rather hopeful at that statement. "Of course, that's only when his family, real or otherwise, is not endangered through the malice, carelessness, or ignorance of others."

Ignoring the Headmaster's suddenly cool gaze, Harry turned to Cyril with a questioning look, but his Mentor shook his head in response. "I have no qualms with it, Harry, but Albus has legitimate concerns. A werewolf who knowingly risked infecting others once is hard to trust twice. That is a truth regardless of the actual level of danger for spreading lycanthropy that may exist in the situation at hand."

Dumbledore sighed before looking at the sky. "And you have spent years studying with Remus?"

Harry sighed in turn. "Look, he's been living in my house for over five years. He's never harmed anyone who wasn't a Dark Arts practitioner, and even then it was with great reluctance. The man wouldn't hurt a fly as long as no one is threatening him or those he holds dear."

Dumbledore took a deep breath. "Very well, Harry. Let us try this. Please invite Remus to join us if he would like to, and tell him I would... appreciate his thoughts on this problem we face." With a broad smirk, Harry flicked his wand over himself repeatedly, and then flung it at the Headmaster. All of his tracking charms were now firmly attached to the old man's shoes. Before Dumbledore could react, Harry Disapparated.

Harry decided it would be best to get Remus quickly and push forward some kind of tenuous truce rather than give Dumbledore any time to reconsider. Remus would be attracted to the problem like a fly to honey, but keeping Sirius away would be a bit tricky.

Luckily for Harry, Remus was at home alone. Sirius was off roaming in a park under the guise of a dog, but it was just a convenient excuse to recharge his core. Apparently there were things afoot at home, but Harry had little time to explore the goings on. Rather than try to convince Remus of anything, Harry just grabbed his arm and dragged him outside the disruption field before Apparating them both back to the spot in front of Cyril and Dumbledore.

Remus immediately stiffened when he recognized who was in front of them, but Harry cut him off before he could say anything. "Shut up, Remus. We need your help, and I didn't want to argue with you about it. The Headmaster asked me to ask you if you would consider helping us, and I didn't want to give you a chance to say 'no', so just deal with it." Before Remus could react any further, Harry smacked him sharply in the forehead and cast the Notice-Me-Not charm on his old friend.

Dumbledore and Remus promptly engaged in a staring match of sorts, while Cyril and Harry stood back and waited for the result. After what seemed an interminable period of time, Remus looked away and glanced around at their surroundings. "All right, Harry, since you dragged me out here into the middle of nowhere, what's going on?"

Harry briefly described what they were doing there and pulled out his sketch, handing it over. Remus shook his head. "You're telling me that you want my help to do a bit of burglary?"

Harry nodded his head while Dumbledore shook his. "Not at all," Dumbledore corrected Remus. "We just wish to see what's here."

Harry shot a look of dark humour at the Headmaster. "Ignore the doddering old man, Remus. We're breaking and entering, and snooping a bit as well, so it's definitely a spot of burglary."

As Dumbledore and Cyril tried to fill in all the details Harry had glossed over in his haste, Remus studied the drawing and looked around. Before Harry knew it, Remus was trying to point out that the rune was really ewaz while Cyril and Dumbledore presented their own interpretations. In order to break the Wards down, they had to understand all the runes and how they fit together. Most were basic strengthening and shielding runes, but every complicated Ward had a few controls that tied it all together. Breaking the controlling runes was the true art of breaking Wards. Resigned to the fact that his help did not seem to be needed, Harry went for another walk around the property to get away from their rather vociferous discussions.

By the time Harry had returned, Cyril and Dumbledore were now standing back, waiting while Remus was casting spells all over the gate. Harry silently walked up to him, keeping one wary eye on the two old wizards. "So you won, then?"

Remus jumped slightly in surprise before turning back to Harry. "What? Oh, no. We all agreed to disagree, and they are letting me try my hand at the problem." Harry was relieved that all of them had apparently come to their collective senses.

"You know, Harry," Remus mentioned casually between spells. "Sirius is going to be irritated that you're doing a bit of rule breaking without him."

Harry chuckled softly. "No worries, Remus. We'll have this all settled shortly, and you'll be back before he notices. After all, it's not like we're going to be dueling anyone in an old abandoned cottage, now is it? So Sirius wouldn't contribute much except as entertainment."

"You assume I won't tell him anyway, Harry," Remus laughed quietly before motioning for Harry to join him in another walk around the now-familiar property. Remus started asking questions and making corrections on the parchment as they moved along. They spent the better part of twenty minutes walking, elaborating, and sometimes arguing over a particular rune.

Upon closer examination, the rune they were all arguing about really was /ewaz/, or the focus for control in any form, but Harry would never admit that he favoured a different meaning.

"Bloody runes in wards. You make the line twice as thick, and suddenly it's a whole new thing." Harry continued grumbling as they finished the revised notes on the warding pattern. By the time they reached Dumbledore, he and Cyril came over to examine the parchment, whereupon Remus simply pointed to the new drawing of the rune in question.

Dumbledore and Cyril both shared a glance and looked a little disappointed that their most recent discussion was resolved with neither of them being correct in the end. It was equally clear to Harry that Remus was trying to act as though nothing was strange here, but the faint tightness around his eyes told him that his old friend was very uneasy being around Dumbledore again.

Before Harry could try to break some of the lingering tension, Remus turned to Harry and tapped his chin with the quill. "I think it's weak right here." Remus tapped the rune everyone had been in disagreement on. "If I bring in a new layer that overcharges too quickly, it ought to break the connection to the control and collapse it all."

Harry studied the diagrams for a moment. "You're risking a lot if you try that. Why not break this rune and then unravel it sideways?" Harry paused to tap one (which translated to 'time') at the back of the property.

Remus shook his head. As Dumbledore and Cyril looked on in amusement, Remus and Harry started arguing about different methods to break the wards, sometimes going so fast that their two elders opted to conjure up chairs to wait out a decision. It was apparent that Remus and Harry had argued over many other things in the past, as they had no apparent difficulty in sorting out ideas as they often ran over each other with their words or gestures. "Power sharing!" ... "Recharge too quickly, need to" ... "Blow up the" ... "backlash might really" ... "can't be broken" ... "shake the whole valley" ...

In the end, Remus apparently decided to short-circuit the argument. He whipped his wand out, looked at Harry and uttered the most dubious phrase ever stated. "Trust me!" Remus glanced a couple of times at the parchment, drew a deep breath and focused on the space where the rune should be floating in the air.

Harry looked sourly at the Headmaster and Cyril. "I just hate it when he says that."

With a few elaborate motions, Remus finished with a sharp pointing stab at the ground mid-way between the rune and the two major foci of the warding power anchored to the gate itself. Before anyone knew what to expect, the entire warding structure shot off a magical aura flare that caused Harry to fall backwards with a soft cry, one hand over his eyes.

Remus was instantly at Harry's side, asking him what was wrong. Harry sat there blinking repeatedly, unable to see anything at all. "Ugh, Remus, I can't see. Give it a moment. It was like the sun exploded in my face there." Shaking his head, Harry started gently rubbing on his eyes, periodically looking up to try and see. Remus kept up a litany of apologies, while keeping one arm firmly around Harry's shoulders. Dumbledore performed a quick health diagnostic and told Harry that he could find nothing wrong, but that simple statement failed to assuage Remus' concern.

After nearly two minutes of flare induced blindness, Harry finally had his vision back.

Dumbledore provided a hand to help Harry back onto his feet. "I'm glad you're alright, Harry. Normally I would have brought Severus with me for dealing with possible problems like this, but all things considered, I'm happy to have you three here to help instead."

Harry paused to dust himself off a bit before glancing around. On the surface, it appeared that Remus had indeed collapsed the entire Ward structure. Resigned to one last walk around the property, Harry shook his head a bit before making his slow circuit. As he returned to his starting point, he gave Remus a look of profound disgust. "I hate it when you're right."

Remus made a show of buffing his fingernails on his shirt. Grunting in disgust, Harry turned around and pushed on the rotting wooden gate. As soon as he made contact with the material, the gate dissolved into brown dust, and the carefully neat low stone wall surrounding the property fell apart into a mixed pile of stones. Harry looked at Remus briefly, before stepping over the mess and walking toward the cottage door.

Harry began a close study of the door into the cottage while Remus stood back and delivered an impromptu lecture which Harry did his best to ignore. Remus wound down with the gross oversimplification of his strategy. "All I really did was overload the two primary buffers, which in turn overpowered the controlling rune, causing it to fracture. For lack of a better phrase, the whole system just exploded at that point."

Cyril paled a bit before looking at Remus. "And what was the danger in that?"

Remus just shrugged. A lofty expression on his face, he vaguely waved his hand. "I'm an academic, practical considerations are uninteresting."

Harry snorted before turning back to face the trio of know-it-alls. "Academics don't practice, so practically, you're not an academic."

Remus scowled but suddenly winked at Albus and Cyril. "But the flux line was there, right Harry?"

Harry glared at Remus. "Just because the flux line is much more interesting to think about doesn't excuse your method. If it hadn't been there, we wouldn't be here."

Conjuring a plain Muggle notebook and basic ballpoint pen, Harry began another sketch of the intricate wards guarding the entrance to the cottage proper. Remus stepped up to look over his shoulder, asking Harry to clean up a few bits and expand others. As Remus and Harry started to argue again in their rapid-fire rhythm, Harry absently noted that Cyril and Dumbledore walked back to stand by the fallen wall and started poking at it while discussing theories of the sudden collapse.

As Harry and Remus started arguing louder, however, the two older wizards returned to investigate the cause for the commotion.

"No, it will explode!" Harry was peeved with Remus for trying to strong-arm him twice in a row.

"Of course it won't!" Remus yelled back. "The flux line is still there, right?"

Harry shook his finger in the werewolf's face. "This isn't a buffer, Remus, it's an active defensive buttress! If you take away what it's pushing against, it's going to explode outward!"

Remus apparently grew tired of Harry's argument and whipped his wand out again. As soon as Harry saw the wand, he dived to the ground away from the door. Harry's sudden evasive actions caused both Dumbledore and Cyril to scramble away into their own protective dives. Remus engaged in a vigorous application of multiple cutting charms to excise the physical locations in which the door protections were anchored. Before he could even get half way through his work, however, there was a loud rending noise, and the door exploded outwards, knocking Remus back nearly ten feet.

Harry was the first to Remus' side, flicking his wand to clear the debris off the now moaning man. Remus' left arm was lying at a crazy shape, clearly broken in at least two locations. He was bleeding freely from his forehead. "Harry?" he asked weakly.

"What's wrong, Remus?" Harry asked anxiously, still trying to clean off the debris and check him for wounds. Dumbledore and Cyril both started a series of diagnostic spells.

Remus grunted when Harry got a little exuberant in cleaning out a cut on the man's right leg. "Harry, I hate it when you're right."

Harry stopped for a moment before laughing outright. "That's the least of your worries, Remus. Just hold still a minute." Harry looked up at Dumbledore expectantly. "What's the verdict?"

Dumbledore motioned Harry to get out of the way, and the Headmaster cast several charms on Remus. The werewolf cried out sharply as his arm straightened out and became encased in splints and wrappings to immobilize it properly. "It's too badly broken for me to do much about it, Remus," Dumbledore explained apologetically. "But this will make it easier to manage. I'm going to numb the pain now and stop all the internal and external bleeding. As the spells will only last for about an hour, I would like to take you to St. Mungo's immediately."

Before Remus could respond, the Headmaster again cast several charms at which point Remus' face relaxed. "Ugh," he muttered, "you said this will last an hour?"

At Dumbledore's nod, Remus sat up slowly, using his good right arm to prop himself. "Then I'm staying. I'm not leaving Harry here without my help. We've already established that this place is dangerous." Groaning a bit, Remus struggled to his feet while Harry stepped over to give him some aid.

Dumbledore gazed at Remus for a few moments. "I cannot recommend this, Remus. What if I take you to Poppy Pomfrey at Hogwarts? Would you get help then?"

Remus was clearly surprised by the offer, but shook his head anyway. "That's generous of you, Headmaster, but I need to be sure that Harry's all right before I leave. That means you need to tell me what you really came here to do."

Harry groaned in annoyance at Remus' stubborness. "It's a horcrusty investigation."

Remus blinked. "A what?"

Harry sighed. "Horcrusty. Horcrux. You know. Like the diary. From our crusty Riddle maker. We're trying to learn more about our Riddles in order to find the crusties."

Remus groaned again, although he was sure this time had nothing to do with physical pain. "Right, Harry, I'm not leaving until you do." Remus tried to glare at Dumbledore and Cyril but gave it up almost immediately as a bad job since it was hard to be intimidating when covered in blood and with gaping holes in your clothing.

Shrugging his shoulders in defeat, Harry scooped up Remus' wand and inspected it briefly before thrusting it back into his friend's good hand. "Right then, let's wrap this up like Remus' arm, shall we?"

As Harry walked back over to the now open doorway, Cyril leaned over toward Remus. "Just how often is Harry right?"

Remus winced slightly. "A bit more often than I would like."

As the trio of mentors walked to stand behind Harry, who was firmly blocking what remained of the doorway, they gazed with frank curiosity at Harry and the dark interior of the cottage. Harry finally relented and stepped away from the entranceway. He scratched his head and stared at the sky. "This is weird. Something's definitely not right, but I can't tell what's going on in there. There's what would appear to be a layer of raw magic all across the floor, with no patterns or foci to indicate spells or intentional work. It's like something burst open and leaked all over the floor, like a pot of paint, except that instead of paint, it's magic. Raw magic, I think. Weird."

Cyril looked at Dumbledore and Remus, both of whom appeared as confused as he was, before he snapped his fingers to get Harry's attention. "Why is that weird?"

Harry was surprised at the question. "What's the first rule of alchemy? Like dissolves like. When magic energy is unbound, it groups itself into little streams and slowly gets collected back into the flux lines. This flux line below us, it should be like acting like a giant vacuum. I could probably cast a full strength stunner at you right here and once it hit you, all the splash-over radiant energy would just disappear right through the ground." Harry jerked a thumb over his shoulder in the general direction of the cottage. "What's keeping that stuff bottled up?"

This caused the three to stare into the interior of the cottage. Harry watched as Remus rubbed his eyes, Cyril scratched at one ear, and Dumbledore toyed with his mustache. A sudden vision of the three Evil Monkeys flashed into his head, and he started laughing out loud, much to the annoyance of the others. To dissuade them from inquiring into the cause of his hilarity, Harry purposely began a debate by asking, "Any bright ideas, oh Learned Mentors?"

When the three predictably started discussing plausible hypotheses amongst each other, Harry sank to the ground, tossing his bag up against the cottage wall. He scooped up a handful of pebbles and idly bounced them off the wall of the cottage, above the bag. One pebble missed and sailed through the doorway, hitting the floor of the cottage. Harry was surprised to see the energy on the floor ripple like waves in a pond. "That's odd." Harry's casual statement stopped the speculations going on above him.

Harry threw another pebble into the room and watched the magic ripple across the floor again. He was so intent on pondering this strange phenomenon that he was startled when Remus loudly cleared his throat. "What's odd, Harry?"

Casting one final pebble and studying the resulting ripple effect one last time, Harry distractedly answered Remus. "Well, I can see nothing special or magical about these stones that I'm throwing, so there shouldn't be any sort of reaction to them. But as you can't see what I can, it looks like the floor is responding to them as if they did have inherent magical properties."

As the three all stared pensively into the darkness, Harry continued throwing small stones in, trying to reach different areas. No matter where a pebble landed, a soft ripple rolled out from the impact point as soon as it hit on any part of the floor. Dumbledore finally straightened his shoulders and looked at the others. "I will enter. Cyril, Harry, please watch what happens inside in your own special ways. Remus, please observe the surrounding area to make sure nothing... untoward develops."

Taking a deep breath, the Headmaster stepped over the threshold. Harry watched the magic on the floor ripple in a much larger wave, as it reacted to the larger mass that was Dumbledore's foot. When the Headmaster brought his second foot in, the waves initiated a destructive interference, making eddies of current and random patterns leap out. As Dumbledore slowly made his progress across the room, Harry explained what he was seeing to Remus and Cyril, who both confessed that they saw nothing out of the ordinary.

When Dumbledore reached the fireplace, he paused to light the tip of his wand, allowing everyone to see a massive and thick layer of dust over every surface, including the floor. As he carefully walked about the cottage, looking into cabinets and under furniture, Harry realised that the energy on the floor was dissipating. "Err, Headmaster, it seems like the magical energy is diminishing on the floor."

Dumbledore nodded. "As you say, Harry, like dissolves like. My use of magic in here may be breaking up the residue of whatever anomaly was left behind from many years ago."

Harry continued to watch until all the energy disappeared with no other untoward incident. "That's it, sir," Harry said, "there's none left."

Dumbledore returned to stand in front of the fireplace. "Very well. Since there seems to be no immediate danger, Cyril and Harry, please join me in here. Remus, if you would, please move into the doorway and continue keep watch outside. Let us explore what is here quickly. We can always come back later if need be."

While Cyril interrogated Dumbledore on the back history of the illustrious Tom Riddle Junior, Harry began prowling around the small room, looking for anything of note or anything that stood out as unusual. He found nothing peculiar, except that he kept being drawn back to the fireplace no matter how far he wandered from it. His curiosity aroused, Harry deliberately set out to walk through the kitchen area. Instead of ending up by the back door as he originally intended, he found himself diverted to the fireplace once again.

Turning around, he waved to catch the attention of Cyril and Dumbledore and pointed at the moderate hearth and chimney behind him. "Err, it's a bit weird, but no matter where I try to go, I keep finding myself walking back here. I don't see anything strange, but I'm certainly being compelled to return. Have you noticed it?"

Exchanging intrigued looks, the two men started walking aimlessly about, but they too, found themselves gravitating back to the fireplace. "Most curious indeed," Dumbledore commented, surveying the brick structure closely. He proceeded to cast several charms at the fireplace. At first, nothing seemed to happen, but then Harry abruptly let out an oath.

"Stop! Do that last one again!" Harry commanded Dumbledore, causing the Headmaster to frown at him and Remus and Cyril to raise amused eyebrows.

Dumbledore repeated the last detection charm, and Harry pointed to one particular brick set in the center of the chimney, near Harry's shoulder height. It was indistinguishable from all the other bricks around it. "This one. It lights up like a bonfire when you do that."

For the next several minutes, Dumbledore and Cyril tried everything they could to make the brick to react more conspicuously to no avail. When they appeared to give up, Harry tried a new direction. "I didn't recognize whatever that detection spell was. What does it do?"

Dumbledore was idly rubbing his beard, apparently lost in concentration as he stared at the brick in question. "It locates living things," he answered Harry abstractedly.

Harry scratched his head. "Err, living things?"

Dumbledore looked solemnly at Harry. "Yes."

"This may be a dumb question, but is a horcrusty a thing living or a thing not? What if one is in there?"

Dumbledore's eyes lit up like Christmas had come early. "That is a wonderful question, Harry. Is a soul a living thing? Do you think that a fragment of a soul would be living if the soul itself could be considered living? For that matter, does the charm detect the soul as a means to find living things, or is it based on-"

Dumbledore's theoretical ramblings were cut off when Cyril pointedly cleared his throat. "Perhaps this is not the best time to explore philosophy, Albus," he said wryly.

Dumbledore's enthusiasm died a little bit, but his eyes were still twinkling. "Very well, Cyril, but you simply must discuss this with me tonight over dinner." He turned his attention back to the brick. "Cyril, Harry, please join Remus back by the doorway. I am going to try something."

After the others had retreated, Dumbledore drew a small knife from a pocket and made a shallow cut along the side of his left hand. He rubbed the rapidly welling crimson fluid across the brick. With a soft /pop!/, the brick dropped out of the chimney, revealing a small hollow.

Without apparent thought, Albus reached his right hand into the hollow and extracted a thick ring, adorned with a black stone.

"STOP!" Harry shouted in alarm. The ring was glowing with power, bands of colors shooting between the ring, Dumbledore's bleeding hand, and the Headmaster's feet. "Put it down!"

Almost at the same time, Remus also cried out, his voice on edge. "There's something in the woods moving around! It doesn't look human!"

Dumbledore showed no reaction at all. The Headmaster appeared to be moving in slow motion as he brought the ring closer to his left hand.

"Albus!" Cyril's voice cracked through the room like a gunshot, surprising Harry with its underlying power. "I'll stop you if I must!"

Sweat beaded Dumbledore's brow, and there was a look of intense concentration on his face as his right hand shook severely in his apparent bid to halt its inexorable progression toward the left hand. Harry stared apprehensively as the raw magic engulfed the Headmaster, and then, realizing the inherent danger of the situation, he whipped out both wands and aimed two Stunners at the center of the Headmaster's chest. Cyril's own wand was arcing forward, a bright green streak of magic flying at Dumbledore's head.

Remus called back again, this time with greater distress. "Whatever is out there, it's not alone!"

Each of the three spells hit Dumbledore dead on, yet seemed to have no effect whatsoever. They seemed to be absorbed directly into the Headmaster's inert body, before the floor itself buckled upward into a vast column of magic power.

Cyril was hurled through the doorway, crashing into Remus, both of them landing in the yard. Harry was blasted into the kitchen table and kneeled beside it for a moment half-stunned, unaware that half his shirt was in shreds, and his armour was now rent in several places.

Harry heard Remus and Cyril moaning in pain, but he could not do anything except watch in horror as Albus finally, with trembling hands, slipped the ring onto his finger.

There was a sudden bright flash, and then Harry was left with the sickening realization that his vision had left him.

He was now completely blind. Again.


I know, that was a cruel place to stop.

Thanks, as always, to my genius betas who have valiantly strived to make this story better, despite my crafty attempts to make it incomprehensible. Immeasurable thanks to cwarbeck and Chreechree.

The line about "moods" for cattle and love play is from Frank Herbert's Dune, attributed to Gurney Halleck. An excellent book if you have not yet read it.

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