Hedwig was so exhausted that Warrior and Freedom had to fly wingman, one on either side, just in case she faltered, they could support her. Freedom was nearly delirious with happiness and relief, he felt like flying rings and doing barrel rolls in midair. But he controlled himself, because his familiar was exhausted and wouldn't appreciate such antics. He did, however, allow himself to tell Hedwig how grateful he was that she had returned to him.
Hedwig, I'm so glad you came home. I thought . . .I mean . . .I was worried that the damn maldecorvae might hurt you or worse,:
he managed to get out, because for some reason his throat had a lump in it and he could barely talk around it. Hawks couldn't cry, but Freedom knew that if he had been Harry at this moment, he would have been bawling. I'm just glad you're okay.
So am I, fledgling. Did I not promise I would return to you?
Hedwig said softly. I always keep my promises. As far as I am able, that is. But oh, I am so tired! My wings feel like two stones.
Here, lean on me,
Warrior offered generously, flying beneath her so she could rest her wing upon his back. I am sure once you are rested, my friend, you will have some tale to tell.
The snowy owl chirruped. Indeed, professor. I shall have a wonderful action tale to entertain you. Once I sleep for twenty-four hours, that is. I haven't slept since I flew out of Italy, save for the occasional quick nap.
Merlin, Hedwig! You must be exhausted!
Freedom exclaimed, alarm showing in his amber eyes.
The snowy hooted reassurance at her young hawk companion, they had almost reached the cliffs, and Hedwig quickly landed. They were standing on top of one of the rocky promonitories overlooking the Channel, and Freedom and Warrior landed also, then shifted back into human form.
Harry knelt and coaxed the weary owl upon his arm, she immediately tucked her head beneath her wing and fell asleep. She was slightly larger and heavier than an ordinary owl, since the wizards bred her kind to be stronger and sturdier, weighing about 8lbs and having a 3 ½ foot wingspan. Her beautiful white plumage was speckled with dark gray spots on her back and wings, as was common for a female snowy. She felt a bit awkward on his arm, but Harry didn't mind carrying her at all.
"Sev, where are we going?" he asked his tall companion.
Severus glanced briefly at him as he walked down the cliff path, his boots tapping rhythmically over the rock. "To an orphanage upon the outskirts of London. But first we must rest. We are all tired and need to harbor our strength, for if I am right, this retrieval will be the toughest one yet, and we cannot afford to make a mistake. I will talk more about this when we have reached somewhere less exposed."
"I understand," Harry said, and continued to follow his mentor, Hedwig cradled close. "Do you think the werewolves are still following us?"
"Most likely. They didn't let a little thing like a body of water stop them before," Snape answered, agilely avoiding a pointed rock in his path. "That is why we must find a safe place soon. Greyback might not be the brightest, but he is persistent, and he prides himself on always bringing down his quarry. After almost being killed by Darkmoon, he will not rest until we are his prisoners."
Harry shuddered. Then he walked faster, all his senses alert for the howl of a werewolf. But all he heard was the soft shush of waves and the cry of sea birds and the wail of the wind over the water.
* * * * * *
Sybill Trelawney woke at her usual time of six thirty AM, yawning and rubbing her eyes. Without her thick glasses she was very myopic, almost blind and she quickly summoned them onto her face before sitting up and putting on her colorful paisley wrap and setting the teakettle on her small stove to boil. As she carefully portioned out a special blend of Morning Time tea into a pretty Dresden china cup, she felt her head start to throb and her eyes grew unfocused.
She seated herself in her kitchen chair with its poufy embroidered cushion with a thump, grabbing the edge of the table hard and staring down into the teacup. The tea leaves rearranged themselves into patterns, patterns that she interpreted without conscious thought. A shudder went through her and then she spoke.
"They shall be hunted upon all sides, until the end is nigh, darkness stalks them unseen, but a steadfast and true heart shall overcome all. Thus I have Seen and so it shall be!"
With that last declaration, shouted to the empty room, Sybill jerked awake from her trance. She put a hand to her head, blinking owlishly. "Dear sweet Merlin and holy Cassandra, Mother of Prophetesses! I've had another
The kettle was whistling like the Hogwarts Express, and the seer quickly summoned it over to the table and it poured itself into her cup. She had only been out long enough for the kettle to boil this time. Sometimes, depending on how the vision affected her, she could be tranced for several minutes. She added two sugar lumps and some milk to her tea and stirred it. That was one of the benefits of seeing in tea leaves-they could be drunk afterwards.
Visions usually tended to make her muzzy afterwards, but the tea helped clear her head and she could recall what she had spoken of with crystal clear clarity. There was no doubt in her mind who the vision pertained to-she had seen Harry Potter and her colleague Professor Snape fleeing from a pack of werewolves. And then Death Eaters joined them in the hunt. Sybill knew what they were from the silver masks they wore. Seeing them had made her terrified, but she had been unable to close her eyes and had to see the vision through till the end. And then she had seen two possibilities. In one, Harry and Severus failed and Voldemort returned. In the other, they succeeded in their mission, but only after much sacrifice.
Still, it was something.
After draining her mug, she rose and tossed a handful of Floo powder into her fire. "Dumbledore's office!" She stuck her head through the emerald flames and called, "Albus, are you there? I must speak with you. It is urgent!"
There was silence in the room, save for the snoring of some of the sleeping portraits of former Headmasters.
Abruptly, some of the snoring ceased and in a minute the Headmaster came to stand before the fire. "Sybill? What is wrong, my dear?"
"Albus, thank goodness you are here. I . . .I was making tea and I Saw a vision in my tea leaves."
"Did you? What about?"
"It concerned our two hawks." Sybill said, then she came through the fire. She stumbled upon the hearth and Dumbledore caught her before she sprawled upon the floor.
"What about them, Sybill? Are you sure it was a true vision?"
"Yes. Very sure. I had to come tell you immediately." Sybill gasped, her eyes wide. Then she repeated verbatim the message of her vision. "They shall be hunted upon all sides, until the end is nigh, darkness stalks them unseen, but a steadfast and true heart shall overcome all. Thus I have Seen and so it shall be!"
Dumbledore listened and nodded, looking pleased. "You have done well, Sybill. I think you are finally growing into your gift. A steadfast and true heart shall overcome all.
Then there is hope."
"Yes. I saw two pathways, Albus, and depending on how strong their hearts are, the outcome is their choice. Albus, you must warn them. Write to them immediately."
Albus looked grave. "Do sit down, Sybill. Have a lemon drop?"
"No, thank you." The seer declined with a wave of her hand.
"I would write, but you see, I do not know where they are."
Sybill pressed a hand to her forehead. "Then just send the letter addressed to the recipients wherever they may be and somehow the post owl will find them."
The old wizard shook his head ruefully. "It is too early in the morning, I am not awake yet. Of course, you are right, Sybill. I shall get to it directly." He sat down at his desk and began to write a short missive to both of his wandering hawks. But he did not sign it, just in case someone on the other side managed to intercept the letter.
Once Albus had sent the letter off with Seraphina, his most experienced Hogwarts owl, Sybill relaxed and smiled at the man who had rescued her from a life of poverty and obscurity so long ago. "I do hope they will be all right, Albus."
The Headmaster reached over and patted her hand. "Have faith, Sybill. Those two are some of the most tenacious and resourceful people I know, not to mention magically powerful as well. Voldemort always thought I was the one to fear, but he was mistaken. It was always Severus and Harry he should have feared. My watcher and my redemption. Together they shall accomplish the impossible, and teach death to die."
"I suppose I should learn to trust my own predictions."
"You should. Your gift is strong, my dear, if a bit erratic. I have always known that, my girl. Now how about a spot of breakfast? Poached eggs and bacon sound good?"
Sybill, who was not a picky eater, agreed, and Dumbledore summoned Dobby to fetch it for them and the two dined companionably, as they used to when Sybill was Albus's apprentice.
* * * * * *
A wooded clearing
Somewhere in Dover:
Harry's arms ached something fierce by the time Severus found them a place far enough away from the cliffs, surrounded by a stream on one side and a thicket of thorns on the other, that he declared safe enough to rest in for a day or so. The elder wizard showed Harry how to cast the ward circles around the campsite, and then Harry spoke the word to set up the tent and placed Hedwig on her perch inside of it. The owl barely stirred.
Meanwhile, Severus started a fire and heated up some more of Twixie's instant food packets-the elf had packed enough to feed a whole House-and brewed a pot of Mystic Relaxing tea. Harry emerged from the tent a few moments later, changed into more comfortable lounging pants and a shirt, and found Snape drinking a mug of tea, sitting crosslegged on the ground, watching the stew in the cauldron bubble before flicking a finger idly, making the long wooden spoon stir itself.
"Sev, I really want to learn how you do that. Wandless magic, I mean." Harry said wistfully, accepting the mug floating before him gratefully.
"Yes, I had planned to teach you that eventually. It is a long process and most people cannot master it without months of study. However, since there is a chance, better than even, that Greyback's pack shall find us again, you need to be prepared to fight them off. No hesitation and no remorse. Otherwise they will kill you. You must let the hawk free if you fight them, Harry. Meaning you need to act and not think."
"Will you teach me some spells then?"
"I shall, for you need to be able to defend yourself if need be. But first we should eat and then I would like you to read a few entries of Riddle's journal. They will provide you with insight into the madman's psyche. It's always best if you know your enemy."
"Sure, Sev. Whatever you say." Harry would have agreed to run naked through the Great Hall singing "We Are the Champions" for a chance to learn some real battle magic. He dished up the stew and there was silence in the clearing save for swallowing and chewing.
Once they were full, Severus took Riddle's journal out of his pack and let Harry read about Tom Riddle's childhood growing up in Wool's Orphanage.
Feb 14, 1934
Today is Valentine's Day. Stupid holiday. Mrs. Cole, our matron, said we all had to make cards for each other and be nice to someone today. Makes me want to hurl. It's so fake, the other kids don't like me and I don't like them either. I've always known I was different. They say I'm unnatural, because I know things without being told. I can make animals do what I want and snakes talk to me sometimes when we go on field trips into the woods and stuff. I'm smarter than half of them too, I ace all my lessons and some of the others are so dumb they can barely read their own names. And now she thinks I'm going to be nice to them! Ha! Nice to fat Bobby Anthony, who stole my pudding last week, nice to snotty Marsha Lindross, who tripped me and made me fall into a puddle, nice to Billy Stubbs, who said my mum was nothin' but a two bit streetwalker who was unlucky enough die after she'd had me.
I hate all of them and someday I'm going to make them all regret being so mean to me. Someday. I already got back at the pig Bobby, I made him sick to his stomach just by wishing it, all night long, and I made that snot Marsha's hair turn puke green. I can do things like that when I want. It's what makes me different. I like it. I don't want to be like the rest of them. They're so stupid, always worried about following rules and getting adopted and where they can find work when they grow up. I don't need anyone, the strange power inside me is growing and I'm going to use it to help me become powerful, like a rich banker or a lord-and then people will serve me-Tom Marvolo Riddle. Just wait. One day people will fear me, and tremble at the sound of my name.
If only I had a different name. Tom is so . . .common. I wish my name were something else. Mrs. Cole says I'm named for my father, Tom Riddle, whoever he was. Did he have powers like me? He must have, because my mother died and she wouldn't have if she had powers. He must have died too, because I'd be with him else and not here in this stinking rat hole.
Hmm . . .maybe I'll make old Billy a Valentine's Day card to remember . . .
Harry paused, thinking about the picture Tom's words painted for him. Here was a young boy, unwanted and unloved, in whom magic had just begun to blossom, much like he had been. But while the teasing Tom had endured stirred compassion within Harry,
the way in which the young boy reacted to it made him shiver. Even at the tender age of nine, Tom had possessed a vengeful arrogant spirit, one that longed to dominate and control others.
"He enjoyed hurting others," he said, half to himself.
Severus glanced up at him over the rim of his tea cup. "Oh, yes. There was something twisted and wrong within him. He enjoyed seeing people in pain, and enjoyed more the fact that he had made them hurt and afraid. How far along are you?"
"Just read the first entry."
Severus snorted. "That's only the tip of the wand. Read the rest."
Harry returned to the journal.
The same evening:
That rotten tattletale baby Billy told on me! Said that I gave him a Valentine card that had bugs inside it and now there are ants and spiders all over the orphanage. It was funny to see him go all weepy and scream though, and all the girls were screaming and running too, out of the lunch room and down the hall. Girls are always afraid of creepy crawly things like that. But Billy screams like a girl and I laughed at him for it.
"I'm gonna tell! It was you who done it, Tom."
"Prove it," I say.
"That's your initials there-T R" he says. "You freak, I'm gonna tell Mrs. Shipley and Mrs. Cole and they'll put you away in a madhouse. That's where you belong-an asylum!"
I was so mad that I punched him a good one right in the nose. "You go ahead and try and I'll put you in the hospital!" I yelled, then I kicked him hard in the balls.
He really screamed like a girl then and fell on the floor.
"Looks like you won't be tellin' nobody anything," I sneered and walked away.
Only to get hauled to the matron's office an hour later because Billy shot his gob off. Now I'm in real trouble. Old Cole had been hitting the gin again, I could smell it on her breath. Probably been drinking in remembrance of her husband, who died in an auto accident years ago. "You know you're not supposed to fight with the other boys, Tommy," she scolded me. I hated it when she called me that. "I asked you to be nice to someone and what do you do? You put bugs in his card and punch and kick him."
"But Mrs. Cole, he was being mean first," I told her, acting all put on and innocent. That usually fools her into thinking I'm sorry.
Only this time it didn't work.
"No excuses, boy! Maybe Miss Crabtree was right and I have been too easy on you. I have had nothing but complaints from other monitors and children about you this past month. And now this! Spiders and ants loose in my home! Disgusting!"
"It was a joke."
"A joke! Infesting your home with bugs! And then beating up poor Billy that way. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Thomas Marvolo Riddle."
Ah, damn. I'm in real trouble when she uses my full name. I hung my head, giving her my best puppy dog look. "I'm real sorry, Mrs. Cole." Then I tried to influence her like I can do most times. But the power wouldn't come. For the first time ever, it had failed me.
"Humph! Not as sorry as you're gonna be, my boy," she slurred, then she reached inside her desk and pulled out a ruler.
I backed away. No way was I going to let her touch me with that. I'm almost ten, too damn old for her to treat me like a sodding first former and wallop me. I turned to run from her office, but she grabbed the back of my jumper and held on tight. "None of that, boy. This time you're going to get a good thrashing."
"No! Please, I'm sorry, I'll never do it again." I looked into her eyes, furious and scared, usually no one ever catches me out, and I tried to push against her mind. You don't want to do this. Let me go. Let me go. But her mind was all pickled by stupid gin and she was mad and I couldn't make her release me and next thing I knew I'm across her knees getting my backside walloped.
It bloody hurt and I cried in spite of myself and wished I could turn the ruler into a snake and make it bite her. I HATE you! I HATE you! I thought over and over while I cried and wriggled.
"Now go to your room and think about what you've done, you naughty boy. And no dessert for you either."
So here I am in my room, lying on my stomach on my bed, and I'm thinking, all right. Thinking that maybe it's time old Cole learned not to mess with me either. She wasn't my mother, she had no right to spank me. And she didn't even bother to let me explain what that slime Billy had said to me that made me do those things to him. It wasn't fair. He ought to have gotten thrashed too.
No matter. They'll get theirs. Bad things happen to those who cross me.
Harry felt a shiver run down his spine at those last words, and he quickly moved to the next entry.
The next afternoon:
That bugger Billy woke up in the middle of the night yelling about somebody drowning him and woke half the dorm too and the night monitor, Miss Fizzby too. It took her half an hour to calm him down. She even let him hold his pet rabbit, Scamper. I pretended to be asleep, but I smiled into my pillow. Sending him bad dreams was only the beginning.
I waited till everyone was outside playing before I snuck back into the orphanage and commanded Billy's dumb rabbit to put its own head in a noose and then I floated it up to the rafters and watched it strangle. That's another thing I can do, move objects without touching them. Comes in handy sometimes. Like now.
I left and made sure the monitors saw me playing marbles with a few other kids, younger ones who were too scared to tell me to go away if I wanted to play with them. I acted like I was having fun, smiling and laughing like I really enjoyed this boring shite game. But the monitors were fooled and it was worth it in the end. I won five sticks of gum, a penny, and a neat-looking rock off the little bastards.
Then it was time for supper and we all were lined up and marched into the dining hall, same as always. I slid carefully onto the wooden bench, for I was still sore from old Cole's ruler, but I didn't show it. I never did. I was still mad at myself for having cried during it, guess it was the shock, ‘cause I was hardly ever thrashed.
Tonight there was bread with drippings and cabbage leek soup and potato pork pie. One of the better things we ate here. Guess Cole didn't drink away all the food funds yet. I began to eat, anticipating the look on Billy's face later when he went back to the dorm and saw what remained of his precious Scamper.
Billy nearly went spare when he saw the dead rabbit, screeching and wailing like a baby and Miss Fizzby too, she nearly fainted. It was a huge outburst, and while all the other kids were busy being horrified, I snitched several items from a few who had made fun of me. A yo-yo, a penny whistle, a ribbon from Mable Throckle's dead mum, all of them found their way into my pockets and then I put them in my secret wooden box and hid them deep inside my wardrobe.
Everyone was still going on about the dumb rabbit and Billy was carrying on like his arm had been cut off. I shot him a glare. See, Billy, that's what happens when you don't keep your trap shut and tell on me. Happy now, tattletale?
They finally got the rabbit down with the help of Joe the handyman and his ladder and were trying to figure out how the rabbit had gotten there, when Billy sobbed, "It were Tom! He done it!"
"That's a lie!" I cried. "How could I have? I was outside playing marbles, right, Miss Fizzby?"
"Yes, I saw you myself. Billy dear, you shouldn't accuse someone of something without proof. Now, come, you've had a shock, let me bring you to Mrs. Helsa, she'll give you something to make you sleep." She led him away to the infirmary and Joe took the rabbit away to bury it.
Some of the kids shot me dirty looks and whispered behind their hands, but they shut it quick when I glared back warningly. They knew better than to cross me.
I went to bed, thinking that next it was old Cole's turn.
I closed my eyes and concentrated hard.
I set the bitch's office on fire with her in it. It was reported later as a case of spontaneous combustion after the firemen came and put it out. Cole went to the hospital, she was burned and half-dead from smoke. That would teach her to lay a hand on me.
I slept like a baby after they took her away and we were allowed back inside.
Old Cole returned after a week or two however, and she never thrashed me again, and there were rumors for months about how the fire had started, but no one ever figured it out. Magic leaves no trace, you see.
"Bloody hell, Severus!" Harry exclaimed after coming to the end of that page. "He nearly killed
that matron because she punished him. And he killed that kid's rabbit because he crossed him." Harry looked revolted. "That's . . .sick. Really sick. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, given what he became, but . . .he was a nine-year-old kid. And he was already wicked and evil and terrible."
"Yes. As I said before, he was born twisted, without remorse and conscience," said Severus grimly. "You'll note all he cared about was revenge, killing the rabbit and nearly killing Mrs. Cole mattered nothing to him. And he was cunning enough to cover his tracks."
"Tell me about it. And he could use some kind of mind control even then. But how did he keep the journal hidden?"
"Keep reading. You'll find out."
"And to think, I almost felt sorry for him in the beginning, with the way the other kids teased him." Harry muttered. "I mean, it sort of reminded me of the Dursleys."
"I can see how that would do so, and I'll admit it reminded me a little of my own days with my father as well, but neither of us ever reacted with such coldblooded hatred against our families and nearly burned our house down for revenge or killed innocent animals, now did we?"
Harry shook his head. "Sometimes . . .sometimes I used to think about running away from home, but nasty as they were, I'd have never used my magic to hurt them." He rubbed his scar unconsciously.
"Much as I feared and hated my father, I could not bring myself to hurt him with magic, no matter how much he might have deserved it. And there lies the difference between us and Voldemort," Severus said. "We had scruples, he had none."
Harry resumed reading the journal, and each consecutive entry made him more and more happy that the dark wizard was dead. The incident with the rabbit and the fire was nothing compared to the time young Tom had lured two of the other orphans into a cave when they were on an outing at the seaside.
July 12th, 1935
I knew the cave was something special the moment I spotted it while I was walking down by the seashore. It called to me in a way I couldn't explain, like a dark voice echoing in my head, and suddenly I knew I had to explore it. But that meant sneaking away from the others for a while, and us older kids were in charge of two smaller ones, Cole's stupid rules again. Trying to give us responsibility or some such rot. Like I cared about the two whiny brats who were following me around, Amy Benson and Dennis Bishop were their names and the last thing I wanted to do on holiday was mind the bloody kids.
But the annoying buggers followed me everywhere and I couldn't ditch them without Cole finding out and I didn't want to deal with any of her lectures right then. So I decided to take the two seven-year-olds with me into the cave. I had to go inside it, there was something calling to that secret part of me-the part that made me better than all the rest of the orphans I was forced to co-exist with.
"Whatcha doin', Tom?" asked Dennis, he was a towheaded brat with a loose tooth, looked like he'd been born in a bin, he was all dirty from playing in the sand.
"Going exploring, what's it look like?" I said shortly.
"'Sploring?" Amy lisped, coming up to me too. She was a little thing with freckles and frizzy red hair that was always coming undone from the braids the monitors tied her hair in. They thought her lisp was "charming" and "cute". Me, I thought it made her sound like a dumb-arsed idiot. "Can I come too, Tom? Can I? Can I? Pwease?"
I rolled my eyes. "Only if you promise never to tell where we go," I bargained. "Otherwise you can stay here and watch for land sharks."
"Land sharks?" repeated Dennis. "What's that?"
"They're sharks that can come up on land, burrow real fast through the sand and . . .bite off brats like yours feet," I told him seriously. "And you know what?" I lowered my voice. "One was seen here not two days ago. It was in the paper."
They squealed, the little idiots, buying my make-believe story hook, line, and sinker. Little kids are so gullible! They'll believe anything if you act like it's true.
"Pwease, we'll be good, don't leave us here, Tom!" cried Amy, throwing her arms about me.
"Get off!" I snapped, pushing her away. I hated when kids touched me. "Shut up and quit sniveling and promise me to keep your gob shut and you can come."
They promised and I started into the cave, which was jutting out into the sea and we had to walk on a sandbar to get to it. We climbed over a few rocks and Dennis fell down and scraped his knee and started to whine, but I snapped that if he didn't shut it, I'd leave him there and he sniveled and obeyed me.
Inside the cave it was dark, until I concentrated and made light. That was a new ability of mine and real useful for when I wanted to sneak around at night, both in the orphanage and out of it. The light magic lit up the entire cave, which had a large pool in it and some kind of big island projectile sticking up out of it, like a kind of stone basin.
It was damp and sticky and there was a strong smell of fish and rotting seaweed.
Amy held her nose and whined. "Eeew! Stinks in here! Like dead fish!"
I ignored her and kept walking.
The call was as strong as ever and it was pulling me towards the island in the center of the lake.
"Tom, I don't like this place," whimpered Dennis. "I wanna leave."
I spun on him and grabbed him and shook him hard. "Listen, you little whinging bastard. You wanted to come with me, and now you have, so you can just suck up and deal with it. Act like a man and not a pansy-arsed little girl, got me?"
He nodded, shivering and I let him go and said, "Stay here, I want to go out and see what's over there on that rock." I pointed to the island.
"But how you gonna get there?" asked Amy.
I shrugged. "Swim, of course."
I really didn't like water much, but I could swim if I had to and there was no other way for me to get to the island. I could feel whatever it was calling me and it was driving me crazy. Come to me. Come to me.
So I jumped into the water, it was warm and smelled like rotten fish and felt scummy, but I forced myself to just ignore it and start swimming. I was careful not to get any water in my eyes or mouth, no telling what diseases I'd come down with. After about seven minutes I was at the island and climbing up the white rock studded with crystals to the stone basin.
When I looked inside, I saw a beautiful golden and silver dagger with a huge ruby in the pommel. My eyes went wide. Hell, this must be worth a bloody fortune! If I took this, I'd be set for life. And I could feel it speak to me in my head.
Take me up. Use me. And I shall give you your heart's desire. Take me. Use me.
So I picked it up and I immediately felt the magic flow into me, changing me, making me strong, powerful. I laughed aloud, for it felt so good. The dagger sparkled in my hand and I knew then that I could never sell it. It was special, like me, and I had to keep it and hide it.
I tucked it firmly inside the waistband of my trousers and then jumped into the water. This time I swam like a fish and the water didn't make me want to lose my lunch. It felt like bathwater and in no time I was at the shore, where the pesky brats waited, mouths hanging open like dying fish.
"What did you find, Tom?" asked Dennis. "Anything cool?"
"Can we see it?" Amy looked at me with big eyes.
I closed my hand over the dagger. I felt a surge of power go through me and the dagger hissed into my mind that it was hungry. Blood. I need blood. Feed me.
The dagger's need throbbed through me and I would have done anything to make it stop. "Okay, shut it," I muttered to the knife, wondering where I could get blood to feed it. My own wouldn't work as well, I sensed that instinctively, it wanted another kind. The innocent kind.
And suddenly I knew what I had to do.
"Come here, you two." I ordered, grabbing the brats by the shoulders. "We're going to play a little game. It's called Native Sacrifice and you're going to pretend I'm a native that's going to cut you up and eat your livers for breakfast." I took out the dagger and held it up, it glistened in the light.
They both started crying then, but I just sneered at them. "It's a game, stupid brats. Now give me your hands."
I pricked each of their hands with the dagger and it seemed to gain some kind of strength from the blood. The blood was drawn into the dagger's surface as if it were a sponge. Amy and Dennis's eyes were glassy and unfocused, and I let the dagger drink its fill before I tucked it away again and slapped the brats awake.
"Come on. Time to go. And remember, if anyone asks, you were just exploring. Got it?"
They nodded, pale and shaking, and I dragged them back out of the cave.
I had gotten what I had come for. That dagger was going to prove very useful.
That night, the two brats developed a fever and kept babbling about knives in the dark and blood, but the matron put it down to fever dreams and didn't question me.
I was careful to hide the dagger along with my journal under a loose floorboard beneath my bed. I even made a sort of Look Away charm over it, so no one would ever find my hiding place.
The monitors never figured out why the kids became sick and they were never the same after the dagger had drawn their blood into itself. They were always disorientated now, scared of nearly everything, but I made sure they wouldn't talk about anything ever by showing them the dagger. They never did, and eventually Cole quit asking them what happened and asking me too.
At the bottom of that page was a hastily scrawled note. The Dagger of Discord, as I have discovered it was called, was a powerful cursed object and one that I had to hide away when Dumbledore came to the orphanage to collect me. I knew I couldn't keep it on my person while going to school, its aura was too great, and Dumbledore might find out.
So I placed it back in the cave and promised I would return for it one day. I kept that promise.
The journal ended there abruptly, and Harry set it down and rubbed his eyes. "Merlin, but I could use a good stiff drink!" he blurted before he thought better of it.
But Snape did not scold him. Instead the other simply gave him a look of understanding. "I take it you read about the cave and how he used those children to feed that cursed object?" The Potions Master's face was hard and grim.
"Yeah. It made me want to rip out his throat and puke all at the same time." Harry grimaced. "Sick bastard. I don't even want to think about what he used that dagger for. You ever, uh, see it? When you were spying?"
Severus shook his head. "No. Which leads me to believe he had another use for the dagger. A more permanent use than a ritual bloodletting to fuel his dark castings."
"You mean he made it into . . .?"
"Yes. The Dagger of Discord would have suited him perfectly, fulfilling his need to use objects of value or meaning in order to create a receptacle to house his soul. He was vain and arrogant, he would not have made the object anything, even though he could have. The dagger had a long and bloody history, a history of betrayal and death going back before the time of Merlin." Severus cleared his throat, going into what Harry sometimes called "lecture mode". "It was said the Dagger of Discord was created when King Agamemnon of Mycenae sacrificed his own daughter to summon wind to let the Greek ships set sail for Troy. The shedding of Iphegenia's innocent blood by her father caused the gods to curse both Agamemnon and the dagger that took her life. The dagger became known as the Dagger of Discord, bringing discord and betrayal to sworn friends and destroying anyone who used it. It was said that because of the dagger, Agamemnon started that fatal quarrel with Achilles and nearly lost the Trojan War. Afterwards the dagger vanished, until it reappeared centuries later in the court of King Arthur and brought more misery and death in its wake. The dagger was directly responsible for destroying Camelot and causing an almost irreparable rift between Lancelot and Arthur and the dagger eventually killed Arthur when wielded by his son Mordred, who had been given it as a gift by his mother after she stole it from Lancelot, and it immediately poisoned his mind against his father and made the boy betray and kill him. When Camelot fell, the dagger vanished again. It was rumored that it slew Caesar on the steps of the Senate, wielded by Brutus, once Caesar's loyal friend. But always it has caused destruction. The Ministry has labeled it a Very Dangerous Dark Object and has never been able to find it."
"You sound as if it's . . .alive."
"In a way it is. The curse is such that it is semi-aware, and after drinking the blood of so many innocents, it has grown very powerful. I have a feeling that it called Voldemort to rescue it because it had grown tired of sitting in that cave for centuries and wanted to start trouble once again. Based upon the clues in the next section-Look to the dagger in the dark for a riddle hidden therein-
I am almost certain the next object we must look for is the Dagger of Discord."
"Indeed, Mr. Potter. And if that is the case, you must be infinitely careful when searching for it. The slightest touch of your skin on it may allow the curse to invade your mind and turn you into an instrument of evil, so wear your gloves at all times when we go to the orphanage, am I clear?"
"Crystal, Sev. But why would you think it's in the orphanage now? Wouldn't it seem more likely that he returned to the cave and hid it there?"
Severus frowned. "No, because the dagger did not like being hidden there. That was why Riddle was made to come back and retrieve it once he was not in school. And the cipher I broke states that the object was hidden in the place of beginnings and endings-Wool's Orphanage fits that criteria."
"Wonder if he still hid it under the bed?"
"Wherever it is hidden, we must find it and then destroy it." Severus said firmly.
"Yeah, I figured as much. Brilliant deduction there, Sev."
"Watch it, mister." His mentor mock-scolded.
Harry just smirked. He loved to rile the Potions Master with his cheeky attitude on occasion. Then he handed the journal back to the master wizard and said, "So, when do I learn how to defend myself, oh wise mentor?"
"After a decent night's sleep. I don't want to risk losing my head or my hand because you're too tired to concentrate properly. Bed, Harry. Now."
"Blazes, but d'you have to make it sound like I'm five? Couldn't you just say something like, I don't know, you better get some sleep, Harry, so you're nice and rested for our lesson tomorrow?"
"I could," Snape conceded. "But the other way suits me better."
Harry shot him a look. "You just like ordering me around."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "Why, Potter, wherever did you get that idea?"
"You know, Sev, if you weren't my mentor and my guardian and all, I could tell you to go shove it and jump off a bridge, that I'm almost sixteen and don't need a bedtime like a little kid."
"True. But then you wouldn't be having lessons in defense tomorrow, you'd be scrubbing cauldrons." Snape returned smoothly.
"What cauldrons? We're not in school."
"The ones I would summon here just for you, apprentice. Bed, Harry."
The boy made a face. "You're a terrible guardian."
"I know. Makes you wonder what kind of foolish fledgling would agree to let me be one."
"Me too. Maybe he was under a curse," Harry agreed, then he started laughing when Severus scowled. "Had you going there, didn't I, Sev?"
"Impudent brat! I don't know why I put up with you."
"Because I'm your
impudent brat and you'd be bored stiff if I became one of those obedient good kids. Right?"
"Get to bed, Potter."
"Admit it, Sev. I'm right."
, Potter. Before I lose what patience I have left."
"Aww, c'mon, Severus. Say I'm right."
"You're pushing it, boy. Now get!"
"Three words, Severus. Harry, you're right. That's it. Three little words."
"One more word and you'll be grounded for the rest of the summer, I mean it!"
"Okay. Merlin!" The look in the other's eye could have made a dragon run for cover. Harry rose and went into the tent. Then he stuck his head out and called, "Good night, Sev. Sweet dreams." He ducked inside, laughing.
"Why you-" the Potions Master sputtered. "I ought to make you scrub my entire house
with a toothbrush for that bit of impudence, Harry James Potter."
A muffled "Sorry, sir, I take it back," came from inside the tent.
"Don't make me come in there, young man," warned his guardian. Really, the boy's cheek knew no bounds!
This time there was no cheeky reply. Severus waited a moment or two before rising and making sure his apprentice was sleeping and not because he was concerned the boy might have nightmares and need Dreamless Sleep.
He found the boy sound asleep on his bedroll, scrunched into a ball. Severus straightened out the blanket and smoothed back the hair from Harry's eyes. Then he permitted himself a small smile and whispered, "Pleasant dreams, my impudent brat."
An instant later he was slipping back outside to finish his tea. Had he glanced back, he would have seen his ward crack open an eye and grin from ear to ear at being proven right.
Chapter End Notes:
Hope that didn't creep you out TOO much.
I was kind of creeped out writing it, hence the banter at the end. How did you like the journal? The dagger?
Next: Sev and Harry have a brief lesson on defense, then tackle the orphanage and search for the deadly and elusive Dagger of Discord. Will Trelawney's prediction reach them before they enter the orphanage?