The next morning, Harry listened, rapt, as Hedwig related what had happened to her after she had diverted the maldecorvae back in Italy. . . .I flew for many winglengths, a very long way, before the bloody crows stopped chasing me. At first, I had to turn and fight with talons and beak nearly every two or three winglengths. It was hard, I have not fought like that since I trained with my old teacher, Master Swift Wind, who was the owl combat instructor at Hogwarts.
Harry coughed as he drank his tea at that statement. “You’ve got such things as combat instructors in the Owlery?”
Indeed we do. Post owls are exposed to many dangers as we deliver mail, Harry. We must learn to fly through any kind of inclement weather, including hail and lightning, for the mail must always be delivered, such is the post owl motto. And often we can run into other animals who regard us as tasty snacks, like griffins or rocs or cats. So, we are taught when young fledglings how to defend ourselves should we be attacked by any number of creatures, including other flying predators. But most often our greatest advantage is our flight speed. We can fly three times as fast as an ordinary owl, and some of us, like myself, even faster when we push ourselves. Few birds or other flying magical creatures can catch a post owl at top speed. Hedwig said somewhat smugly. She was perched up a low hanging branch of a beech tree that overlooked the campsite, telling Harry and Severus her story.
The Potions Master was stirring a cauldron of cinnamon oatmeal, listening to the owl as he did so, he found her account fascinating. He could now, like Harry, understand the language of raptors and other birds if he listened carefully, due to prolonged exposure in his Animagus shape. He was very grateful for that, as he did not have to shift into Warrior in order to understand Hedwig when he was in human form now.
“Go on please, Hedwig,” he said, stirring more vigorously as the porridge thickened. It was early in the morning, around eight o’clock, neither he nor Harry were late sleepers and both seemed to wake up early, without the aid of an alarm clock.
Anyway, the maldecorvae, being magical themselves, did not have to rest as frequently as an ordinary bird would have, and they kept up with me, for the most part. Occasionally five or more would attempt to mob me, trying to knock me out of the sky by beating and pecking at my wings and face. But I kept diving and rolling and using that maneuver you hawks are so fond of, the stoop, to keep them at bay. I believe I killed a good many of them before they quit chasing me. And the werewolves were following, howling and screeching like harpies from the abyss, but I flew too high for one of them to attempt to catch me.
By the time that loutish beast Greyback realized he was being led upon a wild dodo bird chase, he had gone miles out of the way, across Austria and into Russia. Oh, how he bellowed and screamed then, and gnashed his teeth and ripped out his fur! It was great fun to see him act just like a cross little baby! One that needed a good spanking, I might add!
Here both wizards chuckled and nodded in agreement.
“What happened then, Hedwig?” asked her wizard.
Then he tried to backtrack, but it was too far and he used some kind of magic, I think it may have been a Portkey, to leave there. But where he went, I did not know, and I feared he would try and ambush you, so I flew as quickly and as hard as I could towards the Channel. I must say, I was so relieved and happy to see you both alive and well.
“So were we to see you,” Severus told the owl, giving the porridge one final stir, adding a handful or two of raisins, and then dishing it up to Harry and himself. “I am glad you were too clever and feisty to get caught. But I’m wondering now where is Greyback?”
Harry took the bowl Severus handed him and began to eat, blowing carefully upon the hot porridge. “Maybe he went to report back to Lucius and got in trouble?”
“Yes, that is possible,” agreed Snape, seating himself near his apprentice and eating his own breakfast. “Lucius will not be too pleased to learn that Greyback failed. Which is why after breakfast I will be teaching you three combat spells, ones that you are to use only when your life is in grave danger. Understood?”
“Yes, sir.” Harry agreed, and started eating at top speed.
Severus fixed his ward with a stern look. “I am serious, Potter. These spells are deadly if misused, any of them can kill, though they are not Unforgivables. Two are my own inventions, the other is a standard attack spell used by Aurors. We will be using practice dummies as targets. And be warned, using your magic to harm will drain you quicker than almost anything else, so choose your spells and battles wisely. I had hoped to avoid confrontation with the werewolves by traveling quickly to the orphanage, but if they are already here, then we might have to fight before or after we arrive there, so I want you to be prepared.”
“I will be, Sev.”
Severus gave him a nod of approval.
Just then a strange owl circled overhead, she was a dark brown Great Horned Owl, before she shot downward to land upon Severus’s shoulder in a thunder of wings.
Seraphina! Hedwig hooted in greeting.
Good morning to you, Hedwig! Seraphina replied to the other owl, then she turned to Snape and hissed, Greetings, Master Severus and Master Harry. I am happy to see you are well and not injured. I bear a message from Headmaster Dumbledore. She held out her leg for Severus to remove the message cylinder from her foot.
The professor gently removed it and apologized for his lack of owl treats.
Seraphina ruffled her feathers and gave a low hoot of amusement. Do not wo-o-rry so, Warrior. We do not expect treats from our brothers-in-feathers, that is for humans, who often do not appreciate the service we perform for them. I am only glad that I reached you when I did, I set out from Hogwarts around seven o’clock in the morning, I believe, but the Headmaster said the message I carried was very urgent.
“Thank you, Seraphina.” Severus told her. “Freedom and I appreciate your timely flight.”
You-whoo are most welcome! And now, I must be off again, I have a batch of new post younglings to train. Farewell, my brothers and sister, may the winds favor your wings and the Wind Lord guard you. Then she launched off of the professor’s shoulder and was airborne in a few wingbeats. In another minute, she was gone.
“What’s the letter say?” Harry asked impatiently.
“Wait a moment and I will tell you,” Severus rebuked quietly, then broke the seal upon the cylinder and extracted the rolled up message. He opened it and read the following line aloud. “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!”
“What does it mean? And who is it from?”
“It is, I think, another prediction made by Sybill Trelawney, and the note is unsigned, but I can guess who sent it to us.”
“Dumbledore,” Harry answered his own question. “I guess that means the werewolves will be coming after us again, huh?”
Severus frowned. “Yes, and perhaps the Death Eaters as well. But there is hope, for a steadfast and true heart shall overcome all. We must keep that in mind, Harry. Remain focused and true to our purpose and ourselves and we shall succeed.”
Severus’ encouraging tone made Harry feel much better, despite the prophecy’s grim warning. If Severus was not intimidated by the prophecy, then he would not be either. “’Course we will. Together we can do anything,” he said, sounding more confident than he actually felt. The feeling of foreboding he had that first night in Little Hangleton had returned full force, but he resolutely pushed it aside. Worrying about what might be was not going to help anything.
“Are you finished with breakfast, Harry?” Snape asked. At his nod, the professor banished the remainder of the porridge and packed up the tent and the cauldron and dishes with a flick of his wand.
Another flick and a small stuffed doll with a red X upon its chest flew out of Severus’s pack. “Engorgio!” Snape pointed his wand and the doll grew to a lifesize dummy and Snape used a Sticking Charm to fasten it to a large oak some ten feet away.
He turned to his apprentice. “Come over here beside me, Mr. Potter. Wand out and pay attention.” When Harry had obeyed, standing next to him, Severus continued. “The first spell I’m going to show you is one Aurors commonly use when they are trying to bring down a large number of dark wizards at once. It is a Blasting Curse, and when done properly, can blow a hole in a building or even knock one down, if the wizard casting knows how to place it where it can do the most damage. If a person is hit by a Blasting Curse, I am told it is very much like getting hit with a hand grenade.” He leveled his ebony wand at the dummy. “When you cast a spell like this, it is always important to remember to aim first before you cast, proper aim can be the difference between life and death. So . . .aim and then speak the following incantation—Confringo!”
A tiny ball of light shot out of Severus’s wand and struck the red X upon the dummy and the dummy exploded into fragments. There was a loud ka-boom! Afterwards and wood chips as well as cloth batting rained down on the clearing.
Snape lowered his wand and gestured and the dummy reformed and returned to the same spot upon the oak tree. “And that is what a properly aimed Blasting Curse can do.”
Harry whistled, then shivered when he thought of what one could do to a human being. Suddenly he wasn’t quite as excited about learning battle magic. But he squared his shoulders and said gamely, “Can I give it a go?”
“Certainly. Remember, aim first, then speak the incantation.”
Harry sighted down his wand, as if he held a rifle, till he was focused upon the red X and then concentrated hard and yelled, “Confringo!”
For a single minute nothing happened. Then a small glowing ball of light shot out of his wand and impacted upon the dummy.
It exploded again, only his spell did not reduce it to specks like Snape’s had. The pieces were much larger, but still it had worked.
“Not bad for a first attempt,” Severus said. He reformed the dummy. “Try it over.”
This time the dummy burst into tinier pieces.
Snape had Harry cast the Blasting Curse several times more, at the ground near the tree, at a bush, and again at the dummy. Each time Harry grew more confident and sure of himself.
“Good. Now for the next spell. This one is one of my personal ones, I invented it during my sixth year, since at the time I feared being killed by Voldemort and wanted a way I could defend myself. It is called Sectumsempra, and is designed to cut an enemy multiple times deeply, so quickly that if not countered immediately, the victim of it could die from blood loss. The Latin meaning of the spell is “always cut”. You can cast this spell nonverbally, so your enemy can be taken by surprise, but since we haven’t covered that aspect of magic yet, I shall teach you how to cast it the normal way.”
“But why can’t I learn it silently?”
“Because that way would take more time than we presently have. When we have more time, after this quest is finished, then I shall take all the time you wish to teach you more Defense and wandless and nonverbal magic. It’s a shame that Dumbledore never thought to prepare you by having you trained before.”
“Guess he forgot,” Harry shrugged, not up to trying to fathom the ancient wizard’s mind. “Okay, I’m ready.”
“Good. Now, aim, focus, and say Sectumsempra!” Severus said, casting the spell aloud.
Instantly, huge gaping rents appeared on the dummy, all across the chest and stomach of the stuffed body. Stuffing fell out upon the ground.
“There, now you can see what it would look like if you were hit with it.”
“Looks like it’d bloody hurt.” Harry winced.
“It would. As if you’d been sliced open by a half a dozen swords,” Snape said matter-of-factly. “Aim the spell at an appendage, such as an ear or a hand, and it can slice it off. That is why I never teach this spell to any student unless it is absolutely necessary.”
Harry felt his stomach do a flipflop at the thought of making somebody’s hand fall off. He didn’t know if he could cast this. He pointed his wand at the dummy, aiming for the stuffed doll’s heart, and spoke the spell. “Sectumsempra!”
A single slash appeared upon the dummy.
“Again, Mr. Potter. And put more force behind the casting. Concentrate!”
Harry cast again, with marginally better results.
“Your will is wavering, that’s why the spell is fizzling at the end,” Severus reproved. “Close your eyes. Now imagine maldecorvae attacking Hedwig and ripping her apart. Imagine werewolves overrunning Sylvanor and Hogwarts and hurting Meadowsweet and your friends. You hear them calling for you in your mind, begging you to save them, and you have seconds in which to do it.”
So compelling was Snape’s voice that Harry nearly believed the phantom imagining was real.
“Now open your eyes and attack the enemy, Potter!”
Harry’s eyes snapped open at Snape’s barked command and he cast Sectumsempra without thinking about it, and this time the dummy sagged and slipped down the tree, sliced to ribbons.
He gaped at the ruined mess of cloth. “I . . .did it.”
“With the right motivation you can cast anything. You weren’t putting enough of your will behind the spell before, you were thinking too much. You must learn to react and not think in battle. Do it again.”
The dummy was reformed and Harry cast Sectumsempra again and again, until sweat dripped down his forehead and his body felt as if he had been pummeled ten rounds in a boxing match. When he began to get dizzy, however, Severus made him sit with his head down between his knees for five minutes.
“Why am I so tired?”
“Because battle magic is very draining, summoning all that anger and will is hard, especially at first.” Severus explained. “If I had more time, I’d be pushing you to work through this, but I’m going easy on you for now. You need to be able to use magic when we reach the orphanage and you can’t if I exhaust you. Rest for two more minutes, then I’ll show you the last spell.”
Harry nodded dully, thinking he didn’t want to know what a real training session was like if this small one made him feel like he’d been run over repeatedly by the Hogwarts Express. Now he understood why most wizards didn’t use battle magic that often.
“Up, Potter.” Severus beckoned him to his feet. “This last spell is another one of mine, to be used as a last resort, because it can harm both friend and foe if you cast it in an enclosed space, like a room. It’s called Firestorm.”
Severus showed Harry how to do the complex twist and snap movement the spell required before saying the incantation aloud. “Incendia tempest!”
The dummy immediately burst into flames, a swirl of flame came smashing down from the heavens and hit it, turning it into ash in an instant.
“Now do you understand why such spells are not to be taken lightly?”
The flames burned hot for another half second before Severus chanted the counter and they went out.
As before, he mended the dummy and set it up again for Harry to use.
This spell was the most difficult of the three, requiring precise wand movements as well as tremendous will. It took Harry ten tries before he finally got everything correct and cast the spell.
His tunnel of fire was not as large as his mentor’s but it was respectable enough, considering Harry was not even a sixth year yet. Severus told him he had done a good job. Harry cast that spell once more before Severus called a halt.
“Rest for another ten minutes, then you’ll learn the counters.”
Harry prayed he could stay on his feet and not disgrace himself by passing out. The brief rests served to keep the exhaustion at bay, but just barely. When Severus beckoned, Harry pushed himself to his feet with a groan.
Severus ignored it, and said, “The best way to learn counters is by seeing another perform them and then copying them. So . . .I want you to cast a Blasting Curse at me.” He walked over to the tree where the dummy was and faced Harry.
“Say what? Sev, I can’t do that! What if . . .what if I miss?”
“You must. I shall block the spell, Potter. Have no fear of that. Now do it!”
Reluctantly, Harry raised his wand, pointed it at Severus, shut his eyes and cast the Blasting Curse.
“Open your eyes dammit!” Snape cried. “You can’t observe a bloody thing with your eyes shut, Potter.”
“Oh.” Harry felt like an idiot. He opened his eyes.
“Why were you doing that?”
“Because I can’t cast a spell like that at you, Severus,” he admitted softly, ashamed.
Snape sighed. Then he waved his wand down himself and suddenly a dementor appeared in his place. “Is that better?”
“Yes,” Harry said.
“Thank Merlin!” Snape said snarkily. “Cast, Potter!”
Harry drew in a deep breath and cast.
To his immense relief, the spell was deflected. Snape sent it off through the trees to impact harmlessly on the ground.
One by one he cast the battle spells at Severus and one by one Snape deflected them with a lazy flick of his wand. “Watch closely, Potter!” he ordered, when it seemed that Harry’s attention was drifting. “See how I move my wand a quarter turn—thus!” he demonstrated again, slowing down the movement so Harry could study it. “And turn my wrist inward, like so.”
Harry concentrated, trying to absorb the lesson into his head despite the weariness that was threatening to consume him. You HAVE to learn this, it’s important. If you don’t learn the counters you’ll be dead when you face a real Death Eater. He drew upon the old reserves of stubbornness and endurance he had within him, that he hadn’t tapped since the summer before when he lived with the Dursleys. He had often done work when he was toppling over from hunger and exhaustion, or sick to the point of fainting. A little tiredness was nothing, he reproved, and made himself concentrate harder.
“Show me what you’ve learned, Potter!” Severus barked.
Harry lifted his wand and repeated the counters for all the spells, one after the other.
Severus watched and corrected him where necessary, then had him perform the counter until it was perfect, or as near to perfect as Harry could come to it. After another hour, Snape called a halt and allowed his apprentice to drink some water and eat an energy bar he had packed. Harry was grateful for the respite.
“How did I do?” he asked while he munched the bar, which was made from oats and honey and cranberries.
“Not bad for a first session. You should be able to hold off a wizard throwing a curse at you long enough for me to get there and finish him off.” Severus told him honestly.
“Sev, did it . . .bother you the first time you uh . . .cast a spell like that for real?” Harry asked hesitantly. He didn’t want the elder wizard to think he was a wimp.
“And killed someone, do you mean?”
“Yes. It is one thing to practice battle magic upon a dummy, quite another to cast it at a human being and see what it can really do a flesh and blood opponent.” Severus replied, settling himself on the ground next to his apprentice. “The first time I cast Sectumsempra upon a fellow Death Eater I was eighteen and we were supposed to be on a mission to stamp out the dissent in a village much like Hogsmeade near Cornwall. My companion, who does not deserve the dignity of a name, was having a wonderful time torching houses and terrifying women and children and old wizards to death. I was supposed to join in, but I couldn’t bring myself to, and so I watched until I couldn’t stomach it any longer, then I waited until his attention was elsewhere and I cast Sectumsempra upon him. He bled his life out in about five seconds. I burned his body and scattered the ashes and then I left. The other wizards and witches must have thought I had gone insane.”
“Then what happened?”
“I went and reported our mission was a success to Lucius and that the Death Eater had been killed by another wizard. Then I went back home and spent the next three hours being violently ill. I could still recall the way he looked after I had cast it, because of my memory, I could not forget it, and every time I thought about it, the memory returned and I was sick all over again.”
“Did that happen a lot?”
“Frequently. I am not a man who enjoys inflicting pain and death, Harry. Killing holds no satisfaction for me. I kill when I must, because if I do not, it may mean my life, or the life of an innocent person. Like the goshawk, I kill in self-defense, but never for pleasure. Battle spells are not meant to be easy to cast. You should always consider what you do before you raise a wand and intend to kill. But if it is a clear-cut case of kill or be killed, do not hesitate. For those you face will have no mercy upon you whatsoever. They are mass murderers and stone cold killers all and they would not bat an eyelash if they killed you. But afterwards, I will be there to hold your head if you need it. There is no shame in being sick after your first battle, Harry. Most people are. Killing should hurt you, it is no small thing to take a life. But by the same token, you should not brood over it, if it was necessary to preserve your own life or the life of another.”
Harry finished off his energy bar and water then stood up. “I feel better now. Thanks for telling me that, Sev. I thought . . .maybe you might think I was a coward because casting Sectumsempra and Firestorm made me feel sick.”
“A coward? There is not a cowardly bone in your body, boy. What you felt is normal for a fifteen-year-old boy who has never used battle magic before. I would be worried if you didn’t feel that way.” He gave his apprentice a brief pat on the shoulder. “Come, fledgling. Lessons are done for today. Now we need to fly.”
And with that, Snape blurred into Warrior and shot into the sky, free of earthly constraints and at one with the wind.
After a moment, Harry joined him, and Warrior flew towards London.
* * * * * *
It took nearly a day for them to reach their destination, Wool’s Home for Orphans, on the outskirts of London, near Cheapside. Back when Tom Riddle was a child, the orphanage had been in a semi-respectable part of town, but in the years afterward, the neighborhood had fallen into disrepair and disarray, until it was little better than a derelict district filled with boarded up tenements and condemned buildings. It was the haunt of the homeless and the desperate, thieves and drug dealers, and those willing to make a quick pound from another’s misfortune.
Severus knew the area well, he had come there seeking shady wizards before, but even so, he insisted Harry and he not attract attention by dressing in regular clothes. “Those who live here will happily slit your throat for your shoes,” Severus said, indicating Harry’s trainers. “So . . .we must blend in.” He pointed his wand and transfigured Harry’s jeans, trainers, and shirt into worn-out ragged facsimiles.
Harry looked down at himself with interest. “Neat! I look like Oliver Twist or something.”
Severus raised an eyebrow. “As you should. We shall go unremarked.” He pointed his wand at himself and his smart black outfit became grungy and worn. He ran his wand down his hair and it took on its once-greasy appearance again. “Muss up that hair of yours, Mr. Potter. This once, it will be an asset.”
Harry wasn’t sure whether to take that as an insult or a complement, and just did as he was told. Severus rubbed a handful of dirt upon Harry’s face and the front of his shirt, then nodded in satisfaction.
“Good. A grubby street brat.” He beckoned Harry to follow him into Cheapside.
Harry hesitated a moment, looking upward for his familiar, and breathed a short sigh of relief when he saw a faint speck flying overhead, but not close enough for anyone to observe that she was an owl.
They walked down past burnt out buildings and street corners where lights had been knocked out or stolen. Street signs were bent or non-existent, and the pavement was cracked and broken, filled with garbage in some spots. Odors of tobacco and sewage and rotting food filled the air, and Harry had to fight not to gag.
“Breathe in and out ten times,” Severus hissed out of the corner of his mouth. “You’ll get used to it.”
Harry did, praying he wouldn’t puke right there. But eventually his nose became desensitized to the stink and he could walk about without feeling like losing his breakfast. He slouched slightly when he walked, and tried to ape Snape’s casual walk.
Severus walked without apparent hurry, head lowered, and a nasty scowl upon his face. His hair hung partially in his eyes and he looked like a disreputable bum just coming back from the pub.
They passed a few other people, but no one even looked twice at them. Harry did not know how Severus knew where to go, but he followed doggedly, trusting his mentor’s instinct. They walked for several blocks, and the building grew even more shabby and unkempt.
Wool’s Orphanage was behind rusted wrought iron gates, one of them hung half off its hinges and creaked mournfully in the slight breeze that was blowing. The path up to the orphanage was choked with weeds and the building itself was worn and the gray brick was cracked and crumbling. All the windows were broken, some were shattered totally. The orphanage was clearly abandoned, and Harry shivered as he stared at it. It had the look of a haunted house, empty and brooding, sinister and dark.
Harry hated it on sight, and he nearly felt sorry for Riddle, having to grow up in such a severe cold atmosphere. Until he recalled that perhaps the orphanage had not always been so. This was fifty years hence, after all. “Sev? Do you feel . . .like there’s something evil about this place?”
To his relief, Snape did not sneer at him for asking that question. “Yes. There is an aura of evil and death about this place.” He reached into his pack and withdrew the Curse Breaking gloves from his pocket. As he slid them on, he gestured for Harry to do the same.
Harry obeyed, and then drew his wand, though the gloves made his grip a bit unsure and slippery. Still, he knew the reason why Severus wanted him to wear them—the Dagger of Discord could prove deadly if touched with bare skin.
“Put up your Occlumency shields, Harry.”
“It will help you deal with the evil aura and block any attempts the Dagger might make at influencing you.”
Harry closed his eyes and summoned his shields in his mind. When he felt them snap into place, he opened his eyes and said, “Okay, Severus. I’m ready.”
He followed Snape through the gates and up the path to the orphanage on the hill.
Severus muttered a charm and the door to the orphanage swung silently open.
Inside, the foyer was thick with dust and electrical wires hung from the ceiling, where light fixtures had been removed. There were holes in the wall, which had wallpaper peeling from it and something had made a nest in one of the floorboards, which creaked ominously beneath their feet. They walked down a dingy hallway and paused beside a worn staircase.
“Up there would be the dormitories,” Severus said, lighting up the place with his wand. “To the left of here looks like a dining hall and to the right is probably offices and perhaps the monitors’ rooms, if they boarded here the way some did.”
“This place gives me the creeps. Where should we start?”
“We start by casting a Finding Charm, Harry. I am betting Riddle hid the dagger in here, but we will find it faster if we use magic instead of stumbling about like two drunken louts.” Severus intoned the charm softly.
Almost immediately, he felt a swift tug upon his wand. It was leading upstairs. “This way.” He began to carefully climb the stairs.
Harry swiftly came behind, stifling an amused giggle. I’ll be damned! Maybe he really did hide the bloody thing under his bed, like he did when he was a kid. How utterly stupid. Guess he never thought anybody would find this journal and be able to break the code. Arrogant sodding prat!
He stumbled upon a step and barely caught himself. Flushing at his clumsiness, he continued onward, envying his mentor’s careless grace over the worn treads. His hands were sweating inside the gloves, but he dared not remove them. As he traveled upwards, he noted that the feeling of dread seemed to increase, as if something did not want them here, disturbing it.
It was an almost palpable presence, worse even than the ghosts of Riddle House. Go away! You are not wanted! It hissed at him. Leave, and trouble this place no more!
Harry forced himself to ignore the feeling and the whispered voice. It was probably just nerves. At last he was at the top of the stairs and Severus was entering a room two doors down on the right. His wand cast eerie shadows across his face, making him look even more sinister and frightening. “In here.”
A frigid wind seemed to ruffle the tattered curtains at the cracked windows as Snape opened the door to the dormitory. Eight beds lined the left wall and opposite them were tall highboys, all of them in various states of disrepair, some of them broken apart. The beds all had broken legs and sagging ripped mattresses. There was an odor of foulness in the air—a stench of mildew and rot and urine, as if an animal had used the place as a toilet.
Harry wrinkled his nose in distaste. He saw Snape’s nose twitch as well, but the Potions Master was too busy with following the direction of his spell to let a thing like a bad odor deter him. He moved down the row of beds till he came to the last one in the row, then he dragged it away from the wall, almost out into the middle of the room.
“Is it there?” Harry asked, hardly daring to breathe.
“Perhaps.” Severus halted, then shrugged off his pack. “Harry, get the potions case out with the Curse Dissolving potion inside it and the cauldron. If my spell is right, the dagger is here, and we must be prepared to destroy it swiftly before it attempts to subvert one of us.”
Snape moved over to where the bed had been, there was a dark rectangle in the dusty floor where the bed had been. Severus tapped the floor with his foot, and heard a hollow echo. “Something is down there. Beneath the floor.”
He used the same spell he had in Gaunt House to shrink the floorboards.
Harry hurried to Severus’s pack and withdrew the potions case. He opened it to check how the vials had held up and was happy to find the potions were still intact.
He looked up to see Severus kneeling down and sticking his hand into the space left by the shrunken floorboard. He pulled out a flat wooden box, like a cigar box. Then he began casting detection charms upon it.
The box appeared to be unwarded. Severus was immediately suspicious. He carefully opened the box. Inside the box were a yo-yo, a whistle, a penknife, and a bag of marbles.
Severus stared at the junk and nearly threw the box down in disgust. Then he took another glance at the child’s box of toys and began to chuckle in reluctant admiration. “Genius! Hide something valuable among ordinary things of little value, and disguise it to look like nothing special at all.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Harry asked, coming over to see what Severus had found. “Huh? Looks like a bunch of kids’ toys. Where’s the dagger?”
Severus put out a gloved hand and picked up the penknife. “Here.”
Harry looked confused. “Uh, Sev. That’s a penknife. You can get one at any two-pence store.”
“So you can. It’s something nobody would give a second glance to. Which was how its master wished it.” Severus touched the tip of his wand to the penknife and said sharply, “Revelaro! Finite incantatum!”
A blue mist surged out of the penknife and it began to waver and spin about on Severus’s gloved palm.
Harry watched, sickened and fascinated, as the penknife suddenly blurred and then became the jeweled golden Dagger of Discord. It lay on Snape’s palm, the ruby in the pommel winking malevolently at Harry, or so it seemed to the young wizard. “You did it, Sev!”
Severus looked rather pleased. “Harry start putting the vial in the cauldron.”
Harry moved over beside the open case and removed a vial from it and loosened the stopper. But before he could do much more, an awful hissing and groaning filled the room, and the floor exploded in a shower of wood chips and dust.
“Down!” Severus shouted.
Harry threw himself to the ground, completely forgetting about the open vial in his hand. He felt the solution start to spill out of the bottle and onto the floor before he could prevent it. “Ahh! Bloody damn hell!” he swore, but before he could move, there were things coming out of the floor, things that were composed of rotting flesh and nothing more, their faces misshapen, filled with rotting teeth.
They advanced swiftly upon Harry and Severus, gnashing their teeth and howling for blood, their hands ended in long claws. Harry crawled backwards, chucked the empty vial at the advancing things and scrambled to his feet.
“Sev! What are these things?”
“Inferi. Animated corpses brought to life by dark magic,” Severus snapped. “Prepare to defend yourself, Harry. No mercy.” The expression on the other’s face was harsh and grim.
“Sev, the potion spilled—” Harry began, moving closer to his mentor, but his words were drowned out as nearly twenty inferii surged forward, hands crooked into claws, mouths gaping wide, howling angrily.
Harry pointed his wand and intoned a Blasting Curse, just as an inferi lunged for his throat.
The undead thing was blown backwards, and only dust remained. But more came to take its place, until they were surrounded by the foul creatures.
And the Dagger of Discord began to glow, hissing a strange refrain inside Harry’s head. See me. Take me. Use me. Free me from this place. Take me up and I shall make you master of the world.
Harry shook his head, then leveled his wand again, prepared to cast Sectumsempra. The inferi closed in, teeth bared, hissing and wailing savagely.
A/N: I know, the evil cliffie has struck again! Review and let me know how you liked it and I shall be motivated to write the next part ASAP!
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