Chapter 24 : A Power Beyond Magic
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“Your second task is this, you must search for that which you love best after you attempt to answer my last question. You may use any magic at your disposal except the dark spells, and the one who returns the fastest with that which he loved best shall be awarded the greatest number of points. You have an hour and a half. Viktor Krum, what is your answer?”
Krum strolled up to the humanoid with a confident cocky walk, and Nephthys bent her head so he could whisper his answer into her ear. “A wizard’s greatest power beside magic is being able to cause enemies to fear him.”
Nephthys raised an eyebrow. “Is that your final answer, Mr. Krum?”
Krum nodded assured he was right.
But the sphinx shook her head. “Incorrect. You shall forfeit fifteen minutes of time to complete your task.”
Krum gaped. “But . . .but that is the truth!”
“For you, perhaps. But it is not a universal truth, and not all wizards desire to dominate others.” Before he could protest further, she blew upon him and he vanished into a brilliant cloud of purple smoke. “You have an hour and fifteen minutes. Find that which you love most, Viktor Krum, and bring you both safe back here.”
Then she called Fleur up and the Beauxbatons witch whispered that the answer was “Love.”
Nephthys frowned. “While love is indeed a powerful factor in a wizard’s life, I am looking for something that does not involve such fleeting emotions. It was a good try though. However, you too must endure the penalty, Miss Delacour. You have an hour and fifteen minutes.”
“I understand, my lady.” She bowed to the sphinx.
“Good. When I breathe upon you, you shall find yourself elsewhere. Your task is to find that which you love best, it is hidden from you, seek it however you can, and return safe to here.”
“Yes, lady,” Fleur said determinedly, her wand gripped firmly in her hand.
She closed her eyes as the sweet breath of the sphinx surrounded her and obscured her from view.
Next came Cedric, respectful and eager. “Lady Nephthys, I think the answer is knowledge.”
“Hmm . . .a very close guess but still not what I was looking for. I must deduct points, Mr. Diggory. But since it was very close, I shall only deduct ten minutes. You have a hour and twenty minutes. Good luck and return safe!”
All the Hogwart’s bystanders screamed and waved banners, jumping up and down.
Then Cedric disappeared inside a green cloud of smoke.
At last it was Harry’s turn. He stood on tiptoe and whispered, “I think a wizard’s greatest power besides his magic is his imagination. Because that’s what lets a wizard come up with new spells and potions and a person with imagination can sometimes defeat a powerful opponent by being more imaginative than he is.”
Nephthys roared her approval of Harry’s answer. “Well done, Mr. Snape! You are the only candidate to answer the riddle correctly. A wizard’s greatest power is imagination. The ability to make possible what was impossible. And now you may use that power along with your magic in The Land of Impossibilities, which is where I shall send you now to find that which you love best. You have fifteen extra minutes.”
She drew in a breath.
“Wait!” Harry called. “What do you mean, I’m supposed to look for that which I love best? Is that a person or an object?”
Nephthys smirked. “As to that, Mr. Snape, only you can answer it. Think about it. You have one hour and forty-five minutes. Use it well and return safe to here.”
Then she breathed upon Harry and he felt his world spin upside down as he breathed in the brilliant golden mist.
When his stomach stopped tumbling over and over and he dared to open his eyes, he was somewhere else . . .
* * * * * *
The Land of Impossibilities:
Harry opened his eyes and came face to face with . . .a dragon.
And not just any dragon, but an ill-tempered broody Hungarian Horntail, the most dangerous of all the dragon breeds.
The dragon roared at him and swung her huge head down, jaws agape.
Harry stumbled backwards and shouted out a Conjunctivitis Curse, the spell blasted away from his wand and struck the beast directly in the eye, making it screech in pain. As it shook its massive head, Harry moved away, thanking all those practice sessions he’d put in Defense with his father and Philip and also with his students in the Dueling Club. Now his reactions and accuracy had finally paid off.
But he discovered he was on bare rock, with nowhere to hide, the nearest cover was a forest some twenty feet away. Bloody hell, I wish I had my Invisibility Cloak!
No sooner had the thought entered his mind, he found the cloak about him. Huh? How did that happen? I can’t do wandless charms yet. Not about to question his good fortune, he tugged the hood over his head and disappeared, running as quickly as he could over the flat rocky outcropping towards the cover of the forest.
Behind him, the aggravated dragon spread her wings and pursued.
Harry didn’t know how she could still find him, invisible, then he recalled that dragons had a very keen sense of smell and hearing also, like most predators. Crap! I need to confuse her nose. But how?
He thought frantically, thrusting his left hand into his cloak pocket. He felt about inside and came up with a round black ball. “A dungbomb! I forgot I’d put one in there, just in case one of those idiots tried to ambush me again.” He tossed it down and it blew up, covering him with a foul stench.
He nearly lost his breakfast right there.
Gagging and holding his nose shut, he forced himself to run through the fetid cloud. Damn, I should have thrown it a little further away from me. Merlin, but I feel like I’m gonna puke my guts all over.
His eyes streaming, he continued onwards, hearing the dragon shriek in disgust as the horrid stench blew right back at her.
Harry managed to gain the cover of the trees before he succumbed to the foul odor and vomited all over. Stupid! Stupid! he castigated himself mentally as he heaved. You forgot to allow for the radius of the effect. Dad would be ashamed of you.
At last he got himself under control, still angry at himself. It would do him no good to escape one adversary only to weaken himself with his own oversight.
He could hear the dragon bellowing and the whoosh of fire in the distance. He hoped she had gotten a good whiff of the dungbomb.
He glanced about. He was in a coniferous forest, but all was quiet, not even a bird chirped or a squirrel rustled in the undergrowth. It was eerily silent, and it made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. I don’t like this. Not at all. When it goes still like this it means danger is nearby. I remember what it felt like in the Deepwood, before the Unseelie ambushed us. It felt this way, all tense and quiet, as if the forest was listening for the approach of something terrible.
He began to walk quickly through the trees, hoping that whatever it was wasn’t attracted to the smell of vomit.
He pondered what the sphinx had meant about finding what he loved best. Somehow he didn’t think it pertained to an object, for the simple reason that possessions, even the Invisibility Cloak, just didn’t mean that much to him. They were things, but he did not value them above a person’s life.
Who did he love best then?
The obvious answer was his family—Severus and Draco.
And yet that was wrong too. While his love for his family was strong, there was another whom he loved, loved with equal passion and in a way that transcended the bonds of family.
He loved Katie Bell.
Suddenly it hit him. She had not been there to wish him good luck the way she always had before, nor had he seen her with the other Gryffindors wearing the Support Snape badges. She had been missing and he had been too concerned over the task to notice! Some boyfriend you are, Harry Snape! Your girlfriend goes missing and you don’t even notice! What have they done with her?
He was tempted to rush off through the trees like a hotheaded frantic teenager. That was how he would have behaved a year ago, or two years ago, before he had been taught to think and not just react. Before he had undergone multiple lessons on considering every possibility before acting upon his impulses. He forced himself to take several deep breaths and regulate his heartbeat the way Phil and Severus had taught him.
He now knew two important things. That he had to find Katie and that he had . . .he looked at his watch . . .an hour and thirty-five minutes to do it in.
He looked about him again, but all he could see were trees, endless trees in every direction. He swore angrily, thanking Merlin Severus was not nearby to hear him. How was he supposed to locate Katie when he didn’t even know where he was or where he was to go?
Think, Snape! If you want to find someone, what do you do? You cast a Locator Charm, you dunderhead.
He quietly chanted a Four Points spell.
He held his palm flat and his wand spun about crazily upon it before settling and pointing north . . .but then it reversed and pointed south.
Harry frowned. What was happening? How could Katie be both north and south? Either the spell was confused or there were two Katies. Or he hadn’t cast it right. But he was almost positive he had done so.
He recast the spell, with the same result.
“Bloody hell!” he exploded.
This truly was a Land of Impossibilities.
He rubbed his temples. There had to be something he was missing here. The sphinx’s words came back to him. A wizard’s greatest power besides magic is his imagination. . . .his imagination . . .imagination . . .
That must mean he had to use imagination to help him in his quest.
Another flash of memory assaulted him. The dream he had had of the temple, where he had solved the riddle, that had been using his imagination, or at least his subconscious mind, in a way he had never thought of before.
Sometimes the mind is more powerful than even you know.
Smidgen’s words echoed down to him.
And the greatest tool of his mind was his imagination.
It all clicked then.
He was in the Land of Impossibilities, a land he was pretty sure existed only in the sphinx’s mind, brought forth by her own magic to test him and the others.
And in order to win he had to pit his own mind against hers.
He recalled the riddle he had solved, that line that kept coming back to him about imagination ruling all.
In the impossible land, imagination is king.
As a child he had learned to use his imagination to its fullest when he was stuck for hours and days inside his cupboard. In his mind he had gone everywhere and done everything, he had been an astronaut, a deep sea diver, a pilot, a superhero. He had visited foreign lands and had given himself the illusion of a family who loved him to stave off the loneliness.
Back then his imagination had been his salvation, his escape, the thing that had kept him sane locked away in the dark and cold.
And it could be so again.
I understand now. He looked around again at the forest. Then he shut his eyes and imagined it had melted away, and he stood before Katie and was hugging her. She was in his arms, nestled close, and he could smell her perfume, feel her arms wrapped about him, her hair against his cheek . . .
He opened his eyes.
To his disappointment, he did not see her, but the forest had thinned, and ahead of him was a dark plain that smoked and burned. Beyond that was a huge walled tower. He could feel in his bones that she was there, within.
So he had to get across this lava field.
He coughed, for the fumes from it were worse than the dungbomb. But then he imagined a wind blowing the smell away.
A small fresh burst of air stirred the cracked land and blew the stench aside.
Harry chewed his lip. His imagination had managed that small task, but not the bigger one he had thought of before. Clearly he was not strong enough to just banish Nephthys’ constructs. So be it. As Dad always says, take it one step at a time.
He checked his watch. He had an hour and ten minutes left. He needed to start coming up with solutions, quick.
What was the best way to cross a barren hot ground probably filled with traps and sinkholes or something? He pondered.
He snapped his fingers. Fly, of course.
He concentrated, and gasped as wings sprouted from his shoulders, but they grew large enough to enable him to fly like Hawkman in that comic that Dudley had always read about. He didn’t want to risk summoning a broom, since he had seen his magic fail once before and the broom was enchanted similarly to the wand. He wondered then why his cloak had worked, then he shrugged. Perhaps the cloak had been a one time thing.
He spread his snowy wings and jumped into the air.
He nearly landed flat on his face.
Okay, Harry. Back up. You’re doing something wrong. Maybe it’s not enough to imagine yourself with wings. Maybe you need to imagine yourself flying too.
He shut his eyes and pictured himself flying through the air, as easily as any hawk or bird ever hatched. I can fly. I can fly.
He poured all of his will into the thought and then he jumped into the air.
Instantly his wings caught an updraft and he soared into the sky.
He opened his eyes and grinned.
I did it! Am I good, or what?
Suddenly he started to wobble alarmingly.
Ahh! No . . .no don’t fall! Focus!
He quickly called back the image of himself soaring, then began to fly across the field.
He was immediately glad he did, for the black rock suddenly heaved and formed small volcanos that spat orange lava at him, which he barely dodged with a quick flick of his wings.
Ouch! Singed my wings, blast it! This is like being trapped in one of Dudley’s video games. Gotta use my head.
Geysers of superheated steam exploded next, making him stall and almost tumble out of the sky.
Quickly he imagined a supercool shield of air in front of him to protect himself from the stifling heat.
As soon as he could breathe again he flew higher, above the geysers and volcanoes.
No sooner had he done that, however, than the sky became dark with storm clouds and lightning slammed down at him.
He screamed and rolled, avoiding the lightning by mere inches.
Bloody hell, but Nephthys wasn’t pulling her punches here!
He gritted his teeth and continued to fly while rain pelted him. His wings soon became waterlogged.
He imagined the clouds breaking up and the sun coming out.
His wings dried.
Then the sphinx blasted him with a sandstorm out of nowhere.
Suddenly he was tumbling over and over like a dustmote, unable to see or navigate.
He nearly panicked.
But some instinct made him stop and think. He was being buffeted by tremendous winds, like he had read about in the Arabian Nights. This was Nephthys’ territory, she was born of the desert. What could he come up with that could defeat a sandstorm?
A flying carpet? A magic lamp?
He bit his lip as the sand tore the feathers off his wings and sent him careening across the sky.
Think! Hurry! If you crash now you won’t survive at this speed!
He closed his eyes.
An instant later he was floating serenely in the vortex of the sandstorm.
He had become a genie, who had mastery of all elements.
With a lazy flick of a finger, he banished the sandstorm.
Ha! Take that, my lady!
Harry-the-genie soared past the last of the black lava field and down towards the grey tower.
He landed upon the ground and felt a wrenching sense of disorientation.
He rubbed his eyes and found that he had become a teenage boy once more.
Shaking his head to clear it, he glanced again at his watch. He had less than an hour to get to Katie now. Forty minutes.
He examined the tower. There were no windows or doors, and he didn’t think he wanted to waste time imagining any. Time was of the essence.
Wish I could walk through walls, like Nearly Headless Nick.
Okay, time to become a ghost.
He felt hot and cold and then he looked down at himself and saw he had become transparent. He gave a yip of delight and dove headfirst through the tower wall.
Only to emerge in yet another type of maze. He fought to keep from howling.
Keep it together, Snape. Don’t go ballistic. That’s what she wants. So there’s a maze. You’re a ghost, you can float through it.
But where was Katie? Logic told him she would be at the center of the maze, or even the end of it. But which way was he to go?
He closed his eyes and concentrated upon her.
Several minutes later he heard a gigantic ka-thump, ka-thump as of a heart beating.
That was her heart beating, he was positive. He just had to follow it.
He began to soar through the walls, following the echoing sound.
Of course, that was when Nephthys threw a screw into his careful plan.
A dreadful howling rose into the air and the tower shook.
Harry, even incorporeal, was flung violently through the air.
By the time he regained his equilibrium, hovering in the air, the huge crocodile-headed thing had appeared, snapping those huge jaws, an unholy light gleaming in its eyes. It was wearing a white linen sheath dress and a scarab collar and it had the body of an Egyptian woman, but the shoulders of a lioness and the lower half was a hippo’s legs. It looked vaguely familiar to Harry, he recalled he had seen this image before, but at the moment it eluded him.
She spotted Harry almost immediately, and let out a cry of delight.
“Ahhh! An unprotected soul for me to devour!” she bellowed, her voice strangely hollow and filled with hunger and a need to destroy. “Come, little soul, give yourself to me. I hunger!”
She sprang at him and one of her hands, which bore claws and one of them caught him a glancing blow on the leg.
There was a searing pain and he cried out. That had hurt! But wasn’t a ghost supposed to be immune to physical harm? He had expected her claw to go right through him.
She threw back her head and laughed mockingly. “Foolish one, I am the Devourer, and all souls that have wandered astray or have ventured into the Realm of the Dead without being prepared belong to me.”
Harry turned and fled, trying to ignore the burning pain in his leg. He flew as quickly as he dared, still orienting on Katie’s heart, and behind him the crocodile thing sprang after, screeching in fury.
He knew then that he had no choice but to keep one step ahead of it, for if it grasped him in its claws he had a feeling he would die . . .or whatever happened in this odd realm. He tried to imagine himself somewhere safe, but his concentration was shattered by the pain in his leg and the horrid thing’s screaming.
He poured all of his concentration into staying ahead of the thing and plowed through the walls of the maze at some insane speed that he had never thought he could handle.
Even so, the crocodile thing was still on his arse. Harry didn’t know how it could move so damn fast!
The heartbeat was growing louder and Harry threw himself a wall and came upon . . .a familiar temple. It was the temple of his dreams.
Behind him, the Devourer swiped at him, and he jerked away by a hairsbreadth, tumbling through the temple wall to land upon the floor with an undignified thump.
When he looked up he saw three figures dressed in the style of the pharaohs.
One was a jackal-headed being, he wore the traditional white robe and kilt, and carried a staff in his hand which he banged down upon the floor three times. “Who comes before me to be judged?” he asked, his voice thundering in the temple.
Harry stood up, shivering. There was a majesty and power in that tone that made him feel insignificant and small. He felt as if he should get down upon his knees before this radiant dark being. He stared into the dark god’s eyes and suddenly he remembered what he had forgotten.
“Y-you’re Anubis! Egyptian god of the Dead!”
“Not quite, little magus. I am the God of Embalming, who guards the portal to the Realm of the Afterlife. The Lord of the Dead is Osiris.”
There came a loud shriek of fury and the sound of iron claws scrabbling at the entrance to the temple. “Give me it, brother! I am owed! Give me the soul!”
Anubis sighed. “And that ill-mannered annoyance outside that hungers for your essence is Ammit, the Devourer of Souls. She shall be allowed her due if your heart is not pure, young magus.”
He pointed to a set of huge scales done in gold and jewels. Atop the scales was a gorgeous woman dressed in a feathered red robe and with a feathered headdress of many colors. She knelt there, serene and yet there was a hardness to her face that implied she was not the delicate thing she seemed. In her eyes was an ageless wisdom.
“Welcome, wandering one. I am Ma’at, the goddess of Truth and Justice. Have you come to weigh your heart against my feather?”
“I . . .I don’t understand. I . . .I’m here to find my girlfriend, Katie. She’s here somewhere. I can feel her heart.”
“Indeed,” said the third god, the ibis-headed Thoth, whom Harry had met before in his dream, holding his scroll and his pen. “But in order to find her you must prove yourself worthy, young magus.”
“How? I fought my way past all of the things in this land, isn’t that enough?” Harry asked, irritated.
Thoth looked amused. “That shows you have courage and perseverance and a good imagination. But if you are truly devoted to her who you love best, you shall endure one last test. Climb up on the scale and allow Ma’at to weigh your heart. If you are true and unselfish in your love, you shall rise above the feather. But if you are not, you shall sink to the ground and Ammit shall be allowed to devour you, for all unworthy souls belong to her. Will you submit to this last test?”
Harry looked at the scales. On one side was a gleaming feather that sparkled with all the colors of the rainbow. The feather of Ma’at.
He bit his lip. He sensed that this was the final test.
A tremendous blow hit the door of the temple and it began to buckle.
A clawed hand forced its way through.
Harry knew if Ammit came through the door he was finished.
“All right. I’ll do it.”
“Step upon the scale,” Anubis instructed. He knelt and held the scales steady for Harry to step on it.
Harry found that even though he was a ghost, he could still feel the scale pan beneath his feet. He stood straight and tall, wondering how on earth they could measure the depth of the human heart for another.
He felt a tingle run through him.
Then slowly, he saw the feather start to rise.
A moment later it began to sink.
Very slowly, he found himself lifted higher than the feather, until he hovered two feet above the opposite end of the scale with the glittering feather.
Ma’at spoke. “You have been weighed and measured, young magus, and you are light-hearted with love for she who sleeps beyond. Yours is a true and lasting love, let all present hear my judgment and record it!”
There came a sound like a gong ringing throughout the temple.
At the same time, Ammit crashed through the wall and launched herself at Harry.
But she passed right through him and landed smack upon the floor.
“No-o-o!” she wailed, for she was unable to harm a pure soul that had been judged by Ma’at.
“Peace, she-beast,” Anubis scolded. “This one is not for you.” He pointed to a small alcove. “There is she whom you seek, Child of Destiny.”
Harry looked where the god pointed and saw Katie lying upon a stone sarcophagus, fast asleep.
He sprang off the scales and raced over to her. “Katie!” he called, bending down and lifting her into his arms.
As soon as he had done so, time stopped and Nephtyhys’ voice echoed in his ears.
“Well played, Harry Snape! You were a most worthy opponent! You completed my task with five minutes to spare!”
The temple and the Egyptian gods faded and Harry found himself back before the sphinx in the arena, the shouts of the students echoing in his ears.
Katie stirred in his arms and opened her eyes.
“Harry? Where . . .where am I?”
“Back where you belong. With me.”
“I had the strangest dream . . .” she began.
He smiled down at her. “Was I in it?”
“Yes,” she answered, then she threw her arms about him and kissed him, not caring that everyone in the school saw.
Harry couldn’t have imagined a better moment.
Until he kissed her back.
Above in the stands, Draco and the supportive Slytherins were all hooting and hollering at the two kissing, as were the Gryffindors and some Ravenclaws as well. Smidgen was doing a victory flight about their heads and Cafall was barking and straining at the leash in Sarai’s hand.
“Calm, you silly pup!” the warrior ordered, stroking the silky head. “You’ll see your master soon enough. Sit!”
Cafall sat, tail wagging, his eyes fixed upon Harry.
In the judges’ box, Severus released the breath he had been holding and caught the edge of the rail to steady himself. As far as he could tell, Harry seemed uninjured, and he was so relieved over that he didn’t even mind his son’s total lack of decorum and his very obvious Public Display of Affection. He did not know what had occurred inside that golden mist, but it appeared that Harry had passed the sphinx’s test.
The other three suddenly appeared, one after the other, and all of them looked relived and were holding a person in their arms or next to them. Cedric had Cho Chang in his embrace, Fleur was hugging a little girl that looked like her, and Krum was cradling a trembling Damascus Rosen in his arms. He looked much the worse for wear, cut and bleeding about the face and shoulders, but he still wore his supercilious smile.
Severus and the other judges rose to their feet to applaud the champions’ completion of the second task, and never had the Potions Master felt prouder of his and Lily’s child than at that moment.
Sorry for not updating sooner, but I was working on my new Christmas fic, Away in A Manger, which is still not finished. Hopefully I'll finish it soon.
Thanks to all who gave me guesses for the riddle and congratulations to anyone who guessed imagination! For those of you who guessed love, you were close, but the sphinx is an intellectual sort and would favor the mind above the heart. Hence why imagination was the correct answer.
The scene between Harry and the Egyptian gods is taken from Egyptian mythology, the Egyptians believed a soul had to pass a test before being allowed into the Realm of the Dead, and one's heart was judged and weighed by Ma'at to see if it was good and light as a feather. If the heart was weighed down by evil deeds it was heavy hearted and given to Ammit the Destroyer to devour and the soul never made it to heaven, but was destroyed forever. You can learn more about Egyptian customs and gods by looking on Wikipedia.
Hope you enjoyed this and will forgive me for not updating sooner, my muse wasn't cooperating!
Let me know if this was worth the wait, please!
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