Harry rushed up the stairs, Dudley directly behind him. Harry could see Dudley repeatedly throwing anxious looks at the ceiling, which was trembling and shaking dust down on them. Harry noted small cracks appearing in the wall beside them, and quickened his pace.
“Harry,” he said, “the roof isn't going to fall in on us, is it?”
“It might,” Harry responded grimly. “I'm not sure what she's trying to do, exactly.”
“So we might die?” asked Dudley. Harry turned and looked his cousin in the face. The big blonde appeared very frightened, his visage pale and weary.
“Dudley,” said Harry, “you are...powerful, if not magical. You can defend yourself. And speaking of magical, you mind explaining to me how you cast that Flipendo?”
The big man blinked. “I dunno,” he said, shrugging. “You're the one who told me to.”
“That was because I thought you could,” said Harry, turning to continue up the stairs. “I'm just very confused as to how you suddenly have magical powers.”
They reached the top, and Harry scanned the line of doors around the balcony. Some of them were broken and unhinged, which didn't bode well for the rooms within. “Aunt Petunia?” he called, and there was an answering cry. He followed the sound to one of the doors, which was buckled and shattered, completely useless. Dudley pushed past Harry and ripped the door free, hurling it over the railing down to the first floor.
Harry stepped into the room, and saw that a large portion of the ceiling had fallen in. And trapped underneath it was a dusty and frantic Petunia. She saw Harry and Dudley and shrieked, “Oh thank God! Please, get me out of here!”
“What are you doing up here?” asked Harry, and she snarled, “I'd rather have a nice room than one with a destroyed doorway. I came up here to see what there was...WHY ARE WE TALKING?! HELP ME!”
“Calm down,” said Harry, and she screamed, “I WILL NOT CALM DOWN! I'M ALMOST CRUSHED HERE!”
Another tremor shook the building, and the great hunk of ceiling that had Petunia pinned settled, choking off her words. “Can't...breathe...” she gasped, and Harry used a blast of wind to shift several chunks of plaster and wood aside. Dudley stared at him.
“You can control wind now?” he asked, dumbfounded. “Without your stick thingy?”
“Didn't you notice when I was using it against Boykotte?” said Harry in reply. “And by the way, your mum needs help.”
Blinking, Dudley shook his head, then bulldozed through the mess, and heaved at the debris piled on his mother. After a few seconds, it lifted, and Dudley strained to raise it higher, until Aunt Petunia manged to weakly wriggle free. Crawling out of the cranny her body left behind, she clawed her way over to Harry and stopped, panting.
“What in the world is going on here?” she gasped. “This is the work of your kind, isn't it?” She lifted her gaze to meet Harry's. He sighed.
“Yes,” he said. “I doubt anyone else has the strength to ruin an entire house in five minutes. It would take magic to do that.”
“Well, let's not be standing around chatting all day,” she snapped. “Or is it your plan to get us all killed with idle blabber?”
Harry nodded, and reached down to help her to her feet. “I can get up on my own, thank you,” she said sharply, but accepted Dudley's hand. Harry shook his head and walked out of the room, Dudley following at a slower pace, matching his footsteps to his mother's to accommodate her weakness. Approaching the staircase, Harry started to descend, but Hannah's voice floated up to him.
“Ah, so you're up there, are you? Well then, let's see what we can manage.” A huge quake went through the stairs, and the ceiling above him crumbled and cracked, letting down a rain of plaster and debris. The stairs tilted, forcing him to leap back onto the landing, where he watched as the stairs were promptly buried beneath a mountain of junk from above. He looked back as Dudley and Petunia.
“Care to jump?” he asked, motioning at the railing. “I think you could manage.”
Dudley eyed the railing, peering cautiously over at the floor below. He considered, then shook his head. “Mum isn't strong enough,” he said. “I don't want to risk it. Is there another way?”
Harry looked around. The other staircase had been similarly blocked, so that route was out of the question. “I might be able to blast a path through,” he said, looking back at the room they had come out of. “It would make a mess, but right now, I really couldn't care less.”
They headed back to the room Petunia had been trapped in. She stared at the doorway with frightened eyes. “I'm not going back in there,” she said. “I almost died. I might not make it the next time!”
“It's the only way,” Harry told her, stepping through. “Now, you can either stay here and get crushed beneath a collapsing house, or you can trust me, and possibly live.” A quick glance around the room told him that the walls were still standing, but becoming unstable. His eyes dropped to the dust-covered, plaster-littered floor.
“Time to make a way out,” he muttered, and raised his hands. “Stand back!” he called over his shoulder, and Dudley drew away from him, pulling Aunt Petunia with. A burst of wind flew from Harry's hands, pummeling the floor. It shook, but withstood the blast. Harry tried again, and this time, the floor gave way, collapsing into the room below. Harry hurled the air further, aiming at the wall in the room below, so as to make a door to the outside. Adding some fire for extra push, Harry focused the attack. More and more of the floor and wall was torn away by the onslaught, creating a hole just large enough for Harry to crouch through. The young wizard could see darkness and grass beyond the opening. A sound of distant waves could be heard faintly over the groaning of the manor. He looked back at his cousin.
“Dudley,” he said, “use Reducto on the wall! It will help!” Dudley let go off Petunia with one arm, shifting his other arm to support her better. He reached in his pocket, taking Harry's wand out. Aiming it down through the gap Harry had blown in the floor, he said loudly, “Reducto!”, his eyes squinting. There was a burst of violet sparks, and the big man growled alarmingly. He tried again, screaming the incantation this time. The effect was immediate.
A burst of red light rushed through the hole and struck the wall beside the opening in the wall below them. With an explosion of light and ravaged wood, the gaping crevice widened, becoming large enough to allow even Dudley through.
Harry stared at the wound, amazed at his cousin's power. “Well done,” he managed hoarsely. He looked around at Dudley, who was also gazing at the product of his curse, eyes glazed. Petunia had covered her eyes, sobbing hysterically.
“Oh no,” she gulped, her chest heaving. “Not my son! Not one of them!” Dudley came to himself at these words, his eyes swiveling to regard his mother in a mixture of horror and grief, as well as befuddled confusion. Harry didn't wonder at the chaos of emotions on his cousin's face. To think yourself incapable of doing these things, and exempt from your mother's criticisms, only to find that you might very well be the thing she had despised most in the world...
Harry shook his head, freeing himself momentarily from pity for his cousin, and said sharply, “We need to go.” He whirled and directed his hand at the remains surrounding the crude hole he had made. A wind swept through, collecting verious pieces of debris and grouping it all together, making a stairway according to Harry's mind. The stairs quickly formed, settling into shape as Harry made his way forward. He stepped onto the first step, gingerly testing his weight. The strength of the wind beneath it helped support his weight, allowing him to continue down the stairs. He twisted his head around to face Dudley.
“Come on!” he yelled. “It's safe!” He stepped back up, then stood aside to let Dudley by. But Dudley stood there, watching the makeshift stairway uncertainly. Petunia sneaked a small peek at it, then looked away again, shaking.
“Are you sure that's safe, Harry?” asked Dudley, frowning. His eyes took in the swirling wind holding the construction together, and the constantly jiggling bits of rubbish that formed the underside. “It doesn't look like it will hold my weight. I'm not as small as Mum, you know.”
Harry looked at him. “The strength's not in the rubbish, but the air that supports it. If that wind holds firm, then you'll be okay.” Harry glanced at the stairs, then at Dudley again. “Trust me, that wind won't fail. I've fought dragons with it. It's dependable.”
The large blonde took a deep breath, then slowly approached the staircase, gently guiding his mother. “There, there, mum,” he murmured as he passed Harry. He looked at him, and Harry nodded in reassurance. Dudley nodded back, then added, “It'll be alright. Just don't look. I've got you, there's a good Mum...”
Harry watched Dudley place one large foot on the stairs, and he immediately concentrated the wind. A low howling formed, and Dudley's head jerked around. “Harry?” he called, sounding scared. “What's that? Is she coming?”
“It's the wind, Dud,” replied Harry. “It's keeping you up. Just keep going.” Dudley went forward, and the debris under him kept solid. Harry sighed silently in relief, Dudley looked back up at him, a worried expression on his face. “Harry,” he began, “aren't you coming – LOOK OUT!”
Harry spun around to see his sister standing in the doorway. “So you have another escape route, do you?” she asked darkly.
“Harry, down!” snapped Dudley, and Harry instinctively ducked. “Stupefy!” roared his cousin, and a thick jet of scarlet light flew at Hannah. “Protego!” she said, waving her own wand, and the Stunner exploded in midair. She staggered from the force of it, but recovered swiftly.
“Dudley, go!” yelled Harry, and Dudley looked once at him, then turned and hurried down the crude stairs, pulling a weeping Petunia with him. Harry glanced back to make sure they were on their way, then faced his sister.
“So,” she murmured, stepping closer. “The potion wore off, did it?” Her eyes pinned Harry in place.
“What potion?” he asked. Her lips curved into a dangerous smile.
“The potion he has been receiving ever since he was an infant,” she explained. “The Draught of Suppression, specifically designed to mute magical abilities. His father, your uncle, was Confunded, and told to give him the potion in regular doses. If he ever forgot, he would die a most horrible death.” Her smile faded as her eyes wandered to up to the ceiling, then down to Harry again. “I'm sure the circumstances in which he received that order explain in part why he hates your kind so much, though I wouldn't doubt he hardly remembered it.”
She examined Harry's face. “You see,” she went on, “your aunt is a Squib. That blood reignited within your cousin, thus making him a wizard. But that potion rendered him a simple Muggle, like his father. Until now. His mother was never told, and therefor didn't know to administer the potion. And now, it has worn off, leaving him with powers enhanced by years of bottling up.” She frowned. “It explains the strength of his spells.”
Harry stared at her. “Well, now that's explained,” he said. “Now please, let us go.” He gazed hopefully.
She cocked her head, a half smile gracing her face. “Why, what happened to you stopping me?” she inquired sweetly. “Aren't you going to slay me, or at least put me into a deep sleep?”
Harry frowned darkly. “I'll put a stop to the Ascensionists,” he said firmly. “Without them to follow you, you are just one person, with maybe a few scattered followers with little talent. And if and when you pop up, I'll deal with you.”
“Oh, you would spare me for now?” she simpered, fluttering her eyes. “That's too bad, considering I won't allow you to depart this place with your life. So you have no choice but to kill me. It's either my life or yours.” She pointed her wand at his heart. “Choose now.”
******************** ****************************** in the next chapter...
“It isn't up to you to decide what the world needs,” Harry said sharply. “Considering what you want to do with the world, I'd say you're a poor judge.”
“Ha!” she exclaimed. “And you think you'd do better, I suppose?”
“Yes,” he said firmly, looking into her prim face. “Yes, I would.”