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The New Skin by Mottsnave
Chapter 2 : Sanctuary
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 3

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I landed and immediately fell over. My balance had been none too good when I left, and now, combined with the spinning of the portkey and the pitch-darkness in which I landed, it deserted me altogether. I caught my breath sprawled on a cold stone floor. When I could hold my wand steady, I cast lumos.

My spare wand felt strange to my hand, and the room was certainly strange to me as well. It was small, roughly four meters square, with bare plaster walls and cement floor. The walls had been painted a cheery yellow once, now streaked with water stains and nitre. Ragged bare wires poked from the middle of the ceiling and two spots on the wall. A half-collapsed disreputable sofa with mildewed floral upholstery leaned against the wall opposite me, a cardboard box on one sagging cushion.

Across from me in the left corner was the only opening, a grey battered door with a brass knob. I could just see chalk markings on the floor across the threshold. Someone had set physical wards here. I couldn't muster the energy to go examine them. I wanted what Aberforth had denied me: more sleep. I crawled towards the sofa. It didn't look long enough to sleep on comfortably, but I could take its cushions and lay them on the floor.

The box I had taken for rubbish was unexpectedly hard to shift. It didn't move at first then came crashing down in a rush, bruising my knee. Tins, it was full of tins of food. There must have been at least forty of them. I was dreamily lining them up on the floor before I caught myself; that could wait. The cushions were easy to move now. I laid them on the floor between the near arm of the sofa and the wall. I took the sleeping bag, my sleeping bag, out of the cigar box.

When I released it from the shrink-sack it expanded immediately, the charms apparently in perfect working order. I took off my shoes and climbed into it fully-clothed. I barely felt the warming charms begin to work as I fell asleep.

I was worse when I woke. I came out of a dream shivering and sweating. My head was pounding and all my joints ached. I didn't want to move, I wanted to go back to sleep, but a sense of urgency had infected me from my dream and I could not. I had been in the Headmaster's office. Albus was there with me, but he was unlike I had ever seen him. He was singing and dancing around the room, transported with joy. He spun with his arms open, then plucked at my sleeves and elbows to try to get me to join him. I knew I should be happy for him, but I couldn't, I couldn't dance; I was filled with a crawling anxiety until I almost shook with panic. I had to get them out…

Ridiculous, I knew it was just a dream. Besides, Aberforth had told me that it was over and everyone was out. If I could believe him, that was, but why should he lie to me? If he thought I was a loyal Death Eater and wanted to trick me, but then why heal me and send me away? Well it would be possible, if he were secretly a Death Eater… I shook my head despite the pain. Ridiculous!

The problem was that I didn't know what happened and I had to know, to find out where I stood and what I had to do next. Surely there was something I had to do?

The first thing I had to do was to get something to drink. I was desperately thirsty again. I cast lumos. For a moment I didn't recognize the room at all before it came flooding back. There wasn't a tap, or any other source of water. I could cast aguamenti and hope there was a source for the spell to draw on nearby, but I didn't have anything to catch the water in. Sod it all, I dragged myself half out of the bag and cast directly into my mouth.

I had to stop myself after a few swallows. I was still thirsty, but I had no idea how long it had been since I had eaten and I knew I could make myself sick on too much water alone. I looked over my collection of tins. It was heavy on soups: tomato, beef and barley, chicken… there were also several tins of beans and sardines, though no toast to eat them with.

The plain chicken broth sounded best for my throat. I sliced off the top with a quick spell and heated it in the tin with warming charms. I hadn't been hungry before, but at the smell of it I was ravenous. I tried to drink it too fast and promptly burned my lips on the rim. I forced myself to take careful sips. I ate half a tin of beans when the broth was gone, though swallowing those was much more painful. I used the broth tin for more water when I was done.

Exhausted, I fell back in the sleeping bag. I had to find out where I stood, but it seemed impossible while I was too weak to stand. Well, there was one thing I could investigate from where I was. I opened the cigar box and sorted through the contents, setting them out on the floor in front of me one by one.

First, my two bundles of cash. I wasn't sure how Aberforth had retrieved them; I thought I had them very well hidden under a stack of the most boring paperwork imaginable. Of course, Albus' portrait had seen me put them there. It was 2,000 pounds in all in 50 and 20 pound notes. I had a second stash in my house in the End, but I could probably consider that lost to me now. Well, I could make 2,000 pounds stretch for quite some time as long as I didn't have any rent to pay.

I peeled open my parchment envelope where I kept Dr. Ramson. The ID and passport were all in order. My old resume was even there. There was something else in the envelope, a small white card with the words 'Last Call' in a scrawled hand. Was that Aberforth's hand? What did he mean? I replaced the card in the envelope.

Finally I set out the potions' vials, one by one. There was more blood replenisher. I didn't think I needed any more at the moment. Two fever reducers. I could probably do with one straight away, but I didn't know how sick I was. I decided to save it, I might need it later. Several doses of Polyjuice. I recognized the vials as the ones I had been carrying on me. Aberforth must have salvaged them from my cloak. A few pepperups and four healing draughts completed the store.

I decided to take one of the healing draughts as I didn't want to start to slip and get worse. I felt quite horrible already. As the warmth of the draught flooded me I slipped into sleep.

I don't know how long I drifted in and out of sleep. There was no way to tell day from night and my fever confused my thoughts. I lay for long hours trembling as every seam between walls, ceiling and floor split and expanded to reveal the endless darkness beyond. I couldn't seem to be able to hold a lumos bright enough to keep it at bay.

Once when I woke I thought I saw a gray figure pacing back and forth by the door, a constant muttering voice barely audible; I knew, shaking, that it wanted to kill me. I took the first fever-reducer then, the figure dissolving as the cool calm of the potion settled over me.

That seemed to break my illness, though I couldn't shake the feeling of something watching and stalking me. The next time I woke I could walk unsteadily, rather than crawl over to the corner I used to relieve myself. I was still shaky but triumphant that I could finally stand. I sat on the cushionless couch for a while, just for variety, before I surrendered to sleep again in my makeshift bed.

When I woke again I was thoroughly sick of the room. For the first time I ventured to approach the door. The door itself looked quite flimsy; it was the chalk-mark wards on the threshold that gave the room its real protection. Anti-apparition, do-not-notice charms and a powerful keyed lock on the door. It would have to be opened by a password, but what was it? I could usually guess Albus' passwords given enough time, but these wards couldn't have been set by Albus, they would have fallen over a year ago, and besides, it wasn't neat enough for his work. It could have been Aberforth, I supposed, if Albus had brought him here. What would Aberforth use for a password; did he have Albus' sweet-tooth? I tried a couple of sweets' names. Nothing.

Was Aberforth planning to hold me captive here? It didn't make sense when he could have easily turned me over to the ministry. Perhaps he had left me the password somewhere. I sat again on the sleeping bag and opened the cigar box. Papers began spilling out of the box as soon as I cracked the lid. I jerked back in alarm and trained my wand on the box. I was standing on the end of my bed with my back against the wall, watching it. When the movement stopped, I could see that I was standing guard over a threatening newspaper. I flicked the lid of the box back with my foot. The box was stuffed with pages, now spilling out across the floor. I glanced up at the door. I would be willing to swear that the wards were undisturbed, that no one had entered while I was asleep. I gathered the paper and laid it out on the floor. It was a Daily Prophet, dated May 3rd. Apart from that, the box was empty.

A transfer box, it must be. Aberforth had arranged it so that he could stay in contact as well as knowing my location. Part of me wanted to fill it with rocks and sink it off the island, but I had to know where I stood. I looked at the paper.

If it had been the special speaking edition for the blind, the headline would have been screaming. As it was, the huge black letters took up most of the front page above the fold. VOLDEMORT DEFEATED. I sighed with relief. So it was over. My hands shook, so I flattened the paper on the floor and read.

Yesterday, in a clash already being called 'The Battle of Hogwarts,' the Dark wizard formerly known as He Who Must Not Be Named (hereafter the DWFKAHWMNBN) arrayed his forces surrounding the ancient school and demanded the surrender of the Boy Who Lived, Harry Potter. The valiant defenders inside refused to bargain with the forces of darkness. The siege of the school continued for hours, finally ending when the DWFKAHWMNBN produced the supposed corpse of the BWL and declared his victory. However, in a stunning moment, Harry Potter rose again to kill and defeat the DWFKAHWMNBN whose forces were then quickly routed. Details are still emerging…

The rest was hyperbole and useless speculation. I had expected the adulation of Potter as a hero, but this – I had to read the last sentence several times. He had lived. Somehow the Boy Who Lived lived again, and that could only mean that a horcrux lived with him. Hadn't he looked at my memories? Damn him, if only I had found him a little earlier. If I hadn't been too late I could have shown him properly, I could have convinced him to pay attention.

Of course he hadn't paid attention, he had simply "killed" the Dark Lord, and now, and now I would have to… I was promptly sick on the floor. The idiot, I would have to kill him. I damned the Dumbledore who had come up with the plan and I damned the Dumbledore who had told me it was all over. Most of all, I damned myself that I couldn't think of any way to remove a horcrux. Of course it wasn't over; it could never be so easy. I had to go back and finish it. I didn't want to. I cleaned up the sick, casting with a shaking hand.

The room seemed worse than a cell now. I had to get out, away from that paper, away from the sleeping bag, all of Albus' and Aberforth's dreadful plans for me. Was that why he had trapped me here? To be sure he could call on me to finish the job? What was the password? If Aberforth had set it… suddenly it came to me. "Last call," I said. The door opened.

I found myself blinking in dim greenish light at the bottom of a steep concrete stairway. The treads were crumbling at the edges and littered with debris. There was a distant rushing noise from above, but no human sound. I picked my way up the steps warily. At the top I was in a tiny concrete box of a room with a low square opening opposite me. I ducked through. I was in a sort of open courtyard, all grown over with trees buckling the concrete-slab floor. The opening I had come through was tucked beneath a crumbling staircase that reached the top of the three-meter walls around.

I pushed my way through the branches to find that the courtyard opened out into a sort of concrete trough littered with leaves and overhung with trees in late spring dress. The light was silvery and weak, either early morning or dusk. It was strange not to know which. The vague rushing noise settled into the unmistakable sound of waves; the light breeze carried the rank smell of low tide. I must be close to a shore.

The walls of the trough had crumbled down in places, broken by questing tree roots. One end led out under a square arch. I could see the gray ocean beyond. I followed the sight out under the arch and down the rocky shore. The waves were breaking lightly on the shingle, then drawing back through the rocks with a hiss. I stepped carefully between clumps of slippery weed on crunching mussel shells and barnacles until I reached the edge of the receding tide.

I watched it for a while, half-hypnotized by the swells. There were dim shapes out across the water: other shores? The light wasn't strong enough to tell. Though the seaweed and smell didn't leave any doubt, I dipped my fingers in the frigid water and tasted the salt. The noise of the water was calming me a bit. Whatever I had to do, it wasn't now. For now, all I could to do was find out where I was. I turned back to the trees to fix the spot in my mind, then began to follow the shore.

Rounding the headland, I came to a narrow neck bordered on one side by a brackish marsh, with scrubby shore on the other. A tiny brick hut stood abandoned and roofless in the middle of the neck; a gravel path led away from the hut up to a tree-covered rise. I ducked into the empty hut and disillusioned myself. If there was a cleared path, there could well be people, even if everything I had seen so far had been abandoned. I started up the path, hoping it finally bring me some clue as to my location.

The light was getting stronger as the path leveled through a pleasant open woodland and sumac scrub. It must be morning. The trees opened on a very strange view. An enormously fat black rabbit hopped away from me into the brush as I stepped out into a narrow clearing beneath a tall shear concrete wall, streaked with white mineral deposits and set into the hillside. Staircases climbed to the top of the wall at intervals and dark empty doors and passages led into the recesses of the hill. I couldn't make much sense of it: the grass of the path was short and well-traveled, but these strange buildings were clearly crumbling and abandoned.

I approached the nearest doorway cautiously. A hominem revelio confirmed that there was no one nearby, so I cast a lumos and entered. The rooms inside were empty concrete, with strange troughs and indentations molded into the walls and floors. A very bright red and blue bit of plastic wrapper in a dusty corner caught my eye. I picked it up and flattened it. Rocket Pop. It had a picture of a rather obscene-looking ice on the front. I started to read the back: high fructose corn syrup, artificial cherry flavor, guar gum, malic acid, modified cellulose, red 40, blue 1. God, it was worse than Wolfsbane. Albus would have loved it, in all probability. It did tell me I was in an English-speaking country. The "Distributed by Joe Lowe Company of New York" told me I was probably in the States. I doubted any other country would willingly import this rubbish.

I passed through several rooms before emerging back out onto the path, which led me through woods interspersed with other empty structures and finally deposited me on another sloping shingle. This one had a wooden pier and a notice board. A large blue-and-white sign on the dock proclaimed "Lovells Island."

The notice board was more helpful. It let me know of several rules I had been violating, especially camping overnight without a daily permit (available for purchase somewhere called Georges Island). It also told me that I was in the Boston Harbor Islands National Park, and most helpfully of all, it gave me a map.

The abandoned structures were apparently part of an old military installation, out of use since the 1940s. My current residence was part of Battery Terrill, at the furthest point from the dock at this end of the island. I was only about seven miles from the city of Boston. The island was served by a ferry twice a day, but only on weekends until summer, and after that there would be weekday service as well. Clear enough, if I had any inkling of the date or the day of the week.

My body was still unused to all the physical activity. I was beginning to feel tired. I sat by the pier for an hour watching the tide turn and the sky brighten. There wasn't any rush. I had to go back and finish it, true, but at the moment I could do nothing. I was far out of apparition range and I had no other means of transport. Just now there was nothing to do. I began to make my way slowly back to my sanctuary. I struck out a smaller path through the woods and ruins. Why did people come to visit this place? It was just a lot of relics of some pointless war. Completely useless.


A/N: Thank you for reading, and thanks to all my reviewers, it's greatly appreciated!

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