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Chapter 26 : The Hunt is On
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― Ernest Hemingway
26. The Hunt is On
As they neared the opening of the tent, the men inside could be heard arguing.
"We have no money and can't pay," said one man.
"The payment will have to wait," said another.
Razvan could be seen looking down on the men with a scowl on his face. Harry had the hood on his parka pulled over his head as he, Ron, and Lance entered the tent. The three of them moved around the crowd in the center and roughly formed a triangle around Razvan. Harry had the black wand in his left hand as he peered under the hood to get a glimpse of Razvan. Razvan's gaze had now lifted and he was looking around suspiciously as Harry threw back the hood. Razvan's steely grey eyes darted around the room. Clearly Ron's ginger hair stood out in contrast, as did Lance's straw colored locks. Razvan quickly took this in and then turned to look hard at Harry. You could see the recognition sweep across his face. There would be no time for words of warning, Harry thought. Before he could utter the words, the dark wizard would attack or disapparate away. Harry had a firm grip on both wands now. Razvan's steely grey eyes were locked on Harry as each waited for the first move. Razvan's head clearly towered above the Roma men surrounding him. It made a good target.
"STUPIFY!" Harry yelled the curse as he jerked up the wand. The curse flew straight toward Razvan's head. The muttering of a counter curse came just as quickly, as the wolf-head staff came up a few inches and slammed down on the ground. A silvery bubble of defensive energy exploded outwards to parry the curse. The explosion of the defensive spell sent the Romas closest to Razvan flying. With men falling back like dominoes, Harry, Ron, and Lance were struggling to free themselves from the pile. Another explosion shortly followed, and the roof of the tent was partially blown away as Razvan disapparated to safety.
"Well that didn't go so well," said Ron as he dusted himself off.
"We need the hounds – quickly," Harry said making his way around the fallen men to get out of the tent. They quickly made their way back to Horace and the hounds.
"We've jumped him – over by the tent," Harry said, almost out of breath.
"Let's get over there before the others ruin the scent," Horace said as he took the lead of the chocolate colored tracking hounds. "Grab the Calygreys," he said motioning to Lance. Harry snatched up his rucksack as they hurried to the spot where Razvan had been standing. The eyes of the Roma men were as wide as saucers as the Calygreyhounds entered the room.
"These people will need serious memory modification," said Ron.
"I'm sure Quixwood planned for it," Lance said smiling.
"The hounds have the scent – let's get ready." Horace said as the two tracking hounds were fidgeting nervously. Lance held the Calygreyhounds and Horace had the reins of the tracking hounds. Harry and Ron completed the link of hands in the center. The hounds were baying loudly at the heavens and tugging on the reins as they were eager to bolt. Horace quickly checked the group for locked hands and tugged at the leash three times. With a whoosh they were instantly yanked through a tube of apparition. Spiraling in a knot of confusion they finally settled down in a large meadow somewhere in the foothills of the mountains. They all stood there motionless and looking into the blackness of the night for any sign of Razvan. There was knee high grass in the meadow sloping down to a small wood just visible in the dim light. The tracking hounds were sniffing around for any scent of Razvan. The grass, mostly yellowed by the cool fall weather was damp and fragrant. The Calygreyhounds were staring and fixed upon a corner of the meadow which was mostly shaded from the dim moonlight. Their cat-like eyes were straining to penetrate the darkness. They began to growl in a deep guttural cat-like voice.
"They're on to something," Horace whispered.
"Should we let them go?" Harry asked, and Horace nodded. He took the leads from Lance and unsnapped the leads from the collars. The hounds bolted from sight within seconds. The sound of them tearing through the long grass could be heard for some time. As the sound of their running put them close to the dim corner for the meadow, a green jet of light illuminated the darkness. As the curse illuminated the field, the hound could be seen dodging the curse easily. The green jet of the curse exploded harmlessly along the ground and the growls of both hound became furious. Another spell of silvery light could be seen erupting from the wizards staff as one of the hounds was about to find his target. The hound collided with the shield charm and fell back. Chloros, the lighter of the hounds was breaking into a full gallop and making a flanking charge at the wizards neck. The rate of closure was incredible. Just before his attack could find home, the swoosh of disapparition could be heard. Horace headed straight away to the spot where the wizard had been standing. He called the Calygreyhounds and gave them each a treat and patted their cat-like heads affectionately.
"So they can dodge the killing curses?" Ron asked.
"Oh yeah, we train them with stinging jinxes," said Horace.
The two tracking hounds sniffed the ground where the wizard had been standing. After a few moments their heads shot up as if to sniff the sky itself.
"They can smell the magic of disapparition," Horace said. Baying at the sky, and tugging at the magical leashes, they were eager to have another go.
On the next jump, they entered a rock strewn plateau on the side of a mountain. From the reaction of the hounds, Razvan had immediately disapparated to add an element of confusion. Within minutes, the tracking hounds picked up the trail and were once again baying at the sky.
They had jumped Razvan a number of times and could do no better than the first engagement. At one landing, Razvan immediately fired curses as they materialized on a narrow moonlit mountain ledge. They barely had time get their wands out in time. Harry cast a strong shield charm with the black wand while the others managed to get off stunning curses. The last jump of the evening put them down along a nice mountain meadow served by a generous stream.
"This would be a nice spot to camp," Horace said. "If the tracking hounds get a good smell of him, we'll have no trouble picking him back up tomorrow."
Lance and Ron looked at each other as if strongly considering Horace's advice to make camp.
"What do you think Harry? Had about enough for one night?" Ron asked.
Harry looked at Ron, then Lance and said nothing. He dropped his head and finally nodded reluctantly.
"We'll get an early start tomorrow," he said and walked away.
Harry had the tent out of the rucksack and magically erected within a few minutes. Lance was putting finishing touches on a decent campfire. Ron could be heard making the protective enchantments while walking around the perimeter of the camp and waving his wand in the air.
"That ought to do it Ron. Don't think we're in too much danger with the hounds here," Harry said, staring in the fire. Horace had finished tending to the hounds and was warming his hands by the fire.
"It's gonna get cold tonight – that's for sure," he said.
Lance and Ron seemed to be enjoying the camping trip and were sitting on a large log pulled up to the fire.
"So, when will he use that Hellhound, we've read about?" asked Lance.
"No idea," Ron said. "Maybe he already has," he added.
"You haven't seen the Hellhound yet. Not by a long shot," Harry added, and then turned back toward the fire.
"He may be able to summon him. We've heard of things like that in the outback," said Lance.
"Yeah, that's possible. We'll see him soon enough," Harry added.
"You did bring food, in the rucksack?" asked Ron.
"There's plenty Ron."
The remainder of the evening was quiet with no incidents of any kind. They prepared a quick meal and sat quietly now by the camp fire. There was a dampness in the air, and Harry had forgotten what it was like camping in the open. They had covered a lot of ground, and there was a muddy and earthy smell on their boots and clothes and everything around them. The out of doors also reminded him of Sandy's terrace, but he did his best to block the thought. Thinking of how difficult the next day could be, he decided to turn in and stood up stretching his arms and legs. The night air was already very cold.
"We've got a long day ahead of us tomorrow," he said flatly and disappeared into the tent.
Horace was the first to wake and had coffee brewing by the fire.
"Suns coming up. We better get moving," he said.
There was a few grunts and groans by Ron and Lance as they struggled to get moving. Harry rolled out of the bunk and hit the floor.
Slowly they moved, but finally got on enough clothes to join Horace by the fire. A strong breeze was blowing and Horace had to adjust the fire.
"Barely light, and already a good breeze. We'll have some wind today that's for sure," said Horace. They all took in a quick cup of coffee and prepared to break camp.
"Do we have time for a quick meal?" Ron asked.
"We better get moving. The trail is already eight hours old. Maybe we can stop for lunch Ron," Harry said while stuffing the rucksack. Ron flashed a sour face and stomped off toward the tent to get dressed. Within minutes they were completely dressed, packed and ready to resume the hunt. It took a little while for the tracking hounds to pickup the trail. Horace had marked the spot the night before, but they still had to go through the whole ritual of smelling and sniffing. They sniffed and pawed the ground to get the earth scent. Finally, they had the smell of magic left in the air by the use apparition by Razvan. They quickly joined hands and made ready for the jump. When the hounds started the bellowing holler that was the familiar signal to go, Horace snapped the leash three times. Immediately the team was hurtling through space toward an unknown target.
They settled down in the dark and mature wood of a large forest. It reminded Harry of the Forbidden Forest at Hogwarts. Not knowing what could be hidden behind a tree, they stood very still and looked hard into the avenues and depths of the forest.
"There's too many places to hide," said Horace. "We should release the Calygreyhounds," he added.
"Yeah, that sounds like the thing to do," Harry said nodding. Horace took the leash from Lance and unsnapped the hooks. The hounds went tearing into the forest. They moved in a roundabout manner and scurried routinely through most of the forest visible from their position. Suddenly they bolted and ran full speed over a small rise to disappear. Moments later they heard sounds of a struggle, and wildcat growls, and finally a deathly silence.
"Sounds like they got something!" said Ron.
"Yes, it does," Horace added, and they all pulled their wands and walked as quickly as they could to the top of the rise. Lance got there first followed by Ron and then Harry. They stood there looking in disbelief. Horace topped the rise and looked down to what his hounds had done. He sat down with his back to a tree and chuckled.
"Well, we can skip breakfast, but I guess they couldn't."
The Calygreyhounds had caught a red deer and were ripping the skin off the hindquarters to get at the meat.
Harry shook his head and sat down to join Horace by the tree.
"Might as well try and find something to snack on," he said, and took off the rucksack and tossed it to Ron. The Calygreyhounds finished up with the deer and Ron finished some snack-food he found in the rucksack. Horace had taken the tracking hounds to find the trail.
"It looks like he left on foot. We've got some walking to do," Horace said as Harry, Lance, and Ron caught back up with him at the top of a hill. Looking down at his watch, Harry could see they had lost most of the morning.
"We better get going then."
They walked along a cold and windy ridge for over two hours. The tracking hounds were showing a higher level of excitement as they quickened their pace along the ridge. Several hundred meters ahead stood a small grove of trees where the ridge ended in a point. It looked like a good hiding place and they took out their wands out and approached the grove cautiously. The tracking hounds were already baying as they entered the grove along a little trail. Horace was struggling to hold the hounds from rushing in. They looked intently between every tree and every nook the wizard might be waiting. Finally Horace let the Calygreyhounds loose to scour the area. They quickly returned and Horace returned them to the leash.
"Harry, look at this," Lance called out. There was a tree where several square feet of bark had been torn off, exposing the pearly white wood beneath. Burned into the wood, the wizard had left a note.
Did you enjoy the walk
Welcome to my country where you may
find it not as soft as the Abbey grounds
Things will be much harder for you now
You should never have come
Harry took a look at the note and turned away in disgust.
"Yeah, right. Things will be getting a harder for you too," he said, speaking to the tree. "Let's get ready to go."
"Look at these tracks," said Horace, looking at a damp spot on the ground.
"It looks like wolf tracks," said Ron.
"Looks like he's got the Hellhound," Harry said. "Remember what Beollan said. Don't look at eyes for more than a second."
They quickly apparated to a new spot, and then another, and another, but the dark wizard managed to give them the slip on each occasion. The cold air and strong winds were taking their toll. Everyone was tired. Even the Calygreyhounds were dropping their heads. Only the tracking hounds were eager to continue.
"Looks like we're a day late and a dollar short," Horace said.
"Do they ever stop, the hounds?" Ron asked Horace.
"No never. Not until they catch what they're after."
"Well, we'll have to," Harry said looking at the sun settling below the mountain tops. "Can they resume the trail tomorrow morning?"
"If we get up early, I think so – yes."
"Good. You lot – you ready to make camp?" he asked Ron and Lance.
Ron and Lance nodded their approval.
They all helped setup camp as before and prepared an adequate meal, as they not eaten properly all day. Horace was first to pull a log up by the fire, and extracted a burning stick from the fire to light his pipe.
"Where on earth did you find the tracking hounds Horace?" Ron asked.
"I didn't. They were a gift to us from a small country in the middle east, I think."
"They certainly are special."
"They're magical Laelaps – or at least we think they are."
"Have they ever failed to catch what they're after?" Ron asked, now extremely curious.
"No, not that I know of," Horace replied after a long pull on the pipe.
"Well, I hope this wind gives up," Lance said, drawing a little nearer to the fire.
They all were sleeping soundly, when Horace stuck his head in the tent.
"Sun's almost up. We must be getting started." Ron groaned but got out of his bunk, rubbing the sleep out of eyes. Harry and Lance were awake, but had not yet risen. They all got dressed as quickly as they could, while Horace prepared a small breakfast of cold beans.
"It's not much, but it'll have to do," he said.
"It will be fine," Harry said and took a cup of beans. They all ate in silence, and Horace looked around suspiciously.
"We have to get going now – right now!" he said packing up his gear.
"What's the matter?" asked Ron.
"I can smell rain coming" Lance replied.
"Yes, and the trail is hours old. The rain will make it harder for the hounds to continue," Horace added. "We must get started within a few minutes."
Striking camp and stowing their gear, they were ready and assembled into a group within minutes. The tracking hounds were sniffing around the spot where they had stopped the night before. The smell of rain was getting stronger and the first few drops were beginning to fall. The hounds pawed the ground and sniffed some more before turning their noses towards the heavens. With locked hands the group was snatched off the ground by the familiar pull of apparition. They were hurdling through the heavens and the rain clouds. The rain felt cold and thick, and then everything went wet. Totally wet. It was hard to tell at first as to what had happened. Harry felt his grip on Ron's hand slip loose, and he bobbed up to see light. They had landed in a swift mountain stream and were ripping along and trying to regain their senses.
"Let the hound go!" yelled Horace.
"Ascendio!" Lance yelled, and popped out of the stream to land rolling on the bank.
One by one, each using a charm they were familiar with, they plopped out of the water. The long legged and sure footed Calygreyhounds had no difficulty in pulling themselves from the fast moving mountain stream. Gelert and Gytrash however, were confused and struggling against the strong current. Harry quickly ran along the bank and did his best to call them to the side. They didn't respond and were still fighting hopelessly against the strong currents. Looking ahead, Harry could see a terrifying scene. The mountain stream abruptly ended with at a waterfall. The mist of tons of falling water could be seen just beyond the fall. Harry took careful aim as ran as fast as he could to keep up with the quick moving stream.
"WINGARDIUM LEVIOSA!" Harry screamed the spell over the sounds of rushing water. The two hounds immediately popped out of the water and hovered motionless over the stream. Still not out of danger, Harry yelled for the assistance of another wand or two. Lance apparated to the other side of the stream and used a wind blowing charm to push the hounds to a position safely over the ground as Harry released the spell. The two hounds shook the water free from their coats and ran toward Harry. They jumped up with their paws on his shoulders and did every thing they could to lick his face. Ron ran to the scene and Horace was making his way toward them with a noticeable limp. Lance popped back from the other side of the stream. They all stroked the dogs, relieved they hadn't lost them to the falls.
"I think they've found a new friend," Horace said.
"I reckon we've lost the trail?" Ron asked.
"It won't be easy to pick up the scent," Horace explained.
"Well, that was a nice trick," Lance added.
"Yes. He's trying to shake us off the trail," said Harry.
"Or Kill us!" Ron exclaimed.
"Horace, what do we need to do to help find the trail?" Harry turned to ask.
"We'll have to return as close as we can to where we fell in," he said shaking his head. "They may be able to pick it up from the bank."
Leading the hounds back to the spot where they first fell in the water was not as easy as first thought. In all the excitement no one could remember, and everything along the bank and side of the stream looked about the same. Then it started raining again.
"What's the first thing anyone remembers?" Harry asked, and they all scoured up and down the stream for clues.
"I'm pretty sure I saw this tree," Ron said pointing to a large oak, "when I first came up for air."
"How many seconds did it take you to come up and see the tree?" asked Lance.
"Four or five seconds."
"Okay, you stay by the tree Ron," and Lance grabbed a handful of sticks and started walking upstream. Everyone had a puzzled expression, but then Harry seemed to understand. Lance threw a stick in the water from twenty meters from the spot Ron was standing and counted.
"One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four, one thousand five."
The stick had traveled about five meters past Ron's position. Lance went about five paces further upstream and tried again.
"That's about it," said Ron.
"Okay, I'll mark this sport," Lance said poking a stick in the muddy bank. Horace brought the tracking hounds to the spot Lance marked and let the dogs sniff around for a while. Within five minutes they found another spot not far away and were howling at the sky.
After four more jumps, the daylight was fading away and Ron and Lance were ready to call it quits on a cold and rainy day.
"Come on Harry, we'll have better weather tomorrow," pleaded Ron.
"Yeah Harry, we've been at it all day," added Lance
"Well, so has he," Harry said as the frustration was clearly building.
"Maybe a rest would be best Harry. We had a bad start today. Tomorrow should be better," Horace said, leading the dogs away. Ron and Lance started the preparations for camp and said nothing more to Harry. He stood there in silence for the longest time, looking into the sun fall beneath the mountains.
Ron and Lance were working hard to prepare a better meal tonight. The evening was the only time they had to prepare anything close to a genuine meal. They also hoped to improve Harry's mood which had been pretty sour as of late. Opening a tin of roast beef and vegetables, Ron was putting what little spices they had to improve the taste. Horace was flavoring beans with a slab of salt-pork he's found in the bottom of the rucksack. They all enjoyed the meal and a little light conversation. Lance talked about how beautiful the mountains were. Ron asked Horace if he had ever tracked a wizard like this one before. Horace had to admit, Razvan was one of the toughest and most resourceful of any he had followed. Harry sat off to one side of the tent and ate in silence. Occasionally Ron or Lance would leer his way, but made no effort to involve him in the conversation.
Harry had a nasty feeling they might lose Razvan. Never bring him in. That's what bothered him the most. As he looked into the fire and thought of better times, Harry wondered how he had gotten into this mess. He hadn't wanted to join the Ministry when the war ended. All he wanted was time with Ginny, a cold butterbeer and maybe a game of Quidditch. He had no desire to go off after another dark wizard. But then Ginny was attacked – and he had joined the Ministry to help put an end to that kind of thing. But Ginny went away to school, and he got involved with Sandy. Now Sandy had been killed, and he was waiting in the cold mountains of Romania to face another dark wizard. What used to be a heart with hope and happiness was just a dark empty place. And he had stuffed the empty place with as much hate and anger as he could fit into it. He had to face Razvan. He had no real fear of dying – just a fear of failure. But these thoughts were depressing and he didn't want to mention them. No need to bring down the spirits of the team, which were better after the big meal. Besides, tomorrow couldn't be any worse.
The following morning, Horace had a grim announcement. He had twisted his knee trying to fight his way out of the stream. It had swollen twice it's normal size during the night.
"I think this is all for me. Good thing is – the hounds are quite used to you, and you them. I'd only be slowing you down. I'll get back to Quixwood and report on how things have gone so far."
And with that, they had lost a member of the team. Harry's mood was getting darker by the moment. At least the weather was good, he thought. They quickly struck camp and had the hounds ready to resume the trail and make the first jump of the day.
This jump couldn't be any worse than yesterday's, Harry thought as they hurdled through space toward an unknown destination. When they settled down, he instantly realized it was worse. Much worse. They were in the middle of a valley meadow of waist high dried grass. And it was all on fire.
"AGUAMENTI!" They all shouted and generated enough water to keep the hounds from singeing their coats. They kept it up and managed to put out the fire in the spot they were standing. They were almost suffocating from the smoke.
"We got to get of here," Lance said pointing to a nearby hillside, out of harms way of the smoke and fire. Harry nodded, then held up an index finger to plead for a moment of time. He looked around and then took off the rucksack. He began fishing for something and pulled a tin of food and dropped it on the ground. Coughing from inhaling smoke, they joined hands and apparated to hillside Lance had pointed to. They stopped along the hillside and managed to stop coughing after a few minutes.
"We'll stay here until the smoke clears out. No telling how long that will be. We'll rest, sleep if need be and fix another meal," Harry said, looking the smoking valley. "But we're hunting him all night. Stopping at night to rest – that's what's giving him the time to set up all these traps," Harry said with anger showing in his voice.
It was late afternoon before the smoke cleared and hounds could pick up the trail. They went back to food tin Harry had thrown down as a marker. After a few minutes they were assembled as a group and ready to jump again. At the next location, the dark wizard had took off on foot. The Hellhound was working with him now, as the two trails would separate and rejoin at a new position. They followed the trail to another jump spot, then another. Full darkness was on them and Ron was hinting around to make camp.
"You remember our agreement. We keep on the trail tonight," Harry said firmly. And they did. They moved throughout the night. Gelert and Gytrash, the tracking hounds were very excited now. Baying at the fresh scent as soon as they hit the ground. Harry knew they were getting close. On the last jump, a bit of the morning sun could be seen during the highest point along the arc of apparition.
"The sun's almost up," Harry announced. Just minutes later, they would see it again as the hounds had found a new spot and were howling to go again. They joined hands and formed a new line. The tracking hounds were tugging at the leash. Once again, they apparated high into view of morning sunlight and then descended back down into darkness.
It was another trap! They had apparated onto a narrow mountain ledge. On Harry's side, to the right the ledge was a foot or more wide. Even wider for the tracking hounds further to the right. Ron was safe in the middle, but Lance was in trouble on the much narrower left side. The Calygreyhounds with their talon clawed feet were hanging on to the side of the mountain with little effort, but Lance was slipping off the ledge. He was slipping fast and beginning to panic. He pulled his wand out for magical assistance but at the same time completely lost his footing. He dropped his wand as he instinctively reached out with the right hand to grab an overhead ledge. But it was too little, too late, and he went sliding down the mountain screaming.
"ARRESTO MOMENTUM!" Ron yelled and the screaming stopped.
"Thanks Ron," Lance called out from a lower ledge several hundred feet down the mountain.
"Are you alright?" Ron asked.
"I think so, but I can't find my wand."
"Just what we need – Ron go help him find the wand while I tie up the hounds."
"Oh Harry... you want me to go get him?" Ron moaned.
"Well we can't just leave him," Harry countered and then raised a brow as if to consider doing so. Ron shook his head and grudgingly started down the mountain after Lance. The ledge quickly widened on Harry's right and opened up to a large plateau on the side of the mountain. There was a couple of bushy trees where he could tie up the hounds and keep the Calygreyhounds safely away from the tracking hounds as Horace had instructed. Harry was turning to go back and help Ron when he heard something in the bushes behind him.
"Enjoying your Holiday Mr. Potter?"
Harry snapped around with a wand in each hand.
"That is your name – isn't it Mr. Potter. Can't remember what you used in New York."
"You'll have plenty of time to recall it in Azkaban."
"Your Ministry - it's run out of men, so they send a boy with two wands?"
"Well... Boys took care of that last lot sent over to do your dirty work," Harry said as he could feeling the blackness inside of him grow hotter.
"Sorry about your girlfriend. She was your girlfriend – right? Well, no matter. You won't have to suffer her loss much longer."
"So... you got tired of running? Well that's great, because I'm tired of chasing you," Harry spat out the reply and leveled the Holly wand at the wizard's head.
Harry took several steps toward the dark wizard, but kept his back to the ledge so nothing could get behind him. Razvan was still dressed in the long dark coat with the black flop hat and carrying the long staff. The sky was turning a lighter shade of blue and there was just enough light to see him now. The tracking hounds were howling at something from the side of the field opposite Razvan. Harry turned to see two pin pricks of light. Not this time, he thought. He quickly looked away and could feel the black wand pull behind him toward the eyes.
A silvery plume of defensive energy erupted from the black wand to hold the deadly gaze of the Hellhound at bay. He quickly looked back at Razvan and could barely hear the wizards curse.
"EXPELLIARMUS!" And a huge bolt of red energy shot out of the Holly wand to meet the green jet of the killing curse.
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