Chapter 13 : In the Bag
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He wanted to see the beach one last time. It was foolish. He'd dawdled too long already.
He'd taken special care to get Hermione and her parents set comfortably within their room. Hermione had been soon overcome by exhaustion herself, Harry had made her a plush bed out of the couch so that she could sleep well and still be there when her parents awoke. Staring down at her sleeping, peaceful form, he pulled a blanket up to her chest before sweeping the hair back out of her face.
“Goodbye, 'Mione,” he left her with a gentle kiss upon the top of her head.
Somewhere between randomly chucking his loose clothes into his trunk and then shrinking it down to size to fit within his pouch, he'd found himself sitting on the edge of the bed - for who knows how long - stopping to stare at Hermione's things.
So many memories. He knew them now as well as his own. From that first day on the train to here, she'd been forever with him. One he could rely on, one he could count on, one he'd loved... his best friend. But the course of their relationship had now come full circle, culminating at it's climax, and thereby destroying it.
Nothing would ever be the same again. He wasn't going back to school, and with no war or no new challenge to pull them together, there would never be Harry and Hermione again. Just Ron and Hermione... he didn't want to dwell on that.
Light from the coming day already shown on the horizon. It was to be a new dawn. Harry, lost in his thoughts, found himself back at the beach and abandoned his shoes at the end of the board walk as he sank his toes into the sand... just one last time.
And then there, knee deep in the surf was an old fisherman. Perhaps he should find this odd, but he didn't. Harry, undeterred and slightly intrigued, moseyed his way right out, knee deep along side him, unconcerned even by his soaked trousers.
“Good'ay,” the old fisherman rasped, flashing Harry a rotted tooth grin.
“Morning,” Harry casually turned his head away from the disappearing moon to look at this anomaly.
The man was old, with Sun scathed and deeply lined skin. He had a long gray beard and scraggly gray hair that wired it's way down to his shoulders. He was clad only in a pair of short, worn, cut off blue jeans. A strange feeling came across Harry that he knew this man from somewhere...
Harry watched as the old man cast a simple cane pole with a single eye at the end that he fed his string through. An old spool served as his reel.
“Been a good morning,” the old man lifted a short string out of the water with several fish tied to it. “Ya forge' yer pole?” he asked in a deep Australian accent.
Harry chuckled at this, turning back to the red and orange horizon. “No fishing today I'm afraid...”
“Ah, tha's a shame, bitin' good I'm tellin' ya, mate!” the man cast his line back out into the waves.
“That so?” Harry watched his line in the water. “I'm afraid this was my last night here. Thought I would come down to the beach one last time before I left.”
“Eh,” the old man grunted, slowly reeling his line back in. “It's a bloody shame you're leaving that pretty girl behind, she looks like a real keepa'.”
Harry's head snapped towards him. “What..?”
“Ya two looked like you got on well together,” the man repeated. “I've been watching ya.”
The man said it with all casualness as he continued to give his attention to his line, but the underlying statement struck Harry like a two-by-four. There was something ominous about it. Harry turned himself fully to the old man, staring him down, his right hand itching to draw his wand from its waist band. The old man paid Harry's confrontational stance no mind as he continued fishing.
“Where ya headed?” the old man asked conversationally.
“Away,” Harry said without taking his eyes off him. “Don't think I've seen you around here before?” Harry implored.
“Ah, fish really only bite in the mornin's and evenin's. Been working my way up and down this beach.”
Harry didn't know what it was exactly, but he did not like something about this man. “This is a private beach,” he said coldly.
“Ah, no reason to be like that, 'Arry, only wish to do a little fishing...”
Harry had his wand in his hand before the old man finished his sentence, his pulse suddenly pounding as he aimed it at him. The old man did not react, but simply went on with his fishing.
“My name is James.”
“Uh huh,” the old man grunted.
“Who are you?” Harry asked.
“Bart,” the man rasped without hesitation. It was Harry who took pause, choosing his next words carefully.
“How do you know my name, Bart?” Harry bit harshly, gripping his wand tight.
“Not'a hard to spot the famous 'Arry Potter, is it? Your mug's been plastered across all the papers, for how long now?” the man chuckled eerily to himself.
“You're a wizard then?” Harry demanded. The man did not answer, but went on with reeling his empty line back in.
“I asked you a question,” Harry felt his temper flaring.
“I'muh simple fisherman, 'Arry. You've got nothing to fear from me,” the old man said, before having finished reeling the string up, he went about casting it back out. Frustrated, Harry's eyes followed the hook as it seemed to float out with the breeze before plunking back into the water. It was almost at that exact moment that the wizard's spell him him square in the chest.
It was powerful. The mere force of the curse blasted him clean out of the water, sending him splashing down in a heap several meters away. Sinking beneath the waves, Harry struggled between light and darkness, between consciousness and unconsciousness.
Drowning... were his last thoughts before in his haze, he saw the hazy silhouette of the old man through the water above him. As darkness encompassed him, the old man reached his left hand down into the water to choke the drowning Harry about his neck.
The great Harry Potter, defeated without a fight. But no, the old man no more than clenched at his neck then Harry felt him fumbling with the collar of his shirt. There was a sharp pull about his neck as the old man tore something from Harry. He could just make it out as he continued to helplessly sink.
Above the surface, the old man was holding up Harry's pouch. And then he disappeared from view.
“No!” Harry raged in a fury of bubbles. A rush of adrenaline struck him. His pouch! But how could he have known?!
By some miracle, some surge rising from deep within him, Harry took control of his limp limbs, pulling himself together and up out of the water. Upon reaching the surface, he first gasped for air, heaving and choking and coughing, spluttering foolishly about, before looking frantically around for the old man and his stolen pouch. Everything he owned was inside there! Everything...
Harry found himself being rocked alone within the ocean's waves. The old man had vanished entirely, but... Harry could not understand it. He'd never seen anything like it, but just before him... was a scar?
It twitched in a pull of energy, something akin to a force-field. Intrigued, Harry stuck his arm into it and it disappeared right before his eyes, pulling at the rest of his body to follow. Harry let it, sucking him through.
A strong suction pulled him right from his core, like squeezing him through a shrunken tube. It was awkward, like apparation, and just like apparation, Harry was tossed and turned like being driven forward a million kilometers a second until the ride came to a sudden halt and he was abruptly dumped out the other side.
He landed hard, on his back. “Unghh!” Harry grunted from the sudden jolt of it as he crawled to his feet. Disoriented, Harry stumbled around a moment before he could gain his bearings. He had zero clue as to where he was.
It was dark again. With two tall brick walls narrowing in on him from either side, Harry first put together that he was in some alley. He spun around to his rear, his wand drawn... nothing. The alley was lined with dumpsters and trash, but nothing else. Only a car here and there passed out on the street ahead with their lights on. Without a second thought, Harry rushed to it's mouth.
Harry came scrambling out onto the sidewalk of a street, frantically searchingly left, seeing nothing he turned to his right. And right ahead, scuttling down the street was an old man with long grey hair and clad only in short, cut off blue jeans.
Harry's jaw grit with his fist. The arrogant ol' bastard moved with a purpose, but did not bother glancing back over his shoulder to see if he was being followed. To him, Harry was now floating lifelessly in the ocean.
On impulse, he broke in a blind fury, charging at the man as if he were to bulldoze him right down. Their distance closed rapidly. Not twenty meters away, Harry raised his wand, the word “Stupefy” already coming to his lips.
The old man disappeared. Harry came to a screeching halt, his bare feet skidding across the stoned pavement. “Huh?”
The words no sooner left his mouth than he felt a pulse of raw energy erupt from behind him. Harry spun, slashing his wand as fast as he could, shouting “Protego!”
It came to fast, but luckily enough he'd been able to throw up some kind of barrier. It struck him hard though and sent him tumbling back across the rough ground. 'I'm really starting to dislike this old man...' Harry groaned to himself as he struggled to get a grip. The second wave would be coming, and it did.
It happened too fast to think, he wouldn't have time to raise his wand, so Harry simply mimicked the wizard's move, playing the same trick. With his eyes locked onto a newspaper kiosk right down the road, Harry apparated.
He crashed into it hard, sending both he and it tumbling around on the ground a couple of more meters. For the first time he heard the screams of frightened muggles. Of blaring car horns, screeching tires and the crunching of metal of crashing autos.
He was hurt, but he'd think of that later. Drawing all the strength he had left, he once again commanded his aching limbs to pick himself up.
The old man Bart was just before him, though once again with his back to him. Harry saw his wand in his hand now as the old wizard searched desperately back and forth amongst the confusion for him. Harry's trick had worked.
But then Harry was distracted. These buildings... these people... they were... they were foreigners... Indians? He'd left Australia far behind.
“No time!” Harry chastised himself as he witnessed the old man spin on his heels towards him. “Stupefy!” Harry yelled.
The red light burst forth in a fury. All of Harry's anger and madness channeled through it, and not even the shield the wizard had been able to form was enough to save him. The old man was cast somersaulting backwards, his brittle bones cracking from the trauma.
Dark brown skinned people dressed in traditional saris and ghagra's fled in panic in every direction as Harry limped towards the fallen wizard. He kept his wand held out, aimed right for the fallen wizard as he cradled his pained ribs with his other. He wouldn't be taking any more chances.
He grimaced with every pained step forward, but nearly vomited when he finally came upon the old man. It was a ghastly scene.
Lost in a rage when he had cast the spell, not even Harry could have comprehended the devastating force he had unleashed upon the elderly wizard. Now, the wizard lay bent and broken, twisted in an unnatural state.
Harry could hardly stand to look at him, but he could already hear approaching sirens and had to get his pouch and get out of here and fast. There wasn't a moment to waste.
As he knelt over the man, he tried to resist, fearing he'd killed him, but he had to know. Harry glanced to his eyes.
Harry gasped. The wizard's body might have been broken and left useless, his limbs were obviously fractured, he likely had a severed spine, but his eyes... The old wizard's eyes were writhing in their sockets, glaring, not with any hint of pain, but with a murderous hate, right at Harry.
“Kill him!” a dark and cold voice deep within Harry echoed. “Kill him!”
Harry shuttered, unsettled by this sudden rush of brutality. He'd heard this voice before, and it reminded him of that old man back on Privet Drive. As he stared back into those hideous, evil eyes... he nearly cast the spell. But spotting his stolen pouch within Bart's clenched fist, Harry bent over and pried it free.
Just then, the old wizard loosed a horrid, blood curdling scream and a sudden burst of dark energy pulsed out of him, striking, driving through Harry as it went.
Harry was cast back as if indeed some spell had hit him. He saw the coming dawn in the sky above him as the back of his skull popped on the hard pavement, and then... blackness.
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