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From the Ashes

‘Harry.’ Hermione’s greeting cut through the silence like one of the special Japanese kitchen knives Uncle Vernon had gifted Aunt Petunia over the summer.

‘Hermione.’ Harry smiled.

She looks just the same. He recalled his piggish cousin explaining to his lackey, Piers Polkiss, that girls suddenly turned into beautiful women in their teens and his smile stretched a little further. It had sounded rather like Dudley expected it to happen overnight like some odd, human caterpillar. No doubt his understanding was based off an extremely limited experience of girls and one too many adult magazines.

Hermione’s bushy hair, worried lip, and disproportionate teeth made a beeline for Harry at remarkable speed. 

Dudley would be baffled, by his logic, she ought to have become a beautiful buttefly by now. Harry pictured his cousin’s gaping mouth, piggy eyes, and extra chins with a chuckle. She wouldn’t be Hermione without those little things, just like Ron wouldn’t be himself without his freckles, and Harry wouldn’t be Harry without his glasses.

‘How has your summer been? Have you started studying? What are your classes? Have you dropped divination yet?’ Hermione’s questions rushed at him at Firebolt speed.

Harry blinked. ‘It was okay, actually.’ He struggled to remember the other questions, but couldn’t recall picking them out of the sudden barrage of words.

Perhaps I’ve spent a little too long in my own company, this summer. Still, it was better than being Aunt Petunia’s garden-slave.

‘And your classes? Divination?’ Hermione pressed. 

Harry took a couple of steps back. ‘Runes, arithmancy, and yes, I dropped divination.’ 

She opened her mouth. 

‘Trelawny was starting to run out of original predictions for my death.’

Best to keep my summer of study to myself. I’m not mentally prepared for a Hermione tirade right now.

‘Harry! Don’t you know you can’t take fourth year runes or arithmancy without knowing the third year course?’ Hermione shook her head and gnawed her lip. ‘You really should have checked, now you’ll have to study to catch up or join the third years. You should have studied in the summer.’

‘I’m sure I’ll find a way,’ Harry said. 

Focus and intent. That’s the way. He smiled. It’s a miracle I managed much magic before this summer. I barely had any idea what I was doing.

Hermione gnawed at her lip. ‘Well, I can help you a bit. I know all the stuff you’ll need to know and I’m comfortably far enough ahead to spare some time.’ She glanced around. ‘Where are the Weasleys?’

‘Attempting to pack, I think.’ Harry caught her eye and grinned.

She sighed. ‘Ron…’

‘Harrikins!’ One – seemingly nobody could really tell which – of the twins called down the stairs, then the entire Weasley family was around him, chattering away.

Loud. Harry eyed the elbows and hands brushing against him and hunched himself in. Is it me, or did they get louder over the summer?

‘Is everyone here?’ Mrs Weasley bustled around, pausing before a bleary-eyed, dishevelled Ron. ‘Honestly, Ronald.’ She straightened his collar and sighed. ‘Percy was ready before you and he’s not even interested in Quidditch.’

‘Time to go.’ Mr Weasley shuffled out of the huddle and yawned. ‘Don’t want to be late.’

The group surged forward in a whirl of motion and a blur of noise that swirled round Harry until they were seated again.

‘Bulgaria will win,’ Ron declared as Harry leant in to at least appear to be joining in one of the conversations around. ‘Krum’s brilliant.’

‘We disagree Ronnikins. Far be it from us to dispute the talent of the mighty Krum–’

‘–but our money is on the Irish.’

‘Technically, George, our money is on the Irish and Krum,’ the other twin, presumably Fred, said.

‘Very true, George, very true. Ireland to win, but Krum to catch the snitch.’ 

Apparently they’re both George today. Do they even consider one of the names as their own, or just use both.

‘I still think Bulgaria will win it,’ Ron said. ‘Krum will get the snitch long before the Irish can score that many points.’

‘Stop fighting,’ Ginny hissed. ‘The teams are coming out.’

She spoke in front of me.

The Bulgarian cheerleaders strode out onto the field like they’d stepped straight from one of the American high school drama shows Dudley gawped at in his room when he thought his parents weren’t watching. 

Only those cheerleaders don’t move like these ones. Harry stared down at the parade as they began to dance.. They don’t have silver hair that makes you want to run your hands through it, lips that look soft and sweet as sugar, or eyes as bright as stars. 

A hush fell over the crowd. The dance continued into the silence a blurred swirl of silver and pale skin.

Harry leant forward. ‘If I stood up, would they see me?’ he murmured. ‘Would they notice?’

But I hate attention. A little voice piped up in the back of his head. Harry fancied it sounded a little like Ginny.

It would be nice for them all to respect you, though. The voice’s second statement sounded smooth, light, and strangely familiar.

‘Tom Riddle…’ Harry leant back from the edge and hunched into his seat.

The cheerleaders dance stilled, the noise of the crowd swelled, and the two sets of players burst into stadium.

The Quidditch World Cup final commenced in a blur of motion. Harry snatched his omnioculars out of his lap. The green and gold blurs turned into a trio of Irish chasers. Harry focused on the distant figure of Krum. The Bulgarian seeker drifted apart everything below, free as any bird, and a smile crept onto Harry’s lips.

Krum swivelled and plummeted out of sight. The crowd roared. Something caught Harry on the cheekbone. His glasses slipped from his nose and the omnioculars sailed into the rows below.

Where did my glasses go this time? If only I could summon them without getting a silly warning for underage magic.

Harry peered under his chair and caught a glimpse of reflected light from the very back. He stretched an arm under, but the glint of light hovered just beyond his fingertips. He tugged his wand from his pocket and hooked them into reach. A swathe of scratches covered the lenses. 

Inevitably. He repaired them with a wordless tap of his finger. Guess it was a thing I slept on them after all. Even if I had to spend three days figuring out how to use magic without a wand.

Harry slipped his wand into his sleeve and shot a glance at Hermione. Her eyes were fixed on the game, her lips pressed into a thin, white line.

Good, she didn’t see. If she had, I’d not see her until she figured it out herself.

He tracked her glare to the referee, who’d stopped to dance and flex his muscles in front of the Bulgarian cheerleaders.

He’s a terrible dancer. Harry laughed. He’s going to be very embarrassed when he snaps out of it.

‘They’re veela,’ Hermione whispered. ‘I haven’t really read about them, but I did come across a reference in a potions books about amortentia.’

He raised an eyebrow. ‘Isn’t that a love potion, Hermione?’

Hermione turned scarlet and Ginny flushed as red as her hair. ‘Harry, be serious,’ the bushy-haired witch hissed. ‘Veela have the ability to charm most men. They look like very attractive women, but they’re not completely human. They’re trying to cheat by charming the referee!’

Harry threw another, longer glance in the direction of the Bulgarian team’s cheerleaders. A faint thrill shot through him, but he took a deep breath and forced it down. ‘Interesting. I’m still curious why you were reading about amortentia, though?’

Hermione huffed and turned away to speak to Ginny. 

He smiled. For someone who likes to know everything about what I’m up to, she doesn’t like to share half as much.

Harry leant back in his seat again and pictured a small circle of blank ink on a white page until the crowd noise and flashes of motion drifted into the background and his heartbeat slowed.

A massive roar rose from the crowd, shattering his focus. Ron surged to his feet, his elbow missed Harry’s glasses by half an inch. Harry stumbled to his feet.

Viktor Krum hovered over the stadium, his strong jaw and brows set in a determined frown and one hand raised above his head. Harry fancied he could just make out the twitching wings of the snitch within his grasp.

He looks quite pissed for someone who just caught the snitch. Harry glanced at the scoreboard. Oh, they still lost.

The veela cheerleaders danced on. Ludo Bagman shouted the result over the crowd and their celebrations froze. Feathers sprouted along their arms, their eyes widened and turned dark, lips and chins elongated into curved, sharp beaks.

Not completely human at all.

‘Time to head back to the tent, Arthur,’ Mrs Weasley said. Her husband nodded, one eye still on the veela.

Blue flames appeared in the hands of some of the cheerleaders and a heated scuffle broke out between the match officials and the enthralled referee.

They staggered down steep steps that seemed to stretch on far further than Harry recalled walking up. He voiced his thought aloud.

Hermione turned, the glint of knowledge in her eye. ‘It’s a very clever space manipulation spell. You put your feet on a step and the space is stretched upwards so you actually go up much farther than you think. It’s like a tiny magical escalator for each step.’

‘Means an awful lot of different sets of steps for different levels though,’ Ron groused.

‘It’s brilliant, Ron.’ Hermione’s tone sharpened.

Lecture time. Harry concealed a sigh beneath his breath and let a flood of arithmancy and runes wash over him. Still, some of it makes sense now, so at least my summer study has been useful for something.

Hermione’s barrage of information continued until they found themselves back at the Weasleys’ tent.

‘So you do need to breath,’ Harry quipped into the brief silence. ‘I was beginning to wonder.’

Hermione’s lips crooked. ‘This tent is another fascinating use of spacial expansion, Harry. Kind of like what you see in Doctor Who.’

‘In what?’ Ron squinted at Hermione and Harry in turn. ‘Is this another weird muggle thing?’

‘Look at all this, Harrikins.’ The twins waved fistful of gold under Harry’s nose as they passed. ‘Bagman bet against our prediction, gave us good odds too.’

‘It ought to be enough now, Fred,’ the twin wearing the jumper emblazoned with the letter G crowed.

‘Indeed it should, George.’ His twin shovelled handfuls of gold from their pockets into their trunks. ‘Best get it out of sight before mum comes and sees we’ve been gambling, though.’

Harry snorted and moved in the direction of his bed. Fireworks exploded and screeched above the tents as the Irish celebrations.

It’s loud again. Harry slipped past Ron and Hermione’s squabble, then sidestepped Percy’s sermon on the shortcomings of the absent Bertha Jorkins and settled down on the cot.

Despite the noise, sleep came to tug at him, drawing him down from scattered thoughts into the dark.

Something shook at his arm and he jolted upright with a cold rush of adrenaline.

‘Harry,’ Mr Weasley hissed. ‘We need to leave now. Get Ron and Hermione and get out of the camp. Stay together.’

He stared at Mr Weasley’s grim face, then nodded and fumbled for his and his wand.

Ron was by the entrance of the tent with Hermione. Their pale faces peered out into the camp a thin slit at the door.

‘Come on, Harry,’ Hermione whispered, tugging at his arm. 

His skin prickled beneath her fingers, and he frowned and pulled his arm away. Screams echoed from close by.

They fled from the tent toward the woods, caught in a tight, torrent of panicked people. Smoke hung over burning tents in the camps’ centre. It drifted over them on a strong breeze, thick and sour enough to choke Harry’s breath. He ducked down and scuttled through the crowd toward a glimpse of green trees.

Flashes of light threw eerie shadows against the veil of smoke and the dull echo of explosions rang over the roar of the flames. 

‘Harry!’ Hermione’s shouts pierced the smog. ‘Where are you?!’

Something hit him hard in the side of the head and everything went dark in a flash of white sparks.

Warmth seeped into his cheek. It turned from warmth to heat, then grew hotter and hotter against his skin. Harry flinched. A sticky something cracked on his face and his glasses slipped down his nose.

Harry hauled himself to his feet. A thick, strong tang of smoke filled his mouth. Flames engulfed the line of tents a few metres from his face. A swirling mass of pitch-black smoke obscured the rest of the camp.

I hope Hermione and the Weasleys are ok. He staggered toward the trees. Thick, soft, warm grey ashes carpeted the ground and swirled out of the sky like snow. What on earth caused this? A dragon? He peered round for movement, but everything was still and grey. As long as it’s not Voldemort or dementors again. I’d rather it was a dragon than them, dragons are fine so long as you leave their eggs be, and I’m not Hagrid.

Harry strode through an unnatural, soft silence. The ash fell and muffled everything like he’d stuck his fingers in his ears. Hot embers seared his feet through the soles of his shoes and the charred remnants of furniture or worse crunched beneath his heels. The sound seemed loud as thunder claps in the eerie, still silence.

A flash of light blinded him and something hissed over his head.

Harry twisted about and slipped his wand from his sleeve. Two sickly purple spells streaked toward him. He threw himself to one side and rolled in the ash, catching a glimpse of a thin, almost skeletal wizard draped in black robes.

‘Lacero,’ the robed wizard croaked. Another purple curse flashed at him.

Harry dived behind one of the awful looking mounds of ash and the curse sailed away into the smoke.

‘I must remain unseen and behave,’ the wizard muttered. His wand snapped up and unleashed another trio of curses.

They tore through Harry’s makeshift shield and grazed his left arm.

‘Expelliarmus!’ Harry’s spell ricocheted of a glowing barrier into the ash and sputtered out.

‘Stay unseen.’ The wizard’s tone was detached and distant. His wand hand trembled and he dug the fingers of his free hand into his temples so hard his knuckles turned white and blood trickled down his face. ‘No.’ The skeletal wizard’s voice shifted hoarse and cruel. ‘The Dark Lord will reward me beyond all others.’

Of course it was Voldemort somehow. There better not be more dementors, too.

‘Expelliarmus.’ Harry thrust his wand out. 

The spell dissipated on the same shield.

His opponent cackled. ‘Crucio,’ he crooned.

A red curse tore past Harry’s ear.

‘I’m free! Free!’ His cackle warbled like a cracking radio. ‘When I take you to the Dark Lord I will be his most trusted servant! Loftier than Lucius! Greater than Goyle! Better than Bellatrix!’

He’s more mad than Quirrel.

A second red curse hissed past. The third caught him on the arm. White-hot fire wracked Harry’s body and he collapsed into the hot embers, curling up around the pain.

‘I am his most loyal follower.’ The mad wizard raised his wand again, its tip glowing crimson.

No. Harry’s gaze caught on the tip of that wand like a fish on a hook. A garbled mess of images flitted through his head. The tattered capes of the dementors, Voldemort’s red eyes and chalky skin, Pettigrew’s snivelling face, and the maw of the basilisk. A shard of ice tightened somewhere near his heart. 

‘Why can’t you all just leave me alone!’Harry slashed his wand at the Death Eater.

The ash swirled against the wind.

The mad wizard cackled. Flakes of ash dusted his thin face and limp, light hair, then a vast, ebony serpent lunged out of the smoke. Its fangs crunched around the Death Eater’s chest, crushing the wizard into the ground, then it vanished in an explosion of hot smoke.

Harry tottered, seized by a deep, numb ache .

The mad wizard lay still.

Harry edged close, his wand outstretched and shaking.

The wizard’s ribcage was shattered. Bright, gleaming points of bone poked from black tatters and a gaping spread of red something. A thick, foul stench filled Harry’s nose. He gagged and pressed his face into the crook of his elbow.

He’s dead. He searched all around him. That can’t have been my spell. I don’t know any magic like that!

The smoke swirled round him. The ash floated down, covering the wizard’s corpse in a thin, pale sheet.

Harry stumbled a few paces away, then slumped to the ground. It was me. It had to gave been me. Nobody else has seen a basilisk since Tom Riddle and Moaning Myrtle. 

‘Maybe it was Myrtle.’ A thin, high-pitched laugh burst from his lips.

The ash buried his legs, soft and warm as a blanket. Harry wrapped his arms around his knees and hunched into himself.

I think I’ll just stay here for a bit.

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Published inA Cadmean VictoryFanfiction Stories

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