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Harry stared into the dark, cold water beneath the forked-tongue bridge. ‘Might as well do it now.’
‘You want to do it now?’ Salazar peered at him from where his portrait leant against one of the serpent figurines. ‘It’s the morning.’
‘Does that make a difference to the magic?’ Harry’s tone came out dry as dust. ‘Am I going to get a please leave a message, your magic ritual will get back to you later?’
‘Obviously not.’ Salazar crossed his arms. ‘I thought you might actually have something to do later in the day. I forgot you sulk and skip all your lessons and detentions, troubled, edgy teen that you are.’
Harry chuckled. ‘I go to the ones with Snape. Otherwise Dumbledore might do something even more annoying. No point doing the rest. What’re they going to do, write home to Vernon and Petunia?’ He grinned. ‘I’d love to see that.’
Salazar’s green eyes softened. ‘You’ve more important things to do, it’s true. Very well. Let’s get started.’
Harry slid his wand from his sleeve and summoned his small stash of ingredients out from Salazar’s study. ‘How long will it take?’
‘Not long, depending on how quickly you manage to get the patterns of the ritual perfectly right.’
‘Just enough time before lunch.’ Harry grinned, a knot of apprehension tangling itself into a ball of excitement somewhere down in his gut. ‘Excellent.’
‘You’ll be tired for the rest of the day,’ Salazar said. ‘And I don’t mean the occasional yawn. You’ll feel it.’
‘I’ve only really got one piece of magic I need to perform later today. The DA’s meeting and I need to enchant a piece of paper.’ Harry shrugged. ‘I’ll venture to the hospital wing for a potion or two to keep me on my feet. Madam Pomfrey will patch me up. She always does.’ Harry pulled out the book on rituals. ‘’What do I want? I’m assuming something in patterns of seven, it is the magically strongest number.’
‘Three concentric seven-pointed stars,’ Salazar said. ‘Make them large enough for you to stand in and make sure you get all the runes right. You need to change a few bits from the one in the book to get the balance right.’
‘That’s going to be a lot of blood,’ Harry murmured.
‘Yes. And you’ll have to do it quickly. The ritual needs the blood to be fresh; its effect fades once it has begun to congeal.’
‘I’ll prepare the wormwood and bayberry first, then.’ Harry paused. ‘What do I have to do? Just split them up?’
‘Keep the two types separate and make sure they’re easily recognisable as wormwood and bayberry leaves.’ Salazar pointed at the two jars of leaves with his wand. ‘It helps with the intent if the mental association’s right at the forefront of your mind. Put bayberry at four points of each star and wormwood at the other three. Make sure they’re on the same points for all the stars.’
‘So I just have to draw it all.’ Harry arranged the leaves with a flick of his wand. ‘For something that’s going to have quite a lot of benefit and will be permanent, I don’t really feel I’m sacrificing that much. If it just hurts and costs blood, why doesn’t everyone do it?’
Salazar’s eyes darkened. ‘You’ve sacrificed more than that, Harry, though it helps. Remember how once you were so adamant to be the noble hero and not emulate Tom at all?’
Harry grimaced. ‘I do.’
‘Did it hurt to learn otherwise?’
Harry’s lips twisted. ‘Yes.’
‘And here you are.’ Salazar sighed. ‘Still think you’ve not sacrificed enough?’
‘I suppose I’ve sacrificed quite a lot.’ Harry spun his wand round upon his palm. ‘Strange. Would it’ve worked if you’d not told me?’
‘Maybe not quite as well, but well enough.’ A small, proud smile appeared on Salazar’s face. ‘You’re aware how much you’ve given up compared to others just to survive. And you’re determined to survive. Everything you do has that intent behind it, it will serve you well in every ritual you undergo, for they all share the same ultimate goal and the same great sacrifice. That’s why ordinary wizards and witches cannot do this sort of magic, Harry. It’s rare for anyone to be forced to give up so much and still have sufficient drive to carry on.’
He’s proud of me. A fist of emotion clenched itself tight beneath Harry’s ribs. And it’s really of me, not some false perception of a hero or anything like that.
He studied the leaves by his feet. ‘I guess I should draw everything.’
‘Be careful, Harry,’ Salazar murmured. ‘Especially when you come to make your own changes. The runes will carry slightly different associations to you than they do for me. My corrections can no longer help you, the complexity of the intent has passed beyond that point.’
Harry raised his wand and sketched runes of purple flame into the floor, forming the three concentric, seven-pointed stars. He glanced back and forth between the book and the pattern, tweaking the occasional cluster of runes.
‘That’s as close to perfect as you’ll be able to make it,’ Salazar said. ‘Now you just need to go over the stars with blood and take the plunge.’
He makes it sound so simple. Harry’s stomach churned and his heart picked up its beat, hammering against his ribs. Take the plunge. We can’t look back. We can’t lose Fleur. He took a deep breath and bared his wrist, pressing the tip of his wand into his skin.
‘Here we go,’ he whispered.
Harry drew the tip of his wand across his wrist. His smooth, pale skin parted like water, stinging and burning like basilisk venom in his blood. Crimson welled up, trickling down his arm and swelling to a throbbing gush. Harry grit his teeth and raised his wand, drawing blood from his arm like a ribbon on a stick and tracing the purple runes from start to finish.
A web of magic hung from the tip of his wand, a woven net of intent, ready to be cast.
He mopped sweat off his forehead and raised his arm over his head to lessen the flow. ‘I’m ready.’
‘Tie something around your arm just in case.’ Salazar pointed his wand at Harry’s face. ‘And take off your glasses. You shouldn’t be needing those again.’
Harry conjured a thin piece of black rope and tied it tight round his left bicep. ‘Will I pass out?’ He pulled off his glasses and tossed them away.
‘Probably not.’ Salazar nodded, mimicked by his snake. ‘It will hurt, though. The ritual will exact as much pain as you feel this is worth once everything else has been taken into account.’
Harry released the web of magic and the runes pulsed, turning from deep indigo to bright violet. A vivid crimson light shone at its edges as his blood burst into steam, and the small piles of leaves hissed and exploded into clouds of thick, white smoke.
The smoke stung Harry’s eyes and nose. He squeezed his eyes shut, holding his breath. A blinding white flash seared through his eyelids. The stinging in his eyes crawled deep, like a thousand tiny hooked needles caught within them and a cold tingle wrapped around his feet, creeping up his calves, his thighs, and up to his waist. His muscles numbed as if he stood in ice-cold water.
This is awful. Harry choked down a lungful of smoke as the cold, numb feeling seeped up his neck and into his face. How long will this last?
The burning in his eyes flared into searing flame. Bright white pierced through his eyelids like a lance. Harry pressed his fingertips into his temples and clenched his jaw. His magic drained away like water into dirt, leaving him hollow and gasping.
The fire in his eyes faded. Warmth crept back into his limbs.
Is it done? Harry opened his eyes.
Blackened, bloodied leaf ash surrounded him, and purple runes guttered out on the stones around his feet. The sharp scales of the serpents stretched up to the ceiling in every alcove, and the peeling gold leaf of the titles of the books on the shelves of Salazar’s study glinted through the door.
Harry caught sight of his shattered glasses on the floor. It worked. He vanished the broken spectacles.
‘Did it work?’ Salazar asked.
Harry nodded. Dizziness seized his head and nausea bubbled up in his stomach. He lowered himself to the floor with a thud and took shallow breaths through his nose.
Salazar snickered. ‘Regretting not doing it in the evening?’
Harry let the sickness pass and dragged himself back to his feet. His stomach growled and gnawed at itself. ‘I’m really very hungry. If I could muster the energy to get to the Great Hall for lunch, I’d say I timed it perfectly.’
‘Go to the hospital wing before eating, get the cut on your arm healed, then get some energy back and try to do as little as possible for the rest of the day.’
Harry slid his wand back into his sleeve. ‘I still have to enchant that map.’ He groaned. ‘I might sleep for a week after I’ve done that.’
Salazar folded his arms. ‘I’ll allow you to leave me here for now, if you tried putting me back we’d probably both end up in the pool.’
Harry grimaced and vanished the remnants of his ritual, staggering away across the chamber. Each step back up to Myrtle’s bathroom felt like a mountain and a deep, hollow ache burnt in his legs every time he forced himself a stride further.
The bathroom mirror held a pale, shivering, sweating figure with a blood-soaked left sleeve and a faint, eldritch gleam hovering in Harry’s eyes.
Perfect. He rinsed his face in one of the few sinks that worked and dried it on his clean sleeve. Madam Pomfrey can fix my arm and give me a few things to keep me going long enough to enchant the list. After that, I can sleep.
Harry stumbled from the bathroom and through empty corridors, limbs shaking and burning. He staggered into the hospital wing, his injured arm tucked behind his back.
‘What have you done to yourself now, Mr Potter?’ Madam Pomfrey strode across, pulling her wand out.
‘I think I’ve lost quite a bit of blood,’ he murmured, presenting his injured wrist.
She released a low hiss and ran her wand over him. ‘How did this happen? You’re covered in magic. I can barely tell what’s going on there’s so much!’
Madam Pomfrey cut his tourniquet away and tossed it onto the end of the bed. The cut welled up, crimson swelling in from the edges and trickling from the bottom of the cut down his arm to drip onto the white-tiled floor. She traced the line of the cut with her wand and it crept closed, the flesh knitting back together in the wake of her wand’s glowing tip.
‘Thanks,’ Harry muttered.
‘This was created by magic, Mr Potter.’ Madam Pomfrey’s face twisted into a stern frown. ‘If you aren’t going to tell me how this came about, then I can only assume the worst and deduce you have been duelling in the corridors somewhere!’
Not even close.
Madam Pomfrey slipped her wand away and moved over to one of the cupboards. She rummaged through vials, dropping a collection of dark red ones down onto the bed beneath. ‘You’ll need all of those.’ She gathered the vials of dark red potion and grabbed two more. ‘You’ve lost almost a litre of blood. And these two, one for the pain and one to give you some energy back.’
Harry lowered himself onto the end of the bed. The ache in his legs still gnawed at him, and a deep weight of exhaustion hung off him. ‘Better than two litres.’
Madam Pomfrey jabbed a finger at the potions. ‘Why aren’t you drinking?’
Harry gulped them down one after the other, grimacing at the bitter taste. ‘I feel very liquidy now.’ His stomach sloshed with every movement.
‘If I tell you to stay here, will you actually do it, Mr Potter?’ Madam Pomfrey’s expression softened.
Harry pretended to think about it and grinned. ‘No.’
‘I didn’t think so.’ Madam Pomfrey began tidying up. ‘Honestly, it’s like you have no sense of self preservation. Off you go, then. Make sure you eat something before lunch ends. You’re excused from anything strenuous, magical or otherwise, until the end of the week, and I will be talking to your teachers to make sure that they know.’
I’ve no magic I need to cast in class, anyway. He swung himself off the bed, stomach sloshing, and stumbled onto his feet.
A faint dizziness struck him and the world spun.
His reflection stared back from the window with exhausted eyes.
Better than before, though. I look like I’ve been playing quidditch for ten hours, not murdering first years.
Harry straightened the collar of his robes and swept his hair to one side, limping from the hospital wing to slump onto a bench in the Great Hall beside Nev.
Cedric glanced up from the far side of the table. ‘You look terrible. Are you alright?’
‘I had a run in with Madam Pomfrey.’ Harry smiled and helped himself to as much food as was within reach.
Cedric watched Harry devour enough mashed potato to make a small mountain. ‘Did she order you to eat?’
Harry swallowed his mouthful. ‘She might’ve done.’
Nev tugged his lunch out of Harry’s reach. ‘Have you heard about the most recent decree?’
‘Another one? What was it?’
‘There’s some law about teachers not being able to discuss anything with students that isn’t about their subject,’ Nev muttered. ‘Absolutely stupid.’
‘It’s because of the breakout from Azkaban.’ Cedric shook his head. ‘My dad says there’s no evidence Sirius Black’s even in the country, but Fudge doesn’t want anything to contradict the Ministry’s version of events.’
‘Does it apply to Umbridge?’ Harry asked. ‘She might have to spend her lesson talking about the subject, if she knows any of it, instead of badmouthing anyone without seven generations of lineage in some fancy old book.’
Cedric laughed. ‘You know your family’s one of those families, right, Harry?’
‘I doubt Umbridge’s got to stick to it.’ Nev’s eyes glittered with anger. ‘She’ll keep spewing nonsense all lesson. You know, she’s happier when you’re not bothering to turn up, because every time you’re there, you turn it round on her or just ignore her. You can’t defend yourself when you’re playing truant.’
‘We need to be going.’ Nev pointed up at the storm clouds gathering above them on the Great Hall’s ceiling. ‘You promised to come to this one, Harry.’
Harry shot a look at Cedric out of the corner of his eye. ‘I’m coming.’
‘I’m coming too. Neville just asked me.’ Cedric laughed. ‘I think Neville wanted an assistant who’d actually teach someone, but I’ll wait for Harry to finish eating in case he collapses on the way up.’
Nev swung himself out of the bench. ‘You were right about the wand, by the way. It’s not made a huge difference, but the trembling’s stopped and I don’t have to force myself quite so hard to get the same effects, so thanks. I’m glad I listened.’ He held his hand up, displaying faint red marks on his palm in the size and shape of Harry’s wand. ‘Not so glad about these, though.’
‘There was something wrong with his wand?’ Cedric asked.
‘He was using his father’s wand,’ Harry replied. ‘It wasn’t the best match he could have had.’
‘Quite a lot of wizards and witches do that,’ Cedric said. ‘Your own wand’s always better, but if it works well enough some prefer to save the gold.’
‘So why’re you coming to this little group?’ Harry forked sausage and potato into his mouth, chewed three times, then gulped it all down. ‘Can’t imagine you need to learn anything.’
‘I’m not fond of Umbridge,’ Cedric said. ‘She’s destroying your chances of passing exams and getting good jobs later on. The Ministry’s spouting nonsense, too. Everyone knows there’s something wrong with the version of events they keep saying, but there’s something I just can’t quite put my thumb on.’ He frowned and shook his head. ‘Do you ever have that feeling you’ve forgotten something important?’
Harry dragged a bright smile onto his face. ‘All the time.’
The memory charm’s failing. He swallowed a ball of cold rage. Hermione’s incessant digging for unnecessary detail is going to make him remember. As if it matters what exactly happened. Voldemort’s to blame. We all know it already.
‘I talked to Hermione Granger. She’s not convinced by things either.’ Cedric frowned. ‘Really not convinced. That girl’s borderline obsessed.’
‘I’m not surprised. She gets like that about stuff.’
‘I wanted to ask you about what happened,’ Cedric said. ‘I remember you stunning me, but that’s it.’
Harry pushed his plate away, appetite lost. ‘Did Hermione not tell you what I told her?’
‘She did…’ Cedric’s forehead creased. ‘But I know you had a falling out with most of your housemates and I thought you might know a bit more.’
Should I tell him and soften the blow? Or do I keep myself well clear of the trouble and let Hermione drag it all up? Harry wrestled with it as he pushed himself up. There’s not going to be that much trouble, I’ll be fine.
‘I know what happened, Cedric.’ He strode toward the door and up the stairs, skirting the trick step and pausing at a quiet corner. ‘I can tell you, but before I do, let me say that you might rather I’d not.’
Cedric’s face paled. ‘I’d a feeling you’d say something like that,’ he murmured. ‘Sometimes, I get flashes, little fleeting feelings. I remember horror. And I remember guilt.’
‘Bagman only cast one curse at any of us, the Imperius Curse, and he cast it at you.’
Cedric reeled back. ‘Then I – I killed—’
‘No.’ Harry shook his head. ‘You’re not responsible for your actions and you had no warning or way to defend yourself.’ He sighed. ‘I was hoping you’d not remember. I obliviated you to undo the Imperius Curse, I hoped it wouldn’t work if you didn’t recall anything, then I stunned you and snapped your wand so nobody would be able to pin things on you.’
‘Thank you,’ Cedric croaked. ‘I owe you a debt I can’t repay. If you hadn’t done that, I might be in Azkaban; my parents would’ve been heartbroken and I’d be worse than dead.’
‘Best not to tell Hermione,’ Harry suggested. ‘If you’re still acting like you don’t remember, then nobody attracts any suspicion. I’m not going to get in trouble for what I did.’
Hermione doesn’t deserve to know. She probably hasn’t even considered anything but her own need to know exactly what happened.
They climbed the stairs in a tense, thick silence. Cedric’s clenched fists bounced against his thighs as he stumbled up the steps staring ahead like a blind man into the sun.
He’ll be fine. He’s a good person and strong-minded.
A group of about twenty five students gathered around Nev by the troll tapestry. Harry recognised the faces of most who’d come to the meeting in the Hog’s Head. Hermione shouldered her way through the group and dragged Cedric to one side, waving the list and a quill at him. Nev paced the corridor.
An unspectacular wooden door flowed from the stone to excited whispers and Nev ushered everyone inside.
Hermione waved her list at everyone until they drew back against one side of the room. ‘Welcome to the first session of Dumbledore’s Army. I’m glad that everybody came, even though this group is now technically illicit courtesy of Umbridge.’
A few small smiles appeared.
‘What is this place?’ Katie appeared beside Harry. Her tie hung askew from her collar, and ink spots spattered the front of her shirt from the two undone buttons of her cleavage to where the shadow of her bra curved round her side.
‘The Room of Requirement,’ Harry murmured. ‘It’s quite handy.’
Not that anyone here but me knows more than a couple of its secrets.
Katie straightened her tie and tugged at her uniform, running a finger over her eyebrows and sweeping her hair back behind her ears. ‘It’s awesome.’ She took hold of his wrist and tugged. ‘I think Neville’s going to make a speech.’
‘This should be good.’ Harry grinned. ‘He’s still quite shy around people he doesn’t know well. It’s a bit strange actually, he’s worse with them than he is with complete strangers.’
‘So…’ Nev pulled a piece of parchment from his pocket and scanned it. ‘L-like Hermione said, welcome to the first meeting and the p-place where we’ll be practising for all the future sessions–’
‘What are we doing?’ Smith demanded.
Rude. Nev’s helping you, and you can’t even listen to him for a few minutes.
‘W-we’ll be testing the Shield Charm and the Disarming Charm.’ Nev’s eyes glinted. ‘Split into pairs, one can shield and the other can try and disarm. Does anyone want to demonstrate?’
Harry stepped forward. ‘I will. With Smith.’
‘Good idea.’ Nev stepped back.
The others backed away from the Hufflepuff student.
‘Ready, Smith?’ Harry asked.
Smith shrugged and stuck his hands in his pocket. ‘I can’t cast the Shield Charm.’
Harry’s jelly-legs jinx hit him square in the face and he collapsed on the floor, swearing profusely amidst everyone’s laughter.
‘What the hell was that for, Potter?’ Smith spat.
Harry fixed him with a cold stare and he quailed. ‘If you’re going to come here and ask for Nev’s help, then you should be polite and not interrupt. I’ll undo the jinx once you’ve apologised.’
‘Fine,’ Smith muttered. ‘I apologise for interrupting. Happy?’
‘If I’m not, you’ll find out soon enough.’
Nev performed the counter to the jinx. Smith pushed himself off the floor and slunk back into the group.
‘Right.’ Nev conjured his own shining silver shield. ‘The Shield Charm is about intent to protect, if your focus is strong enough it can be an effective barrier against most spells.’
‘What one isn’t it effective against?’ Terry Boot asked.
‘Ones powerful enough to break your shield of magic, or ones with potent enough intent to simply pierce through it,’ Nev said. ‘The Unforgivables require such strong intent just to successfully cast that no Shield Charm can deflect them.’
‘So dodge those ones,’ Ron grunted.
Katie squeezed Harry’s wrist. ‘Or you’ll end up with a really big scar on your face,’ she whispered.
‘Hush, you,’ he whispered back. ‘This is no place for your glibness and sarcasm. Professor Longbottom will spank you.’
‘I don’t think so.’ Katie giggled. ‘He didn’t do anything about Smith being a prick. Seems more likely you’d spank me for him.’
Harry chuckled. ‘No, I know you too well. You’d just enjoy it.’
Katie turned a little pink and grinned. ‘Only because it’s you, Harry.’
Harry snorted. ‘Have you learnt the fire-proofing charm yet? You might need it if someone hears you talking like that.’
Katie’s smile slipped a fraction and her hand fell back to her side. ‘I actually do know that spell.’ She winced. ‘That’s not why, though. Obviously.’
Harry laughed. ‘You probably learnt it so you could set people’s brooms on fire during casual quidditch games and not get burnt yourself.’
‘Split up into pairs,’ Nev instructed. ‘Fortunately, there’s an even number of us, so nobody will be left out.’
The group separated and drifted apart across the room. Harry sat down on the floor and let out a long sigh as some life crept back into his legs.
Katie plopped down beside him, bumping his knee with hers and tugging her skirt hem down her thighs. ‘Look. They’ve all given us loads of space, just in case you decide to start icing people again.’
‘I’ll ice you.’ Harry leant his head back against the wall. ‘Or I would, if I could be bothered.’
‘You’d miss me.’ Katie nudged his knee with hers. ‘Oi, come on.’
Madam Pomfrey forbade me from doing anything strenuous,’ Harry said. ‘I’m afraid I have to sit here and watch.’
Katie beamed. ‘You know I’ll hex you on the floor just as happily as if you were standing.’
‘You wouldn’t assault someone who’s ill, would you?’
She inspected him. ‘I suppose you do look moderately awful. Is it contagious?’
‘Bit late now.’ Harry measured the distance between them with one finger. ‘You’re probably infected already. Or you would be, if it was actually contagious.’
‘Good.’ Katie leant back against the wall. ‘I can probably skip one session of practice. I suspect they’ll need more than one meeting to get the hang of this spell.’
An array of slight shimmers and patches of bright light, wavered and flickered throughout the room. A blonde Ravenclaw paired with Ginny produced an odd, grey-tinted nebulous shield that deflected hexes at random into the other pairs around her.
‘Not going to practise, Harry?’ Nev asked. ‘Even Cedric’s practising with the older students.’
Harry glanced over at where Cedric was repeatedly producing a bright flash of light. ‘They’re trying to do it wordlessly.’
‘Can you do that?’ Katie asked.
Harry nodded. ‘Yes. Although it’s not as strong as my verbal version yet.’
Nev stuck a hand out at Katie. ‘Want to practise with me, then. Your partner seems unwilling.’
Katie beamed, but shook her head. ‘That’s alright, Neville. It’s quite comfy here and I’m fairly good at casting them already.’
‘You need to keep an eye on them.’ Harry grinned and inclined his head in the direction of the twins, who’d stopped attempting to shield and disarm and were busy casting tripping jinxes at Ron.
‘Fred, George,’ Nev called, trying not to laugh as Ron stumbled and bounced off Hermione’s shield to land face first on the floor. ‘Leave him be while he’s practising.’
Ron rose from the stone, nursing a red mark on his forehead, and glared at his elder siblings.
‘Sorry, Ronniekins,’ they sniggered, returning to their practice.
‘So why’re you here if you aren’t going to take part or teach?’ Katie asked.
‘I said I’d come.’ Harry shrugged. ‘I’ll probably teach them all the patronus, too. Not today, though.’
Zacharias Smith managed to only shield his back and his wand sailed from his hand to bounce across in front of Harry’s feet.
‘He’s not very good, is he?’ Katie said.
‘Maybe he’s only planning on running away like Umbridge insists so he only wants to protect his back,’ Harry suggested.
‘I am not.’ Smith scowled and retrieved his wand. ‘Shut up, Potter.’
Harry smirked. ‘You’re not going to last very long in a duel, then.’
Smith stalked away.
Katie sidled a little closer across the floor and yawned, resting her head on Harry’ shoulder. ‘Wake me up if something interesting happens.’
‘Do I look like a pillow?’
‘No.’ Katie squirmed around on his shoulder, then grabbed a cushion that appeared in her lap and tucked it under her head. ‘You don’t feel like one, either.’ She closed her eyes.
I still need to enchant the list, but I can relax for a bit. Harry tilted his head back against the wall and let the sound of shields and wands skittering over stone fade away.
Something nudged his foot. ‘I think that’s enough for one meeting.’ Nev stepped away into the middle of the room. ‘Keep an eye on your badges for the time of the next meeting, we’ll try to organise them around things like quidditch.’
‘Wakey wakey, sleeping beauty.’ Harry patted Katie on the cheek.
Her eyelids flickered and she yawned. ‘You’re meant to kiss sleeping beauty to wake her up, Harry.’
‘I prefer to live,’ Harry said. ‘Someone’s not a sharer.’
Katie blinked and bolted upright. ‘Well, you missed your chance, Harry.’ A wicked glint rose in her eye. ‘Unless you didn’t and took your chance to cop a feel of me while I was sleeping.’ She cupped her boobs and smoothed out her skirt. ‘Nope, everything seems to be in the right place.’ She winked. ‘Guess you’ve gotten away with it this time.’
Heat crept onto his face. ‘Like I said, I choose life.’
Katie laughed. ‘Don’t worry, I wouldn’t tell her. I don’t want your death on my conscience.’
The other students dispersed, leaving Nev and Hermione in the centre of the room alone.
Harry followed Katie out and round the corner. ‘I’ll catch you in five, need to check when Nev wants me to teach the patronus.’
‘I’ll get us a chair in the common room.’ Katie bounded away.
‘I could live with you having your own chair,’ Harry called after her.
But I’ll probably fall asleep straight away anyway. He dragged a little more magic up from the remaining dregs and disillusioned himself, slipping back along the wall.
‘You think we should hide the list in there?’ Hermione asked Nev, looking at the wall where the Room of Requirement would form.
‘Yeah.’ Nev nodded. ‘I tried to hide it earlier and found a huge room of hidden stuff. Not much chance of anyone finding it, someone in the group might guess that’s where we’ve put it, but it won’t be easy to find even if they find the hidden room.’
‘Let’s see what you’ve found.’ Hermione turned and opened the door to the room.
Harry slipped through the door after them. It might actually be tricky to explain how Umbridge found it, but I guess as long as I’m not a suspect, it doesn’t matter.
‘We need to put it somewhere we’ll be able to find it again.’ Hermione stared around at the mountains of things. ‘Pick something easy to recognise.’
They strode a few paces into the room and stopped by an ugly looking warlock.
Nev grinned. ‘He’ll do as a landmark. We won’t be able to forget that face.’
Hermione tucked the list underneath the bust, then drew out her wand and cast a couple of spells. ‘An anti-summoning enchantment, just in case anyone finds out it’s in here and tries to find it.’
Smart. There goes my first explanation of how Umbridge found it.
Harry crouched down in a small gap across from the bust next to a tarnished, silver circlet and a small collection of dust-coated bottles of fire whiskey. The sapphire-adorned tiara sparkled and shone like sunlight on water.
Pretty. Harry glanced back toward the door as it closed, then stood up and dispelled his disillusionment with a sigh. But not why I’m here.
‘Accio ink, accio quill,’ he murmured, pulling the list out from under the bust.
He plucked a bottle of ink from the air, sending a dozen more sailing away into a mountain of chairs, and snatched the least broken quill from the scatter at his feet. Harry imbued his intent to conceal into the ink, grimacing at the toll, then dipped the quill in. He sketched a circle, labelled it with the runes for creature, keeper, and home, then drew a meandering trail from it to a final rune, Ehwaz, the Futhark representation of advancement and progress.
Ambiguous enough I can twist it to mean whatever I like later. Harry allowed himself a small, thin smile as the ink faded from sight. Follow the spiders, Umbridge. Follow the spiders.
He leant against the bust and closed his eyes for a moment, letting some of the weight slide off him. ‘Almost there, Harry.’
Umbridge will need to be able to find it. He coaxed one last shred of magic forth and cast a faint compulsion to keep upon the list. Marietta can feed her a landmark and then the charm will do the rest.
Harry picked up the warm silver and sapphire circlet, frowning as it gave a soft chitter and shivered on his palm. ‘Weird.’ He placed it on the bust of the warlock. ‘There, very obvious.’
He took a deep breath and imbued the second part of the enchantment into the parchment as Fleur had shown him. I just need a phrase to activate the revealing part. Harry tapped his wand upon his palm and stared round the room. His eyes fell upon a stack of old, faded, yellow leaflets with Grindelwald’s mark at its top. Perfect. What could be more appropriate for a man who’d sacrifice a child to save a country?
‘For the greater good,’ he whispered, tucking the list and map underneath the bust.