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The veil trembled; its surface flared forward to brush against Sirius’s back as he crumpled to the floor, his mouth stretched in a soundless scream. Sirius shook and shivered on the cold stone of the dais.
Bellatrix giggled and twirled upon the top of the bench. ‘I win!’ She cheered. ‘I win you mangy mutt! That’ll teach you to sneak out of Azkaban without saying goodbye to me!’
Mad bitch. A tight, sharp cold closed about Harry’s heart and he hurled a trio of banishing spells at her.
The first smashed the bench away from beneath her feet, the second hammered Bellatrix out of the air and threw her back into the wall, the third sent the bench after her.
‘Sirius!’ Harry shouted.
Sirius groaned, crawling across the floor toward his wand, and slumped onto his face. Harry summoned him with one hand, dragging Sirius after him as he leapt up the steps and sprinted for the lift, throwing spells at Bellatrix and Malfoy.
A barrage of yellow curses sprayed past him, shattering the tiles and ripping ragged holes into the walls around the lift. Harry dropped Sirius to the floor, deflecting any spells he recognised and jabbing his elbow into the button until the door slid open.
‘Avada kedavra!’ Lucius Malfoy’s weeping, ruined face twisted into a vicious sneer.
‘Papilionis,’ Harry whispered.
A single butterfly darted into the path of the curse and burst into a wisp of smoke. Harry hauled Sirius into the lift and mashed the button for the atrium. Bella’s vivid pink curses spattered against the back of the lift. He transfigured the pieces of broken tile and masonry into glass shards and banished them down the corridor, but Bella shrieked and a ripple of magic swept the glass away.
‘Osassula!’ Harry shot one last curse through the doors and sagged against the wall, gasping for breath. A deep ache throbbed in his wand arm and a cold weariness crept into his limbs.
The lift jerked up and the lower half of the doors exploded. Fragments of metal drew hot lines of pain across his legs and abdomen and steel shards jutted through tears in his clothes.
Harry tugged them out and tossed them away. ‘Rennervate.’ He jabbed his wand at Sirius.
Sirius’s eyes snapped open, his chest heaved, and he scrambled through his robes for his wand.
‘It’s not there,’ Harry said. ‘I couldn’t summon it and you.’
Sirius nodded and grimaced, casting an eye over himself and pulling out the pieces of the lift door embedded in his left side. ‘Any particular reason I feel like a pincushion?’
‘They destroyed the door.’ Harry gestured to the gaping hole in the door of the lift. ‘I doubt we’ve seen the last of them, either.’
‘They’ll come up the shaft once we’re out of the way. We’re not out of this yet.’
‘You should get out,’ Harry said. ‘Without a wand, you’ll be an easy target. I’ll cover our backs as we go.’
‘I’m not leaving you.’ Sirius pushed himself up on the wall. ‘I don’t run away. I’m not a coward. The Order will be here soon, anyway.’
Harry frowned and cast a quick tempus. It’s been almost half an hour. Where are they?
‘Are you sure they got your message?’ he asked.
‘They got it,’ Sirius said. ‘They should be here by now.’
‘Vulnera sanentur,’ Harry whispered, pointing his wand at Sirius until the slim lacerations crept closed. ‘There you go.’
‘How did you come away unscathed?’ Sirius poked his finger through the holes in his robes.
‘Luck.’ Harry glanced at the thin pink lines beneath the tears in his clothes. ‘Mostly.’
‘You’re worse than James.’ Sirius grinned and shook his head. ‘He always came out of scrapes like this without so much as a scratch.’
‘Atrium,’ the dispassionate female voice announced as the lift ground to a halt.
Harry stepped out and Sirius staggered after him. The lift shuddered, crumpled like a crushed can and collapsed back into the dark shaft.
‘Go,’ Harry snapped.
At least I can use more powerful spells here without bringing the building down.
Sirius threw himself against the wall by the lift entrance and shot Harry a thumbs up.
‘Clever little Potter thought he’d escaped.’ Bellatrix danced out of the empty shaft with a giggle. ‘But you’ll have to do more than that to beat me, only the Dark Lord ever beats me.’
‘No more games, Bella,’ Malfoy hissed, pressing his leather-gloved fingertips against the ruined side of his face.
She laughed and shook her dark curls out in little ripples. ‘It’s all games,’ she cooed, her violet eyes shining like stars. ‘And we all lose in the end.’
Sirius hurled himself at Malfoy, driving a fist into his wounded ribs and hammering an elbow into the burnt half of his face. Malfoy’s wand snapped beneath them as they rolled across the floor.
‘I guess I’ll play with cousin Sirius later.’ Bella watched them wrestle on the floor. ‘It will be fun! Sirius is good, he won’t be boring.’
You won’t touch him or anyone else.
Harry slashed his wand forward. The faint form of the basilisk lunged, tearing the floor apart as it swept through the atrium.
Bella rolled her eyes. ‘Confringo.’
Her spell dissipated and she flung herself across the floor with a squeak of surprise. The basilisk hammered into the lift entrance, obliterating the golden gates and the wall behind. Masonry and metal showered Sirius and Malfoy as they grappled across the floor.
‘Potter knows how to play,’ Bellatrix breathed, a little shudder rippling through her and purple light dancing in her eyes. Her wand streaked up and an array of coloured curses sliced through the air.
Harry flicked them away, sending them curving back toward her as they spiralled around one another in the centre of the atrium.
Sirius drove his fist into Malfoy’s face over and over. ‘You. Worthless. Fuck.’ He lifted Malfoy’s head and smashed it against the floor. ‘Cissy. Deserved. Better!’
Bellatrix cocked her head and glanced behind her. ‘You tell him, cousin Sirius! He made itty bitty baby Cissy all sad!’
‘Lacero,’ Harry whispered, melding the wand motion into a small string of other spells, pushing himself as fast as he could go.
Bellatrix deflected a few and threw up a faint, glowing bubble of white magic. Harry’s spells tore through it and slashed her cheek open to the bone.
‘You got me!’ She giggled and shuddered, pressing a finger to the cut and licking the blood from the tip of it. ‘I never could understand shielding.’ She sighed. ‘Why hide and be boring when you can just attack?’
A fresh volley of bright, yellow spells streaked from the tip of her wand.
I can deflect those. Sirius did. He sent all five hissing back at her.
The first three splattered into the floor, leaving deep, scorched craters at Bella’s feet. She leant aside from the other two and they arced past her hip and shoulder, striking Sirius in the back. He slumped over Malfoy’s prone figure.
‘Ooops!’ Bella giggled. ‘Were you expecting me to deflect them back?’ She beamed. ‘This is the most fun I’ve had in years!’
Fun. The ice in his chest closed its fist. I’ll show you fun.
Fiendfyre swirled past Bella, forcing her to the edge of the fountain. She poured her own against his and the inferno gushed across the floor, swallowing up the ground between them as it seared toward Sirius and Malfoy.
Harry extinguished them both with a grunt of effort. That was clever.
‘Don’t worry little cousin Harry.’ She laughed. ‘We’ll be nice to Sirius, won’t we, Bell! Just give us the prophecy. Accept defeat. We’ll only play with Sirius a little bit, tormenting people after they’ve lost gets boring, like pulling the wings off caged butterflies.’
Harry wrapped his magic ‘round the golden centaur in the fountain. It shuddered and drove its arrow through the back of Bellatrix’s knee.
She hissed and shattered every stature with a swing of her wand. ‘Crucio,’ she shrieked, sending a crackling red beam at Harry.
A butterfly burst from Harry’s wand, swallowing the red spell in a wisp of dark mist.
‘Osassula,’ Harry whispered.
The curse tore through her desperate shield and struck her fingers, sending her wand spinning into the water behind her.
‘Perhaps Bella would like a taste of her own medicine.’ Harry summoned her wand and snapped it in front of her.
She screeched and uncontrolled magic smashed into him, tearing across the atrium floor. A wave of violet flame crashed against his shield and guttered out, knocking him back hard enough to drive the wind out of him. Shattered glass poured from his pocket onto the floor.
‘The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…’ A hoarse, rasping voice echoed through the atrium. ‘Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies… And the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives… The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…‘
‘Equal?’ Bellatrix bounced on her feet. ‘The Dark Lord has no equals, he’s the best player in the game, but better safe than sorry, better to still be playing than to lose, better to play than to be dead, so no more little Potter, and no more little Longbottom either, Bella saw to that.’ She giggled. ‘That was a fun game. They clung on for ages.’
Cold fury streaked through Harry’s veins. ‘Crucio,’ he spat.
A pale, red beam dissipated on the severed torso of the centaur.
‘You’ve got to mean it, little cousin Harry.’ She cocked her head. ‘If you want to beat Voldemort, then you’ll need to mean it. He always wins. Always.’
A game. The icy thing in Harry’s chest stirred. A bottomless, freezing hunger coiled beneath his ribs, baring a maw filled with a thousand, needle-like teeth. She’s as cruel as all the children were at primary school, but capable of much more than words and bruises.
‘Crucio,’ he whispered.
Bellatrix flopped and thrashed in the water of the fountain. Her eyes smouldered and her lips quivered as she clawed her way back to her feet, licking her lips. ‘That burnt so good.’
‘You’re mad.’ The words slipped through Harry’s lips. ‘No wonder Voldemort likes you. He just winds you up, then points you in the right direction and lets you go.’
‘You shouldn’t try to beat him.’ Bellatrix screwed up her face. ‘We’re going to get rid of all the boring creatures. The ones who’ve got no magic and just lumber around in their awful world of clay and dirt.’ She stuck her hand out. ‘Come and play with us! You’re fun!’ The violet in her eyes glowed bright as the full moon. ‘Andi wouldn’t play with us. Andi died. Cissy’s all sad and boring, like a little caged bird. But you’re family, too! You can play with me instead! And we’ll never be bored or sad or lonely again!’
Harry’s stomach wrenched. Lonely…
‘Voldemort,’ Bellatrix breathed.
Harry spun, half-crouching in front of the tall, pale figure.
‘Bella’s sorry.’ She waved her broken fingers in the air. ‘Bella lost. Little cousin Harry was better than Bella, and he doesn’t want to come and play with us yet, but Bella heard the prophecy—’
‘Avada kedavra,’ Harry whispered.
A bright green flash snuffed out the violet light in Bellatrix’s eyes.
‘Harry.‘ Voldemort’s crimson eyes watched the body of Bellatrix sink into the fountain. ‘Bella was one of my most useful servants.’
‘Not anymore.’ Harry glanced at the exit. ‘She lost.’
‘Yes.’ Voldemort’s lips curled back in a cold grin. ‘She lost her never-ending game at last, but I’m sure she enjoyed every moment.‘ He surveyed the ruins of the room, taking in the spell marks around the atrium, the shattered statues, and scorch marks.
‘What was so important about the prophecy?’ Harry threw a look at Sirius out of the corner of his eye and dragged his magic up to summon him.
‘The wards are still up.’ Voldemort released a soft laugh. ‘The only way out is past me, I’m afraid, and your chance of escape would be small enough if you were fresh to the fight.’ He spun his wand on his palm. ‘But I will humour you. The prophecy tells of a child born with the strength to eclipse me, a wizard I can’t allow to live because he will always be a threat.’
‘Me,’ Harry said.
‘Perhaps,’ Voldemort whispered. ‘But I never heard the entire thing and now I know you; I wonder if there isn’t more to this prediction than I originally thought.’
The pale, yew wand snapped into his hand. A trio of curses flashed at Harry and slammed into the floor, showering his feet in fragments of stone.
‘Avada kedavra,’ Voldemort murmured.
Harry threw his butterflies in the way.
Voldemort smiled. His curses tore great, gaping holes through Harry’s swarm. Harry deflected back all the curses he could manage, but some slipped through, carving long, deep gouges in the floor.
Let’s turn him ‘round so I can get out of here. Harry retreated, circling past the fountain.
The golden statues melted and flowed across the floor into the shape of a vast serpent. It coiled before the entrance, a smooth-scaled, shining wall.
Where the fuck is the Order of the Phoenix?
‘Ardens flagello,’ Harry hissed.
A vast swathe of purple-edged, ebony flames lashed from the tip of his wand, melting the golden serpent as if it were butter. Voldemort conjured a swirling shield of silver snakes and unleashed a torrent of red, raging Fiendfyre tongues. They swept across the atrium from floor to ceiling, obliterating the elegant golden runes and gleaming green tiles.
Harry clenched his jaw and slashed his wand forward, pouring his own Fiendfyre into the mix. The crimson flames swirled into a great serpent and surged back down the atrium.
Voldemort laughed, a cold, high sound full of genuine delight, then the floor shuddered and vast spires of stone burst forth, nailing the basilisk to the ceiling. The flames guttered out even as the stone melted, showering the floor in hissing droplets of glowing, molten rock.
‘Ever you surpass my expectations, Harry.’ Voldemort levelled the tip of his pale wand at Harry’s forehead. ‘Legilimens.’
Harry dragged the emptiness up from beneath the ice. He threw himself into it and let hollow teeth tear every flash and flicker of feeling from him.
Voldemort lowered his wand, a fascinated smile upon his lipless mouth. ‘Interesting. Even I cannot claim to exceed your gift for occlumency, not when you defend your mind as perfectly as I guard my own.‘
He still wants the prophecy…
‘Then you know that the knowledge of the prophecy dies with me.’
‘If you die, I will have no need to fear it.’ Voldemort’s wand flicked back up, tracing a small semi-circle in the air. ‘Contusio.’
A scatter of bright, silver pinpricks flared from Voldemort’s wand, soaring through the air. Harry mustered the dregs of his magic, sweeping the water from the fountain across the atrium to shield himself.
Explosions tore through the air, hammering at his ears as the delicate, silver drops of light exploded against the veil of water, spraying Harry with scalding liquid.
Green flames flared in all the fireplaces.
‘What if I told you the prophecy?’ Harry watched the emerald flames flicker. ‘That’s why you came, right?’
Voldemort watched them too. ‘I wouldn’t need you alive.’
‘You would have no reason to kill me.’
‘The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord,’ Voldemort echoed, reforming the golden serpent Harry’s fire had destroyed and sending it careening down the atrium, smashing through the fireplaces on the opposite wall.
‘Power’s directed by intent.’ Harry drew himself up and buried the dull throb and the ache in his limbs. The weight of his life hung on his tongue.
‘I should trust in your intent, then?‘ Voldemort laughed. ‘A foolish risk to take; those who trust are betrayed, aren’t they, Harry? Lord Voldemort doesn’t forget his mistakes, he learns from them.’
‘A trade, then,’ Harry proposed as the fireplaces’ emerald flames billowed and the floo network flared to life. ‘I’ll take Sirius Black and leave, you’ll learn the last line of the prophecy.’
‘Tempting,’ Voldemort mused. ‘You are interesting.’ He twirled his wand in his fingers, just as the shade of Tom had in the chamber. Silver sparks trailed from its tip and fountained down onto the ruined floor, then the wand vanished into his sleeve. ‘I accept.’
Harry flicked his wand back into its holster and summoned Sirius to him. The last dregs of his magic tugged Sirius across the floor in slow jerks.
‘The prophecy, Harry,’ Voldemort said.
As if I’d give you all of it. I’d be dead the moment you heard it.
‘And the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal,’ Harry said. ‘But he will have power the Dark Lord knows not.’
‘Interesting. It does not say if you’re able to defeat me.’
‘No,’ Harry lied. ‘It doesn’t, though I do wonder what the power you know not is.’
Voldemort’s wand appeared in his hand.
Harry tensed and raised his own.
‘I was going to kill you anyway,’ Voldemort said. ‘But I’m curious, Harry, to see what you’ll become. Someone once told me I should find an equal, though I never really believed it would come true. I wonder, though, if there might have been a chance after all.’
Salazar… Harry kept a straight face.
‘You did mark me as an equal.’ He ran his forefinger along his faded scar.
‘Self-fulfilling prophecy,’ Voldemort murmured. ‘And now there is this power I know not. Until next time we meet, and I’m sure our paths will cross again, Dumbledore will insist upon it. He is the only other who knows the full prophecy.’
Especially if he knows the whole thing. Harry smothered a grimace. Either must die at the hand of the other… No wonder he wants to make a martyr of me.
A pair of soft snaps echoed through the atrium as Voldemort flickered from one side of the room to where Malfoy lay and vanished, ripping through the anti-apparition wards like wet paper.
Harry glanced around. A thick silence hung over the ruined room and Bellatrix’s pale body floated among the shattered statues and rubble in the fountain.
If this doesn’t convince the Ministry something’s going on, then there’s no point in continuing to try.
He took a firm grip on Sirius, then focused on the Chamber of Secrets and twisted the world back away from him. A flash of phoenix-red flame seared his eyes and Dumbledore’s soft sigh echoed through the atrium as he vanished with a soft snap.
Harry staggered across the smooth stone of the chamber and dropped Sirius’s body on the floor. Ragged gasps tore from his throat and he pressed his forehead into the cold stone wall. The Order of the Phoenix never came. Another of Dumbledore’s attempts to make a martyr of me, no doubt.
‘Don’t say anything, Salazar!’ Harry clawed a little magic up from within and forced the tongue bridge to sink into the pool and the study’s door to close. ‘Rennervate.’
‘What hit me this time?’ Sirius shot him a weak grin.
‘Bellatrix tricked me. She manoeuvred herself between us and when I sent her spells back at her she let them go on to strike you.’
‘She was always dangerous,’ Sirius said. ‘What about the prophecy? And the Order?’ He glanced around. ‘This isn’t Grimmauld Place, either.’
‘I’ll tell you the story from when you started your impromptu nap,’ Harry quipped, sagging down against one of the serpent effigies. He tried to blot out the deep ache and the weight tugging at his eyelids. ‘If I can keep my eyes open.’
‘Go ahead.’ Sirius rolled over onto his back. ‘I might fall asleep, too.’
‘After you were knocked out, I duelled Bellatrix in the atrium and disarmed her, but the orb containing the prophecy was broken and we both heard the words.’
‘So Voldemort will know what it says,’ Sirius said. ‘What did it say?’
‘The birth of the one with the power to defeat Voldemort. My birth. And then, either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives. Bellatrix heard the whole thing, but when Voldemort turned up, I killed her before she could tell him.’
Sirius flinched. ‘You killed her.’
‘She deserved to die, if not worse.’
Sirius’s grey eyes darkened. ‘My favourite cousin died a very long time ago, I just didn’t expect you to be capable of it. James and Lily never were.’
‘What choice was there?’ Harry shrugged. ‘If I let her live, she might’ve cost me something much more important later.’
Someone… He stifled a groan. Fleur’s going to be really pissed.
‘So what happened then?’ Sirius asked.
‘We duelled again in the atrium, made a bit of a mess of it, actually.’ Harry grinned. ‘Somehow he knew the first lines of it already, but I told him most of the rest in return for being able to leave with you. The Order of the Phoenix didn’t turn up, though I’m sure I saw Dumbledore just as I apparated us away.’
‘I sent the warning,’ Sirius muttered. ‘They should’ve come, they all know what it means.’
‘The last line of the prophecy,’ Harry murmured. ‘That’s why they didn’t come. Either must die at the hand of the other…’
‘But Dumbledore must know you’re not ready to face Voldemort alone and kill him yet!’
‘That’s not very pure of heart,’ Harry whispered. ‘Surely a martyr’s death to ensure Voldemort’s end is preferable. A noble sacrifice, just like my mother’s…’
Sirius’s grey eyes flashed. ‘That absolute cunt! That’s why he won’t let me take custody of you, that’s why he sends you back to your relatives, why he pushes you into acts of heroism and pretends you risking your life for others is the best you could ever hope to do!’
‘He wants a malleable, naive child to throw into Voldemort’s path,’ Harry said. ‘No doubt he believes that the power the Dark Lord knows not is something abstract, pure-hearted, and perfectly heroic.’
‘Love,’ Sirius snapped. ‘He has often made reference to your ability to love and risk yourself for others. He expects you to die like Lily did, only with a more permanent effect.’
‘I have no intention of dying.’
If I die, I’ll never see Fleur again. He shuddered. And the emptiness will have me forever.
‘I’m going to tear that wrinkled shit-stain apart with my bare hands. I’m done with his Order of the Phoenix. I bet Snape knew about the attack tonight and poor Mundungus was just another sacrifice.’
‘No.’ Harry shook his head. ‘We need to know what he’s doing if he intends to make a martyr of me.’
‘So I should stay and spy.’ Sirius took several long, deep breaths. ‘Like Snape.’
‘I don’t trust Dumbledore or his Order and I don’t need them, either,’ Harry said. ‘I was strong enough to defeat Bellatrix. I’ve survived Voldemort alone twice. We’ll be fine without him.’
‘You can’t stay with your relatives or come to Grimmauld. He’ll be able to find you.’ Sirius glanced around. ‘What about here?’
‘The Chamber of Secrets?’ Harry chuckled at Sirius’s gobsmacked expression. ‘It’s one of two rooms in this castle not on the Marauders’ Map and my backdoor in and out of the castle, but it’s not very comfortable.’
I promised Fleur, but I’m not telling him unless I have to. The longer nobody knows, the safer Fleur is.
‘I’ll sort something out,’ he said.
‘Do you promise?’ Sirius asked.
‘I promise. I won’t spend a single night with the Dursleys.’
‘I guess I should go back to Grimmauld Place, then.’ Sirius sighed. ‘What do I tell Dumbledore?’
‘Tell him as little as possible about what really happened. It helps that you were unconscious.’
‘I’ll tell him that I felt something was wrong, snuck in, and destroyed the prophecy when I found Voldemort coming to take it,’ Sirius decided. ‘Will he know you were there?’
‘He will. If Voldemort didn’t take the prophecy, it must’ve been me. Lie to him, though. He won’t be surprised you’re defending me and I can answer his questions myself when he comes to me.’
‘I’ll say nothing I don’t know he already knows.’ Sirius grinned. ‘It’s like trying to avoid detention with McGonagall.’
Harry laughed. ‘Only you would compare getting out of detention to lying to the strongest wizard alive.’
‘They’re not that different when you get right down to it.’ Sirius struggled to his feet. ‘I should go. This Chamber of Secrets of yours is creepy, it’s the sort of place my mother would dream about. You should go to bed,’ he quipped. ‘Don’t you have exams this year?’
I actually do. Brief amusement flickered through Harry’s tired body. And I better beat Fleur, or she’ll never let me forget it.
Sirius stuck out a foot and closed his eyes. ‘What the…?’
‘You can’t apparate out of here.’ Harry chuckled. ‘You’ll have to sneak out via Hogsmeade in your animagus form. I’ll open the entrance into the castle for you, follow me.’