A single soft shadow swirled in shining silver, faint as summer shade, silent as winter snow; it writhed far beneath the shimmering surface, like the glimmer of gold beneath a river’s bright ripples. A desperate need clawed its way up his throat like a fistful of razors, his heart seized beneath his ribs and a fierce heat stung at his eyes.
What is that? He tried to crush it all away into the dark and focus on the shadow, but the deeper he stared into that faint twisting shade, the further through him the storm of emotion tore. What is this feeling?
‘Back again, Harry?’ Dumbledore’s question drifted over his shoulder. ‘If you don’t mind me asking, what do you see in there to bring you back night after night?’
The shadow faded into smooth, still silver.
Harry tore his eyes away. ‘Nothing.’
Dumbledore stepped alongside him and rested a hand on Harry’s shoulder. ‘It doesn’t do to dwell on dreams, Harry. Don’t forget to live.’
Shadow flickered through the silver, as fleeting a darkness as a wisp of cloud passing across the face of the sun.
Harry glanced up into Dumbledore’s bright blue eyes. ‘Can’t we live our dreams, Professor?’
‘It depends on the dream.’ A soft sigh escaped Dumbledore’s lips. ‘Your classmate, Miss Granger, might look into that mirror and see herself six years older and head girl. That wish might well come true should she continue to excel. Others may see the family we’ve lost, but no amount of hard work or brilliance will bring them back. That dream is beyond reach and chasing it is but bittersweet torment.’
Perfect wishes don’t come true. A faint twinge tugged at Harry’s temples and the surface of the mirror fell still and calm as a sheet of polished steel. The echo of that fierce need tolled a soft, hollow knell in his chest. But there was something… There is something…
‘Back to bed, Harry.’ Dumbledore bent and plucked Harry’s cloak from the floor. ‘Try not to come back here again. Some of the less wise among us have dreamt entire lifetimes away in front of that mirror. I shall move it somewhere else soon.’
Harry caught the smooth silk of the cloak in his arms. ‘Sorry, Professor.’
‘Even the greatest of us can be ensnared by dreams, my boy.’ Dumbledore patted him on the shoulder with one wizened hand. ‘And like a dream, when you tear your gaze from the mirror, the memory of it fades just enough to drive you to look once more. It can be hard, but try not to look again, Harry.’
But I have to come back. I have to know what it is. The hollow at the centre of Harry’s heart smouldered, bursting into flame, and the shadow in the mirror flickered and danced as if cast by candlelight. I need it.
The hovering candle flames danced beneath a calm, deep blue ceiling and Professor Quirrell slumped into a pool of dark robes on the floor with a quiet sigh.
A troll? Harry watched the candles flicker above as students streamed from the hall in cacophonous gaggles. Maybe something’s happening? The feeling returned, swirling in his chest just as the shadow had whirled beneath the silver mirror’s surface; its knell rang through him with each beat of his heart. Maybe it’s something important.
He slipped away from the throng and waited until the drum of feet faded.
The second floor corridor loomed open before him and a strange thrill crept through his veins, tingling in his blood. A faint, foul stench reached his nose, thickening into a raw, rotten reek. Whatever it is, I’ll find it. Mirror or no.
Faint sobs echoed down the hall.
Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve and glanced through the open door into the girls’ bathroom. White tiles, sinks, and gleaming mirrors sat across from neat cubicles and a red-eyed Hermione Granger slumped over one of the basins. Tears rolled down the cheeks of her reflection and dripped into the sink.
Is she part of it? He wrestled with the smouldering need and eyed the girls’ bathroom sign, then edged into the room. She might be.
A shrill scream tore from Hermione’s throat. He twisted ‘round.
A hulking mass of grey and green loomed in the doorway. A branch the size of a small tree scraped along the bathroom tiles as the troll blundered in, slobbering and sniffing the air.
That’s not ideal. Harry backed away and eyed the thin sliver of the doorway behind it.
The troll rumbled and twisted ‘round, demolishing a pair of sinks with its elbow. Porcelain shards skittered across the tiles.
The hollow feel echoed through him like the tolling of a great bell. I can’t leave, though. If I leave, I might never know.
Hermione screwed her eyes shut and shrunk into the corner, screaming so loud Harry’s ears rang. The troll clapped a massive hand to its temple and shook its head, roaring and swinging its club. The piece of tree whistled over Harry’s head, smashing into the mirrors and sinks. Bits of glass sprayed across the floor.
Pain flashed across the back of his hand and crimson welled up from a thin red line across his skin. The bathroom, Hermione, the troll and everything around him shrank away into the distance.
The excitement surged. A coil of raw, fierce energy snapped taut within him and his wand flashed up; the half-familiar weight of a word hung on the tip of his tongue.
The troll rumbled and tugged its club free of the wall, scattering bits of plaster across the floor.
Harry’s magic leapt forward and brilliant white light flashed from the tip of his dark wand. Hot red sprayed his face and the white tiles and crimson chunks splattered down around his feet. The lower half of the troll thudded onto the tiles, twitching, spasming and smoking.
Hermione stumbled to her feet with a strangled squeak. ‘What was that?!‘
Harry stared down at his reflection in the spreading red pool, then wiped troll blood off the smooth ebony of his wand and slipped it back into his sleeve. The thrill trickled away like water through his fingers. That wasn’t it. It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t—
A low rumble echoed through the bathroom and pale plaster dust floated down around his shoulders, settling on his eyelashes like snow. White tiles showered down to shatter at his feet and a low, deep groan rippled through the castle. A head-sized chunk of stone smashed into the floor by his foot. A second tore through the wall of the cubicle behind him.
‘Harry!’ Hermione screamed.
He glanced up into a hail of stone. ‘Oops.’
A faint, fading shade swirled beneath the shimmering silver, dancing like heat haze above a ribbon of tarmac. Harry pressed his fingers to the glass and watched the darkness writhe just beyond his reach.
What is that? He pushed his fingertips into the glass until they turned white and his nails bent. A slight pain throbbed against the cold silver surface and a soft, insistent need tugged at his heart. What’s my dream?
The shadow faded away into smooth, gleaming glass.
Gone again. Desperate desire clamped its fist ‘round his heart and raw, thick, hot emotion bubbled up onto his tongue. But not really gone. Harry pounded the heel of his hand against the glass until the yearning eased and he could breathe again. Just out of reach.
He let his arm drop back to his side and tore his eyes away. ‘I’ll find it. Somewhere. Somehow.’ Harry swallowed hard and turned his back on the Mirror of Erised. ‘Whatever it is.’
The faint echo of the Great Hall’s dinnertime clamour drifted to his ears from a world away. He turned about and wandered the corridors instead.
Maybe if I explore, I’ll find something. Soft excitement seized him. Something important.
Harry ran his fingertips along the tapestries, following the wall down twisting corridors past countless portraits until he found himself on the steps to the library. ‘Might as well,’ he murmured, drifting upward.
A handful of quiet students flitted among the bookshelves and filled the half dozen tables. He roved past them and through the lines of books, running his fingers over their spines.
Magical Creatures… Hippogriffs. Griffons. Grindylows… A faint tug drew at his heart, as if a slim red string was hooked beneath his ribs, and he continued down the row. Thestrals. Thunderbirds. Magical Toads. Trolls. Unicorns. Valcore. Vampires. Harry traced the backs of a dozen books. A lot of vampires.
‘Harry!’ Hermione’s head poked out from behind one of the shelves. ‘I didn’t realise you liked the library as well?’
‘I don’t, really,’ he said, turning back to the shelf. ‘Vampyr Mosp. Vampyr Moth. Vampyr Wasp.’
Hermione bounded over, clutching a book on trolls. ‘I don’t know why there are so many vampiric creatures, or why we’re allowed to read about them at the age of eleven.‘
‘Could be worse.’ Harry scowled as the little tug inside his chest began to fade and stepped past a gap half a dozen books wide.
She bobbed her head, bumping her chin against the edge of her huge book. ‘The next ones are worse. They’re all pictures of naked ladies and barely any writing.’
A sharp twinge bit at Harry’s temple. ‘Wampus cat?’ He poked the spine of the next book.
Hermione shot him an odd look. ‘I — er — I wanted to thank you, Harry, for saving me from the troll.’ Her voice dropped to a low whisper, a pink glow crept onto her cheeks and her grip tightened on her book. ‘Would — would you be my friend? I can help you with things. Spells? Notes? Whatever you need!’
Harry glanced into her bright hazel eyes, a soft sadness settling into him like a damp autumn chill. It drew back the strange yearning like the tip of a tongue creeping back to poke at the seat of a missing tooth. Maybe she can help me.
‘Of course,’ he said.
Hermione beamed and stuck out her hand. Her book slipped out from under her arm and Harry pulled his wand from his sleeve as she grabbed after the tome. The book thudded to the floor and Hermione’s fingers closed ’round his wand.
‘Sorry, Harry.’ She stared at the slim piece of ebony in her fingers and a little shiver swept through her. ‘I didn’t mean to…’
A faint ache throbbed in his temples and a lightness seized him. The distance to the floor yawned open like an abyss and the bookshelves rippled like reflections in a pool of water. A bright glimmer hovered in Hermione’s eyes, fading like the embers of a fire.
Soft, hot triumph flared within his breast. Where did that come from? Harry squeezed his eyelids shut, but found the shadow within the Mirror of Erised dancing behind them. It’s to do with that something, isn’t it? As always. A gentle throb sprang up at the base of his skull and he touched his fingertips to the back of his head with a grimace.
‘Harry?’ Hermione let go of his wand and picked up her tome on trolls. ‘Are you ok?’
He dropped his hand back to his side and gave her a small smile. ‘I’m fine.’
Hermione’s bright smile reappeared, a flash of white teeth and pink cheeks. ‘What do you need help with?’
‘I don’t know.’ He leant his head to one side. ‘But I’ll find out what that something is.’
I have to. It’s something important.*
Red, gold, green and blue birds bedecked faded tapestries all along the walls. Long-maned wizards with white ruffs and stark, dark robes stared down at him from the walls and muttered, flitting between the frames.
‘Harry. Harry!’ Hermione hissed. ‘We’re not meant to be here. It’s against the rules.’
He paused and leant against the soft thread of the nearest tapestry. ‘Why?’
Hermione stomped after him. ‘Weren’t you listening to what Professor Dumbledore said?’
Dumbledore? Harry wracked his brain, but only the gentle weight of a hand upon his shoulder and the twisting shadow amidst shining silver welled up. Something about dreams.
‘I don’t remember.’ He shrugged. ‘I probably won’t listen, either.’
She huffed. ‘The third floor corridor is out of bounds.‘
To those who don’t want to suffer a painful death. He mulled it over and a bright, sharp thrill of excitement shot through him. That means something must be going on. The yearning bubbled back up and clamped its fist about his heart. Something important.
‘What do you think’s going on?’ he asked.
Hermione threw her hands in the air. ‘I don’t know! Professor Dumbledore didn’t say!’
Harry straightened up and glanced at the smooth, dark wood of the door he’d been leaning on. ‘Let’s go explore here, then.’
‘What?’ Hermione blinked, rubbed her eyes, then poked the door with her foot. ‘Must be a magic door,’ she muttered.
Harry twisted the latch, but the knob stayed stuck fast. ‘Locked…’ Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve as Hermione fretted and chewed her lip. He levelled it at the door and struggled for the word hovering just off the tip of his tongue.
‘Alohomora,’ Hermione whispered, jabbing her wand at the door.
Harry tucked his wand away and twisted the knob. It turned with a soft rattle and a squeak and a low rumble sounded on the far side. His heart began to pound, his blood raced, singing through his veins, and the world sharpened and brightened around him.
Alive. I feel alive. He took a deep, trembling breath to taste the cool rush and let the need claw its way up inside. Maybe this is it. Harry tugged the door open and stepped in.
A snarl reverberated through him and all four walls, so loud his ears rang, and six glowing, yellow eyes fixed themselves upon him.
‘Interesting.’ Harry drew a circle of purple flame in the air with the tip of his wand.
A vast, three-headed figure loomed over them. Lolling tongues drooled thick trails of saliva down onto a broad wooden trapdoor, jagged, discoloured fangs gleamed in the flickering indigo flame and a low rumble echoed deep in the beast’s chest.
Harry’s heart hammered against his ribs and the cold shock of adrenaline flooded through his veins. Yes. This is it. Something’s going to happen.
Hermione shrieked and hauled him back out the door by the back of his robes. Footsteps echoed from the far end of the corridor and she darted away toward the stairs, still dragging him by his robes.
It was right there! His heart settled back to a solemn beat and the thrill drained from him. And now it’s gone.
Harry ripped himself free of Hermione’s grip and whirled on her. ‘What did you do that for?!’
She flinched. ‘I just—’
‘I was so close!’
‘So close to what?’ She crossed her arms. ‘Getting eaten?
‘No.’ Harry released a long sigh and groped for the feeling, but it slipped away from him like smoke through his fingers. ‘It doesn’t matter. You won’t understand.’
Hermione peered up at him and shuffled her feet. ‘Is it important?’
‘Yes.’ The desperate need clawed its way up into his throat, a fistful of razors so sharp his eyes stung with hot tears. ‘Yes, it is. There’s something I have to find, only, I don’t know what it is.’
It’s just a feeling…
‘Then I’ll help.’ She drew herself up. ‘You’re my first friend and I’ll help you, like how you helped me.’
There was a trapdoor down there. I saw it. That means there’s something underneath. Maybe it’s there.
The thrill trickled through his veins, a brief, bright flutter of cool. ‘Then we’ll go back?’ His heart picked up its beat.
Hermione swallowed, giving Harry a weak smile. ‘Yes,’ she whispered, pale-faced and trembling. ‘If you need to go back, then we’ll go back.’
The smooth dark wood loomed between colourful tapestries; the light from the corridor seemed to vanish into it, goading Hermione’s heart to dash itself against her ribs.
It’s just a small door and a big dog. She bit at her lip and wiped her palms dry on her robes. You’ve read all about it. You know what to do.
‘Ready?’ A bright gleam hovered in Harry’s eyes. He thrummed with energy, shifting his weight from one foot to the other and tapping his fingers in a swift, erratic rhythm on his wand.
We must be mad. Hermione’s wand tip trembled before the lock. Folie à deux.
‘Ready,’ she whispered. ‘Alohomora.’
Three pairs of yellow eyes opened in the dark with a low rumble. The walls of the castle trembled and shook at the snarl that ripped its way from the cerberus, and the scent of wet dog settled over her, thick enough to taste on her tongue. Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve and cast soft, white light from its tip. The vast, shaggy-haired beast bared its yellow fangs and tensed.
Music. Sing. Hermione tried to take a deep breath but the air got stuck in her throat. What do I sing?
‘Frère Jacques,’ she squeaked. ‘Frère Jacques—’
The cerberus’s growl softened, but still shook the room. Faint wrinkles creased Harry’s brow as he extended his wand; a distant, quizzical gleam appeared in his eye as he stared at the ring of steel atop the trapdoor in the floor.
‘Dormez-vous.’ Hermione fought the tremble in her voice and stole a quick breath. ‘Dormez—’
Stone spikes thrust from the walls at either side of the cerberus. Hot, wet drops sprayed over Hermione’s face and robes and spattered the floor. Cold flooded her veins and sent the world spinning ‘round. Harry flicked his wand and the spears slid back into the wall, ripping apart the cerberus’s corpse. A thick, steaming pool of red spread to lap at Hermione’s toes and a slick, copper tang choked her mouth and nose.
‘Why?’ The word slipped out as less than a whisper. ‘I was singing. It would’ve fallen asleep!’
‘Singing?’ Harry’s gaze bored into the trapdoor like he was trying to burn a hole through it with his eyes. ‘I didn’t hear.’
Hermione took a deep breath and gagged on the thick metallic reek. Her stomach surged and she bolted out into the corridor to hurl a bitter rush of vomit between the feet of a suit of armour.
The world swam.
This can’t be real. There’s no way anyone our age could do that. Hermione clamped her eyes shut and held her breath. When I open my eyes, this will all be gone.
The acrid, bitter reek of her vomit stung her nose and the dried blood cracked on her skin as she relaxed her face.
It’s not going to be gone. Panic lanced through her. Her heart wrenched, then began to pound. I said I’d come with him, but I’m out here…
‘Harry?’ She whispered.
‘I’m here, Hermione.’ His voice drifted from the dark beyond where a thin stream of crimson trickled out beneath the door.
Hermione bit her lip and pushed the door open, sending little ripples through the blood. ‘Are you—’
‘I’m going down.’ Harry stood over the open trapdoor, his green eyes burning with a wild, fierce light. ‘It’s down here. I can feel it. I know it is.’
Hermione gulped and glanced at the sprawled mass of blood-soaked hair, gleaming wet flesh and bright white bone. ‘What if — what if there’s more things down there?’
He stared down into the dark. ‘It’s down there, so I have to go down there.’
‘But — but if you go down there you could die.‘
Harry tore his gaze away from the trapdoor. His eyes shone like rings of emerald flame. ‘And if I don’t, I won’t ever find it.’ He cocked his head. ‘You can stay behind, Hermione. I probably don’t need you to come with me.’
She flinched from the sting of his words and wrestled with fear’s cold grasp upon her soul. ‘I’m coming.’ The words slipped from her lips. ‘I can’t let you go down there alone.’
A small smile crooked Harry’s lips. ‘Thanks, Hermione.’ His smile spread into a bright, excited gleam of white teeth, then he closed his eyes and stepped off the edge.
She tip-toed through the blood to the edge of the trapdoor. Red poured down into a thick, still black hanging like a sea of ink.
‘Folie à deux,’ she murmured. ‘Madness shared with me.’
If Harry can save you from a troll, you can help him. Hermione clutched her wand to her chest, teetered on the edge, then stepped forward.
The bottom dropped out of her stomach and the air rushed past as she plunged into the dark. She thudded into something soft and cool, rolling to a stop on her hands and knees.
Where’s Harry? Hermione’s heart faded back to a steady rhythm. Did he not wait?
Something curled ’round her left ankle and tugged her to the ground. A scream burst from her lips and the floor grazed her chin as she scrabbled for purchase on cold stone. More things curled around her arms, her waist and her right thigh; she wriggled and kicked, but their grip tightened, pulling her legs too taut to move. They dragged her backward flagstone by flagstone, ripping her desperate fingers from each line of mortar, tearing her nails and leaving red smears on the stone.
‘Harry!’ She shrieked. ‘Harry!’
A flicker of red light appeared in the corner of her eye, then searing heat washed over her. The things tightened, shuddered, and loosened. Hermione tore her way free.
He saved me again. She scrambled away toward a familiar shadow amidst the roiling red fire. He really doesn’t need me.
The remnants of a dark-vined plant writhed and burnt around Harry’s feet. Pools of cherry-red flame flickered and danced, eating into the stone.
‘What kind of spell is that?’ Hermione blurted.
Harry stared at the fire, then glanced at the tip of his wand. ‘A fire spell.’
How does he know a spell like that? Even I’ve no idea.
‘What was the incantation?’ she asked.
Harry slashed his wand at the flames and watched them gutter out. ‘I didn’t use one.’ Ice crept into his eyes and his knuckles turned white around his slim ebony wand. ‘It was just in the way.’
Non-verbal? Hermione blinked. We’re years away from learning that! Why does he want to be my friend if he’s so much better than me?
‘Devil’s snare,’ she muttered. ‘Any kind of light or heat would’ve stopped it.’
‘Well, it’s stopped now.’ He scuffed his foot through the ashes and a bright smile crept onto his face. ‘You know, I’m not sure if I want to rush right to the finding, or savour the feeling as it grows stronger!’ A little shiver rippled through him. ‘It’s exciting!’
He’s like a dog chasing its tail. Hermione watched him spin his wand in his hand, shifting his balance back and forth like he didn’t know which way to go, and her gaze slipped down to the warped stone and ash. What will he do if he can’t catch it?
‘If we’re going, we should go.’ She stumbled to the door, shoving it open with her shoulder. ‘Let’s see what’s next, Harry.’
Two rows of stark black and white figures lined a chequer-floored hall. Blank, empty faces stared back from the dark pieces opposite them.
Chess… She frowned. I don’t really like chess.
Harry squeezed through the gaps between the white pieces and darted up into the centre of the board. ‘Do we play each other?’ He spun ’round on his heel. ‘Do we have to play at all?’
The white pawn in the row he stood in crumbled to dust and the black knight slid out to face him.
‘So we play them.’ His wand slipped out of his sleeve. ‘It’s a puzzle!’
Hermione stared up at him, watching him move the white chess pieces about with his wand like a conductor’s baton in a frenetic rumble. No. You’re not chasing your own tail. There’s too much direction, too much purpose. Chunks of white stone bounced across the board as Harry’s bishop shattered beneath the blow of the black queen like a dropped flowerpot. This thing you’re trying to find. It’s a puzzle. It’s every puzzle. Because you don’t know which puzzle it is. A small smile sprang onto her lips and a warm glow rushed through her. Maybe I can help. I’m good at puzzles.
Mounds of white rubble covered the board and dust hung in the air, and the thick stone-must tickled her nose. Twice as many dark pieces surrounded a dwindling number of white ones.
Harry’s bright smile faded into a dark, frustrated scowl. ‘I just need to go through the door!‘ His fingers tightened around his wand and stabbed it forward at the black queen. ‘Why does everything have to get in the way?!’
The white rook rumbled forward and obliterated a dark knight, sending chunks of stone skittering across the board. The black bishop slid back and shattered the white rook into pieces.
‘Harry!’ Hermione jumped up onto the board, scanning the pieces. ‘You need to take your time!’
‘Take my time,’ Harry echoed, his green eyes as hard and cold as the glass of Hermione’s bedroom window in winter. ‘This is a waste of time.’ He whirled ’round and thrust his wand at the chess pieces. ‘I hate it!’
A wave of fierce, red flame exploded from his wand in a flash of overwhelming heat. It bubbled over the white pieces, melting them into steaming piles of lava, then curved back ‘round him and swept through the dark ones, stripping the stone from the floor and spattering the wall with molten rock.
Hermione buried her face in her arm and peered through her fingers.
Harry’s shadow loomed at the centre of the swirling red fire, arms spread and wand raised like a conductor’s baton. His delighted laugh rang out as the flames coalesced together and hammered into the small door on the far side of the room. ‘No more obstacles!’
He doesn’t need me at all. The thought hung on Hermione’s heart like a lead weight. He doesn’t need to solve puzzles, not with magic like that.
The door melted away like butter in a pan and Harry forced the flames through. Molten stone wept from the walls and trickled out across the floor.
‘Coming?’ He turned to her with a broad, bright grin on his smoke-streaked face and extended his hand; an inferno of crimson fire whirled beyond the doorway behind him. ‘Hermione?’
He still wants me to come with him. Her heart leapt into her mouth and tears sprang to her eyes. It doesn’t matter to him. I’m not here to help. He — he just likes me.
She grabbed his hand and clung to it as he led her on toward the vortex of flame.
Harry swept his wand at the fire and it faded out around their feet. ‘I guess whatever was in here won’t be getting in my way.’
A faint reek coiled to Hermione’s nose beneath the sweet heat of the fire and hot stone, the slick stink of raw sewage. ‘Urgh.’ She scrunched up her face and pressed a hand over her nose. ‘Let’s keep going.’
Harry kicked the next door open and stepped through, pulling her after him.
A flock of bright-feathered, gleaming bronze keys flitted overhead between bare stone walls and a single broom lay on the flagstones at the room’s centre.
‘I guess we need to catch the right one.’ Hermione watched them zip back and forth like a cloud of birds before the sun. ‘How do we know which one it is?’
‘We don’t.’ Harry tracked their swirling and took a long, deep breath. A darkness rose in his eyes and his hand fell from hers. ‘Why does everything have to get in the way…’
Hermione eyed the broom and swallowed a stab of fear, putting a hand on his shoulder. ‘I’ll fly up and catch them. You just wait here for a moment, Harry.’
The darkness lifted from his eyes, then his jaw clenched. ‘No. I don’t want to wait.’ A little tremble shivered through him. ‘I want to feel it now.’ Harry pointed his wand up, twisting it like it were a knife.
Feathers rained down around them like fallen leaves.
Harry caught a pearl-white one on his palm and held it up between his thumb and forefinger as bronze keys clattered down about their feet. A faint frown creased his brow, then he winced and dropped the feather to press his fingertips to his temples.
‘Are you okay?’ Hermione asked. ‘Are these spells really tiring to cast?’
‘I’m fine.’ The bright, broad smile spread across his face and he thrust out his hand. ‘I think we’re getting close. I can feel it.’
The keys zoomed from the floor into his fist.
Wandless magic… Hermione pinched her thigh, wincing at the flash of pain. How?
Harry weighed them on his palm, then plucked a large old bronze key out and let the others go. They bounced off Hermione’s shoes and skittered across the floor.
‘You’re sure?’ She glanced between the key in Harry’s hand and the lock. ‘Why that one?’
He stared at it with a small frown, then bounced it in his palm. ‘It feels right.’
None of this feels right.
Harry thrust the key in the lock and twisted, then shoved the door open with his forearm and strode through. Hermione darted after him.
Black and purple flames sprang up behind and before her.
‘Another obstacle.’ Harry stood before an array of bottles, clutching a piece of paper. ‘This isn’t magic — it’s logic — a puzzle.’
Hermione studied the flames. Their heat bathed her face like the scorching summer sun bathed her parents’ garden. This time, I can help.
‘Let me help.’ She tugged the piece of parchment from his grip and scanned it. ‘It’s not immediately obvious.’
Hermione skimmed the writing, glancing back and forth between the hints and bottles. The red and black ones can’t be poison and must be the same, so they’re full of nettle wine. Which means the white and green ones are poison. That just leaves the last three.
Harry reached out and plucked the purple and blue bottles from the row. ‘The blue one will take me forward. The purple one’s useless.’
The purple one will take us back. She frowned at the small bottle. If there’s enough.
‘But there’s only enough for one,’ Hermione murmured. ‘Only one of us can go through.’’
Harry handed her the purple bottle. ‘You can go back, if you want.’
‘And do what?’ She shook her head. ‘How am I meant to help if I’m not here when you need me?’
A strange little glint welled up in Harry’s eyes. ‘You really want to come with me?’
The indigo and ebony flames crackled on either side of them and Hermione’s heart rose up into her mouth. ‘I go where you go.’
His bright green eyes bored into her, cold and hard as ice. ‘Even if I don’t need you, Hermione?’
‘You wanted me to come, right?’ she whispered, swallowing a lump in her throat and blinking back tears. ‘Even though you don’t need me for spells, or magic, or anything.’ Words spilt off her tongue before she could stop them. ‘You just wanted someone. You — you stuck out your hand…’
Something softened in Harry’s expression and he stared down at his palm. ‘I did… I felt…’
‘Harry?’ She weighed the little purple bottle in her hand. ‘Are you alright?’
‘For a moment, I really didn’t want to go through there alone.’ He plucked the potion from her hand and tossed it away, then pressed the blue bottle into her hand. ‘So I won’t. Drink it.’
Hermione tugged the stopper out and gulped a single mouthful of ice down.
‘Step through.’ Harry held out his hand. ‘Come on.’
‘I’ll be fine.’ A fierce little glint lit up in his eye. ‘I have to go through, even if it burns.’
This isn’t something important, this is an obsession. And I can’t stop him. She stared into the flames and tried not to picture him burning. He was fine before. Maybe he’ll be fine now.
Harry stepped into the flames and tugged her after him.
Hermione staggered out before a tall, bronze-framed mirror. Harry tore the burning parts of his robe away and patted the flames down. Raw patches of red wept upon his feet and legs, but as she watched, the flesh crept back and they faded back to smooth skin.
‘I found it,’ he breathed, reaching out and touching his fingertips to the glass. ‘There it is.’
Hermione stared past him into the glass. Her reflection stared back from beside Harry, whispering in his ear as she drew her hand from her pocket. The wild gleam and the mad excitement faded from Harry’s eyes as he turned to look at her. The bright red stone shone through her fingers and a small, warm smile spread across his lips.
That must be what he needs. And I found it. I helped him.
A weight appeared on her palm. Hermione tore her gaze away and stared down at the red stone in her hand. ‘Harry…’
‘The Philosopher’s Stone.’ He took it from her hand and sighed. A great darkness rose up in his eyes to swallow him. ‘It’s just a rock to me.’ He stuck it in his pocket. ‘The mirror only shows me a shadow… But it’s still out there somewhere. I can feel it.’
‘Oh…’ Tears sprang to her eyes. ‘I thought — I thought I helped.’ She blinked the tears away. ‘It’s ok. Next time. Next time we’ll find it, ok, Harry?’
‘It’s ok,’ Harry murmured, pressing his fingertips into his temple so hard they turned white. ‘The more it hurts to have, the more satisfying it’ll be to get it.’
A faint red glow covered Harry’s blank sheet of parchment and spiralled across the desk onto Hermione’s neat classwork. He watched the red-tinted sunlight swirl as if the stone were full of a thousand glowing motes of dust.
‘Harry,’ Hermione hissed. ‘Stop using it as a paper weight!’
He glanced up at Quirrell, who was staring at him like he’d just seen the sun for the first time. ‘It was unbalancing my pockets.’
‘It’s a legendary magical artefact,’ she whispered. ‘You should really give it to someone like Professor Dumbledore. I don’t even know why it was down there!’
‘Why does he get a free paperweight?’ Harry asked. ‘He probably doesn’t even do any writing.’
Hermione huffed. ‘Neither do you.’ She snatched the rock off the desk and stuffed it back into the pocket of his robes. ‘You never do any work. Ever.’
‘I don’t want to.’ A faint stab of yearning pierced him. ‘I want—’
‘I know.’ Hermione’s warm hand rested over his. ‘We’ll find it.’
Maybe I should go back to see the mirror. That might help. The shadow dancing in the shimmering silver tugged at his thoughts and it all bubbled back up. Heat prickled in his eyes and a fierce thicket of emotion coiled ‘round his heart. What is that? What is it!?
‘Harry…’ Hermione murmured. ‘You’re crying.’
He touched his fingertips to his cheek; they came away warm and wet. A sparkling drop clung to his middle finger, then splashed onto the desk.
She clasped his hand between hers. ‘Are you — are you, okay?’
‘I don’t know.’ He blinked the tears away and smeared his cheeks dry. ‘But I’m going to find whatever it is. I saw its shadow. I saw it in the mirror.’ The darkness danced before the eye of his mind like a candle flame and the walls of the classroom closed in about him like the bars of a cage. ‘I — I’m leaving.’ He staggered to his feet and stumbled out.
‘Mr Potter!’ Quirrell’s cries echoed down the corridor after him, then up the stairs as he rose higher and higher. ‘Mr Potter!’
Harry wrestled with the wrenching ache, following its tug past a tapestry of tap-dancing trolls, and pacing back and forth in the corridor. I need — I need — I need to find this. I need to find it. I can’t bear it.
A plain wooden door opened up in the stone.
‘A door…’ The yearning dulled and a soft shock of excitement rippled through him. ‘Is this it?’ He wrenched it open and stumbled down a slope onto his knees.
Empty stone curved up away on all sides. A hollow orb of black and white-barred marble with his feet at its heart.
This isn’t it. The need clawed its way up within his chest. This is just some stupid magic room.
Harry scrambled up the slope and back out.
Quirrell stood in the corridor, unwinding his turban. ‘Mr Potter… I don’t know how you got that stone, but you’re going to hand it over to me. Now.’
Harry pulled the red rock from his pocket as he struggled with the cage of thorns closing ‘round his heart. Their points cut a deep, sweet, sharp pain right through the core of him. ‘Is it important?’
Maybe I should keep it, then. He stuffed it back into his pocket and tried to smother the swirling storm of feeling. Just in case.
Quirrell hissed and raised his wand. ‘Avada kedavra.’
Harry’s wand slipped from his sleeve and a black butterfly swallowed a flash of green light. The weight of a word hung on the tip of his tongue as Quirrell recoiled, wide-eyed. ‘Fulminis.’
A white flash seared Harry’s eyes.
He blinked away the green spots.
Little flecks of ash floated to the floor around him.
Dead. Harry’s heart settled back to a steady rhythm and the yearning ebbed, fading back to a distant, dull ache beneath his ribs. Very dead.
He closed his eyes and let the quiet wash over him.
‘Your mother’s love saved you, Harry.’ Dumbledore’s voice drifted to his ear. ‘Her willing sacrifice, her love, is a powerful magic that protects you.’
A sharp twinge ripped through Harry’s head and he snapped his eyes open.
Dumbledore’s bright blue eyes and long white beard hovered before a row of hospital beds. ‘Are you okay, my boy?’
‘I’m fine.’ He thrust a hand into his pocket. ‘The stone…’
‘I’ve returned it to its rightful owner.’ Dumbledore sighed. ‘They have, given the danger, decided to destroy it, and move on.’
A twist of fear seized Harry. ‘I hope it wasn’t important.’
‘To the well-adjusted mind, my boy, it was little more than temptation.’ Dumbledore smoothed out his beard. ‘One of those dreams better not dwelt on, I think.’
Dreams… Harry’s mind swam with swirling shadows and dancing dark. Dreams are all we have.
‘If you say so, professor.’ He closed his eyes. ‘If you say so.’
A loud crack tore through the room.
‘Great Harry Potter, sir!’ Bright, bulging green eyes appeared in the dark.
A cold shock coursed through Harry and his wand snapped up. A bright flash of white light spattered red all over the room and ripped through the walls, leaving him beneath a cloud of orange brick dust.
What? He squeezed his eyes shut and reopened them.
Hermione pressed her hands against worn, chipped orange bricks, breathing a mile a minute. ‘It’s not here!’
‘What’s not here?’ Harry asked.
A crowd of dull, distant, faceless figures drifted back and forth around them.
‘The entrance to the platform!’
Ron stepped alongside them. ‘Must’ve been that house elf, mate.’
Hermione whirled round. ‘Why’re you here?’
Ron blinked. ‘What do you mean? Came here with Harry, didn’t I?’
She gaped. ‘But — but that doesn’t make sense!’
Dobby. Snatches of the mad elf, his letters, the floating cake, and his cryptic warning flashed through Harry’s mind.
‘He must’ve sealed it.’ Harry pressed his fingers to the cold brick. A small thrill trickled through his veins. ‘I wonder why?’
‘Don’t set fire to anything,’ Hermione blurted.
Ron gawped. ‘What?!’
Harry let his arm drop back to his side. The yearning coiled up inside, tight as a vice, hot and thick, but sharp as lemon juice on his tongue. ‘I need—’
‘Let’s just head to Diagon Alley, Harry.’ Hermione’s hand rested on his shoulder and its warmth eased a little of the need clamped about his heart. ‘Someone can come and collect us. I’ve enough money for the Tube.’
‘Right,’ Ron said. ‘Can probably floo in or something. Teachers don’t get the train.’
Harry let out a long slow breath until the yearning faded to a soft little pain beneath his ribs. ‘As long as we get there. Something’s happening.’ The shadow swirled through his thoughts like smoke on the breeze. ‘I can feel it.’
Hermione drew a slim, blue line of ink across her page, watching it spread into the little fibres of the parchment. A distant mutter rose and fell around her on the surrounding tables.
Things that don’t make sense. She etched five letters into the white, then underlined them. Harry.
A first year Ravenclaw flounced past their table, and up and down the lines of books. Her silver-blonde hair flashed between the gaps in the shelves. Harry stared after her, a strange little frown upon his face, his fingers pressed to his temple, and his back as straight as a ruler.
‘Harry?’ Hermione put her quill down. ‘Are you ok?’
His gaze snapped back to her and his shoulders relaxed. ‘I’m fine.’
‘What did you feel?’ she asked. ‘Just then?’
‘It’s always the same,’ he murmured. ‘It’s gone now.’
She picked her pen up and added the feeling to her list, then jotted down spells, non-verbal spells, wandless magic, and unnatural healing.
‘What exactly is it?’ she whispered.
Harry’s hand slipped to his sternum. ‘I just… feel it. There’s just… something.’
‘Something you want?’ she probed.
His lips twisted and his brow creased. ‘Something I want, but not just that.’
Hermione nodded. ‘Something you don’t have?’
‘Sometimes it feels like I have it.’ A small smile crept across Harry’s face; it turned broad and bright, and the gleam in his eyes lifted Hermione’s heart like a clear summer sky. ‘But it always slips away.’
‘Slips away,’ she muttered. ‘Something missing, maybe?’
Harry leant his head to one side and the smile faded from his face. ‘Yes… Something missing.’
She tapped the butt of her pen on her piece of paper and scowled at her list. And this is just Harry. None of the other stuff makes any sense either. Ron just turned up like we were all friends. Hermione wracked her brain. We barely spoke to him last year. Or Malfoy. And why does everyone think Harry’s on the quidditch team?
‘Do you think there are any books on psychology here?’ she wondered. ‘Or, well, mental illness?’
Harry stared at the ceiling. ‘All the mind magic’s in the restricted section.’
‘All the what?’
‘Mind magic,’ he repeated as if he were tasting the words for the first time. ‘It’s in the restricted section.’
He has no idea why he said that, does he. She shivered and leant against the wall. Has he always been like this? Maybe it’s not magic or books he needs help with.
‘Rip…’ A sibilant whisper echoed through the room. ‘Rip. Tear. Kill.’
Hermione flinched back off the wall.
Harry cocked his head. ‘Interesting…’ He jumped from his chair, kicking it back onto the floor. ‘That seems unusual.’ Harry paused and threw a quick look at the rest of the library. ‘Did you hear it?’
‘I heard it.’ She glanced around at the figures milling about the library, but they carried on like nothing was amiss. ‘What was it?’
‘I don’t know.’ His wand slipped from his sleeve and that bright little glint welled up in his green eyes. ‘Let’s find out!’
‘So hungry.’ The whisper came again. ‘So so hungry.’
Nobody in the library paused save for Harry, who stared at the wall like the Mona Lisa was hung upon the bland, white surface.
We’re the only two who can hear it. Hermione frowned. Are we mad? All these things that don’t add up, is it us?
‘Folie à deux,’ she murmured.
Harry flicked his wand and ripped open the wall with a stone screech and metal-edged thud. Dust and chips of plaster and rock rained down on their table. The soft scent of damp and mildew washed out in a cold breeze.
Hermione’s heart stopped. ‘Harry!’
He clambered onto the table and stuck his head into the hole. ‘There’s just a big pipe…’ Harry squirmed his shoulders in and a soft, white glow emanated from within the wall. ‘A really big pipe. You could ride a bike through here.’
‘Well don’t,’ Hermione snapped. ‘And fix the wall!’
‘Fine…’ He sighed and wriggled back out. A flick of his wand and the wall reformed. ‘It wasn’t anything anyway.’
Hermione glanced down at her list and huffed the dust off. I don’t think it’s so simple. All these things that don’t add up, they revolve ‘round Harry. She drew a line under everything she’d written before. And sometimes it’s just him doing things that don’t make sense. But sometimes it’s everyone else that doesn’t make sense.
A blur of lavender and magenta robes leapt upon a circular stage and spread its arms out. ‘Welcome!’ The half-curled blonde hair flopped from one side of his forehead to the other. ‘Welcome, my dear students, to Hogwarts’ new duelling club!’
Hermione wriggled through the crowd to Harry’s shoulder, then shook her head. ‘Who is that?’
Harry glanced up at the man peacocking along the stage. ‘Lockhart.’
‘He’s our defence professor, Hermione,’ Ron said. ‘You scored the highest on his stupid quiz because you have a major crush on him.’
Hermione shook her head and tugged out a small notebook and a muggle pen. ‘I’ve never seen him before in my entire life!’
Ron squinted at her, then shrugged. ‘Whatever. Has anyone seen Ginny?’
‘Who?’ Hermione asked, writing in her little book.
‘Ginny.’ Ron levelled a freckled glower at Hermione. ‘My little sister. Are you trying to wind me up for some reason?’
‘It just doesn’t make sense,’ she muttered, carrying on writing.
‘Yeah, well, I don’t really care.’ Ron crossed his arms. ‘With the whole Heir of Slytherin, monster in the Chamber of Secrets thing, I don’t want her left on her own.’
Hermione’s writing reached a furious pace, her face contorted into a scowl. ‘Harry.’ She grabbed his arm and dragged him back through the crowd. ‘Do you know what Ron was talking about?’
The Chamber of Secrets. Stone serpents flashed before his eyes. Flooded white tiles led to dust-covered steps and into the dark. A stab of sorrow lanced through his heart and the yearning bubbled up like magma.
‘Maybe?’ he murmured, easing his arm free as they left the hall.
Hermione wrung her little notebook like a wet rag. ‘Salazar Slytherin has a secret chamber. It has a monster in it! And everyone knows about it. Everyone thinks we know about it!’
Salazar… A fist of emotion clamped ‘round Harry’s throat and tears sprung to his eyes. They blurred on his lashes as he tried to swallow the hot ball of emotion back down. Harry smeared them away.
Hermione let out something half-sigh, half-sob. ‘Am I mad? Sometimes this is all like some strange dream!’
It doesn’t do to dwell on dreams. A thousand thousand faces hung among his thoughts, their eyes pale and bright as the moon. But if there’re no dreams left, then what’s the point? I may as well just disappear after all.
‘I think it’s something important,’ he whispered, drifting up the stairs.
The feeling swirled through him like a storm.
This is the strongest it’s been since I saw the mirror.
He followed his feet to a shining puddle and grime-smeared white tiles. The harsh, bright light stabbed at his eyes and a lightness swirled about his head.
Harry squeezed his eyes shut, then reopened them.
A short girl in thick-framed, wide glasses laughed and kicked water across the bathroom. Water soaked her robes about her legs and dark, damp patches splotched her shirt and tie. ‘No magic!’ she cried, beaming and kicking water at him. ‘No magic, Tom. That’s cheating!’
Water sprayed his face and Harry flinched, brushing it away from his eyes.
Steps led through the sink into the dark beneath Harry’s feet. He stumbled down, waving his hand before his face and straining his eyes into the pitch black. The scent of mildew and must clung to his nose.
A gaping-mouthed stone bust rose above a still pool. The eyes of the serpent effigies tracked Harry as he crunched through the mounds of small bones toward it.
‘The Chamber of Secrets.’ Excitement blazed through his veins like liquid flame. ‘This must be it.’
A soft hiss drifted from behind him and a great weight crushed through the bones, slithering over the damp stone.
Harry slipped his wand free. White sparks coiled and crackled at its tip. ‘Fulminis.’ A brilliant flash seared his eyes as he twisted ’round, but the bright beam spattered off lime-green scales and scorched the stone effigies.
Spots of light swirled before Harry’s eyes, but his wand hand snapped up and sped through a string of wand motions. Incantations slipped from his tongue, the words welling up from the back of his mind. Purple curses deflected off the poisonous green scales and smashed through the statues as he blinked the spots out of his vision.
A bright pair of slitted yellow eyes loomed from within a blur of vast coils.
The world faded away into the distance and everything went dark.
Harry dragged his eyes open.
A single, soft shadow swirled in shining silver, faint as summer shade, silent as winter snow. It danced deep beneath the shimmering mirror’s surface like the slim forms of fish darting beneath the bright flash of sunlight off the sea. The ball of burning need tore ’round beneath his ribs like the winds of a hurricane, its hot claws sharp as razors.
Does this never end?
Rivulets of red trickled down the white plaster from the finger-daubed letters. Hermione squinted at the words, but they blurred and swam together between paintings full of spring flowers.
‘Her skeleton will lie in the chamber forever,’ Harry murmured.
‘Whose skeleton?’ Hermione demanded.
‘Probably Ginny’s.’ Harry twirled his wand in his fingers. ‘Tom’s using her.’
Who? Hermione clawed through her memory. Lavender and magenta robes flashed before her mind’s eye. Harry vanished down the corridor ahead of her, drifting out of sight. We were just downstairs talking… Her eyes fell upon the daffodils and crocuses. Isn’t it still Christmas!?
‘She must’ve been taken to the Chamber…’ Harry drifted away, sliding through the crowd.
Oh no, he’s found another puzzle. Hermione dashed after him, fighting her way past the flood of students milling in the corridor. And this one’s really dangerous…
‘Where’re you going?’ She called.
Harry wandered on until he stumbled into a bright, lilac-draped figure.
‘Harry!’ The blonde fringe flopped over the man’s blue eyes. ‘You must be off to save the girl!’
‘I’m going to find the Chamber of Secrets, Professor Lockhart,’ Harry replied. ‘I’ve a feeling I know where it is.’
Lockhart’s eyes bulged. ‘You’ve discovered it!’ He drew himself up and smoothed the front of his lilac robes. ‘You must show me at once. A girl has been taken!’
Harry strode off down the corridor, spinning his wand ’round and ’round and ’round in his hand. Lockhart staggered after him, his wand in his hand.
At least there’ll be a teacher to help us, this time. Hermione darted after them and skidded into Myrtle’s bathroom. Here? Of course! The girl who died!
A soft hiss echoed over the damp, white tiles and the sink slid apart.
Lockhart stared down into the dark. ‘Nobody’s ever found the Chamber of Secrets, when word of this gets out…’ His wand snapped up between Hermione’s eyes. ‘Obliviate!’
A bright flash of green rippled across Hermione’s vision and a soft thud echoed in her ears.
‘Are you okay?’ Harry’s eyes bored into hers.
Am I okay? Hermione glanced around the white tiles, then frowned down into the dark passage between the sinks. Wait… Where am I?
‘Harry?’ Her heart began to pound. ‘How did I get here? What were we doing? We were downstairs in the corridor a second ago.’
He raised an eyebrow. ‘Your memory…’
Lilac robes flitted through her thoughts, a blonde fringe hung over blue eyes and snatches of conversation along corridors fluttered before the eye of her mind. A stab of fear shot down her spine. Professor Lockhart!
‘Where is he?’ she squeaked, dragging her wand out. ‘Where’s Professor Lockhart?’
Harry stared at the small footprints leading down the dust-covered stairs. ‘He chose to be an obstacle.’
Hermione’s gaze crept down Harry’s chest, slipping past his legs, his feet, and the puddle to a sprawled pool of lilac and still, limp limbs. ‘Is he — is he… okay?’
A bright little gleam welled up in Harry’s eyes and he danced from one foot to the other, tapping his fingers against his thigh and spinning his wand in his fingers. ‘I’m going down.’ He stepped into the dark.
She edged a couple of steps nearer to Professor Lockhart and poked his elbow with her toe. It flopped off his chest and slapped into the puddle. Blank, wide blue eyes stared up through limp blond curls.
Her blood froze. Harry killed him. Gentle feeling fluttered in her stomach. Because he tried to hurt me. The bright glint in Harry’s eyes flashed through her thoughts. No. Because he was an obstacle to his obsession.
Lockhart’s pale, damp skin and dead eyes swam amidst the harsh white bathroom light. All the air fled her lungs and her skin flashed hot and cold like a flickering light bulb. Hermione’s head spun, light as a cloud, and the fluttering in her stomach bubbled up. The room lurched sideways and she sagged to her knees in the cold puddle, spluttering acrid, pungent orange chunks onto the lilac robes.
I need to help him. Somehow. She wiped vomit off her lips and stumbled to the sink, running cold water over her hands and splashing her sweat-beaded forehead until the mirror showed some colour in her cheeks. Hermione took a gulp of water from the tap and washed the bitter taste from her tongue. Harry went down into the chamber… Her heart clenched and she sprinted down the steps through pitch black, waving a hand before her face. I can’t get left behind. I can’t help him if I get left behind. Blood thundered through her head and cold sweat stuck her shirt to her back.
Soft voices echoed up through the dark.
Harry’s alive. She skidded to a halt amongst a mound of small, broken bones and squinted down between the lines of stone serpents toward a huge stone bust and a dark pool. Why’s there two of him?
A small, red-haired girl sprawled across the stone beside a slim, dark book beyond the pair of Harrys. Hermione clutched her wand and edged closer.
‘Tom Riddle,’ Harry murmured.
Who? Hermione tip-toed closer. Is this the heir?
‘Harry Potter.’ A bright, excited gleam welled up in the mahogany eyes of the other boy. ‘I’ve been very keen to meet you.’
‘Are you it? Harry’s eyes darted around the chamber. ‘Is this it?’
‘It?’ Tom Riddle’s voice cooled. ‘No others have ever discovered this place. We are set apart from the rest. The only real Heirs of Slytherin share his brilliance and drive as well as his blood.’
‘What did you do to Ginny?’ Harry spun his wand ’round and ’round, drumming his fingers against his hip and bouncing from one foot to the other. ‘You’re just a memory.’
‘I’m much more than a memory,’ Tom whispered. ‘Little Ginny poured herself into my pages, all her hopes, all her dreams, everything she is. Her very soul.’
Ron’s little sister.
‘Soul magic…’ Harry’s gaze sharpened and he fell still. ‘Are you just Tom? Or are you both Tom and Ginny, with her lost beneath the surface? A clever way to take her body as your own.’
‘You know soul magic.’ Tom’s eyes narrowed. ‘You know it well.’
A chill trickled down Hermione’s spine and she crept a little closer. ‘What’s going to happen to Ginny?’
‘There won’t be a Ginny. There’s just him.’ Harry pointed his wand at Tom. ‘He’s Tom and Ginny, but he convinced Ginny to dream his dreams, so they’re one and the same soul now. Two consciousnesses sharing their magic, bound by a shared perception of purpose.’
‘Not quite,’ Tom murmured. ‘She still dreams of being saved. When there’re no dreams left, then we’ll be one.’
Madness. Hermione swallowed hard and clenched her fists against the hammering of her heart. Magic like that sounds like it came from a horror film. How does Harry even know it? Does he even know he knew it, or is it like before?
Tom’s brown eyes flicked to Hermione, then back to Harry. ‘You brought a girl down here, too.’
‘I didn’t want to make her wait.’ Harry winced a little and touched his fingertips to his temple. ‘Don’t want to keep a lady waiting, Tom.’
A faint spasm flashed across Tom’s face. ‘Enough of this. Let’s see how you fare against the power I can wield, Harry Potter. Let’s see you try to defeat a basilisk, the most deadly magical creature wizards have created.’ He swivelled to the statue. ‘Speak to me, Slytherin. Greatest of the Hogwarts Four.’
The mouth of the great bust across the pool opened with a dull scrape and a low hiss echoed up.
Hermione’s wand trembled and she darted to Harry’s side. ‘What do we do?’ she whispered.
‘It feels like a test.’ The little gleam in his eyes burst into a wild flame and a broad grin spread across his face. ‘Close your eyes, Hermione.’ His hand came down upon her shoulder. ‘You’ll be fine.’
A low slither echoed from within the passage and something heavy splashed into the water. The thin, sour reek of reptiles filled her nose.
‘Kill him,’ Tom commanded.
Bright flashes stabbed through her eyelids in washes of red; sizzling, hissing noises echoed from all sides and stone smashed and shattered around her.
‘No!’ Tom cried. ‘Kill him. Kill him!’
The air turned searing hot and a crash shook the hall, sending Hermione stumbling to her knees. A warm hand rested on her shoulder.
‘You can open your eyes now, Hermione,’ Harry said.
Long, bright green coils twitched and tumbled across the floor of the chamber over chunks of broken stone. Crimson pooled beneath the vast serpent’s jaw and trickled through the lines in the stone.
Harry left her side, striding through the coils of the spasming snake like they were arching tree branches and plucking the diary from the floor. His grin spread so wide Hermione could see all his teeth and the book shook in his hand.
‘Wait.’ Tom grabbed at Harry, but his fingers passed through Harry’s arm like a ghost. ‘No…’
‘She was saved.’ Harry flicked his wand at the basilisk and ripped free a fang. It drifted across the chamber to hover above the diary. ‘Her dream grew a little stronger. Too strong for you to smother it with your own.’
Tom’s face twisted into a bloodless glower. ‘Do it, then, Harry Potter. Send me to oblivion. I will not disappear. I will return.’
Harry drove the fang in deep and tossed the diary aside. It spurted ink like a fountain as it slid away across the floor. A raw scream tore from Tom’s throat as he wavered and vanished.
The grin slid from Harry’s face. ‘Gone again,’ he whispered, his fingers tightening around his ebony wand. ‘But I thought…’
He gets worse every time… Hermione wrestled with a sharp, knotted tangle of feeling. I have to help him before he hurts anyone else. Before he hurts himself.
Hermione scrambled to his side. ‘Maybe the next puzzle will be it,’ she said.
‘Maybe,’ he whispered, pressing the fingertips of his free hand into the side of his head until they turned white.
Ginny’s eyes snapped open and she gasped. ‘Harry!’
Harry stared through the poisonous green coils of the basilisk at Slytherin’s bust, a strange frown upon his face.
Hermione helped Ginny to her feet and checked her over. ‘Are you okay?’
Ginny clung to her side. ‘Tom’s gone. I think. I hope.’ Tears leaked down her face and she wailed. ‘I was so stupid.’ She sobbed. ‘I listened to everything he said and he just swallowed me up. I didn’t even remember doing half of it.’ Her fingers twisted in Hermione’s robes. ‘One moment I was in the common room after dinner and the next I’m washing blood and feathers off myself in the showers at midnight.’
Memory gaps… like mine. A chill crept down Hermione’s spine and Professor Lockhart’s dead face hung before her mind’s eye. No. It wasn’t Lockhart, those memories came back. My gaps are like Ginny’s. She threw a glance at Harry, who stood right on the edge of the pool staring down into the water. He’d never do that, he saved me. And even if he only did that chasing his obsession, he’s still as affected as me. Folie à deux.
‘I’m sorry,’ Ginny wailed. ‘And now they’ll expel me and send me to Azkaban!’
‘It’s going to be fine,’ Hermione murmured, patting the girl on the back until her sobs faded. ‘You’ll be fine.’
Something’s wrong. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Something’s very wrong.
Bright lime-green coils sprawled over the floor above a dark red stain and a spatter of black ink. The soft, insistent tug of familiarity drew Harry’s feet through them to the edge of the pool.
‘What do you feel?’ Hermione asked.
‘Like I’ve been here before.’ He stared down into the pool and felt the strange yearning rise up inside like a slim string of silver bubbles out of black water. ‘Like something’s still missing.’
‘That’s impossible.’ She blinked, then glanced all around. ‘Where’s Ginny? She was right here!’
‘Ginny can’t get in here unless she’s invited in.’ The words spilt off his tongue before his thoughts caught up.
A strained laugh burst from Hermione. ‘She’s not a vampire, Harry. And that wouldn’t happen even if she were.’
‘It’s blood magic.’ His answer tasted familiar, like hearing the echo of his voice bounce back from a dark room. ‘Only blood relations can enter.’
‘Then how did you get in?!’
Harry raised an eyebrow.
Hermione reeled back. ‘Really?!’
He turned back to the bust, staring into the blank stone eyes of his ancestor. A hot little lump stuck in the back of his throat and a soft, dull throb echoed at the base of his skull. The weight of a familiar word hung on the tip of his tongue. Harry let himself taste it, waiting for the weight to take shape.
‘Harry?’ Hermione called. ‘Are you ok?’
‘Open,’ he whispered.
The lips of Salazar Slytherin’s huge bust slid apart. A serpentine stone tongue rose from the water; its tip came to rest before Harry’s toes.
Interesting… A soft thrill sang in his blood as his heart picked up its pace and a small smile crept onto his lips. Maybe this time…
‘Harry!’ Hermione darted to stand beside him. ‘Why did you open it?! What if there’s another one?!”
‘There’s not.’ He followed his feet over the bridge.
Rings of dust-covered tomes loomed over him up to the distant ceiling, a golden hourglass swung on its hook from the corner of a large, wooden desk and stacks of parchment fluttered across its surface, sending motes of dust swirling through the air.
Hermione gasped into his ear. ‘This is amazing!’
Harry swivelled around. A blank, square outline framed her bushy hair as she stared all around her. Hermione’s head snapped ’round to stare at the pale square of stone.
Someone lost a painting. A twinge of pain bit into his temple and throbbed there in time with the thud of his heart. Harry tugged open desk drawers and clawed through the books and papers. Empty vials rattled in their racks and faded lines of ink spread across the desk in a swirl of dust. Nothing… The thrill ebbed and his heart sank down after it into a deep, dark emptiness. Harry closed his eyes and tuned out Hermione’s excited babble. Maybe I’ll never find it. Maybe it’s nothing at all.
He forced his eyelids open.
Red roses hung among green stems and sharp thorns. A thick, squat privet hedge ran above his head and ’round to flat smooth concrete.
Flowers… Harry reached out and pulled a rose from its stem. A sudden stab of yearning tore through him and the red petals spilt through his fingers and floated to the grass. What’s so special about flowers? A sharp pain lanced through his temple.
‘Boy!’ Vernon’s bellow echoed over the green lawn. ‘Boy!’
The need clawed at him with sharp, hot talons. Why can’t I find whatever this is? Why’s it always just out of reach? Harry plucked another rose and a flash of pain stabbed through his thumb. He tugged a little brown thorn out and tossed it aside. Crimson welled up into a red bead then burst, trickling down his thumb across his palm. Blood.
‘Boy!’ Vernon stomped over the short lawn, Marge and her bulldog trailing his heels. ‘Stop ruining your aunt’s roses and mow the bloody lawn! Show some gratitude for everything we’ve done for you!’
‘I wouldn’t bother with roses.’ Marge cackled. ‘No decent girl’s going to waste her time with anyone like you. Runt of the litter, you are. If you were a pup, I’d’ve drowned you at birth. Waste of life.’
Waste of life. The yearning faded away and a little ball of ice tightened beneath Harry’s ribs. Waste of time, more like. I should be out there trying to find something that’s missing.
Harry bounced the rose on his palm and tugged the petals off one at a time. ‘Is that why you don’t have children?’ He let the petals slide off his hand and tossed the stem aside. ‘Nobody wanted you?’
Marge’s jaw dropped.
Vernon spluttered. ‘Boy! You do not talk to my sister like that!’
‘I’d rather not talk to her at all.’ Harry let the ice spread through him; it coursed through his blood and froze sharp and strong at his heart. ‘She’s rude and stupid.’
I’d rather not be stuck here. I want — I need — I can’t. His breath stuck in the ice swirling through his blood and the shadow from the mirror danced before his eyes. His heart hung above the void, dangling like it hung from a red string. You’re all in my way! Why do you all have to be in my way?!
‘Right.’ Marge shoved Ripper’s leash into Vernon’s hand. ‘I’m going to teach you a lesson, you little shit.’ She stamped across the lawn. ‘Just because you’ve gotten a bit taller and found a bit of backbone doesn’t mean I’m going to take backtalk from some fucking orphan.’
‘Backbone?’ Magic curled through Harry, settling into the air, and he thrust out a hand. ‘Let’s see if you’ve got one.’
Marge stumbled to a halt and clutched at her chest, her face turning a mottled purple. A high, raw, hoarse shriek tore from her throat. Harry’s magic tightened its grasp and a column of bone burst from her chest in a spray of red. Crimson drops spattered the grass, the roses and Vernon’s white golf shirt, and rained down on Harry’s face. Marge flopped onto the lawn, spilling a tangle of blue-ish purple guts onto the grass. The dripping spine hung in the air, the bright, gleaming points of splintered ribs curving off it like the thorns of the plucked rose.
Harry let it thud to the ground and closed his eyes to smear the blood away.
A pair of hands clapped down on his shoulders. ‘Don’t panic, Harrykins. It’s just water.’
He dried his face on his arm and squinted through the blurs on his lashes.
A pair of red hair-framed faces grinned back. ‘How was the summer? We all got horribly sunburnt in Egypt — well, everyone except Charlie and Bill.’
The summer. Harry stared around at the gleaming glasses above the bar and the fluttering wanted posters.
‘Went by in a bit of a blur,’ he said. ‘Who’s that on the posters?’
The twins exchanged a look. ‘Sirius Black.’
Harry caught the flash of concern in their eyes. Interesting. A hint of a thrill rose within. Is it important? His breath caught. Dare I hope that this might be it?
‘Who’s Sirius Black?’ he asked.
‘Boys, boys.’ Mr Weasley bustled across. ‘Let’s not talk about that.’
Ice trickled through Harry’s blood. You’re not going to get in my way. He caught Mr Weasley’s eye.
Snatches of laughter echoed from a dark-haired, grey-eyed man and a pair of shadows, one with familiar messy hair and the other with Harry’s green eyes. The same cackling face faded into a sombre scene amongst worn headstones. Stark, dark writing marked two marble graves.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
The yearning hit him like a hammer; it clamped around his heart and crushed the breath from his lungs, a churning, whirling heat tearing through him as tears sprang to his eyes.
He turned away and pressed his face into his sleeve. This time — this time it must be it. The shock of excitement flooded into the mix, his blood sang and his head spun. I’m going to find it. I’ll finally find it.
Rain drops crawled along the window in thin, clear streams. Beyond them, the countryside blurred past. Hermione pressed her fingers against the glass, the cold seeping into her skin and a soft melancholy settled over her like night clouds veiling the moon.
Frost crept across the window. Beads of water turned to chips of ice and flew away. The melancholy coiled deeper, turned sharp and bit through her like winter cold through thin pyjamas.
The door to the compartment rattled open. Something slipped in amongst them, a thin thing with hoarse, rasping breath and long skeletal fingers, shrouded by a tattered, black cloak.
Fear dug its nails into her heart and she huddled back into the corner by the window, squeezing her eyes shut.
Harry… She wrestled with the fear, trying to force her eyes to open and herself to move.
He turned away from her in Hermione’s mind. The bright madness burnt in his eyes and a frenetic tremble shivered through him as he staggered toward a distant crimson light. Red dripped from his hands with every step.
A loud screech tore through the compartment and cold air flooded in.
Harry stood over a twitching ball of black robes and broken limbs, a dark gleam in his eyes. He flicked his wand and whatever it was smashed through the window and vanished. Cold wind rushed into her face and tossed her hair over her eyes, thrumming in her ears.
‘Harry?’ She dragged herself out of the corner.
A warm hand came down on her shoulder. ‘Are you okay?’
Glass flowed back into the window and the wind died.
She sagged. ‘I’m fine. What was that?’
‘A dementor,’ he murmured. ‘They’re sustained by a form of natural alchemy, using the fear of their prey to fuel the transmutation magic they need to live.’
‘They made me scared.’ Hermione cast a glance upward and caught the fading shadow in his green eyes. ‘Are you — are you okay, too?’
Harry’s hand tightened on her shoulder. ‘For a moment, it all felt out of reach. Like I was trapped forever behind glass, with everything I wanted on the other side.’ His breath picked up. ‘I couldn’t — I didn’t — I —’
She eased him back onto the seat and held both his hands. ‘Breathe,’ she whispered.
Bright, mad light smouldered in Harry’s eyes like a dying sun. ‘There’s no time to breathe. I need it.’ His fingers clutched at empty air. ‘That man who escaped. Sirius Black. I need to find him.’
He needs a puzzle. She dragged her trunk down and rummaged through, shoving her clothes around until her fingers closed on a small book. It’s still here.
‘Try this.’ Hermione pulled a biro from the small pocket and scribbled a maze of lines onto the first blank page. ‘If you get better at solving puzzles, you’ll have a better chance of finding what’s missing. Focus on just the puzzle and block out everything else.’
Harry tugged the lopsided ink labyrinth from her hands and skimmed the page. His breathing steadied and the tremble in his fingers stilled. ‘Can I?’ He reached toward the pen.
‘Of course.’ She passed it over. ‘I can keep finding puzzles if you want? I have loads, I used to do them at primary school at break and lunch.’
He gave her a faint nod, his eyes on the page.
That seems to have helped. A soft warm glow rose up inside her. He needs something to keep him calm. She watched him sketch a line through to the centre of her maze. Something he feels is still helping him move toward whatever he’s chasing.
‘I’ll make the next one harder.’ She tugged the book and pen back out of his grip and began to draw a triangular maze. ‘Not so easy when it’s not a square, see?’
Harry watched her draw, a strange gleam of hunger in his eyes.
I can do this. Hermione passed him the new maze and sat down beside him. Someone has to help him and I might be the only one who can.
‘Tell me about Sirius Black?’ she asked.
Harry’s line paused. ‘There was a grave. Two graves.’ His breath caught and his eyes glistened. ‘The last enemy to be destroyed is death,’ he whispered.
Hermione watched a tear slide down his cheek. ‘There’ll be time. We’ll find it.’
Has he always been like this? Has there always been something missing? His words echoed over and over in the back of her mind. Two graves. His parents? Sudden inspiration struck her. Maybe… maybe this is all trauma from that night. A swell of pity surged within her breast and she squeezed her eyes shut to hold back tears. Poor Harry.
‘Are we all ready?’ A rough, quiet voice echoed in her ears.
Hermione snapped her eyes open.
Harry leant against the edge of the teacher’s desk beside her, his eyes fixed on the large wardrobe rattling at the centre of the room. The other students hung back by the walls and a pale, slim man stood before them, tugging at the fraying seam of his suit shoulders.
We were just on the train… She tugged her notebook out of her pocket. Memory gaps.
‘Who’s that?’ Hermione fingered her wand and nudged Harry with her elbow. ‘What are we doing?’
‘Professor Lupin.’ Harry’s stare bored into the wardrobe. ‘He’s got a boggart trapped in there.’
Professor Lupin clapped his hands together. ‘Right! Who’s feeling brave?’
A low mutter rippled ’round the walls.
‘I’ll choose someone, then.’ His gaze flicked to Harry, switched to her, then flicked back. ‘Mr Potter, I’ve heard impressive things about you, so let’s have you go first. Remember, the incantation is riddikulus.’
The wardrobe sprang open.
A shadow slipped out, faint as summer shade; it hung in the air like a wisp of smoke, twisting and turning like eddying waters. Harry stared at the shape like he was starving and it was a great feast laid out just beyond his reach, his fingers curling toward it like he meant to try and snatch it from the air. The shadow darkened and grew tall, stretching into a single silhouette and he blinked, winced and touched his fingertips to his temple.
A stab of fear lanced through her. ‘Harry,’ Hermione hissed. ‘Don’t do anything dangerous.’
He stared into the wardrobe with a faint frown. ‘Don’t what?’
The silhouette drifted closer and reached out one hand, a bright, burning ring of gold shone upon it like the moon in the night sky. Harry stared right through it at where the shadow had first hovered.
He can’t see it. Hermione’s heart stopped. He can’t even see it.
‘Riddikulus,’ Professor Lupin murmured, flourishing his wand.
The shadow snapped into a black sheet and collapsed to the floor, then slipped back into the wardrobe.
‘Okay.’ Professor Lupin clapped his hands together. ‘Let’s come back to that later. Remember that, while the boggart seems to change shape, it’s impossible for it to really do that. Nothing you see is actually real.’
Not real. Hermione’s breath caught and her gaze slid ’round to Harry. Like a dream.
Harry caught her eye. ‘Are you okay?’
Okay? Her head span and her stomach churned, the blood rushed in her ears and her heart hammered against her ribs. It’s like a dream. She clutched for the desk and pressed her head against the cool wood. And all the odd things… when everyone else stops making sense… they’re just part of the dream.
‘I need to be sure.’ She stumbled away from the desk and grabbed Harry’s arm, dragging him after her.
‘Are we going somewhere?’ Faint excitement coloured Harry’s tone. ‘Is something happening?’
Hermione pulled him through the corridors and into Myrtle’s Bathroom. ‘Open it.’
‘Open,’ he murmured, and the sink slid apart.
She tugged him down the steps into the black, then past the serpent effigies, over the bridge and into the study. ‘I’m back.’
Salazar Slytherin stared down from his frame. ‘I can see that.’ His gaze flicked between her and where Harry tugged loose leaves of parchment from a dark, well-thumbed tome. ‘Are you siblings?’
Hermione blinked. ‘No.’
‘Your friend can’t hear me?’ Salazar asked.
‘No.’ A lump swelled up in Hermione’s throat. ‘I — I don’t think he can. I don’t know why. Nothing makes sense.’ Tears prickled in her eyes. ‘I don’t think any of this is real!’
And if it’s not, what happens? Do I just wake up?
‘Real isn’t as cut and dry as you’d think.’ Salazar’s eyes roved over the study. ‘He can’t seem to hear you at the moment, either.’
She twisted around. ‘No… He can’t.’ Hermione jotted it down in her notebook alongside the boggart.
A bubble of laughter burst through Hermione’s lips. ‘Harry says that the exact same way.’
Salazar drummed his fingers upon the head of his serpent and pointed his little finger at her book. ‘Tell me what you’ve observed.’
She swallowed. ‘Harry doesn’t make sense. He can do magic he shouldn’t be able to, wandless, non-verbal spells, and the fire…’ Hermione glanced at the second part of her list. ‘And sometimes, it’s not just Harry. There are… gaps in my memory. One moment I’m with Harry and it’s Christmas, the next I’m there with Harry and it’s Spring. Everyone else suddenly knows things I’m sure aren’t true or didn’t happen. It — it just makes no sense!‘
‘What’s your theory?’
‘It feels like a dream.’ She pinched her arm and flinched from the flash of pain. ‘But it can’t be.’
‘The only limit magic has are the limits we impose on it,’ Salazar said. ‘But if this is a dream, who is dreaming? You?’
‘No. It revolves around Harry. He’s the one dreaming. I’m always with him…’ Her blood ran cold. ‘But then — then I’m not real,’ she whispered.
‘Real or not, you’re not the same as everyone else if you can notice these things.’ Salazar wound his snake around his arm, then unwound it again, a faint frown upon his face. ‘You’re always with him?’
‘Yes.’ A horrible certainty crept up on her. ‘Always.’
‘Then if your dream hypothesis is right, Harry is the crux of it all. Everyone else, they only exist when they’re with him.’
‘And me?’ Hermione whispered.
‘You’re not the same as them.’ Salazar’s frown deepened. ‘Does it matter?’
‘Of course!’ She clenched her fists around her notebook. ‘I want to help him! I can’t do that if I’m not — if I’m not real!’
The air vanished from her lungs. ‘But—’
‘Does knowing this change what you want to do?’ Salazar asked.
‘No,’ she murmured. ‘No, he saved me. I’m his friend. There’s nobody else who can help him, they’re not even real.‘
‘If this is a dream, then like all dreams it’s built from memories and what Harry can imagine,’ Salazar said. ‘If he remembers saving you here, then it’s more than likely…’
‘He saved me for real,’ Hermione whispered, a hot tight knot of feeling clenching beneath her ribs. ‘And his something, it’s probably part of being in this dream, so in reality, he must have saved me just for me.’ She blinked the tears away. ‘I want to help him. Can I help him?’
Salazar stroked a finger down the spine of his snake. ‘If you want to help him, then find a way to help him.‘
Thick strong perfume, candle smoke and rich tea stung his nose. Groups of students huddled over cups and whispered, scribbling bizarre shapes on their papers.
Divination. Harry scanned the hoard of baubles and trinkets lining the tower-top room. If something important was going to happen, surely you’d be able to see it coming?
Hermione tilted her teacup to one side and squinted into it. ‘I don’t see anything…’ She swirled her leaves around. ‘It’s just bits of leaf.’
Harry stared into his. Dark grains settled beneath flakes of leaf and tea dregs hung in the base of the cup, defying any attempt to see more. He sighed and drummed his fingers on the table, bouncing his knee as the stillness twisted into impatience.
‘Harry?’ Hermione set down her cup and rested her hand on his. ‘Are you okay?’
I’m fine. The knot of frustration tightened in his throat, choking the words. This is a waste of time.
‘Do you want a puzzle?’ She pulled her notebook from her pocket. ‘I can make one for you.’
‘No.’ He took a deep breath and tried to swallow the storm within. ‘I want — I want—’
The china cup shattered. Tea pooled across the desk and dregs swirled through the scarred wood, settling like dust.
Trelawney swept over, shaking her head. ‘Divination is a subtle art, it requires patience.’ A shrill scream burst from her lips. ‘The Grim!‘
Harry glanced up. ‘The Grim?’
‘Death comes for you,’ Professor Trelawney whispered. ‘The dark hound is its herald.’
The last enemy. Jagged yellow teeth, matted dark hair, gleaming eyes and a lolling tongue flashed before the eye of Harry’s mind. The storm surged beneath his ribs, clawing at his heart, ripping the breath from his lungs. A final victory.
Hermione snorted. ‘Nonsense. These are tea leaves.’ She threw a glance at him out of the corner of her eye. ‘Let’s go, Harry. We won’t find anything important up here.’
She dragged him down from the tower, stomping out into the courtyard. Harry stumbled after her, struggling to breathe, wrestling with the fist of emotion crushing his heart.
‘The last thing you need is to listen to that fraud,’ Hermione muttered, tugging her notebook out. ‘Her nonsense is less than no help at all.’
A shadow flitted between the stone columns. Harry tracked it across the courtyard. Dark fur brushed past pale stone; yellow, jagged teeth snarled from beneath gleaming dark eyes.
The Grim. A bright, cold thrill burst through him and he snatched his wand free, staggering toward it. Death. Two pale graves marked with dark letters hung on his heart, heavy as lead. The last enemy.
‘Harry!’ Hermione cried. ‘Where are you going?’
The Grim shook itself and darted away out toward the trees. Harry sprinted after it, stumbling through the fringes of the Forbidden Forest.
A soft chill sank into him, seeping deep, then biting through him to the bone like cold steel. The Grim bounded out of sight and a hundred skeletal figures swirled around him through the pine trunks, drifting over mounds of brown, dead needles.
The storm inside crumbled as they circled closer, trailing their ragged shrouds and filling the clearing with their hoarse, rattling breath. A terrible hollow despair rose to swallow him, snuffing him out like a candle in the night wind.
Death. Harry closed his eyes and let himself sink down into the dark.
His eyes snapped open.
Soft shadow swirled in shining silver, faint as a wisp of mist, silent as streaming smoke; it curled and coiled beneath cold glass like dark water flowing beneath winter ice. A torrent of searing yearning bubbled and boiled beneath his ribs.
‘Come on, Harry,’ Dumbledore murmured. ‘It doesn’t do to dwell on dreams.’
There’re no dreams left. Harry squeezed his eyes shut and balled his fists. Just the shadow of something missing. Something important.
‘C’mon, my boy,’ a paper-thin voice whispered. ‘Give it a wave.’
He opened his eyes to towering stacks of wand boxes. A long, thin yew wand protruded from his fingers, trailing silver sparks like a comet.
‘Marvellous.’ Ollivander watched the sparks shower to the floor with pale eyes and a small smile. ‘What a strong bond… You are destined to do great things, my boy. Things most witches or wizards can only dream of.’
The simmering cauldron of yearning roiled in his chest. ‘Something important?’
‘Yes, Tom,’ Ollivander murmured. ‘Something great.’
Fierce yellow eyes gleamed in the long grass as a dark shadow dragged a flailing, yelling Ron Weasley toward the huge, gnarled Whomping Willow.
‘Why is Ron involved?’ Hermione murmured, her fingers creeping toward the notebook in her pocket.
Another memory? Was Ron involved in reality? Is that why he keeps reappearing? She twisted ‘round to Harry.
Short grass stretched away into the shadows of the towers.
‘Harry!’ She stared ‘round and glimpsed him running through the grass into the shadow of the Whomping Willow, wand in hand. ‘Harry, stop!’
He skidded to a halt and a branch the width of her waist hammered into the ground in front of him.
‘Come back here!’ Hermione cried. ‘We can’t get near the tree.’
Harry stared after the vanishing Grim and balled his fists. ‘But—’
‘We’ll get there,’ she murmured. ‘Come back this way. A few extra seconds here and it’s more likely we solve the puzzle later.’
He prowled back to her side, pacing the grass in small circles, tapping his fingers on his thigh and breathing fast as the wind. ‘What?!’
‘We need to get past the tree.’
Harry stared at her, a wild glint in his eyes. ‘What tree?’
Hermione blinked. ‘The Whomping Willow!’ She grabbed her wand and shone a light on the thick trunk. ‘It just nearly crushed you!’
Harry’s knuckles turned white around his wand. ‘There’s nothing there.’ His breath caught and his drumming increased in pace. ‘You’re wasting time.’ Harry took a step forward.
Hermione snatched him back from within the tree’s reach. ‘It’s right there. It’s a big tree. Just — look where I’m pointing the light!’
‘I don’t want to!’ His hand flashed up to press at his temple, nails biting into his skin until blood smeared his fingertips. ‘I want — I need—’
‘What if it’s important?’ Hermione put a hand on his shoulder.
‘It could be important, right?’ she whispered. ‘And it’s only a few seconds.’
There must be a reason he can’t see things. She massaged his shoulder as his breathing slowed. He couldn’t hear me talking to Salazar, either. Or see the boggart.
Harry stared at where the Whomping Willow loomed and grimaced. Blood trickled from his ear down his cheek and dripped from his clenched jaw. ‘It is a big tree,’ he whispered. ‘Strange.’
Hermione tugged her notebook out and scribbled a line of shorthand down. ‘We need to freeze it somehow or it’ll squish us.’
‘Freeze it?’ He raised his wand. ‘Aguamenti.’
Great spines of ice thrust from the ground, spreading through the branches of the Whomping Willow. The tree shivered and shuddered and creaked, shedding leaves like a bird moulting feathers, but the ice held fast.
Incredible. She gaped at the spell, trying to imagine the innate gift required to change a simple conjuring charm to a prison of ice. He’s as amazing as Professor Dumbledore.
‘Done.’ Harry sprinted forward across the grass as cracks spread through the ice. ‘We just need to press the knot before it gets free.’
‘The…’ Hermione watched him drive his knee into a circle of bark and the tree froze. ‘The knot. Right.’
He knows that, but he can’t see the tree? She gnawed her lip as he rushed into a dark passage in the roots, sprinting after him into the dark. This dream’s like a half-finished jigsaw.
Harry’s footsteps stopped ahead of her as she stumbled out into a crumbling wooden shack. The bright, clear light of the full moon poured in through the gaps in the walls.
‘Give me the rat!’ a man rasped. ‘Give him to me, boy! I will explain everything afterward but you must give me the rat.’
‘Pettigrew,’ Harry murmured from the other side of thin wooden walls, frustration darkening his tone. ‘The traitor.’
Hermione darted ’round the corner, wand raised. ‘Harry!’
‘Yes. The traitor. Give him to me.’ A grime-smeared man loomed over Ron’s sprawled form, baring his yellowed teeth and clutching Ron’s wand tightly in his fist. ‘He murdered them and got me sent to Azkaban. Left me caged in my own head! Trapped in my nightmares!’
Sirius Black. The air slipped from her lungs. Why’s he after a rat?
‘No — there’s something — I need…’ Harry took a deep breath and held up Ron’s pet by his tail, watching it writhe and squeal. ‘Change,’ he said, a bright, wild gleam in his eye. ‘If you haven’t changed in three seconds, I’ll crush you under my foot.’
The rat’s body shifted, swelling into a man. ‘Harry,’ he whispered, pawing at Harry’s feet from the floor. ‘Harry, please.’
‘Wormtail!’ the other man snarled, raising his wand.
A bright green flash of light washed through the rotting shack. Hermione flinched back against the wall as Sirius Black thudded to the floor, his eyes wide and blank.
‘Get out of my way,’ Harry muttered.
Pettigrew let out a little whimper and huddled back into the corner. ‘It wasn’t him, Harry! It was me. It was me. You should’ve killed me!’
Harry stared at him, tapping his foot on the floor and drumming his fingers on his wand. ‘This isn’t it.’ He hammered his fist into the wall, smashing through rotting wood and tearing his arm open on the splinters. Blood spattered the floor and trickled down his arm. ‘Why is it never it?’
‘Harry,’ Hermione whispered, edging forward, hunting for words. ‘It’s okay. It’s not that you’ve failed to find it, you’ve just found a lot of other things first.’
‘Blood,’ he murmured, watching the crimson gush down his arm.
‘You need to stop the bleeding,’ she said, putting a hand on his shoulder. ‘Do you know how or should we head for the Hospital Wing?’
Harry stared at the wound with a distant frown, his wand tip hovering over the red gash. ‘Vulnera sanentur.’
The cut crept closed.
‘Well done,’ Hermione said. ‘Now let’s sort out this person, then we can try and find the next puzzle, okay?’
Damn. Her blood ran cold. I shouldn’t have said it like—
‘Fulminis,’ Harry snapped.
A bright white light seared at her eyes and the shack exploded into splinters. She buried her face in Harry’s shoulder and held her breath.
‘It’s okay,’ he said. ‘I’ve sorted him.’
Hermione forced her eyes open and found the glowing splinters and swirling ash over the body of Sirius Black and a scatter of shattered wood. He killed Ron. Her stomach lurched, surging up, and Hermione hurled her dinner onto the wall in an acrid rush.
Harry watched with a small crease in his forehead. ‘Are you okay?’
‘I’m fine,’ she gasped, forcing her stomach still and wiping her lips, ignoring the bitter taste lingering on her tongue. ‘I just — I don’t like dead people.’
They’re not real. She clung to the thought like a lifeline. They’re just part of the dream.
A high howl rang out from the trees and a thin form slunk through the trunks toward them.
‘Harry,’ she whispered. ‘Harry that’s—’
‘Lupin.’ His wand slipped from his sleeve into his hand. ‘He forgot to take his Wolfsbane Potion tonight.’
‘Don’t…’ Hermione put a hand on his forearm. ‘He doesn’t deserve it.’
‘He’s in the way.’ Harry’s eyes smouldered and his face twisted. ‘And it hurts. I can’t breathe!’
‘Okay,’ she murmured. ‘It’s okay. We’ll find what’s missing.’
He’s not real, anyway. Harry’s real. I might be real. Nothing else is. She took a deep breath as a flash of green rippled through the trees. And he keeps getting worse.
Harry strode back toward the castle through the grass, his fingers pressed against his temple, muttering under his breath.
She glanced back at the ashes settling on the floor of the Shrieking Shack. This is a nightmare, not a dream. Hermione dashed after Harry. Caged. Trapped in nightmares. Clarity stole her breath away and she stumbled to a halt in the cold grass. You’re caged. This is a prison. Tears sprang to her eyes. And they stole something important from you so you’d suffer. How long have you been in here searching for it?
‘Before, you must’ve saved me.’ She dashed her tears away and darted after him through the dusk. ‘This time, I’m going to save you.’
A hush crept over the cheering stadium and the crowd stilled. Ron and all his brothers gaped down at the empty grass, slack-jawed and glass-eyed.
‘Urgh,’ Hermione muttered, folding her arms beside him. ‘Boys. It’s basically a natural love potion. And I bet they’d change their mind if they knew about the beaks and feathers.’
A sharp twinge bit at Harry’s temple and the storm stirred within, clawing at his heart. He drummed his fingers on the seat and bounced his knee, throwing sharp glances into the crowd.
‘Are you okay?’ Hermione put a hand on his shoulder. ‘I can make you a puzzle, if you like?’
‘No,’ he murmured, dragging out his breaths to still the pounding of his heart. ‘No fake puzzles. I’m fine.’
She bit her lip as he leant back and closed his eyes as if the storm within wasn’t shrieking like a hurricane, ripping through him like a tornado of glass shards.
Warmth seeped into his cheek, turning hot against his skin and creeping down his side.
Harry flinched back and hauled himself to his feet in a swirl of thick, acrid smoke. Soft, warm ash carpeted the ground beneath his feet and drifted out of the sky like snow.
‘Lacero!’ A thin, dark-robed wizard limped toward him through the silence.
Harry let the spell sail past him into the smoke and unleashed a hail of curses, ripping through the wizard’s shield, punching holes through his chest and tearing his wand-arm off at the elbow.
‘No,’ the wizard rasped, crumpling to his knees. ‘No. I can’t fail him. I can’t.’ He touched his fingertips to the blood spurting from his elbow and bowed his head. ‘How could I fail him?’ he whispered.
A straw-haired boy hunched on the smoking wooden floor, one arm slung against his chest. ‘I can’t go back,’ he muttered, smearing tears off his face. ‘I can’t. All I wanted — All I wanted was for him to love me. Not even that! Just — just to stop hating me, because I don’t see the world how he does. I thought if I could kill you, he’d be proud, but I can’t even do that. I dreamt about it every night and I still failed.’
Harry stood over him, wand in his hand, a churning, seething knot of yearning coiled in his breast. ‘Dreams are dust.’ The words slipped off his tongue, rising up from a little whisper in the back of his mind. ‘Dandelion seeds drifting away on a cold wind. Shadows hovering behind glass. We dwell on them and our lives fade away.’ He slipped his wand back into his sleeve and held out his hand. ‘When there are no dreams left, then we see the truth. When there are no dreams left, we have the chance to do something important. Something greater than shallow, common, little wishes…’
‘Something great?’ the boy whispered, raising his head and staring at him with wide, bright blue eyes. He swallowed, then reached out and took Harry’s hand, letting Harry pull him to his feet. ‘What must I do, my lord?’
Harry let a small smile creep across his lips and closed his eyes. ‘No more dreams, Bartemius. Just something important.’
‘Something important?’ Dumbledore’s voice rose from beyond his closed eyelids. ‘And just what is that? What is your goal here?’
He opened his eyes. ‘Something important.’
Dumbledore steepled his fingers over the desk, his rapier sharp blue eyes peering over them. ‘I must admit, I wasn’t expecting an application from you, and I can’t really say with any honesty that I would even consider you, but this is an excellent opportunity for us to have an honest conversation. I would like to know what it is I will be opposing. This something important.’
The collection of Headmasters’ portraits peered down at him from among the shelves, cabinets and magical curiosities.
The yearning howled in his heart, a blade of ice, so cold it burnt, twisting and twisting in his breast. ‘It’s all there is.’
‘When I was a young man, I dreamt of doing something important and changing the world,’ Dumbledore murmured. ‘I saw this grand, bright future. Its price was measured in blood and it was not until I felt some measure of the pain I would’ve inflicted on others that I realised there are some dreams best not dwelt on.’
‘You were weak,’ Harry hissed. ‘You felt the sting of sacrifice and you fled from it.’
Dumbledore sighed and plucked a bright-striped sweet from a small ball among the stacks of books, popping it into his mouth. ‘One man doesn’t have the right to decide what our world should be. What’s important to him might be nothing to a hundred others.’
‘Then who chooses?’ he demanded. ‘Those rats out there? They gnaw and claw at each other, trapped chasing selfish little dreams of their own. Do you let them choose? Would they even look up from their petty little lives long enough to try and choose something selfless?’
‘I don’t make decisions for others.’ Dumbledore crunched his sweet and swallowed. ‘I make my choices and I try to advise others in what I feel is the best direction for them. Anything more risks a descent into tyranny. The voice of the many determines what is important.’
‘You are wrong, Dumbledore.’ He kicked his chair back and rose. ‘You are wrong.’
‘I have heard all these words before, you know.’ Dumbledore rose from his chair and gestured toward the door. ‘The man who spoke them to me was a greater wizard than I, or any other I have met, and when he spoke of doing something important, he spoke of a beautiful thing, a great good worth paying any price for. He was wrong. I hope you come to realise this sooner than he did, Tom.’
‘He was right.’ He balled his fists and closed his eyes, drawing in a deep breath, sucking the heat and sharpness of the storm up onto his tongue. ‘I will be greater. I will be the greatest wizard that ever lived. Nothing will stop me.’
‘I will stop you.’ A green-eyed girl stood over shattered furniture and before ruined walls, her sweat-drenched red hair clinging to her skin and her wand levelled at his chest. ‘I will kill you.’
‘If you choose to be an obstacle,’ he said, drawing bright sparks to swirl around his wand. ‘I will get rid of you.’
I have to find it. The yearning swelled within him, a fistful of razors clenched tight about his throat. It’s all there is. And I need it.
White lightning flashed from his wand. A small smile spread across the girl’s lips as she burst into ash and the splinters of her wand showered across the floor. Half the house exploded behind her and debris showered away into the night. Cool air whispered over his skin as the dust and ash settled.
‘I will not be stopped.’ He stepped over the girl’s ashes toward a blue cradle, wrestling with the heat of the hurricane howling in his heart. ‘I am here. I am great.’
Is this it? A bright, clear thrill trickled through his veins, a shock of cold swirling through his blood, and the storm of yearning swelled to a crescendo, cutting through him like a white-hot flame. It must be. Surely. This time.
A dark-haired, green-eyed baby stared up at him from beneath a white blanket, chewing his small fist.
The thrill drained away and his heart sank after it into a cold, dark pit.
No. He levelled his wand tip at the child’s forehead. This isn’t it.
A brilliant emerald flash washed the world away.
He opened his eyes.
A single soft shade swirled in shining silver, hovering beyond cold glass, and the storm tore its way through the space beneath his ribs with thick, sharp, hot claws.
Something missing. Something important. He stepped forward and pressed his fingertips to the glass, letting the cold of the mirror seep through his skin. What are you? Are you something great? A soft, hollow ache crept upon him. Will I ever find you?
Students bustled to the benches, sliding into their seats and muttering to one another beneath the bright, clear summer blue of the Great Hall’s ceiling.
Hermione chewed her lip and dropped her eyes to her list, crossing out words one at a time. All these gaps, they’re because the cage is stitched together from memories. She scribbled out memory gaps, Ron, Malfoy, quidditch and half a dozen more words. I can’t do anything about those. Even the amazing magic is because he’s probably an adult in reality.
Harry spun his fork around on the table in a shining silver circle, bouncing his knees below the table. A low sigh burst from his lips and his eyes flicked up, then he winced and touched his fingers to his temple.
He’s not getting too twitchy yet. Hermione rewrote her amended list, etching each individual letter in one at a time. The boggart. The Whomping Willow. Whatever’s missing.
‘I heard something big’s happening,’ Ron said. ‘Real big. Dad and Percy won’t tell me anything, but something’s definitely happening.’
‘Something important?’ Harry fixed Ron with a sharp stare.
A new puzzle. Hermione glanced between them and smiled as the hope rose in Harry’s eyes. Focus, Hermione. You’ve got your own puzzle. She folded her little list up and tucked it into her bra. Someone caged Harry in here to suffer. You have to save him.
‘Welcome back to Hogwarts, everyone!’ Dumbledore clapped his hands and stepped to the lectern, conjuring a spark of flame on his fingertip and lighting the candles.
Harry does magic like that all the time. Hermione stared at the flickering candle flames. If I convinced Harry it wasn’t real, would he know how to escape?
The hall fell silent.
‘A few announcements before we all get too distracted by our impending food to remember them. Firstly, I would like to welcome Professor Moody to the castle. He will be taking over the role of Defence Against the Dark Arts professor. Secondly, I must remind students that the Forbidden Forest is so named for a reason.’
A bright mad gleam burnt in Harry’s green eyes as he stared up at Dumbledore and his knuckles turned white around the knife in his hand. A slim trickle of blood crept down the handle and dripped onto the table.
No. I have to help him first. Hermione reached over and eased the knife out of Harry’s hand, stifling a shudder. If I send him back like this, he might hurt someone. Or himself.
‘And lastly, this year, after centuries, a great sporting event will be making its return. This means, unfortunately, that there will be no quidditch.’
A low mutter rang around the hall. Harry’s eyes never left Dumbledore, shining with a fierce, wild gleam.
Dumbledore raised his hands to quell the low murmur. ‘The Triwizard Tournament will be held at Hogwarts come October. A chance, for those who enter, to earn eternal glory as school champion.’
Harry will outstrip everyone. Hermione threw a glance at him.
He spun his fork ’round on the table, staring down into the wood with a small frown on his brows, poking at his temple with the fingertips of his left hand.
‘Harry?’ She rested a hand on his shoulder. ‘Aren’t you interested in this tournament?’
‘In what?’ He stopped the spinning knife with a finger. ‘Did you find something interesting?’
Didn’t he hear?
Hermione studied his expression, searching for some hint of the glint that had been in his eye moments before. ‘The Triwizard Tournament,’ she said.
Harry’s gaze pierced through her. ‘Hermione? Did you find something?’
She blinked. ‘I just…’
He can’t hear me, just like with Salazar Slytherin’s portrait. Hermione tugged the piece of paper out of her bra, flushing at Harry’s raised eyebrow and scribbling down both cases. Two more things. It must be connected to whatever’s missing.
She nodded, weighing up her options. ‘I did. Something interesting.’
The little bright mad gleam burst back to life in his green eyes and Harry leant forward. ‘What? What did you find? What is it?’
‘A tournament.’ Hermione weighed her words. ‘Eternal glory sounds like something… important.’
‘Yes. Yes it does.’ A broad smile stretched across Harry’s face and the wild glint welled back up in his eye. ‘It sounds like something great.’
‘Do you want to know what it’s called?’ she asked.
‘The Triwizard Tournament.’
Harry’s glittering smile spread a little wider. ‘Maybe this is it,’ he whispered, bouncing in his seat. ‘Maybe this time it’s going to be it.’
So he can hear it, just like he could see the tree, but only if he really focuses on it. Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes. That means the magic’s not foolproof, I can help him break it. I can help him find it.
She opened her eyes.
Harry sat opposite her, staring through the window with a faint frown on his face as the lake bubbled and churned. A cold winter-blue sky hung on the enchanted ceiling above his head.
I lost time. Hermione sucked in a deep breath and stared around. When is this?
‘It must be Durmstrang!’ A Seventh Year Ravenclaw yelled.
She watched Harry shift on the bench, leaning his weight from side to side, fiddling with his plate, goblet, and cutlery. Twitchy. Very twitchy.
Fur-cloaked, leather-booted students strode into the hall. Harry tracked them along the aisle, then returned to his fiddling, staring down at the table.
If the other schools are here, that means it must be October.
A group of French students drifted down the aisle a few moments later and food appeared on the tables. A huge bowl of bouillabaisse appeared before Harry, but he stared down through it as if it weren’t there.
Hermione reached across and tugged it out from under his nose. Harry’s gaze bored into the table, his breathing coming light and fast beneath the clamour of the Great Hall.
He didn’t know that was there, either. She tugged her list out. What a weird thing not to be able to see.
‘Do you still want the bouillabaisse?’ A soft French-accented voice drifted over her shoulder.
Hermione glanced at Harry. He stared down into the table, spinning his fork in circles.
‘Pardon,’ she murmured, picking up the bowl and turning ‘round. ‘He tends to ignore anything else when he’s focused on something.’
Bright blue eyes drifted over Harry’s face from beneath a veil of silver hair, and pale rose lips quirked. ‘Bizarre.’
You’ve no idea. Hermione twisted back to Harry. Bizarre doesn’t begin to cover it.
She glanced up and down the table, took a deep breath and closed her eyes. ‘See you on the other side, Harry.’
Azure flames rippled above an ancient, rough-hewn cup, its stand ringed by a thin glowing line of magic. An eldritch glow suffused the surrounding air, fading away into the dusk shadows.
Harry stared into the blue fire with a gleam of hunger in his eyes, bouncing on the balls of his feet. The silver-haired French girl threw a small frown at him, stepping past and dropping a strip of parchment into the cup. Blue flames flared, then faded.
‘Harry?’ Hermione edged forward as the French girl strode out. ‘Are you going to enter your name?’
He stood and reached out his hand until the line on the floor glowed and his fingers caught in the air. ‘Dumbledore put an age line around it.’
She grimaced. ‘Does that mean you can’t enter?’
He’s not going to like that. Hermione stared at his twitching fingers. I hope he doesn’t do anything drastic.
Harry shook his head and pulled out a swathe of silver silk. ‘My cloak can get me across.’ He vanished beneath it.
The azure flames brightened and faded.
Harry reappeared in a flourish of silk. ‘I will not be stopped,’ he whispered, staring into the flickering blue fire. ‘I will find it.’
Hermione watched the reflection of the flames dance in his eyes, reaching out to put her hand on his shoulder. ‘We’ll find it.’
I’m going to save you. Hot emotion bubbled up, catching in her throat and prickling in her eyes. Just like you saved me.
Dumbledore pottered up to the goblet and held out his hand. A slip of scorched paper shot from the cup and floated down into his fingers. ‘The Champion for Hogwarts is… Cedric Diggory!’
Cedric… Harry watched Dumbledore’s every move in front of the goblet’s flickering flames. Why Cedric?
Hermione squeaked. ‘What! How?’
‘The Champion for Durmstrang… is Viktor Krum,’ Dumbledore called.
The Durmstrang boys pounded the table and cheered the thick-browed Krum on as he strode toward the small door at the corner of the hall.
Dumbledore stuck his hand back out. ‘And for our final champion…’
A sharp twinge bit into Harry’s temple, throbbing in time with his heartbeat. He buried his face in his hands and stared at the table surface through his fingers, sucking in quick, shallow breaths through his nose.
‘Harry Potter!’ Dumbledore called.
Yes. A sharp, cold thrill jolted through him. Eternal Glory. Something great.
Hermione nudged his shoulder. ‘Harry,’ she hissed. ‘Harry your name came out.’
‘Harry?’ Dumbledore’s bright blue eyes pierced through him.
Hermione breathed out a long sigh beside him. ‘You have to go into the room, Harry,’ she whispered. ‘With the other champions.’
He swung himself out of his seat, wandering between the benches and into the small antechamber, pursued by whispers.
‘What is it, Harry?’ Cedric asked. ‘Do they want us to go back in?’
‘No.’ A broad grin spread across his face. ‘I’m here to win.’
Krum prowled back and forth along the far wall, glancing up at Harry each time he turned. ‘You have bitten off more than you can chew, da? Do you think you can really beat us?’
‘I have to win,’ Harry said. ‘I need to.’
Krum snorted. ‘Losing is a better lesson.’
Harry went to lean against the wall. Let’s see, what now? Will something happen?
‘This is unprecedented!’ Ludo Bagman burst in, a giant smile on his face.
The throbbing picked up in Harry’s head as the echo of Bagman’s shout faded away. He pushed his fingertips into his scalp and squeezed his eyes shut until it eased.
‘Harry.’ Ron’s voice caught him just as the ache dwindled to nothing.
‘What?’ He opened his eyes and turned away from the Gryffindor dormitory stairs.
‘Look.’ Ron glanced around at the huddle of students behind him and drew himself up. ‘I’m no good at talking things out, so I’m just going to be frank—’
‘What are you all doing?’ Hermione demanded, shouldering her way through the huddle. ‘What’s wrong with you all?! You look like you’re about to try and lynch him?!’
‘He promised he wouldn’t enter!’ Ron cried. ‘It was our chance. Eternal glory!’
Hermione blinked, glancing back and forth between Harry and Ron. ‘Some things are more important than a bit of fame, Ronald. And do you honestly think that you’d do better than Harry?’
Ron’s ears turned pink. ‘I totally could! He always says he just gets lucky! I could get lucky too!’
She laughed. ‘He says that because he’s modest. There’s no luck involved.’ Hermione stared at Harry with a faint smile, nibbling at her lip. ‘I’ve seen him do amazing things.’
‘Great things,’ Harry murmured as the yearning flared up in his breast.
‘Whatever. Fine. You two run off and be amazing together.’ Ron balled his fists and clenched his jaw, stepping forward to block the stairs. ‘You’re both a nightmare to deal with.’
This is a waste of time. The soft, insistent need and its gentle ache sharpened, clawing deeper, ripping through the space beneath his ribs with a rough, jagged edge and bitter heat.
‘Get out of my way.’ Harry’s wand slipped into his hand. ‘You’re wasting my time.’
‘Ron,’ Hermione hissed. ‘Do as he says. Don’t — don’t push him.’
‘What’s he going to do?’ Ron tugged his wand out and barred the stairs with his other arm. ‘Disarm me because I’m stopping him from taking a nap? Jellylegs me?’
Hermione’s eyes widened and the colour drained from her face. ‘Ron, don’t be stupid…’
Harry stared at the freckled forearm in front of him as his heart began to pound, the twinging in his head spiking with each beat. ‘Move,’ he murmured, wrestling with the yearning in his chest. ‘Or I’ll move you.’
Ron sneered. ‘Sure you will.’
Dean stepped up alongside Ron. ‘We’re not moving until you apologise.’
Harry let his magic spread out into the air, curling it ‘round the group in front of him.
Hermione darted to his side and grabbed his arm. ‘Harry, don’t. They don’t understand. You can just ignore them. Or apologise. It’s just a little apology. It’s not important.’
That’s true. He took a deep breath and the burning need ebbed a fraction. It doesn’t matter so long as they’re not in the way anymore.
‘I’m sorry,’ Harry said.
Ron laughed. ‘Bloody hell, Harry, that’s the most pathetic apology I’ve ever heard!’
Fury blazed through him. Fine. He thrust the magic through them and twisted his wand.
Bones crunched. Red dripped down the stairs, pooling at his feet and soaking into the carpet. Hermione retched and gagged, throwing up onto the chair beside her. Vomit clung to strands of her hair as she sagged to her knees and sweat beaded her forehead.
‘Are you okay?’ Harry stepped to her side and vanished the sick in her hair, sweeping a few stray strands back out of her face as she hurled another mouthful of vomit onto the chair. ‘Hermione?’
‘I still don’t like dead bodies,’ she whispered, wiping her lips on her sleeve with a grimace. Her brown eyes brimmed with soft, sombre shadows. ‘And I don’t like seeing you like this.’
Harry raised his eyebrows. ‘I’m always like this.’
‘Not once we’ve found what’s missing.’ Hermione hauled herself back to her feet on the chair’s arm. ‘Then you’ll be back to who you’re meant to be.’
He considered that. She’s right, I suppose. You can’t be great if you’ve not found something great to do.
She gulped in a breath of air and stared at the blood-stained stairs and carpet. ‘I don’t want to stay here, Harry. Can you close your eyes for a moment?’
Harry frowned, but let his eyelids droop shut.
Something squirmed on his palm and a flash of pain lanced through his finger.
He snapped his eyes open.
A little dark dragon dragged itself along his hand, thrashing its jagged, spine-sprouting tail against Harry’s fingers.
Words welled up; the weight of them hung on his tongue, taking shape like water drops trickling together on a train window. ‘The small one bites.’ He watched it writhe and spout little plumes of flame into the air.
A cannon thundered.
Harry tossed aside the small model and strode out of the tent, following a short passageway through rough rocks to where a golden egg gleamed amidst a clutch of large, dark ones.
Is that it? The yearning seized hold of his heart, squeezing the air from his lungs, and a bright cool rush swept through his veins. It must be. Harry stepped toward it, crunching across gravel. He stretched out his hand and summoned the gold egg, ripping it free from a net of wards. Smooth, cool metal slapped into his palm and he weighed it in his hand. No. The thrill drained away and his heart sank. No. It’s not.
Dark tattered wings rose from behind the rocks and a black-scaled maw snaked down before him, releasing a searing column of flame. He buried his face in the crook of his elbow as it rushed over him.
Heat licked at his arms.
Red flames ran along the length of his wand, flickering in his dark robes. He swept his wand at them, but the pale yew crumbled to ash and slipped through his fingers. The fire ate into him, curling into his flesh like burning hooks, and the world faded into darkness.
It doesn’t matter.
Harry opened his eyes to a soft swirl of shadow behind silver glass. An awful emptiness rose up to swallow him.
I don’t think I’m ever going to find it.
Three champions paced back and forth beneath the tent’s white canopy, a clutch of small model dragons coiled up on the table, and Harry stood by the centre pole, gripping his skull as if he feared it was about to burst.
A cannon boomed, sending a jolt of cold shock rippling through Hermione. Cedric Diggory drew himself up, took a deep breath and strode out.
‘Your friend is most bizarre.’ The French champion glanced up from pacing near the door. ‘And rude.’
Hermione grimaced and gave the girl a weak smile. ‘He’s a little bit obsessed with something, everything else kind of gets blotted out.’
‘He’s about to fight a dragon. Dragons are not going to be blotted out.’
Her breath caught and her eyes snapped back to the models on the table. ‘A dragon? A fake one?’
‘Non.’ The French champion’s bright summer blue eyes bored through Hermione. ‘A real one. And he got the worst of them all. It is a nightmare.’
Yes. It is. But I’m going to end it.
Hermione chewed her lip. ‘I think he’ll be ok,’ she whispered. ‘I’ve seen him do amazing things. But thank you for trying to help him.’ She blinked. ‘I’m afraid I don’t know your name.’
The girl’s blue eyes narrowed. ‘Fleur Delacour. I will let you read it off the Triwizard Cup at the end.’
Gasps and roars echoed from the stands beyond the white walls of the tent, then silence fell for a few seconds. The cannon thundered and Viktor Krum strode out.
‘Right.’ Hermione hurried across the tent and grabbed Harry’s arm. ‘It’s dragons. The first task is dragons.’
‘I know,’ he said. ‘So do the other two. They all cheated.’
‘Which two cheated?’ A flare of heat rose in her breast. ‘Harry?’
‘The other two.’ He frowned. ‘They didn’t look at all surprised.’
‘Yes.’ Hemione studied his expression with a deep frown. ‘But if two of them cheated, then that still leaves one other champion.’
He stared back at her.
Can he not see one of them? She glanced about the tent and a strange unease welled up, churning her stomach. And rude… she said.
‘Cedric Diggory,’ she said. ‘From Hogwarts. Viktor Krum. From Durmstrang—’
‘Right.’ She grabbed his wrist and dragged him through the side entrance and pointed her hand up at the stands. ‘See all the students in blue?’
A cannon boomed.
Faint lines creased Harry’s brow and his fingers crept back up to his temple. ‘I do,’ he muttered. ‘Beauxbatons. Of course. How strange…’
A thin trickle of red slid down Harry’s cheek and a bright crimson bead hung from his jaw, dripping to the ground.
Hermione stared at the slim streak of blood trailing from his ear. Blood. She recalled the way he’d been gripping his head and led him back into the tent. It’s getting worse. The more things I make him notice, the worse his reaction gets.
‘It’ll be you soon,’ she said. ‘Are you ready?’
Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve, spinning it in his palm and showering silver sparks onto the ground. ‘If it’s in my way, I’ll get rid of it.’
‘Do you have your cloak?’ Hermione asked.
If I let him out of my sight, I might lose time and miss what happens. She sucked in a deep breath and wrestled with the cold fist clamped about her heart. I have to stay close, or I won’t be able to help.
‘Can I borrow it?’
He pulled out a bundle of shimmering silk and dropped it into her hands, bouncing his feet and shifting his weight back and forth between them. ‘Sure.’
The cannon boomed.
‘Finally,’ Harry muttered, a bright glint appearing in his eye. ‘This time, it must be it.’
Hermione swept the cloak over herself and slipped out after him.
A golden egg gleamed amidst a clutch of large, dark ones, lying between sprawling, steaming, smoking rocks. Gravel stretched from Harry’s feet to the nest.
Where’s the dragon? Hermione’s heart pounded and she shrank back against the rocks. Where is it?
Harry strode forward, crunching through the gravel, a broad grin on his face and a wild light in his eyes. A pair of tattered, dark wings rose from behind the rocks and a jagged-scaled, dragon head reared after them on a serpentine, spine-crested neck, its burning yellow eyes fixed on Harry. An orange glow swelled bright in its throat.
‘Harry,’ she squeaked, scrambling for her wand.
Searing flame gushed from the dragon’s maw, then swirled aside with a flick of Harry’s wand. White sparks flashed and whirled about the tip of the slim piece of ebony, then a crackling white beam flashed out, wrapping itself around the dragon’s muzzle and binding it shut. Smoke and the thick tang of scorched flesh drifted to Hermione’s nose as the magic melted through the dark scales of the dragon’s snout.
A muffled rumble echoed from deep in the beast’s chest and it wrenched its head, snapping the rope of sparking white lightning.
‘Fine. Be an obstacle.’ Harry’s knuckles turned white ‘round his wand. ‘I won’t be stopped.’
The dragon reared back and opened its maw, the bright orange glow rising in its gullet.
‘Fulminis,’ he snapped.
A white flash seared Hermione’s eyes and heat washed over her. She blinked the green spots out of her eyes.
Thick, dark-red dragon’s blood rained down onto the rocks, steaming and hissing; it splashed over Harry, scalding the skin from his flesh and melting his robes. The headless dragon’s corpse thudded onto the rocks and slid away down behind the nest.
Hermione held her breath.
Harry flicked his wand and swept the blood off. The flesh and skin crept back, bright pink patches faded back to pale skin, and with a flourish of his wand, his robes reformed. He thrust out his hand and summoned the golden egg into his palm.
A faint frown marred his brow, then darkened into a scowl.
It wasn’t it. A strange certainty gripped her. And it’s not going to be this tournament, either. It’s something to do with the things he can’t see.
Harry turned on his heel and strode back the way he’d came. Hermione darted after him, pulling the cloak off and slipping into the medical tent in his wake, side-stepping Madam Pomfrey bustling between beds and pausing beside a bandage swaddled Cedric Diggory.
‘You’re not supposed to be here,’ Fleur Delacour said.
Hermione ignored her and stepped across to where Harry stared into the shining gold surface of his egg. ‘What is it?’
‘A clue,’ he murmured, dropping it onto the bed.
‘A clue to something important?’ Hermione suggested, stifling a stab of guilt.
‘Maybe…’ He set it aside. ‘Apparently, I should go see my score. To see which of the four champions did best.’
So he knows there are four now I’ve made him notice. Hermione dragged out her notebook and scribbled it down, staring at the short list of words. What part of a cage do you hide? The bars? No. The obsession doesn’t hide how weird things are at all, if anything, it makes it clearer. The lock? The key? There’s not much else to a cage than that.
Portraits whispered above the marble staircase as students in bright dresses and shining dress robes swept past toward the Great Hall.
Why am I here? Harry’s gaze slipped to the stairs of its own accord. Some kind of dance?
‘You do have a partner, don’t you, Mr Potter?’ McGonagall’s sharp, tart voice tore through his thoughts.
A partner. A sharp throb ripped through his skull and he flinched, squeezing his eyes shut.
‘I’ll be your partner, Tom.’ A brown-haired girl wearing thick-framed glasses took his hands. ‘I’ll teach you how to dance.’
Music rose around them, a fast-paced waltz whirling just out of time with the beat of his heart. He closed his eyes and tried to stop it tugging at him, but the music shifted, growing faster still, her skin burnt against his like the heat of an open flame and his heart pounded against his ribs.
‘You just need to learn the steps… and voilà!’ She stepped in close to him, her breath brushing against his chin, and a faint sharp, sweet scent caught his nose. She reached out and took his hands, drawing him close against her. ‘These are the steps,’ she murmured.
The yearning coiled ‘round his heart, tight as a vice, sharp as a crown of thorns, strangling the words in his throat.
Harry grappled for breath and tried to focus on the placement of her feet. A circle of dark ink on a pale page hovered in his head and he clung to it as the need spiralled into a storm, squeezing his eyes shut.
‘What do you feel?’ she whispered.
Something missing. He steeled himself and opened his eyes. Something I need.
Green strands of leaves twisted their way down from around hovering candles, heavy with clusters of white berries, and their hot scent mingled with a faint, sharp, sweet smell.
Mistletoe. Harry’s heart dashed itself against his ribs and his mouth turned dry.
The girl pressed her lips to his, brushing his nose with the cool rim of her thick-framed glasses. ‘I love you, Tom,’ she whispered.
The storm exploded beneath his ribs, a burning swirl of razors ripping through his heart and a hot fist of emotion clenching about his throat. Tears prickled in his eyes and blurred on his lashes, and the air slipped from his lungs.
What is this? He blinked the tears away. What is this feeling?
Hermione stared back at him, patting down the periwinkle silk of her dress with her hands as if she’d never seen it before. She stood arm in arm with Krum, who watched her with a small scowl.
‘What on earth?’ She slipped her arm free from Krum and stepped forward. ‘What’s this?’
Harry grappled with the storm, words of familiar weight hanging on his tongue. ‘The Yule Ball.’
‘Is it important?’
He stared out into the crowd of drifting colours and the yearning wrenched at his heart, tugging his thoughts back to hovering candles, mistletoe and soft kisses. ‘No. Let’s go upstairs, to the Room of Requirement.’
I need this to end. Harry struggled to breathe, pacing back and forth along the corridor before the tap-dancing trolls. I need to find it. He sucked in a gulp of air and dashed through the wooden door that formed before him. Somehow.
White pebbles clicked beneath his feet as he stumbled into the room, warm air washed over his skin and rustling long grass and wildflowers spread away toward a distant sunset.
‘Are you okay?’ Hermione stepped in after him and gasped. ‘What is this?!’
Harry bent and picked up one of the warm pebbles, seized by a fierce familiarity. The yearning snapped tight ‘round him like a snare, slicing through to his heart like white-hot wire, and the world spun around him.
‘Harry?’ She put her fingers on his shoulder. ‘Breathe.’
Green strands of leaves twisted their way down from a bright blue summer sky, swaying around them. The girl with glasses smiled in his mind’s eye as she kissed him and his heart screamed into the storm.
‘I need…’ Harry drew Hermione close, pulling her lips against his. A faint mint taste touched his tongue.
She pulled away and stared at him with huge, brown eyes and trembling lips. ‘Harry?’ Hermione took a soft, deep breath and drew herself up. ‘Was that it?’
The storm howled beneath his ribs, yearning for the sharp, warm sweetness of before, and the mint taste hung on his tongue, thin and cool as frost. ‘No.’
Hermione swallowed. ‘Want to try again? I — I don’t mind if you think it will help you.’ She edged a little nearer. ‘You seem worse this time… Do you think you can find it?’
Harry pressed his fingertips to his ribs, pushing them in until they turned white and throbbed with pain, but the need drowned it, smothering the breath in his lungs and snaring the words on his tongue. He closed his eyes. ‘I don’t think I can.’
‘Then don’t say it.’ A girl of silver mist stood so close her bright, silver eyes and tear-filled lashes were all he could see. ‘I dreamt one day you’d kiss me,’ she whispered. ‘But I knew you never would.’ Her lips brushed through his, the faintest chill upon his skin.
A faint weight slipped through his fingers and tumbled into the grass. Gleaming gold surrounded a small, dark stone with a familiar mark upon it.
‘The Stone,’ he murmured.
The storm. The girl of silver mist’s voice rose in the back of his mind like steam curling off dark water. Despair dragged him down into its crushing, cold depths, closing over him, and he buried his face in his hands. Death. The final enemy.
‘One final defeat,’ he whispered, the words rising up onto his tongue from nowhere. He lowered his arms. ‘Then nothing.’
Bright colours burst against a wavering wall of silver light, flitting black butterflies exploded into wisps of dark mist and a pale wand slipped through his fingers.
A brilliant emerald flash washed the world away.
Soft shadow swirled in shining silver, faint as summer shade, silent as winter snow. It writhed far beneath the shimmering surface, like the glimmer of gold beneath a river’s bright ripples. The desperate yearning clawed its way up his throat like a fistful of razors, his heart seized beneath his ribs and a fierce heat stung at his eyes.
The golden egg rested on white pebbles, glowing in the faint light of a red sunset; its scream drowned the rustle of the grass and the willow leaves, a piercing wail ringing in Hermione’s ears. Harry stared into the gleaming metal, ignoring the shrieking.
‘How’s your puzzle?’ she asked. ‘Fed up of the screaming yet?’
‘I quite like it.’ He clasped shut the egg. ‘It drowns out everything else.’
Hermione chewed at her lip, watching him toy with the clasp. ‘But you do know how to solve it? You don’t want me to go through the library and look for clues?’
‘It’s Mermish,’ Harry said. ‘Under the water, it sounds very different.’
‘You’ve known that the whole time?!’ She huffed and crossed her arms. ‘Were you just listening to it scream?’
‘I like it.’ A faint smile crossed his lips. ‘It keeps me calm.’
She shook her head and tugged the list out of her bra. ‘Unbelievable.’
Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve and conjured a metre-wide floating orb of water, adding warming charms until the water gave off gentle spirals of steam.
Hermione unfolded her list and stared at the small handful of words on the creased parchment. Something missing. The key to the cage Harry’s trapped in. A knot of frustration tightened in her breast and she crumpled the paper up. None of these make sense. I don’t know enough magic. Her gaze slipped back to Harry. But he must.
‘Harry?’ She tucked her note away. ‘How does mind magic work?’
‘What kind?’ He bounced the egg in his hands. ‘Occlumency? Legilimency?’
‘Memories,’ Hermione murmured.
‘The Memory Charm?’ Harry sketched two circles in the air in purple flame, joining them with a slim thread of emerald fire. ‘It removes memories.’ The left-hand purple circle vanished and the slim line of green fire faded away. ‘Like that.’ The right-hand circle swirled into a square. ‘Or it modifies them, like that.’
‘But you brought my memories back after Lockhart obliviated me,’ she replied.
‘What magic has taken away, magic can usually bring back,’ he said, drawing the green thread of flame once more. ‘Strong mental associations can indicate that something’s missing or wrong. Eventually, the true memories can be reclaimed if the person wants it enough.’ Harry restored the burning purple shapes to their original form with a flick of his wand.
Something missing. Unease gnawed at Hermione
‘What constitutes a strong mental association?’ she asked. ‘What sort of thing would it be?’
‘Something like your name or your parents’ faces. Something associated with many different things.’ Harry’s fingers curled ‘round the golden egg and his knuckles paled. ‘Something important.’
Hermione’s breath hitched and clarity struck her like a ray of light. The key to the cage. Or the lock. The taste of his kiss crept to the forefront of her mind and a little heat rose to her cheeks. She sat there on the white pebbles, staring at Harry who stuck his head and the egg into his floating orb of water.
‘But you don’t kiss something important.’ Her heart stopped. ‘You kiss someone.’
It’s a person!
‘It’s someone he loves.’ A faint sting of pain twisted beneath her ribs. ‘Someone he loves…’ Hermione wrestled with the soft ache in her breast. ‘I guess I just need to find out who it is.’
And that’s why my list makes no sense. She tugged the piece of paper back out and uncrumpled it. Bouillabaisse. Beauxbatons. The Boggart. Salazar Slytherin’s portrait. The Whomping Willow. They’re all connected to a nexus I don’t know.
‘A type of French dish, another magical school, the boggart can change shape, a portrait, and a tree.’ Hermione frowned. ‘That’s not much to go on, I need to tighten the net somehow.’
Harry’s bubble of water vanished and he tossed the golden egg away into the pebbles. ‘Done.’ His hands balled into trembling fists.
‘What did it say?’ she asked.
‘It says they’re going to take something away from me.’ A dark glint hovered in his green eyes. ‘Something important. I have to get it back.’
The dark waters of the Black Lake lapped at the pillars of the pier and a cold wind rushed past Harry. Viktor Krum stood near the pier’s end, staring down at where the thick weeds floated. Cedric Diggory shivered on the far side, clutching his wand and pacing back and forth.
It looks unpleasant. Harry slipped his wand out. What did they take? What have they stolen from me?
A shrill whistle cut through the air and he leapt into the lake.
Cold dark water closed over him.
He broke the surface.
The girl with her thick-rimmed glasses laughed and splashed water at him. ‘It’s not that cold, Tom.’
The yearning stirred, whispering through his chest like the first breeze of a coming storm. He swiped water from his eyes.
A slim strip of sand spread from their bare, sand-crusted feet to where the waves washed up the beach. Limestone cliffs stretched away to a narrow ravine where the surf dashed itself upon the rocks, and flecks of foam spattered his face.
‘Look what I have.’ The girl in glasses beamed and held up a dandelion seed head. ‘You can make a wish on these.’
A wish. The need spiked, catching the words in his throat.
She huffed the seeds off with a shy smile on her lips, wiggling the fingers of her free hand into his. The dandelion seeds drifted away across the waves, sailing out of sight as the sun set.
‘What did you wish for?’ he asked, forcing the yearning down.
She bit her lip and glanced up at him from under her lashes, fiddling with the bare stem of the flower. ‘For this to last forever.’
A small smile crept onto his lips and words welled up onto his tongue. ‘That’s a good wish, Myrtle. We’ll have to make sure it comes true.’
Myrtle lowered her arm and the sand from her sleeve caught him in the eye.
An arm of rippling silver vapour swept through the dark water as Myrtle pointed down to her right. ‘Good luck, Harry!’
He nodded and sucked in a gulp of water, swimming on and down.
Mud turned to rock beneath his feet. Columns of dark grey stone rose from the lake bed and its clusters of weeds, bearing deep-etched symbols, and the faint singing of the Merpeople drifted to his ears through the water.
Nearly found it. A bright thrill coursed through his veins. Nearly there.
Twelve dark monoliths surrounded a stone altar decorated with red and white coral and long, thin, sharp-fanged skulls. Two figures hung upon the nearest columns.
Not something important. He swam closer, his heart pounding in his ears. Someone.
Viktor Krum knifed through the middle of them, a shark’s maw in place of his head. Harry drew his wand and thrust his magic into the water, but Viktor tore free one of the figures and swam away.
Someone important. He kicked down to the lake bed, approaching the final figure. But who?
Katie Bell bobbed against the monolith, a stream of silver bubbles rising from her mouth. The yearning twisted in his breast like a burning blade. Harry vanished her bindings with a flick of his wand and pulled her into his arms. Her warmth soaked into him and her hair floated into his eyes.
He brushed it aside.
‘I did something very stupid,’ Katie whispered.
The portraits surrounding the entrance to Gryffindor Tower stared down at them. Tears glinted in Katie’s eyes and began to pour down her cheeks. ‘I’m so sorry. I was angry. And the Firewhiskey…’
A soft ache stung beneath his ribs. Not someone important. Someone important wouldn’t do that. A little ball of cold settled over Harry’s heart. She’s just between me and whoever it really is. An obstacle. He closed his eyes and crushed the ache to nothing.
‘I’m so sorry,’ Myrtle whispered, staring at the damp, white tiles beneath her feet. Her glasses flashed in the bright summer sunlight beaming through the window. ‘I made a mistake. I was angry.’
A jagged pain wrenched in his breast. ‘You betrayed me.’ Words slipped from his lips and his wand flashed up. ‘To one of them!’
‘I — I thought—’
‘You chose them.’ He ripped her memories from her, snatching away every instant they’d spent together. ‘If you chose them once, you’ll do it again.’ He blinked back tears as the despair rose to smother him. ‘I should’ve known better than to believe you when you said you were different.’
Myrtle slumped to the tiles.
He squeezed his eyes shut and smeared the tears away. There are no dreams left.
‘Tom,’ she begged as storm clouds rumbled and lightning flashed through the window. ‘Please. I know there’s something missing. Something important.’ Tears streamed down her cheeks from beneath her glasses. ‘Please tell me. Please.’
Something missing. Something important. His wand slipped into his hand and magic swirled through him. Maybe I should forgive her. The thought welled up from the back of his mind. It’s lonely without her. We had one last perfect dream together.
She raised her head. ‘I’m going to tell Professor Dumbledore you did something! But I want to know what it is first. I have to know. I can’t keep feeling suddenly sad all the time and bursting into tears!’
She chose them again. Searing heat flashed through his veins. Again!
‘Tom,’ she whispered. ‘Tell me, Tom.’
‘There’s nothing to tell,’ he said, tearing every memory of him from her mind. ‘It doesn’t do to dwell on dreams.’
There’re no dreams left. He closed his eyes as the chamber scraped open and the basilisk slithered free.
A soft gasp escaped Myrtle and her body thumped to the tiles.
There’s only power. He closed his eyes and listened, letting the cacophonous whisper of his soul drown out the world. And I won’t be nothing. Never again. I’ll be the greatest wizard the world’s ever seen. Let them hate me then.
Cramped columns of names lined the page of her notebook in messy shorthand, halved by the fluttering of a worn blue ribbon. A blotch of water dripped onto the page, blurring Katie Bell’s name.
‘Harry?’ She glanced up. ‘Want to keep playing our game? It might help drown out everything else?’
He paused in poking his wand at the knee-high hedges on the former quidditch pitch. ‘Sure. These hedges are Lying Leylandii, so there’s really not all that much I can do to them.’
Hermione smiled. ‘Quidditch player. Cute but scruffy. Chaser.’
‘Katie Bell,’ Harry said.
Not Katie, then. She huffed on the water blotch until it dried, then drew a line through Katie’s name. Next one.
‘Also a chaser—’
Hermione laughed. ‘Are these too easy for you, Harry?’
‘The other ones were harder.’ He shook his head and straightened up. ‘Is the next one Angelina Johnson?’
She checked the list. ‘I did write them down together. I think they’re a package deal.’
Harry chuckled and went back to inspecting the hedges.
‘What about… has a twin?’
‘Parvati.’ He didn’t glance up. ‘Or Padma, I suppose, but we already did all the other houses.’
Hermione crossed a line through Parvati. I’m running out of girls’ names. Anxiety stabbed at her. If it’s not someone from Hogwarts, this might be very tricky.
‘A kind of flower?’ she asked.
Harry stiffened. ‘What’s so special about flowers?’ he murmured, an odd little glint in his eye.
Interesting. She studied him as he slipped his wand away and prowled the hedges, fingers twitching. He’s not said her name yet.
‘She likes divination,’ Hermione called after him.
‘Lavender.’ Harry paced through the twisting paths, ignoring the rustle and shiver of the hedges he passed by. ‘Are you out of girls, yet? You know there’s an entire other gender.’
Hermione blinked. What if he’s gay? She shook her head and crossed off the last girls’ name. I didn’t even think about that.
‘Who’s the hottest?’ she asked, inspecting his expression. ‘Of all the girls I’ve mentioned in the game, which one would you rather marry?’
Harry froze. ‘Marry?’ he whispered, his fingers creeping to his ring finger. ‘Not sure.’ A distant expression crossed his face. ‘None of them feel right.’
‘What about guys?’ Hermione pressed.
He wrinkled his nose. ‘Nope. Not my cup of tea, that.’
Well, at least that makes things easier. She flicked back a few pages through her notebook to look at her original list. Bouillabaisse. Beauxbatons — I’m an idiot.
‘Harry, come with me!’ Hermione strode through the hedges and grabbed his arm. ‘Come on! It’s important!’
He let her drag him back into the castle and through to the Great Hall, a bright, eager gleam in his eyes. ‘What is it?’
‘I can’t tell you yet,’ she said, picking a pair of seats in the middle of the Gryffindor table and ushering Katie up the table. ‘The game is part of it. I promise it’s important, Harry. I wouldn’t waste your time.’
Harry nodded, a wild, fierce gleam in his eye. ‘So?’
Hermione pointed a hand at the small contingent of blue-uniformed students and scrambled for a plan. ‘Guess their names from their faces.’
He followed her finger. ‘Beauxbatons students?’ His brow creased. ‘Fine. Marcelle. Pierre. Caroline. Emilie.’ Harry paused, his hand frozen halfway to the next. ‘I don’t know that many French names.’
‘Just make them up, then,’ she said. ‘It doesn’t matter.’
As long as you can see them, they’re not the one.
‘Sure. Why not.’ Harry’s hand moved on. ‘Amy. Louise. Paul. Jack. Andrew. Mary. Susan. Gary. Stewart.’ His hand fell back to his side.
Hermione’s heart stopped. You missed one, Harry. You missed the last one.
‘You forgot one,’ she murmured. ‘What about Beauxbatons’s champion? You should already know her name. Every boy at the school is always talking about her.’
‘Their champion?’ Harry’s fingers crept to his temple and pressed in so hard they turned white. ‘I don’t know. It’s not important.’
‘Isn’t it?’ Hermione pressed..
‘No.’ A slim stream of red trickled from Harry’s ear and his breathing began to race. ‘No. There’s something important. Something great—’
‘She’s very pretty. Blue eyes. Silver hair—’
Katie’s goblet shattered, spraying glass across the table.
Hermione flinched and wrapped an arm ‘round Harry’s shoulders. ‘Breathe, Harry. It’s ok. We’re going to find it. I promise you. Just a couple more puzzles.’
Fleur Delacour. She stared across the gap between the tables and caught the French girl’s bright blue eyes. Hermione smothered a soft sting in her chest. So it’s you Harry loves.
Plates and bowls crumpled with metallic screeches, cutlery bent and snapped and the table shook, rattling all along its length.
‘Harry,’ she hissed. ‘Calm down! And don’t close your eyes! You mustn’t close your eyes.’ Hermione snatched up her notebook and a pen, grasping for an idea. ‘I’ll give you the next part of the puzzle.’
A puzzle. A puzzle. She stared at the blank page, but all the words hovered just out of reach. Anything will do. I just need to distract him for a few minutes.
Another goblet shattered and someone screamed.
She scribbled down the first childish riddle that sprang to mind and passed it over. Harry stared at it, clutching it tight between his fingers, and the rattling faded.
Hermione released a sigh. I did it. I think. If he finds her, he’s found his something, the key to the cage. A flare of triumph rushed through her. I helped him. I saved him.
The world ground to a halt and cold fear clamped about her heart like a vice.
But if he’s free, if the dream ends, what happens to me? Do I just… disappear?
Ink spread through the lines in the notebook’s pages, creeping from the ends of Hermione’s letters, and the blotches splashed about the words.
‘If you’ve got me, you want to share me; if you share me, you haven’t kept me. What am I?’ Harry muttered. ‘How many guesses do I get?’
Ash swirled ‘round him, drifting to the ground before a tall, dark hedge.
‘A good question to ask.’ A beautiful female voice carrying a strange double timbre tugged at his thoughts. The sphinx lay in the only gap, a broad smile on its face. ‘Dreams are such fascinating things, little human.’
‘There’re no dreams left,’ he whispered. ‘There’s only power.’
‘There’s one,’ it said. ‘A shadow of a dream, the faint impression of where it was torn away.’
‘Who took it?’ Harry demanded, feeling the heat of the fury whirl within. ‘Where is it?’
The sphinx’s smile widened. ‘There’s only the two of us in here really, Heir of Slytherin, and I did not do it to you.’
Harry mulled that over. ‘I don’t understand. Are you saying I did this to myself? Why would I do that?!’
‘When is victory not really victory? When does falling to your last enemy stop being defeat?’ It laughed. ‘But that is not the riddle I’m here to give you. Not this time.’
The last enemy. Death. The Storm. The yearning swirled within, hot as flame, tight as a noose. That doesn’t help at all.
‘Who said I was here to help?’ The sphinx rose to its feet and stared down at him; its eyes burnt with magic, like it was lit from within by green flame. ‘I tire of watching you dance among dreams. You will solve the riddle I give you or I will devour you now.’
‘A test.’ It yawned, baring a maw of curved fangs. ‘Kept without bars, spoken with shame; sometimes brings joy, more often brings blame.’
Harry turned the words over in his head, shoving the storm down deep within. Something you keep, but not a physical thing. A promise? He weighed that up. But you don’t make promises and feel ashamed.
‘Oh, so close.’ The sphinx laughed. ‘But no, not a promise. It’s not promises you swore there’d be no more of.’
No more secrets.
‘That’s it.’ Its sharp smile stretched wide. ‘Secrets. Secrets and dreams, Harry Potter, the delicious delusions of the human mind.’
‘You said you weren’t here to help…’ Harry narrowed his eyes at it. ‘You solved that riddle for me.’
‘Who said the riddle was the test?’ The sphinx flared its wings. ‘Or, more aptly, who said it was that riddle I wanted to hear?’ It reached out with one huge paw and touched the tip of its claw to Harry’s heart. ‘Neither can live while the other survives.’
Tom. One of two. Harry shoved the claw away and ignored the cold prickling down his spine. Words welled up from the back of his mind and a desperate yearning ripped through him, sharp as razors. It doesn’t matter which I am. Perfect wishes don’t come true.
‘Secrets,’ he muttered. ‘Secrets was the answer. Let me pass.’
‘Pass?’ Its gentle laughter echoed as the world bent and twisted around Harry. ‘Sometimes, to go forward, you must go back.’
The chatter of the Great Hall washed over him and Harry stared down at the pages of Hermione’s notebook, an awful foreboding crushing over him. ‘Secrets,’ he muttered. ‘Secrets and dreams.’
‘Well done, Harry!’ Hermione hurried back over, a thread of red magic trailing from the tip of her wand. ‘That was quick!’
He eyed the spell. ‘What’s that?’
Hermione stared down at the thin line of crimson flame. ‘I figured out the spell you use to draw in the air, it’s part of your puzzle.’ She swallowed hard. ‘The last part, I think.’
‘You know.’ He rose from his seat. ‘You know.’
The yearning exploded within, hot and bright and sharp; its snare closed ‘round his neck, catching the breath in his throat and strangling the words welling up beside faint, warm hope.
‘I can’t tell you,’ she whispered. ‘You have to find it yourself.’ Hermione passed her wand to him. ‘Just — Just follow the red string.’
Harry took her wand. The thread tugged at his hand, drawing him on. ‘Where will it take me?’
‘Back, I think.’ She blinked away tears. ‘Back where you’re meant to be.’
Harry took a step forward.
‘Wait.’ Hermione put her hand on his shoulder. ‘Thank you.’
‘What for?’ he asked.
‘For the troll. For being my friend. For everything.’ Tears slid free of her lashes, trickling down her cheeks. ‘But you have to go back. And I have to disappear.’
Unease gnawed at Harry. ‘Are you okay, Hermione?’ He extended his hand.
She shook her head. ‘I can’t come with you. Not this time. I just wish I could.’
Perfect wishes don’t come true. The thread of red magic tugged at him.
‘Go,’ she said. ‘You have to go. It’s something more important than me.’
Something important. His feet stumbled after the tug of the thread and the storm howled in his heart. Did she find it for me? Did she help me in the end after all?
The thin crimson string flickered out before bright, summer-sky-blue eyes and a cascade of silver hair.
Searing pain flashed through his head.
The Great Hall spun and brightened into white pebbles, a rippling river and the gentle shade of a willow tree.
‘Fleur,’ he whispered.
‘I’m here, mon Cœur.’ A warm, marzipan-scented embrace engulfed him. ‘As always.’ A gentle kiss brushed his lips as silver mist swirled ‘round him and her arms vanished. ‘You’re almost there.’