Descent into Darkness

BY : Athey1024
Category: Harry Potter AU/AR > Slash - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 69308
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, nor any of the characters from the books or movies. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.


 



Disclaimer: Don't own Harry Potter. JKRowling does.



First Beta Pass by Clemex



– –



"Fleur, can we talk?" Harry said as he caught up to the gaggle of French girls walking across the courtyard. Fleur looked back at him and the sadness in her eyes was obvious, even from ten feet away. She said a few quiet words to some of her friends and they dispersed.



"'arry, I swear I didn't say a word to anyone," she began the instant they were alone.



Harry gave her a soft smile, but didn't waste anytime slipping into her mind. He skimmed through her thoughts and saw a glimpse of her reading Skeeter's article that morning. She was infuriated, especially by the bits accusing Harry of 'toying with the poor little French girl's heart'.



She really had no idea how Skeeter had come across her information. Fleur definitely wasn't the one who told her.



Harry pulled back out and continued the smile; only more genuine now. "I believe you," he said simply with a calm shrug.



"Oh 'arry! Zat woman iz a disgusting wretch! She writes lies and fabrications! In France, she would be liable for writing such slander!"



Harry smirked and shrugged. "Yeah... you know, you've got a point. Wonder if maybe I should get myself a solicitor and sue the Prophet."



"You should!" she said as she folded her arms across her chest, haughtily.



Harry chuckled. "Although in this one instance, she didn't lie or exaggerate, nearly as much as in her previous articles about me..."



"Well she lied about me! Insinuating that you mislead me and broke my heart. Stupid woman."



"Well, I did sort of mislead you. I mean... I didn't tell you I was gay."



"You didn't have to. I knew already," Fleur said dismissively. "I knew before I even accepted. I am not some stupid, naive little girl who allows boys to toy with my heart. Her insinuations about my character were offensive to me."



"Well then maybe you should sue for slander," Harry said chuckling mildly.



Fleur sighed, and the fire of her anger extinguished slightly. "I cannot understand how you are not more angry 'arry. If it were me that she had written such garbage about, I would be utterly furious!"



Harry shrugged. "I'm getting used to it. Public opinion is a fickle monster. One day they love me, the next day they hate me, and then the following week they expect me to be their savior. It was a roller coaster head trip that I realized I didn't have to ride. So I got off. To hell with what they all think. I can try and do damage control, but freaking out over it isn't going to help matters."



Fleur scrutinized Harry for a long minute before shaking her head and grinning weakly. "You are remarkably mature for zomeone who is only fourteen, 'arry."



He laughed. "Thanks... I think."



She smiled brightly, took a step forward and wrapped her arms around him, pulling him into a friendly hug. Harry blinked in startled surprise. He was frozen for a minute, but forced himself to wrap his arms weakly around her waist and return the hug.



Finally she let go and took a step back. "If anyone gives you a hard time, I will defend your 'onor, 'arry. You were a fantastic date and I am glad I went with you to zee ball."



"Thanks," he said chuckling.



They said goodbye and parted ways after that. He cast a quick tempus and saw that lunch was about over. He grimaced. He had divination next. Oh how he hated divination.



– –



"Hey Poofer! Running off to meet with your boyfriend, Weasley?" an annoying voice called out as Harry made his way down the corridor after staying behind in Charms, later the next day. Harry turned around to face Draco Malfoy, leaning against the wall several feet away. A quick glance around was all he needed to determine that they were alone. Not even Malfoy's two cronies were around. A mischievous grin spread across his lips.



"Me, date Ron? Are you mad? I do have standard's Draco. Really, now," Harry said, rolling his eyes dramatically and making a mockingly effeminate gesture with his hand.



Draco gaped at him and looked amusingly confused. Harry snickered and began to strut his way closer to the blond, who noticeably tensed up at the unexpected behavior.



"And seriously? Poofer? Is that supposed to be a play on Potter? Is that the best you can come up with? I thought you were more clever than that, Draco."



"Shut up, Potter," the blond spat, taking another step back as Harry continued to approach.



"Tsk, tsk, Draco. Where are those clever retorts your so famous for?" Harry said as he began to dig into his magic and pull some of his power to the surface. It was absolutely delicious and he grinned wider.



He raised one hand slightly, causing the other boy's eyes to lock on it, and his whole body to tense up. He saw Draco's hand clench his wand, held there, and begin to rise.



§Don't move,§ Harry hissed as he cast the magic out and encircled the blond boy. Draco froze in place and his eyes widened in horror.



"So," Harry said as he extended one hand and placed it on the wall beside Malfoy's head and leaned forward, pressing the other boy against the wall completely. Malfoy's eyes were wide with panic as it became more and more obvious that he couldn't move, "what did you want," Harry said in a whispery sort of voice, with his face only inches away from Malfoy's.



"W-what?" Malfoy stuttered.



"You called to me. What did you want?" Harry explained, smirking and pressing their chests together further.



Malfoy breathed in a sharp hiss of surprise as he was pressed against more intimately than he had ever expected. "What the bloody hell are you doing, Potter!" Malfoy said, but his voice was surprisingly weak and clearly filled with panic.



"Well you did call out to me, Draco. Asking me if I was running off to a boyfriend or something. I thought maybe you were jealous. Interested in some fun, Draco?"



"You're mad! What are you doing to me? Why can't I move?"



"You can't move, because I told you not to," Harry smirked as he swirled up some of his magic and gathered it into his fingertips. He reached out and lightly traced his knuckles over Malfoy's cheek and the blond boy gasped and his body involuntarily arched off the wall.



"What is that?" Malfoy gasped.



"It's magic," Harry whispered into Malfoy's ear. He let his breath fan out across Malfoy's ear and neck and pushed more of his magic towards the other boy; swirling it around him tantalizingly.



Malfoy's breathing became labored and his eyes rolled back into his sockets. "That's not just magic," he panted as his body began to spasm and buck against his own will. More and more of Harry's magic was beginning to dance over the surface of the other boy's skin, and he reveled in how intense the blond boy's reaction was to such a small tease of his magic. It was glorious and easy, and Merlin it was fun!



"Oh? Not just magic?" Harry asked with a playfully curious tone.



"That's... that's dark magic," Malfoy gasped out before a small moan escaped from deep in his throat.



Harry paused and pulled back slightly, frowning. Some of his magic retreated with him, and Malfoy whimpered at the loss, but it was apparently enough for him to regain some of his senses. His eyes opened and were filled with a look of shock and horror.



"Get off me!" He growled angrily.



Harry looked back down at Malfoy, with a mildly disinterested mask pulled on. He sighed and rolled his eyes. "Fine. You're no fun," He said as he stepped away completely and waved his fingers, releasing the parselmagic that had been holding Malfoy in place.



The moment his body was free, Malfoy darted several feet away from Harry and stood facing him in a defensive stance, and tightly gripping his wand.



"What in Merlin's name do you think you're playing at, Potter?" the blond spat angrily, but the fear was still evident in his eyes.



"Just having a bit of fun Draco. Don't be so uptight," Harry said, dismissively.



"What... what was that? What... how did you do that?"



"Just a bit of magic, Draco. And as for how? I just did. It's easy," Harry said smirking.



"When did Dumbledore's golden-boy start tinkering in dark magic?"



Harry growled and took a harsh step forward, causing Malfoy to flinch and raise his wand.



"I'm no one's golden-boy!" he hissed. "Lease of all, Dumbledore's," he sneered.



Malfoy blinked. His expression began as startled surprise; morphed into confusion, and then into something approaching intrigue.



He nodded his head and smirked slightly. "Alright Potter. If you say so."



Harry sneered again, but it was diminished when he rolled his eyes. "I'm done here," he said, waving his hand at Draco and turning back down the hall the way he'd been heading before he was interrupted. Draco called something out after him, but Harry was already gone.



He turned around a corner and then ducked behind a tapestry into a hidden corridor. He pressed his back to the wall, closed his eyes tightly, and pressed his fists into his eye sockets.



"What the hell was that!" He thought to himself in mild panic. Where had that... that rage, come from? He was mildly disconcerted at how easy it had been to screw with Malfoy, but that was nothing compared to the fury that had filled him at the thought of Dumbledore.



Why?



He had never felt so much hate towards the man, as he had in that moment, and he couldn't, for the life of him, figure out why he felt it.



And what of that comment from Malfoy about dark magic? He hadn't tried to draw on any kind of magic at all, he was just drawing from his own magic. Commanding it consciously, but not using any specific spells or incantations. Could magic have an er... affinity, even if a specific spell wasn't being used? It was just raw magic. How could it be dark?



Harry sighed and let his legs slide out in front of him, and slowly slid his body down the wall until he was sitting on the floor. He needed to think. He needed to understand aligned magic better. His knowledge of the fundamental theory of different types of magic was spotty at best. As he thought about it, it was rather odd that it wasn't something covered in classes more.



It was the foundation of magical theory and they'd barely even skimmed the topic in his classes.



He shook his head and shifted back to the other matter. The hate he had felt.



Harry had barely thought about Dumbledore at all lately. He had only thought of the man in passing at the task, and basically not at all since. Now, when he let himself linger on the idea of his headmaster, it left a fowl taste in his mouth and a scowl on his face. The idea that anyone thought of him as Dumbledore's golden-boy pissed him off.



Why?



It hadn't pissed him off before. Not really. The whole 'golden-boy' thing had always been rather annoying, but even Harry had to admit it was fairly obvious to the rest of the school that the headmaster had showed him favoritism on several occasions, so he could see where people got the idea.



But he does a lot more to me besides show me the occasional favoritism. Harry thought, bitterly. Every year it seemed like there was some new test. Some new challenge set up to mess with Harry. To push his limits, and to push him in some designed direction. And these things could always be linked back to Albus Dumbledore.



But that was hardly enough to warrant the raging inferno of fury that filled him at the mere thought of his headmaster. His anger wasn't all his. It couldn't be.



Why can't it be? His companion's voice whispered through his mind and he sighed happily at the sudden presence. He felt the tension release from his shoulders and he relaxed back against the wall.



"What do you mean?"



Why... do you feel that this... anger... cannot wholly be... yours?



"He... he hasn't really done enough to me to warrant so much anger," Harry thought with a grumble.



He has done plenty. And now... he has abandoned you.



"Huh?"



He... could have stopped this. This tournament. You are young... Harry. Too young...



"But Mr. Crouch said I had to participate. That the rules were clear, or whatever."



Dumbledore could have stopped it. You... are underage.



"Crouch said that the Goblet of Fire was like a magically binding contract," Harry said, as he scowled down at his hands, thinking over the memories of Halloween night when his world was turned upside down... again. "If it's magically binding, doesn't that mean I lose my magic if I break it?"



You are too young for a... magically binding... contract. Your magical... guardian... could have intervened. You can not be bound... not without your... guardian's consent.



"Magical guardian?"



Dumbledore.



"How is he my magical guardian?" Harry asked, dubiously.



He is... your headmaster. You have no... wizard guardians... so he gains your guardianship... while you are in his school. It is how... it works.



Harry blinked and tried to wrap his mind around that statement. "How do you know this?"



I just do.



Harry rolled his eyes, but didn't inquire further.



"Okay... but I didn't really know all of that stuff, so how could it have made me angry?"



Perhaps... because I am... angered... by it. I knew. I knew he could... have stopped this. But he has not. He... is testing you... again. Always testing you. Manipulative old man... tricky...bastard...



Harry blinked in surprise at the anger he heard in his companion's whispy voice. He never really heard emotion in his companion's voice. Not really.



He thought over what he had just learned and scowled. If it were true, it could only mean that this was another one of Dumbledore's ridiculous tests. Hell, maybe it was Dumbledore that put his name in the bloody cup! But no... Voldemort clearly had something to do with Harry being in the tournament. Plus that man, 'Barty' seemed somehow involved in the whole thing. Like it was his job to somehow collect Harry and bring him to the Dark Lord.



He growled in frustration and shook his head. Okay, he definitely felt justified in his serious distrust and dislike of his headmaster, and realizing that his companion had a deep seeded hatred for the man did help explain Harry's sudden bout of unexpected emotion. It was still strange to think that his emotions had been overridden so easily by his companion's... but he trusted his companion, so it didn't bother him too much.



Finally he sighed and stood to his feet. He had been heading towards the chamber before he was interrupted. He pulled his cloak and map out of his bag, readied them, and began to make his way towards the second floor.



– –



Harry climbed through the portrait hold later that night exhausted and more than eager for some relaxation time in bed. He couldn't believe it was only Tuesday night. How could only two days of term passed, when it had felt like so much longer than that? Of course his days were pretty packed with classes, combined with his personal training regimen down in the chamber. He had so many things going on at once, he barely had time for homework and sleep.



He heard Seamus's and Dean's voices and glanced up to see the pair of them disappearing at the top of the stairs, just as he entered the common room. Neville was no where to be seen, and Ron was hunched over one of the common room tables with his transfiguration textbook open and a pile of parchment beside it. Hermione was sitting opposite him, and it looked like she was attempting to explain something to him, and getting frustrated by his inability to get it. Pretty common situation for him to find the two of them in.



Ron's head rose and when his eyes caught sight of Harry he grinned in relief.



"Harry!"



Harry rose a single eyebrow questioningly and made his way over, cautiously.



"Hey Ron, what's up?"



"You done with that essay for transfiguration yet?"



"Ronald Weasley!" Hermione's scolding voice sounded immediately.



"What?" Ron exclaimed defensively.



"Do your own work!"



"I haven't even asked him for anything yet! I just asked him if he'd done it!"



"I'm not an idiot Ron. I refused to let you copy mine for a reason! You need to learn this, Ron! It's important!"



Harry looked at the pair of them bickering and chuckled.



Ron scowled but shifted his expression to a desperately hopeful one instead. "So... have you?"



"Hmm?" Harry asked.



"Finished it," Ron reiterated.



"Oh. Yeah, I got it done last night," Harry said dismissively.



"Can I –"



"RON!" Hermione growled.



Harry laughed openly now and began to shake his head. "No, Ron. Do your own work."



Ron's face fell immediately and he slouched back into his chair and pouted.



Harry turned away and began to head for the stairs.



"Where you going?" Ron asked as he sat up straighter, looking disappointed.



"Bed. I want to get some reading in, and I'm exhausted," Harry called over his shoulder as he kept going.



"Yeah.. me too. I mean, I'm exhausted too. I think I'll head up to bed."



Hermione made a frustrated growling sort of noise and slammed her own book shut rather roughly.



Harry didn't bother to wait and just kept heading up the stairs. He entered the boy's 4th year dormitory and made his way over to his bed.



Neville was already in bed, but his hangings weren't drawn shut. He was propped up in bed against his pillows, and reading a book. Dean was standing beside his own bed, digging around in his trunk, and Seamus looked to be sorting through his school bag. Seamus and Dean both paused in their actions and watched Harry as he entered the room.



He could feel their eyes trained on him and scowled, but chose not to acknowledge it until one of them got the balls to say something.



He opened his wardrobe and pulled out his cotton pajama pants and a loose t-shirt. He disrobed down to his boxers and slipped into his bed clothes. The room was eerily silent, and he could still feel their eyes on his back.



He climbed into bed and propped himself up against his pillows. He assumed the same basic arrangement as Neville, and pulled out the book, Tip-Toeing Through the Mind of the Unaware by Clair Videre. He'd only had the time to read a little of it so far, and was hoping to get a little reading in before he finally went to sleep.



"Er... Harry?" Seamus's voice called out from across the room. Harry looked up at them with a single arched brow.



"Yeah?"



"You uh... need to use the loo, or anything?"



Harry blinked. "What?" he responded, in utter bewilderment.



"Or, you could just close your bed hangings," Dean offered quickly.



Harry looked between the two of them, trying to work out what the bloody hell they were on about. He saw that they were both standing by their respective beds with their own bed clothes laid out and ready to change. And yet they were both still standing there, fully dressed.



Suspicion dawned on him and he narrowed his eyes at them.



Ron walked in and interrupted the moment. He was grumbling about 'stupid bossy know-it-alls' and made his way straight over to his bed, beside Harry's. Ron wasted no time at all disrobing and slipping into a set of maroon flannel pajamas. Still Dean and Seamus stood awkwardly beside their beds, fidgeting uncomfortably.



"You don't want to get undressed with me here, do you?" Harry asked in an airy voice, while looking down at his book.



Both boys looked sheepish for a minute. Ron looked up, clearly confused by the sudden statement. He looked at Harry, and then at the two of their dorm mates who were still standing.



"What?" was Ron's eloquent response.



"Dean and Seamus," Harry said, tilting his chin towards the two boys, but then resuming his focus back onto the book in his lap. "They're uncomfortable getting undressed with me here."



"What? Why?" Ron responded, looking back at the other two boys in confusion.



Dean turned away, clearly embarrassed, and ran is hand through his short, tight brown curls. Seamus growled in frustration and folded his arms across his chest.



"Well, because he's... you know!" he said, jabbing his hand in Harry's general direction.



Ron, the blessed idiot, still looked confused. Harry, however, understood exactly what was going on, and actually began to chuckle.



"No, I don't. He's what?" Ron exclaimed, getting frustrated by both not getting it, and the insinuation that there was something wrong with Harry.



"They don't want to get naked in front of me 'cause I'm queer, Ron," Harry explained in a flat, dismissive tone as he turned the page in his book.



A startled choking sound emanated from Neville's side of the room, and Harry could see that Seamus had turned beat red, from out of the corner of his eye.



Ron turned to face Seamus and Dean with a furious expression on his face.



"Is that true?" he shrieked.



"Oh, come on Ron!" Seamus said defensively.



"No! How can you... I mean... he's just Harry! How... Errrgh!" Ron growled in frustration and Harry actually laughed. They all turned to look at him, incredulously.



Harry rolled his eyes and closed the book.



"Look you guys," he started in an exasperated tone, "yes, I fancy blokes. Big deal. I don't fancy any one of you though, so get over yourselves. I've seen every one of you starkers in the shower dozens of times over the last three and a half years; I haven't done anything weird during that time, and I'm not about to start doing anything weird now that I've been outed by that stupid cow Skeeter.



"Bloody hell, Seamus – what do you think – that I'm gonna start beating off to fantasies of you in your black and red Ballycastle Bats briefs?" he asked, barely restraining his laughter. "I'm not into any of you. Get over it."



And with that, he waved his hand, and hissed a quiet close command under his breath, causing the hangings around his bed to fly closed and stick shut. He picked his book back up, and resumed reading.



– –



Harry's weak remained excessively full. As he had more classes, his homework load steadily rose, and by the end of the week, he was having trouble finding time to head down into the chamber to work on his transformation.



So far, the most he had managed to do was make his eyes go slitted, and make a few scales appear in scattered patches along his skin. He was starting to feel a tingling feeling in his limbs, but nothing had actually happened yet. He knew the next big step would involve his arms shrinking away to nothing – which was honestly a bit unnerving to think about.



He wondered if his nerves were hindering his progress.



On Saturday, Hermione and Ron set out to help him with the locator spells. The first one he was going to try required him to actually know what the thing taken was. They took the Sneak-o-Scope that Ron had given Harry for his birthday a few years prior, and disappeared from the common room to go hide it somewhere in the school. Considering how enormous the black lake was, Harry figured if he couldn't find the sneak-o-scope where ever they put it in the school, then the spell wouldn't be any use to him during the task.



Harry sat in the common room, waiting for them to return, and reading notes he had taken from the parselmagic book on the locator spells. He hadn't wanted to risk pulling that book out in the company of others, so he had left the actual book down in the chamber.



Most of it was cerebral. The incantation was actually incredibly simple. He just spoke find and whatever the object was, in parseltongue. The hard part was how he focused, and how he controlled and directed his magical energy.



He mulled over the ideas in his head, and did a few simple practice runs by locating his quill, set on the table in front of him, and then locating a book that was placed on one of the little tables beside the fireplace.



He felt the pull on his magic in the proper direction each time, and the magic felt like it was cooperating properly.



Finally Hermione and Ron appeared in the portrait hole looking mildly flushed, as if they had run back to the common room from where ever they had hidden the object.



"Alright, mate! It's done," Ron said with a wide grin.



Harry chuckled at Ron's enthusiasm and thanked them for their help. "Alright guys, thanks," Harry said standing up and heading towards the portrait hole.



"Can't we come with?" Ron asked, looking disappointed at Harry's retreating form.



"I don't think that would be a good idea... I mean, you two already know where it is. That could somehow influence the spell. I'll be on my own in the lake. It'd be best if I practice under the same circumstances," Harry explained easily.



Ron pouted but nodded. "Yeah, I guess so."



"I'll come find you two if the spell fails me and I can't manage to find it within the hour."



"Okay, mate."



"Thanks again," Harry said, giving them a bright, convincing smile before he turned and jogged out the portrait hole. He cast a quick tempus and made note of the time. One hour. If he couldn't find the sneak-o-scope in one hour with this spell, he was going to have to figure something else out.



And of course, after this, he needed to try out the spell that would find a hidden object, even if you didn't know exactly what the object was.



That one was bound to be a tremendous amount more difficult to pull off.



Harry took a deep breath and calmed himself a bit. He focused on a mental image of a great black serpent, coiling and slithering. He felt the build of his parselmagic and called it forth, coiling it around him like the great black snake in his mind. Then he focused on the image of the Sneak-o-Scope.



Once he was positive he had the correct image and focus established, he hissed out §find the Sneak-o-Scope§.



When he opened his eyes, a hazy, distorted image of the great black serpent filled his vision. It was like smoke flowing through liquid, but with form. It was slithering in mid-air in front of him, turning it's head from side-to-side, as if it were searching for something.



Suddenly the snake took off through the air like a bullet. Harry quickly began to race after it and willed it to slow down so as to not lose sight of it.



He tensed whenever he came across any students, even though he knew that none of them could see the snake. It was an apparition that only he could see. Still, being around anyone else while he did this made him nervous.



The snake quickly made it's way down the grand staircase and through the forth floor corridor. Finally it made it's way to one of the floor-to-ceiling mirrors that lined the walls in this wing and slipped right through it and disappeared.



Harry blinked at the sight in surprise before memory dawned on him. This mirror was the secret entrance to one of the passageways that led out of the school. Fred and George had informed him that it caved in during his second year, so Harry had never really bothered to explore it.



He grinned widely. He had to admit, every now and then Ron actually came up with a bright idea. He doubted that Hermione was behind this because he didn't think she actually knew about this passageway. Fred and George had probably told Ron about it.



Harry ran his fingers along the edges of the mirror trying to figure out how to get past it. He felt magic thrumming from it, and wondered if there was a password for this one, like there was a password for the statue of the one-eyed witch, on the second floor that covered the tunnel that lead to Honeydukes.



Dissendium was used to reveal the hidden entrance to that tunnel, but he doubted that would work here since the mirror was most likely a door, and not something he would descend.



He took a step back and pulled out his wand. He tapped the mirror and thought "cantio revelio."



The magical energy he felt respond from the mirror didn't have a word to it, per se, but what he perceived made enough sense to him that he figured he could proceed. He imagined the magical signature that he had just sensed from the spell and pushed it back out at the mirror.



He heard a faint click sound, and then the mirror swung open like a door.



He slipped inside and saw the black serpent waiting inside the small room on the other side. It was on the ground now, coiling and slithering in a circle around the Sneak-o-Scope, that was currently placed on the floor in the center of the room.



Harry grinned, walked over, and picked it up.



He cast another tempus and saw that it had only been about 18 minutes.



He would definitely consider that a success. Now to see if he could do it, even if he had no idea what had been taken from him.



– –



Harry fell into bed that night tired and moody. Despite his first success with the locator spell, all of his subsequent attempts had failed miserably. It looked like, if he had no idea what he was looking for, he had no way of finding it.



But surely they wouldn't actually tell him to just jump in the lake and 'find something that's yours'. Would they?



He hoped not.



But even aside from his crummy afternoon, he was currently extra moody because he was only about an hour away from heading back down to the chamber to take his next dose of the accelerant potion. And even with his ability to go into his mindscape to escape the excruciating pain, it didn't change the fact that he would get no sleep, and would end up horribly sore afterwards.



He lay in bed, fighting the urge to just fall asleep, for about an hour until he was positive that all of his dorm mates were asleep. He had his cloak, map, and bag ready, and, after casting a quick silencing spell upon himself, he slipped from the room, down into the common room, and out the portrait hole.



Harry was making his way down the grand staircase and checking the map frequently for any signs of Filch or Peeves when something odd caught his attention.



Bartemius Crouch.



What was Mr. Crouch doing at Hogwarts after midnight? But, even more curious, was the fact that Bartemius Crouch was currently digging through Snape's potion stores. The little dot with Crouch's name floating beside it was moving to and fro inside the small store room; pausing here and there for a few moments at a time.



Harry's curiosity was peaked. He picked up his pace and hurried down the stairs and towards the entrance to the dungeons. He slipped down the hall and around a corner, and came to a stop a short distance from the potion storehouse. The door was closed but the light was still on inside. Harry tapped his wand against the map and canceled the spell before slipping it into his pocket. He was just about to take a few steps closer when the door swung open.



Harry instantly pressed himself back against the wall and into a shadowed alcove, even though he was already invisible.



What he saw made his jaw drop.



'Mad-Eye' Moody came striding quickly down the hallway with some things tucked under his arm. He looked around suspiciously and Harry felt his blood run cold. He knew that eye could see through invisibility cloaks. All he could do at this point was hope that Moody wouldn't look his way.



The defense professor looked shifty-eyed down the hallway towards the Slytherin common room, and Snape's office, then quickly turned on his heels and walked briskly towards the dungeon's exit.



Harry stayed there, pressed up against the cold stone wall, holding his breath until several minutes after the man had left. Finally he felt like it was safe to breath again and he raced out of the dungeons and towards the grand staircase.



He reactivated the map en route, and headed straight for Myrtle's bathroom. Five minutes later and Harry came to rest inside Slytherin's study. He sat down heavily on the chaise and leaned forward, resting his head in his hands.



What the hell did it mean?



There had been no dot that said Alastor Moody anywhere near the dungeon. In fact, after Harry had reactivated the map he saw the Moody's name was inside his office, while Bartemius Crouch was still wandering the halls for a minute more.



But he had seen Moody. Not Crouch.



Harry decided to start paying closer attention to Alastor Moody's location on the map, and keep a watchful eye open for Bartemius Crouch.



– –



Harry stumbled to his feet awkwardly. To say that his whole body hurt, would be an understatement. He now had come up with an effective way to describe what it felt like while under the effects of the accelerant potion. It felt like having searing hot barbed wire pulled through every vein in his body.



How the hell could anyone endure this potion without the escape that Harry was using? Surely anyone doing it would go mad from the pain alone...



Harry shook his head, but instantly regretted it as his head began to spin dizzily and he felt nauseous. A moment later he had collected himself and made his way over to the full length standing mirror to one side of the study.



Once again his skin was mottled in quickly fading bruises, but aside from the mild discoloration, he had to admit he was rather pleased with what he saw.



He was filling out rather nicely. His shoulders looked a tad more broad, he had gained two more inches in height, his skin looked healthier than ever, and his muscle definition was increasing in leaps and bounds.



Gone, were any signs of his bones. He was filling out in all the right places, and looked solid now, instead of flimsy and breakable.



This had been his forth dose of the accelerant, so he was half way done, yet he was already thrilled with the results.



He reached up and ran his fingers through his raven black hair. Even it looked healthier. It had a lustrous shine to it that it never really had before. It felt thicker and softer too. It didn't seem nearly as untamable and it once was and Harry wondered if he should actually start making some attempts at styling it in the mornings.



He shrugged off his own though, stretched his stiff, sore muscles, and gathered up his things. He'd catch the tail end of lunch, and then head straight to bed. Hopefully he wouldn't encounter too much curious intervention from Ron or Hermione. He needed sleep, damn it, and if they tried to interrogate him, he was likely to get snippy with them.



He'd done a remarkably good job of playing nice with the two tag-alongs, and didn't want to screw it up now after all the effort that had gone into reestablishing a cordial relationship with the two of them.



Since 'making-up' with them, his house-mates had begun laid off the accusations of him going dark. Since his forced public outing, the Hufflepuffs had actually laid off him a bit too. Why that was, exactly, he really couldn't even begin to fathom. He had just seen the results and was thankful for them.



The Slytherins had, of course, had their fair share of queer jokes to throw at him, but Draco Malfoy hadn't said a single word to Harry since their encounter outside the charms corridor the day after he was outed.



Malfoy had shot Harry any number of subtle, curious looks. Several times, when other Slytherin students near Malfoy took to openly mocking Harry, Malfoy actually put a stop to it. He would elbow the offender in the ribs and glare at them, or he'd just pull them away from Harry.



Harry wasn't entirely sure what to make of it, but he wasn't about to look a gift-horse in the mouth. He'd take what he could get.



Right now, however, what he needed, was sleep.



– –



Monday morning Harry was finally feeling recovered from his ordeal with the accelerant potion. The weariness and the sore muscles had fully subsided, and he was left feeling stronger and more energetic than ever. His body just felt good. He had never realized how many minor aches and pains his body suffered from until he got rid of them.



He had never fully appreciated the full extent of the damage a decade of malnutrition had done to him. It had left him with weak and brittle bones, achy muscles, and he was easily tired. He was thrilled to know he was finally going to be rid of all of that.



Harry followed Ron to breakfast and they were greeted by Hermione, who was already there, and sitting beside Neville and Ginny. He and Ron joined them, and a casual conversation settled in around them. Harry didn't actually contribute much, but he nodded his head and appropriate times, and chuckled when it was expected, even though he found their conversation to be mostly aimless drivel.



About half-way through the meal the post owls arrived and Harry was greeted with a medium sized parcel being carried by a pair of brown owls. Harry eagerly relieved them of their burden and gave them each a piece of ham.



"What's that?" Ginny asked, looking at it curiously.



"Books, probably," Ron grumbled, rolling his eyes in apparent disgust.



Ginny looked at Harry expectantly, silently asking for confirmation. Harry just nodded his head. "Books," he said with a grin.



"What sort of books?" Neville asked between bites of sausage.



"A variety. I recently started ordering books from a publisher's owl-order catalog. It started with a potions book, but after they sent me the catalog, I found that they had a ton of really interesting books on loads of different subjects. I've just been getting anything that peaked my interest."



"He's always reading now. He's as bad as Hermione," Ron grumbled, scowling.



"Harry's been amassing quite a book collection," Hermione said with a proud little smile, choosing to act deaf of Ron's remarks.



Harry snorted. "Yeah, but at this rate, I'm not sure how the hell I'm going to take any of it back to Privet Drive with me. I've already got too many to fit inside my trunk." Harry paused and looked over at Hermione curiously. "How do you do it?"



"Hmm?"



"You've got loads of books. More than I have. How do you store them all?"



"Oh! Well I've got a special trunk with a expanded book compartment."



Harry blinked at her. "Huh?"



"Well back during the summer before my first year when my parents took me to Diagon Alley for the first time, we spent ages in Flourish and Blotts, of course, and I found so many books that I wanted to get to try and understand magic better. When we got to the luggage store to purchase my trunk, the shop keeper saw the bags and bags of books my dad was carrying and recommended a special 'library trunk' that he offered. It has two compartments. The normal one that opens when you turn the key clockwise, and a second one that opens if you turn the key in a counter-clockwise direction. The second compartment is magically expanded and designed specifically for holding books. I don't know what I would have done all these years without it."



"Huh. That sounds brilliant," Harry said looking thoughtful. "I may have to look into getting one of those. Hey, isn't there a Hogsmeade weekend coming up?"



"This weekend, actually," Ginny said nodding.



He hummed in thought and turned back to Hermione. "Does Hogsmeade have a magical luggage store?"



"I think so."



"Well, I think I'll pay the place a visit then," Harry said with a small grin as he refocused on his food and resumed his meal.



– –



Lafole and Pokeby's Storage and Travel was a shop that looked exceedingly small from the outside, and yet was surprisingly large on the inside. The proprietors apparently specialized in space extension charms for the sake of storing a great many things, in very small places.



It was Harry's first stop during his visit to Hogsmeade that Saturday, while Ron made his way to Honeydukes, and Hermione paid Scrivenshaft's a visit. He made his way directly to the luggage section and started browsing around the trunks. He was quickly assaulted by a large set man who he learned was Mr. Lafole.



Harry got straight to business since he didn't know how much time he would have before Ron or Hermione came back to find him, and he was curious as to what sorts of enchantments could be built into a trunk.



As it turned out, a great many things could be put into them. Lafole even offered custom services. Harry could make a list of exactly what he wanted, and he large older wizard could make him exactly what he needed. He got a list of different features offered, which included notations on which charms couldn't be used together because they were compatible, or would counteract each other in some way.



He went down the list, marking off exactly what he wanted, opting not to worry himself with the final price tag. If this worked out as well as he hoped, he would likely be keeping this trunk for many years after Hogwarts.



When he was done with his selection, Mr. Lafole had him choose which of the trunks designs from his selection that Harry wanted all of the charms and spells applied to. He went with a plain, nondescript brown one. He saw no reason to go with something overly extravagant on the outside. It would only draw attention to the trunk. The more plain and simple it appeared, the less conspicuous it would be.



Lafole told him he could have all of the charms applied in three hours and Harry was thrilled that he would be getting it back the same day. He paid half the price up front, and would pay the rest when he came back to pick it up.



He left the shop just in time to see Hermione coming out of Scrivenshaft's with a bag filled with various supplies and writing utensils. Together, they went in search of Ron, and then the three of them made their way to the Three Broomsticks.



When they got there, Harry's eye was caught by an odd sight. In the back corner of the pub was a group of rather shifty looking goblins, surrounding Ludo Bagman. Hermione and Ron were both incredibly curious as to why on earth Ludo Bagman might be surrounded by goblins, but Harry knew exactly why.



He was already aware that Bagman had a bit of a gambling problem. The fact that Bagman was in debt to the goblins was why the man had been willing to give Harry the information on how the dragon's were assigned to each contestant, back in November.



A light went on in Harry's mind at that moment and a grin spread its way across Harry's face. The problem was, how to ditch Ron and Hermione – and how to get Ludo away from the goblins – so that Harry could speak with the man.



The three began to make their way towards one of the tables when Ludo turned slightly and caught sight of Harry. His eyes lit up with relief and he quickly said something to his companions before standing up and making his way towards the trio.



"Well hello there, Mr. Potter!" Ludo exclaimed while nervously glancing back at the goblins.



"Hello Mr. Bagman," Harry replied politely. Ron and Hermione both looked a bit dubious.



"I was wondering if I might have a word with you," he began and hesitated before glancing at Harry's two companions, "alone."



Harry tried to look confused, and mildly concerned, but inside he was jumping for joy. He gave Ron and Hermione a look that told them that it was alright to leave him and they both shrugged and left, still looking mildly bewildered.



"Let's head on over here, shall we?" Bagman said as he began to guide Harry to a deserted side of the pub. "I wanted to congratulate you on your remarkable performance with the dragons, Harry," Bagman began.



"Thanks Mr. Bagman. Your tip on how the dragons were selected actually helped me a lot," Harry said giving the other man a smirk.



"Oh? Did it now?" Bagman replied, with a surprised look on his face. "Well, I'm glad it did. While we're on that matter, Harry, I was wondering how you were doing with that clue for the next task?"



"Oh I've had it all worked out for a while now. I'm working on a few different strategies."



Bagman's face lit up with an expression of relieved hope for a moment before he got it under control a bit.



"Ah, well, that's... that's great to hear, my boy. If there's anything you need help with, anything at all –"



"Actually, now that you mention it, I was wondering if perhaps you could answer a question I have."



"Oh? What is it?"



"The clue says that something will be taken from me, and hidden somewhere in the Black Lake. I was wondering if you have any idea what is going to be taken? And will they tell me what it is when the task begins, or do I have to do a blind search?"



"Oh! Oh, that. That's easy."



Harry's eyebrows rose expectantly, waiting for the retired quidditch star to answer the damn question. "Well?"



Bagman looked around shiftily for a moment before leaning in and speaking in a more hushed voice. "They won't be taking something, they'll be taking someone."



Harry's brow furrowed in confusion. "Someone?"



"That's right. Someone you consider very important to you will be taken, just before the task. He, or she, will be put into a magical stasis, and hidden somewhere at the bottom of the lake. Inside the merfolk's village or something, as I understand it."



Harry looked at the man incredulously. Someone!



"How is the person they take determined?" he asked in a hushed voice.



"The cup determines it. The name of the person will come out of the cup in a ceremony held with the headmasters a few days before the actual task."



Harry nodded his head slowly and lowered his head as he thought over this newest development. He was going to have to test his locator charm to see if it worked on finding people, and not just an object.



"Oh! Will they tell me who they've taken?" Harry asked suddenly.



"I don't think so. No," Bagman said, shaking his head slowly.



Harry groaned, inwardly. Great, he thought, bitterly.



He huffed a bit in annoyance before covering it up with an expression of gratitude.



"Oh, one more thing."



"Yes, Mr. Potter?"



"Are people going to be able to see what we're doing down there in the lake? I mean, does Dumbledore have some sort of monitoring setup so the spectators can watch?"



"No, no... nothing like that. We really won't be able to see much of anything while you lot are down there. Doesn't make for much of a spectator event. I had argued for a different task because of it – something that people could actually watch, but no one really gave me much mind."



Harry grinned with relief and nodded his head. "Ah, well, that's too bad I guess. Anyway, thanks a load, Mr. Bagman."



"Oh, don't mention it, Mr. Potter," he said with a genial grin, then he hesitated and looked a bit more worried. "I, er... mean that. Don't mention it."



Harry chuckled and gave the other man a mischievous grin. "Oh don't worry. This conversation will stay between the two of us. Good luck with the goblins, by the way."



Bagman grimaced and glanced back at the group of intimidating looking creatures still sitting towards the other side of the room, eying Bagman with varying degrees of disgust.



The two said their goodbyes and parted ways. Harry made his way over to the table Hermione and Ron had acquired and placed an order for lunch with Madam Rosmerta.



"So what was that all about?" Hermione asked.



Harry snorted. "Bagman's got some nasty debts with the goblins. He's in bad for gold, so he's bet on the long-shot in the tournament. Namely me. He was offering to give me any hints or tips in figuring out the egg clue, in case I hadn't worked it out yet."



Hermione gasped and looked horribly indignant. "That's cheating!" she shrieked.



Harry gave her a hard glare that told her to keep her voice down, and she ducked her head in embarrassment.



"I know that Hermione. It's not like I took him up on it. I mean, I had the egg worked out ages ago, so I certainly don't need help with it anyway."



Hermione was still frowning, but she eventually seemed to let it go once their meals showed up.



Once done with lunch, Harry busied himself with some window shopping at several stores, and then paid a visit to a clothing boutique called Schott's Casual Clothing and Attire. Harry had never bothered to come into this shop before, since he never really gave a lot of thought to the quality of the clothes he wore under his school robes in previous years.



In addition to a nice selection of casual robes and other wizarding clothing styles, they had a small selection of muggle clothes. Much like the luggage shop, the proprietor offered custom charms on clothing for a fee. Self-cleaning, warming, cooling, dirt-repellent, water-repellent, and automatic resizing were just a few of the charms offered.



Harry got the automatic resizing charms placed on every pair of pants he purchased, since he expected he might still grow another few inches before he was done with the accelerant potion, and didn't feel particularly fond of the idea of his ankles showing at the bottom of his pant legs.



He purchased five pairs of jeans, a couple pairs of khaki's, ten different t-shirts in various colors. He wasn't aiming for anything extravagant. Just a wardrobe that fit and wasn't full of holes.



By the time he was done there, enough time had passed that his trunk was ready and he made his way back to Lafole and Pokeby's.



Among the charms he had placed on the trunk was the ability to shrink it down to size automatically with the tap of his wand in a specific spot on the lid. This would be especially useful since he couldn't shrink or un-shrink his trunk himself when outside of school. He could slip it into his pocket on the train, and not have to worry about Vernon stealing it from him and locking it away in the cupboard.



He put his new clothing inside the trunk, tapped his wand on the shrinking spot and it instantly became the size of a matchbox. Harry grinned.



He paid Mr. Lafole the remaining balance and headed back to school. Once he got past the main entrance to the school he hurried his way into an empty classroom and began the locator spell with the large black serpent, but this time, focused on finding Hermione, instead of finding an object.



He felt the magic begin to work, and saw the snake begin to slither off through the air towards the grand staircase.



The issue of not knowing who was taken would still pose a problem, but perhaps he could narrow it down before the task started. Basically, whoever was missing from attending the actual task was probably someone who had been taken. He could just find that person. Hopefully it would work.



He followed the great black snake through the castle and up to the seventh floor, and directly to the portrait hole. Upon entering the room, he saw the enormous black apparition coiling in circles in the air around an utterly oblivious Hermione. It was a very strange sight, but it made him extra thankful that he was the only one who could actually see the snake. If anyone else could see it, he could only imagine the panic that would be ensuing in the common room at that instant. He snickered at the though, and ended the spell, causing the serpent to vanish from his vision.



– –




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