Descent into Darkness

BY : Athey1024
Category: Harry Potter AU/AR > Slash - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 71691
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

– –

The next morning after breakfast Harry headed for the kitchens with Ron and Hermione in tow. He was slightly surprised that neither of them knew where the Hogwarts kitchens were, or how to gain access to them; especially considering all the nonsense that Hermione had been going on about all year with the bloody house elves. Not that Harry had really been paying it any attention.

He actually hesitated in taking her in there since he was sure the sight of the room full of house elves, slaving over stoves and the like would result in some annoyingly long lecture about human rights and the evils of magical enslavement, but he really didn't have much choice. Sirius's letter had said to bring a lot of food, and the kitchen was obviously the best place to get it.

Harry had actually put some legitimate effort into ignoring Hermione's idiotic campaign to free the house elves all term, and as such, had also ignored the house elves themselves. This was why it was an honest surprise when he saw Winky, Mr. Crouch's house elf, in the corner in an obvious state of inebriation, holding a bottle of butter beer.

The other house elves were scampering about, quickly collecting food for the three Gryffindors, and Dobby was speaking excitedly with Hermione, but Harry's eyes were trained on the sick-looking little elf.

He had first seen her in the top box they sat at during the Quidditch World Cup. She was there to hold a seat for Mr. Crouch, but he had never showed up. And then after the mayhem with the Death Eaters and the dark mark in the sky, she had been found with Harry's wand, and accused of having cast the spell herself.

Mr. Crouch had fired her on the spot, and had seemed visibly furious with her. The whole thing had been terribly confusing at the time.

And now, she was working in the kitchens of Hogwarts? Or... well, not working so much as getting wasted, but she was still here.

Harry wondered if she knew anything about Crouch impersonating Moody...

"You ready, mate?"

Harry blinked and turned back to his two friends who were waiting for him expectantly. Ron was holding out a wrapped bundle of food from the house elves.

"Yeah, sure," Harry said, taking on an excited, carefree mask as he took the bundle and shrunk it with his wand before sticking it into his bag.

The trio left the castle and began to make their way down the path towards Hogsmeade.

They busied themselves with window shopping for the morning. Harry spent some time in the local bookstore, but was extremely unimpressed by their selection. There wasn't a single 'questionable' book in the whole store.

He spotted a shadier looking little shop that several of the Slytherin students came in and out of, but he couldn't shake Ron or Hermione long enough to go check it out.

There was a small grocer in town that Harry had never had a need to visit before, but he slipped inside now and found a selection of magically preserved food that would last a few weeks. The food from the kitchens would help feel Sirius now, but from the desperate wording of his godfather's pleas, Harry could only assume that getting regular food was a problem for the man. The food he brought from Hogwarts wouldn't last more than a day or two, but the food he bought would last him quite a bit longer.

Hermione praised him on his planning and smart thinking but Harry just shrugged it off. It seemed like common sense to him.

He shrunk his purchases and added them to his bag.

At one thirty the trio headed down past Dervish and Banges towards the meeting spot described in Sirius's letter. As they neared it, Harry spotted a very familiar looking large black dog. The smile that spread across his face was authentic for once and he hurried his pace.

"Hey Snuffles," Harry said as he came up to his 'dogfather's' side and reached down to pet his messy matted fur.

Sirius was holding a collection of newspapers in his mouth and made an amused coughing sort of noise around them before turning away and making his way past the stile.

The trio climbed over and followed him out of town and towards the mountains on the outskirts of town.

The terrain grew rockier and rockier and harder to traverse, but Sirius just kept going. It took nearly a half hour before they came to a stop, and by that time, Hermione and Ron were distinctly out of breath. Even Harry felt his endurance reaching a limit, and was relieved when he saw the opening to a cave, and Sirius disappearing inside.

The trio entered and found Buckbeak the hippogriff inside, tied to a rock. The three bowed and waited until the half-eagle, half-horse beast had bowed back, showing his acceptance of them.

Ron and Hermione rushed over to pet him, but Harry turned his attention on Sirius, who had just finished transforming back into a human.

He was wearing the same gray robes that he had been a year prior. His hair was longer than it had been when he had fire-called hair in the fall, and it was matted and dirty. Sirius looked thinner, and clearly worn and exhausted.

"Are you out of your mind?" Harry asked.

"Excuse me?" Sirius responded, with a note of surprise.

"What are you doing here?"

"Performing my duty as godfather."

"You're going to get caught!" Harry exclaimed.

"You three, and Dumbledore are the only ones aware of my animagus form. The villagers are coming to know me as a lovable stray. I can't take too much food though, or they'll start to notice."

Harry huffed and shook his head in mild exasperation. He slipped his bag off his shoulders, removed all of the food and began to unshrink it.

Sirius's eyebrows rose into his forehead, with apparent surprise at Harry's use of a fifth year charm – why, Harry couldn't imagine. He really didn't understand why shrinking things wasn't covered sooner. It's not like it was a hard spelland it would have been damn useful to know in years prior, since he could have kept his trunk hidden away from his uncle...

The surprise at Harry's spellwork was lost as Sirius registered the mountain of food, and his stomach made a loud growling noise.

"Chicken!" the man gasped, hoarsely, with a relieved thrill in his tone.

"There's a bunch of preserved food in here too. It'll last you a couple weeks, I hope. Picked them up in the local food market," Harry said, pointing at the jars and boxes of varying nutritional options he had purchased. "Are you planning to stick around Hogsmeade?"

Sirius nodded as he began to tear into a chicken leg with much the same fury that his dog form would. "I wanted to be on the spot. What with your last letter... and other things, considered... Things are looking a bit too fishy lately. I wanted to stay close."

Harry narrowed his eyes. "What other things, exactly?"

Sirius nodded his head towards a few yellowing newspapers on the cave floor a few feet away. Harry walked over and spread them out. There were two, but it was the first one that really caught his attention.

Mystery Illness of Bartemius Crouch

The second said, Ministry Witch Still Missing – Minister of Magic Now Personally Involved.

Harry picked up the one about Crouch and began reading.

"What's the deal with Crouch?" Ron asked as he came to stand behind Harry and look over his shoulder.

"He hasn't shown up to work since November, apparently," Sirius said before taking another bite of chicken.

"Yeah... he didn't show up to judge the last task, either," Ron said, looking thoughtful. "My brother is his personal assistant and had to fill in for him."

Harry continued to skim the paper, and a few lines jumped out at him: hasn't been seen in public since November... house appears deserted... St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries decline comment... Ministry refuses to confirm rumors of critical illness...

"My brother did say that Crouch is suffering from overwork," Ron added.

"He did look rather ill when I saw him the night my name came out of the cup," Harry added absently. He figured that Crouch must have been using his illness as an excuse to cover for his absence while he impersonated Moody. He still had no idea why he was doing that though.

"Hey, Sirius?"

"Yeah, pup?"

"Do you know much about him? Crouch, I mean? What were his loyalties in the last war?"

"Oh I know quite a bit about him. And his loyalties were definitely with the light. He headed off quite the crusade against You-Know-Who and his followers. He was the one who sent me off to Azkaban – without a trial."

"What!" Ron and Hermione gasped together.

"Without a trial!" Harry exclaimed. "You're kidding!"

"No, I'm not," said Sirius, taking another great bite of chicken. "Crouch used to be Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, didn't you know?"

Harry, Ron, and Hermione shook their heads.

"He was tipped for the next Minister of Magic," Sirius said. "He's a great wizard, Crouch is, powerfully magical – and power-hungry. Definitely never a Voldemort supporter, though. Crouch was always very outspoken against the Dark Side.

"Crouch's principles might've been good in the beginning – I wouldn't know. He rose quickly through the Ministry and he started ordering very harsh measures against Voldemort's supporters. The Aurors were given new powers – powers to kill, rather than capture, for instance. And I wasn't the only one who was handed straight to the dementors without a trial. Crouch fought violence with violence, and authorized the use of the Unforgivable Curses against suspects. I would say he became as ruthless and cruel as many on the Dark Side. He had his supporters, mind you – plenty of people thought he was going about things the right way, and there were a lot of witches and wizards clamoring for him to take over as Minister of Magic. When Voldemort disappeared, it looked like only a matter of time until Crouch got the top job. But then something rather unfortunate happened..." Sirius smiled grimly. "Crouch's own son was caught with a group of Death Eaters who'd managed to talk their way out of Azkaban. Apparently they were trying to find Voldemort and return him to power."

"Crouch's son was caught?" gasped Hermione.

"Yes," Sirius said, throwing his chicken bone to Buckbeak before tearing into a loaf of bread. "Nasty shock to old Crouch, discovering that lil' Barty was a Death Eater."

Harry nearly choked. "What?"

Sirius blinked at Harry with confusion. "What, what?"

"What was Crouch's son's name?" Harry asked, shaking himself out of his moment of surprise.

"Bartemius Crouch Jr. But everyone called him Barty, from what I understand."

"Barty..." Harry breathed.

"Ringing some bells, pup?" Sirius asked, sitting up straighter.

"Er..." Harry faltered, "I'm not sure really. What happened with Crouch's son, anyway? Was he really a Death Eater?"

"I can't say for sure, but he was definitely seen with some people who I would guarantee were. As for what happened to him, Crouch tossed him into Azkaban."

Hermione gasped. "His own son!"

Sirius nodded, and he didn't look remotely amused now. "I saw the dementors bringing him in, watched them through the bars in my cell door. He can't have been more than nineteen. They took him into a cell near mine. He was screaming for his mother by nightfall. He went quiet after a few days, though... they all went quiet in the end... except when they shrieked in their sleep..."

For a moment, the deadened look in Sirius's eyes became more pronounced than ever, as though shutters had closed behind them.

"So he's still in Azkaban?" Harry asked as his mind began working away furiously.

"No," Sirius said, dully. "No, he's not in there anymore. He died about a year after they brought him in."

Harry paused. "He died? Are you sure?"

Sirius looked at Harry with a bit of confusion for a moment. "I'm sure, all right. He certainly wasn't the only one to die in Azkaban. Most go mad in there, and plenty stop eating in the end. They lose the will to live. You could always tell when a death was coming, because the dementors could sense it, and they got excited. That boy looked pretty sickly when he arrived. Crouch being an important Ministry member, he and his wife were allowed a deathbed visit. That was the last time I saw old Crouch, half carrying his wife past my cell. She died herself, apparently, shortly afterward. Grief. Wasted away just like the boy. Crouch never came for his son's body. The dementors buried him outside the fortress; I watched them do it."

Sirius threw aside the bread he had just lifted to his mouth and instead picked up a flask of pumpkin juice and drained it.

"So old Crouch lost it all, just when he thought he had it made," he continued, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "One moment, a hero, poised to become Minister of Magic... next, his son dead, his wife dead, and the family named dishonored, and, so I've heard since I escaped, a big drop in popularity. Once the boy had died, people started feeling a bit more sympathetic towards the son and started asking how a nice young lad from a good family had gone so badly astray. The conclusion was that his father never cared much for him. So Cornelius Fudge got the top job, and Crouch was shunted sideways into the Department of International Magical Cooperation."

A silence descended upon the cave while the group processed Sirius's words, and Sirius continued to eat.

Theories and possible scenarios were flying through Harry's mind while he sat in the thick quiet. A man named 'Barty' was helping Voldemort. It was his job to try and set up Harry's capture.

Bartemius Crouch was the one who had pushed to have the tournament reinstated. He was one of the people running the darn thing, and had loads of contact with the cup. He could have easily had the opportunity to put Harry's name into the goblet of fire.

But Bartemius Crouch Sr. actively fought against the Death Eaters and Voldemort, and he most certainly wasn't the man that Harry had seen with Voldemort, in his visions. Which meant that Barty Crouch was not dead.

So Crouch Sr. and his wife had gone into Azkaban to visit their dying son. Crouch Sr. had left 'practically carrying' his wife. Barty had died, and the dementors had buried him. There had to be a body left behind, and Crouch's wife was reported dead shortly after Barty died.

Would Crouch Sr. actually have left his wife in Azkaban and snuck his son out? Crouch Sr. could have given Barty polyjuice potion to look like his wife, in order to sneak his son out of Azkaban, but polyjuice only lasts an hour, so that wouldn't have kept his wife looking like his son for very long

… Unless he killed his wife right after giving her the potion. The body doesn't revert if it's dead.

Bloody hell...

But what had he done with Barty since then? Kept him hidden somehow? Would Crouch Sr. really be helping his son, if his son was helping Voldemort? Perhaps Sr. was under the Imperius when he put Harry's name into the cup. And now he was missing because... he was dead? Or being held captive?

Harry didn't know. There were any number of different possible explanations.

But one thing was for sure. The Bartemius Crouch that Harry kept seeing on the map where Alastor Moody was supposed to be, was not the man Harry had thought he was. He wasn't Crouch Sr., he was Barty!

"You alright there, Harry?" Sirius's voice broke through the thick fog of contemplation and Harry blinked.

"Huh? Oh yea... just thinking."

"Well, pup, we probably ought to discuss what you saw going on between Snape and Karkaroff," Sirius said, taking on a rather serious look to his face.

Hermione and Ron both looked at Harry with confusion in their eyes.

"What is he talking about, Harry?" Hermione asked.

"Oh! I totally forgot to tell you two," Harry exclaimed, acting as if he honestly had just forgotten, and not that he had intentionally hidden it.

"I er... saw Snape and Karkaroff having an interestingly heated conversation a number of months ago. I was under my invisibility cloak, so neither knew I was there... I saw the two of them on the Map and got suspicious, so I went down into the dungeons to spy on them."

Hermione sighed in exasperation. "Harry, will you ever stop being so suspicious of Professor Snape? Do you honestly think that Dumbledore would –"

"He's a Death Eater," Harry said, cutting her off.

Ron's eyes went wide, but Hermione's face shifted instantly to disbelief. "He is not, Harry! That's ridiculous!"

"He is, Hermione! Or at least, he was. He's got the dark mark on his left forearm. So does Karkaroff. That's why they were talking. Apparently it's been getting clearer over the last few months and Karkaroff freaked out. He's scared. From the conversation I overheard, it sounds like Karkaroff is pretty convinced that Voldemort won't be particularly pleased with him. Said something about Dumbledore protecting Snape, but not having anyone to protect him."

Hermione's jaw had dropped and she was staring at Harry with stunned shock.

"You saw it?" she gasped. "Are you sure!"

"Well... I saw it on Karkaroff's arm. He was holding up his sleeve and shoving his arm in Snape's face. But from what Snape said, it was obvious that he had a mark too."

"But you didn't actually see the dark mark on Snape's arm?" Hermione said, pointedly.

"Blimey, Hermione!" Ron groaned. "Come off it already! Why do you keep defending him!"

"I just don't understand why Professor Snape would have saved Harry's life in first year, if he was really a Death Eater. If he was really loyal to You-Know-Who, he would have just let Harry die!"

"Yeah, well like Harry said, Dumbledore protects Snape, right? If Snape let Harry die, Dumbledore probably wouldn't keep protecting him, now would he?" Ron said, as he folded his arms over his chest, indignantly.

"Perhaps, but Professor Dumbledore wouldn't trust Professor Snape if he was really loyal to You-Know-Who! Now would he?"

"Dumbledore doesn't know everything. He didn't know that You-Know-Who was on the back of Quirrell's head our whole first year, did he?"

I don't know... did he? Harry grumbled sarcastically, internally as he secretly scowled. Sometimes he really wondered...

"What do you think, Sirius?" Harry said to try and put an end to Ron and Hermione's pointless bickering.

"I think they've both got a point," Sirius said, looking thoughtfully at Ron and Hermione. "Ever since I found out Snape was teaching here, I've wondered why Dumbledore hired him. Snape's always been fascinated by the Dark Arts, he was famous for it at school. Slimy, oily, greasy-haired kid he was," Sirius added and Ron grinned. "Snape knew more curses when he arrived at school than half the kids in seventh year, and he was part of a gang of Slytherins who nearly all turned out to be Death Eaters."

Sirius held up his fingers and began ticking off names. "Rosier and Wilkes – they were both killed by Aurors the year before Voldemort fell. The Lestranges – they're a married couple – they're in Azkaban. Avery – from what I've heard he wormed his way out of trouble by saying he'd been acting under the Imperius Curse – he's still at large. But as far as I know, Snape was never properly accused of being a Death Eater – not that that means much. Plenty of them were never caught. And Snape's certainly clever and cunning enough to keep himself out of trouble."

Hermione was frowning. "Alright, lets say for a moment that Professor Snape was a Death Eater... he would have had to done something that earned him Professor Dumbledore's trust if he got a teaching position here. Dumbledore would never allow someone who was actually loyal to You-Know-Who teach here!"

Sirius shrugged and set down his pumpkin juice. He lapsed into silence, still staring at the cave wall. Buckbeak was ferreting around on the rocky floor, looking for bones he might have overlooked. Finally, Sirius looked up at Harry.

"Well, got any other interesting news to inform me of? I hear your performance in the tournament was spectacular."

"Oh... yeah, I guess," Harry said ducking his head and shrugging.

"Oh! Oh, Harry! You have to tell him!" Hermione said suddenly and Harry looked at her with total confusion.

"Tell him what?" Harry asked.

"Yeah, tell me what?" Sirius echoed.

"About your transformation, Harry!" Hermione said with exasperation.

"Oh! That," said Harry.

"Transformation?" Sirius asked with a confused furrowed brow, looking between the two of them.

Harry ran his hand through his hair and huffed slightly before continuing. "Er, yeah... so I've been keeping a big secret from everyone."

"What sort of secret?"

"Well, for a bit under a year I've actually been secretly trying to learn to be... an animagus," Harry admitted with a sheepish smile.

"You've what!" Sirius gasped.

"Yeah, so I sort of... did it."

"Did what?" Sirius asked in confusion.

"The transformation. I did it."

"What! That's impossible! Less than a year? And you're only fourteen!"

"Yeah, well I guess when I put my mind to something I can actually be a fast learner sometimes. Plus I had some real strong incentive there in the end because I realized my form would be useful in the second task."

"You're an animagus?" Sirius asked just to make sure he was really understanding everything.

Harry grinned and shrugged. "Yeah. Guess so."

"Bloody hell! And you said your form was helpful in the task? What is it?"

"Er... yeah, well that's sort of the biggest reason why I kept it a secret. I mean... I didn't even tell Ron or Hermione I was doing it because I was afraid how they would react when they found out what my form was."

Sirius frowned and looked at Hermione and Ron. Hermione was giving Harry an encouraging smile, but Ron was little a bit ill.

"Well, let's here it pup. It won't change a thing. Just get it out."

Harry heaved a sigh and squared his shoulders. He actually was a bit nervous about telling Sirius about his snake form. It wasn't really his animagus form, but this was his story and he had to stick to it for consistency. Despite all the changes Harry had gone through, Sirius was still somewhat important to him.

"Alright... well, I'm a snake," Harry said quickly.

Sirius blinked. "A snake?"

"Yeah, a sea snake to be specific. A Sea Krait."

"You turn into a snake?" Sirius asked again.

Harry rolled his eyes. "Yes, a snake."

"A great, ruddy, huge snake," Ron put in now, still looking a bit pale with the subject matter.

"Is that so?" Sirius asked, looking from Ron back to Harry for confirmation.

Harry shrugged. "Yeah, I guess so."

"Can I see?" Sirius asked.

Harry had been afraid of this question. He still wondered if an actual animagus would be able to tell that the transformation Harry was undertaking wasn't an animagus transformation, but something else entirely.

He took in a deep breath and nodded his head. He got down onto his knees, like he had when he demonstrated for Hermione and Ron and focused his mind and his magic on performing the transformation. A moment later, he was laying flat on the cold ground, looking up at the stunned face of Sirius Black.

"I told you he was huge," Ron said.

"That he is," Sirius muttered before blinking and then looking down at Harry with a slowly spreading grin. "Merlin, Harry... this is... this is just... incredible!" Sirius threw his head back and laughed before looking back down at Harry again. Harry slithered around a bit, coiling his body into a pile and raising his head and first few feet of his body up off the ground so that his head was at eye level with Sirius who was sitting on the ground.

Harry hissed out a laugh, and Sirius's chuckled lightened as he looked at Harry with interest. Ron was looking pale again from the sound.

"Isn't it amazing?" Hermione chipped in and Sirius began to nod his head emphatically.

"Yes, Hermione. It is. Harry, this is truly a remarkable achievement. I really don't care what your form turned out to be. Being able to perform the animagus transformation after less than a year of training, and at age fourteen is just amazing."

Harry nodded his head and quickly transformed back into his human form.

He grinned and ducked his head sheepishly. "You really think so?" he said, trying to play up the modest card.

"I really do," Sirius said with a proud smile. "Well now we've got to get you a Marauder's name!"

Harry blinked at Sirius. This hadn't actually occurred to him, so he really hadn't given a nickname any sort of thought.

"That sounds like fun," Ron said. "Your form is a dog and you're Padfoot. Professor Lupin is a werewolf and he's Moony. And Harry's dad was a stag and he was Prongs, right?"

It didn't go unnoticed that Wormtail was neglected from the list.

"Right," said Sirius.

"So... something to do with a snake..." Ron said slowly as he screwed up his face in concentration. "Scales? Forked tongue..."

"They're legless lizards, so Legless?" Hermione said, shrugging. "Or Fangs? Oh – Venom?"

"Do you have venom!" Ron paled considerably.

Harry chuckled. "Actually, I do," Harry said smirking. "Hmm... Fangs and Venom both have potential, but Hagrid's dog is named Fang, so that's sort of taken. Don't know how I feel about Legless, but it's not too bad either."

"How about Stripes? You've got that white and black stripe thing going on," Ron offered.

"Hmm," Sirius hummed, "Okay, so we've got Scales, Legless, Venom, and Stripes, or Stripe? What do you think, pup? It'll be your nickname?"

Harry paused and ran the different options over in his head for a minute. "Er... I guess Stripe works for me," Harry said, shrugging. It didn't scream 'snake' to him, so if anyone outside of their group ever heard the nickname, it wouldn't be too suspicious.

"Alright, pup. Stripe it is," Sirius said with a proud grin. "The newest Marauder. Merlin, kid, I still can't believe you really did it. And on your own too. Wow..."

Harry ducked his head. He felt the tiniest bit of upset in his gut for lying to Sirius about this, but it wasn't something he could really do anything about so he violently shoved it away in his mind. "Thanks," he mumbled in forced shyness.

"Anyway," Sirius said, shifting his attention away from Harry and onto Ron. "On to other matters before we call it a day. You say your brother is Crouch's personal assistant? Any chance you could ask him if he's seen Crouch lately?"

"I can try," said Ron doubtfully. "Better not make it sound like I reckon Crouch is up to anything dodgy though. Percy loves Crouch."

Sirus heaved an enormous sigh and rubbed his shadowed eyes.

"What's the time?"

Harry had his wand out with quick, practiced ease in the blink of an eye and cast a tempus. "It's half past three," he said.

"You'd better get back to school," Sirius said, getting to his feet. "Now listen..." He looked particularly hard at Harry. "I don't want you lot sneaking out of the school to see me, alright? Just send notes to me here. I still want to hear about anything odd. But you're not to go leaving Hogwarts without permission; it would be an ideal opportunity for someone to attack you."

Harry almost snorted at this, but took on a slightly cowed look and nodded his head as he toed at the ground.

Considering that Barty Crouch was currently impersonating his defense teacher, he was probably in a lot more danger in the school, than out. But he wasn't about to go telling Sirius, or anyone about his suspicions regarding Crouch.

"Alright Sirius," he said with a weak smile.

"Good. I'll feel a lot better when this ruddy tournament is over. And don't forget, if you're talking about me among yourselves, call me Snuffles, okay?"

He handed Harry the empty napkin and flask and went to pat Buckbeak good-bye. "I'll walk to the edge of the village with you," Sirius said, "see if I can scrounge another paper."

He transformed into the great black dog before they left the cave, and they walked back down the mountainside with him, across the boulder-strewn ground, and back to the stile. Here he allowed each of them to pat him on the head, before turning and setting off at a run around the outskirts of the village. Harry, Ron, and Hermione made their way back into Hogsmeade and up towards Hogwarts.

– –

AN: ** several passages from previous chapter were taken from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

– –

Harry was exceedingly frustrated that he wasn't able to get down to the Chamber that night, but Ron and Hermione had pounced on him as soon as they were back at the school about not having told them about Snape and Karkaroff. It was difficult, but Harry continued to play it off as having just slipped his mind. They didn't seem entirely convinced, but he didn't honestly care. They'd get over it.

Sunday Harry managed to give them the slip and went down into the chamber, and back into Slytherin's study. His companion joined him in his mind and directed Harry to Slytherin's desk and told him to feel along the bottom of the desk and hiss out a parsel release spell. Once accomplished, a thin book fell down onto the floor from its place, stuck to the underside of the desk.

It looked incredibly delicate, and Harry feared that the ancient parchment would crumble under the pressure of his fingers. He set the book onto the desk with incredible gentleness and fingered the cover gingerly.

He opened it to the first page and instantly realized that the damn book was not in English.

"Okay... so what language is this?" Harry asked his companion with mild frustration. It didn't even look familiar.

It is... Elbirin... Old Aldric...

Harry blinked. "That, unfortunately, means absolutely nothing to me."

Old Aldric was the language... of the British Elves... prior to the Tartessian War... and the Celtic takeover in Britain.

Harry looked back down at the book with greater curiosity. Elves!

"I take it, that you aren't talking about house elves?"

House elves... are the punished... perverted descendants of those... who defied... the elven high council...

That didn't actually explain anything to Harry – if anything, it brought more curiosities, but he expected as much from his companion, and didn't bother to press the subject. He did wonder if he had stayed awake in more of his History of Magic classes, if Professor Binns ever talked about any of this in between his endless rantings on goblin rebellions. He certainly had no recollection of anything called the Tartessian War, or any discussions on an ancient elven race in Britain.

"Alright... so this is in an ancient elvish language. Is there a way I can translate it? Or would the house elves know it?"

It is... lost... to the punished ones... There is a book... on the language... go to the far corner... by the mirror...

Harry did as he was directed and was gradually led to an almost horrifyingly large book on the Old Aldric language. He thumbed through the enormous old tome with widened eyes.

'Phonology' was the first section. In it, it described the consonants, then vowels and something called 'vowel harmony'. Next the 'Phonotactics', accent, and linking?

Next section was called 'Morphology'. It covered roots, affixes, word formation on derivation and compounding, and then the book got into the nouns and adjectives, propositions, pronouns, verbs, tenses and conjugation...

Harry felt utterly overwhelmed. Was he going to have to learn an entire bloody language just to translate this book?

He sighed and let his head fall onto the desk in front of him. He was not looking forward to this.

He picked up the enormous book on Old Aldric and began reading the first chapter. After an hour, he left the chamber with a headache and the language book in his bag. He wasn't willing to take the other one out of the chamber with him, since it was far too old and fragile looking. He would have to do his translation work only in the chamber, but he could still read up on the language while in the common room.

– –

The rest of the week dragged on. Harry was anxious for Defense and the opportunity to continue his investigation into 'Moody', and if he was being honest with himself, he had a deep, powerful desire to do something utterly reckless, pertaining to the man. He was still in the process of talking himself out of it though. Despite what he wanted to do, and what he needed to do, he had to wait because he didn't actually have Defense until Thursdays, and couldn't come up with a good excuse to approach Moody out of the blue.

Monday was Herbology, which was boring, but bearable; and then Care of Magical Creatures, which was anything but boring, and only occasionally bearable. After lunch, however, was Divination, which was never bearable at all. They were working on Shell Scrying at the moment, which Harry found utterly idiotic.

The idea was that you hold a sea shell up to your ear and the 'sounds of the ocean' that you heard from it would eventually turn into little voices from sea spirits or some such nonsense, that would whisper prophetic things to you.

The whole exercise just grated on Harry's nerves, and made him wonder that much more about this mystery prophecy that had set the dark lord against him, and utterly fucked up his entire life.

Tuesday was History of Magic – boring – and then Potions after lunch. Harry's performance in Potions class had improved steadily over the term. He had a pretty firm grasp on ingredient interaction, and proper preparation now – or at least a good grasp on how to look it up and cross-reference things correctly. Something which Snape had never actually explained to them, but had somehow expected them to just magically know.

Because of his improved performance, and his tendency to actually know the answers to every question Snape threw at him – thanks mostly to his companion, who stayed in Harry's aware mind almost every potions lesson – Snape had significantly cut back on how often he actually called on Harry in class. This suited Harry just fine, and that trend continued as they brewed a Cough Away potion.

Wednesdays Harry only had a single class – Charms – and spent the rest of the day down in the chamber, slowly working on the translation of the book. He was at least relieved that the ancient, crumbling tomb was thin. It was only about fifty pages long from what he could tell, so at least he wouldn't have to spend an eternity to translate some enormous 800-page book to get to his answers. Translating fifty pages he could deal with. At least... he hoped so.

His work was slow and tedious. He had a new bound notebook of parchment specifically just for translating the book, and was slowly making his way through translating the early pages. From what he could tell so far, it seemed like a log of some historical events in the ancient elven race's history. Nothing that seemed to apply to Voldemort's so called 'task'.

Late into the evening, Harry's stomach reminded him that he had been down there for an extremely long time, and he finally climbed back out of the chamber and made a quick detour to the kitchens before heading up to the Gryffindor common room.

Hermione's curiosity was becoming more and more annoying with each passing day, and this evening, it unfortunately hit an all time peak. The second he entered the common room, she set in on him, asking him where he'd been all day and what he had been doing. She dragged him out of the common room and into a nearby empty classroom so that they could speak privately, but this only irritated Harry further since it denoted the expectation, on Hermione's part, that Harry would be telling her what he'd been up to.

Harry had been using the excuse that he had been jogging around the lake to get into better form, and then practicing various hexes by aiming at trees and into the water. Today, she had apparently gone out to the lake to look for him and seen that he was not there.

"Harry, I just want to know where you were!" she moaned in frustration after several minutes of annoying bickering. "Why won't you just tell me? What are you hiding from us Harry! We're your friends! You know you can trust us!"

"Do I? Do I really know that?" Harry shot back, finally growing too irritated to maintain a friendly mask, or make any more excuses.

"What do you mean?" Hermione said, flinching back as if she had just been slapped.

"Tell me, Hermione – what reasons have I got to trust either you or Ron?"

"Harry! You know you can trust us! We're you're friends!"

"Yeah, were you my friends last November after my name got pulled out of that blasted cup?"

"How many times do I have to apologize for that, Harry! I'm sorry! I was an idiot! I swear I won't ever abandon you again like that!"

"And I'm just supposed to trust that, am I?"


"The way I look at it is I can trust that you guys will be there for me; base all my plans on having you two there, to rely on if I end up in a pinch, and then end up getting utterly screwed if either of you bail on me again, or aren't there when things go south. Or I can just plan for it all on my own and be prepared to handle whatever comes at me on my own. Personally, I prefer to be prepared to handle things without the need of any assistance, because chances are, when the shit hits the fan, I'm not going to have any assistance."

"Harry..." Hermione whimpered as her lip quivered. "But we can help you! You don't have to tackle the whole world alone!"

"You can't help me in the third task, Hermione. No one can. I'm going to be going into whatever deathly task they come up with, all alone."

"But Harry..."

"No, Hermione. I'm done with this conversation. What I do and where I go everyday is my business. Now BACK OFF!"

Harry spun away from her and stormed out of the classroom, down the corridor, and back into the common room before storming up the stairs towards the boy's dorm.

He was sick of them. All of them. Merlin he needed to get the hell away from the school for a while.

– –

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