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Introduction:

harry potter
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Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 1 - Dreams in the Heat
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Drip.

In the silence… drip… within the warm stone walls… drip… Harry could hear every sound… drip… from every room… drip… and could not sleep… drip. The rain, which only moments earlier had roared outside the castle like the hidden waterfall of the Forbidden Forest, left only the lingering drip of water into shallow pools collected between rock and mortar. Uncovered and naked on his bed, he was still hot in the humid air as tiny beads of perspiration pimpled his entire body. He turned and laid his hand flat against the sheet next to him, wondering if she too was awake, listening to the echoing pings of dripping water and the ebb and flow of the night air’s breath as it warmly wheezed down the empty corridors. He turned over on his back, brought his hands behind his head and sighed. It was their first night apart since they had left Little Whinging three weeks earlier and, tucked away into a far corner of his godfather’s castle, he couldn’t help but feel very much alone.

During those three weeks, try as they might to blend in with the Muggle population, word of Harry’s arrival always seemed to precede them and witch and wizard alike, people he’d never seen before, would hug him in the street and kiss him on the cheeks.

The Boy Who Lived. The wizard that had defeated Voldemort once again.

Often, he would use his developing power as a Metamorphmagus to hide his true identity as they travelled together across the Mediterranean and Gabriella showed Harry all she knew of home. Barefoot, they walked the beaches of Lebanon and watched the sun plunge into the sea, flashing its myriad of colours; they travelled the stone streets where she once lived, and walked the grounds of her old wizarding school, Al Bsahri, which was being built anew. Together they visited Gabriella’s grandmother, Soseh’s mum, in Armenia at the base of Mount Aragats and listened for hours as she wove a fabric from tales of magic and mythology, and, slowly, Harry came to know more of the mark on his right forearm, the mark of the dragon Asha with whose family he was now forever bound.

Three weeks of joy, three weeks of careless wonder, three weeks of love -- just the two of them as Gabriella showed Harry a part of her being that was the earth itself.

Drip.

Alas, they were no longer alone. Yesterday, Soseh and Remus had journeyed together to meet them at Sirius’ castle in Greece. Tomorrow, Ron and Hermione would Apparate in and the lot of them would travel together north of Hungary high into the Carpathians to see the birthplace of Asha. There Harry would face a challenge far more demanding than the Triwizard tournament. There he would speak to the dragon Singehorn and ask for its blessing.

Harry rubbed his forehead where once was emblazoned a thin red lightning bolt - the mark left by his nemesis, but cleansed by the magical waters hidden deep in the Forbidden Forest. The motion was purely habit, and Harry wondered if he’d ever not press palm to forehead whenever something was bothering him. Throughout the summer, his head had been free of the burning sensation he’d felt in Voldemort’s presence or when the Dark Lord was feeling emotional. He’d been freed of the splitting pain in his skull, apart from the one time it rocked him to the floor just after he’d returned to Privet Drive -- a pain he dismissively attributed to the virulence of his Uncle Vernon.

Drip.

Harry sighed and sat up, sliding his bare feet over the bed’s edge. The air was warm, but he was feeling cold. Thoughts of Voldemort were crawling into his mind and he didn’t know why.

“He washed away,” he whispered to himself, again rubbing his forehead for no particular reason. “I saw him wash away. He’s gone.” But then memories of Dumbledore’s words splashed cold water upon his face.

“Perhaps, Harry… perhaps.”

The young wizard stood and began to pace the room. Soon, he didn’t know when, the Centaurs would call him to help them battle the Dementors. As the great comet Ebyrth grew brighter in the night sky, marking the ever cyclical battle, Harry remained ignorant of how such a battle would take place, or where. What he did know was that he would return to Hogwarts in just over a week, and he felt certain that the time for action was near at hand.

Drip.

He stopped at the mirror and looked at the young man before him. A year ago, perhaps, he would have looked forward to battle -- a chance to prove himself a great wizard. Now, however, he had nothing more to prove and his heart had turned toward other things. Visions of a raven haired beauty with copper brown skin and ebon eyes brought a smile to his face. He turned and faced his empty bed at the far side of the room and imagined Gabriella at his side. His stomach grumbled… hunger.

“Accio wand!” he called.

His wand, which was resting on his nightstand, flew into his hand. No, he had nothing to prove to anyone. With hard work and lots of practice, his gift was returning. Last year, Gabriella’s father, thinking Harry a Muggle, cursed him with a spell to protect her at all cost. It had given him powers such as the ability to use magic without a wand, but it also made him irrational, jealous, and prone to fits of rage. Harry had nearly killed Seamus Finnigan because of it. The curse and its madness, like the scar on Harry’s forehead, had vanished in the Cleansing, a Centaur sacrifice Dumbledore had called it, that burned the evil from Harry’s being. All that remained was a mark on Harry’s right forearm placed by Gabriella’s mother, Soseh, a symbol of unity among all people, a symbol that he was both servant and master to the dragon.

“Silly worries and stupid fears,” he muttered to himself. He would face his future when it stepped up to greet him, not in bed staring at the ceiling, or pacing about his room. Wondering if there might still be some shepherd’s pie left in the fridge, he slipped on a gauze robe, tying it loosely about his waist. “Lumos!” His wand lit brightly as he made his way out his bedroom door and down the long stone corridor toward the kitchen of Sirius’ castle.

Drip.

There was a slight flow of air down the corridor that sent a chill over his damp body. It was refreshing and freed his mind from the thoughts of war and darkness to focus on love and passion. He had come of age, and was seriously considering if Gabriella was the one. His parents had married just out of school, and the last three weeks had only strengthened Harry’s resolve that soon he would ask Gabriella the question. First, he wanted to talk to Ron, and the fact that his best friend would be arriving tomorrow seemed to quicken Harry’s heart. He was nearly to the kitchen, his mind firmly fixed on his last night with Gabriella, when he saw the flame, the glow, and a puff of smoke. Harry turned toward a side door and came face-to-face with Draco Malfoy.

In contrast to Harry, who was wearing the plain gauze wrap falling half-way down his thigh, the blonde was wearing long, fine robes of green satin; his long hair was meticulously coifed back, and his steel eyes were bright with mischief. No remnants of the scar he bore on his face last year remained; his skin was as silken white as ever. He took a long drag on his cigarette and let out a long, slow puff of smoke that billowed toward Harry’s face. Harry stood frozen stiff.

“Damn, Harry,” drawled Draco with a sly smile, as he eyed Harry up and down. “Were you expecting me?” Harry’s back went rigid as he clenched his wand. His eyes darted in every conceivable direction. “No, Potter” answered Draco without being asked, “I’m here alone.” Draco took one more puff and flicked the cigarette into the air, only to vanish it with his wand before it started toward the ground.

“What… what are you doing here?” whispered Harry, not sure if he really trusted what Draco had just said, and still holding his wand firmly, all thought of Gabriella draining from his mind. Draco drew a step closer, his grey eyes shimmering in the light of Harry’s wand.

“You had a fanatical spell over the Dark Lord,” breathed Draco. “It was his ruin.” He took another step closer to Harry, forcing the bespectacled wizard to pull in his wand ever so slightly. “Now, every time Father looks at his fabricant arm, I see the same crazed look in his eyes. Beyond all reason, he wants to destroy you.”

“I’m done fighting wizards, Draco.”

“Done? I think not. We had a deal, Harry,” said Draco with a thin smile on his lips. “You gave me your word that you were in it all the way. The game’s not over.”

“Game? What are you talking about, Draco? There’s no game. Half the wizarding world thinks you’re dead, and the other half is looking for your father to complete the set.”

“You’re a fool, Harry, if you think that the Centaurs can win. The Dementors already have Father and the remaining Death Eaters on their side.”

“But wizards aren’t supposed to interfere in the affairs of—”

“P-lease, Potter,” said Draco, rolling his eyes to the ceiling. “When are you ever going to stop being so damn naïve? Already we’ve regrouped after the loss of the Dark Lord, already we’ve made new plans, and what have you been doing, playing Snap with members of the Order?” This time Harry, his jaw set firm, stepped toward Draco, but the former Slytherin gave no ground.

“If you’re so damn sure you’re going to rule the world, then why are you here?” he spat under his breath. Draco let out a slight laugh, the burst of air brushing against Harry’s face. The mirth and mischief that were present in Draco’s eyes a moment before flickered, and faded.

“You know… you know what it’s like, Harry. They’re dead, black shells of darkness; they almost killed me, and now I’ve got to be their chum? Never!” Draco hissed, and then his eyes narrowed and his face revealed a glow of pure hatred. “Father’s a fool; he always has been. They’ll turn on us the instant we help them defeat the Centaurs just as they turned on the Ministry, and his collection of pure-bloods won’t stop them. I’m not going to have him ruin everything again.” Draco cast a glance at Harry and, in that instant, could not hold Harry’s gaze. Instead, he turned and leaned against the stone wall, looking down at his own two hands.

“This isn’t what I am, Harry. You know that, don’t you?” The question was almost a plea, but the tone was unnecessary. Harry did know. There were nuggets of goodness in the Slytherin standing before him, waiting to be mined. Perhaps, in another life…

“Come back to Hogwarts, Draco. I know Dumbledore—”

“No,” said Draco abruptly. “Knowledge is power, Harry,” he whispered to himself. “Together, we can—”

“Draco, if you go down that path—”

“I HAD YOUR WORD!” Draco cried out. His voice echoed down the corridor and reverberated in Harry’s ears. Slowly, reluctantly, Harry nodded his head.

“Yes,” Harry said, “we had an agreement. And as long as you’re here to help me see that the Centaurs are victorious, well, I guess—”

“You still don’t get it, do you? It’s not about the Dementors and the Centaurs. You think the darkness is gone? If we don’t join together and—”

“Harry? Harry, is that you? Is everything okay?” It was Gabriella, calling from down the hallway; dressed in a white nightgown, she was headed their way. Draco straightened and slicked back his hair with one hand.

“You’ve put on weight,” he said to Harry, who was looking down the hall. “It suits you better.” There was a hiss and snap, and he was gone. Harry turned to see the empty wall just as Gabriella reached his side.

“That was an Apparition,” she asserted with nervous confidence. “Who was here? Is everything alright?” She placed her arm around his waist and pulled him next to her as she looked up into his eyes. He could not lie to her; he would not lie to her.

“Draco,” he whispered.

“Asha!” exclaimed Gabriella. “Did he try to hurt you?” She pulled her wand to the ready. Harry smiled. She would defend him to the death; he knew that with his very soul. He extinguished his wand and pulled her close in the darkness. Her hands slipped around his bare back, and whatever apprehension he had felt moments before melted away.

“There was a time,” he whispered, “when I’d look into his eyes and see someone that would sooner see me dead as anything else.” Harry gazed at the stone wall where Draco had stood, the smell of smoke still lingering in the air. “Now… now it’s something quite different, Gabriella.” Harry took in a long breath, and then exhaled. “He wants to help me win the war when it comes. But which war? I think, maybe, he has some sort of scheme to bring himself into the good graces of the Ministry -- a scheme to bring himself to power somehow.”

“But nearly everyone thinks he’s dead. How can he imagine such a thing?”

“He’s a Malfoy, love,” said Harry as another light appeared down the hall in the direction of Sirius’ bedchamber. “Don’t think he’s done for, any more than his father is. What’s more, he’s the most sneaking and conniving Slytherin I know, next to you of course.” Harry smiled and kissed her quickly before she could protest.

The light from Sirius’ wand grew bright and Harry had to shield his eyes as his godfather approached.

“Are you two crazy?” he exclaimed. “Screaming loud enough to wake the dead -- which around here isn’t saying much I know… bloody ghosts.” He dimmed his wand and walked closer. “Harry, you’re more than half naked. Do you have any idea what Gabriella’s mother would say if—”

Too late. Soseh appeared from around the corner. Without saying a word, the small woman looked at Harry, and then at her daughter. For an instant, Harry thought he saw a smile, but then her face turned cold as she stepped over to Gabriella’s side. Sirius’ wand cast an eerie shadow across Soseh’s face that distorted her features, making her look more angry than ever as she grabbed Gabriella by the ear, cursing something in Armenian. There was another snap and the two women had Disapparated.

“We weren’t doing anything!” cried Harry to the air, as if maybe Mrs. Darbinyan could hear him. “Honest! I was just hungry.” Sirius just laughed in disbelief.

“Hungry, eh? Come on then, Harry. Let’s check if there’s any shepherd’s pie left; maybe there’s another Mythos or two in the fridge.”

“Mythos?” asked Harry.

“It’s a Greek beer; bottled in Salonica. It’s not bad when you’re eating cold shepherd’s pie and telling your godfather what the hell you’re doing up in the middle of the night.” His words were very matter of fact; the two men were about to have a talk. “And it’s a damn sight better tasting than Veritaserum.” For a moment, Harry thought to ask Sirius when he had tasted Veritaserum, but thoughts of Azkaban pushed the question aside.

They were about to enter the kitchen when a ghost passed through the walls just in front of them. It was a young girl with a sad face; Helena was her name. Sirius immediately lifted his wand and shot a blast at the wall, missing as the ghost passed through the other side of the hallway. Sirius cursed.

“A thousand castles in this country, and they have to pick mine to live in.”

“Wasn’t Helena born here?” Harry asked.

“That’s not the point,” growled Sirius as he made his way to the icebox and summoned out a snack and two beers. He wasn’t much of a cook, but he could heat leftovers with his wand, almost as easily as he could remove bottle caps. By the time Harry was finished, Sirius had yet to take two bites. He was trying to be patient, but Harry could tell he was about to burst. Harry smiled to himself, thinking that Sirius looked better now than Harry had ever seen him, but Sirius took the look as a smirk, pushed his plate forward and looked straight at Harry.

“Well?” he asked. “If you weren’t out for a midnight rendezvous with Gabriella, what were you doing? Who yelled?”

Harry looked down at his plate and then brought his eyes up to meet Sirius’. Here sat the man who had offered his life to protect Harry’s in more ways than imaginable and who, like Remus Lupin, bore a spark that was the essence of Harry’s father and mother. There was nothing that Harry would not share with Sirius, and there was nothing that Sirius would not do to ensure Harry’s safety.

“Draco dropped by to call in a debt I still owed him.”

“Draco Malfoy? That’s not possible,” Sirius asserted. “I charmed the castle myself and there’s no way anyone passes the barrier unless… unless you consider Draco a friend.” The statement turned into a question as Sirius drew closer to the table, staring intently at Harry’s eyes.

“I’m in his debt,” Harry answered, trying to avoid the real question.

“You made a wager?” Sirius asked.

“He and I had an agreement to secretly share information in an effort to bring down Voldemort.” Harry didn’t need to wait to see the reaction on Sirius’ face. The veins bulged out on his neck instantly.

“Do you have any idea how dangerous—”

“Voldemort’s dead isn’t he?” Harry interrupted with a confidence he would not have had the year before. “And you’re sitting here drinking beer and eating shepherd’s pie with me. A year ago, if I had made that prediction, they’d have sent me to sit with Gilderoy Lockhart at St. Mungo’s for evaluation.” Harry’s mind faded back to his confrontation with Voldemort in the Ministry’s Death Chamber.

“If it hadn’t been for Draco, Ron would certainly be dead. Hell, we might all be dead.”

A glint of ghost passed through the corner of the kitchen on its way to the upper stories of the castle, but Sirius paid it no heed. Instead, he pushed his plate aside and clasped his hands together on the table.

“What does he want?”

“They’re regrouping, the old Death Eaters. They’re going to join the Dementors to destroy the Centaurs in the upcoming battle. Draco wants to stop it, and he’s willing to betray his father to do it. But it has to be kept secret; no one can know he has anything to do with it.”

“We’ve got to tell Dumble—”

“We can’t,” Harry interjected. The two wizards held each other’s gaze. “I gave my word.”

Harry expected a lecture at this point, and he was ready to argue against whatever Sirius had to say until the sun rose, but none came. Instead, Sirius nodded his head, took a last swig of beer, pulled the plate of shepherd’s pie in front of him and began to eat. About halfway through the dish, Sirius finally lifted his head up to look at Harry.

“I think Remus fancies Soseh; what do you think?” asked Sirius with a devilish twinkle in his eye. “An odd twist if he becomes your father-in-law, don’t you think?”

“Fancies Soseh?” asked Harry incredulously. He knew they liked each other, but the possibility that their feelings ran deeper had never really entered Harry’s mind. “How can you tell?

“He’s acting just like James did around your mother, always trying to impress her at every turn. Did you see him after dinner tonight, when he offered to clean the dishes? I thought I’d never stop laughing after he broke the fourth plate. Canines just aren’t meant for housework.”

Harry looked around the kitchen and decided not to make a comment. Soseh had been kind enough to clean in here, but the rest of the castle was still pretty much a disaster since Sirius had sworn off house elves.

“Well,” yawned Harry, stretching his arms about his head. “I think I’m going to head off to bed.” Sirius nodded, flicked his wand and levitated the plates into the sink. They could wait until tomorrow to be cleaned.

“Harry, with Ron and Hermione arriving in the morning, this is probably the last chance we’ll have to be alone together. What you’ve told me tonight, I won’t share, but don’t think for a moment that no one else knows, particularly Dumbledore.” Sirius then leaned forward in his chair. “The day will come, when Draco asks you to do something you know is wrong; you know he will, Harry, and when he does, please talk to me first, okay?” Harry nodded. “I’m serious, boy; don’t be rash. If you think you see two moves ahead, wait until you see four more. There’s a reason they call them Death Eaters, and wiping the likes of you from the wizarding world is top priority on their list. Be careful; be deadly careful.”

“I will, Sirius. I swear.”

Together they walked halfway down the hallway, and then Sirius turned toward his own room. Harry watched as his godfather disappeared into the darkness, cursed, and then shot a blast of light at a passing ghost.

Drip.

When Harry put head to pillow, he had an overwhelming urge to use Occlumency. With Voldemort gone, he hadn’t cleared his mind all summer; there was no need. Despite the heat, a cold shiver ran down his spine. All the evening’s conversations had his thoughts swirling and, with no Pensieve, Harry chose to clear his mind as best he knew how. Thoughts of war and dragons would wait until tomorrow.

He took in a deep breath, closed his eyes, and exhaled. Drip. As he had done all summer long, he tapped the spot where Greg Goyle had skewered his chest with a Quidditch broom, and said a short prayer for the souls of his lost friends. Slowly, he let all thought of the day’s events leave his mind. Voldemort swirled away into a cloud of nothingness, the Centaur and Dementor wars evaporated, concern over what Soseh would say in the morning vanished. Drip. Finally, he was aslee— there was a snap, sharp and short.

“AND I DON’T CARE IF I NEVER SEE YOUR RAT LOVING FACE AGAIN!” Something… someone stomped on the stone floor. “Never… ever…,” the voice got weaker, “…ever.” A lit wand in her hand, Hermione Granger crumpled to the ground and began heaving deep sobs into the sleeves of her dark red robes. Harry, who had half reached for his glasses, and half dove for his wand, also found himself in a heap on the stone floor, thankful that his sheet came with him.

“H-Hermione?” he asked groggily, smarting from having banged his knee on the stone floor. A small splotch of blood began to spread against the white sheet. His eyes focused on his friend, folded in two in the centre of the room. As she continued to cry, her hands covered her face, and her bushy brown hair covered her hands. “Hermione, what’s wrong? Where’s Ron?”

Drip.

Hermione turned to see Harry on the floor, blood staining the sheet and concern filled her face. At once she went over to offer Harry her assistance and reached to remove the sheet so that she could have a closer look at his knee. But the sheet was the only thing clothing Harry, and he held it fast.

“I’m fine,” he assured her. “If I’m not mistaken, you’re early. Where’s Ron?” he asked again. The name flushed her face scarlet.

“That foul mouthed ferret farmer can eat Blast-ended Skrewts for all I care!” She was about to cry again and stopped herself. “Socks! Can you believe it, Harry? He wanted to bring more socks!”

“And that’s bad because…?” Harry asked, still not quite able to focus thanks to his throbbing knee and his overwhelming lack of sleep.

“It meant a bigger pack, of course,” Hermione answered in a tone that reminded Harry a bit of Mrs. Weasley mixed in with… well, Hermione. “He can barely Apparate as it is; the last thing he needed to do was to increase his load by carrying more socks.”

“So you insulted his wizardry, by telling him he didn’t know how to Apparate?” Harry asked, pricking the point of the argument with his question. Hermione raised her finger to argue, turned the thought over in her mind, and burst out crying again.

“Oh, Harry!” she bawled, and lunged at him wrapping her arms tightly around his shoulders, wrenching the sheet away with her foot, and burying her tear-strewn face in his neck. Suddenly the room filled with light and, for a moment, Harry panicked, thinking that it might be Ron. If only it had been the redhead.

“Harry?” came a familiar voice from the door. Trying to quickly cover himself with a bit of Hermione’s red robe, he turned to see Gabriella, flanked by Sirius, Remus and Soseh. All of them had their wands at the ready, but none was more ready to put wand to use than Gabriella herself.

Drip.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun
Chapter 2 - Friends in the Dark
~~~***~~~
The soaked sod stuck to the bottom of Harry’s boots as he strode over to the stables, and each step from the castle became more laborious than the one before. The air was warm and moist as bits of blue sky sprouted between the clouds. Still, even wearing full wizard’s robes, visions of dragons swirling in his head, Harry felt cold. About halfway across the field he grabbed a stick and began to scrape his boots, and then realized that he was of age and could use his wand. A small smile creased his lips and he dropped the branch of olive in favour of his own holly and Scourgified his soles. It was the first smile to cross Harry’s face all morning.

He looked at the stables knowing that Sirius had told him to hurry, but he was not eager to take further steps. Instead, he took in another deep breath of fresh air, cleansed by the night’s rain and watched as the sun peaked out from between the clouds above. The skies were still threatening rain and, unlike his Caduceus, Hippogriffs did not have spells to keep you warm and dry. He looked back at the stables to where the four Hippogriffs waited to carry them on their journey north. Last night before dinner, Harry was thrilled to see that Buckbeak and Sirius had been reunited. Together, Harry and his godfather had flown around the castle grounds, Harry flying on the back of Frayfeather. As the sun dipped from view and the stars began to sprinkle the sky, they snuck a splash along the ocean’s shore; it was wonderful being with Sirius again. How did things get so complicated so quickly? Harry sighed again and started once more across the field, his feet squishing in the mud.

When he arrived at the stables, he was surprised to find Gabriella alone. She was wrapping a small leather harness around Buckbeak’s neck to make the flight north feel safer; the other three Hippogriffs had been similarly strapped. She looked up at him for the briefest of moments, and then continued to fasten the harness without saying a word. There were so many things he wanted to say. He’d tried to speak to her last night, but couldn’t put three words together before she Disapparated in a rage. Harry took a step forward. He was of age. He was brave enough to face Voldemort and his Death Eaters. In a few hours he would stand face-to-face with a dragon. He could do this; he could set things straight right now. He took another step forward, and cleared his throat.

“I… erm…. Where’s Sirius?” he asked weakly, his posture falling somewhat.

“Looking for you,” Gabriella said curtly without looking at Harry.

“I just came from the castle,” said Harry, “and I didn’t see him.” Harry didn’t know why his words were sharp, but they were.

“Are you calling me a liar?” she asked coolly, again not looking in his direction.

“I’m not calling you anything! All I’m saying is that I just came from the castle and I didn’t see Sirius.”

“Then your Apparations passed each other!” she snapped. The tone didn’t please Buckbeak and he reared away from her twisting her finger awkwardly in the leather strap.

“Ayyy!” she called, grabbing her right hand with her left. Harry was at her side in an instant.

“Here, let me see if—”

“I’m perfectly capable of taking care of my own injuries, thank you very much!” She jerked her arm away from Harry’s touch and walked toward the corner. Whispering something in Armenian, she healed the finger and then turned toward Buckbeak bowing low.

“You’re not going near him again,” said Harry. “It’s too dangerous.” She turned to look at Harry and fire raged in her eyes. She strode away from Buckbeak and toward him like a freight train, and Harry began to back away.

“Danger?” she spat. “You want to know about DANGER!” She was on him like a lioness. A poke in the arm, a slap to the chest, a swipe across his legs that brought him to the floor. Harry did not resist as her heel pressed against his sternum. “I could crush you!” she yelled.

”SOCKS, GABRIELLA! HE WANTED MORE SOCKS!”

“It was bad enough I had to listen to such a ridiculous story last night! Was it really Draco you were meeting with in the corridor? Or her?” Gabriella’s heal pressed harder. “And now with Ron gone, Hermione has to fly with you to the Carpathians! How convenient!”

“I told you that Sirius could—”

“NO! We must take all four Hippogriffs; I will ride alone and so will Sirius, and while we fly for hours in the cold you and Hermione can decide where your loyalties lie. I can only imagine what Ron would say. If he doesn’t kill you, his brothers probably will.” She lifted her foot and went back to attend to Buckbeak. Harry sat up on the straw covered floor.

“You’re not being rational. If I could just explain, you’d see that—”

The room filled with snaps and pops. Soseh who could not Apparate on her own was holding Remus’ hand as they appeared near the entrance to the stables. Hermione stood a few feet behind Sirius and everyone had their pack, everyone, that is, except Harry who had left his in the castle after his earlier argument with Gabriella. Remus and Soseh walked over to the largest of the four Hippogriffs, Flameclaw, so named because of her brilliant red talons.

“Harry, you’re a mess!” cried Sirius, and he was right. Harry was coated in mud and straw. “What were you trying to do, make adobe bricks?” Harry stood, slapping the muck from his robes. “Here,” said Sirius in exasperation, and he pulled his wand cleaning the younger wizard’s clothes. “Where’s your pack? We’ve got to get there before dark.”

“Well, I er…” Harry sputtered.

“I’ll get it,” said Hermione. There was a sharp snap and she was gone.

“Look Harry,” said Sirius in a low voice, “it was your idea to fly, and there’s no way I can get a portkey ready now. Are you sure you want to go through with this? I don’t care what sort of future Soseh sees for you; if you want to change your mind, do it. You’ve already faced dragons before; you have nothing to prove.”

Yes, it was Harry’s idea to fly, but that’s when he thought he’d be soaring over the Aegean Sea with Gabriella. He was going to face the fire of the dragon, and his second thoughts were having triplets. He pulled back his right sleeve and looked down at the mark on his forearm – a dragon born of the four houses of Hogwarts. Soseh had said it was Harry’s vision of unity that made the moment possible, a vision that would spread to all the magical creatures of the earth.

“Maybe… maybe you’re right Sirius,” Harry whispered. He lifted his eyes and was surprised to see Gabriella looking back at him, her own eyes wide with concern. She glanced over to Soseh who was also looking at Harry, but her face was as placid and pleasant as ever. He was used to being stared at, but suddenly he was feeling quite uncomfortable. “Excuse me,” he whispered weakly. He pulled his wand and Apparated back to his room in the castle.

He was pacing about, trying to gather himself when the ghost, Helena, appeared through a wall. She hovered for a moment and then took notice of something she hadn’t seen before. Looking intently at Harry, or through Harry, she turned to face him.

“You have died,” she said in Greek. “A part of you still tarries in our plane.” She smiled and floated closer to Harry who sat down on his bed. For a ghost she was elegantly dressed – almost royal in stature. “I thought I sensed a new presence, but there are so many here now. Who brought you back from the brink?”

“Albus Dumbledore,” answered Harry, his mind still wondering why he ever wanted to be joined with a family of dragons. Insanity, he thought. Besides, what does she care now, anyway? But then, was he really doing all this just for Gabriella?

“I have heard of him,” Helena said with greater excitement in her voice. “He’s Headmaster now at Hogwarts… a great wizard.”

“Yeah,” said Harry, rubbing his right forearm. Unity? Bah! I should just have this thing removed. Maybe Fred and George can—

“Harry,” Helena whispered to herself. “Harry Potter?” she asked with excitement. Harry just rolled his eyes and nodded. “I have waited millennia to touch, once again, the hand of a mortal.” She reached out. “May I take yours?”

“You’re a ghost,” Harry said dismissively. “You can’t hold my hand any more than I can hold yours.” He held out his palm in a gesture to demonstrate. Helena reached out and held it fast. The touch was cold, a sensation Harry had felt many times with ghosts, but he could also sense that her hands were soft and it was this sensation that caused him to jerk his hand away.

“That’s not possible!” he asserted, holding his hand as if he had just been bitten. Helena floated closer and sat at Harry’s side. She patted his leg and rested her hand on his thigh. For the first time since his first year at Hogwarts, Harry found himself frightened of a ghost.

“Don’t be afraid, my child,” she whispered. There was something calming about her voice, something compelling in her beauty, and Harry sat fast. “Your crossing to our realm will certainly become legend one day. I have roamed the world since I was laid to rest at Therapne, and I know no souls that have returned from such depths without resorting to the Dark Arts. The ethereal hue rests upon your brow.” She touched his forehead, only this time the touch was warm, comforting. “Hmm, you carry a burden with you. Does it concern your visit with Singehorn?” Harry nodded.

“I’m not going,” Harry said flatly. Helena floated up and stood before Harry. She appeared more radiant than ever, and Harry wondered why he hadn’t noticed her beauty earlier.

“Are you afraid?” she asked.

“No!” said Harry emphatically. “I… she… if she…” and then he let out a long drawn out breath, dropping his head.

“Ah!” Helena smiled. “The girl.” She floated down to one knee and lifted Harry’s chin. “Listen, Harry. I know quite a bit about what lengths men will go to for the love of a woman. Such motives are never as noble as they first appear.” The mist that was her eyes glowed bright with mischief. “From what I’ve heard, your waters run deeper than that, Harry. If not, the mark on your arm would have faded to nothingness.” She chuckled to herself. “If not, you will certainly be turned to ash when you face the dragon lord, Singehorn.” She floated back towards the closed door. “That assumes of course, you’re still going?” she questioned, already knowing the answer. “Your affairs have yet to be settled.” Her face bore a small smile, but was tainted with sadness. It took some moments before Harry responded.

“The darkness isn’t gone yet, is it?” he asked, but she did not answer. Instead she bowed her head and started toward the door.

Harry wasn’t sure if she spoke or if he simply knew her thoughts when he heard, “If ever you are in need, Harry, simply call. One of us is always near, and don’t forget… you are one of us.” She faded through the door just as Hermione walked through coming from the other way.

Hermione let out a short shriek. “Yikes! I hate it when that happens,” she muttered to herself. She rubbed her shoulders trying to warm herself from the chilling sensation and gazed about the room looking for Harry’s pack when she saw him sitting on the side of his bed.

“Harry?” she asked. “Why aren’t you at the stables? I said I’d get your pack; I thought it was in the kitchen, but no luck.” She spotted it at the foot of Harry’s bed. “Ah! There you go.” She reached down, picked it up, and offered it to Harry. For a moment, he hesitated and then finally took it into his own hands.

“Thanks,” he said dully, and Hermione recognized his mood at once.

“I’m so sorry, Harry,” Hermione said. “I’ve made a mess out of everything. Maybe it’s best if you just don’t go through with it. Come back to Hogwarts and forget this whole thing ever happened.”

“I can’t go back, Hermione. I have to go through with it.”

“Why?” replied Hermione. “To impress Gabriella? That’s hardly a reason to risk your life, Harry.”

“Draco was here last night,” said Harry as he stood, taking in a breath of resolve. “The Death Eaters are regrouping, while we’re still celebrating Voldemort’s death. I have to do everything I can to finish what we started last year. The Centaurs and most of the giants are with us; we may need the dragons too.”

“Ron told Charlie what you intend to do, Harry. He says it’s suicide. There’s no such thing as a tame dragon.”

“And is there such a thing as a tame Wizard, Hermione?” Harry asked. “Come on, it’s time we go. And don’t worry about last night. I’ll work things out with Gabriella… somehow.”

When the two Apparated back to the stables they found everyone else ready to go.

“Well,” said Sirius impatiently, “that took longer than it should have.” Harry looked at Gabriella wondering what she was thinking seeing Harry and Hermione arrive together so late, but her expression hid all emotion.

“It took just as long as it should have,” Soseh said with a calming tone. “Come, let us be on our way.”

Soon they were out over the Aegean Sea and turning northward toward the Carpathians. Remus rode with Soseh, Harry flew with Hermione, and Sirius and Gabriella each flew alone. The Hippogriffs flew swift and strong, and the rushing wind made it nearly impossible for anyone to speak. The rhythmic swoosh-swoosh-swoosh of the animals’ wings was almost hypnotic. Harry dozed often and, at one point, Hermione had to wake him as Sirius began to dive toward the Osam River in Bulgaria. The Hippogriffs lit without difficulty, and Harry noticed that the sky was darkening – it would rain soon.

“We’ll let them rest here for a while and then be on our way,” said Sirius. There was no comment of hurry from his mouth, but one could tell from the edge in his voice that something was bothering him, and Harry preferred the more vocal Sirius to the silent, brooding one. Frayfeather took a deep drink from the water’s edge as Harry stroked the creature’s neck. In a flash, the Hippogriff snapped at the water and pulled out a large fish, swallowing it with one gulp. The motion splashed water over the lower half of Harry’s robes. He was about to curse when he checked his emotions and slowly stepped away.

“Unbelievable,” he hissed under his breath.

“Here, allow me,” offered Remus as he pulled his wand.

“I can do it myself!” Harry snapped, immediately regretting the tone as he pulled his own wand.

“I never doubted you could, Harry,” Remus answered calmly. “It’s just easier for someone else to reach the back, that’s all.”

“Yes, of course,” said Harry. “I’m sorry.”

“We’re all a bit edgy,” replied Remus as he scanned the tree-line surrounding them and then dried Harry’s robes. “We’ll all feel much better once this whole thing is over.”

“Assuming he survives, eh, Remus?” said Sirius with a tone Harry wasn’t sure was humour.

“True,” answered Remus. “I suspect we’ll feel much worse if you’re fried alive. You do have your affairs in order, don’t you, Harry?” At that, Harry chuckled grimly to himself, at least a little.

The owl from the Ministry had arrived promptly in the morning on his seventeenth birthday. The properties belonging to his parents had officially been released into his name. Their fortune, which he had always had access to in small quantities, could now be spent at will. Also with the letter had come an assignment of inheritance form should Harry die. Who should he leave his estate to? He had no family to speak of. He had thought of Sirius, but the wizard had all he would ever need. He had thought of Dudley and realized he’d never be able to spend galleons or fly brooms. Instead, he had scribbled the name of his best friend, and sent the paperwork back.

“And he won’t even be there to watch me die,” said Harry, darkly at the river’s edge. “I would have thought… Oh, well.” Harry skipped a stone across the water, turned and walked back to Frayfeather.

“We can turn back at any time, Harry,” said Soseh. “The choice is yours.”

“Hermione, let’s go,” Harry called out. “We won’t make it there by nightfall if we keep dallying.”

Harry was right; they did not arrive before the setting sun, although they never saw the sun sink in the evening sky because the air was too thick with rain. Indeed, they could barely see each other, let alone the ground, when Soseh called for everyone’s attention.

“THERE!” she cried, pointing her finger toward the earth below. Flameclaw dropped her head and plummeted as the others followed. The rain began to ease, allowing Harry to see smoke rising from the chimneys of a nearby town, but they passed that town and flew into a dense forest of trees about a mile away. The canopy of the forest swallowed them whole, and they found themselves in utter darkness; nearly everyone lit their wands simultaneously, save for Soseh who carried none. The combination of tiny lights fought back against the darkness revealing a thick, green undergrowth.

“It’s a Confundus charm,” said Remus raising his wand. “These trees aren’t really here. Aspicio!” he cried out and the trees in this portion of the forest slowly receded away like a lifting fog, revealing a stone road and then old wooden and brick buildings. “The village was here long before Chata Zverovka to the south, and the locals chose not to move when the Muggles arrived.”

They were at the edge of a small village about half the size of Hogsmeade. Gas lamps lit the cobblestone streets, their teasing glow left Harry wanting more. The rain stopped and, leaving his wand stashed away, he pulled off his glasses and dried them with the wave of his hand. Still, he was unable to see into the many darkened corners. Not a soul walked the streets, and the air was dead and silent, save for the heavy breathing of the Hippogriffs.

“Bogden should be here,” said Soseh quietly, her voice tinged with concern.

“Perhaps he went in as it grew dark,” offered Remus.

“No,” answered Soseh, looking about and cautiously stepping from one spot to another like a bloodhound sniffing out its quarry. “No,” she said again, only this time with more urgency. She began moving swiftly away from the village and toward an opening in the trees. Walking without a wand, she would have been swallowed by the darkness if Gabriella and Remus hadn’t followed quickly behind.

“I don’t like this, Harry,” said Hermione, taking hold of his arm.

“It’s my fault,” whispered Harry. “We should have been here over an hour ago.”

“Stop it,” Sirius snapped, “and pay attention. Keep your wands ready… follow me.” He started after the dim glow ahead, and Harry and Hermione followed. As they pushed through the wet branches Sirius added in a whisper, “We were never meant to leave on time, Harry. It was the damn rain.” Harry was about to ask what he meant by that, when they came upon the three in the lead. They were standing in a circle, if you could call it that, looking down at the ground. Hermione was first to join them.

“What is it?” she asked. “Have you found—” She let out something between a shriek and a scream, and wrapped her hand across her mouth gripping her wand tightly. She had just given away their location within the trees.

Harry steeled himself for what he was about to see, but when he and Sirius joined the others he worked hard to suppress the scream escaping from his own lungs. Bathed beneath the white light of their wands, an alabaster face wore a masque fixed with horror. His eyes were wide, his mouth open in a scream, his arms thrust forward and fingers extended as if trying to still push the attacker away. His throat, however, was gone. It had been completely ripped away revealing his spine from his jaw down to his broken collarbones. It was as if a great beast had taken a single enormous bite, but there was no blood. Not a single drop stained his light blue shirt, and no blood had spilt to the forest floor. Harry began to kneel to take a closer look.

“What could have—”

“Vampires,” Hermione whispered.

“Yes,” Soseh affirmed. “He was a dear friend, and knows these woods and their inhabitants better than any. I don’t understand why he would be a victim.”

Remus reached down and pulled Harry to his feet. “Vampires don’t leave kill behind for anyone to see,” he said briskly. “We’ve interrupted the demon; and he’s likely near. We must go.”

“We must bring Bogden back to the village,” demanded Soseh. “His family must know.”

Harry’s heart was pounding and he began to hear strange noises in the trees; he wondered if his imagination was getting the better of him.

“It wasn’t a blood kill,” said Sirius drawing close to Harry and bringing his left arm around the younger wizard’s shoulder. “It was an execution.”

“They know we’re here,” said Hermione.

“Draco,” Harry whispered.

Quickly, Remus levitated Bogden’s body and they began to briskly step toward the village like a large scrum moving through the trees and undergrowth. “Stay close,” he whispered.

There was a loud fluttering sound above followed by the breaking of branches some ten yards into the darkness. Harry was certain he saw a flash of white eyes reflect back the glow of wandlight. There was another great beating of wings. Was it the nearby Hippogriffs, or something much more terrifying? They were nearly back to where they started, but the Hippogriffs were nowhere to be seen. Harry turned his eyes toward the sky, but only saw darkness.

“They are upon us,” spoke Soseh as calmly as if she were describing the weather. No sooner had the words left her mouth than an enormous figure cloaked in black robes appeared from above, grabbed Soseh from behind, and disappeared with her back into the darkness above.

“MAMA!” Gabriella cried out, but it was too late.

A great swooshing filled the air and Sirius yelled for everyone to run toward the village, and everyone did -- everyone that is but Gabriella. Harry didn’t notice until he was only a few feet from safety. He turned to see her still standing there, calling for her mum. The clouds above burst open in a great torrent of rain.

“Gabriella!” he screamed, and ran back toward her.

“Harry! NO!” yelled Remus, but Harry didn’t listen; he kept running.

He was thirty feet away, twenty feet away, and then it appeared above her head like a dark billowing cloud ready to spit lightning. Only it was Harry that spat the first bolt.

“Stupefy!” he commanded, sending an enormous bolt of red light straight into the dark bundle. There was a tremendous screech that filled the air with a horrible noise, and Harry’s hearing harkened back to the Mandrakes from his second year that caused Neville to faint. The creature landed in a heap against the base of the tree just as Harry grabbed Gabriella in his arms.

“Are you alright?” he asked. She was trembling, oblivious to his presence and pulling away from him to enter the wood in search of her mother. “She’s gone, Gabriella.”

“No she’s not!” Gabriella yelled back.

The sky filled with flashes of red, and Harry looked back toward the village. Six vampires were descending upon Remus, Sirius and Hermione. The three of them had followed Harry back toward the forest, and were now caught in a tremendous fire fight. For a moment, he found himself watching as Hermione cast spell after spell knocking two to the ground. Still, the three were being pushed back past a stone wall and into the dense foliage. Then he saw the two that Hermione had dropped to the ground rise again and join the other vampires into the darkness as the trees glowed bright with the explosion of wand power. How could they recover so quickly?

“Quick we need to—”

It was too late. The vampire that Harry had stunned, like its brethren, had risen. It grabbed Harry by the shoulders and, with a great thrust of its wings, pulled him skyward. Gabriella turned in time to grab him by the waist, but the creature lifted her as well, the beating of its wings swooshing through the air.

“Potter,” he heard the creature hiss from behind, its rotten breath warm against the side of Harry’s face, “the stone is ours. Tell me where it is and you may—”

Another screech filled the air, but it was a sound Harry knew well, a friendly sound. Frayfeather appeared from high on the left just as the vampire carried Harry above the canopy of the trees, and then Buckbeak joined him from the right. They were fast and they were vicious as they struck at the vampire’s back. Harry felt Gabriella loosen her grip, and he dropped his wand so that he could hold her fast with both hands.

“Fool!” she yelled at him. “Arripio!” she called, casting a gripping charm that held her fast to Harry.

“I would have thought you’d thank me!” he yelled back. The vampire was cursing in Harry’s ear as the Hippogriffs continued to claw at its back. The three were starting to lose altitude and began to sink back into the trees.

When they fell to the forest floor Harry heard a snap as Gabriella released the gripping charm and dropped to her feet. Her kick was swift and true striking the vampire squarely on the side. It was enough to make it let go of Harry, but no more. An instant later, the creature had thrown Gabriella backward thirty feet through the air and held Harry by the neck. It was his first chance to see the creature’s face.

He had seen drawings of vampires in the blood state, and always thought they were embellished to illicit fear in the students. If anything, this creature was far more horrifying. Its two eyes were white, streaked with slits of red, but beyond the two eyes its resemblance to humanity vanished. There was nothing that could be called a nose. Instead, the face was a marbled mass of flesh designed for stretching when the creature opened its enormous mouth. Holding Harry fast in its arms, water dripping down its face, the vampire smiled to reveal long rows of ragged teeth that grew progressively larger as they came to the fore, both top and bottom ending in one large fang, the pair resembling a great pincer that would have easily fit around Harry’s thigh. The stench was almost too much to bear.

“Where is the stone?” the Vampire asked again, from where Harry could not tell.

“Go to hell!” Harry spat in its face. The vampire simply laughed a great rolling laugh.

“You’ll join me there soon enough!” it sneered, and the great jaws began to open wide and reach around Harry’s neck.

He was about to cast a spell without his wand when there was a swift, single swoosh, a thwump, and the creature stopped cold. Still holding fast to Harry’s robes, it pulled away and the wizard saw a tremendous look of surprise in the creature’s eyes. Finally, it released Harry and stepped back revealing its reason for concern. In its chest was an arrow that had certainly pierced the vampire’s heart.

“Centaur?” Harry asked to the darkness, trying to look about in the rain and seeing nothing.

Cloaked in darkness, the vampire fell to the ground flailing at the arrow, but unable to pull it free. At last, the thrashing stopped and Harry walked over to the vampire’s side ready to cast a stunning spell with his hand if need be. But, the vampire was gone. On the ground laid a man, not much older than Harry, and certainly no bigger. He had dark hair and clear brown eyes that gazed forward to the sky. He seemed ridiculously dwarfed by the large black cloak surrounding him.

“Thank you,” he breathed without looking at Harry. Wincing in pain, the man heaved in one great breath; his eyes fell on Harry’s. “He calls again,” he whispered, and then vanished in a pulse of light and smoke. Harry placed his hand on the empty robes to convince his mind what his eyes were saying. Then quickly he rose and ran to Gabriella’s side.

“Accio wand!” he called out, retrieving his wand from the forest and lighting their way back down toward the village. They were just passing a small shed not much bigger than an outdoor privy, when two more dark figures appeared in the sky above. “Not again,” Harry moaned.

Suddenly, the sky was filled with arrows. A door of the shed opened and the head of a stooped, old man poked out.

“Quick, in here!” he whispered as loudly as he dared. Gabriella and Harry darted into the shed, but when they entered they found it enormous inside, reminding Harry of the tents at the World Cup. There was a small kitchen at the far end of the flat with something boiling on the stove. To the side was a space for a single bed and chest of drawers. They stood in what would be called the living room, a couch, two stuffed chairs, and coffee table in its centre.

“Put her over on the bed,” the old man said urgently as he locked the door behind them using his wand. Harry obliged and then reached down and touched Gabriella’s forehead.

“It’s my ribs,” she said with a grimace. “They’re broken.”

Harry knelt low next to her and closed his eyes.

“You can’t use it on me,” she whispered.

“I don’t need to use it for broken ribs,” he answered, and then he bathed her side in a splash of blue light from his wand. “What do you think I am, a fool?” He tried to smile, but his mind was filled with concern for the others.

Her ribs quickly healed, and when they did she closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. Then, unexpectedly, she rapidly gripped Harry by his soaked robes and slowly pulled him close. He was expecting a kiss, but instead she whispered in his ear.

“Harry, the old man standing by the locked door… he’s a vampire.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun
Chapter 3 - A Tutor Denied
~~~***~~~

The only sound in the room was the crackle of the fire and the pounding of Harry’s heart. You could smell hints of pipe tobacco mixing with the herbs and spices emanating from the dinner being prepared on the stove. The old man shuffled over and began to stir the small pot, then he tapped it with his wand and it tripled in size. He wasn’t much to look at; his frame was thin and frail. His posture was stooped and the wand in his hand trembled as he stirred the oversized pot. How could this wisp of a man be a vampire?

“I suspect you’re all hungry,” he said with a thick accent and a deep scratchy voice. His wrinkled skin was an earthen brown and his hair white. “I must say, I am not much of a cook.”

Gabriella squeezed Harry’s arm as her other hand slipped down to her wand. Harry wasn’t surprised; he was reaching for his own wand. All summer, their thoughts had often mixed together without the two saying a word. It wasn’t mind reading, but it was more than mere intuition. They would fire together. In unison, they jumped to their feet and thrust out their wands.

“Petrificus Totalus!” they cried together. Beams of orange and yellow light erupted from their wands. The old wizard, or vampire, or whatever he was, caught a glimpse of the light heading his way. Harry was sure that they had him when the shuffling old man flicked his wand with the most subtle of wrist movements.

“Áreddotu,” he whispered.

By the time Harry’s mind processed back to the Defence Against the Dark Arts class he had when Snape was substituting last year, it was too late. The spells were reflected back upon the casters, and both Harry and Gabriella went rigid and fell to the floor like nine pins. Harry fell facing the old man as he returned to the pot and continued to stir as if nothing had happened. Suddenly, his stooped figure became more erect; his white hair turned grey and then black. He was clearly now taller than Harry and the age that racked his body a moment earlier was wiped from his face. Somehow, from somewhere, Harry knew this man.

“I should drain you now for killing Bogden,” the man whispered, still stirring the pot. His head snapped up and looked to the side of the room, to a place Harry couldn’t see. “Yes, I know,” he answered apologetically, as if answering someone who wasn’t there, “for Antreas.” The man then slipped his wand away and stood, fully facing Harry and Gabriella in the light. He was quite tall and looked, perhaps, forty years old.

“It hardly seems possible,” he said, his gravelly voice scraping like a tin can across bare pavement. He poked Harry with his foot and turned once more to the spot Harry couldn’t see. “It can’t be done,” he said waving his hand in the air dismissively. “He’s too young. I won’t—” He stopped as if interrupted by his own thoughts. A smile appeared across his face, but Harry could see no fangs.

“Marek has the other three,” he said. There was another pause, and then a sigh. “Yes, that is good news, very good news, indeed.” There was a long period of silence; finally he said, “Very well, but if I release them they’ll want to blast me again. I can see it in their eyes, especially that young one of yours.”

There were steps across the floor as someone else moved out from the shadows. The figure stepped in front of Harry and Gabriella so that they could both clearly see her. She then bent low.

“Yes, my dear,” Soseh said softly to her daughter, “I am still alive, and no, I am not under his control.” Soseh reached down and slipped Gabriella’s wand out of her hand, and then did the same with Harry’s. “Release them, Dakhil.” An instant later Harry and Gabriella were free. Gabriella jumped to her feet and wrapped her arms around Soseh.

“Mama, I thought...” and she buried her head in her mother’s shoulder. Harry rose with more caution, looking to see if perhaps he might Accio the wand from Soseh’s hand.

“Dakhil flew to protect me against the beasts,” Soseh answered. “He is an old friend, very old.” Soseh smiled saying these last words.

“What did you say about Sirius and the others?” Harry asked. “Who’s Marek?” He turned and faced Dakhil. “And who are you?” His tone was not meant to be biting, but Harry did not like the man standing before him, and Harry never liked to lose a duel.

“And I see he has the memory of a gnat,” sneered Dakhil, turning his back on Harry and returning to the stove. Gabriella released her mother and looked closely at the large man before her.

“Mr. Barghouti?” she asked slowly, and then Harry remembered – he had met Dakhil at the Darbinyan’s last year during Christmas vacation. He had been smoking with Gabriella’s father, and was introduced as a colleague of Grigor’s at the university. Harry didn’t care much for him then either.

“Do you not see the fire in his eyes, Dakhil?” asked Soseh.

“And you think this is enough for him to be accepted into the Votary of the Dragon?” Dakhil squealed, his deep voice pitching higher.

“Green fire,” replied Soseh calmly. Dakhil’s eyes widened, but Harry took no notice.

“Where are the others?” Harry asked with irritation. “Tell me now! Are they safe?” Soseh stepped over to him and smiled.

“Yes, Harry,” she answered, looking into his eyes and then handing him his wand. They are but a few doors away.” Harry moved at once to the door.

“Where?” he asked, failing to open the lock. Soseh took him by the arm.

“It is not safe,” she said. “The beasts still fly overhead.”

“Then we’ll Apparate,” said Gabriella.

“Not through these walls you won’t,” growled Dakhil. “If you could Apparate out, they could Apparate in, at least some of them.”

“We will have to wait until morning,” said Soseh. “Right now, we should eat.” Harry was still not sure he should let down his guard. Was he any more than a prisoner? He stepped close to Gabriella, took her by the elbow, and walked her over to a corner of the room. It wasn’t much privacy, but it’s the best they could do.

“I know they’re a long way off, but can you sense them?” he asked. “Sirius and the rest, are they okay?”

“I know Mama,” she replied, “and she speaks the truth. They are safe.”

“Unless she is under some kind of vampire spell,” said Harry with concern. At this Gabriella laughed and walked over to her mother and hugged her again. Soseh handed Gabriella her wand. Harry was feeling very trapped, but slipped his wand away and pulled off his wet robes.

“Here,” said Gabriella, and she dried them with her wand. Harry returned the favour, and set the robes across a chair near the door. His stomach was grumbling, but he had a vision of blood stew. Still, his nose drew him nearer the stove.

“So,” he said to Dakhil, trying not to stare, “you’re a… em, a vampire.” Dakhil just glared at Harry, and pulled bowls down from the cupboard. “Erm, how did you know what spell we were going—”

“Because I can read your mind, what there is of one, like an open book.” Dakhil conjured a table in the middle of the room and set down the bowls. Soseh stepped over and helped him set the table.

“Dakhil joined the Votary long before he became a vampire, Harry,” she said, placing spoons around the table. “His allegiance is ever first with Asha and her kin.” She touched Harry gently on the arm. “As it will be with you.”

After dinner, Dakhil lit his pipe and sat by the fire. Soseh sat next to him. There was a small couch and Harry sat down hoping that Gabriella would choose to sit next to him. He had expected her to forget about Hermione, but she was as cold through dinner as ever. Harry slid over and offered the space next to him, but Gabriella ignored the offer.

“I’m tired, Mama,” she said quietly. “I think I’ll lie down.” She kissed her mother on the cheek, thanked Dakhil for their rescue and, saying nothing to Harry, she retired behind a set of curtains that the vampire had set up as a make-shift bedroom. Dakhil noted the expression on Harry’s face.

“Things don’t seem to be as cosy between the two of you as they were last Christmas.” He took another long drag from his pipe and blew a billowing puff of smoke that circled in on itself as it rose to the ceiling. “Do you know why you’re here, boy?” Harry never liked being called boy and certainly found it offensive since he’d turned of age. He’d faced the greatest dark wizard of the century and destroyed him; he was no boy.

Harry glared back at Dakhil with fire in his eyes. “Read my mind now,” he whispered. Harry rose from the couch and walked to the corner of the large room and sat on the floor staring intently at the bloodsucker before him. Harry had no intention of sleeping tonight. He pulled his wand and closed his mind. The wand made Dakhil chuckle; the barrier rising around Harry’s mental faculties caught him by surprise. Still, the vampire’s tongue was sharp.

“You’d destroy me, if it weren’t for Soseh,” conjectured Dakhil, his eyes narrowing. “And you’d leave if it wasn’t for Gabriella, even though I saved your lives.”

“There are butchers in London,” said Harry wisely, “that keep their chickens alive in back so that there’s always a fresh one to kill.” He rolled his wand in his hand. “There’ll be no killing here tonight, and at first light we’ll join our friends and finish what we started.”

“Someone has ALREADY died!” spat Dakhil, rising to his feet. “And YOU killed him!” He crossed the room pointing his finger at Harry, but looking at Soseh. “Bogden would still be alive, if it weren’t for his indecision!”

“That could not be helped,” Soseh said calmly, but with a deep regret in her voice.

“Is this boy’s training worth a man’s life?!”

“Yes,” she replied with certainty. Dakhil shook his head in disbelief, and walked away from her.

“Tell that to Bogden’s children,” he sneered. He began to pace the room, clearing tables, organizing objects from one spot to another and, every so often, casting glances at Harry who still sat in the corner. Finally, he sat back down in his chair.

“Soseh,” he said in a calmer, almost soft, voice, “since you were a young girl, you have never been wrong, and long ago I learned not to question your sight. But this… this child?” He stood again and turned to Harry.

“Tell me, boy, wouldn’t you rather gather your friends and be on your way to that cosy little school of yours?”

Harry shook his head no. “I face the dragon tomorrow, and join the Votary.”

“If you live,” Dakhil emphasized, with a hiss in his voice that sent a cold shiver down Harry’s spine. “And for what? The love of a girl? Bah!” He spat on the floor. At this, Harry took to his feet.

“Ebyrth returns,” Harry said. “Soon the Dementors and the Centaurs will battle.” Dakhil only laughed – a deep, throaty guffaw of tearing tin.

“Through the centuries I have seen three such wars. Can you look around the world and tell me what mark they have left? The kin of Asha will not interfere in such a battle, even if it were to save your neck.” And with these words, Dakhil seemed to convince himself that he had found the nugget he’d been searching for. “Is that what it is, boy? You’re afraid. The Centaurs called on you as their sacrifice and even though you survived the Cleansing you’re afraid you’ll die in the battle to come.” He stepped closer to Harry, and dropped his voice to a low whisper, his eyes flashing white and revealing, only for an instant, the vampire that was within. “Let me tell you, boy, death at the hands of a Dementor will seem delightful when compared to what will happen to your soul when you fail at the breath of Singehorn!”

Harry narrowed his own eyes and rolled his wand in his hand. The gesture was clearly threatening, and Dakhil took it as such. The vampire’s movements were incredibly fast. He muttered something in a foreign tongue and in that instant Harry’s wand was flying from his hand.

“Threaten me, boy?” Dakhil moved forward toward Harry raising his own wand.

“Dakhil!” cried Soseh. “Don’t!”

Harry raised his right hand and cried out, “Levicorpus!” Then, he closed his right hand in a fist. The result of the spell was not what one might expect. Yes, Dakhil’s body was lifted from the ground, but not by his legs. Rather, it was as if someone had tied a noose around his neck and was drawing the knot tight, high into the air. Dakhil’s head hit the ceiling and he began to sputter for air unable to speak. “Accio wand!” Harry called, retrieving his wand into his left hand while still clenching his right.

“Harry, stop!” demanded Soseh. “You’re choking him!”

“Vampires can’t die, can they Soseh?” He stepped next to the dangling Dakhil. “Besides, I’m only a boy, I don’t know if I remember the counter jinx.” He took Dakhil’s wand, levitated him over to the corner where Harry sat, and bound him with ropes, all the while keeping a grip around his throat that would not let him speak. Finally, ignoring Soseh’s protestations, he stepped close to the vampire.

“Mr. Barghouti, let me introduce myself,” Harry said with a vicious voice. “My name is Harry Potter. I’ve been touched by darkness and death. I have defeated both Dementor and Dragon, and if you think that this boy is afraid of either, you are sadly mistaken, for I am no more afraid than I am a boy.” Harry turned and considered the ten inches of oak in his hand and what a well placed thrust would accomplish, and then he looked back at his captive.

“There is a darkness returning to this land, and if you too have been touched by both darkness and death as I know you have, then you can smell it in the air and taste it in the water. Unless, of course, you are its servant.” For a moment, Harry again pondered driving the oak wand into the vampire’s heart, but in the corner of his eye he saw Gabriella. She had stepped out from the curtains and was simply watching, silent; for how long he didn’t know. He threw the oak at Dakhil’s feet. “I join the Votary to defeat the darkness and all who would stand against the light.” Harry raised his own wand, uttered the spell and released Dakhil from his stranglehold and bonds, and then he turned his back and walked away.

He fully expected to be jumped, or stunned or screamed at, but nothing came. He looked at Gabriella’s eyes, but they were fixed on the man behind him. He noted the wand in her hand and realized she too was waiting for something to happen. Instead, Dakhil, without saying a word, walked over to the cupboard and poured himself a glass of wine drinking it in one large gulp; then he poured himself another. Finally, he looked at Soseh.

“I can not teach them,” he said shaking his head. “They are too brash, too young. They would never listen.”

“The old ways are new to them, Dakhil,” answered Soseh. “They have much to learn, and too little time.”

“And this one.” He pointed at Harry. “He is not ready to face the dragon,” Dakhil insisted stubbornly. “Let him return next year. Maybe then—”

“You heard Harry,” Soseh interrupted. “His words ring true; you have said as much. The darkness will not wait. If you do not teach them the old ways, it will rise again. He will be blind against the darkness. I have spoken of our fate if we do not act.” For a moment Dakhil considered her words, and then he faced Harry and considered the young wizard before him.

“Never,” he said bitterly. A moment later Dakhil had conjured a cloak, spun in a whirlwind of blackness, and disappeared as if he were being sucked into the earth. Soseh let out a tremendous sigh of resignation and rubbed her face with her hands.

“Well, that could have gone better. Come, Gabriella,” she said, “let’s be off to bed. Harry, I’m afraid you’ll have to take the floor. I don’t know where he conjures the beds from and I’m sure the couch is too small.” Soseh stepped over to her daughter who still stood at the curtain shielding the bed behind.

“What fate, Mama?” she asked. “The fate I have seen? My fate?” Gabriella’s words held fright, an emotion he’d rarely seen in her.

“It’s time for bed, my dear,” Soseh replied, reaching up to kiss her daughter’s forehead. “Good night, Harry.” And the two women slipped behind the curtain, out of sight.

Harry’s pulse was pounding as he squatted onto a small strip of dirty carpet that lay at the foot of the two chairs in the living room. He hadn’t been this angry since… since…. He clenched and released his hands trying to let the rage run out his fingers. “Let it go,” he whispered to himself. He grabbed a small pillow and slid down to the floor. It didn’t make sense, any of it. Three weeks of pure heaven and the last 24 hours had been pure hell. Why now? Why just before he was to meet Singehorn? And how, in Merlin’s name, could a vampire be a member of the Votary? And worse, how could such a beast think Harry unworthy?

He found his heart pounding again and looked over to see the coffee table floating a few inches off the ground. He took in yet another deep breath, trying to gather his emotions, and slowly the table settled to the floor. He dimmed the room’s light, but would not extinguish the candles completely. Closing his eyes, he could hear in the distance the faint screech of what he now knew to be vampires. Were they in pain, or striking for another kill? Harry could not tell, but with each distant yell his mind’s eye flashed on the sight of Bogden’s corpse.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered to the darkness. He rubbed his face and sat up looking over to the curtain that shielded Soseh and Gabriella. Were they asleep? He certainly wasn’t; he certainly couldn’t. He stood and walked over to the corner where he had considered killing the vampire… Mr. Barghouti.

“A member of the Votary?” he whispered in disbelief.

In the same corner he fell backwards against the wall. From here he could see the room in front of him; from here he could protect them, keep them safe. Still holding his wand at the ready, he slid down to the floor and pulled his knees to his chest. He would not sleep tonight. Soon the cries and distant screeches faded into silence. The night’s voice began its rhythmic beat as the sound of crickets mixed with the whistle of the breeze. Still, Harry’s eyes remained fixed and firm, steadfast and sure. He watched as the onset of dawn was greeted by the song of birds just outside the door.

He impatiently stood guard as the darkness gave way to light, and then the first beam of the sun’s rays broke through a crack in the top of the door. The moment the shaft of light entered the room he heard the door click and he knew its enchantments had been released. Stiff and sore, he took to his feet, walked over and tried the latch; it moved freely. He stepped out blinking in the morning’s light, the cool mountain air sending a short shiver through his body. A large man was pushing an old wooden cart down the path that entered into the forest where they had found Bogden’s body. What it was carrying Harry couldn’t tell. He took another step into the light; the man was headed toward danger and Harry needed to warn him.

“Wait!” Harry called. “Sir, there are vampires in there.” The man looked over at Harry, squinting his eyes; he was rather burly with long reddish hair that shot out in every direction. Still, there was wisdom in his expression, something learned about his eyes.

“English?” he asked setting down the cart and walking briskly toward Harry, a bit too quickly for Harry’s comfort. A few feet away he put on a broad toothy grin, wiped his large hand on his pants and held it out for Harry to shake. There was a none-too-pleasant odour about the man. “You must be the one they have been talking about.” He grabbed Harry’s hand and shook it vigorously. “Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Potter. My name is Marek. The whole village has heard what you did back in Britain – and for a boy your age! We’re all forever in your debt.” He stood smiling, placing his hands on his hips which only served to broaden his shoulders. Harry wondered if perhaps he might have giant blood in him. “Well, I’m sure your friends will be happy to see you’re alive; they wouldn’t take my word for it.”

“Friends?” shot Harry. “You’ve seen my friends? Where are they?”

“Back in my cabin,” answered Marek. “They would have stayed up all night if I hadn’t slipped them a sleeping draught. Advantages of being a Healer, eh? They should all be waking up soon. I needed to get these things—”

“Cabin?” interrupted Harry. “Where?”

“Second on the left,” answered the man pointing a finger back into the village. “There’s a caduceus outside the door.” Harry took a step and began to run down into the village, then stopped himself and turned back. “You… you’re Marek?”

“Yes, sir. I am.” Harry stepped up and took Marek’s hand in both of his.

“Marek,” said Harry, with a slight bow of his head, “it is I who am forever in your debt. Thank you, sir, for taking in my friends, my family.” Marek blushed a bit and nodded his head back at Harry.

“I couldn’t have done it without Dakhil’s help,” said Marek. The words took Harry back a bit. Marek slapped his hands together. “Well, we won’t have to worry about those monsters coming back for a while. I’ve never seen anything like it – Centaurs killed about eight of the beasts. They don’t usually roam these parts. I’m taking all that’s left of their blood sucking evil, their dark robes, to burn now. Just in case… you know.” But Harry didn’t know, and for a moment he thought to ask, but his mind was more focused on his friends. Marek took a deep breath and let it out as if the mountain air rejuvenated his very soul. “Well, like I said, they should be waking soon.” He turned and started pushing the wooden cart back into the forest. Harry shot down the hill into the village and toward Marek’s cabin.

When Harry pushed open the door he found the three sleeping in separate cots, each covered in a thick bear skin. A tremendous sense of relief washed over him as he stood watching them sleeping peacefully. Sirius was the first to rouse. He blinked as Harry stood smiling over him.

“Well, it’s about time,” said Harry with a smirk. “Some of us have been up all night, sick with worry.”

“Harry?” asked Sirius groggily. “Harry!” He shot up and grabbed Harry around the shoulders and squeezed him hard. “Merlin, we thought you were gone forever. When I saw them take you into the air like Soseh…” Sirius quaked and squeezed again as if trying to make sure that Harry were still alive.

“Keep squeezing like that,” gasped Harry, “and I’m a goner for sure.” Sirius released Harry, but then held him about the shoulders.

“And Soseh? Gabriella?” he asked with apprehension. “Marek said—”

“They’re both fine,” answered Harry. “We were all taken in by a… er, man Soseh knows.”

“The vampire, Dakhil,” came a voice from the other side of the room. Remus was awake and sitting up in his bed. “She told me that we might meet. I didn’t think it would be like this.”

“She’s friends with a vampire!” exclaimed Sirius.

“Well,” answered Remus, rubbing his face as he took to his feet, “we can’t all have the same great taste in friendships that you do Sirius.” He slapped Sirius on the shoulder, and Harry could have sworn he let out a little growl as he walked by.

Harry sat over on Hermione’s cot and roused her awake. The moment she saw Harry, she wrapped him in her arms. “Thank God,” she whispered.

“You were brilliant,” Harry said. “I saw you take down two of them.”

“I was an idiot,” said Hermione. “They weren’t down for long. If it hadn’t been for Remus, I think we would have all been taken last night.” Harry looked over at Remus with a questioning look.

“Vampires don’t like splinters,” he answered quietly with a shrug.

“No,” laughed Sirius, “not when you’re firing a whole tree at them, splintered into a thousand pieces. Do they teach you that in werewolf school?” Remus just rolled his eyes and washed his face at the kitchen sink.

“Well, we’re safe now,” said Remus, drying his hands with a towel. “We’d best get cleaned up and start on up the mountain.”

“Mama will have breakfast ready in fifteen minutes.”

Harry turned to see Gabriella standing at the door. How long had she been there? Quickly, he pulled his hands away from Hermione and stood. He wanted to say something like, “It’s not what you think,” but before he could utter a word Gabriella had slipped out the door and headed back up the village road. His shoulders slumped to the floor.

“She’s not very talkative,” said Sirius. “Did something happen we should know about?” Harry did not answer. “I see. Well then, Harry, you’d best be on your way. We’ll get ready here and meet you at your… erm, where are you, exactly.”

“We’re at the wood shed that looks like an outhouse,” answered Harry weakly.

“Very good,” said Sirius. “We’ll meet you at your outhouse in fifteen minutes!”

“Sure,” said Harry without conviction. He wasn’t too keen on heading back to meet with Soseh and Gabriella. He was feeling a tiny pang of guilt for being such an ass toward Dakhil, but just thinking of the creature made Harry slip his hand into his pocket and feel for his wand.

Breakfast passed with very few words. Marek had found the Hippogriffs feeding in the forest and was able to retrieve the group’s gear, but the creatures were too injured to fly further.

“As it should be” said Soseh as she slipped a shawl around her shoulders. “We will walk the rest of the way.”

“But we won’t make it before nightfall,” asserted Hermione.

“No. We won’t,” agreed Sirius, who was also concerned. No one wanted another night-time run in with the vampires.

“Within an hour we will be within Singehorn’s realm and under his protection,” answered Soseh with cool confidence. “Nothing will dare attack us the rest of the way without his approval.”

“Without his approval?” asked Sirius. But Soseh ignored him and looked at Harry with, perhaps, the coldest eyes he had ever seen.

“We are mere guides on the rest of the journey, nothing more than companions. It is Harry who must be prepared for attack… for death.” There was no smile. Soseh was serious, deadly serious.

“As you have been told, once we cross into his realm, Harry,” Soseh continued, “the trials will begin. I had hoped that Dakhil would have instructed you for the challenges you must now face. Alas, not even I can see everything. Your fate and the fates of those who would travel further are now in your hands.” There was a moment of silence that was broken by Harry’s godfather.

“This is bloody insane!” he cried, spinning on Harry. “It’s time to head back home. You should be worrying about what classes you’re taking at Hogwarts this year, what parties you’ll be going to, not facing vampires and the challenges of some damn dragon.” He held Harry by the arm and pleaded, “Let’s just go home.”

Harry glanced into Sirius’ eyes and quickly scanned the room. Once again, all were waiting for his decision. All that is, except Gabriella. She had made every effort not to look at Harry throughout the morning and this moment, however important, was no exception. She was purposefully avoiding him as she washed the morning’s dishes. Since the two had arrived in Greece, he had been thwarted on this journey. It was as if at every turn and at every new step a sign was posted warning him to stop and turn back. But he couldn’t stop now. It was bigger than him, bigger than them all. Whatever his future with Gabriella, he needed the power of the dragon to help turn the tide against the darkness he could feel growing all around them. Harry thought back to Astronomy class with Professor Sinistra. The gears of the clockwork which had been humming so marvellously of late were, at least to Harry’s senses, grinding. Something more than just a Dementor attack on the Centaurs was looming in the future.

“The next person who asks me to stop and turn tail will find one growing out between their buttocks. Is that clear?” Sirius smiled slightly, and everyone, but Gabriella, nodded in acknowledgement. Gabriella dried the last dish as if nothing had been said at all.

Soon they were on their way. Scattered rays of sunlight shot down through cracks in the canopy of the forest, but the air remained cool and damp. A thick layer of pine needles layered the forest floor as they moved silently ever upward. Sirius was having the most difficulty hiking, and at one point turned into a dog.

“Just an excuse for me to carry his pack,” nagged Remus to Harry as they trudged onward, the dog panting blissfully ahead, sniffing at every opportunity.

After about an hour, the trees began to thin, and soon even the scent of pine had disappeared completely. They were entering a region that had long ago been sheered by glaciers. The earth had been stripped to the rock below, and very little grew except for the short grasses which gave everything a mossy look. Large, rough hewn rocks were everywhere, and the terrain climbed ever upward toward the sharp peaks still tipped with snow.

“Ostrý Roháč, breathed Soseh. “We will enter from the western edge.” She pointed to a sharp peak that looked like a horn jutting upward. “I’m sorry Sirius, but Harry must lead from this point. He will know the way.”

Harry took a step forward in front of the others. It was hard to imagine that they would make the peak by nightfall, particularly with Soseh. In fact, he knew it would be impossible. He took another step forward and could feel the tips of his fingers tingling. It wasn’t winter, but at this altitude, when the sun fell, it would be bitter cold. Harry turned to the others.

“You don’t need to be here with me,” he said. “Apparate back down to the village. I’ll… I’ll be fine.”

“No one can Apparate from here, Harry,” answered Remus. “We can walk down, but we won’t – unless you choose to join us. Which way will it be?”

Harry looked at the path winding its way back down into the forest. If they began now, they would easily return safely. Then he looked at the rocky path upward, if one could call it a path. Few, if any, travelled this way, and despite what Soseh said, Harry had no clue which way to go, other than up. A large eagle, set against the blue sky, was soaring in the distance and soon faded from view. Finally, he gathered himself and focused his thoughts on the way ahead.

“We climb to the dragon,” he said with confidence. Everyone’s expressions, to his surprise, brightened noticeably. It was as if they’d been waiting for this moment all along. But when he looked at Gabriella, he couldn’t help but notice something even more surprising. Sliding down the right side of her cheek was a glistening tear that caught the afternoon’s sunlight. For a moment her black eyes looked as if they might explode with tears, but as quickly as the look appeared it had vanished. He turned and looked back at dead terrain and the ominous peaks above. His back to the others, Harry swallowed hard.

“Of course, she would know,” he thought to himself. Climbing up onto a rock that he thought might be the path ahead, his hands began to tremble. It wasn’t the cold that made him shiver; he was afraid.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 4 - Trappings
~~~***~~~


They’d been walking for about thirty minutes when Harry noticed something strange -- the path in front of him was growing clearer. It wasn't that it was more worn, or wider, or distinct in any way; it was simply more familiar, like the pattern of moving staircases one needed to take when ascending to Gryffindor tower which Harry now accomplished without a second thought. It was as if he’d travelled this way before, and with each step he became more certain of which way to take the next. He didn’t know why he hadn't seen if before; the way ahead seemed now so obvious.

The others followed, huffing and panting, in single file behind him as he wove his way between the rocks and crags on up the mountain path. By mid-afternoon they came to a lake, or more like a very large pond, surrounded by the only meaningful vegetation they had seen since they left the forest.

“Let’s stop here,” said Hermione breathing heavily.

A number of the others muttered general agreement, all very tired. Sirius transformed back from dog and looked longingly at the water. Harry scanned the terrain; it did seem very inviting. The lake was a refreshing change to their previous scenery and offered a diversion, however short, from the task ahead. Nonetheless, Harry was uneasy. Gabriella’s grandmother had warned him not to tarry on the way, but certainly that warning allowed for short breaks. Yet for no good reason, this place made him uncomfortable; just as the path they had been taking left him with a feeling of familiarity, the small lake was, for no good reason, foreboding.

“I think we should press on,” Harry said. “It’s not getting any lighter.” He made a gesture toward the late afternoon sun, not wanting to say that this place gave him the creeps.

“Harry, come on! Let’s have a rest,” pleaded Sirius.

Already Gabriella and Hermione were taking off their packs. Sirius walked over to join them. The cool air was warmer here, and the wind that was blowing earlier diminished to a fragrant breeze, but the hair bristled on the back of Harry’s neck.

“What is it?” asked Remus, noting Harry’s tone and observing his expression which was growing more sour by the moment. “What do you see?”

“I don't see anything," answered Harry, vexed. “I just don’t like this place.”

“Come on you three.” called Remus to the others. Hermione and Gabriella were headed to the water’s edge, and Sirius was only a few steps behind them. “This is not the spot to rest; we're leaving now.”

“Honestly, Remus,” complained Sirius as he stopped to look back at his best friend. “I have never known you to rest for more than five minutes in your life. The most frail of us all and you never….” He sighed, shaking his head and took a half step toward Remus. “Listen, let us just take two minutes and I promise—”

“Hermione, DON’T!” Harry screamed as an overwhelming panic washed over him, but it was too late. Her hand had touched the water and instantly an aquatic vine wrapped itself around her wrist and began to pull her in. Gabriella grabbed Hermione about the waist as the two girls cried for help. The same thing had happened to Ron at the falls in the Forbidden Forest, but this was different; Harry could feel that there was evil at play here.

Suddenly, everything snapped into slow motion; at least it felt that way to Harry. He watched as Sirius slowly turned to see what Harry was yelling about. Harry ran toward the girls, step-by-step, wishing his legs would move faster as Soseh and Remus followed to help. He had come even with Sirius who was slipping out his wand. A few steps past his godfather, Harry watched in horror as both Hermione and Gabriella were pulled wholly into the water without a splash, as if they had been swallowed alive by thick, syrupy goo. First to arrive at the water’s edge, and without hesitation, Harry dove to their rescue, but landed on a solid sheet of ice, sliding nearly half way across the pond. He scrambled to his feet and, as if someone threw on a switch, everything was back to live action.

“Incendio!” he yelled trying to blast a hole in the ice. “Incendio Forte!” The bright red beams of fire just bounced off. “Frusto!” he cried, hoping to shatter the ice – still nothing. Soon, Remus and Sirius were at his side, but just as Sirius readied his wand Soseh held up her hands.

“STOP!” she cried out, causing Sirius to pull up short. “The challenges here are not yours, Sirius, anymore than they are mine. This is Harry’s journey and his alone!” She walked to the edge of the now frozen pond, her face ashen as she peered down on its green surface. “Harry’s journey,” she whispered and swallowed hard.

“Soseh,” implored Remus, “you can’t mean that. We can’t leave the girls trapped here to die.”

“We spoke of the risks long before the journey began, Remus,” answered Soseh, holding her hand across her mouth and fighting back tears. “You have no magic here.” Sirius looked at his wand and then pointed it at the ice.

“Incendio!” he called, pointing his wand to the ice, but nothing happened, not even a spark. His eyes looked into Harry’s and were filled with fear; he shook his head no. Sirius dropped to his knees and began to pound on the unyielding ice with his fists until droplets of blood began to fleck the glistening surface. It was Harry who finally reached down to stop him.

“It’s… it’s no use,” Harry choked pulling Sirius back by the shoulders. “They’re gone.” His words lilted into almost a question that he asked in disbelief. “They’re gone.”

The wind began to blow again and whistled about the rocks, jeering at Harry in defiance. The greenery that had earlier surrounded the water now was dried, brown and lifeless. He looked up toward the peak which now appeared farther away than ever. The path upward was, in Harry’s mind, still clear, but at its end waited the breath of doom.

“What have I done?” Harry asked, falling to his knees on the frozen sheet of green ice. Soseh still stood at the pond’s edge, her hands tucked into the deep pockets of her coat. She had regained her composure, and her face bore no expression as she waited for Harry to make his decision. The passive look on her face simply made him slump further and, tears building in his eyes, he placed his hands on the ice. It was warm. He moved his hands to another place; again the ice was warm.

“It’s warm,” he said softly.

“It’s frozen solid,” said Sirius, “it’s as cold as ice.”

“Put your hand here,” said Harry, motioning for Sirius to touch where he held his hand. Sirius obliged. “Can you feel the heat?” Harry asked. Sirius looked up at Harry.

“All I feel is cold,” he replied; he pounded again. Harry looked at Soseh.

“What’s going on here?” he called to her. He took to his feet, walked over to the pond’s edge and held her gently by one arm. “What is this place?” he asked.

“There are places, Harry, all around the earth, filled with tremendous amounts of energy. The lair of Singehorn is one such place; the great falls of Hogwarts are another. The ancient peoples learned to tap into these sources of energy, each unique in its own way. The mountains here are like volcanoes that erupt and vent and spew forth magic of all kinds. Not all such energy is good. These mountains are the birthplace of dragons and vampires and werewolves, but if you blindly consider all such things as evil you will never have embraced the true meaning of the Votary.”

Harry watched as Remus helped Sirius to his feet and they all gathered at Harry’s side. Harry looked back at the sheet of ice and then at Soseh.

“They’re not gone, are they?” he said with a glimmer of hope in his voice that lacked conviction. “It’s some sort of Portkey, or time portal, or something; isn’t it?” Soseh looked at Harry and her face was grim.

“If you fail, Harry, they will be lost forever.”

“Then there is hope,” Harry said, more to himself than any of the others. He focused fully on the path upward that, at least to Harry’s eyes, glimmered red and gold, and then he started off without looking back. “I must not fail. I must not falter. I must be strong before the altar,” Harry whispered to himself, repeating the rhyme that Gabriella’s grandmother had told him when they visited her in Armenia. He did not gaze back upon the icy grave, nor ask the others to follow. Yet, he heard their steps behind him and the huffs and grimaces of Sirius as they all continued to trudge up the mountain; that, at least, was comforting.

No one spoke as they climbed ever upward. The sunlight waned and the sky began to turn the colour of rust as if reflecting the barren landscape that surrounded them. It was turning dark and growing considerably colder as they came upon a large outcropping of rocks. Here there was a path ahead, clearly distinguishable by all of them. It was well worn and often trodden, but the path Harry could see glimmering ahead of them twisted away from this trail, turning up and to the left into a craggy region that would mean a sheer and dangerous climb upward. The well worn trail continued straight along the direction they’d been travelling for the last few minutes and then turned to the right where the terrain was smooth but then dipped out of view just past a sharp ridge.

“Why are you stopping, Harry?” Sirius asked breathlessly, patting Harry on the shoulder and walking past along the well worn way. “Don’t tell me your… old godfather’s out-… pacing you.” Sirius was breathing heavily, but proud about staying up with Harry. He grinned back at his godson and took a few backward steps up the path ahead.

“I don’t think that’s the way,” answered Harry quietly, still staring along the path that led to the crags. About ten yards ahead, Sirius stopped and bent low, putting his hands to his knees and trying to catch his breath. Soseh and Remus were still about thirty yards back.

“And which way should we go?” he asked, taking in a deep breath of air. Harry pointed to the left.

“Up those crags,” he answered decisively. Sirius took a look at the more difficult path and thought his godson had lost his mind.

“You’re kidding, right?” Then a smile broke out on his face. “Hah, hah! Thought you could get me, didn’t you?” Sirius slapped his hands together. “Come on. I’ll race you to the top!” Sirius transformed into a dog, barked playfully and began to bound ahead.

“Sirius, wait!” Harry called just as Soseh and Remus finally reached his side.

“What’s the matter?” Remus puffed, as the three watched Sirius jump ahead and then dip from view.

“That’s not the—“

There was a yelp – short and shrill – that pierced the twilight.

“SIRIUS!” Harry yelled, and he began to run up the path that he had warned Sirius not to follow. Remus tried to give chase, but his strength faltered; he slipped on loose stones and tumbled backwards, sliding down the path only to be caught by Soseh who was herself too tired to move.

As quickly as he could, Harry scrambled to the small ridge of the hill that Sirius had disappeared behind. If his legs had been fresh, he might have continued on and over, but as he was well past exhaustion he stopped short on top. It was fortunate that he did, for as he reached the top he saw that beyond the sharp ridge the rocks fell away into a huge crevasse some twenty feet across. The failing light made it impossible to see more than a few feet down. Indeed, the crevasse was eerily dark, too dark for the conditions.

“Sirius!” Harry cried out, but all he heard was the echo of his own voice and the whistling of the wind about the rocks. Or was he hearing the whimper of a dog? “Lumos Forte!” called Harry, and even though the light emanating from his wand was blinding to look at, its rays were lost in the cavernous deep which kept its bowels hidden from those who might try to peer within. Only the wind made its presence known, and even that was playing tricks on Harry’s ears. It began to rhythmically beat against the rocks with a sound reminiscent of an enormous Hippogriff taking flight.

“SIRIUS!” Harry cried again. His voice was panicked and, for a moment, he was lost, his mind not knowing which way to turn, and then it turned for help. Certainly Remus would know what to do.

“Remus can you—”

Down the hill where the two paths had forked, at the spot where Soseh had stopped Remus from falling further, there was no one. Harry stood and yelled, “Remus!” There was no answer. A gust of wind whipped at Harry’s face, nearly pushing him over into the crevasse. Surely they would not have left, unless… unless….

“REMUS! SOSEH!” Harry cried out, but the wind was howling furiously now making it impossible to hear anything else. As the stars began to break out across the night’s curtain of black, Harry turned his gaze upward. A solitary something slipped across the night sky, quickly disappearing over the mountain’s peaks, blotting out the little pinpricks of burgeoning light as it passed. Harry was sure he’d seen that something the night before.

“No, no, no, no, NOOO!” he screamed to the sky, and, for a moment, the earth shook beneath his feet sending showers of rocks tumbling down the mountain below.

The only company Harry had now was the crimson and gold glimmer that marked, in Harry’s mind’s eye, the path he was to take to the lair of Singehorn. It was calling him to follow, beckoning him to the duty for which he was destined. Harry’s left foot slid down from the ridge toward the lighted trail, and then he heard it again – a whimper; it had to be a whimper. He crawled back to the ridge, pointed his wand into the crevasse, and shot a blast of red sparks. For the first few feet, the tiny flares shone bright, but then disappeared into nothingness.

Harry cast one more glance at the shimmer of the path that was calling him onward, but chose instead to climb into the darkness that had swallowed Sirius. He slipped his wand away and then lowered his legs over the edge of the ridge, feeling for something that would give him a toe hold, but finding none. Looking down it was as if he were swimming in a pool of darkness that rose to his waste; below that line, he could see nothing. He slid his torso lower, losing his best handhold, and still his feet felt nothing but a sheer wall. Finally, he lowered himself until he was only hanging from his fingertips. “Just like being tossed off your broom,” he whispered to himself, reassuringly.

Swinging from side to side, he felt the tip of his toe brush against something. Whether it was this sensation, or simple exhaustion, his fingers let go their clutch and he began to fall downward. His stomach lurched upward in his throat and his hands swung wildly about reaching for anything, and finding nothing. It felt an eternity, falling in the utter darkness, not even the light of the stars shining down from above. Then, suddenly, he was met by the earth, landing hard on his left side and feeling the bones in his left arm snap under his weight. He cried out in pain, grabbing his left arm with his right. His cries echoed back, but their return tone was dull and deadened.

If the bottom had been stone, he surely would have shattered into pieces, but it was thick and soft, layered in what felt like a spongy moss. The air was still here and heavy with a rich, damp, loamy odour that reminded Harry of the Burrow in spring. He twisted and rose up on his knees. Using his wand he tried to set the break, and perhaps he did, but not well. He winced in pain trying to move the fingers of his left arm, and was sure that it would snap again if he put any real pressure on it.

“Sirius,” he whispered, not sure why he was keeping his voice low. “Sirius.”

Harry lit his wand which was again blinding to look at, but reflected off nothing, not even the mossy floor on which Harry now stood. An eerie feeling crawled up his spine, and he twisted his head around hoping to catch the eyes that he surely felt were fixed on him, but all was darkness. He had no idea which way to go, and so decided to mark off a square, and then widen it ever outward. He was on his third pass, when he came to a wall, and even with his lit wand right up next to its surface he could not make out the stone of which it was made. He tried some counter hexes that sometimes worked against concealment charms, but they had no effect. The edge of the wall, running vertically upward, was smooth and offered no foothold for a return trip up. Harry continued to widen his pattern.

On the fifth pass, he saw a glimmer on the ground; it was Sirius’ wand. Harry held his own wand higher up into the air, and saw black shining back against the nothingness. It was Sirius as a dog. When Harry came up and placed his hand against Sirius’ side, the dog recoiled in pain, but made no sound other than the short, shallow breaths that were the only thing to be heard in the darkness. Harry held out his wand and a blue light fell onto Sirius’ fur.

“It’s your ribs,” said Harry. “You’ve punctured a lung… maybe more.” He looked upward, hoping to assess a way out, but all that looked down at him was more inky black. Then his attention returned to Sirius, and he tried another spell to heal the lung, but it didn’t work. The dog continued to wheeze, and then let out a short whimper. In little more than a moment, the dog was man and he looked miserable.

“I… can’t… breath,” Sirius wheezed, gasping at every word. A trickle of blood slipped out the edge of his nose. “I’m… dying.”

“You’re not dying!” said Harry sternly, but, inside, he thought Sirius might be right. He tried another spell, but to no avail. For all he knew…. Harry leaned back, and sat upon the mossy ground. He placed his hand over the spot where Goyle had run him through with a broom last year. He was missing a piece of liver there and was supposed to return to have it tended to this summer. Instead, he chose to use that spot to hide something more precious: the vivificus stone of cinnabar, the Heart of Asha.

He conjured it into the palm of his hand; the sensation was a bit creepy as he held the warm, moist sphere up in the light of his wand. It was truly amazing that such a small stone could resonate the powers of a wizard one-hundred fold. With its help, Harry uncovered his special ability to heal, and using its powers he had pulled Professor Dumbledore back from the brink of death, he had saved the life of a rampaging giant, and had rescued Lucius Malfoy when his left arm had been ripped from its socket. “Wisely done, at least on two accounts,” he thought to himself. But it was the healing of Lucius that had most impressed Gabriella’s grandmother.

“The worm, Pravus,” she had sneered through clenched teeth, as if she had known the cruel dark wizard personally, “crawls throughout eternity, forever mournful of how he turned the stone to darkness. How great then shall be the reward for he who turns the stone to light even in the darkest hour?”

Right now, however, Harry’s need was more practical. He cast a levitation spell and suspended it in midair.

“Out of bravery, fire.” He blasted it with an incendiary spell.

“Out of wisdom, blood.” He opened a small gash in the palm of his left hand and then grasped the ball, letting his blood flow freely into the sphere. Instantly, all became white and Harry knew that he was being asked once again for his intention. For the briefest of moments, he considered healing his own arm first, and a swirl of grey appeared before him, spinning like a tine tornado. But he knew that he mustn’t use the stone on himself. Use of the stone for personal gain was forbidden by members of the Votary and all who had sworn to protect it. So it was with Gabriella and her family, whose line descended directly from the family that had saved the life of Asha, a deed that began the blood-oath between wizard and beast.

“Out of love, true power… Sirius,” he whispered to the nothingness, and the tiny tornado scattered like so many leaves on a gusty fall day. In its place, a burst of colour appeared before him that coalesced into the image of his godfather laying in the darkness. “Heal him,” Harry commanded, and the image faded then burst like a filibuster firework leaving nothing but darkness behind and a solitary pinpoint of light, pure light, the life-force of Sirius. With his mind, Harry reached out and held the light in his hands, pouring his own life force into Sirius and guiding it to heal his wounds. Without the help of the stone, Harry might have placed his own life at risk as he had with Lucius the year before. But with its help, he had power to spare, and once the healing was complete, he pulled away and fell bodily backward next to Sirius on the soft, loamy floor of the crevasse, the stone still clutched tightly in his hand.

He heard Sirius take a short breath, and then a full deep gulp of air as if broaching the surface of the lake after a deep underwater swim to rescue your friends. Harry was a bit dizzy, but sat back up.

“Are you okay?” Harry asked.

“You… you used the stone?” a groggy Sirius asked in return. He spoke as if uttering words for the first time.

“Yeah,” Harry answered. He held up his wand, a flash of purple light filled the darkness, and the stone vanished from his hand. Harry bent over, ever so slightly, as the stone found its home within him. “Don’t tell anyone that I have it, okay?” Sirius looked upward at the darkness surrounding them.

“I wonder if we’ll have the chance to ever tell anybody anything again,” he said. “Gees, and I thought Azkaban was bad.” He stood to his feet and grabbed Harry’s arm to help him up as well, not realizing that it was broken. When Harry groaned, Sirius asked, “You broke it?”

“It’s reset, but not well healed,” Harry answered. “It’s certainly not up to Madame Pomfrey’s standards, and it won’t be of any use if we need to climb out of here.”

“Why don’t you use the stone to—” Sirius began, but then cut himself short, already knowing the answer. “Stupid rules,” he muttered under his breath.

Slowly, the two made their way back to one of the walls of the crevasse. By the light of Harry’s wand, they could see each other, but nothing else. When they found the wall, it was sheer and smooth, and though they followed it for some distance, its form and texture remained flat and constant.

“It’s like a giant sheet of glass,” Sirius said, kicking it in frustration.

“Like a mirror,” Harry muttered, more to himself than to Sirius. “It’s like we’re trapped inside a sheet of glass.” His mind wandered back to the year before when he and Draco were cleaning the cellars and he trapped Peeves behind a glass mirror. He had uttered a spell without really knowing what the spell was. He placed his hands against the wall. “You’re looking at us, aren’t you?” he whispered to the glass. “Like rats in a maze.”

“What are you talking about, Harry?” asked Sirius, wondering if, perhaps, Harry was beginning to lose it.

“Hold my hand, Sirius,” Harry said. Sirius reached over and took it, thinking that Harry was growing frightened.

“Don’t worry, Harry. I’ll figure out a way to—”

“Speculum Expedé!” Harry called out, holding his wand directly at the wall of the crevasse. There was a tremendous whoosh, then a moment of utter silence, and then a large snap. Suddenly, the stars appeared above their heads, and the wind whipped at their faces. They were back on the mountain at the edge of the ridge, looking into the darkness below. Sirius just shook his head in amazement.

“One-hundred percent Potter, as sure as I’m standing here.” Sirius smiled, and ruffled Harry’s hair. “Quick, let’s gather the others and be on our way; there’s still time, I’m sure.”

It took about thirty minutes before Sirius stopped calling Remus’ name, and he only broke off then because his voice was growing hoarse.

“I think they were carried off,” was all that Harry would say, unwilling to offer anymore of an answer to Sirius’ questions, which, to Harry’s relief, were growing more infrequent as his godfather’s voice faltered.

They had followed the more difficult path up the mountain side, and it was slow going. Harry had little use of his right arm and was well past the point of exhaustion. Fortunately Sirius had renewed energy, and with his godfather’s help, Harry made it over the trickier parts of the climb and out onto a vast open space that was very much out of place in what had been, to this point, a stark rockscape.

The crescent moon was climbing in the evening sky and offered just enough light to reveal an enormous meadow covered in thick grass that rose well over waist high. The glimmering path Harry had been following led straight to the middle of this vast clearing, and then disappeared.

“I don’t understand,” said Harry, doubled over and catching his breath. “The path ends just ahead; this can’t be Singehorn’s lair.”

“Then… we press… on… ‘till we… pick it up… again,” Sirius gasped in short sharp breaths. He began to step forward, but then stopped himself, waiting for Harry’s decision. Harry simply nodded and continued forward through the tall dried grass following all that was left of the glimmering trail.

When they came to the end of the path, they found a collection of large flat stones that spanned some ten to twenty feet across. If it had been made of concrete, Harry would have thought it a landing site for Muggle helicopters. As it was, the stones were numerous and uneven like some sort of circular checkerboard that lay in ruin after thousands of years. He scanned the horizon for anything that might seem familiar, might give him some idea of where to go next, but found nothing. He looked back and the glimmering trail that he had been following was gone. Sirius put his hand on Harry’s shoulder and pointed across the field of dead grass to a break in some rocks that might be considered a path that led up toward the sharp peaks of the mountain.

“How ‘bout we try over there?” he asked. He took a step, and Harry grabbed him by the shoulder. Every fibre of his being was telling him not to move.

“We’re here,” Harry whispered.

The moment the words left his lips, a tremendous gust of wind swirled about them. Dust and small stones blew off the rocks, but the tall, dead grass just outside the circle remained calm and still. Another moment later, the wind stopped and Sirius lowered his arm from across his eyes. The two men were looking at each other when they felt it first in their feet – a dull thwump. Then again – thwump. They both looked down, half-expecting something to crawl up through the stones. Then their ears heard it – thwump, thwump, thwump. It wasn’t a rhythmic sound; it was more like hearing the first drops of rain strike the rooftops – thwump… thwump, thwump… thwump. But the sound was growing louder, stronger, and soon they could feel the compressions in their bones. It was then when they stopped looking at their feet and looked up to the sky.

There they were, looming up from every side of the mountain, dark enormous wings beating downward with thunderous blasts of air -- THWUMP! There were at least a dozen dragons and probably more that were yet to come into view.

“Merlin, save us,” Sirius whispered, squeezing Harry’s good arm, as the procession of dragons rose high above them in every direction.

Harry had mentally prepared himself to meet the great dragon Singehorn, and perhaps his family. The possibility of facing down nearly twenty dragons never crossed his mind, and he was having difficulty processing what he must do. He considered pulling his wand, but Sirius had his arm, and right now Harry was appreciating the added support.

Suddenly, a great black dragon with fiery red eyes let out something of a howl that nearly knocked the two wizards to the ground. An instant later, all the circling dragons let go their fiery breath in a deafening roar that finally forced the pair to their knees as they covered their ears. The flames lit the high grass surrounding them and sent up an inferno that reached three stories into the sky. They were enveloped in flame, the only thing keeping them safe -- the ring of rocks.

“This is it,” Harry thought. “I’ve failed and this is my punishment.” But Sirius didn’t deserve to die like this. “Let him go!” Harry yelled out. “It’s me you want!” But Harry couldn’t see anything; the flames leapt so high into the air they obscured his view in every direction. Only the beating of wings rocking the earth let him know that the dragons were still out there.

“Never thought we’d be fried in a skillet like a couple of sausages,” snarled Sirius. He had pulled his wand, if for no other reason than it gave him comfort. Unable to do anything, Sirius let out a great growl.

It was then that a figure in white robes appeared, walking in a direction from the peaks through the very flames themselves. He wore no hood and was holding something in both his hands like a serving tray. His pace was slow and deliberate, but it wasn’t long before the man cleared the flames, his robes spotless, and joined Harry and Sirius on the rocks. Harry knew at once who he was. Sirius, however, was dumbfounded.

“Sirius,” Harry said, wonderment of what he’d just seen holding back a flash of anger, “this is the creature that saved us last night, Soseh’s friend. He calls himself Dakhil Barghouti.”

Dakhil bowed his head slightly to Sirius and said, “Mr. Black, it is a pleasure to meet you.” The tone in Dakhil’s voice was calm and serene, almost deferential, as if the three were meeting for cocktails at a posh nightclub.

“Yeah,” said Sirius, “you too.” He looked about to see who or what else might appear through the flames; there was nothing but crimson fire.

Dakhil held out the white robes that were folded neatly in the palms of his hands. There was no look of satisfaction or disappointment. His expression was utterly inscrutable.

“The time has come… boy.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 5 - Dealing with the Dragon
~~~***~~~

Flames encircled them in every direction, and yet the stones on which they were standing remained cool. The fire of the tall grass was undying, and if anything the crimson and yellow flicked against the night sky challenging Harry forward. Harry stared at the vampire before him and wondered if the man called Dakhil would show his true self, his evil self. If he did, Harry would be ready; he didn’t care if he was a member of the Votary of the Dragon or not. He took the white robes from Dakhil’s hands and began to put them on over his clothes, but Dakhil stopped him.

“These will be all you wear in Singehorn’s presence,” he insisted. “These, your glasses, and your wand.” Harry hesitated. “I’d shave your head, if I didn’t think it would grow back a moment later.” And then Dakhil chuckled. “When the flames are done with you, I suppose it won’t matter what your hair looks like.”

Harry just glared at Dakhil, and Sirius wasn’t sure what to say. Finally, Harry began to unbutton his shirt. A minute later he was naked, and slipped the white robes on over his head. He then made to put his boots on, but Dakhil stopped him again.

“Only the robes.”

Harry looked out at the burning embers that scattered the open plane. Surely he would be incinerated the moment he stepped off the rocks, but then he looked down at Dakhil’s feet and noticed that they were bare and as clean as if he’d just stepped out of a bath. Harry straightened his glasses and twirled his wand in his fingers.

“Let’s go,” he said confidently, and Sirius moved to join him.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Black,” said Dakhil with a gentle bow. “You must stay here until the appointed time. Assuming the boy fails, however, it has been a pleasure knowing you.” He held out his hand to shake Sirius’, but Sirius kept his wand in hand and only stared back at the vampire.

“It’s a shame, Mr. Barghouti,” said Sirius, “that I won’t be there to see your face when my godson succeeds.”

“I only wish it were true, Mr. Black. For when the boy fails, I will have lost the dearest friend I have left in this dark world as well as her daughter. Nonetheless, the very fact that I am speaking to you now offers me a glimmer of hope, however remote it might be.”

“This young man will not fail,” declared Sirius resolutely.

“Of course not,” replied Dakhil sadly, dipping his head again in a slight bow. Then Dakhil stepped over to Harry as the flames continued to roar.

“Plebe, there are four paths that lead off these rocks. Three will take you to where your heart desires, but only one will take you where you need to be. The choice is yours.” Dakhil then folded his arms and waited.

Harry looked all around, his glance passing by Sirius who whispered, “You can do this, Harry. I may be stuck here, but remember I’m with you; we’re all with you.”

There was a rush of wind that whipped the flames even higher into the sky, and as it did so a swath of red appeared directly before Harry. It was almost a tunnel, or a path blazing the way forward. It wasn’t that the flames had disappeared; they were instead a brilliant red. Then there was another rush and to Harry’s right appeared a similar tunnel, a vivid blue. The third gust revealed a green path slightly behind Harry. There was a fourth gust that swirled about the three wizards, but the sound faded to nothingness. Neither Sirius nor Dakhil said a word as Harry pondered his options.

He stepped closer to the red path; it headed in the general direction where Sirius had pointed earlier. Certainly, Singehorn’s lair would be toward the mountain peaks. Another step forward and the hair on Harry’s arms rose up as if a ghost had just passed through him. He turned to the blue path and again only a few steps from the edge of the rocks he felt a cold breath that turned him away. When the same thing happened at the green tunnel, Harry stepped back to the centre of the rocks.

“Where’s the fourth path?” he asked Dakhil, but the only response was silence. Again Harry looked all around: red, green, blue. There was no other way that he could see, and in his heart he could feel that he was losing time. The challenges had to be completed before the rising sun, or he would fail; Gabriella and all the rest would be lost. He glanced upward to check the moon’s position. It was directly overhead, the smoke turning its glowing face a golden sienna. He had four, maybe five hours before sunrise. “Where’s the other—” He looked at Dakhil whose eyes were fixed somewhere between the red and blue flames. Harry walked over and stood in front of him.

“It’s you, isn’t it?” Harry asked, glancing up at the moon and then back down. “You’re the other path -- up and out over the flames. The colours, these robes, they’re a distraction. You can just fly me over, can’t you?”

Dakhil lowered his eyes to meet Harry’s. They were sinister, angry eyes that, if anything, were growing more evil looking by the instant. And then Dakhil hissed through his teeth, “Be sure about what you wish for, boy.”

Harry knew at once what Dakhil meant. To fly over the flames, Dakhil would need to transform into a vampire, and Harry would be at his mercy. Harry would have to trust his fate to Dakhil’s good graces, and Harry doubted very much if there was a grace to be found in the creature’s soul. Without blinking Harry looked up into Dakhil’s eyes, eyes that were already transforming because they knew Harry’s choice.

“I hope you’re not hungry,” Harry said, trying to muster a smile, but failing miserably.

Half way to transforming, Dakhil only growled back, and Harry wasn’t sure if it was a laugh or perhaps the vampire’s stomach. He also wasn’t sure what to expect. He’d read that vampires take on different shapes and characteristics, but the only live vampire Harry had seen up close was the one that had attacked him and Gabriella near the village.

Harry watched as Dakhil’s eyes began to glow yellow, his ears began to lengthen, and his fangs became more pronounced. What surprised Harry was the fur. Dakhil was looking more like a werewolf with each passing moment. His fur was a golden brown, and black dots speckled his head and ran down his back to where they coalesced into black bat-like wings. Soon all that was Dakhil Barghouti had vanished, and in his place was a wolfish face with fangs to draw blood and a Basilisk-like tongue to slurp it up. Sirius took a step forward, but Harry held up his hand to stop him. He wasn’t sure how fragile the alliance he held was, and he didn’t need Sirius to become the night’s main course. Instead, Harry turned his back to Dakhil and held out his arms.

When the vampire grabbed Harry from behind, it jarred his broken arm and he winced in pain. There was a large swoosh, and they were off the ground, swoosh , climbing quickly over the flames. Harry could see the red, blue and green tunnels extend outward from the circular pad of rocks in the centre. They seemed to reach across the horizon, and the higher Dakhil and Harry rose, the further out the arms extended. He wondered when they would start toward the peaks, but they didn’t. They kept climbing higher and higher. Harry watched the arms of colour begin to twist about the centre like an enormous pinwheel. They spun faster and faster until the red, blue and green coalesced into a sheet of white; at its centre a dark black disk that looked like a large eye staring up at Harry.

Just as Harry was about to ask, the two began to fall back down toward the rocks. His innards jumped into his throat.

“But I thought—”

“You thought wrong!” Dakhil growled.

The closer they came to the ground, the more Harry realized that there was no ground. The disk was not the rocks from where they’d left, but a black hole that reminded Harry of the crevasse that had trapped Sirius. He couldn’t help but close his eyes as they plunged into the darkness. The sensation was akin to poking one’s finger into a large soap bubble; a similar coolness splashed across Harry’s face. The more pronounced difference was that there was no roar of wind rushing past Harry’s arms. He also felt somehow lighter, and when he opened his eyes her realized that he was floating only inches off the ground. The next thing he recognized was that Dakhil had vanished; Harry was alone.

Slowly, his feet descended to the large square stones beneath his feet. It was no longer dark, but light. The sky was a dusty blue, streaked with thin white clouds. The air was warm and the horizon in every direction reminded Harry of the desert terrain in Lebanon. All was flat, dry and brown, and the sun’s heat rippled upward off the parched earth distorting his view. All was flat, that is, except for the large stone pillars that loomed large before him. Four sets stood on each side of huge steps that rose upward between them as if leading to a great Asian castle that no longer existed. Each set of four was capped some ten stories high with a great dome that ended in a long spire that reached toward the heavens. He felt, very much, as if he had returned to the Middle East, but how?

Harry started up the steps toward even more pillars and domes when he noticed, near the top of the first collection of steps some eighty feet away, a man stood holding a lantern in his hand that shone bright against the light of day. Wearing robes of brown and green, he stood motionless, waiting for Harry to approach. Deciding to err on caution, Harry reached for his wand; it was gone.

“Dakhil,” Harry hissed under his breath. He looked around once again at the dessert terrain. Clearly, this was the only way to go, and so he stepped upward.

As he approached the man, he noticed that he was black, perhaps from Northern Africa, Harry thought. He was tall, his shoulders broad and he wore a thin smile that kept his teeth hidden. As Harry drew closer, he noticed that the man’s eyes were not brown, as he expected, but red -- bright red. With Harry only a few steps away, the man finally lowered his lantern.

“Walk with me, young man,” he said in a deep, scratching voice that made Dakhil’s own tone seem sweet. He turned and stepped upward toward a large landing; Harry followed only a step behind, constantly glancing back behind him to ensure this wasn’t some sort of trap. At the top of the landing were two benches, intricately carved in an elaborate pattern made from what looked to be crystal. The man held out his hand, motioning for Harry to sit, but Harry waited. The man chuckled.

“You may stand if you want, but my old bones are far to weary to stand about all day, and we have much to talk about.” He sat with apparent difficulty as if lowering a tremendous weight and Harry wondered if the crystal bench upon which he sat might not shatter beneath the burden.

“Forgive me, sir,” Harry said, sliding behind the second crystal bench, still preferring to stand. “But, who are you?” The question brought a look of disappointment in the man’s red eyes as he considered his answer.

“You can call me Singehorn,” he finally replied. “Master,” is far too formal.

“S-Singehorn?” Harry stammered. “But… I… I thought… Where is this place?” At this, the man calling himself Singehorn smiled.

“Inquisitive. Yes, Soseh said you tend to lead with you nose at risk of having it snipped off.” He shifted his weight on the bench and it creaked. “And it has been snipped more than once I understand.”

“Soseh?!” shot Harry. “You know Soseh? Is she okay? Where is she? And Gabriella? What about—”

The man began to laugh deep rolling huffs of laughter that shook the earth. The reaction brought fire to Harry’s eyes, and again he reached for the wand that wasn’t there. The movement only amused the man more.

“Tell me, child,” said Singehorn, “I have introduced myself. Perhaps you could provide me the same common courtesy. “Who are you?”

At first Harry hesitated, wanting to know about the fate of his companions, but there was something in the red eyes that made him finally answer, almost apologetically. “Harry, Harry Potter, sir.”

“Only Harry Potter? Or Harry Potter: Parseltongue, Guardian of the Stone, Champion of the Age, Sacrifice of the Centaurs, Victor over the Dark Lord Voldemort, and I hear soon the youngest wizard ever to receive the Order of Merlin.”

“I won’t accept,” said Harry quickly.

“And why is that?”

There was a long pause, and Harry held the red eyes in his own. They were penetrating his thoughts, he could feel that now, but he didn’t care. He sensed somehow that in here, wherever they were, time was held still.

“They think the darkness is gone, but it’s not. I… I don’t know how I know, but I know he’s not gone; I know it is not gone. I’ve failed to protect wizard and Muggle alike, but no one will believe me.”

“I do.” Singehorn shifted on the bench and leaned his massive frame toward Harry. “And there are others. Now you tell me, where is this place?”

Singehorn moved his hand slowly along the edge of the white marble bench, and then rubbed his fingers together examining the dust at the tips; his nails were long and sharp.

“This place is you,” answered Harry wisely, and Singehorn appreciated the young man’s insight.

“Very good, Harry” he said, slapping his hands together to wipe the dust clean. “This place is where you can always come to speak with me.” A gentle smile broke across his face. “You might note that dragons do not speak, and that’s true. But here…” he held his hands wide and swept them in every direction, “here we have created a place where ALL members of the Votary can come to discuss the dangers that face the world.”

“And what does it mean to be a member of the Votary?” Harry asked.

“What do you want it to mean, Harry?”

“I need help, help to fight against enmity and division. Lucius Malfoy and his Dementors are only one such hatred. The undead darkness seeps its lies into every corner, every weak mind that will listen. And these minds spend their time being hateful because of the ways we all are different, instead of searching for the ways we are alike.”

“Very good, Harry,” answered Singehorn. “And those who turn to darkness use such differences to build hatred not just among wizards, but among all living things. It is this hatred that upsets nature’s balance and threatens to doom us all.” Singehorn clasped his hands together.

“But my challenge…” Harry began.

“The challenges have already been faced and met: unwillingness to sacrifice another; recognizing defeat in the face of hope; willingness to trust the word of ones you love; and an unflinching will to turn away the darkness.” Singehorn’s eyes were proud, but then he raised one eyebrow. “We cannot always win, Harry. Failure cannot be our nemesis; it must be our teacher. You can no more win every battle, than you can bring Greg Goyle or Cedric Diggory back from the dead.”

The faces of his fallen friends flashed before Harry’s eyes. They were painful memories, but he was more disappointed that he hadn’t considered their sacrifices for some time. Again the gravely voice of Singehorn reverberated.

“Soseh, as always, is right. I see no reason why you should not be the guardian of the Heart of Asha. I am certain Asha, were she alive today, would approve. You are certainly the first to find so unique a hiding place; it will suit what awaits you. You have learned to charge the stone with fire, and that is notable, but now it is time to charge it with something far more endurable -- love.”

With a deep groan, Singehorn rose to his feet.

“As I said, you may visit me anytime you wish, Harry. Dakhil can show you how.”

The look on Harry’s face soured and Singehorn took notice.

“There’s a problem?” he asked.

Harry wasn’t sure what to say. Yes, there was a problem. Dakhil was a blood sucking, hate mongering…

“No. No, sir. There’s no problem,” Harry lied.

“Young Mr. Potter,” said Singehorn, his eyes flashing a deeper red, “whatever your skills are they most certainly do not include the art of deception. You wear your heart on your sleeve.” He took in a deep breath and let out a long sigh. “Which makes my decision that much easier.”

At these words, Harry was crushed. They had spoken of love and acceptance and he had won the dragon’s confidence. But with one insult of the leader of the Votary, Harry was sure what Singehorn’s new decision would be.

“But my friends!” he cried. “You can’t let them die! I don’t care what you do to me, but let them free.”

Singehorn, the man, began to laugh a deep hearty laugh, slow and rhythmic… “Hah… hah… hah!” It ended in something akin to the cough of an old man that had smoked cigarettes since childhood. He turned his back to Harry and held to a hand railing with his two hands wrapped around the large stone beam much like an eagle’s talons. “We live by one precept and one precept only: Bravery, Wisdom, Love. Tell me, Harry, what do these three words mean to you?”

“You have to let them go!” yelled Harry. He grabbed the man by his thick, heavy arm and tried to spin him around. What faced him was the fanged face of a dragon.

“We will work on wisdom.” A blast of fire erupted from the dragon’s mouth and engulfed Harry. Everything turned to flame. As he felt the intense heat surround him, his feet gave way beneath him — he was falling.

“Bravery, Wisdom, Love, Harry Potter. I have made my decision. Good-bye.”

All was fire… falling… crunch. Solid stone met Harry’s face and he felt his arm give way once again with a sharp snap, but the pain was nothing compared to the pain wrapping itself around his heart. How could he have come this far only to let it all slip away? His glasses fell from his face and he reached with his good hand to retrieve the broken remains. He was disoriented, nauseous, and fire still filled his field of view. His hand missed the glasses, and he crumpled to the ground, tears welling in his eyes.

“Let me help you.”

Harry rolled from his stomach to his back. The voice… but it couldn’t be.

“Occulous reparo!” said a different voice. “Here, Gabriella. It won’t be the last time, trust me.”

“If I had a galleon for every broken bone…”

There was a bright blue light and a sense of warmth ran up his arms. Then there was the chant, spoken in a language he was only now coming to understand. His arm was healed.

“You… you’re okay?” said Harry, looking back at Gabriella as she slipped his glasses over his face. Behind her stood Hermione, the light of bright flames flickering off her face.

“I don't understand,” Harry said. “How did you—”

Gabriella just smiled and held him in her arms. Harry sat up on the stones and realized he was on the same outcropping of flat rocks where he had left Sirius behind. The flames still roared all around, only now the rocks were filled with people – wizards and witches in various colours of robes. To one side stood a group of men and women, Centaurs and House elves, goblins and fairies in red robes – the Votary. He looked back over at Hermione, noting first the hands that were wrapped around her waist then his eyes moved upward to meet hers, and the shock of red hair standing behind her.

“Ron?”

He too was smiling. “Hey, mate!”

“I've missed you.” Gabriella kissed Harry hard on the lips, but her eyes still bore a look of concern. “They wouldn't believe me, Harry, that you were doing this for yourself and not for me. They thought that you'd change your mind if I was removed from your side. But I knew... I knew... Do you hate me?”

Harry was stunned, but narrowed his eyes into the black pools that twinkled back in his; he pulled her close and held her tight. Again tears sprang into his eyes, but for a wholly different reason.

“Thank god,” he whispered. Through clouded eyes he saw Remus and Soseh, Sirius and—

“Stand up,” said Dakhil Barghouti in a sharp, stern voice. Slowly, Harry took to his feet and stepped over to Dakhil, Gabriella at his side. It wasn't until he stood that he realized just how many people surrounded them; or should he have said peoples? How did they all get here? When Harry reached Dakhil, the vampire held out his arms wide and everyone quieted. “Present yourself, Harry Potter!”

Half wondering if it was the vampire before him that had forced Gabriella’s rebuffs, Harry stood dumbstruck as to what to do next. Gabriella whispered, “Copy his every move,” into Harry's ear and stepped away. Harry spread his arms and held his hands out, his sleeves slipping down his arm and revealing the outline of a dragon on his right forearm. Dakhil brought his hands together in something resembling a prayer, and Harry did likewise. Dakhil bowed his head low, and so too did Harry.

“Bravery!” cried Dakhil. There was a sudden cheer from everyone present. Harry wanted to turn to see, but dared not move from his bowed position. There was a tremendous SWOOSH – SWOOSH that filled the air from all sides. Dakhil stood straight and when Harry did so too, he saw them – over a dozen dragons filled the sky flapping their enormous wings and churning the air about the rocks so that the flames swirled in a giant circle upward like an enormous tornado of fire. Then someone touched his shoulder. Neville – he was sure it was Neville. He sensed something, something powerful pass into him. Then he felt it again, only this time he sensed Luna, then Ginny, Arthur Weasley, Fred and George. With each touch a sense of warmth and a presence of power passed into his very being. The Centaurs: Bane… Magorian… The names went on until—

“Wisdom!” cried Dakhil, holding his hands high to the air, and so too did Harry. This time Sirius stepped forward and placed his arm on Harry’s shoulder. It was followed by more sensations running through to Harry’s mind flashing like snapshots and providing him insights he never knew he had. Remus and an understanding of werewolves, Soseh and the intuition of the Votary, the loyalty of McGonagall and then… Dumbledore. Scenes from over one-hundred forty years filled Harry’s mind. He could feel energy flowing into his essence, a power being drawn in like never before. Last year he had drawn Voldemort’s power away, and vomited it forth. But this… this was pure energy… true energy.

“Love!” cried Dakhil, now stretching his arms outward. Harry stretched out as well and felt the touch of Gabriella, strong and passionate. Then came Hermione, Ron, Hagrid… more people were joining the circle with each passing second, and as each continued to join, infusing a piece of themselves with Harry, Dakhil called out, “Do you commit yourself to these precepts! Do you swear your allegiance to the Votary?”

It was almost too much for Harry to comprehend. It was all coming so fast and furious. There was the touch of Dobby… Winky… Grawp…

“YES!” Harry yelled out to the swirling smoke above, and the sound of roars filled the air.

Dakhil stood and looked closely at Harry with his stern eyes, and still holding his arms open he said, “Welcome, brother.”

For the briefest of moments, Harry hesitated, but then stepped forward and wrapped the vampire in his arms.

He felt the touch of Bill… Fleur… Gabrielle… Dean…

Dakhil Barghouti turned Harry and had him face the crowd, all holding hands as the fire continued to roar upwards toward the circling dragons above. He sensed the touch of Charlie… Frank and Alice Longbottom… Harry saw Singehorn flying high above all the other dragons, his red eyes glowing as two stars circling in the night sky.

“I present,” shouted Dakhil to all present, “Harry Potter: Protector of the Innocent, Guardian of the Heart, Emissary of the Votary!”

Harry noticed that the robes that draped his body were no longer white, but now crimson red. Faces continued to flash across Harry’s mind, and he began to blur the distinction between whom he saw and whom he felt infusing their energy into his heart and soul, each with their own distinct voice. They were all a blur… all but for the last face, a face he would never forget, for it caused him to shudder slightly as he sensed his energy, cold and stabbing, enter him. It was the face of Draco Malfoy and the one word he carried with him that Harry had never heard: Horcrux.

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