Shadow of the Valley of Death
– CHAPTER FOURTEEN –
Shadow of the Valley of Death
The sun had disappeared behind the Diagon Alley skyline, leaving a crimson radiance in its wake. The wide, cobbled street was surprisingly empty. Late stragglers were milling around some of the larger stores, such as Madam Malkin's. Many of the smaller shops had already closed for the day.
A roar erupted behind me, and I jumped. An orange glow came from the Leaky Cauldron, it sounded as though it was packed to breaking point. I quickly put as much distance between the pub and I as possible. The news of Mr. Davis' torture may have got out by now, and it would not do to be seen.
Why was I on Diagon Alley? I remembered wanting to be as far away from Voldemort as possible, even if that meant going somewhere so public. While I was here, I thought I might as well withdraw as much money as possible – who knew when I'd next be able to get into Gringotts? At least the Goblins wouldn't care about what I'd done – as far as they were concerned, all wizards were as bad as each other.
Florean Fortescue's loomed to my right, its light impinging the rapidly descending darkness. From its welcoming doors, a boy around my age emerged. Before I could slip away, he had seen me. As he stepped closer towards me, I realised it was Dean Thomas, looking as shocked to see me as I felt.
"Y-You!" he gasped.
"You look pleased to see me." I didn't need Legilimency to tell me that some news had escaped Davis Manor. While he was suspicious of my activity at school, Dean was no coward. He certainly would not look as though he had seen a ghost just because I was in Diagon Alley.
"You Death Eater!" At least he had pulled himself together.
"I'm afraid you're not quite right there, Dean. Try again." Dean's frown became more pronounced, the lines in his forehead digging deeper into his skin.
"You can't deny it, Potter. We all expected you to do something, but to your girlfriend's dad?" I gritted my teeth and my fingers twitched. How dare he…
"I'm guessing you read this twaddle in the Daily Prophet?"
"Even you can't deny it…there were pictures!"
"Were there now?" I knew that any sudden movements on my part would only startle him and attract attention, and that was definitely something I had to avoid at all costs.
"Yeah! You standing over Davis' dad, torturing him in front of her eyes."
"Haven't you considered," I said, fighting to keep my cool, "that these aren't real pictures? That they may have been doctored by the Ministry?"
"Why would they do that?"
"Hmm..." I said sarcastically. "Maybe because they couldn't catch Voldemort –" Dean flinched "– or Sirius Black, or even keep the captured Death Eaters in Azkaban, and now they want to show that they can do something? That a school kid might be easier to catch than a real criminal?"
"That doesn't make any sense," said Dean, though he was less sure of himself now. "Why would they choose you?"
"Another tough one. Maybe because I've got a Slytherin girlfriend and only one Gryffindor friend? And let's think…who hates me and has a dad in the Ministry? Think, you idiot, why would I even think about hurting my own girlfriend's dad? Would you torture Ginny Weasley's dad?"
"And why's that?"
"Because I don't want to lose her…"
"Exactly! So tell me, Dean Thomas, who has more reason to lie: me or the Ministry?"
"Oh, there you are Dean!" I instantly thought of reaching for my wand. A big-busted black woman, a little shorter than Dean, had emerged from the ice-cream parlour. She had a certain air of confidence about her that Dean could only wish to emulate. Her hawk-like eyes landed on me.
"Is this a friend of yours, honey?" she said.
"I'm his dorm-mate," I said quickly, before Dean could even muster a response.
"Oh. Why don't you introduce him, Dean? Where are your manners?"
Dean squirmed under her gaze, his eyes flitting between me and his mother. "I'm Harry," I said, glancing over my shoulder. The falling darkness would not hide my presence for long – eventually, I would run into trouble.
"Harry?" Dean's mother scrunched her nose in thought. "Harry…Ah, yes, Dean spoke highly of you. Killed some sort of dragon thingy, did you?"
"Dark Lord," muttered Dean, looking extremely uncomfortable.
His eyes locked with mine and I thought I saw something – a hint of brightest blue. Throwing subtlety out of the window, I delved into his mind. There it was! Dumbledore's eyes. Was it his office? Yes, I could see Fawkes' cage. He was talking to Dean, Hermione, Ron and Terry.
"Harry will try and contact you," he was saying. "He is not in his right mind. If you wish the best for him, please listen to me."
"Sir," stuttered Ron, "please, Granger and Boot will betray you. They shouldn't be hearing this."
"Maybe so, but at least I have presented them with a choice."
"I-I don't think he'll want to talk to me and Ron," said Dean hesitantly. "We're not exactly friends."
"Oh, I am sure you will cross paths one day. And when that happens, I cannot impress upon you how important it is for you to let me know immediately."
Dumbledore extended a hand, four badges glinting in the firelight. Ron and Dean took one each, but Terry and Hermione remained where they were. I felt a rush of gratitude for them as I retreated out of Dean's memory.
"When did you send the message to Dumbledore?"
Dean froze, his eyes widening. "I-I –"
I drew my wand, staring unblinkingly at my former classmate. His mother gasped, and moved to protect her son.
"Now listen here young man…" I jabbed my wand at her and she froze. There was no time to be dealing with pathetic Muggles.
"When did you send it?"
"H-How –" I stepped forward and dug my wand into his chest. His fear was palpable; it gave me strength.
He trembled, his eyes wide as Sickles, and his mouth opened and closed silently. Just as Harry moved his wand over the boy's heart, he spluttered, "W-When I first saw you."
I could feel the bubble of fury rising in me. How dare Dumbledore manipulate his own students against me? The Aurors were probably on their way. With any luck, the Headmaster was still unconscious and couldn't come in person. Aurors I could handle…
Without a second thought, I turned and tried to Disapparate. Nothing happened. They were here. I sprinted down the Alley, ignoring the screams from shoppers. Where should I go?
The response was instantaneous, as if I were having a conversation with…no, it was impossible. I had left Voldemort behind. There was no way he could track me this quickly. 'I see your soul, and it is mine'. Is this what that meant?
There is no time for such thoughts. They are on your tail. Hurry.
I glanced over my shoulder. Sure enough, a group of Aurors were in hot pursuit of me, bright red robes shimmering in the moonlight. A rainbow-coloured barrage of curses were being hurled at me, only for them to fizzle and die before they touched me.
Gringott's loomed to my right, familiar and welcoming. Surely the Goblins would not allow the casting of spells in the bank? But at the same time, why would they anger the Ministry for my sake?
Knockturn Alley remains your only hope. Their fear will become your saviour.
Reluctantly, I turned to the left. The entrance was almost completely under the cover of darkness, the sign barely legible under the gaze of the full moon. Bracing myself, I sprinted into its midst, hating myself for following Voldemort's advice. Desperate times called for desperate measures.
Hide between these buildings and disguise yourself.
I glanced at the gap between two crooked, dilapidated buildings, barely large enough for a man to fit in. The air was thick with the putrid smell of decaying flesh. This was surely a trap Voldemort was leading me into – well, I wasn't going to be left stuck in a mouldy back-alley on Knockturn Alley. Jaw clenching with resolve, I sprinted down the Alley.
I cursed as the pot-holed ground slowed me down to a careful jog. Though the road was mercifully clear, I was quite sure the Aurors would catch up. I tried to Disapparate – it was no use. The road twisted and turned, and with each turn, I expected to find a glimmer of hope. The sign for Borgin and Burkes came and went. I glanced over my shoulder. There was still some distance between me and the Aurors. It looked as though they had split up and secured the area.
My heart sank as I turned the final corner. It was a dead end. My jog slowed to a walk, and finally, I stopped in front of...myself.
Nailed to the doorpost of what appeared to be an abandoned shop was a bright poster defying the general mood of Knockturn Alley, flapping in the light breeze. It read:
Wanted for Murder: Harry Potter
Below the ominous title was a picture of me at Diagon Alley last summer, desperately trying to dodge a photographer.
The Ministry for Magic offers a 5000 Galleon reward for information leading to the capture of Harry Potter. Please use the special Owl Address overleaf; anonymity is assured.
"How dare they..."
I looked down at my hands; they were trembling with anger.
I felt a sudden rush of air pass my ear. I looked up in time to see a red curse smash the window of the deserted shop. My peripheral vision told me that two Aurors had found me. Murderer was I?
Show them your strength.
Did they think they would get me to surrender to their seeming authority? What authority do they have over me?
None. Your grandfather would not have stood for it either.
All this time, I had been lied to. My grandfather saw it too. He saw that there had to be fundamental changes, and did something about it. For that, Dumbledore condemned him as turning to the Dark. Is this what happened to all those who sought power? All my life, the wizarding world had elevated me for no reason and now, when I try and rid the world of Voldemort, they turn against me?
"You are under arrest by order of the Minister for Magic!" shouted the larger of the two Aurors. His hair was long and brown, his face hirsute.
"What are the charges?" I said, voice trembling in anger.
"The murder of one Theodore Davis, esteemed member of the Wizengamot. If you surrender your wand, no harm will befall you."
No harm would befall me? Me, who fought against Voldemort twice. Me, whose parents died trying to stand up for the wizarding world. Me, who has been looking for a way to kill Voldemort for three years. And now the Ministry send Aurors after me, instead of rejoicing that another Death Eater had been taken care of. I didn't even get to kill the bastard myself.
"Any other options?" I said, my head pounding in time to my pulse.
The smaller man on the left, who, all the while, was fidgeting restlessly, sent a Stunning Curse at me. I lazily flicked it away with a laugh. Was this the might of the Ministry?
I Disillusioned myself and created a small Wind Charm away from me towards the smaller Auror, giving the illusion that I was running at him. His attention was directed elsewhere for the briefest moment; enough time for me to cast a Bone-breaking Charm at his leg. While the pain distracted him, I finished him off with a Paralysis Curse. Did they think they could take me with such poorly trained baboons?
I turned to the larger Auror, who cast a Cutting Curse straight at me. Surprised, I dived to the left, and the curse missed by an inch. The loss of concentration cancelled my Disillusionment Charm. I considered reapplying it.
No, leave it.
The larger Auror whispered another curse, though it was not directed at me. Growing suspicious, I conjured a fairly strong shield and searched for objects I could use for transfiguration. There was a flash of blue light; it died away to reveal four Aurors. Upon closer inspection, I realised that the Auror had created illusions of himself. But how could I tell which one was real?
Use the shadows.
Use the shadows? In any other situation, I would have ignored Voldemort's advice. However, so far, no good had come out of contradicting him. I ducked out of the way of a sickly green hex and cast Lumos. Only one of the hirsute Aurors cast a shadow. Using the Auror's temporary blindness, I aimed a Bone-breaking hex at his leg.
I cursed. The Auror somehow managed to dodge it.
"Why are you risking your life for the Ministry?" I said.
"Why are you ruining your parents' good names?"
My teeth clenched. "Too far!" I yelled. "Crucio!"
The curse hit his chest. His screams filled the still air. I approached him warily, wand trained on him. Strangely, I found his pain endearing, delicious almost. I could feel my power, it was almost tangible. With a flick of my wand I could take this man's life. His very being rested in my hands.
See how the power longs to embrace you?
Reluctantly, I lifted the curse. Why was I enjoying this? What was happening to me? My fingers itched to cast the curse again.
Resistance is futile.
This was only a man sent to do his job...but he had a choice. He could have become a Professor, or an Unspeakable or a host of other things. Would he have even given it thought if I lay on the floor, and he was standing over me?
He coughed violently and twitched on the floor. His wand had rolled out of his grip. "I beg of you..."
"Would I have gotten mercy if our roles were reversed?"
"I have a family...a wife...two beautiful children..."
"You should've thought of that before coming after an innocent schoolchild."
"I was a friend of your father's...please..."
His eyes were moist and pleading; they told a story. There was a girl, nine years old, with long, dark hair. She was sitting on a swing in a typical suburban garden. A very young boy, possibly her brother, sat on the grass not far from her, wrestling with the hirsute Auror. An attractive woman stood by the swings, hands on her hips. They were all laughing.
I held my wand aloft. On one hand, he would have killed me in the blink of an eye had the Ministry ordered him to, of that there was no doubt. On the other, I'd be destroying a family. That boy would never remember what his father was like. The girl would be going to Hogwarts without her father. I'd be no better than Voldemort.
Kill him as he would have killed you.
What was I thinking? I'd be killing an Auror; there'd be no way back – no second chances, even from Dumbledore. I would be killing Voldemort in vain. No, killing the man was foolish. There was no telling where this bloodlust would lead me.
You will learn, one day.
I stepped over his body and Disillusioned myself. I had to retrace my steps and find the edge of the Anti-Apparition ward before more Aurors found him, or worse, Dumbledore did.
There is a public house opposite Borgin and Burkes. Head there.
I cast a Silencing Charm at my feet and crept back up the winding road, careful not to displace any loose stones. It was not long before I encountered two more Aurors, their wands lit, sweeping the immediate vicinity like searchlights. I struggled to keep out of their wandlight in case I cast a shadow, or the air glimmered around me.
"You reckon he did it, then?" grunted one of the Aurors.
"Dunno, to be honest. My youngest keeps telling me he's innocent, and we know how much salt to take with the Prophet. I just hope he gives himself up and we can go home."
"Well said. I heard he's been turning, though. S'not like we didn't expect him to – I mean look at his history!"
"If Dumbledore says he's alright, then I reckon he's alright. I can't for the life of me work out why we have so many of us tracking him. He's no Sirius Black, after all."
"He may as well be given all the rhubarb what's been written 'bout him."
"Merlin, I hate this place. Did you see the dregs in that pub?"
"Yeah, there's no money that'd convince me to have a pint in there..."
I released the breath I did not realise I was holding as they turned the corner and were safely out of sight. Without their wandlight, the Alley was surprisingly dark, the only light coming from some sort of shop I could make out down the road.
As I drew closer, I noticed that this building was rather out of place. While it carried the same dingy air as those around it, the architecture was Tudor; a fact I vaguely remembered from my distant knowledge of primary school education. It looked more like a house than a pub. I cancelled the Disillusionment Charm.
Enter before you are seen.
Reluctantly, I pushed open the door, only to be met with an intoxicating wave of alcohol, smoke and sweat. While it was by no means empty, the pub seemed relatively quiet. The counter was laden with a brown substance, despite the barman scrubbing at it with a dirty cloth. I barely contained a cry of surprise; he had looked up, revealing a long, crooked nose inhabited by a mountain range of boils.
"Yeah?" he grunted.
"You don't buy, you don't stay." He looked at me with narrowed eyes, as if he recognised me.
"Err, I'll have a Butterbeer."
The barman laughed in such a wheezy manner that I thought he might have been coughing. A tall, thin, extraordinarily pale man who had a drink I could have sworn was blood sniggered quietly.
"This isn't the Three Broomsticks, boy. You've obviously lost your way – Diagon Alley's that way." He pointed a gnarled finger towards the far wall.
I gave the barman a cold gaze, one I had seen Tom perform innumerable times. How dare he mock me? It did not take long for him to disappear behind the counter and emerge with a pint of Butterbeer. I left him two Sickles and searched for a table.
The pub was nowhere near as large as the Three Broomsticks, though it did seem vaguely familiar. There were a handful of tables, none of which were free. My choices were limited to squeezing in beside the hags in the far corner and taking a seat at the counter. I wondered why Voldemort had instructed me to come here.
They will not search for you here.
Taking the hard wooden stool, I examined the crumbling green wallpaper with some disgust. Couldn't this barman use some sort of fixing charm? The various tapestries that had been hung vicariously around the pub were even more grotesque. Most depicted wars between wizards and goblins in excruciating detail. In one, I spotted a goblin biting into a poor man's intestines. Finally, my eye rested on the one closest to the counter. I almost spat out a mouthful of Butterbeer, but was instead struck by a coughing fit.
This particular tapestry was completely black, except for a skull of the most striking silver, like the moon etched in the night sky. Its mouth hung open and two spears had been pierced through it, their tips laden with a dark substance. The heads of the weapons peeked out of the two dark eye sockets. I had seen this tattoo before and only now did I recognise it as the mark of the Knights. The skull was death; the spears were the destroyers of it. But how on earth did this barman get such an object?
"Beauty, ain't it?" My eyes flicked back towards the barman who had stopped his incessant cleaning, and was looking at the tapestry with the same love an art collector has towards his prize possession.
"Where'd you get it from?" I asked.
"Bought it. Cost me an arm and a leg, it did."
"Youbought that? From where?"
"Why do you question me?" His eyes were narrowed, but this time there was hope in them.
"Because I know exactly what it means, and I know that it can't be bought. I'd put a good bet on the same mark being on your arm, come to think of it."
The barman flinched and his eyes darted across the room. "Come with me, boy." I stared him straight in the eye, but found no lust to cause me harm. Even if he did, I doubted I would come off worse.
The barman hobbled towards a door so small, he was forced to stoop low to make his way through. I followed him in, bending over as if bowing to the Queen. This new room was easier to breath in, though the smell of smoke was just as strong. It was dimly lit by candles held in gnarled brackets, meaning I could only really see a table and three chairs. At a guess, I would have dubbed it a dining room, though there was nothing inviting about it.
As soon as the door behind me closed, the barman bowed so low he could have made his way through to the main pub. "Harry Potter," he gasped, "what an honour, what an absolute honour." He took my hand and shook it with both of his. Was this because of the whole Boy-Who-Lived thing? Whatever it was, it was awkward and I didn't like it much, though perhaps that was because all the accumulated dirt on his hands was transferring to mine.
"I can scarcely believe I would see our rightful leader back in my humble pub. What an honour...what an absolute honour..."
I suppressed the part of me that was enjoying his revere and servitude and tried to think this through. This man recognised me as grandfather Maximus' grandson and thought I was returning to lead the Knights.
"My grandfather used to come to your pub?"
His beady little eyes lit up. "Came here? He virtually lived here! Tom worked across the road and they had their meetings in this very room!" His chest swelled with pride.
"And you were part of it?" I asked dubiously.
He pulled up his sleeve, revealing the tattoo. "I never thought I'd see the day...the rightful heir..."
"Didn't my father come in here?"
The barman shook his head sadly. "Your father, good man though he was, didn't see the world the same way as old Maximus Potter. I never thought I'd see another Potter again, yet here you are... Oh! Before I forget, I have something very important for you!"
As the barman hobbled into the darkness, I contemplated his words. So Dumbledore had lied; it seemed as though my grandfather hadn't completely washed himself of his old ways. If what the barman had said was right, Max had wanted to pass his ideals onto James, who was having none of it. And now this former member was looking to me for guidance.
You heard Dumbledore. You are so very much like Max.
I ignored Voldemort's poisonous words; I had to think for myself. I sighed. Myself? How much of myself did I have left? I had never felt so confused. Should I follow in my grandfather's footsteps? Should I follow in my father's? Should I surrender to Tom? All I knew is that I had to get rid of Voldemort for my own sake.
Fuck the wizarding world. I had to get rid of him for myself. He killed my parents and now he was in my mind. Hell, he almost made me kill that Auror senselessly. The sooner I finish him off, the better. After that? I'll make up with Tracey and stay one step ahead of the Ministry.
A wave of anger coursed through me as I recalled the 'Wanted' sign in Knockturn Alley. Some common criminal was I? Do they think they can just turn on me when they want and expect me to come crawling back when I killed Voldemort? I wanted to be an Unspeakable this time last year; I could never imagine myself working for the Ministry now.
My thoughts were interrupted by the barman coming back into view. In his hands was a small, metal box the size of wand packaging. He put it on the table carefully, as if handling a baby. I took an involuntary step towards the box.
"Before he died," said the barman, "old Max came by here one last time. He gave me the strictest of instructions to hand this box to the next descendent of his that walks into my bar. I weren't meant to look for them, see? You had to come to me; that's the way it was meant to be."
I looked at the box. From the layers of dust that had accumulated, I could tell the barman had not touched it for years. I moved my hand towards the lid in anticipation then, out of the corner of my eye, noticed the barman watching almost greedily. Did I want this man looming over me as I opened the box? Did I want him to see my moment of weakness, particularly now that he saw me as a God?
"I'm in a bit of a hurry at the moment, actually. But thank you so much for giving me this."
The barman snapped of his trance and said, "not at all, Mr. Potter, the pleasure is all mine, I assure you. It was an honour to fulfil Maximus' request...an honour. I never thought this day would come."
"Thanks," I murmured.
"Forgive me for asking, but will you be restarting the Knight movement, sir?"
There was such hope in his eyes that I couldn't say no. "I could well do. If I do, I'll come by here and use your pub as my grandfather did."
"Too kind, sir, too kind. Will you be Apparating, sir?"
"There's an Anti-Apparition ward around the Alley, actually."
The barman broke into a grizzly grin, and tapped his nose. "You'll be able to Apparate from here, sir. I made sure that, technically, it weren't part of what the Ministry classed as 'Knockturn Alley'."
I muttered my thanks and shook his hand once more, all the while wondering where on earth I could go. Terry's house? Hermione's house? Surely they would be watched now...
Go to your Muggle barn.
The Dursleys? Voldemort had gone mad. That was the last place on earth I'd go.
And the last place they would look. Dumbledore has conveniently put wards around it to protect you from...unwelcome guests.
I thought about it, and realised, begrudgingly, that Voldemort was right. Another thought struck me; if I could refuse access to anyone I wanted, I could rid myself of Voldemort once and for all. After all, the wards had kept him out before. Holding on for that hope, I Disapparated, box safely tucked under my arm.