TRtH 2

The Road to Hell

Chapter 2: The Price of Dreams

By ACI100

Harry stood in his new bedroom and stared out the wide, floor-to-ceiling window. The night was dark and cloudy; little could be seen but for the tops of distant trees. An owl hooted somewhere outside and wind chimes tinkled in a gentle breeze.

He rolled the Elder Wand across his palm. It had remained in its holster while he had slumbered, charmed to return and remain there if he ever fell unconscious.

If only the scythe had been charmed like that. The weapon must be able to provide him answers; the last thing he remembered before being thrown back through time was using it to block the killing curse.

But where is it? He ran his fingers along the Elder Wand’s length and tried ignoring the quickening of his heart. If it really was confiscated… 

A knock came from the door behind him. He holstered the wand and wiped sweaty palms against his robes. A glance towards the clock told him that nearly two hours had passed.

“Harry? Are you ready?”

“One moment!” 

Coming face-to-face with his mother was not something he had planned for. That was stupid of me. There was just so much else to consider and keep track of.

Where the fuck is that scythe?

Harry walked to the door and pulled it open. His mother — no, Lily; it was easier thinking of her as Lily — stood outside.

“Are you all right?” she asked, looking him up and down.

“I’m fine. There’s just a lot to take in.”

“I’ve salvaged some leftovers from dinner and laid them out downstairs, if you’d like to eat.” 

Food was the last thing he wanted, but he smiled and followed her down the long hallway and a set of marble stairs. 

“Kalloway, right?” she asked as they stepped down onto the haven’s ground floor. “Harry Kalloway?”

The surname had belonged to a veteran auror who had commanded alongside him and Kingsley before dying in that final battle.

Not final! It’s not over! 

“Yeah. Evans, right?” 

She smiled. “Lily Evans, yes.” 

The world really was a twisted type of cruel. How many nights had he spent lying awake wishing his mother was alive? Now I have her, but it cost me everything. He shoved down that bitter lump of feeling. Only for now. 

“And you’ve been here for a long time?” Talking was easier than thinking.

“Since I was six. I was brought here at the first sign of accidental magic, just like all muggleborns. What about you? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone our age start here.”

“I don’t know. I spent the last four days at St. Mungo’s, but nothing before that was real.” His stomach knotted with guilt. Why do I have to spend my first meeting with her lying? 

“What do you mean, ‘nothing before that was real’?”

The knot tightened. “I remember things, but it’s all… wrong — false memories; they say I have some kind of amnesia.”

“That’s awful!” she gasped. “You’ll get the real ones back, won’t you?”

“The mind healer doesn’t think so, but he isn’t ruling it out.”

“There has to be a way.” The guilt burned his stomach. Why does she have to look so worried; why can’t lying be easier?

The hardwood floor shifted to bright beige tile as the pair stepped into the dining room. Every chair lining the long, low table was empty but for one, occupied by the same boy Lily had been talking to when Harry had arrived. Across from him, a white plate was heaped with roast beef and mashed potatoes, smothered in thick brown gravy. Harry’s eyes flicked from a tray of buns in the table’s heart to the long-haired boy who had looked up at their arrival.

Wait, that can’t be…

“Don’t you ever sleep?” Lily asked with a fond smile.

The boy curled his lip. “You do realize lecturing me about sleep whilst still being awake ruins the effect, yes?”

That bastard! Dumbledore’s killer sat just feet away from him. His eyes did not yet look so hollow and his hooked nose was more pronounced, but there was no mistaking a teenaged Snape with his sallow skin and solemn face.

“Can I help you?”

Shit, I must have been staring. Harry snatched up a bun and began prying it apart. “Only if you can pass the butter.” 

Snape produced his wand and gave it a lazy flick, sending the butter skidding right in front of Harry, whose hands paused. “You still have a year of Hogwarts, don’t you?”

“Don’t tell me you consider that advanced magic.” 

Don’t tempt me, Snape. I’ll show you what I consider advanced. “It’s not that.”

“A hole in your memories?” Lily asked softly.

He studied the two halves of bun, one clenched in each hand. “Something like that.”

Snape crooked an eyebrow. “A hole in his memories?”

Lily clasped a hand over her mouth. “Oh, Harry, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean—”

“It’s fine. I’m sure most people are gonna find out.” He turned to Snape and tried to keep loathing from his face. “I’ve been in the hospital the last four days. I remember things, but they’re false memories. It’s some sort of amnesia.”

“That doesn’t sound like amnesia,” said Snape.

You would already know about mind magic, wouldn’t you? How else would he one day fool Dumbledore? “I’m not an expert about that sort of thing.”

“It sounds like advanced legilimency.” 

“That’s the mind reading, right?”

Snape scowled at Lily. “It is not mind reading.”

“Sorry.” She rolled her eyes and adopted a poor impression of Snape’s oily voice. “The mind is not a book to be opened at will and examined at leisure. Thoughts are not etched on the inside of skulls to be perused by an invader.”

Snape’s lips twitched. “An excellent quote.”

Harry tucked into tender roast beef and salty mashed potatoes as the pair bickered back and forth. He had known his mother was once friends with Snape, but seeing it in person was surreal.

“Oh, stop making this about you, Sev.” Lily’s attention refocused on Harry. “What was it that confused you?”

It took him a moment to remember what she was referring to. “Oh, that. I remember students not being able to do magic during the summer. There was a trace or something.”

Lily straightened in her chair and his chest constricted; she looked just like Hermione when she used to lecture. “It used to be like that. That was before the Order of Merlin.”

“There’s still a trace, but it’s next to useless.”

“Useless how?”

Snape sipped his tea. “They can’t trace who’s casting magic. That’s impossible. They just know when and where it’s cast.”

“That was how they used to catch muggleborns and halfbloods living with muggles,” Lily explained.

“And now?”

“I don’t even know where to start,” Lily muttered.
“Muggles and wizards were separated for centuries.” Harry’s chewing paused and his gaze settled on Snape. Were? “That was before Dumbledore and Grindelwald seized power.”

“The two worlds came together when they took over,” Lily went on. Bloody hell! “It’s complicated, but there isn’t enough separation for the trace to be useful. There are no purely muggle settlements around here.”

“So the ministry can tell magic is being cast, but not by who?” 

Lily smiled. “Exactly.”

He tried recalling everything in The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore. There had been a letter in there that Dumbledore had written Grindelwald. What did it say? Something about seizing control for the muggles’ sake? It had been so long.

“Harry? Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Just a bit lost,” he mumbled.

She leaned over and placed her hand on his. Tendrils of warmth spread up his arm despite Snape’s cold glare. “It’s okay, there are plenty of books here. It will all feel normal soon. I’ll help, if you’d like.”

He nodded. “Thanks.”

She beamed and sat back in her chair. “Oh!” She snapped her fingers and leant forward again. “I never introduced you. This is Severus Prince. Sev, this is Harry Kalloway.”

Prince? What had Hermione said back in sixth year? That Snape’s mother had been named Prince?

“Nice to meet you,” he said, offering Snape his hand and ignoring how sick it made him. 

Snape grasped it with a grip like iron. A sense of déjà vu washed over Harry at his expression. Once more, he got the impression that Snape disliked him. Some things never change.

His room was dark when he next woke, shivering despite the sheen of sweat that coated him.

His heart sank when he threw a desperate glance around the room. “Still real. Fuck, it’s still real.” 

His heart pounded, adrenaline coursing through him. He could feel the flow of blood beneath his skin as he sat there, breathing deeply in and out.

Little of his dream could be recalled, but he remembered the jeering, the helplessness, and the high, cold laughter. 

“There’s nothing I can do.” His breath shuddered, the whisper rattling like a dementor’s rasp. 

What is Voldemort doing? Had the others escaped, or had they been tracked down? Did Voldemort know he was gone?

Harry found that he was hunched over his knees, trembling. Breathe. What was it Kingsley had told him back when he had begun leading forces? 

“You can’t control everything or everyone. All you can do is play your part and hope your men do the same.” 

All I can do is get back. They’ll have to stay alive until then; they’ll have to keep fighting. 

He strode across the room and pulled open a large closet that dominated the wall opposite his bed. A dozen pairs of plain black robes were hanging alongside matching trousers and a handful of cloaks. 

But how do I get back? 

The only answer he could conjure up was the scythe. But it’s confiscated… 

Or was it? There was something strange about that scythe; had those red-robed men — venators, Scrimgeour had called them — been able to retrieve it? 

His feet carried him down the hallway and towards the marble staircase. The walls were plain and pale, the floor composed of sturdy hardwood. A clean smell permeated through the haven; a sterile scent that reminded him of Privet Drive. 

A door creaked open on his right and he whirled, summoning the Elder Wand with a practiced flick of his wrist. 

“Sorry!” The wand wavered in his grasp as his mother’s voice rang out; how long would it take until seeing Lily no longer jarred him? Hopefully, I’ll be gone before I find out. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I heard a door open and thought it might be yours.”

He released a breath and reholstered the wand. “It’s all right, I just wasn’t expecting anyone to be up.” 

“Sorry. I just wanted to check and see if everything was all right; it’s still quite early.”

“I’ve always been an early riser and my dreams haven’t been the kindest since waking up four days back.” 

“Oh.” Her nightgown rustled as she rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet. “Would you like some company? I sometimes find that helps when I’ve been having bad dreams.”

Harry turned the offer over. Part of him had planned on storming from the haven and apparating straight to Mount Othrys. No,that would be stupid; I don’t know enough. “Yes, please.”

Lily drew her wand and smoothly transfigured her nightgown into robes of forest green. “Let’s head outside, then. Fresh air is usually good for things like this.”

The shadowed outline of a small bird launched off the nearest hedge when they stepped outside. Harry tracked its outline and watched its wings carry it away.

I wonder what it’s like, being free. 

It was quiet but for the crickets chirping out of sight as they strode down the cobbled path. Well-pruned hedges hugged the walkway on both sides, but Lily soon led him through an opening on their left and over a well-trode patch of grass that squelched beneath his bare feet. 

A wafting, floral scent swelled as they walked into a tidy garden. Thin cinder blocks arranged in square clusters comprised the perimeters of blooming flower beds. A single line of them on his left was all that separated him from the haven’s front wall, whilst on his right, three neat rows sprawled. 

“This is one of my favourite places in the world,” Lily said. “I always come here when I need to think, or am depressed, or really when I need much of anything.”

Why was no secret. The high hedges formed a tight box around this portion of the gardens, obscuring them from the majority of prying eyes. It provided a peaceful air of solitude he had seldom known. 

“I think it might become one of mine.” Or at least it would if I planned on being here long enough.

Her smile was just barely visible; the first signs of grey were creeping across the sky above them and the stars were slowly fading. “I’m glad.”

A comfortable silence settled as Harry allowed himself the briefest respite. Wings fluttered overhead and a robin settled on a high window sill. He could make out a bird feeder there if he squinted hard enough. 

“Do you want to talk about it?” Lily’s voice was as soft and faint as the flapping of the robin’s wings.

Harry ran a weary hand through his tangled mess of hair. “I don’t even know where to start.” It was the truest thing he had yet told her. 

“Maybe just start with some questions? Uncertainty always stresses me out — maybe clearing up some of yours might help you collect your thoughts?”

He chewed a dozen questions but the taste of each repelled him. “What are venators?” he settled on. 

“They’re like an elite group of peacekeepers.”

“So, like aurors? I remember some things about aurors.”

“Not really. Aurors are employed by federal governments like the British Ministry of Magic and serve to uphold law in that country. Venators work for the empire and are under imperial control. They’re like a rung above the aurors.”

“How does it work? There are the emperors, but then there are still ministries?”

“Oh dear. I’ve never considered that I might have to one day explain this.” Lily tapped a finger against her lips. “Think of the empire as containing three levels. There is the imperial order themselves — the emperors, venators, and their direct associates — and then there are the governors.”

“So what? Each governor oversees a country?” It made sense; no two men could see to every nation’s needs — not even if one of those men was Albus Dumbledore. 

“No, you’ve skipped a level,” she said.

“Chancellors and ministers — the name varies depending on the country — do that. Governors are a rank above them; they oversee larger, more important areas. Our governor oversees the British Isles, plus Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and a few other nearby countries. Governor Muhindo oversees the entirety of Africa, and Governor Zheng is responsible for the majority of Asia.” 

His head spun. “So then ministries handle the day-to-day of each country and the overseers just step in when needed?”

“It’s more complicated than that, but that’s the gist of it.”

So the venators could definitely monitor Mount Othrys. Somehow I doubt they’d let me go a second time. 

He decided it would be worth the gamble; there were few risks he would not take for a chance of returning home. It was like he could hear that mocking laughter, high as shrill screams and cold as winter’s heart. I will get back; I will finish you. 

His face slackened. Oh, Merlin, I never considered… “Have you ever heard the name Voldemort?”

Lily cocked her head. “Voldemort?” She licked her lips. “Not that I can think of. Why?”

His shoulders released a knot of tension he had not realized dwelt there. “Don’t worry about it. Just… part of the amnesia.”

A shiver ran down his spine when he appeared back near the haven. It had been dry and warm in Greece, but droplets of rain trailed down his neck and ran tendrils along his spine as he passed between drooping hedges and began up the cobbled path.

Lightning flashed in the distance and thunder rumbled overhead. The weather did not improve his foul mood. 

All that effort for nothing. The scythe truly appeared to be beyond his grasp; he had not the faintest guess where the empire might have stowed it. What now? He had been banking on that scythe; how was he to reverse whatever had happened without it? How can I reverse something I don’t even understand? 

“A battle is like a jigsaw,” Kingsley had once told him. “You have to understand all its parts and know how they best fit together.”

“Two parts.” Raindrops pattered against the protruding roof above him. “Time and… whatever the fuck else I tumbled through.”

He pushed the haven’s front door ajar and stepped quietly inside. 

Reversing both components would be necessary. So let’s focus on time, first. 

“Excuse me?”

Harry nearly leapt out of his skin. “Fucking hell!”

A petite shadow shrank back into the nearby lounge. “S-s-sorry.” It was a child. I have to smarten up; if a child is sneaking up on me, I’m losing it. 

“It’s all right,” he told her in the most soothing voice that he could muster. “You just startled me, was all.” Spotting more than the child’s shadow was no easy feat; she had hidden herself between a table and an armchair. “Was there something you needed help with?”

The young girl took a small step forward. “I’m hungry, but I can’t get food.”

“Can’t get food? Why not?” Her expression told him he had said something foolish. “Sorry, I’m new here, I’m still figuring out how all this works.”

“Oh, that’s okay.” She straightened up and puffed out her chest. “There’s a pantry so we can get snacks during daytime, but we can’t get in at night.”

“So we’re not allowed?”

The little girl shook her head. Merlin, she can’t be older than eight or nine. “No, but I’m so hungry.”

“Did you not eat dinner?” His feelings regarding havens remained uncertain, but this one did feed its charges well.

“I did, but my legs hurt and I’m always hungry. My brother says I’m growing and that my body needs more food.” The girl looked down between her feet. “I tried sneaking in, but there’s an invisible wall.”

Countless nights spent enduring the deep, resounding pangs of hunger whilst locked up in his cupboard resurfaced. “What’s your name?” 

She was looking anywhere but at him. “Talia.”

“Well, Talia, would you like to see how to break through invisible walls?”

She bounced eagerly as he picked apart the ward. “Did you learn to do that at Hogwarts?” she whispered as they tiptoed into the pantry. It was larger than most kitchens, with three doors taller than Harry along one wall and a row of coolers lining another. 

“No,” he whispered back, pulling open the nearest door. Four wide shelves rose up above his chest, whilst below were half a dozen drawers. “They don’t teach that.” 

“Did you read about it there, then? I’ve heard their library is a hundred times the size of this haven.”

That brought him up short. The Hogwarts Library. If Riddle had found books detailing horcruxes, what were the chances that others discussed time? 

“No, but maybe I’ll try and read more this year.” 

There will be a this year, he decided as Talia snatched up a bag of sliced apples. A pang not unlike the thralls of hunger stabbed through him. I’m sorry, everyone, but the library there is the best lead I have. You’ll have to keep surviving. September 1st could not come fast enough. 

Birds chirped as he peered down at the stream, nestled between two low hills. The grass nearby was sopping wet from days of rain. The stream had settled, its surface calm and reflecting large trees and bright sunlight like a dark blue mirror.

The breeze gusted. Red petals skipped across the grass before gliding down into the stream. Small ripples ran outwards, spreading thin lines of crimson. 

Harry grimaced. The calm scene was broken; now all he could see in the water was rotting corpses and thick streams of blood.

He closed his eyes and let those dark thoughts fade. There was nothing but him, the breeze, and the strands of raven hair blowing across his forehead.

The Elder Wand hummed and he opened his eyes. 

The stream was like a whirlpool, spinning so fast that white rapids slashed across its surface. He raised the wand and water followed. Something tugged inside his stomach and the wand’s humming grew louder. Feet above the stream, the water contorted into a precariously spinning twister.

Hairs prickled along the back of his neck and he let the water crash down and send large white swells spilling out over the muddy banks. 

“I wouldn’t sneak up on me like that,” he said. “That could have gone badly had I lost control.” 

Lily stepped out from behind a nearby tree, curiosity seeping from every inch of her. “Was that elemental transfiguration? That’s really advanced magic.”

“It’s draining,” he admitted.

“You did it though.” 

“I’ve been practicing for ages. I’m not very good with water.”

“Not very good? Harry, that was excellent.”

The warmth inside him spread. “I’ve always been better with air and fire. I’m getting the hang of earth, but water’s still giving me trouble.”

“Trouble? You call that trouble?”

“It’s like any other transfiguration. What would you call it if you transfigured something that turned back a few seconds later?”

“I’ve just never seen transfiguration like that,” she said. “They say Dumbledore’s the greatest transfigurer of all time. I’ve only heard of elemental transfiguration in texts about him and Grindelwald — them and the Lord Governor.”

“I’m sure they’re much better than me.”

Dumbledore had once bound a dozen Death Eaters with solidified air during the Battle of the Department of Mysteries. The transfiguration had endured long after his duel with Voldemort.

Harry still had not seen its like again. His own mastery of air was uncanny, but not even he could make air constructs last longer than a handful of minutes.

Lily flipped her red hair back behind her ear. “They’re the emperors. They’re not like other wizards. Comparing yourself to them is pointless.”

“You’ll have to show me some of those books. They’ve been practicing way longer than me, but maybe one day I can do some of what they did.”

“Come on; I can help you find some before breakfast.”

They walked back up a well-kept path flanked by neat rows of trees that still smelled of rain. Small beads of water dripped from sagging leaves and splashed against the grass.

A faint smile tugged at Lily’s lips. “What?” he asked.

“You.” He frowned. “Not like that. You just look so amazed by everything.”

“I just never imagined how nice this place would be.”

“Why wouldn’t it be?” Lily asked. “It’s in the order’s best interests to ensure all magical children fulfill their potential.”

“I don’t know. Are all the havens like this?”

“This is the only one I’ve been to. I’m sure they’re all lovely, but this one’s highly regarded.”

“Because it’s named for one of the Peverells?”

Harry asked.

Lily cocked her head. “One of the what?”

“Never mind.” Their names might have been purged from history. “Why’s this one so prestigious?”

“It’s had some star pupils over the years. Sev and I are currently the top students at Hogwarts. Potter and Black are good, but they only beat me in transfiguration and defence against the dark arts. Sev beats them in defence, but not in charms. It’s not just us, though. The headmaster of Hogwarts grew up here.”

That must be McGonagall if Dumbledore was busy running the world. Harry could imagine her as a halfblood who had been taken from her parents.

Learning things about people he had known for years was jarring, but he suspected it would only continue.

Not for long, he vowed. I’ll find a way back. 

The emperors emerged on a global scale during their American conquest. Whispers had rode dark winds for years, but no one treated the seemingly small threat the way they ought to have.

That all changed when they broke New York. Not only because of their demonstrated prowess for battle, but because of the Native American army that followed them.

Americans and Europeans alike remember how vicious the struggles against those peoples were, but they were dealt a harsh reminder when the Natives helped seize New York and followed the emperors on their march towards Washington.

That offensive remains among the bloodiest ever seen. More people died per day on the American front than in the Battle of Britain or in the mountains that once surrounded what was known as Magical Russia.

The library’s door creaked open and he lifted his head from the weathered tome. Dark blue shelves lined three of the library’s walls. The fourth was given over to high tables and swivelling chairs like the one he occupied. 

Harry glanced over the shelves off to his right and out the window situated above them. The clouds outside had grown thick and grey with the promise of yet more rain, but the library’s musty scent remained the same.

A pair of arms reached over his head and set something down on the desk in front of him. 

“Happy birthday!” Lily beamed and took the seat beside him. Snape — no, Prince — was wearing his customary sneer as he slunk into another chair. 

Harry blinked against the sudden moisture in his eyes. No one had done anything like this since his seventeenth birthday, when Mrs. Weasley had made a grand effort despite the looming war. I thought that day how nice it would be if my mother was alive to do it herself. Never had he imagined how conflicted it would make him feel.

“Thank you.” Neither of them could see his eyes well up as he conjured a knife and leant forward to cut the cake.

“Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.”

Leon Joseph Suenens

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