TRtH 6

The Road to Hell

Chapter 6: Stalking Shadows

By ACI100

Blackened stone hissed beneath a blood-red sky, emitting acrid smoke that choked his every ragged breath.

Harry coughed, doubled over from his stinging eyes and searing throat. Barren rock was all that laid between him and the wall of smoke obscuring whatever loomed ahead.

His shadow stalked him despite the lack of sun, scarcely visible against the scorched stones at his feet. Rubbing at his eyes, he looked down, grateful for anything other than smoke and stone until he glimpsed a pair of scarlet slits.

What the fuck?

Harry sprinted off, his red-eyed shadow sliding across the smoking stones behind him.

The smoke — it’s so thick up ahead that there won’t be enough light for my shadow.

Heat burrowed beneath his skin as he plunged into the bank of smoke, its putrid poison seeping into him as he dragged his eyes open and stared down between his feet once more.

The shadow was still there, its scarlet eyes stark against the stones.

That’s impossible, he thought as he resumed his flight. There’s no sun, and shadows don’t have eyes!

The smoke around him bled away like morning mist, revealing Hogwarts’s outline up ahead.

No… no, this can’t be Hogwarts!

The same scorched stone surrounded the untouched castle. All that remained of the grounds he so cherished was the lake, its surface glinting like obsidian under the scarlet sky.

The water reddened when he neared the ruined bank and a hot wind blew off the crimson lake, fanning a metallic reek into Harry’s face.


His jaw ached as he sprinted up sloping stones, teeth gritted against the blistering heat seeping through his trainers and searing his soles.

He threw his shoulder against the castle’s large oak door and it gave way. Staggering across flagstones that remained intact, he lurched through a familiar set of double doors and into the Great Hall.

The room was dark and empty, its ceiling a grotesque mirror of the bloody sky outside.

His hair stood on end when the expected echo of his wracking cough was snuffed out, like a single spark grasping for a foothold in the heart of winter.

At least the shadow’s gone.

A torch blazed into being above his head and his shadow slithered up the nearest wall.

The stones beneath it crumbled like sand at high tide, and all around him, the castle smouldered into curling ash. The desolate landscape he had fled from once more sprawled in all directions. A breeze whispered across the ruined stones, snatching the sad remains of the only home that he had ever known.

“You cannot escape me.” Flames flickered amidst swirling ash, writhing into the shape of a tall, dark-haired man with too-pale skin and eyes the colour of blood.

The Elder Wand trembled in Harry’s grasp. “Riddle!”

A cold smile spread across the bastard’s lips. “Where one goes, the other follows.”

Milky skin streamed down Riddle’s robes like hot wax, dissolving into wisps of smoke that drifted up into the scarlet sky.

Harry took a small step back.

“Are you afraid?” Voldemort asked, his voice now high and cold. “Do not fear death, Harry. Either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives.”

The broken world wailed, fading into a bright green glow that burned his eyes.

Harry bolted upright, gasping atop his four-poster bed. Scarlet drapings hung around him, beyond which came the sounds of snoring.

Just a dream… but it was right.

There was no escape; leaping back through time had made Riddle no less dangerous.

Harry pondered as he dressed. I’ll bet the locket and the ring are still horcruxes, but I didn’t see either in his office. How many are there?

His feet moved almost of their own accord, carrying him downstairs and across a vacant common room, out the portrait hole and along the empty corridor beyond.

Dumbledore had discovered most of what was needed all those years ago, leaving Harry free to hunt down horcruxes.

Now all of that meant nothing, and he had no Dumbledore to solve the problem this time.

Not nothing; I’ll get back and finish Voldemort!

Then why did it matter? This isn’t my world; I won’t be here forever. Why do I even care? High, cold laughter echoed inside his skull. I’m so used to fighting him; it’s just instinctual.

Green light flashed in his mind’s eye and Dumbledore’s frail form fell, tumbling past the ramparts and down into yawning dark.

Damnit, old man! None of this would have happened had you let me help you!

Loud clangs echoed down the corridor and Harry, now disillusioned, pressed himself against a wall, watching Peeves bob into view, rattling suits of armour as he passed them.

Harry strode down several corridors and then pushed aside a weathered tapestry, grimacing as he descended down a dark passage and out onto the third floor. Any tapestry he saw reminded him of woven silver and some hundred names scrawled beneath a coiled snake.

I can at least deal with one snake while I’m here. Angry flames licked up through his melancholic shroud. Anything to hurt Riddle for what he’s done.

He took the marble stairs two at a time, stepping off on the second floor and readying the Elder Wand as he neared Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom.

Something thrummed ahead. Wards. He reached out, stroking them with phantom fingers. The outer layer appeared basic, but it was woven so tightly with a dozen more that triggering one might set off others whose nature he could not glean.

Son of a bitch!

Often he had thought of friends long dead; now, he yearned for Bill and his ability to slice through wards.

I’ll see him again soon. Icy cold dripped down and the flames inside him wavered. So long as Voldemort doesn’t kill him before I can get back.

Heavy rain tumbled through twilight skies outside, drumming against the tower windows. The autumn chill had come with gusts of wind rattling a hundred panes of rain-soaked glass. Cold seeped through the tower walls, its frigid fingers unfurling across the crowded common room.

The chill bothered Harry less than when he had been a boy. Gryffindor Tower’s brisk air was stifling when pitted against winter nights spent sleeping in a thin-walled tent, or beneath the slim cover of bare-branched trees.

Grasping his amusement like an anchor, he kept his head above the churning sea of memories and smirked across the table at a scowling Marlene. “If you’re this stressed by coursework in September, I wish you luck in June.”

She glared. “Don’t you have homework of your own to do, or something?”

He shrugged. “I can do the practical work with my eyes closed in everything but alchemy and spell creation. The theory can wait; none of it’s due until Monday.”

“You’re awful.” Marlene flicked her quill at him and he snatched it from the air. She huffed, sitting with her arms crossed until he tossed it back. “At least Lily pretends she’s not just gonna breeze through all the work.”

“Where is she, anyway? I saw her leave dinner early, but never got a chance to ask why.”

Marlene sighed. “Off with Prince.”

Harry’s hands curled into fists underneath the table. Bastard! “I don’t get what she sees in him.”

“No one does. Mary and I have tried telling her for years he’s not worth it, but she never listens.”

Emerald light seared his eyes and the hatred churned inside him. “Something about Prince just rubs me the wrong way.”

“His friends are worse than him, but he never stops them.” Marlene scrunched up her face. “They’ve done some awful things to people they don’t like.”

“Blood supremacists?” Harry asked.

“Yeah, the looks they shoot Lils aren’t right.” Marlene shook her head. “She knows and refuses to hangout with them, but that doesn’t stop her meeting up with Prince.”

“Is that common? Blood supremacy?” Never had he heard anyone complain about it whilst staying at the haven.

“Not really. Magic is magic, everyone’s taught that from the time they can walk.” Marlene drummed her fingers along the table’s edge. “You can be punished for unjustly picking purebloods over muggleborns when hiring and stuff like that.”

Harry stared up out the window; the sky outside was growing dark. “But it doesn’t stop everyone, does it?”

“It used to be much worse back before the empire, but no,” Marlene admitted. “Families like the Notts and Lestranges still talk about how things should go back to how they were.”

Glad to know they’re still a bunch of cunts. “Do you think they’ll ever get their way?”

“I doubt it,” Marlene said. “Those sorts of families used to be a lot louder; the Blacks even led revolts. Their lord was stripped of his title and their accounts were frozen for a bit. Those restrictions were lifted years ago, but the whole thing caused a huge scandal back in the fifties.”

Dumbledore must have really gotten through to Grindelwald. “I doubt people are too keen to try their luck after that,” he said.

“Like I said, families like the Notts and Lestranges still make noise, but not enough to do much. The Blacks were the richest family in Britain back then and had a ton of power. If the order was willing to knock them down…”

“No one’s safe.” Good.

Marlene twirled her quill between long fingers. “Exactly.”

Harry studied her across the table. “You’re a pureblood, aren’t you?”

The quill ceased its twirling. “Aye.”

“What do you think?”

“Magic’s magic,” she said with a shrug. “We should save that kind of attitude for muggles.”

It was like his train of thought had slammed against a wall and fizzled out. “For… muggles?”

Marlene set down the quill. “They committed all sorts of crimes against witches and wizards. I had ancestors who were burned or exiled.”

Something inside him writhed as he clutched the fabric of his robes between his thumb and forefinger. “What’s it like for them now?”

A warm glow seared through the shadows that had hung in Marlene’s expression. “They’re no threat now.”

She might have gone on, but the Fat Lady’s portrait swung inwards and a head of bright red hair bobbed in their direction.

“Hey, Lils.” Strain hovered in the corners of Marlene’s smile. “How’s your night been?”

“It was nice,” Lily said. “The rain dashed our plans a little bit, but we made do.” Harry half-expected a jibe from Marlene about kissing under oak trees, but it never came. “Where’s Mary?”

“Down in the library,” said Marlene. “She was having trouble with the defence homework.”

Lily ran a hand through her long red hair. “I can’t blame her. I understand why all the seventh years taking NEWTs the last few years complained about Dolohov.”

Harry smothered a searing flash of anger beneath a single vow. It doesn’t matter; I won’t be here forever. “How long has he taught here?”

“This is his fifth year,” Lily answered. “A woman named Professor Merrythought taught us the first two years we were here.”

“I can’t remember much of Merrythought,” Marlene admitted.

“I miss her. She actually prepared us for exams, unlike Dolohov.” Lily rolled her eyes. “I swear, you’d think he was a drill sergeant, not a qualified professor.”

“What do you think, Harry?” Marlene asked.

I think he’s a murderous bastard, that’s what I think. “He’s a skilled wizard, but he doesn’t really teach. He barely shows us how to cast the spell, then tells us to do it.”

Lily hummed. “His classes work all right for people like you and Sev. Naturally skilled students don’t need hours to study, but not everyone is like that.”

“Most people aren’t,” Marlene said with a mock glare in his direction. “The rest of us—”

Dramatic gagging came from nearby and Harry felt his heart fall into a hollow pit of dread. Here we go again…

“Get lost, Potter,” Lily said without looking up.

James busied himself with wiping imagined sick off his chin. “Sorry, I was just walking past and overheard. Hearing Snivellus being complemented usually triggers my gag reflex.”

Severus,” Lily emphasized the name, “is twice the wizard you’ll ever be.”

James looked from Lily, back to his three friends. “Well look at that — staring at Evans gets rid of the gag reflex. Who’d have thought?”

“If that’s true,” said Remus, “then you may never gag again.”

Harry could not help but stare. I’ve never seen him look so healthy. Plain but unmarred robes hung from full shoulders and showed off Remus’s protruding chest.

James caught Harry’s eye and smirked. “Want to trade, Kalloway? You seem to fancy my friend and I definitely fancy yours — everyone wins.”

Sirius howled with laughter, but Harry’s quiet rebuke sliced through the noise like rays of sun through pre-dawn skies. “She’s not mine to give away, Potter.” Sirius’s laugh cut off and James went rigid. “You’d have a better shot if you treated her like a person instead of a trophy.”

“You’re lucky she’s not a trophy,” James spat. “If she was, I’d knock you all around the castle until I won her. Come on, you lot.”

His friends trailed him back across the common room, settling in an array of armchairs near the fire.

Harry’s heart pounded in its sombre void. That dream was right. There was no escape — whether it was Riddle, his father, or reminders of the life he should be living, pain stalked him like the shadow from his nightmare.

“To be haunted by past failures or satisfied with past success is to arrest forward motion.”

— Conrad Hilton

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