To his immediate displeasure, Harry reappeared in the middle of a snowdrift. Spitting and cursing, Harry fought his way out of the wet heap, which slowly sank into his shoes and clothes meant for much warmer weather. He had to stop then shortly, leaning against the back of one of the many shops of Hogsmeade to fight off the lingering effects of nausea that came with a long-distance apparation. Merlin, he had forgotten how much he hated this.
After a few deep breaths and with clattering teeth, Harry eventually straightened up. He glared at Death resentfully, who was watching him not in the least affected by the whirling snowflakes in the air.
"I want my wand back," Harry voiced after a moment. He knew he sounded petty, but right now he couldn't bring himself to care.
Silently Death extended his arm, producing the curse-box seemingly out of nowhere. Harry plucked it from his grasp, shooting Death another dark look before he turned his attention to the wooden box.
There was no line, nothing indicating a lid. Just a smooth surface, with runes carved into them. Harry turned it in his hand, searching for some way to get it to open. And yet it seemed as if he was simply holding a square, solid piece of wood.
Frustration mixed with the freezing weather caused Harry to not linger too long. Instead, after having inspected the box for a few more seconds, he decided that this was a problem for later. He called upon the power of the invisibility cloak before he stepped through the shadows.
Harry spent the following half-hour trying to get the curse box to reveal his holly wand before he shoved it into his trunk as his dorm-mates woke to squabble over shower privileges. Even in the short while they were distracted, his attempts with the Elder wand bore little fruit.
Croaker had to have done something to it if he hadn't outright lied to Harry in regards to the curse boxes and their use in assassinations. Because how in the hell could someone be killed by an object if one wasn't able to open the box containing it?
Even when he focused to inspect the magical aura of it, the surface only seemed to be covered by a thin sheet of magic. Unfortunately, Harry had nothing to compare it to since he had only recently begun to investigate spells this way. If he had to guess, he'd probably say that it would come close to a shield charm. Yet even all his expertise - knowledge he'd gained from the books he'd read in recent times and even his years as an Auror - didn't help him much. If he'd still worked at the Ministry, Harry would've probably called a curse-breaker or simply approached the Unspeakables themselves about the matter, though he hadn't actually been very ambitious in reading about matters that weren't exactly required for his work back then.
Harry was half on his way to simply blow the thing up until he recalled that he could try to get his wand back another way. Something one couldn't ward against as far as he was aware.
He could simply try to summon it the way Death had once shown him.
And indeed. When he focused and pictured the wand in his hand, it materialized in his grasp.
More interestingly, as soon as the curse-box had lost its contents, the vanished lid reappeared and Harry could open and close it without problems.
Not even a magical aura was discernible anymore.
Unfortunately, Harry didn't have much time till he would have to head to his classes and after another mere five minutes of experimentation, the prophecy orb had found a new home within the box.
Not only would that keep nosy dorm-mates from getting a glimpse of something he shouldn't possess; it also brought the advantage that only Harry would be able to retrieve the orb. At least he doubted that someone other than an Unspeakable would be able to open it.
Later during lunch, Harry only halfheartedly replied to Hermione's and Ron's questions as to his whereabouts, adding little to the overall conversation and eventually managing to avoid a closer scrutinization by listening to Neville, who enthusiastically told him about a plant called bhut jolokia also known as ghost pepper, since apparently every so often a plant produced a fruit of spectral nature. Harry zoned out about halfway into Neville elaborating on the uses of the plant in various powders and potions, still nodding along at the right moments.
The overall school day dragged on agonizingly long.
Astronomy during the day had equalled an hour of theory and calculating the orbits of planets in relation to the seasons.
Charms in general didn't pose any challenge to Harry since any wand movements had long turned muscle memory. It was more of an effort to at least pretend not to know any of the charms than to actually cast them. But at least Flitwick let him read his own books once he'd completed his assignments, though Harry was slowly becoming annoyed with the constant comparisons to his mother, who'd apparently showed a certain aptitude in this class. Then there was Binns, which was self-explanatory, followed by the last lesson of the day taught by Umbridge, which dragged on like chewing gum.
The only thing somewhat lifting his mood was Susan who caught Harry after History of Magic, telling him that her aunt would be looking into Sirius' trial. The hushed conversation was observed closely by Hermione and Ron and vaguely amused Harry thought that the betting pool on his "secret relationship" - should it still exist - would probably shift towards Hufflepuff for the foreseeable future.
During the whole time, Harry could sense Death's presence shadowing him as usual. His anger had mostly waned but a certain frustration and stubbornness still kept him ignoring the being - as far as he was able to.
Partly for his own amusement and partly to test out whether he could provoke Death by doing so, Harry tried to flirt a bit with the Hufflepuff reserve chaser - there was no harm in playing into the certain rumours... Though after a few minutes of small-talk on one of the moving staircases, it turned out that either the boy was simply too naive to grasp Harry's implications or simply not in the least interested in the male student body. Either way, it didn't have the intended effect on Death and in the end, Harry left rather abruptly, leaving behind a rather bemused Cadwallader.
More unusual though was that Death had taken to follow Harry in an incorporeal form once again. It was almost odd to sense his presence as a shadow on the wall or to have a gaze piercing him from a particularly dark corner without eyes to back it up.
Harry had gotten so used to Death switching between his human and snake form that he had almost forgotten the brief stint during his arrival in Grimmauld Place when Death had been nothing but shadows.
It was a piercing reminder that the being had mostly taken to those for Harry's benefit. It also did nothing to quench Harry's curiosity in this matter, namely him questioning why exactly the being had chosen to revert back to this shadowy sort of presence.
The bond also felt oddly quiet. Not cut off, but the feelings coming from Death's side seemed slow and tranquil, almost as if the being had entered into some kind of hibernation. On the other hand, his physical presence was so much more potent. Harry could feel it in the air like the electricity before an impending lightning strike.
Harry mused whether this whole thing was faulted by some sort of odd dynamic attributable to him being Death's master, but even then, the thought that Death would revert to his shadowy form in an effort to aid Harry in his attempts to ignore the being was ridiculous. Perhaps it was Death's own idea of retaliation against Harry's prolonged disregard. Or the being was still feeling guilty and this was his way to avoid Harry. Perhaps, he had simply wanted to stretch his metaphorical wings again...
Either way, Harry spent the better part of the afternoon mulling over Death's motivations until he finally realized that Death, by turning into this form, had been rather effective in hogging Harry's undivided attention, all the while he had actually tried to ignore the being.
After that, it hadn't taken long till Death had returned to its more familiar human state and Harry had rolled his eyes at the undeniable sense of smugness Death had emitted.
This on the other hand was only commented on by the being with an infuriating grin, which led to the discovery that Death had apparently developed dimples. A factor that - while Harry acknowledged it to be a rather unhealthy coping mechanism - led to some less than innocent activities behind the warded curtains of his four-poster bed.
Afterwards, Harry briefly interrupted his task of pressing lazy kisses onto the being's collarbones to look at him from under his sweaty curls. Death was currently basking in the attention like an oversized cat, emitting a steady rumble, while Harry was draped over his chest.
Overall Death had turned out to be rather tactile, especially in regards to Harry. He liked to touch and to be touched. Though Harry supposed, this was hardly surprising considering the nature of the being's existence and the conclusion that came with it, namely there would've hardly been someone to do so before.
"You are a sneaky bastard," Harry declared, voicing his thoughts on the beings tactics in distraction.
Death blinked at him from where he was propped up against the pillow - another human habit he had picked up, despite it being rare enough to not lessen the creepy impact of his stares - and Harry shifted to be better able to look at his face. He didn't need to elaborate, the thoughts in the forefront of his mind easily being picked up upon.
"Last time you were angry with me you ignored me for days," Death rasped, a graceful hand pushing some of Harry's hair out of his eyes.
"Not that you wouldn't have deserved it now," Harry muttered, though there was no real heat behind his words. Idly he traced over the inhuman skin, his palm coming to rest over where Death's heart beat in an irregular pattern, occasionally stopping for minutes at a time as if he simply forgot to operate it sometimes. "Now that we've got the prophecy," Harry began after a while, "There's nothing standing between us and our meetup with Voldemort. Or what's more likely, some of his lackeys." He grimaced at the latter thought.
Death hummed, while he continued to trace a path over Harry's scalp with his fingers, his hand eventually loosely curling around Harry's neck.
"Should be exciting," Harry added with a grin. He inched closer to press a kiss against his lover's jaw. Once he'd pulled back, the - for Death's standards - soft expression on his face had been replaced by a dangerous smirk.
"Impatient, Master?" he rasped, his cool breath tickling Harry's face, the title more endearment than anything else.
"Like you're one to talk," Harry countered with a laugh, well aware of the emotions they shared in their bond. A few moments passed until a stray thought emerged from the depths of Harry's mind. "Oh shit," he exclaimed, jerking up, "I almost forgot that Mundungus wanted to meet up in Hogsmeade tomorrow!"
Death appeared unimpressed by this realization. "Then you better hope Tom Riddle won't try to contact you then..."
Harry stared at him. "You know," he eventually said, "I can never tell if you're serious or joking."
Death grinned. "You find me funny anyway."
At that, Harry huffed a laugh and buried his face in Death's shoulder. "Idiot," he said, laughter muffled against Death's skin.
"Human," Death countered and once more Harry was at a loss whether it was a deliberate attempt to entertain him or another thing the being didn't quite grasp yet. It didn't keep him from being amused though. Playfully he bit at Death's skin.
"Since when is 'human' an insult?" he asked with a mirthful expression and he sat up, straddling Death's thighs in the process.
Apparently, though, the being didn't deem this question worthy of a reply. He simply looked at Harry with a telling grin that was framed by his dimples - the most recent addition to Death's ever-changing appearance.
The sight caused a burning wave of affection to roll through Harry and his stomach fluttered. He couldn't not lean down to kiss the being, who seemed equally eager to press into the movement. Once he'd pulled back far enough to breathe, Harry smiled against the other's lips in silent admission.
He let out a rather undignified squeak when he was suddenly flipped around by the being who ended up atop of him, nuzzling at his jaw.
The action pulled another breathy laugh from Harry's chest after the first shock had passed. Soon the sound turned into a low moan when the being started to nip on his neck, tongue tracing over bruises, which had undoubtedly been left there during their prior session.
Harry could feel the heat pooling low as arousal slowly started to build again and he wrapped his legs around Death's back, pulling him close.
Cool fingers traced over Harry's ribs and waist, causing goosebumps to break out on his skin.
A pleased rumble vibrated in Death's chest when Harry tilted his head to give better access. He shivered when too sharp canines grazed over his adam's apple.
When they eventually met in a bruising kiss, he was half-hard already.
Harry gasped into the motion as it grew more heated and he ran his fingers through Death's darker-than-black hair, neck and down his sides, touching whatever plane of skin he could reach.
He could feel Death shift, thighs moving against his, but the change in position wasn't enough to get some friction. Harry rolled his hips, impatiently tugging on Death's hair when the being's teeth closed around his throat in a warning pressure against his jugular.
They had played this game often enough and yet the thrill never seemed to fade.
Harry let out an involuntary whine and froze, his member twitching hot on his stomach. Beneath his own desperate arousal, he could feel Death's anticipation echo through their bond.
Another long moment passed before Death eventually let up and ran his nose soothingly against the fading imprints.
Harry stayed still, even when the being sat up in one fluid motion, settling between his open legs, cool hands splayed out over his thighs.
Harry didn't move - not yet - his tongue briefly darting out to wet his lips, breath hitching when he met Death's intense gaze.
His head slightly tilted, Death loomed over him, simply watching, drinking him in, while Harry could do nothing but squirm under those predatory eyes.
It was no wonder that he frequently found himself aroused in the most precarious situations if the being displayed these traits most prominently when he wanted to kill someone or in moments like these.
Harry's erection stood painfully hard, pre-cum beading on the tip and his hips twitched upwards into the cool air. The emotions and sensations shared through the bond made everything feel so much more intense.
Though while their game had some unspoken rules, Harry was not above playing dirty.
Being the subject of Death's intense focus, Harry whimpered, stretching his neck. The low rumble escaping Death's throat was all he needed to know that he'd succeeded. The being's hands found their way further up, thumbs digging into the dips of Harry's hipbones before he leaned down and his tongue traced over the length of his prick.
Harry moaned, his lashes fluttering and he could feel Death's smug grin. Before he could shoot back a comment though, long fingers dipped down to his hole, effectively shutting him up.
He squirmed under the attentions, panting in sync with the ministrations. But he was still loose from before and so it didn't take long before Death pulled back and the fingers were replaced with something else.
His muscle clenched once before it gave way to the blunt pressure and Harry gasped when Death sank into him. In the few moments he needed to adjust, the being nuzzled his face. Harry's eyes fluttered when Death slowly began to move.
Quiet moans and panting breaths' soon filled the space between them. Heat spread through Harry's body, sweat glistening as he himself met every thrust with his hips.
Their bond thrummed with shared emotions and when Harry looked at Death he arched up for a kiss, to express what he wasn't able to at this moment.
"Harry..." Death purred bar a whisper and soon they were no longer kissing but breathing against each other, speed picking up, till the friction of Harry's prick trapped between their bodies pushed him over the edge.
Death reached his release soon after and Harry drifted over into sleep sharing lazy kisses with his lover.
On Saturday noon, people were brimming to get out of the castle and even more importantly, the watchful eyes of Umbridge. Thus shortly after breakfast, Harry alongside Hermione and Ron followed the steady stream of students trickling down the snowy path to Hogsmeade.
And while Hermione accompanied Ron to look for a birthday present for Charlie, Harry separated from the others under the guise of treating himself to a haircut.
Yet when he reached Brunhilda's Barbershop - Bathing, Bloodletting and Haircuts since 1702 - he didn't immediately enter, instead desillusioning himself before heading for the narrow alleyway next to it.
After casting a basic ward that would alert him of anyone approaching, he leaned against a filthy wall across from some garbage cans, whose smell unfortunately carried. Since Death had taken to embrace his more reptilian nature once again - which meant he was dozing between the warm layers of his winter cloak and shawl - Harry spent the better part of the following minutes observing the enchanted graffiti of a snitch darting around a carved heart in one of wooden boards. Apart from a floating trash bag transporting itself to its destination, there were no other disturbances before the sound of a bell ringing in his ear told Harry of Mundungus' arrival.
The shifty wizard entered the alley as if he belonged there and even Harry was impressed that he didn't draw much attention, considering his appearance. The thief this time wasn't disguised as a veiled witch, instead, he was wearing a scratchy-seeming greyish coat that was far too big for him and probably hid various items, holey fingerless gloves and a dented top hat that earned him a raised eyebrow from Harry, who was still desillusioned.
The overhanging roof had prevented any snow from touching the alley and Harry had made sure to erase any footsteps he'd left on his way here. He held his breath as to not betray his presence through the clouds of his breath while Mundungus scanned his surroundings. Undetected, Harry watched how the man leaned against a wall in a similar manner to his, lighting a pipe he had kept somewhere beneath his coat.
Mundungus took a drag, blowing out a bluish cloud of smoke before Harry finally cancelled the charm hiding him and stepped forward. The crunching of gravel beneath his boots had Mundungus jumping and he had to fumble to not drop his pipe.
"Bleedin' 'ell. Can't spring on me like that, Potter," he exclaimed, reddish hair bouncing as he shook his head.
"You've got it?" Harry asked, skipping past the niceties. He still remembered quite vividly how Mundungus had eyed Death in his snake form, the image of galleons almost shining through his eyes.
Mundungus expression fell and he sniffed, a gloved hand rubbing his red nose. His eyes darted left and right before he stepped away from the wall. "'course. Said I would, didn' I? M' not one to go against my word."
Harry snorted at that. Mundungus didn't seem offended. Instead, he pulled the dented headgear from his scalp and then shoved his arm into it, like some kind of muggle magician pulling a bunny from a hat. His whole arm disappeared within the opening down to his armpit and Harry could hear the clattering of something tinny.
Spotting Harry's incredulous expression, Mundungus grinned a toothy grin. "Like my compartment? Came up with it all on my own after seeing Diggle one too many times. No one ever thinks to search a hat, ya know."
Harry didn't dispel the notion of his supposed genius, although he had to admit that Mundungus had a point. He waited until the crook had pulled out a square package a bit bigger than his fist and offered it to Harry. The parcel was covered in brown paper, wrapped tightly with a frayed cord. It was lighter than it appeared.
"That's it?" Harry asked.
"Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder, just as ordered," Mundungus announced and turned his attention back to his pipe that had apparently gone out during his search.
"I was mostly referring to the amount," Harry said, eyeing the package sceptically, while Mundungus took a deep drag.
"Hey, be glad that I got you this in the short time," the man shot back defensively, voice husky until he blew out another cloud of bluish vapour, surrounding himself with the stench of burnt socks. He then waved with his newly lit pipe in front of Harry's face, painting a trail of smoke into the air. "In this political climate and after that debacle with the flying carpets last month... Some of my best contacts had to go underground! And then the Portkey situation in South America - a mess, you don't even want to know-" Mundungus ranted. His eyes had glazed over a bit with the unfolding effect of the herb.
"Yeah, yeah," Harry said, cutting him off. He turned the package over in his hand.
Meanwhile Mundungus' had turned to observe him attentively. His pink tongue darted over his chapped lips. "That makes us even now, doesn' it?" he blurted out and Harry looked up.
He took a moment to take in the man. He had no real desire to meet up with Mundungus if he didn't have to, but he was useful in a way. "I was attacked by Dementors," Harry said eventually, not committing to an answer.
Mundungus sniffed. "Alright, alright. I get it."
Harry nodded. "Good." He shoved the parcel into a pocket in his robes and headed for the exit of the alley. "Thanks for the package, Dung," he said over his shoulder, adding a mock salute.
Said man muttered something and then disapparated with a crack.
Somewhat satisfied with the outcome of the meeting, Harry headed for Brunhilda's Barbershop. Partly to give some substance to his excuse, partly because his hair had really grown kind of long. In fact, he only remembered one instance of it reaching a greater length and that was during his hunt for the Horcruxes.
And since he was stuck in a rather awkward stage short of being able to tie it up, Harry decided that it wouldn't hurt to have it cut.
About fifteen minutes later on the way to the Three Broomsticks, Harry sceptically eyed his reflection in a store window in passing.
With shorter hair came the drawback of it returning to an almost untameable state. And while his sides were rather closely cropped it didn't keep the longer strands on top from resembling some kind of birds-nest.
Although the witch from Brunhilda's Barbershop (Bathing, Bloodletting and Haircuts since 1702) was adamant that it suited him, Harry was still not quite sure if he liked it.
After meeting up with Ron and Hermione in the Three Broomsticks - the latter fawning over his haircut in a way that reminded him of Mrs Weasley and Ron commenting, "I almost forgot it acted that way", they spent a few hours browsing the surrounding shops and talking to the Weasley twins, whose mysterious hints made Harry think that he wasn't the only one who'd met up with Mundungus today.
They returned to the castle shortly before dinner, teeth clattering and exhausted, but with a good mood hanging over them; Harry having acquired his box with Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder, Hermione a new biography of some witch who'd died looking for Atlantis and even Ron had found a leather-bound journal that he would send to his brother.
With Hermione splitting from them to use the time before curfew to head to the library and Ron sitting down to write his letter to Charlie, Harry became suddenly aware that now that his meetup with Mundungus was out of the way, there was nothing standing between his meet-up with Voldemort but the man himself.
A mix of anticipation and wariness got a hold of Harry's mind and held in it an iron grip even as the weekend came to an end.
His fixed "deadline" to procure the prophecy passed without any sign of contact and it did nothing to quench Harry's mental turmoil.
When Sunday turned into Monday, he felt like he was edging insanity.
But all he could do was wait.
He rationalized, that it was probably some kind of sick power-play and yet that did nothing to calm his nerves as Sirius' trial was now barely a fortnight away.
Harry fell back into the habit of fidgeting, rolling his wand between his fingers till even Ron had enough of it and more or less dragged him out to the Quidditch pitch, under the pretence of having to train his abilities as a flyer if only to get him to expel his energy another way.
In the end, Voldemort's message came both sooner and later than Harry would've liked. Namely on Tuesday during double Transfiguration, near the end of his fourth period.
Through all the waiting and anticipation, he had all but forgotten that Voldemort wouldn't be very considerate of his timetable, moreover if he expected Sirius to be the one he was actually meeting.
The only saving grace when a piece of parchment popped up right on his table was that Professor McGonagall had currently turned her back.
Harry picked up what had to be the letter, the tell-tale sliver of elven-magic already fading when he read the words.
Surprisingly enough it wasn't the elegant script he'd become used to when writing to the Lord Voldemort, but instead, an equally familiar - if somewhat smudged - handwriting which indicated that the note had been folded before the ink had completely dried.
your "pen-pal" has replied.
I would be lying if I was saying that I wouldn't want to keep his letter from you, but Kreacher is insistent that you get to read it.
Thankfully I have at least still some kind of hold over the little bastard. So I'm keeping the original letter here, while you receive this replacement note. Otherwise, you would probably happily leave me behind.
Not that I deem you incompetent - with your boyfriend shadowing you, you have a rather good chance of survival, but I think I would be a rather terrible godfather if I would let you face this situation alone.
I won't go into detail, but apparently "I" am expected to show up in fifteen minutes and bring what I promised, so you better hurry up if you want to make this appointment.
Harry stared at the letter, vaguely amused by Sirius describing Death as his "boyfriend" and his gall to hold the original letter back. At least he knew better than to keep Harry fully out of it. Nonetheless, all of this blanched in comparison to the turmoil within Harry's mind at knowing what this meant.
Voldemort had demanded a meeting. In fifteen minutes nonetheless!
Outwardly completely calm, Harry folded the note and idly scanned his surroundings.
Most people were too absorbed in their own daydreams to have noticed anything amiss, but Hermione's resistance to any OWL related lecture enabled her to spot the note in Harry's hand.
'What?' her expression seemed to ask. Harry shook his head.
'Gotta go,' he mouthed to her. She frowned but did nothing when Harry raised his hand. "Professor McGonagall? May I use the bathroom."
The professor turned around and eyed him with a stern expression. "You wouldn't be able to hold it for another eight minutes, Mr Potter?" she inquired and looked at him over her glasses. One of the Hufflepuffs sniggered.
"It's really urgent." Harry put up a - what he hoped to be - charming smile as he looked at Professor McGonagall. He knew what she saw when she scanned over his expression. She sighed.
"Alright, but hurry Mr Potter. At the end of the lesson, I will collect last week's assignment."
"Sure thing, professor," Harry said in lieu of thanks. As soon as he'd turned his back he looked at Ron. With a pointed look, he mouthed "take my bag" and walked briskly towards the door.
Only when he was out in the hallway, he began to sprint.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck," Harry cursed under his breath, hurrying past a group of older Ravenclaws who watched him bemused.
Death materialized next to him, easily keeping pace although he didn't look like he was running at all.
"Why in such a hurry?" the being rasped, displaying his sharp teeth in a smirk.
"Oh, fuck off," Harry breathed back, but he was grinning. Excitement fluttered in his stomach as he skipped past a second year Hufflepuff, who almost had to jump out of the way.
Passing a rusty armour, Harry ducked behind the tapestry right next to it - a popular secret passage which led to an alcove mainly frequented by couples - and straightened up. Even before Harry had assessed whether he was out of view, Death's hand had already curled around his neck mid-motion. They moved through the shadows so fluidly that Harry barely had to adjust when he arrived in the Gryffindor boys dormitory.
"Thanks," he muttered, already heading for his trunk to get to the curse box containing the prophecy. Leaving everything else where it was, Harry shoved the box into the pocket of his robes and then looked at the grinning Death. "Let's go," he said. The being reached out with his hand and then Harry was pulled away through the shadows.