Chapter 24 The Serpent’s Banquet

The Goblin’s Amulet

Chapter 24: The Serpent’s Banquet

Neither Albus nor Mark had anything to say to the other. They just stared at each other hardly, not letting their gazes go for a second. If once again, they were enemies after this, so be it believed Albus. So long as Lily was safe, Albus would accept being on poor terms with Mark for the rest of his life. If that was the price to pay, he would pay it. And that was what Albus was telling him through the look he gave. Mark was just silent before dropping his gaze. He looked like he wanted to say something but Lily’s muffled voice caught their attention again followed by a voice that sounded like Alexis’.

“Later,” Albus whispered and pushed ahead.

The two clambered on ahead, drawing themselves to full height once they got out. As expected, they were in the Shrieking Shack and just beyond an ajar door were the voices of Soto and Alexis. The lights were on in that room so it cast a dim glow on the clustered and ruined room Mark and Albus stood in.

“And I believe our guest of honor has arrived,” Soto’s voice went and Albus knew that their presence was not unnoticed. The element of surprise was lost but Albus still had the Amulet and thanks to Hugo, the map as well. Soto had every reason to let Lily go after this. If they were lucky, and Albus believed they might be, Soto might just let everyone leave alive.

That said, what Albus expected to see when walking into the room was a gagged Lily, maybe a smirking Seth standing beside his father, Alexis bound and gagged to look as helpless as Lily. He expected to see some Purifiers guarding the door, ready to drag Albus in and throw him to the ground. They couldn’t take his belongings because Albus sealed his pockets shut before coming.

Alas, that was not what awaited them. What awaited them beyond the door was nothing more or less than a feast. Even Mark gaped in shock before rolling his eyes, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Our guests of honor,” Soto said from the head of a long table. It appeared two seats were empty. One on either side of Lily. Alexis was on the other side of one of the seats, looking surprised to see Albus there and half worried. Across from Alexis sat Seth Lean and beside him, close beside him was a small child Albus had never met before. A girl sat on the other side, making Albus think these were the hostages Soto had taken before, after Albus’ broom was Jinxed. Finally, the entire force had gathered.

“Inside,” a voice said from under a white hood. Albus and Mark had their wands taken from them before being forced inside roughly.

“At ease,” Soto ordered calmly as he got up from the table. “I decided that I would treat all my… victims before going down to business. Mr. Potter, you may sit here,” Soto motioned to the seat between Lily and Alexis. “Wallader, over here beside me. I am terribly sorry to tell you this, Mr. Potter but whatever you came here for is not for you to deal with any longer. You lost that right a couple of months ago. In fact, I truly would not have cared had you decided to stay in Hogwarts.”

Alexis herself seemed half surprised to see Albus and deeply uncomfortable with his presence there. Lily seemed a little relieved that her big brother had come. Like a worry of hers had been dispelled. Albus would have stayed standing but a Purifier forced him into the designated seat. It occurred to Albus of course, that this was a poisoning. Surely. That was the only game Soto would play that might sound a little like him. This time, Soto had Albus stumped for sure.

“It’s not poison,” Alexis muttered.

Albus cringed a bit. It was the first time Alexis spoke him since she cast a spell on him and he was still upset about that. Had she kept him there with her, he may have had a chance to avoid this. And he still did not understand how she managed to get him into the Slytherin Common room, let alone the dormitory.

“Miss Ackerly here was just telling us about her heritage,” Soto said easily. “Apparently, Mr. Potter, she is Ravenclaw’s descendent. I found it particularly fascinating because Wizardkind is under a common impression that Ravenclaw’s daughter ran away.” Alexis did not answer but kept her lips shut. Soto, it seemed was very talkative for a maniac who had threatened Albus and his family countless times. “Supposedly, I am to understand that Ravenclaw had a son, am I right Miss Ackerly?”

Alexis kept her mouth zipped tightly but nodded against her will, Albus could swear Soto had the Imperius curse on her before he noted that Soto’s wand was not withdrawn. Soto seemed pleased with himself, “Us Slytherins prize obscurity of course, don’t we Mr. Potter. Potter, try the snake, it’s delicious. A delicacy in some cultures.”

Albus surprised Mark, Alexis and even himself with his response, “Go stuff yourself with it then.”

Soto looked momentarily shocked before regaining composure, “Manners at the dinner table, Mr. Potter. I- Seth!” he slapped Seth’s hand which had reached out to grab a piece of bread. “Manners.”

“Simon wants a loaf,” Seth said simply.

“Then ask someone to pass it to you,” Soto said simply. “You’ll have to forgive my son. He lacks proper etiquette. And a taste in friends now I think of it,” he added. “Now, you Mr. Wallader. Orgella tells me the Goblins picked up a rather interesting disturbance in you before Christmas. Care to explain?”

“Boil your head,” Mark said dirtily.

“My, my, my, the level of madness at the dinner table…”

“Gryffindors lack manners, it’s a proven fact,” Seth said matter-of-factly to Simon.

The food suddenly disappeared and the table looked dirty once more, like it had not been used for ages. Soto changed face to a serious one once more, finally the Soto Albus knew and said in a deep, threatening voice, “I do hope you all realize that no one will be leaving this shack alive until I have what I want. And part of it is information Mr. Wallader can give me. So… you can all choose to act rowdy and refuse the hospitality I grant even my enemies or you can comply. Only one way will end well for all of you.”

“I gave you what you wanted,” Alexis said simply, not meeting his eyes.

Soto did not seem to disagree, “Yes, you did. Now, your fate rests with the decisions that Mr. Wallader makes. So, no pressure if it doesn’t turn out well. He’s known to be stubborn, isn’t he Mr. Potter?”

Albus did not respond to that but moved his eyes to Lily, “I have what you want.”

“No, you do not,” Soto said simply. “Not anymore.”

“I have more,” Albus emphasized, thinking of the map.

Soto considered and then turned to his guards, “Take the girl to the corner and disarm her. If Mr. Potter wastes my time, do as you like to her.”

Soto seized Albus and dragged him into a separate room, the same room he was in with Mark before. The passage was at the end of it. Soto shut the door and cast a spell to make it impossible to eavesdrop. Then, he turned to Albus and disarmed him rather quickly. He caught Albus’ wand and pocketed it. “Well, you’re at a disadvantage. If, Mr. Potter, this wastes my time I could otherwise spend wheedling valuable information from young Master Wallader, you will be a very sorry young man. Now, what is it you have that I supposedly want?”

“The Amulet,” Albus said simply. “You gave it to me. I’ve kept it, even after telling dad. I kept it and hid it. And it’s with me. Here,” and he took it out, showing the fake Goblin’s Amulet to Soto.

“And you believe that the Amulet is all I am after?” Soto asked testily. “I gave it to you for a reason. I am sorry, but your sister’s life appears to mean very little to”-

“I have a map of Hogwarts!” Albus said desperately.

This time, Albus struck gold. Soto blinked in surprise and Albus took out a parchment. “It has a secret to read it. But it’s a map. A detailed one. Has a dot representing each and every being in the castle, labeled, shows every passage and where everyone is. You want it. Don’t you?”

“A secret to read it… name your price,” Soto said interestedly.

“Let my sister go first,” Albus demanded. “And Alexis too. And Mark. Let them all go. And I’ll give you whatever you want. The Amulet and the map.” Albus knew he was betraying everyone by doing this but he also knew that Lily would be safe afterwards. It was his only chance. “You took Lily because you wanted to lure me over and you got me. Alexis told you what you wanted. Mark is the only one you lose. It’s worth it considering I’m giving you two objects you want!”

Soto did seem interested. “Three for three, Mr. Potter,” Soto suggested. Albus pocketed the map and Soto added, “But she will not be harmed regardless of the outcome. You have my word.”

Albus’ heart was pounding as he went on, “Alexis… and Mark.”

“Mr. Wallader will have to remain in the air until I get some information out of you,” Soto said simply. “Let Harry Potter escort his children to safety. However…” he turned and opened the door. The noise outside was at a minimum as Soto called Alexis inside. A tiny scuffling and Alexis came in, legs shaking in tension. Albus had never seen her look so nervous before but Soto had a smile on. “Miss Ackerly, congratulations, you are free to go. I will never harass you or your family again, you have been a great service to me. Courtesy of Mr. Potter.”

Albus said nothing, but went red as Alexis rested her eyes on him and she eased up, “Oh… erm…” it was clear she was not expecting this outcome. “May I talk to Albus please?”

“No, you may not,” Soto said in mock sadness.

“Just for a minute?”

“Please leave before I decide I am being too lenient,” Soto added, gesturing towards the passage.

In silence, Alexis walked towards the passage and looked down. She nodded slowly and turned back. Soto stared intently at her, as if determined to instill fear till the last second. Albus took advantage of this and caught her eye, mouthing, “Hugo,” from the corner of his mouth, and motioned his head to the passage, praying she got his message.

Alexis nodded, seemingly at Soto but Albus knew she got it. He exhaled a sigh of relief as she disappeared down the passage and from sight. After two minutes of waiting, Soto turned back to Albus, “As for Mr. Wallader. Give me the contents of the Prophecy you heard and the amulet and I let everyone run scout free.”

“P-Prophecy…”

“You cannot hide its existence from me, Mr. Potter,” Soto said dangerously and it was clear to Albus, giving him those contents would ruin everything. “I may be inferior in power but I surpass the Dark Lord in Occlumency. I know it was revealed to you. However, unfortunately, you must willingly reveal it to me before I can gain anything. If you fail, I am afraid I will definitely have to kill your sister.”

A dark feeling came over Albus. Soto was breaking his word, “Y-you said, you promised”-

“I let Ackerly go,” Soto growled dangerously. “Against my better judgment. But I let her go to cede to you what you wanted. Miss Potter remains my leverage over you. If you fail to do as I say, she dies. Tell me the Prophecy immediately!” His last words were more like a hiss than a growl.

Before Albus could say anything, the door opened a fraction and the blonde Rufeus poked his head in, “Incommodo has arrived.”

Soto smirked, “Just as she forewarned. Excellent. Come with me, Mr. Potter. Our haggle will have to wait till after our date with the devil.” He led Albus back to the room they were in before. Just as they entered, it seemed Incommodo had just come from downstairs, standing tall, black hair in dreadlocks over papery yellow skin and a blood-red robe. Soto raised an eyebrow, “You used the front door…”

“I have that happy luxury,” Incommodo said wispily. “Unlike you, I am not on the run.”

In Hogwarts…

“Been hoping you would catch me alone,” James shrugged.

“That was the purpose of your uprising?” Phoenix said, not bothering to hide his slight surprise.

“Just a grand way of getting your attention,” James shrugged mischievously.

“You are going to be punished Mr. Potter,” Phoenix said calmly but with a hint of fierceness in his voice.

“Mmm, hmm, first, can you please punish Soto for me?” James asked politely. “Only, he has my little sister, my little brother and my little foster brother.”

Phoenix moved his head back in interest, “Soto…”

“Dad is on his way,” James shrugged and strangely enough, he alone of all the Potter children appeared lax and calm, dealing with it one step at a time. “I trust him so I’m sure everyone will get out ok but it’s rather strange, hypocritical really that a Headmaster of Hogwarts let a bunch of students disappear under his nose.” Phoenix’s eyes flashed dangerously but James held his ground and continued, “Seth, Al, Mark, Lily, Alexis, Hugo… you really suck. So, if your job is all you care about, then I’ll tell you what. Punish me… and I’ll tell everyone what your real game is.”

The talk between Phoenix and James was not going unnoticed either. Wrapped in a single Invisibility cloak was Aries V. Kimble, eyes widening as she overheard enough to interest her. Cloak over her head, she ran off, as fast as her legs would carry her towards the gates where she could see vaguely in the darkness, a giant mass on his way.

Deep in the forest…

The day Otto had to turn against his own kind seemed to have arrived. Vampires were hording over him, stepping over the bodies of Werewolves and even Acromantula. Even the Centaurs were staying back, watching with their bows loaded, monitoring the situation carefully. More and more Vampires came to attack Otto and he hit one off, even fired a spell to keep two at bay.

But more and more kept coming. It appeared that they were under the Imperius Curse. Otto quickly lost his own allies to a spell controlling their every move. He turned to the Centaurs and shrugged, “Fire at will. Hit the casters!” And with that, Otto opened his cloak wide, more like a bat than ever and flew off through the forest, vampires and the Reservation thundering after him as the Centaurs resumed their firing.

Centaurs gave chase but soon enough, a horde of Acromantula thundered in, keeping the Centaurs at bay. Jets of Imperius Curse continued being fired, taking control of one creature after another, turning the forest’s defense against itself and against Hogwarts. Teddy and Otto fled before the curses, regrouping at the entrance of the forest as Phoenix took action.

Students were being dealt with in the Great hall, Professor Creevey talking to them. And unbeknownst to everyone, Alexis and Hugo were on their way back to the castle through the passageway. Professors Redgrow, Ackerly and Vulneroman marched outside to meet the Reservation head on.

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