Everything was quiet. Sweat trickled down his forehead. The situation was very intense. Every little noise was a distraction. Focus was the key here. There was only a week left for Peter’s exams and, between patrolling Queens and proving that he wasn’t a bad guy, he’d barely had time to start studying.
“PETER! Happy is on the line!” screamed Aunt May from the other room.
Peter jumped at the sound— his pen clattering to the ground. “I’m trying to study for my finals May!” he called back. “I’m on the verge of failing the class.”
“He says it’s urgent and the safety of the universe is at stake or something — what does that even mean, Happy?”
Peter rushed out of his room, tripped, fell, nearly scratched his arm before snatching the phone out of May’s hand. “What’s the mission?”
Nick Fury spoke in a deep voice, “Take a break, kid.”
“What do you mean?”
“You did good kid, you deserve a break.”
He rolled his eyes, something he’d picked up after spending so much time with MJ. “Oh wow, you decide to give me a break when I have tests? Sounds fun.”
“Don’t worry, that’s been taken care of.”
“Wha—” Peter spluttered, but Fury had already hung up.
The next thing he knew, his class was on a flight to a place he least expected to vacation in. The students of Midtown High had come for an educational trip to India.
They would have gone to Taj Mahal instead, or any of the other infinite cliché destinations in India. But Peter, aka Spiderman, had become so popular that it was impossible to have one moment’s peace without a crowd of fans begging for pictures and autographs.
Hence Udupi. A quaint Temple Town in the south of India, with over a dozen beaches and an uncomfortable heat.
They left at dawn, making their way to a sunrise point, a waterfall and, ending their day at the Hanging Bridge. When Peter returned to the hotel, he wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed and sleep. Their hotel, though, was anything but relaxing. He could hear a sound of merriment coming from the distance — a piece of lively music that Peter was unfamiliar with.
“What do you think it is?” Ned asked.
“Wanna check it out?” Peter replied grinning.
The sound, it turns out, was coming from a nearby college — Manipal Institute of Technology, which was currently celebrating its annual cultural fest, Revels.
The atmosphere shifted the moment they entered the campus. The music was louder, the air smelt of fresh food and spices that made Peter’s stomach rumble, despite the heavy dinner he’d had only a few hours ago. People were dancing, photographers were clicking their pictures. There was so much going on all at once; he didn’t know where to look, or what to do.
Ned pulled him towards the food stalls for some spicy snacks. Peter dragged him back to the photo booth for pictures. Then they headed back to the stalls for a second snack. Everywhere, students from the college were laughing and dancing. Everything felt so alive.
Suddenly, Peter felt something whiz past him. It was a drone, with a tiny camera on it, recording the fest. He spun around, spotting another. And another.
An uncomfortable feeling settled in Peter’s stomach. Was it suspicious? Probably not. Still, his trip to Europe only a year ago had featured drones too and that hadn’t ended well at all.
When, at last, the lights went out, he wandered out of the campus with Ned, suddenly longing for his hotel room bed and the cool air con.
As he crossed the road though, a light from a tin shed caught his eye. At once, Peter knew something was going on. His sixth sense (or, as May called it, his Peter-Tingle) was acting up.
“I think something’s up,” he told Ned.
“Like a bad guy?”
Peter shrugged. “Yeah,” he said. “Would make sense, right? That there’s a mission here?”
“All the best then,” Ned said seriously.
He adjusted the web-shooters on his wrists and snuck into the workshop through the back.
Inside the first shed, students were working on what looked like a satellite. He then inched his way into the next workshop and saw another bunch of students working on a car. In the next room, they had what looked like a rocket.
None of it looked suspicious at a glance, but the uncomfortable feeling in Peter’s stomach didn’t leave.
There was no way Nick Fury would allow him to enjoy a vacation so far from home. Perhaps this entire fest was a facade to hide the actual evil plotting of a supervillain. Maybe he was supposed to catch someone or stop something.
He sat still for what must have been hours, watching from the shadows as the students worked through the night until, at long last, they wrapped up and called it a day.
As soon as the lights were off, Peter stepped out of his hiding spot and rushed to the equipment. He switched on the computer and scanned through the files. He then tried to turn on the equipment and see if he could spot something suspicious.
But, strangely enough, Peter couldn’t find anything.
He switched on his phone. He tried dialling Happy, but he didn’t pick up. Next, he tried Fury, but, once again, Peter was met with silence. Outside, the sun was beginning to rise, and Peter was yet to discover something.
Suddenly, there was a loud thud from outside. Peter sprang up, arm out and ready to shoot. But, the intruder was just a guard checking whether the workshops had been emptied. He shouted something that Peter couldn’t understand, and, before he knew it, the amazing Spiderman was kicked out of MIT.
They’d been in the Labyrinth for days now. Percy had forgotten what the sun looked like – and what it felt like to sleep at night without the constant fear of the Minotaur chasing them. He’d give anything to be back at Camp Half-Blood right now, or at home eating his Mom’s blue cookies. But they were here – in Daedalus Labyrinth, trying to find Daedalus himself.
“I think this is it,” Annabeth said suddenly.
“Are you sure, Wise Girl?”
“I’m not, but I don’t see any other way out for now.”
“Whatever decision you’ve to make, make it fast,” Grover said glancing back nervously. “Luke will be on us soon. We need to hurry up.”
“Okay then,” Annabeth said, pushing through one of the doors of the baffling Labyrinth. “Let’s go.”
At once, a crowd brushed past them, talking loudly and wearing colourful clothes. Daedalus was definitely not behind this door.
“Where are we?”
Percy looked around. There was a group of people standing near them, talking loudly and feasting on ice slushies. The music was loud and extravagant, but unfamiliar.
“I don’t know, but this is really tasty”, Grover said. He’d picked up a tin can from somewhere and was already chewing on it loudly.
“Hello, do you want to participate in a scavenger hunt?” a voice said from behind them. Percy spun around. Someone with volunteer tag was smiling at him broadly, holding up a poster in front of his face.
“Umm, yeah we would—” Percy started off only to be interrupted by Annabeth.
“Seaweed brain, we really don’t have time for this, we can’t risk being discovered by any of Luke’s minions.”
“I suggest we let Annabeth do the brain work,” Grover said, now munching on a cardboard box. “I want to look around.”
“Where are we?” Percy asked again. Giant posters were stuck to the brick walls, and people with cameras pausing every few minutes to take a picture.
“We’re at Revels. I think it’s a fest of some kind,” Annabeth said, pointing at a sign. She turned around, scanning the area around them. “We can’t re-enter the Labyrinth from here, but there should be another entrance nearby. We could try looking around?”
“This could be fun,” Grover said, grinning broadly.
Annabeth frowned. “We need to be careful,” she hissed. “We could be killed.”
Percy let out a chuckle. “Aren’t we always about to be killed?”
“Guys, concentrate. Please. We should keep moving.” Annabeth led them through the campus.
“This looks so pretty”, Grover exclaimed looking at the decoration on the road ahead of them.
“Look at those gravestones, I’ll be the next one to go there”, Percy snorted.
“Very funny,” Annabeth muttered. “The lanterns look really pleasing, and I love the architecture of this place. It looks Romanesque.” She was referring to a building ahead of them, painted white and with tall columns.
“We might be in trouble, but this is so much better than any other place in that horrible Labyrinth. I’d hate to leave”, Grover said.
After days in the darkness of the Labyrinth, where they were always on the run from the Minotaur, or fearing the next monster or God they’d face, this place felt safe. If they could, Percy would have liked to stay here a while too. Maybe even get something to eat.
“It reminds me of home”, Annabeth said quietly. “I miss Camp Half-Blood, and Mr D calling be Annie Belle, eating with my half-siblings, waiting for prophecies and, of course, kicking Seaweed brain’s ass in Capture the Flag.”
Percy laughed. “I definitely don’t miss that last part.”
“Camp Half-Blood is our home; this is theirs. We have quests, they probably have other work to attend to.”
Percy nodded. “This place is different from Camp Half-Blood, but they’re both home to someone. Maybe that’s what feels so familiar.”
“Let’s finish this quest fast, so we can go back to our home,” Annabeth said, adjusting her backpack on her shoulder.
They’d arrived at a glass building on the left of the Colosseum like structure.
“It looks taco-shaped,” Grover mumbled, his stomach growling loudly. They pushed the door open and, all at once, were engulfed in darkness again.
“We’re back,” Percy said with a sinking feeling in his chest.
“That was, something”, Annabeth said.
“Almost like a world apart”, Percy said.
“Guys, I’m still hungry!” Grover cried.
Grover would stay hungry for a while, though.
The trio went on for they had a quest to complete. A quest to save Olympus from falling.
Harry was not expecting a crowd when they landed in Manipal. It was getting dark, but there was music blaring from somewhere, and a large crowd of what must be students were standing in the middle of the path talking loudly.
Hermione reacted first. She grabbed him and Ron, pulling them behind a pillar.
“Why the hell is this place so crowded?”
Harry shrugged in reply.
Until now, they’d been trying to figure out where the Horcrux was, but with all the people around, it was going to be hard. They’d agreed against using Polyjuice Potion because nobody was supposed to be out at night. Now, Harry wondered if they should have come in disguise.
“What do you want to do?” Harry asked.
“We could come back later,” Ron offered.
Hermione wasn’t listening to them, though. She was watching a pair of girls walking past them, her eyes narrowed and wand out.
One of the girls was holding out a necklace with a heavy pendant and showing it to her friend. Hermione stepped forward.
“Guys,” she said uncertainly. “I think that might be it.”
Harry spun around and, seeing what Hermione had spotted, rushed forward. He snatched the locket from the girl’s hand, closing his hand around the cool metal.
He didn’t need to look down to know he’d messed up.
There was no overwhelming sense of darkness and no hum of magic radiating from the locket. It felt ordinary.
“Is that it?” Ron asked, appearing behind Harry.
He opened his palm, revealing a small pendant.
“No,” he said, pushing the necklace back into the girl’s hand and murmuring an apology.
Of course, it wouldn’t be that easy. The Horcrux could be anywhere. A hunch had brought them here, far away from Hogwarts. Now, Harry wasn’t sure if their trip will be worth it.
“What should we do?” Ron asked, but nobody offered up an answer.
Harry looked around. There were food stalls ahead of them, and the scent of Indian delicacies wafted up his nose. Behind him, were various other buildings he didn’t know. The Horcrux could be anywhere. They didn’t even know how large the campus was.
Kreacher had said that Regulus hid the Horcrux far away from Hogwarts; in a place Voldemort would never dream of checking: here. At a college in Manipal, a small town in India. He hadn’t been able to tell Harry anything else though.
“I think they’re having some kind of celebration,” Hermione said. “They have posters about a fest.”
“That would explain the crowd.”
“And the food.”
Harry sighed. That definitely complicated things.
“Do you feel anything?” Hermione asked.
Harry shook his head. He’d felt the dark magic in Marvolo Gaunt’s ring when Dumbledore had shown it to him last year. Just as he’d felt the strange magic radiating from the diary. But, so far, there was nothing here that felt out of place to Harry.
“Maybe we should look around,” he said.
They went through the props at the photo booth, tried to break into a classroom but in vain. At last, they walked down a long road that took them away from the fest and towards a pillared structure in the middle of the campus.
They’d spent hours at Manipal by now, hours that Harry felt as though they’d wasted in vain.
“Maybe we should eat,” Ron offered, sitting down on the curb of the footpath. “It’s not like we’re getting any closer to finding it.”
Hermione sighed, joining him. “I am starving,” she said.
“Okay,” Harry said, and he tried to keep the dejection out of his voice. This was another day they’d wasted. They were still no closer to finding Voldemort than yesterday.
Still, he welcomed the break. He was tired from his day of searching and, the thought of warm food was appealing, to say the least.
Hours later, Harry would see the latest edition of the Daily Prophet sitting on the kitchen table at Grimmauld place. From the front page, an image of Dolores Umbridge would smile at him, wearing the very locket they were hunting for.
Tomorrow, they’d continue on their hunt for Voldemort’s Horcruxes. But, for now, he was enjoying Revels.
Written by Sanjana Bharadwaj, Pallavi Dutta and Aakanksha Mantri for MTTN
Edited by Naintara Singh
Graphis by Chirag Bansal