Whispers of a Raven: Prologue
So, here is the prologue of my latest venture.
For those of you new to my writing, welcome. To those of you that know my work already, welcome back.
If you are new, then please do check out my profile for all my social media links and links to other platforms.
I do host a weekly podcast on my p page where we are currently up to episode 18. Along with this, I post original work, FF stuff and plethora of things 5 days a week.
Anyway, do enjoy this prologue. A chapter of this will be uploaded every Sunday here.
In light of the recent passing of the incredibly talented Helen McCrory, this entire work is dedicated to her for her fantastic portrayal of Narcissa Malfoy in the film series and all the other spectacular roles she has played throughout her career.
May I do her character justice within these pages.
June 29th, 2001
The streets of London were as they had always been other than the thick, cold fog that had rolled in almost four years ago and had remained year-round since, regardless of the season. The muggles had decided it was a natural phenomenon, as they could attribute it to nothing else. Harry knew better, as did those of wizarding Britain. The Dementors had been unleashed upon them like a plague mere weeks after the Ministry had fallen.
It had happened with the public none the wiser, at least until it was too late to offer resistance. Voldemort had struck without warning, those who opposed him having been slain. According to the rumours, Amelia Bones had been first, followed by the Aurors loyal to her who refused to bow to the Dark Lord. With the fighting men and women dead or conceding defeat, the rest fell into line and the coup ended as quickly as it had begun.
In one swift move, the country had been placed under heel. Were it not for the unusually selfless act of Rita Skeeter reporting the incident in the Daily Prophet, it was unlikely the public would have learned what had occurred. Voldemort certainly seemed to be in no rush to inform them. However, it was the last publication printed of that nature. Rita Skeeter disappeared soon after and had not been heard of since. Harry had no doubt that she was dead. The Dark Lord always found who he was looking for eventually and she had undeniably provoked his ire.
Uncoincidentally, the paper was the next target of the new regime. Barnabus Cuffe, the editor, had been mysteriously replaced as had most of the reporters, though they did not announce such things. The only difference in the publications were that they were supportive of the new regime, claiming the country had become stagnant and that change was required for progress to be made.
None were fooled but neither were they willing to contradict that narrative. Those who did were quietly disposed of in the night and those that knew them pretended they never existed.
Fear had gripped the nation and it only tightened it's grasp throughout the following months and years.
The highest offices in the land were filled with sympathisers or outright supporters of the Dark Lord. It mattered not which as they no longer had need to work from within the shadows.
Harry had been on the cusp of completing his sixth year of Hogwarts when word of what happened had reached the castle. It had come as a surprise; the preceding months having been quiet with himself and even Dumbledore under the impression Voldemort was preparing. Even the headmaster had not been able to believe he had done so in such an efficient manner and all but seized the advantage.
He shook his head at the thought of the older man.
Harry had been terrified but had taken comfort in the knowledge that he was within Hogwarts and under the protection of the only wizard Voldemort had been wary of engaging, though that comfort was short-lived. In the space of a single conversation, any assurance he felt all but evaporated.
As he looked upon Dumbledore, he could not help but notice he was more tired than usual, his posture hunched and the eyes that always seemed so full of life were dull. Before him was not the invincible, unshakable man he had always seen but the product of a life lived, little more than an old man. Nonetheless, the headmaster greeted him with his usual smile as he gestured for him to take a seat.
"We have spent much of our time together this year learning about Tom, the kind of boy he was and the man he grew to become," he began. "I fear with what has happened, our time is more limited than I had first believed, and for that, I can only apologise to you, Harry."
Harry frowned but said nothing as the headmaster held up a hand to prevent such.
"I was hoping to show you much more than I have…"
"We still have time, Professor," Harry cut him off. "He can't get into the castle, not with you here."
Dumbledore offered him a grateful smile but shook his head.
"Whether I am here or not, he will find a way," he sighed, "and you need to be prepared for that. It will happen sooner than you believe and there is nothing I can do to prevent it."
Harry shook his head in disbelief unable to accept it.
"Why?" he asked pleadingly.
"Because I am not long for this world," the old man answered candidly as he raised his gloved hand and removed the garment.
Harry gasped at the appearance of the limb. It was blackened, as though dead and decomposing.
"What happened?" he asked, unable to avert his gaze though Dumbledore replaced the glove, pulling him from his observation.
"I made a foolish mistake and it cost me dearly," he explained. "I have spent this year preparing you for the inevitable and need you to listen to what I have to say. Do not be consumed by grief for me, Harry. I have lived a full life and what comes next is nothing more than the first steps of my next great adventure."
He couldn't believe what he was hearing. If Dumbledore was gone, they had already lost as far as he was concerned. There was none that could hope to stand against Voldemort. His victory was all but certain without Dumbledore there to oppose him.
"What am I going to do, Professor?" he questioned desperately, feeling more vulnerable than he ever had.
"You are going to survive, Harry, and I will use my remaining days to ensure you have the best chance to do so."
True to his word, that was exactly what he had done. Dumbledore had succumbed to the effects of the curse five months later but had used that time to help him. Instead of focusing on Voldemort, he had begun teaching him magic, spells that would help him out of tight situations and ones he could use to defend himself against those that wished him harm, or dead, the latter being the most likely when confronted with Death Eaters and the Dark Lord.
Working with the man had seen him improve in leaps and bounds, but it wasn't enough. Even if he'd had a decade with him, it wouldn't have been enough, but Dumbledore had done what he could in the time given and those lessons had saved his life on numerous occasions now. But it was not these skills he would remember the man for. No, living as he had these past months had taught him more about survival than he could learn from anyone. It was what the man had burdened him that he would remember him for.
It had happened only a few days before he had died and had developed into much of what weighed him down now, though he doubted this was the intention of the headmaster when he had made the gesture.
Dumbledore looked worse than ever. Even seated, his breath was laboured, his hair was thin, and a sheen of perspiration was visible on his forehead. He had weakened considerably over the months, but despite this, had met with him almost every day.
"How are you, Professor?" he asked.
The headmaster smiled and gestured for him to sit.
"As well as can be expected, Harry," he replied.
He fell silent for several moments as he simply stared at him, almost as though he was trying to read his thoughts. If he were to truly try, he perhaps could but not without resistance. Harry had worked tirelessly on his occlumency with Snape throughout the past two years and had reached what the man deemed to be an acceptable level.
"Tonight, will be our last meeting, Harry," Dumbledore revealed when he spoke once more. "My time is an almost at an end but there are things we still need to discuss."
Harry wanted to protest but could see the truth in his words. He was dying and would likely breathe his last in the coming days.
Dumbledore shook his head.
"No, not tonight. We have spoken all we can of him. Tonight, we will speak about you."
The headmaster nodded.
"I remember the very first day I held you in my arms, the night he killed your parents. There you were, just a baby that would grow into the young man in front of me now," he began. "You have done remarkable things already, Harry, survived where most others would not and persevered when most would have given up. I do not say this lightly when I tell you that I am so very proud of you."
"I did what I had to do, Professor."
"You did, and yet, there is still so much left unfinished," Dumbledore sighed. "I have made many mistakes in my life, Harry, done things I am not proud of and much of that relates to you. I believed I was doing what was right when I left you with your relatives and even by shielding you from the truth. I can only apologise and hope you can one day forgive me for my foolishness."
There had been times when he had been furious with the man for keeping things from him, frustrated that he had only been given half-truths and platitudes when all he wanted was honesty. He should have been told about the horcruxes sooner and the damned prophecy. It had only been two weeks prior that he had learned of his fate.
"So do I," he replied, uncertain if forgiveness could be truly given.
Dumbledore offered him a bow before opening his drawer and placing a box between them.
"To assist you when I am gone, I have taken the liberty of ensuring you have some essentials with you," he explained as he enlarged what was revealed to be a trunk. "I do not think it will be wise for you to linger. When news of my death inevitably gets out, he will come."
He opened the lid and first removed a long, wrapped package.
"This is a magical tent, Harry. It will provide you shelter and somewhere to sleep. When the need arises to leave, I would recommend not staying in one place for more than a day or so. I have written this down along with many other useful pieces of information in this book," he added, taking the mentioned tome from the trunk and placing it next to the tent.
Harry nodded but frowned.
"Wouldn't it be better if I went to Grimmauld Place?"
"It would," Dumbledore agreed, "but you are not one to hide from your demons, Harry. It is inevitable that you will one day seek to put an end to this. As much as I wish I could convince you not to, it is in your nature."
Harry could not argue with that. He was not ready but one day would be and he would not be able to remain idle for the rest of his life, not while Voldemort continued to draw breath.
"I have also included several books of my own for your perusal and as a continuation of what we have been working on. I daresay they will prove to be useful for you. I cannot stress enough the importance to continue as we have, Harry."
"I will," the teen vowed.
"Excellent. I have given what gold remained in my personal account from Gringotts. It will not last forever, but I do not think it safe for you to make an appearance there to visit your own vault. It should see you through for some time."
"You didn't have to do that, Professor."
"I cannot take it with me, Harry," Dumbledore chuckled as he placed the items back in the trunk, coughing from the exertion. "There is one other thing I believe you should have, my boy."
He shrunk the trunk but did not pocket his wand. Instead, he stared at it fondly for a moment as a smile graced his lips.
"I have carried this since 1945, having won its' allegiance from its previous owner," he mused aloud.
Harry frowned at the words before the realisation hit.
"This wand has quite the history to it and there are those that would go to great lengths to possess it. My final wish is for you to have it, Harry, to protect it and for it to protect you."
Harry could only look at the man questioningly.
"Tell me, do you still have the ring I gave you?" the headmaster asked when he did not move to take the wan.
"I have," Harry answered as he pulled out the chain from within his robes, he kept it on. The ring served as a constant reminder of what he was up against. It offered him no comfort but kept him grounded and served to remind him to curb his rash instincts.
He had almost fallen into a trap set by Voldemort a year ago and were it not for Hermione's cool head and Snape's timely intervention, who knows what would have happened? Sirius had been found well, merely napping, and not being tortured as he had been led to believe.
He had put much more effort into the mind arts from then on, having truly learned the necessity of them.
"And that rather spectacular cloak that belonged to your father?" Dumbledore pressed, pulling him from those dark thoughts.
"I keep it with me all the time, like you told me to. I'm sorry, Professor, am I missing something?"
"Indeed, but you will learn of it soon enough," Dumbledore replied as he withdrew another book from the drawer of his desk and slid it towards him.
"The tales of Beedle the Bard," he muttered and opened the cover to read the contents page. "Babbity Rabbit? What have children stories got to do with my cloak?"
"Not just the cloak, but the ring and the wand also. I would recommend reading from page forty-four. You will understand when you do."
Fawkes trilled his agreement from his perch and the headmaster reached over to stroke his plumage, distracting Harry from the topic at hand.
"What will happen to him when you're gone?"
Dumbledore released a deep sigh.
"I had hoped he would choose to accompany you as he has me, but he is under the impression you are perhaps destined for another companion. I do not know what he means but I have learned that he has yet to be wrong in over a century of sharing his company."
"Can you understand him? Does he speak to you?"
He had always wondered about the relationship between the man and the phoenix but had never thought to ask about it until now.
"In a sense," Dumbledore answered thoughtfully. "He understands me more than I do him, but I have learnt to read his moods over the years. I suppose it is difficult to understand without having experienced it for yourself."
"I suppose so," Harry replied.
He too shared such moments with Hedwig where he felt that he could understand her mood and thoughts, but it didn't seem the same as what Dumbledore shared with Fawkes.
"You will need to disarm me to win the wand's allegiance, Harry," the headmaster broke into his thoughts.
"Is it really necessary?" he asked feeling rather uncomfortable by the thought of doing so.
Hesitantly, Harry drew his wand as he shook is head and pointed it towards the man. With a sharp jab, the one in the headmaster's hand was pulled free and he snatched it out of the air.
Immediately, a strange feeling overcame him as the magic of the wand met his own. He shivered at the coldness, though it was not an unwelcome one, it was oddly comforting, as though it belonged.
Not only was he distracted by the feeling of the wand, he could also feel the ring and cloak react to it as a rather strange connection formed between the three items and himself. It was not one he could see, but he felt it almost as though they were judging him before the magic settled beneath his surface.
Dumbledore eyed him for a moment before nodding slowly.
"Each one of those items is unique and special on their own. I do not believe that all three have ever been united the way they are now, though I will leave you to learn of them from the book."
"Of children's stories," Harry added eliciting a wheezing chuckle from the man.
"You should never dismiss something because of what it appears to be, Harry," he chided lightly. "I expect you will come to learn that one day."
Fawkes trilled once more, a sad note that did not match the usually uplifting chirps he would give.
"You have my apologies, Harry, I find that I am rather more tired than usual," Dumbledore said. "Could I trouble you to assist me to my bed?"
Harry stood and offered the man his arm, noting the feebleness of his grip as he helped him to his feet and allowed the man to lead him to a door on the far side of the office.
He opened it and found a surprisingly sparse room with only a bed, a now empty bookcase and a single photo on the bedside table.
"My family," Dumbledore explained without prompt. "My mother, father, my brother Aberforth and sister, Ariana. Abe will be the last of us."
Harry did not know what to say but helped the man onto the bed.
"I thank you for your assistance, but I can manage from here," the headmaster chuckled. "I will feel better after some rest."
Harry nodded and after ensuring Dumbledore was steady, took his leave, pausing at the door for a moment.
The man smiled warmly.
A part of him knew he would never see him again. He had died only a few days later, peacefully from what Madame Pomfrey had said. He had been buried quietly in the grounds of the school he had made his home for many decades and it had been decided that his death would not be announced publicly, but the secrecy did not last long.
Only a few weeks after, the news had spread, and Voldemort had seized his next opportunity. Although the Professor's did all they could, they could not hold out against him and his forces. In only three days, the castle too had fallen, though Harry had not been there to witness it.
Professor Snape of all people had all but forced him alongside Hermione, Ron and Ginny, through the floo network to Grimmauld Place where what remained of the Order had gone to ground.
He later learned that Draco Malfoy and several other Slytherin students had assisted the Dark Lord. There was even a rumour that Malfoy had been the one to get word to Voldemort that Dumbledore had died, but that had never been proven. He still hoped to catch up with him in the future and learn the truth for himself.
All of that, however, seemed like a lifetime ago now and so much more had happened since, things he wished he could have prevented.
Shortly after Dumbledore had died, Bill Weasley decided he would go ahead with his wedding to Fleur Delacour, a decision Harry still did not understand to this day.
Although they had taken steps to ensure the safety of the guests, it hadn't been enough. Only minutes after the ceremony had concluded, The Burrow had been attacked and many had been killed, including Ron.
The ever-loyal fool had jumped in front of a killing curse that had been heading for Hermione. Not only had he lost his first and best friend, he had learnt more about the wand Dumbledore had given him than he ever expected to.
Seeing Ron fall had angered him beyond anything he had experienced thus far throughout his life, and the wand had responded.
As he had slid it into his hands, it seemingly developed a mind of its own. Or had merely carried out his wishes. He could not be sure which. Either way, the result was the same. The Death Eater that had killed his friend had died screaming; his body slowly engulfed by a black fire that left nothing behind other than a charred skeleton.
Order members and Death Eaters alike had watched the spectacle, shocked by the act he had unwittingly carried out. The wand, however, was not done. That same, welcoming coldness he felt when he first came into possession of it had enveloped him.
What happened next had done so in a blur. He remembered nothing of it, but several more robed figures had fallen to him in the following moments and the attackers that had not fallen to him had fled.
When he came back to himself and had seen what he had done, his trembling legs gave out and he fell to his knees, emptying the contents of his stomach. The smell of burning flesh, evacuated bowels, and the sight of the mutilated bodies would haunt him for months after.
Worse than what he'd done had been the reaction to it. The Order members looked upon him as though he were a monster, no better than those they were opposing and his relationship with them had never been the same after that day. Only Sirius, Moody and Remus had shown any acceptance of what he'd done.
Hermione had tried to, but she had lost herself in grief, had blamed herself for Ron being killed. It wasn't her fault at all, and she knew it deep down, but she wasn't the same person she had been, and they grew apart over the months that followed. They had remained on good terms but the chasm that had formed from that day only deepened when she had gotten the news that her parents had been killed in a Death Eater attack.
She had never said as much, but he knew she held him at least partly at fault for that. With the death of Ron and her parents, she had not coped well and had left. To where? He knew not but he had not seen her for more than three years now and he missed her dearly. He hoped that wherever she was now, she had found a semblance of peace with it.
Although he and Hermione had suffered the day of the wedding, the Weasley's had done so more than any. Not only had they lost Ron, but Bill too within moments of him being married. Harry hadn't known him well but the few memories he had of the man were bitter ones. He could not help but blame Bill for what had happened that day, his impatience to marry the French veela having come at a great cost.
He snorted at the thought of the man.
"Idiot," he muttered.
Were it only death and scorn he'd had to overcome, perhaps he wouldn't be where he was now, but whatever deities decided to make his life so difficult had other ideas.
He had quickly grown tired of being sheltered, the Order members watching over him as though he was a precious vase that needed to be preserved. This was not what Dumbledore had in mind and not the way Harry wanted to live either. If what the Prophecy had said was true, it was him that needed to be fighting, him that should be doing all he could to put an end to Voldemort. The Order had other plans. Though it was clear they had grown wary, even fearful of him and didn't want to be around him, they would not relent in keeping him locked away like a prisoner.
They were wrong and the tension had eventually boiled over. He had taken the trunk Dumbledore had given him and had followed in Hermione's footsteps in the dead of night.
That had been three-years-ago to the day. He felt bad for Sirius, but he could no longer continue as he had been. He needed to be away from the Order, to do something about what was happening, and he had seized an opportunity of his own.
They had looked for him and were likely still doing so, but he had not seen hide nor hair of any of them for a year. He had become adept at hiding and even more so at surviving when people did somehow track him down, whether it was the Snatchers or Order members. Both groups had found him several times, but he had always eluded them eventually, his wand dispatching of the former and his wits the latter. Death had become something he was now familiar with, a companion even. He didn't know how many he'd been forced to kill but it mattered not. All he knew was that he no longer remembered their faces and he slept peacefully, when the Hallows allowed him such respite.
He had found 'The Tale of the Three Brothers' a fantastical one and something he had at first dismissed out of hand, but the items he possessed begged to differ.
Ever since the wedding and his subsequent use of the wand, it had plagued him, along with the damned cloak and the stone. They had become a bigger burden than he could have ever imagined.
It had begun with a feeling that resembled that of a Legilimency attack, all three probing at him with that eerily welcome magic that permeated from them, still seemingly judging him, almost whispering in his mind. They were not words he could hear but, instead, almost glimpses of things, memories he had not lived.
As the months and years passed by, they had only grown clearer, more persistent and regular. The past half a year had been the worst.
They had intruded upon his dreams, the same way the door he dreamt of had during his fifth year, though this was more than just an innocuous door. It was an archway of sorts, one that whispered to him, luring him to it, though he would always wake before he could reach it. The whispering was phantasmal, dozens of voices urging him to walk through the archway. The dreams lone he could have ignored and were it not for the voices that spoke to him throughout the day he would have paid them little mind. The voices, however, could not be dismissed.
At first, he had been terrified of them, had wondered if he had finally cracked under the strain of everything. It took him some time to figure out that it was the Hallows speaking to him, whispering and leading him to the dangerous task he was about to undertake.
"Shh, it's alright, Olin," he comforted the white-eyed raven.
Somewhere, he believed that Dumbledore was feeling very smug in his assessment that Fawkes had never been wrong. The raven now perched on his shoulder had found him only a day after he had left Grimmauld Place. Olin had been his companion ever since, no matter how often and hard he had tried to shoo him away.
Harry had not been ready for another familiar, not since Hedwig had undoubtedly been killed to spite him.
In the haste to get him out of and away from the castle, she had been left behind and the owlery had been sealed to prevent both incoming and outgoing mail when the Ministry had fallen.
She would have had no chance to escape when the castle had followed and the thought of what she would have endured angered and saddened him deeply.
There was a time that she had been his only friend and the one he had relied on to keep him sane during his summers with the Dursleys. For that reason alone, he wanted Voldemort dead.
Instead of his faithful, snowy owl, he now had the rather unnerving raven to keep him company. The whispering of the Hallows and clarity of the dreams had only increased since his arrival.
He didn't hate Olin, had grown rather fond of him in truth, but he was bitter about Hedwig and the raven could never hope to fill the void she had left behind.
He was rather disconcerting too, the omen of the bird not a pleasant one in most societies, and his incessant need to squawk the word 'Death' had worn thin long ago. He wouldn't have minded so much had he other words in his vocabulary, but it was just the one.
He was not a stupid creature, far from it and that was what irked him so much. Olin had warned him several times of impending attacks, had even pointed out magical traps that had been left in place, but he could not help but think his appearance was not a coincidence. The bird had arrived, his dreams had increased and the pull the Hallows had over him grew.
They were connected somehow and he to them and the bird. He just didn't know what it meant.
"To master death, you must first accept it…"
"Oh, shut up," Harry muttered irritably.
The visions of the archway and those same words that were whispered constantly to him was why he found himself here. He could not go on ignoring them nor the urge he had to seek it out. For some reason, it seemed important and he was compelled to put it to rest, if only for his own sanity.
"Check it out, Olin," he instructed.
The bird took to the skies over London and Harry waited. For two weeks he had camped in this alleyway, watching and waiting for the opportune moment. The Hallows had led him here, to the place most dangerous to him, but still, the feeling that he needed to be here was unshakable. It felt wrong to willingly submit himself to such danger, and he couldn't fathom why, but it was necessary.
After a few moments of flight, Olin landed on his shoulder once more and crowed gently.
"Are you sure?" Harry asked with a frown.
The raven squawked indignantly, eliciting a chuckle from the man.
"I was just checking, you grumpy git," he replied, content in the knowledge that there were no wizards lying in wait.
He didn't know how he could tell the difference between muggles and magical folk, but the bird had yet to fail him and he began packing away his things, still wishing he could go back to a time where his life was not so complicated or difficult.
He had these moments from time to time but remembered what that too had been like and how far he had come in the intervening years.
He had been naïve back then, his life seemingly lived from one catastrophe to the next, yet, he had been sheltered from the adversity he had overcome since.
As much as he had seen him as such, Dumbledore was not a perfect person and had his flaws as all men did. Through his inexperienced eyes, he had looked upon him as though he were a god, unbeatable and never wrong.
He knew better now. Having experienced the world for what it had become, and growing with it, he had learnt many lessons that his younger self would never have understood. Unpleasant occurrences had happened, and more would follow, but he still lived and breathed and would do so until someone ripped the life from him, or he managed to kill Voldemort, as unlikely as that was.
The Dark Lord had grown strong, his support stronger than it had ever been. No matter how many Death Eaters or Snatchers he killed, there was always more willing to take their place.
He didn't know what he was going to do. He had simply lived day to day from place to place, preparing for the inevitable confrontation, almost waiting for it to come to him. It hadn't done so thus far, but they would meet. Fate had seemingly decreed so and it may well be today.
Entering the Ministry of Magic was a foolish thing to do, but he could no longer resist the compulsion. He knew that if he did not, the Hallows and infernal raven that had chosen him would give him no peace.
"Death!" Olin shrieked.
"Probably, my friend," Harry replied, stroking the inky feathers of his companion.
With his trunk packed and pocketed, he cast a plethora of concealment charms on himself and even changed the colour of his hair and eyes.
It had been years since Voldemort had laid eyes on him, but he was taking no chances and he wrapped his cloak around himself before flicking his wand into his hand, the ring that now adorned his finger instead of a chain around his neck prominent against the white of the wood.
He didn't know why he had moved it; it had merely felt like the right thing to do. Somehow, it made him feel more connected to the magic of the Hallows.
Pushing those thoughts aside, he slowly limped towards the worker's entrance to the Ministry, the impairment a lingering injury he had received during a fight with Snatchers a year or so prior. He had healed it as best he could, but he was far from a master in the art and it had become one of the things he had to live with. It was not as though he could simply walk into St Mungo's for treatment, not when it was under the Death Eater's control.
As he reached the door to what the muggles would see as a public bathroom, he cast a series of detection charms and found nothing suspicious. The inside of the building turned up the same results, not that he had expected any different. The entrance was still in use and he had watched the workers arriving and leaving throughout the days he had been keeping watch.
It wasn't as though any adjustments had been needed to be made. The Ministry staff that lived had been the ones to fall in line and wanted nothing more than to continue with their jobs and put food on the table for their families. Harry couldn't blame them, but he did not hold such people in high esteem. It was likely that were any of them to come across him, they would try to hand him over to the Dark Lord if only to protect themselves.
Knowing this, he took a deep breath as he submerged his feet in the bowl of the toilet before pulling the chain and being sucked into the magical plumbing.
The atrium was as he remembered it during his last and only visit to the building the day he'd been put on trial, though the mood was certainly different. There were no workers chatting animatedly with their colleagues as the went about their day. The conversations he did manage to overhear were muttered and without enthusiasm.
It was as though someone had died, and they were in mourning, speaking at a level deemed decent. The presence of the new statue that had replaced the one of gold he had seen only added to the downtrodden atmosphere.
In lieu of the magical figures, a new statue had been erected in its place. One that depicted a gathering of muggles being crushed beneath two larger figures, a witch and a wizard.
The message of the construct was clear, and though the war had yet to truly spill into the muggle world, it was only a matter of time before it did. It was an unavoidable eventuality and made Harry's task only more urgent. Despite the weaponry the muggles possessed, it would be useless. Voldemort would not be foolish enough to attack them in such a way but would use subterfuge to achieve his goals as he had with the Ministry.
All it would take would be a few Imperius Curses here and there, and the entirety of Britain would fall. Harry suspected the only reason he had not done so was because the rest of the magical world would then be compelled to intervene. They had not done so yet. Other countries did not embroil themselves in domestic issues unless they proved to be a threat to them.
Tom was smart enough to know this and had curbed whatever intentions he had, for now.
The Dark Lord, however, was not why he was here today nor were the miserable workers or the morbid statue. He had trespassed here for a reason as the Hallows reminded him with a gentle prod, pointing him in the direction he needed to go.
With a frown and mumbled curse, he complied, bypassing the security guard on the desk and into the golden elevator a short distance away. It was empty and he stared at the various numbers on the control panel, none labelled, and he found himself at a loss.
"Nine," a voice urged, his body tensing as it always did when he heard them.
He pressed the button and the doors clattered shut. He knew not what direction the lift moved in, but he felt rather nauseous when it finally came to a stop some moments later.
When the door opened, he stepped out quickly, not looking forward to the return journey.
Not wanting to think about the inevitability of that, he walked on, finding himself in an empty corridor with only a single, closed door at the end. The walls were lined with portraits and he thought perhaps they were concealed entrances, though that notion vanished when he approached and faced the door that had become familiar to him some years ago.
It had plagued his dreams for months during his fifth year at Hogwarts; the door that never opened to him, the one he had seen in the vision Voldemort had sent where Sirius was being tortured. As he reached out to grasp the handle, he expected that it would either open, or that if it did, he would be greeted by that very sight.
What did happen was that it opened at his touch but there was no godfather being tortured nor a Dark Lord waiting for him. Almost anticlimactically, Harry entered a large circular room with more doors that stretched across the length of the far side of the wall.
He had almost forgotten his bout of nausea from the elevator but was reminded of it as stepped into the centre and the entire wall began to spin, the doors becoming a blur and unsettling his stomach once more.
"Bloody hell, stop," he groaned.
Much to his surprise, they did, and when his vision returned to normal, he counted nine doors, each waiting for him to explore.
He cursed under his breath once more. He didn't have time to explore so many rooms. He could not be certain if he had accessed the Ministry without being detected and he did not want to waste precious moments.
"We are here, listen…"
He grimaced again as the voice intruded upon his thoughts, but he approached the door furthest on the right and placed his hand on it, closing his eyes.
He neither felt nor heard a thing and carefully made his way to the next and then the next after.
Here he paused.
He could hear whispering, not coherent words but more a gentle hissing and he pressed his ear to the door. They didn't become any clearer, but he knew this was the one, and when the Hallows did not voice any disagreement, he pushed it open and entered.
This room was much larger than the one he had left, an enormous chamber hewn from rugged stone and shaped like a theatre of sorts. The semi-circle of steps descended all the way to the floor of which, sat in the very centre was the archway he had seen, whispering as it had in his dreams.
The word was spoken over again, luring him to it like a moth to a flame as it had these past months and he felt himself almost gliding towards it, only stopping a few feet away when Olin chirped gently in his ear. The voices fell suddenly silent also, setting him on edge.
"What is it?" he asked only a second before the door he had entered through crashed open.
He stilled as a dozen people in red auror robes poured into the room and fanned out above him., though he doubted they were what they would claim to be. The aurors had long ago been replaced by supporters of the Dark Lord.
"There's no one here, Purkiss," a large, blonde man growled.
"I'm telling you, Rowle, I saw the door open and then this one. There's nowhere they could have gone from here!"
Staying silent until they left would have been his choice; the wand he clutched, however, had other ideas. It vibrated uncomfortably in his hand and he knew it was only a matter of time before he would no longer be able to repress it.
"Fine, you three, fetch the Dark Lord. If Purkiss is wrong, he will die."
The three men chosen left the room, the door banging shut behind them, and though the odds were not in his favour, the wand once again seemingly acted of its own accord and struck out.
The curse that left the tip passed through two of his assailants having circled the room before splashing against a strong shield erected by the hulking blonde.
The others looked on in morbid fascination as the victims fell to their knees, retching. Their faces steadily reddened and eventually turned a deathly white as the whites of the eyes blackened.
With a gurgle of protest, their mouths opened impossibly wide and a dark, spectral raven was ejected leaving the bodies to fall limp and still. The birds unleashed a loud caw and dived towards the archway causing Harry to duck, only able to watch as they vanished upon passing through.
"What the fuck?" he whispered, looking down at the wand in disbelief.
He did not know magic like this, had never practiced it, and yet, he could feel the wand drawing on his own reserves to cast it. It was as terrifying as it was thrilling, that coldness filling him from the tips of his fingers to the tips of his toes.
"THERE HE IS!" a voice screamed, pulling him from his observation of the wand.
As he had ducked to avoid the ravens, his cloak had slipped, revealing his head and a rebuttal curse had been sent his way. Without thought, he raised the wand and a silver shield emerged but did not deflect or block the spell. Instead, it absorbed it and drew it in.
The orange of the hex was flooded with a midnight blue and was returned to the caster who stiffened as it impacted against him. Harry frowned as the man's eyes widened.
Everything seemed to slow as another half dozen curses were hurled his way. He could see the array of colours and knew he would not be able to avoid them all, but again, the wand came to his rescue as it had before.
A golden dome formed around him and the incoming spells bounced off. As his shield faded, he saw another two fall victim to their own curses but his attention was drawn to the still stiff man who screamed an agonised warning before he exploded into a mist of blood and gore.
Were that the end of the effects, it would have been unpleasant enough, but from within the mass of red, metal spikes emerged and were shot in all directions.
To avoid being impaled, Harry threw himself to the floor to the sound of more screams and metal colliding with stone. When all had fallen silent, he struggled to his feet, his leg slowing him down considerably, only for his heart to sink as the door opened.
The three men that had left only moments before had returned with another entering in their wake. Although he had not seen the man since the night he had returned, he would never forget the crimson, serpent eyes nor pale visage of the Dark Lord who surveyed the carnage with what appeared to be a look of amusement.
"Impressive," he observed. "Rowle was quite the gifted fighter, and yet, you have laid him to waste as though he were nothing."
Meeting the speculative stare of Voldemort, he felt a light probe of Legilimency against his conscience and swatted it away causing the man to flinch slightly, irritating him.
"I would like to know what you are doing here?" he asked almost politely.
Harry knew better. The man was on the verge of anger, but his curiosity needed to be sated.
"Just looking around," he answered with a shrug, his grip tightening around the wand.
"You have courage and I can respect that, but you were foolish for coming here. Now, I do not recognise you…"
Harry cut him off with a snort.
"Let's not play games, Tom, you know exactly who I am."
The Dark Lord's eyes widened briefly before his jaw visibly clenched.
"Potter!" he spat, his voice mixed with fury and surprise.
"I hear you've been looking for me."
"And you have hid like a coward whilst others have died," Voldemort returned. "No matter. There is nowhere for you to run now," he added, gesturing around the room.
He was right, and Harry knew it. The only exit was the one the Dark Lord stood in front of.
"Follow the ravens…"
Harry frowned at the whisper and turned his head to look at the archway.
He couldn't see how walking through it would help him in this situation, but it was not as though it could harm him anymore than Voldemort wished to, and this was not a fight he was ready for. Even with the wand, he doubted he would survive.
He smirked as he realised he had one advantage still wrapped around him. Grabbing hold of the cloak he offered the Dark Lord a baleful glare.
"You'll have to find me first!"
Perhaps it was foolish to provoke the man, but he did so anyway, never truly being able to hold his tongue when it came to Tom.
The man roared, losing his composure as he always did. Harry, however, was not prepared for the stone steps around the room to be torn apart as though they were made of paper and hurled towards him.
The wand had chosen this moment to not come to his rescue and he could only brace himself for an impact that didn't come. Instead, a coldness enveloped him, creeping from his back to his front.
Peering next to him, he could see the inside of the archway. Evidently, he had stepped backwards into it and the final thing he saw before the room around him faded to black was a furious Lord Voldemort aiming a curse his way, one that did not reach him in time.
He didn't remember losing consciousness, but when his eyes opened, it was to the sight of three blurred figures leaning over, staring at him almost expectantly.
"Ah, he's awake," one of them spoke.
As their features swam into view, he saw that they all looked somewhat alike, their skin ghostly pale and they were dressed in robes that were certainly not the height of fashion, not that Harry kept abreast of such things.
Life on the lam had taught him to dress practically; to wear clothing that allowed him to move freely and was easy to put on and take off.
"We can see that," another sighed, the three men taking a step back as he sat up.
The room he was in was the very same one had left, down to the archway he had passed through.
Panicking, he attempted to draw his wand, only to find he did not have it.
"Be calm, young man, you are safe," the third man spoke, his voice relaxing and setting him at ease.
"Where am I? What the hell happened?"
"You are nowhere," the calming one spoke, "well, that is what we call it. I suppose you could say it is a prison of sorts. All of us who dwell here were not granted the peace of the afterlife but instead trapped here for the deeds we carried out in life."
"You're dead?" Harry asked.
"For many centuries now, as are the others," he replied, pointing upwards.
Harry followed the direction of the finger and saw dozens of shadowy figures floating lazily above, their features indiscernible.
"So, I'm dead?"
"I suppose so, but your path is just beginning. You have all three of our Hallows and that means something even here, especially because of who you are."
"Your Hallows? You're the Peverells," he said accusingly.
He had learned of them from Xenophillius Lovegood during the wedding only moments before the Death Eaters had attacked. It had been merely by chance that he recognised the symbol and asked the man why he wore it around his neck.
Lovegood had mentioned the Hallows and the rumour that the Peverells were the brothers the tale alluded to.
"We are," one confirmed, "just like you."
Harry shook his head.
"I'm a Potter," he corrected.
"Who descended from me," the calm brother spoke. "I am Ignotus Peverell and the cloak that has been passed down your line came from me."
Harry could only gape, surprised by the revelation.
"And you are descended from me also, though not in the same way," the quieter of the three spoke. "You carry a piece of my descendant with you. The very same that gave you the scar gave you a piece of himself."
"Voldemort," Harry whispered, the feeling of filth overwhelming him at the thought of the soul fragment he had been infested with.
When he had learned of it, he had been terrified, but Dumbledore had assured him it was of no concern. He was not a Horcrux as he had believed but the soul piece had assimilated with his own. He did not understand such magic, but he had no reason to not believe the headmaster. Had it not happened the way it had; Dumbledore believed it would have slowly destroyed him as a child.
Perhaps it was because they were somewhat related that it had happened this way? He knew not and did not want to induce a headache by pondering magic he could not hope to comprehend.
"That would be him," the man confirmed with a slight bow. "My name is Cadmus Peverell, the owner of the Resurrection Stone."
The stone was the one Hallow he had not used. He had been tempted to call upon his parents and even Ron, but the fate of Cadmus had stuck with him. Having read about it in the story, he did not know if he would be able to pull himself away from them and allow them to return to the peace they deserved.
"So, you must be Antioch?"
The third brother offered him a grin.
"That would be me, the foolish brother," he added with a chuckle. "I sired no children, so have no descendants."
Harry looked upon the men for a moment before shaking his head.
"I don't understand, what is going on here?"
"Well, you stepped through Death's Door, and now you're here," Antioch answered.
"The archway," Ignotus confirmed. "Its creator is amongst us here. He built it so that death could claim the souls of his enemies. He was a rather clever man, but death did not appreciate his efforts. Death took his enemies, but him also and trapped him here as his penance."
"Death? As in the Grim Reaper?" Harry snorted.
The three brothers nodded seriously.
"As one who has been marked by something as fantastical as fate, how is it so difficult for you to comprehend that Death truly exists? The soul exists so surely the collector of those passed on must also?"
Harry had never considered it, nor had he put much credence in the prophecy, not until Dumbledore had spoken of the Department of Mysteries and true seers living amongst them. He had balked at the thought of Trelawney being one of them, but the memory of her eerie trance and what followed in third year had made him consider the possibility.
"So, I am trapped here?"
The three brothers shared a look and Ignotus shook his head.
"Death does not interfere with Fate's work, but man does and yours has been interfered with. Some who should have died have lived and there are those that lived who should have died. You were to meet Tom Riddle as an equal, and that did not come to pass. Your destiny is still to be fulfilled and I suppose you were brought here for that to happen," he finished.
"How can you know that?"
"Because the archway remains, and you do not appear as we do." Harry looked at his flesh-coloured hands as the man continued. "It is no mere coincidence that you are here. You were brought to us by the Hallows…"
"Because the wand does not recognise him as its master," Antioch interjected. "I would say that it is your destiny to carry all three. The way we created them, they would only work as intended for ourselves and our direct descendants…"
"Because we bound them to our souls," Cadmus muttered.
"The wand has a mind of its own," Harry sighed. "It works for me, but…"
"Not as it should," Cadmus finished for him. "The cloak works as it is yours and the stone because you carry a piece of his soul. For the wand to work, you would need a piece of his," he concluded, pointing at Antioch.
The man shook his head.
"It is dangerous. He already has the soul of another intertwined with his own, to add another piece could change him irreparably. His magic would certainly not be the same."
"And that would only work in his favour," a heavily accented voice broke in, drawing their attention.
The brothers backed away as a cloaked figure approached from the veil, his face concealed by shadow.
"So, it is you that Fate had me send for?" he questioned.
Harry could only nod as the three brothers bowed deeply.
A raven he recognised landed on the cloaked shoulder and the figure stroked it with a long, dark finger.
"Olin has served me well to bring you here. He is quite a marvellous friend."
"He's yours?" Harry asked.
"No, he is yours," the figure corrected.
An eerie silence fell between them for a few moments before Olin took flight and the cloaked figure seemed to stare at him.
"I do not take kindly to foolish men who play with my prize," he mumbled. "A soul should remain intact, but men being the fools they are do so. Were it up to me, you would remain here, but even I cannot oppose fate. The balance of magic would become skewed if I were to try, and balance is everything. With life comes death and with night comes day. For men, when a Dark Lord rises there must be one equal to meet them. That has not happened, and yet, it must. The balance has become irreparably skewed; however, you are fortunate. Fate has saved you as she may one day claim you. For what purpose, I do not know, but it is not a coincidence that you are here, and you are who you are."
Harry swallowed deeply at the ominous words.
"Fools they may be, but the brothers are correct," the figure continued. "One is your sire and you carry a part of a soul of another. The magic they used to create their trinkets was not one they understood, and you are an anomaly. Truly, you should only be able to use one but by a series of events you have to ability to wield two and your foe has also unsettled the balance. Fate is not pleased, and I am angrier still. I do not deal in partial souls. That would upset the balance."
Harry released a deep breath as he shook his head.
"You keep mentioning balance, but none of this is my fault."
"No, it is not and that is why you will be granted a life to right the wrongs, though not the one you knew. They may have been right that your soul has accepted the piece of his, but it has not accepted yours and never will so long as it can reach towards the void it left behind in the one it belongs to."
"So, what does that mean for me?" Harry asked nervously.
"It means that you will be taken to a place where that void does not exist, where the soul piece you carry has nothing to reach to, a place where you can meet him as fate has decreed; as an equal."
"I don't understand," Harry huffed irritably.
"You will learn soon enough, but before I send you on your way, there is the matter of the missing piece."
Antioch screamed and collapsed to the ground as the cloaked figure tore off his arm and stared at it for a moment before nodding.
"With the final piece, you will become what your foe fears most…"
"Death?" Harry asked confusedly.
"Not death, but my single chosen to right the wrongs, as these fools once were my trio. I wish you luck, Peverell."
"My name is Potter!"
The cloaked figure laughed.
"Harry Potter does not exist where you are going, Peverell."
Before he could protest any further, the shadowy arm was slammed into his chest and he was once again enveloped by the welcoming coldness of the magic. As his vison faded, he glimpsed Olin flying towards him, cawing as the cloaked figure laughed, the sound ringing in his ears he succumbed to darkness.