Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all other characters belong to J.K. Rowling, and this version of the Mask belongs to New Line Cinemas; I'm just using them for this story
Feedback: I'd appreciate it, believe me
Harry Potter and the Mask of Loki
Not even Hermione, with everything she'd read about the charms that Voldemort must have used to create the Dark Mark, could be entirely certain what caused the events they witnessed. One minute the four of them were facing a miniature army of Death Eaters, with the chances of coming out alive from this fight, with no likely hope of back-up and facing significantly superior numbers, being low to say the least…
The next, every single Death Eater had suddenly dropped to the ground, screaming in pain as they suddenly clutched at their arms, and Hermione's eyes widened in surprise as she stared at her surroundings.
She almost wasn't sure whether she should be scared or relieved at this sudden turn events. On the one hand, the Death Eaters being out of the fight was definitely good news, but on the other hand…
"What the hell is this all about?" Ron asked, staring in confusion at the Death Eaters around them. "Did somebody manage to hit them all with a spell or something?"
"No… I somehow doubt it's anything that straightforward…" Lupin muttered, his eyes narrowing as he studied the Death Eaters, before a broad grin spread across his face as he noticed something about one of the nearest Death Eaters, currently clutching at his arm as he lay on the ground. "Ah, that might explain it."
"What?" Tonks asked, looking over at the werewolf in confusion. "What might explain it?"
"Unless I'm much mistaken, the source of the pain currently being felt by the Death Eaters appears to be… the Dark Mark itself?" Lupin muttered, his eyebrows raised in surprise as he turned to look back at his friends. "It's as though the Mark has… well, attacked them…"
"What?" Hermione said, walking over to examine the injury with Lupin. She had to admit, it did look like the source of the sudden pain that the Death Eaters had just experienced was the location of the Dark Mark…
But what could cause something like that? Hermione mused to herself, as she studied the arm in question. She wasn't a medical expert by any means, but it was rapidly beginning to look like the arm that had the Mark on it was… well, 'decomposing' was the best term she could come up with, even if it was more than a slight exaggeration of the arm's condition.
Then it came to her.
It was just like she'd read in a detective story once; the simplest explanation is most often the correct one.
Voldemort would have wanted to guarantee that his followers would remain loyal to him; what better way to do that than to have them 'branded' with a mark that would do something like this to them in the event of any of them turning on him. Any Death Eater who dared to turn traitor may manage to figure out a way to kill him, but they'd be left with one arm as good as dead and practically everyone else whose loyalty they may have counted on in a similar condition.
It was a harsh precaution to take against people who were 'meant' to be his allies, but definitely one that fit Voldemort's familiar pattern of never trusting anybody but himself.
"Oh my God…" Hermione whispered as she stared at the Death Eaters lying around them, all of them clutching their suddenly crippled arms in agony, as the implications of this new twist came to her. "But then…"
"What?" Lupin said, looking curiously at Hermione as she spoke. "Is something wrong?"
"Get everyone together and get to the Great Hall," Hermione said, looking anxiously at her former teacher. "It might be nothing, but I'd prefer to know he's all right rather than just assume it."
"Know who's- wait a minute," Tonks said, inspiration dawning in her eyes as she looked at the damaged arms of the Death Eaters. "Are you saying…?"
"Precisely," Hermione said, a small smile on her face as she looked at the older woman. "I think we're seeing what happens to Death Eaters when the source of the Dark Mark is killed."
Then the smile faded to be replaced by the anxiety she felt at the prospect. "And if that's the case… well, I think we all need to see what's happened to Harry as a result."
For a moment, there was silence as Lupin and Tonks looked anxiously at each other; Hermione was just grateful that she and Ron hadn't told anybody yet about the Mask and Voldemort's recent acquisition of it, or their friends would probably be even more worried than they were at present.
"Agreed," Lupin said finally, looking in confirmation at his two former students. "If Harry has defeated Voldemort, I, for one, definitely want to know how he pulled it off."
As the four of them began to head towards the Great Hall, Hermione could only spare a brief moment to hope for two things; that Ginny was all right, and that, if Harry had found some way to deal with Voldemort despite the power of the Mask, he'd found some way of getting rid of the Mask afterwards. She trusted Lupin and Tonks, true, but she, like Harry, didn't want anybody knowing about the Mask if they didn't have to know about it; it was too powerful to risk anybody else knowing about it.
No sooner had Ginny begun to wonder whether Mark actually could triumph this time around, mentally weighing up the odds in a confrontation between Voldemort's experience and the raw power Harry possessed with the Mask, then Malfoy suddenly collapsed to the ground, screaming in rage as he clutched at his suddenly-glowing left arm, in approximately the area where Ginny recalled the Dark Mark was meant to be located…
Despite her initial shock at the sudden scream, Ginny sighed in relief (It may have been a cold-blooded attitude to have, but, as far as she was concerned, Malfoy being in pain was no more than he deserved for the path he'd chosen to take in his life).
If the Dark Mark was causing this kind of damage to Malfoy, she somehow doubted that it was for a 'good' reason (Good by Voldemort's definition, of course; generally any purpose the Mark had been designed for could never be described as 'good' by anybody who wasn't a Death Eater). The so-called 'Dark Lord' may use that thing to let Death Eaters know they were wanted somewhere, but she strongly doubted it caused this much pain when it was doing that.
Whatever the reason, Ginny was going to find out now what was going on inside the Great Hall… which meant, unfortunately for Malfoy, that he wasn't going to be awake for much longer to be given any chance to escape.
"Sorry Malfoy; looks like you'll be spending your last few hours of freedom unconscious," she said grimly, as she raised her wand to point it directly at her captive's head. "Stupefy!"
As soon as Malfoy had collapsed to the floor- accompanied by a slight crunching sound and a sudden spurt of blood on the stones that made it clear to Ginny that he'd broken his nose when he landed, not that she cared- Ginny raised her wand in preparation for whatever she might encounter and hurried back to the Great Hall, grateful that her fight with Malfoy hadn't taken her that far away from her starting point.
As she entered the Great Hall, Ginny couldn't stop a relieved grin from spreading across her face as she took in the sight before her; Mark Tiller, dressed in a dark costume that she vaguely recognised from muggle movie posters as a popular muggle character known as 'Batman', standing in front of a large hole in the wall, staring grimly down at the sea below the castle.
"It's over…" he said, apparently not even fully registering her presence; he seemed to be talking to himself.
"Ha- Mar- sorry, what would you prefer me to call you?" Ginny said, looking uncertainly at the green-headed man before her as she walked towards him, even as he turned to look inquiringly over at her, a slight smile on his face as he realised the identity of the new arrival.
"It's 'Mark' when I'm like this, Ginny," he said casually, smiling slightly at her as he indicated his green-skinned head before his face became more serious. "It's over; Voldemort… well, long story short, he fell through there during our fight, and I… let him."
"Ah," Ginny said, walking over to lean briefly out of the hole, only to wince and step back as she took in the sheer depth of the drop before her; she wasn't sure she wanted to know how far down it was to the bottom…
"Ginny…" Mark began, looking uncertainly at her as he indicated his face, "I was wondering… now that Voldemort's been dealt with… who would you rather have me as?"
"Have you as?" Ginny repeated, looking in confusion at Mark.
"What I mean is, would you prefer me as Mark… or as Harry?" he continued, looking uncertainly at her. "There's probably some charm or another out there that could allow me to remain like this twenty-four seven, so the limitation of it only working at night wouldn't be that much of a long-term issue… I'll look into it later, but all I want to know right now is simple; who would you rather have? Mark, or Harry?"
"Who would I rather have?" Ginny said, looking incredulously at Mark. "Mark- Harry- whoever you are- shouldn't that be something you should decide? I mean, you're talking about potentially becoming a totally different person for the rest of your life-"
"No; I'd be a different aspect of the same personality," Mark corrected as he looked at her. "The Mask doesn't create a personality for the wearer, Ginny; it just brings out what's already there and doesn't get a chance to be expressed normally. I wouldn't stop being Harry or Mark if I became the other; I'd just be letting a certain part of me have more control than the other part. All I'm asking is… which aspect do you prefer?"
As she stood there, contemplating the man who was willing to leave such a powerful decision about his future in her hands, Ginny couldn't help but feel slightly overwhelmed.
Harry/Mark/whatever was going to decide what kind of person he'd be on a full-time basis… based on what she wanted him to be?
Even putting aside how overwhelming that kind of responsibility was, she still wasn't sure what 'side' of him she preferred.
They both possessed that same natural heroism that had first drawn her to Harry in the first place- no matter how powerful he was, Harry was always willing to risk death to save the people he loved- but Mark was far more confident when he was doing it, while Harry was constantly second-guessing himself every time he made a major decision of some kind; Mark was prepared to be more impulsive and forward during their private time together while Harry sometimes acted like he thought she was going to kick him out of her life at any minute…
In the end, there was only one decision she could make.
"Mark…" she said, as she looked back up at the green-headed figure who'd come so suddenly into her life at her brother's wedding, "it's been… a unique experience to know you… and I've felt… something… for you since I met you… but…"
"But?" Mark inquired, tilting his head slightly as he looked at her.
"But…" Ginny said, sighing as she looked back at Mark, a small smile on her face. "In the end, I'd rather have the fundamentally-flawed-but-nevertheless-endearing Harry Potter, than the remarkably-confident-and-self-assured Mark Tiller. No offence, but at times you can be a bit… overwhelming."
"Ah," Mark said, nodding slightly, a small smile on his face as he glanced down at his outfit. "The powers, huh?"
"Well, I was actually thinking about your rather 'in-your-face' attitude- no offence meant; I just prefer my boyfriends to be a bit more 'relaxed' than you can be at times- when I said that, but that one works too," Ginny said, smiling awkwardly at Mark before the smile faded as she looked awkwardly at the man who was an aspect of the person she'd loved practically since the moment she'd learned who he was after seeing him on Platform Nine and Three Quarters when she was only ten.
It was never going to be an easy life with the man behind that mask, but Ginny was looking forward to it nevertheless.
"Well then…" Mark said, smiling affectionately at her, "I guess… this is goodbye from me, mmm?"
Reaching out, he placed a hand on Ginny's cheek, smiling softly at her as he leaned over to kiss her briefly on the forehead.
"Goodbye," he said simply, as he stepped back. "Treat Harry well, OK? He loves you… more than even he knows."
With that, Mark reached up to the back of his head, there was a brief whirl of green energy, and then Harry Potter was once again standing before her, smiling slightly at her as he held the Mask in his hands.
"Hey," he said simply, as he walked to take her in his arms. "Thanks… for being you."
"You're welcome," Ginny replied, smiling at him as she leaned in to kiss him once more…
"Harry!" a voice yelled from the door to the hall, prompting the two of them to break apart as they looked in surprise at the direction of the yell, just in time to see Hermione standing there and looking anxious at them. "Are you all right?"
"Uh… why wouldn't I be?" Harry asked, slipping the Mask behind his back as he looked briefly at Ginny; he could see Lupin and Tonks behind Hermione, and, as much as he trusted them, he wasn't willing to let any more people know about the Mask than he had to.
If nothing else, there was always the chance that some people in the Ministry of Magic might take offence to what Mark had done to Fudge and Umbridge last week…
"Uh… what happened in here?" Tonks asked, looking in confusion between Harry, Ginny, and the large hole in the wall behind them. "It looks like there's been a bit of a war in here…"
"Voldemort and I had a few differences about how things should go from here," Harry stated simply. "He saw himself as the 'ultimate power' on the planet; I saw him as a git who needed to be dealt with."
Shrugging slightly, he jerked his thumb towards the hole behind him, a part of him noting that at least the rain and wind from the storm that had been raging outside had now ended; it would make what he had to do soon easier. "He's somewhere down there; he fell through the hole when he tried to knock me down the cliff, and… well, to say things didn't do quite how he wanted them to would be an understatement."
"Hold on a minute; he fell through a hole in the wall?" Tonks spluttered, looking at Harry as though trying to figure out if he was joking or not. "You're telling you took out the man who was potentially the most powerful Dark Wizard who's ever lived… by making him fall through a hole in a wall?"
"It is a big hole," Harry said, indicating the hole behind him once more, a small smile on his face as he glanced over at his friends. Judging by the way Ron and Hermione kept glancing at the hand he was discreetly holding behind his back, it was pretty clear that both of them had guessed how he'd dealt with his opponent, but weren't going to tell anybody unless he wanted them to. "Sometimes, the simple solutions are the best ones."
Lupin opened his mouth as though to ask another question, but Harry held up his own hand to stop his old Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. "Look, Remus, I'll tell you what I can about that later; right now, I'd just like to… check on something… with Ginny, Ron and Hermione, and then I'll be available to answer any questions you or anybody else has for me."
For a moment, Lupin looked as though he was going to insist that Harry remained behind to answer his questions, regardless of what the young man wanted to do…
But, for reasons Harry didn't waste time questioning- maybe Lupin just thought that, after all that Harry had done for the wizarding world by killing Voldemort, he deserved a little time to himself before answering any questions-, the werewolf just nodded briefly at him, a small smile on his face as he looked at the young man who'd just saved the world.
"OK; just don't take too long, understand?" he said, looking critically at Harry.
"Check," Harry said, nodding in confirmation as he turned to look at his friends. "C'mon guys, let's go; I've got… business to attend to."
Trying to ignore the inquiring looks coming from Tonks- unlike Lupin, she clearly wasn't entirely prepared to let Harry go just like that, even if she trusted his judgement- Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione walked out of the Great Hall that had just witnessed the end of one of the most dangerous dark wizards ever to live.
There was still one last task that had to be accomplished.
One last thing that Harry felt he had to do if he was going to end this chapter of his life once and for all.
About half an hour later, after spending some time wandering along the coast and discussing what had recently taken place in the building that had so defined their lives over the last few years, the four teenagers arrived at a cliff about a mile or so down from the castle. Hermione would have preferred to stay close to the castle, but Harry had insisted that here was the best location; he didn't want to attract too much attention, and doing this too close to Hogwarts would definitely draw somebody's interest.
"You're sure you want to do this, Harry?" Hermione asked, looking curiously at her friend.
Studying the Mask in his hand, Harry smiled slightly as he raised his other hand to briefly touch the wooden object in front of him, before nodding in resolution as he looked back at his old friend.
"I'm sure," he said simply as he looked back at her. "You said it yourself, Hermione; it's too powerful for me to keep. I have to get rid of it now before anyone else finds out about it."
"Agreed," Hermione said, nodding in approval at her friend. "You just do what you have to do; we'll wait."
With that said, Harry turned around and walked over to the cliff edge, followed closely by Ginny; Ron and Hermione, sensing that this was something their friends wanted to do alone, hung back slightly to give them some privacy.
As he reached the cliff-edge, Harry glanced briefly at the Mask before he turned to face Ginny, holding the Mask up slightly as he looked curiously at her.
"How about you?" he asked, indicating the wooden artefact in his hand. "Sure you're not going to miss this guy? Once Mark Tiller's gone, all that's left is Harry Potter, an emotionally awkward teenager, with a ton of self-worth issues and all kinds of personal baggage that you'd need to put up with if we're going to have any kind of a life together."
A small smile spreading across her face, Ginny reached over to take the Mask from Harry, looking thoughtfully at it for a moment before she looked back at the young man she loved.
"And you know what?" she said, as she smiled broadly at Harry, raising the mask in front of her as she spoke. "As far as I'm concerned, that's all I've ever wanted."
With that, she casually tossed the Mask over her shoulder, grabbed Harry's head, and pulled him towards her for a deep, passionate kiss, Harry's arms almost instinctively coming up to hold her close to him as the kiss continued.
Neither of them even noticed as Ron moved past them to look over the cliff, his eyes widening slightly as he saw where the Mask had landed and was currently drifting out to sea. Raising his wand, Ron briefly looked as though he was about to summon the Mask to him, but then he felt a hand on his shoulder moments before he was yanked backwards by a stern-looking Hermione.
"Don't," she said grimly, as she stared at her boyfriend. "It's gone; leave it at that."
"What?" Ron said, looking in confusion at his girlfriend. "C'mon, 'Mione, can you honestly say you're not even a bit tempted by the idea of-"
Hermione didn't even give him a chance to finish his sentence; grabbing Ron's head, she yanked him down towards her and planted a kiss squarely on his lips, halting his words as she wrapped her arms around him, smiling slightly into the kiss as Ron began to kiss her back.
Pulling back, Hermione raised a critical eyebrow as she looked with amusement at the suddenly dazed expression on Ron's face.
"You were saying?" she asked nonchalantly.
Ron blinked briefly before he stared back at her, a jokingly quizzical expression on his face.
"Sorry; were we talking?" he asked casually.
"Good answer," Hermione said, as she pulled him close to her for another deep kiss.
Parting briefly from their own kiss to look over at their friends and (In Ginny's case) brother, Harry and Ginny grinned broadly at the sight before them.
"As an old 'friend' of ours once said…" Harry said, grinning as he looked at his snogging best friends. "Sssss-MOKIN'!"
"Indubitably, my dear Mr Potter," Ginny said, taking his chin in her hands as she turned him back to face him. "Now then, in the words of a muggle actress whose name presently eludes me, 'Shut up and kiss me, you fool'!"
"Of course," Harry chuckled, as he leaned in to kiss Ginny once more…
Only to pause as he seemingly noticed something in her eyes.
"Huh?" he said, stepping back to push back the hair on his forehead as he stared in surprise at his appearance, reflected in Ginny's confused eyes. "Is that…?"
"Harry?" Ginny asked, looking in confusion at her boyfriend. "What…?"
Then they both saw it, prompting a small smile from Harry and a look of wide-eyed astonishment from Ginny.
Harry may look the same as he ever had, but there was now one crucial difference between his appearance now and his appearance the previous night.
His forehead no longer had a scar.