A/N: BACK! (Against all expectations.) So, it's probably seemed for a while that this was going to go the way of so many other Yugioh/HP fanfictions, but. Good news on that front.
After ten years, I've finally managed to do what I wanted to do from the beginning, and that's finish writing all the rough drafts for the final chapters. Of course, at this point the chapters are still incredibly rough and need some more HP-verse background research, but I've found that once I at least have something to work from, the rest comes a little more easily. It looks as though there will be around fifty chapters, give or take (I might end up splitting or combining some), so the countdown officially starts now.
Thanks so much for reading and for sticking with me this long. See you at the end!
Chapter 42: Enter Stranger, Part III
The spirit moved slowly, almost lazily, up ahead of the others. They had slowed down in order to avoid more falling debris, and he was glad for the moment to think.
He had not expected the dragon of the maze to have stationed itself right where they needed to go. He supposed it had been careless of him not to check ahead with the Millennium Eye, but upon seeing it there, he hadn't been troubled unduly. They could easily lure the creature away, simply by attracting its attention and provoking it, which he had proceeded to do. The creature, hampered by the cramped corridors, would have no chance of catching them on their brooms, and he would then simply lead them the long way around. At no point would they need to engage the beast.
But as usual, the pharaoh, unable to pass up an opportunity to demonstrate his lack of subtlety, threw a wrench into the works. Diabound could have easily saved the trapped girl, and the spirit would have done so—he could not have his little party getting distracted from their purpose with unnecessary grief, at least not at this stage. But now he had to deal with three destroyed passageways, and the added risk of the ruckus attracting the attention of the guardians above.
The image of the immense sky dragon, so sleek and powerful as it battled the dragon of the dungeon flickered through his mind again. The spirit felt a bead of sweat break out on his temple. Such awesome power. He would not admit to anything like fear of the gods, but he could not deny that the sight of one gave him just the barest tremor of unease.
The spirit felt the warm glow of the Eye on his face, and he listened for a moment to the conversation between Harry and his enemy. A smile spread across his lips and he felt his mood rise. Yes, he thought. I am still the one in control.
"Here we are," he called back to the others, and dropped down to land delicately in the middle of the railway in front of one of the vaults. Hermione and Ron came to a stop behind him, followed a moment later by Harry and the pharaoh. Harry's face was still a little flushed with anger, and the spirit smiled to himself.
Hermione gathered up the brooms and tipped them back into her bag.
"So this is the place?" Ron asked.
The spirit nodded. "It is."
Ron looked up at the large black door, and his eyes flickered to the identical doors to either side. "You're sure?"
The spirit flashed a tiny smile, imitating the innocence of his host. "Indeed I am."
No one looked entirely satisfied, and the older Gryffindors shared uncertain looks.
"Now," said the spirit, turning to face the door. "For getting in. I'd like everyone to stand back a little, and close your eyes."
Harry wasn't too happy about this. Remembering what Griphook had said on his very first visit here, he said, "Are you sure you know what to do? Because there are enchantments on these vaults. You do something wrong, and you get trapped."
"He's right," agreed Ron. "You sure this will work?"
The spirit was a touch exasperated. "I brought us into these dungeons, didn't I? Have a little faith, my friends. We will go into this vault the same way we came down here."
"Right," muttered Ron. "Our favorite way to travel."
The spirit smiled a little, then turned back to the vault. "Close your eyes and relax," he said softly. "And in a moment you will be where you need to be. Ready, one, two..."
Grumbling something under his breath, Ron complied, as did Harry and Hermione.
Only the pharaoh kept his eyes open, his ruby-violet orbs boring back into the spirit's muddy crimson one. Bakura's pale lips curved upward in a taunting smile.
The pharaoh opened his mouth as though to shout a warning, but didn't get the chance as the massive claw of Diabound erupted from the stone, closing around him and the forms of the three older Gryffindors.
Then the spirit closed his own eye, and let himself be swallowed in darkness.
"And who exactly might you be, boy?"
It took Malik a second to realize that he could actually understand what the man with the blue eye had said. The man knew how to speak Arabic?
Still, Malik didn't answer.
"You're dressed like a Death Eater," the man continued in his deep growl of a voice, his normal eye narrowed suspiciously. "But you don't have the Mark. Better come up with a good story quick if you don't want us to start getting nervous. Get it?" He raised his wooden stick a little higher.
Malik was thinking fast. Death Eater was an odd way to put it, but ghouls were indeed known for eating dead flesh. The 'mark'...that could mean the Millennium eye symbol that appeared on the foreheads of those who used the Millennium Items, and those who Malik had controlled, but as Malik no longer wielded the Millennium Rod, that symbol had not appeared in a long while.
"...Who are you?" Malik asked finally. He thought he was still speaking in Japanese, but something felt odd as the words left his mouth.
"I'll ask the questions, boy," barked the man.
"Now, Mad-Eye," another one of the cloaks chided, pulling back her hood, "We don't need to treat him like the enemy if he's not a Death Eater." Her bright pink hair with forest green streaks made her look like a classic villain sidekick in a Marvel comic. The name Mad-Eye wasn't too inspiring either.
"He's not the enemy when I say he's not," snapped Mad-Eye. "Just because I don't see a Mark doesn't mean they haven't found some way to hide it." He suddenly let out a growl and said harshly, "All right, we're wasting time—I'll deal with this and the rest of you go handle those maniacs tearing up the city."
Most of the cloaks agreed and instantly vanished with splitting cracks. However, the woman that had spoken a moment ago remained behind. Mad-Eye glared at her with his normal eye, while his blue one stayed trained on Malik. Before he could stay anything, the woman said, "It's safer to have someone act as your backup, right?"
The man was silent for a moment, then let out a low growl. "Fine," he said, turning his normal eye back to Malik.
"Well?" Mad-Eye prodded.
Malik hesitated again. A suspicion had begun to form in his mind from the moment the man had said 'maniacs tearing up the city,' but he had to try to confirm it. "The ones with the white masks," he began. "You aren't on the same side?"
The woman gave a sharp laugh. "Are you kidding?"
Mad-Eye was silent for a moment, studying Malik's face. "And what about you, boy?"
Malik couldn't be sure who these people were, or if they were telling the truth, but he decided to take a chance. After all, the enemy of his enemy was his friend, so the saying went.
"Actually...I don't know anything about them, except I think they're after me."
The woman raised her eyebrows. "Really? Why? Who are you?"
"A likely story," snorted Mad-Eye, but his electric blue eye stayed trained on Malik's face, taking in every detail of his expression.
"They showed up at my house, waving sticks, sticks just like you have there," said Malik, directing the answer to the woman. "I don't know what they want, but I realized if they were after me, there's someone else who might be in danger. So I'm trying to find him. A friend of mine. He's here, in this country, and with everything that seems to be going on here, I'm not sure it's a coincidence."
"A friend?" said Mad-Eye gruffly. "And what's this friend's name?"
Malik hesitated. If these people were actually working for the enemy, and this was all some kind of trick, revealing the name of his pharaoh's host might put them both in greater danger. However, his gut told him to trust these people, whoever they were, and if he was to have a hope of finding his pharaoh, what choice did he have?
"His name is Yugi," Malik said. "Yugi Mutou."
The woman tapped her lip in thought. "You know, that sounds familiar. That's an Asian name, isn't it? We got a couple of Asian transfer students to Hogwarts school this year. Maybe—"
Mad-Eye gave her a sharp look, and she broke off, looking sheepish.
"So you've seen him?" Malik pressed. "You know him?"
"We'll answer your questions if you answer ours," Mad-Eye growled.
A smiled tugged at Malik's lips. They had definitely seen him. Clearly these people would not be the easiest to work with, but at least now he had a lead.
"What do you want to know?"
The pharaoh blinked profusely, and slowly sat up. He winced, rubbing his sore elbows, which had taken the brunt of the impact, and again blinked, trying to get his eyes to adjust to the darkness. However, all around him was pitch-black.
Not far to his right, someone groaned. "That wasn't fun," muttered a voice that sounded like Harry.
"Yeah," Ron's voice agreed. "I'll take Apparating any day."
"Uh, Ryou," said Hermione. The accusation in her voice was only thinly masked. "Is it really necessary for it to be so...violent every time we move like that?"
"Probably not," Bakura admitted.
A blinding light suddenly flickered to life to his left and the pharaoh had to look away. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust, and when he was finally able to turn and look around, he saw Harry, Ron, and Hermione on the floor next to him, all looking pale and dazed.
The pharaoh turned back the other way and saw the spirit standing in front of what he guessed was the entrance door, as though he'd just strolled through it. He appeared calm and unruffled, his wand held aloft, the tip aglow.
The pharaoh found his own wand and muttered, "Lumos." The others soon did the same, and in a moment they were all holding lit wands. They all climbed to their feet and turned around to get a look at the chamber in which they'd just arrived.
The vault was enormous. Galleons, Sickles, and Knuts covered every inch of the floor before them, stacked in piles that reached all the way to the high vaulted ceiling above, along with cups, jewelry boxes, and various other objects fashioned from gold and silver.
"I could buy a Firebolt with all this," Ron marveled, looking around.
Hermione shot him a disapproving look. "Don't even think about it. This all belongs to someone, even if we don't know who it is."
Ron winced. "I was just joking." He added in a mutter, "Maybe if it was Malfoy's or something..."
The pharaoh turned and looked back out at the sea of coins. The sight of so much treasure piled together in one place didn't excite him the way it did the others. For a pharaoh, treasure of these proportions made him think of a tomb.
"Hey," said Harry, cutting into his friends' banter. "I think I have an idea of whose this is."
Ron and Hermione turned to see that Harry had moved over to the side wall beside the door. He was studying something anchored to the stone just above eye level intently.
"Who?" said Hermione.
They all crowded around behind him to get a look at what he was seeing, all but Bakura, who kept a pace back, watching them.
Next to the door hung a metallic plague bearing an engraved image of a coat of arms. A large letter 'H' marked the center, with images of a snake, a badger, a lion, and a raven adorning the four corners.
"It's Hogwarts' crest," said Hermione. "But why is it here?"
"I think," Harry said slowly, "it's here because we're standing in the Hogwarts' treasury. Is that right, Bakura?"
They all turned to look at the white-haired teen, still standing a little ways back. He met Harry's eyes with his single brown one, and smiled slightly. "Very astute, Harry. That is indeed where we are."
Harry nodded. "Voldemort was an orphan, so when he was first accepted to Hogwarts, Hogwarts put up the money for his supplies. He probably came to this very vault his first day. Dumbledore thought Voldemort would hide these objects in places with special significance to him, so I guess this would count."
"Yes," said Bakura. "That makes sense. I, too, came here at the beginning of my school year, so it was a simple matter to find my way back."
There was a short pause at this, and Harry and Ron shared a look.
"Er," said Harry at last. "Are you saying...you were able to find your way back here after only coming down here one time? One?"
Bakura shrugged, and waved a hand nonchalantly. "I have a talent for navigation."
For some reason, Yugi snorted, but didn't comment.
"Right," said Harry. That was definitely one skill he would not have pegged as one of Ryou Bakura, but then, the teenage first year did seem to be full of surprises.
Hermione cut in. "So, we made it in. The important thing is now, how do go about finding the right object? We don't even know what it looks like. Don't tell me we're going to have to sift through all this piece by piece."
Bakura shook his head. "The piece we are looking for is not actually in this room. Now, we have all come here as thieves to steal a certain piece of treasure—in order to think like a thief, one must first think like the one who means to guard his treasure. And what is the most secure way to protect something you don't want to be stolen?"
Ron's face was scrunched up with thought. "You put it in a safe with lots of locks on it? And curses, too."
Harry thought back, to when he had discovered the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets in the girl's bathroom, and he thought back to the Room of Requirement, and how he had placed the Half-Blood Prince potions book there for safekeeping to keep Snape from getting a hold of it. A bit ironic now, he thought.
"You put it somewhere someone wouldn't expect to look," Harry said. "Like if you put it in a desk, you would put it in a false bottom."
Bakura nodded. "Exactly. You do what is unexpected. Voldemort may have decided to place the object in Gringotts, and in the Hogwarts vault, but I'm sure that would not have been secure enough for him. So he would have taken it to one more level. If placing an object of value in the false bottom of a desk would make it less likely to be found, where would Voldemort place one of his most precious possessions?"
They all stood there, considering that for a moment.
"Are you saying," Hermione began slowly, "that you think this room has something like a false bottom?"
Bakura smiled. "Yes." He turned, and began to wade his way through the coins, pushing larger objects aside. The rest glanced at each other, and a moment later followed suit.
They didn't stop until they reached the back wall on the far side. They all tilted their heads back to gaze up at the plain, interlocking stone wall, searching out signs of their next step.
Bakura bent and began to dig through the coins, pushing them back until a space of wall at the base was visible. He drew out his wand and tapped a stone, muttering some kind of incantation under his breath.
A moment later, letters appeared one by one, scrawled in the color of blood, until they formed two words.
"'Enter, stranger,'" Hermione read.
Harry felt his hand tighten into a fist around his wand. Voldemort had hidden this place with the intent that no one should find it. But in case someone did come here knowing exactly what they were looking for, clearly this was a taunt.
"What do we do now, Ryou?" Hermione asked, turning. "How do we get in?"
"Maybe someone has to give a blood sacrifice," Harry suggested, remembering his last mission with Dumbledore. "Splatter blood on the stone."
Bakura shook his head. "I don't think so, not this time. But we'll keep that option available if all else fails."
Harry nodded, then blinked, startled. He turned to look back at Bakura. If he didn't know better, he would almost think that Bakura sounded like he knew about those fateful events in the last few hours of Dumbledore's life. But that was impossible. Even if Dumbledore had told Bakura about their mission so he could help them, there was no way he would have had time to fill him in between the time Harry and Dumbledore arrived in Hogsmeade and when Snape...
Harry felt a flood of anger, then shook his head. He couldn't think about that right now.
Meanwhile, Bakura had put one ear to the wall, and was tapping each of the stones with the tip of his wand. Each time, he would pause a moment, then move on to the next one. However, he stopped and wrapped again with his knuckles. He pressed in on the stone, and to Harry and the others' surprise, the stone retracted back and slide aside to reveal what looked like a stone switch.
Bakura smiled with satisfaction. "You might all want to stand back," he said. Then he hit the button.
Harry felt the ground shudder, and suddenly the air was filled with the sound of rattling coins, and the distant grinding of stone as if a doorway was being opened. He looked down, and suddenly saw that the floor just in front of the spot where the words Enter, stranger were still burned in blood had begun to move. The coins were shifting, and as he watched, a panel in the floor slid back, yawning like the maw of a great beast. Coins streamed down into the depths below, and he heard the tinkling as they struck stone.
Then the rock finished sliding into place and the floor stopped vibrating. For a moment the coins continued to pour down like sand through an hourglass, but at last even they came to a stop.
Harry peered down into the darkness, and saw it appeared to be a stairwell leading underground, but what he could see of the stairwell seemed to disappear into an almost unnatural darkness.
Harry took a breath. "Right then. Let's go." He took a step down, but as he stepped onto the layer of coins, they shifted beneath him and he stumbled slightly, nearly twisting an ankle.
"Here," Hermione said quickly, hurrying forward. She held out her wand and began clearing the coins from the stairs, raising some back up into the chamber with a levitation spell.
"Thanks," Harry said, falling back against the side wall to steady himself.
Bakura was standing nearby, watching all this placidly. "All right," he said at last. "If you're all ready, then we may go. However, you'll want to put out your wand lights. They will not help you see beyond this point—no light, torches or flashlights or anything else can penetrate the dark—and there are curses down there which are triggered by light spells cast by wands, whether it be a simple Lumos, sunlight, or fire spell."
Harry swallowed, and glanced down at his wand. This was the last thing he wanted to hear. However, he didn't see he had much choice.
"I will lead the way," Bakura said, passing Harry and taking up a position at the head. "I know the way to the object, even without being able to see. But it may help if we could all be connected somehow. Not holding hands—it would be better to have our hands free. I don't suppose you have anything for that, Hermione?"
Hermione bit her lip, thinking about it. Then her face lit up. "I know," she said.
Harry took up behind Bakura, followed by Ron, then Hermione, and Yugi taking up the rear. Hermione raised her wand, and a moment later what looked like spindly white thread shot from the tip, each one neatly wrapping itself around the waist of each member of the party, stringing them together.
Ron examined the thread. "That's it?" he said. "Looks like one good yank, and it'll pull right apart."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "This is spider's thread, Ron, or at least something like it. It's tough as diamonds, but if you need to pull away, just use a cutting spell with your wand. It's sensitive, too, so you'll be able to feel just a little bit of what's going on with the people up ahead of you. If someone at the front runs into danger, we'll all know it instantly, just from the vibrations along the string."
"Oh," said Ron, looking down at the string again. "Spider's thread." He slowly let go and drew his hand away, not looking too happy.
"All right," said Bakura. "If you're all ready. Put out your lights."
Harry looked ahead, and for a moment studied Bakura's back in the light of his wand. Bakura really did seem different than what he had been before. At Hogwarts, Bakura had no confidence in himself, and always ran from his fellow Slytherin first years, most of whom were half his size. Now he calmly gave instructions and led the way straight into the heart of an enchanted lair of one of the most evil wizards of all time. It was quite a transformation. Was it too much of a transformation?
Harry, although he didn't want to, found himself recalling what Yugi had said. "You must see you can't trust him."
Bakura turned to look at Harry over his shoulder, and Harry couldn't help but notice the way the sharp shadows played across his face, and made his soft smile look just a little bit sinister.
"Well, Harry?" he asked.
Harry blinked, and realized he was the only one who hadn't put his light out. "Right," he said. "Sorry."
Harry shook his head. No, he couldn't be thinking like that. Maybe they couldn't trust Bakura, or Yugi either, for that matter. But one thing he had learned from his battles with Lord Voldemort down through the years was that he couldn't beat the Dark Lord on his own. He needed to accept help from others, and he didn't think he would find, let alone destroy, the horcrux here in this place without Bakura's help. It was good to be cautious, but paranoia would only slow them down, just the way it did Voldemort.
Harry looked back into Bakura's face, with his only one visible eye, and the light of his wand casting half his face in shadow.
'It's just the light,' he told himself. Before he put out his wand and they were plunged into total darkness.
"A part of my spirit will become a mind spy, infiltrate the labyrinth of memories, and eventually find what I'm looking for inside the true room of the soul."
A/N: Finally, after well over a year and a half later, a new post...There's a reason it's taken this long.
Since I finally finished the rough drafts of all the chapters, I also finished my final read-through of the entire story up through chapter 41. I mainly focused on correcting typos and mistakes, and trying to make everything consistent, but I did some rewriting for chapters four through ten, including a major change in chapters eight and nine. However, the change will make little to no difference in these later chapters, so I wouldn't worry about it too much. I've already reposted all the chapters with the new edits. However, if anyone picks up on any more possible inconsistencies or typos, let me know and I'll fix them. (:
Now, next on the agenda is doing edits on the rest of the unposted chapters, and getting them ready to put up. I still don't know what kind of time frame we're looking at, but I hope from now on posts will be much faster than the glacial pace of the last three or four chapters. (Averaging less than one chapter per year, and sometimes two years, is just way too long...) If I can get them all edited to my satisfaction at some point, then I can start posting at regular and predictable intervals, but at the moment they're all still too rough for me to commit to anything just yet.
But, anyway! Again, thank you all so much for staying with me this long, (and much thanks to Dana Sto Helit, for timely reminders and keeping me accountable, hehe) and welcome to any new faces out there. If you get a chance, please leave a comment and let me know what you think!