A/N: Hey! Well, another eternity has passed since the last update. I can't even use my Artemis Fowl projects as an excuse, since the main reason is I got unexpectedly side-tracked into a ridiculously time-consuming project in yet another fandom, and then belatedly discovered Avatar The Last Airbender six months later. (Which naturally spawned even more projects—including one I'll probably be putting up here in the next few months, if all goes well.)

I held off posting this chapter even when it was about finished because I had hoped by the time I posted it, I would have the bulk of the editing done on the final chapters, enough to commit to a regular posting schedule. But even though I have made progress, the chapters still aren't quite there yet. So I'm just putting up this one on its lonesome. For now, anyway.

I guess at this point it would probably be too much to hope that anyone who was here before is still here. (Yes, it's my own fault, I've taken way too long. X3) But I hope anyone who happens to stop by here can still enjoy this anyway. :J

Thanks so much for reading, and see you at the end!

Chapter 43: Enter Stranger, Part IV

"Follow me," came Bakura's disembodied voice in the darkness.

Harry felt a slight tug on the spider's string Hermione had conjured, and he tentatively started forward, nearly stumbling as his foot reached the first step.

Harry couldn't help but think of the dark arch into which he and Dumbledore had gone in pursuit of the locket horcrux, and he shivered. However, even then, they had been able to light their wands right away. Harry couldn't remember if he had ever experienced darkness like this—complete, all-encompassing darkness where he couldn't see his own feet or the ground beneath them, and his only reassurance that with his next step he wouldn't walk off a cliff Bakura ahead of them, leading the way.

"Hey, Bakura?" Harry called nervously.

"Yes, Harry?" Bakura answered.

"How much further? Ten minutes? An hour? A day?"

Harry thought he could almost hear the smile in Bakura's voice. "That depends on how fast we walk."

"Is it just me, or he as barking as Dumbledore?" Ron muttered in an undertone in Harry's ear.

Harry didn't reply, though he had to admit, a part of him was starting to agree.

They seemed to walk for an age. Harry was continuously grabbing hold of the bit of spider string to make certain it hadn't been inadvertently severed, and he listened carefully for the sound of the Slytherin first-year's footsteps on the stone and even breathing to make sure he was still there.

Suddenly, the sound of Bakura's footsteps ceased, and Harry nearly walked into him.

"Here," Bakura said softly. "Now the test begins." He said something strange, a word in another language that might have been an incantation.

Suddenly a torch on a nearby wall flared to life, followed by another, and another, until a long stone corridor was illuminated before them.

"The horcrux is located in a room on the other end of this corridor," Bakura said matter-of-factly.

"Finally," Ron exclaimed, tearing off his spider string. He strode forward. "If we finish this now, it can't be too soon for me."

Bakura threw up an arm to block him.

"Hey—" Ron began. "What's the idea?"

"The path isn't quite so benign as it seems," Bakura said calmly.

Harry squinted down the passage. It did appear perfectly empty, ending with a heavy stone door on which was some strange carving. However, even if Bakura hadn't said anything, he wouldn't have trusted it for the world.

Bakura calmly pulled off his own spider string, then turned around to face them. He folded his arms behind him, and Harry felt irresistibly like a soldier getting ready for a debriefing.

"The Dark Lord set traps here," Bakura said. "However, knowing he may need to return here at some point in the future, he built into them simple ways to navigate through."

Without any further explanation, Bakura walked to the stone wall on the left. Then, keeping to the edge of the corridor, started briskly down it.

"Hey—" Harry began in alarm. "You just said—"

Bakura didn't reply, and only continued down the corridor, zagging diagonally to the center, then to the opposite side of the corridor and back, as though following a safe path only he could see. Occasionally he would reach out with his wand and tap a stone on the wall or he would kneel down to tap a stone on the floor. Harry's entire body was tense with nerves.

As Bakura neared the other end, he slowed to a stop, and he seemed to consider something for a moment.

"What?" Ron muttered. "What's he doing now?"

Hermione, meanwhile, had turned around, and was studying something above the entrance they had just come through. "Look at this," she said.

Harry turned to look, and saw an inscription carved into the stone. Like the word Bakura had spoken upon first entering the passage, it was written in another language.

"These traps of his," Hermione said thoughtfully. "I wonder—"

There was a loud groan of the sudden shifting of stone, and both Ron and Yugi cried out in horror. Hermione and Harry both spun around to see that the ceiling had opened up near the end of the corridor where Bakura stood, and a panel of spikes dropped like an anchor. It would cut anything underneath it to ribbons.

"Bakura!" Harry shouted, though he knew he was already too late.

However, Bakura calmly stood where he was, and the ceiling met the floor with a deep, resounding thud of stone on stone a foot in front of him. He didn't so much as flinch as the rush of air ruffled his long coat and bits of debris sprayed him in the face. Bakura then doubled back to a spot partway back down the corridor, and, pulling out a panel of stone, hit what Harry guessed to be a switch inside, and the spiked ceiling rose back up.

Looking almost bored, Bakura walked back over to them, casually brushing the dust from his coat.

"There," he said. "I believe the path is passable now."

Ron and Harry shared an incredulous look. Harry could tell they were both thinking the same thing. He's mental.

However, Bakura had gotten them this far, and as far as Harry could see, they didn't have much of a choice.

Bakura turned back around, ready to head back down the corridor. However, as he did, he sighed and murmured almost to himself, "So simple. It's almost disappointing..."

They tentatively followed Bakura down the passage. Ron kept shooting fearful glances at the ceiling, as did Harry, but Hermione was full of questions for Bakura, and had walked up past them closer to the front to better interrogate him.

"Those symbols above the door we just came through," she said curiously. "They're Egyptian, aren't they? Does that mean the kind of defenses he—L-Lord Voldemort—used here are Egyptian?"

Bakura's eyes were focused ahead of them, but he smiled a little. "Yes," he said absently. "I suppose he thought it would have a taste of irony. The maze of corridors and traps of Gringotts and its stores of gold do very much resemble the tombs of the pharaohs of ancient times..."

He trailed off, and for some reason, his smile widened, as though enjoying some private joke.

They came to a stop before the heavy stone door at the far end, and finally Harry could see the carved symbol clearly. It appeared to be a symbol of an eye.

"The Eye of Horus," Hermione noted. "Muggles used it to symbolize their god, but for wizards it was a very powerful magical symbol. I read about it in Egypt: Ancient Magicks of the Wizarding World."

"Sure it was," Ron said. "Bills says all the old Egyptian wizards were obsessed with symbols. They had symbols for every kind of magic." He paused. "Hey, that reminds me..."

Apparently for once Hermione and Ron were in sync, because they both turned to look back at Yugi at the same time. More specifically, at the odd large pendant that had been his trademark since they had met him hanging about his neck.

"I've been wanting to ask," Hermione said slowly. "Is that Egyptian?"

Yugi hesitated. "Yes," he said at last, reluctantly. "My grandfather brought it back to me after an archeological dig."

"It could have magical properties," Hermione said. "Many old objects do."

"Or it might be cursed," Ron added darkly.

Yugi looked uncomfortable and didn't reply.

Harry eyed Yugi, feeling his suspicions mount again. Bakura seemed to think Yugi couldn't possibly be involved with Voldemort, but could his having such a necklace really be a coincidence?

Bakura coughed. "Perhaps there will be time to investigate that later. For now, might I remind us we are in the heart of the Dark Lord's lair? I do not think this is a time to dawdle."

Ron shrugged slightly at the same time Harry shook his head, and they all turned their attention back to the door.

Bakura studied the door for a moment. "I think now would be the time for that blood sacrifice you mentioned before, Harry," he said.

Harry nodded. "I'll do it." He stepped forward, but as he made to pass Bakura, Bakura reached out and seized him by the arm.

"I think this time, not just any blood will do," he said, his gaze still on the door.

Harry turned back to him, frowning. "What?"

Bakura nodded at the door. "The Eye of Horus was the god's left eye. According to myth, Horus and Set vied for the throne of the gods following the death of Osirius, and in the course of that battle, Set carved out Horus's left eye."

Hermione sucked in a sharp gasp and exclaimed, "No, Harry!" Ron looked a little green.

Bakura continued, "Other gods came together to help reconstruct the eye, but Horus chose to give it to his father, Osirius, the lord of the dead, in hopes of restoring him to life. He sacrificed it."

Harry stared back into Bakura's face, not reacting, but feeling his heart begin to pound. "Are you saying..." His voice was low, and shook ever so slightly.

Bakura turned to look at Harry, and once again the torchlight cast his features into sharp relief. And, oddly, Harry felt his gaze drawn to the scarf Bakura had worn ever since they had first seen him, which covered his left eye.

Then the corner of Bakura's mouth turned up in the smallest of smiles. "Nothing so extreme. Only I suspect the blood has to come from a cut near the left eye—that's how the magic worked in many an ancient Egyptian tomb, from what I've read. Complex magic, as you can imagine. Likely the Dark Lord would enjoy the idea of testing his intruder's knowledge of the ancient legends."

Harry relaxed slightly with relief. "Okay," he said. However, before he could figure out what to conjure to make the best cut, Bakura had already stepped forward, and Harry saw Bakura had pulled the scarf down a little, and there was a tiny red gash just above his eyebrow. He touched a finger tipped in crimson to the very center of the eye.

Harry's eyes were once again drawn to the scarf, and he wondered what was beneath it. For some reason, he'd always assumed it was an extreme way to cover up some hideous scar of the Mad-Eye Moody variety. Some people were self-conscious about things like that. But maybe it was something else. Something magical.

Whatever it is, it can't be bad, Harry told himself. If it was dark magic, then Filch's ever-reliable secrecy sensors would have picked it up. Wouldn't they?

The heavy door swung slowly inward, and again Harry found himself gazing into a room totally pitch black.

"Not again," muttered Ron. "Please, Hermione, anything but spider thread."

"Then why don't you conjure something, Ronald?" Hermione snapped back, annoyed.

Bakura smiled. "Don't worry. We'll see soon enough."

With that, he stepped through the door and was instantly consumed by the darkness.

The rest of them glanced at each other.

"After you," Ron said.

"I went after him the first time," Harry answered.

"Oh, honestly." Hermione pushed past them and like Bakura, immediately vanished from sight. Yugi followed a moment later, his brow creased in a frown.

They shared a look.

"Well, we've come this far," Ron pointed out.

"Right," Harry said. "Together?"

Ron nodded, pale-faced in the dim torchlight.

They both turned to face forward, and as one they both stepped through the doorway into the darkness.

Harry blinked rapidly, and for a moment was disoriented. Unlike the staircase, the darkness didn't linger, and the moment he was over the threshold, the unnatural darkness vanished. The sensation of finding himself able to see so unexpectedly put him a little off balance, and he noticed Ron rubbing his eyes beside him.

Hermione was standing there, her arms folded. "Well," she said. "It's about time."

Ron shrugged, unapologetic.

"What's next?" Harry asked, turning to Bakura. However, the moment he did, the question became unnecessary.

They were standing in an enormous stone chamber. Along either side ran a stone outcropping, which burned in a continuous wall of flames. Down the center was a stone pathway, which cut through the center of an enormous chasm, so deep Harry couldn't see the bottom. The pathway led to a a stone plinth on the opposite side on which stood an upright, stone sarcophagus. Although the sarcophagus was firmly closed, they all knew what was probably inside it.

Harry felt a flicker of nerves, but it was Ron who said, "No way. Let's turn around."

"Surely," said Bakura, again smiling a little, "after all you've been through, you aren't afraid of an old corpse."

Ron shook his head. "You don't know old Egyptian wizards. I told you about my brother Bill. He's a cursebreaker in Egypt for Gringotts. The kinds of curses they put on mummies—you touch one, and sometimes you don't even know how bad you got something until days later. If you even survive."

Bakura's only response to this was to chuckle a little. Then he turned and started onto the stone pathway.

With one more glance at one another, they reluctantly followed.

Twice, Bakura put out an arm to stop them from advancing. The first time a section of stone floor fell out in front of them before their eyes, and they had to carefully make their way around the edge. The second time an enormous blade swung down from the ceiling, missing Ron's nose by inches.

"You could tell us when that's going to happen," Ron gasped, who was staring straight ahead with eyes wide as saucers.

"Yes," Hermione agreed weakly. "Some warning might be nice."

Bakura smiled, and gave them a vaguely apologetic look, but he seemed distracted, and his gaze soon wandered back to the path in front of them. His single eye roved the broad space, and for a moment Harry thought he looked almost disdainful, his mouth twisting with distaste.

"This place," he murmured. "It lacks any sense of elegance. Theatrical without being truly effective."

Harry could only stare at him, not sure if Bakura was expecting some kind of response to this. Something didn't seem quite right. Bakura wasn't talking like himself.

After a moment, Bakura's gaze wandered back to them. "Sorry," he said, his smile apologetic again. "Just a joke. I suppose it was in poor taste."

Yugi spoke up for the first time in a while, his voice a little muffled as he trailed a short distance behind them. "Yes," he muttered. "It would have been more elegant if the Dark Lord challenged us to a board game and turned us into game pieces to play with instead."

Harry felt like he was missing the joke, and Bakura chose not to reply.

"That makes me think," said Ron. "Remember in first year, and McGonagall set it up so we had to play as pieces in that chess game? Blimey, that was ages ago..."

By now they'd reached the end of the path, and they filed up the steps of the plinth to come to stand before the upright stone sarcophagus against the far wall. On its surface was a three-dimensional carving of an Egyptian face at the top, with a relief-carved image of a god Harry guessed to be Osirius, supposed lord of the dead. On either side of it, flames crackled in their basins.

Bakura drew his wand, and said an incantation, flicking his wand to the left.

The front of the sarcophagus shifted, sending bits of rock cascading down onto the stone. Then slowly, with the grinding of stone, the lid fell away, falling hard to the stone plinth, revealing a second coffin beneath—this one in the shape of a person, with the pharaoh's distinctive headdress, and a face painted in gold.

Again Bakura flicked his wand, and this revealed another coffin beneath the second, and when he opened that one, there was one more, this one of solid gold.

"You could be cursed," Ron commented.

"I could be," Bakura said calmly. "But if I am, it will be Lord Voldemort's curse, not an ancient pharaoh." Again, the corner of his mouth quirked up in a smile.

He moved his wand a final time, and as the last coffin creaked slowly open, Harry caught a glimpse of the thing inside. He saw a humanoid object, shriveled and dark, swaddled in strips of linen.

The Egyptian mummy sagged in its coffin, and the bandages had fallen away enough to reveal bits of black skin. The places where its eyes should have been were empty sockets. Harry felt Ron shudder next to him.

However, Harry's eyes had soon been drawn away from the corpse to the object gripped in its black hand. A goblet, with polished jewels that glimmered in the firelight, and the image of a badger carved into the gold along its side.

"There it is," Hermione murmured, and Harry saw her gazing up at it, as transfixed as he was.

"Indeed," Bakura said. He added, "Ironic, isn't it...that the dark lord would chose to protect his life in a coffin of all things."

Harry walked up to the mummy, ignoring Hermione's gasp of warning and Ron's grumbling about curses. Carefully, he leaned over the goblet, and saw a murky dark liquid inside. He reached out as though to take the goblet, but as he expected, his hand seemed to meet an invisible barrier, and he couldn't touch it.

"Any ideas?" Ron said. "You know, that won't end up triggering You-Know-Who's traps?"

"I guess maybe one of us will have to drink this," Harry said slowly. He couldn't be entirely sure if that's what Voldemort intended this time, but it was the only thing he could think of. If they just took the goblet, it might cause the mummy—which Harry didn't doubt was probably really an Inferius—to attack them. But he didn't see there was a lot of choice.

"Okay," Harry said, turning to Hermione and Ron. "I'm going to drink it. No matter what I say—no matter what I do—you have to force me to keep drinking."

"No, Harry!" Hermione stared at him, her eyes wide with fear. "Harry, you can't. We'll find another way."

"Yeah, mate," Ron agreed, looking shaken. "You're mental if you think we're going to let you do this."

"Look," Harry said, looking each of them in the eye in turn. "We have to get that goblet. And Voldemort's probably set it up so it'll weaken somebody. I'm not going to let either of you do it. I'm the one in the prophecy, so it makes sense for it to be me."

"But," Hermione began. "Harry—"

"Actually," Bakura cut in mildly. "We don't really need the goblet."

As one, they all turned to stare at him.

"What do you mean?" Harry began incredulously. "Of course we need it. That's the whole reason we came here."

"On the contrary," Bakura replied softly. "The only thing important to us is the soul inside. If, say, we were able to move the bit of soul from the goblet into another object, one decidedly less defended, and destroy it, then our objective would be reached."

Harry gaped at him. "Is that possible?" he asked. He regarded Bakura with suspicion. He doubted it could be that simple; if it was, he couldn't believe that Voldemort wouldn't have anticipated it and set up countermeasures, or even more, that Dumbledore would have failed to make use of such a loophole himself.

"It is," Bakura answered. He added, as if he had guessed what Harry was thinking, "It's a little known method, and quite difficult to pull off. I very much doubt the Dark Lord or even the headmaster would even be aware it could be done. It's an old spell, of foreign origin. Egyptian, in fact—but it so happens I know the spell and can perform it."

Harry glanced back at Ron and Hermione. He could tell they were as dubious as he was. However, Yugi was standing a couple of paces back with his arms folded, and though he was frowning in Bakura's direction, he showed no sign of doubt.

"Stand back," Bakura said.

Reluctantly, Harry and the others pulled away, back to the very edge of the plinth. However, as Harry watched Bakura, he felt his worry intensify. The timid Slytherin first year had gotten them this far. However, if he was hurt in some misguided attempt to take the easy way out where the horcruxes were concerned, Harry wasn't sure he would ever forgive himself.

Bakura started to turn back to the cup, but then paused and looked back. His single eye flickered first to Harry, then to Yugi.

"Harry," he said. "Do I have your permission to explain what we are doing a little more fully?"

Harry glanced at Yugi too, and after a moment of consideration, nodded. Yugi already had all the clues to figure it out, so if it happened he really was somehow working for Voldemort, he already had more than enough to compromise their mission.

Yugi said slowly, "You said before that these objects are known as horcruxes, and they are containers for pieces of a soul." He paused, then continued, "If I had to guess, I would say these objects contain bits of the soul of Lord Voldemort."

Bakura smiled. "Yes," he said softly. "To use imagery you might appreciate—the Dark Lord has split his soul into multiple pieces, like the pieces of a puzzle. In order to destroy the Dark Lord once and for all, we must destroy the 'edge pieces' in order to pave the way to reach to the 'centerpiece.' That is our objective."

Yugi nodded slowly, and for some reason he fingered the large gold piece of jewelry around his neck that he never went anywhere without. "I see."

Bakura then turned and stepped forward to stand directly in front of the mummy. He reached into the pocket of his long black coat, and when his hand emerged, Harry saw he was holding a small object, a faceless lead figurine that looked like something from a board game.

For some reason, beside him Hermione let out a short breath of shock.

Harry could feel his heart beginning to pound, and he wondered if Bakura's plan could possibly work, or if they were all about to die.

Bakura drew a slow, deep breath and, to Harry's deep unease, put away his wand.

"Bakura?" Harry called out cautiously.

However, all Bakura's attention was now on the goblet, and he slowly extended a pale hand to hover over the cup's rim, and the dark turgid liquid inside.

And then, with a flash of golden light from his chest, it began.

The spirit had pulled innumerable souls out of bodies in his time. Taking souls and placing them in inanimate objects, or move a living soul from one object to another, was child's play for the powers granted him by the Millennium Ring.

So when the spirit reached out, he expected to seize hold of the soul, and drag it from its safe haven into the generic Monster World piece he had brought with him with ease. If he was able to take a soul from a living body, the soul's real home, it should be no problem to remove a soul from an object it did not belong and place it in another. However, from the moment he felt himself touch the soul, he found it would not budge.

The spirit gritted his teeth. A soul resisting his transfer power? Impossible.

However, it felt as though the soul had clamped down on its chosen item of refuge and was stubbornly refusing to move. The spirit felt a bead of sweat break out on his temple and his entire body tensed from the effort. Slowly, an unpleasant realization dawned on him.

He could not just move the soul—not a tenacious, strong-willed soul like this one. No, the only way to defeat this soul would be in a Shadow Game.

The spirit closed his single eye. The thing obviously did not have limbs to play a normal game, but it didn't need to. All it needed was its will. Risky though it was, there was only one way to take this particular soul.

I challenge you, Dark Lord, he thought. We will play a game—the one to drag the other's soul from its home wins. The other will suffer a penalty game. Do you accept?

Almost before he was ready, in answer, the spirit suddenly felt a violent tug deep in his chest, and he bent forward, gasping. Apparently, that was a yes.

He clenched his fist briefly, then a thin smile stretched across his lips.

Lord Voldemort did not normally have the power to move souls as the spirit did, but now the Shadow Game had granted it to him. This was a gamble of the highest kind—he knew the Dark Lord's bit of soul would not put its existence on the line for anything less than the chance to strike down the one who threatened it, once and for all, and so he had little choice.

The spirit pulled at the soul, hard. However, the soul held fast, and he was unnerved to feel the Dark Lord pull back at his, just as strong.

The spirit glanced down, and nearly jerked away when he saw that the mummy had begun to move. The thing tilted its head slightly, as though looking right at him, its nonexistent eyes like dark tunnels beneath the shadow of the bandages around its head. Its free hand lifted slowly, jerkily, twitching fingers reaching out for the spirit's, which was still extended toward the cup.

The spirit's instinct was to draw away, but he could not—that would mean his defeat. So he gritted his teeth and kept his hand where it was as the twitching fingers drew ever nearer.

The Dark Lord's soul still held fast to its base, and continued to drag at his soul with a will of iron. The spirit wondered if he had miscalculated—he had not expected a mere part of a soul to be so powerful, so vicious and difficult to dislodge. An insidious thought crept into his mind—was it possible he might actually lose? This was not like his other Shadow Games with the pharaoh, where he only risked setbacks and his host's health. He could always come back, as long as his soul remained protected within the Millennium Ring. But here there was a chance, if he lost, his soul would be torn from the Ring, the thing which had kept his consciousness alive all these centuries.

A bead of sweat slid down his temple. For a moment, the fear flickered in his soul.

At last, the mummy's black hand was there, hovering just above his tensed hand. Then, without warning, the black hand descended, and the spirit felt as it pressed its icy fingertips to his skin.

Initially, nothing happened. Then, the spirit let out a sudden hiss of pain as he felt fire explode over his knuckles. A patch of black skin spread from the mummy's dead flesh onto his, and he watched helplessly as the blackness began to crawl over his hand, like the spread of a disease.

He watched as the blackness continued down over his fingertips and began to reach up his wrist. He could not even risk trying to bat the filthy arm of the mummy away, lest the curse begin on his other arm, too.

His hand was entirely black now. It looked dead, and felt dead to the rest of his arm, yet somehow he could still feel the white-hot pain. A wave of vertigo overtook him, and nausea clutched at his stomach.

He was being cursed. His entire arm was dying, just like that of the former headmaster at Hogwarts. Was he going to die here now, just as Dumbledore had died? Or a fate worse than death?

He looked into the depths of the dark sludge and reminded himself, Shadow Games are played out in the mind. The one with the weakest mind, weakest heart, loses. If I falter now, I cannot win.

He reached out with his Millennium Items, long probing tentacles to see into Voldemort's mind and soul. And there, he found it.

Behind the layers of powerful enchantments and spells, the great strength and cleverness and impressive knowledge of magic the Dark Lord had amassed over the years, the spirit could see clearly that all this was merely a disguise—a barrier to protect a weak and trembling heart.

'I must not die,' it squealed as it shook. 'I refuse to die.'

The spirit's features, twisted in pain and a growing fear, suddenly relaxed. Despite the burning agony that still devoured his hand, he could feel his lip curling into his usual sneer.

To think, that a small, cowardly being such as this had, even for a moment, struck fear into his own heart. Voldemort, even now, was simply using the same tired tactics he used on everyone else he had ever come into contact with—trying to beat him into submission through fear for his life.

Of course that was the only sort of tactic one such as the Dark Lord could understand. The great Dark Lord could imagine no greater terror than death, of meeting his end, and so he thought that inflicting it on others or threatening to do so would be the greatest fear they could imagine. The man thought his heart was so invulnerable, simply because he loved no one—but in reality, his heart was perhaps the weakest of all because he loved himself, ever so much. This so-called great wizard could not imagine someone who would risk giving up his own life to achieve his purpose—which was why he had not been able to see through Dumbledore's final scheme.

'You cannot stand the thought of dying,' the spirit thought as he gazed down at the vile black sludge, the essence of the Dark Lord's soul. 'But I, I have no such weakness.' Because he had his hatred to strengthen his resolve, until his will was unbreakable. This fool's terror of death could never hope to compete with his hatred of his enemies.

He suddenly began to laugh, his voice a low rasp at first, growing until the entire giant room was filled with the sound of it, echoing off the walls and making the others, who of course could not see the game, glance at one another, unnerved.

Then the laughter abruptly cut off and, the muscles in his face contorting with a vicious fury, he suddenly closed his now-blackened hand and gave a violent tug. He turned his entire body with the force of his sudden, final attack.

The spirit felt the soul give slightly, and then at last pull free. He raised the game piece and the black sludge dissolved, turning to a wisp of smoke. The smoke rose in the air, then shot to the game piece, drawn like bits of metal to a magnet. For a moment the figurine glowed black with an evil aura before the dark light faded.

The lead doll's face was twisted in terror as the spirit held it before him, gazing down at it as the mummy's hand dropped, and it became lifeless once more.

"I win," the spirit whispered. Triumph gleamed in his single eye, and for one terrible moment, the spirit stood tall beside the coffin on the stone plinth, staring down at the piece of Lord Voldemort's soul that he held in his hand.

But then he staggered slightly, and everything seemed to blur around him. The grip of his fingers around the doll slackened.

"You're just another mortal..." he murmured. Before he was falling, falling, and, as it always inevitably had for the past three thousand years, darkness claimed him.

"A strong heart is born only when you are prepared to lose."

A/N: I remember this being one of the chapters I was most looking forward to writing back in the early days of this story. I think here it benefited from at least one or two major rewrites.

But yeah, only one more chapter in Gringotts, and then we'll be getting out, I promise.

A couple of complete side notes:

A few years ago the HP series was re-released with new cover art by Kazu Kibuishi, and because I didn't have all the books in the series and I really loved the new art, I decided to go ahead and get them. I started rereading the series, and I got through them all not too long ago, including the short screenplay story 'The Cursed Child,' set after the series. It was a lot of fun, and it was interesting to get a fresh look on books I'd probably last read back as a teenager. (Fantastic Beasts was also awesome, though I am wondering how they're going to stretch that story into the apparently planned five movies, lol.)

Also—I'm sure most Yugioh fans on here already knew this, but a new Yugioh movie came out in 2016 for the twentieth anniversary of the series, and was released in English in late January 2017. I hadn't been looking for any new content related to the old Yugioh, so I initially had no clue. (I first heard about it while listening to a podcast on an Avatar the Last Airbender fansite of all places.) When I watched the trailer, and saw Bakura was actually going to be in it—yeah, definitely freaked out. (Always wanted Bakura to be in a movie, or in a filler season, even if it was just cameo, but my hopes were always dashed.) Now, actually having seen the movie, it totally blew all my expectations out of the water. (Find a way to see it if you haven't, especially if you're a Bakura fan, you won't regret it.)

Anyway, thanks so much for reading! I'm not sure when the next chapter will be, but hopefully sooner than this one was. If you have a moment, let me know what you thought, and see you next time! C:

Posted 6/11/18