Note: This story is a sequel to 'The Ring of Gold'. If you have not read that story this won't make a lot of sense to you. You should probably make sure you've finished that one before you start on this one.
Smoke and Mirrors
Harry found himself staring at a door he'd seen a hundred times. He couldn't quite tell just how it made him feel this time. There was still some of the old anger and resentment, but now it was blurred by confusion and regret. None of that would change how it would end. He'd already accepted that. Just as he always did, he reached for the door and pushed it open.
Sitting at a chair in the center of his study was Grigore Tarus, looking calm, thoughtful and very much alive. He was gazing upward into the pale moonlight as it fell through the window in the ceiling. He made no noise or movement to acknowledge Harry's entry to the room. In his hands he held a cup of tea which was releasing swirling wisps of vapor under his chin.
"Come in, Harry," he said in a slow, even voice. "Sit down. I've made some tea. Not too much sugar. Just the way you like it."
There was something strange about the tone of his voice. There was always something strange about the tone of his voice, but this time Harry felt he understood it a little better. There was a touch of confusion and worry in it. The first time he'd heard it, Harry had so rarely observed those emotions from Grigore that he hadn't recognized them. He sat down, knowing what was coming next.
"You were following Henri," the old wizard announced. "Where did you find him?"
"In Marseilles," Harry answered, adding "—in the bed of a nineteen year old daughter of a French Quidditch official." He picked up a cup of tea and swirled it about, releasing a wave of aromatic vapor. "He's a vile person," Harry said as he stared into his cup. "He's selfish, arrogant, and completely lacking the most basic semblance of morals.
"He is uncomplicated."
"He's untrustworthy," Harry shot back.
"He's predictable." Grigore declared more firmly. He finally pulled his eyes from the sky and stared at Harry. "I don't need to trust him," he said without emotion. "I need only understand him. I have plenty of carpenters, Harry. What I need is a hammer."
"And what more do you need him to ruin?" Harry asked. "The girl was going to be married in a month. Her fiancÃ© just opened his own shop. She was happy—"
"—Harry," Grigore interrupted, "we've talked about—"
"He used a potion," Harry growled. "She didn't want him, and he doesn't want her. He did it because she didn't want him. He needed to do it to prove that he could. And that's only the beginning. He works for a younger witch. She hates him and it only makes him desire her more. His ambition is boundless and he covets anything that is denied to him."
"Such people can be useful, Harry," Tarus argued. "His desires are simple and easily conjured at a moment's notice. By feeding them, he can be controlled and molded to our will."
"What would we need to change?" Harry asked bitterly. "He's doing plenty of evil without our help. I figured you would want to leave him alone. He's just a part of nature, isn't he? Or do we only oppose evil when it gets in our way?"
Harry could hear the anger growing in his own voice. A good deal of it was from the frustration of following Henri and being ordered not to interfere. An equally large part was due to the welcome he received when he returned. Over the last few months he'd grown to respect many of the other Brotherhood members. They had become his friends in a time when it was not safe for him to be with his real friends. However, that had all changed. That night when he'd returned to the Castle, every last one of them had refused to speak with him except to say that he should speak with Grigore. Now that he was, all Grigore wanted to talk about was some lecherous Frenchman he planned to use and throw away like so many other wizards before him.
Grigore seemed oblivious to the anger swirling inside him. "We have no time tonight for that same old discussion, Harry."
"Why not?" he snapped. "We've got time to discuss Henri. You didn't listen to what I had to say before having him join us. Then, you sent me off to watch him, knowing I would return and tell you that I think it's a mistake. Now we have the time to sip tea while I tell you what you already know, but no time to discuss the fact that your actions are worse than the situation you're trying to prevent."
Grigore stared silently at Harry, then took a sip of tea and set the cup gently on the table in front of him. "I did not summon you here, Harry," he said heavily. "You came of your own will."
"I came here because no one would talk to me until I did," Harry replied coldly. "Something happened here while I was gone. Why won't anyone talk to me about it?"
Grigore took a deep breath and replied, "Because I ordered them not to."
"You are correct, Harry. Something has happened while you were in France. There are things you and I must discuss and I did not want you to be influenced by the opinions of others."
"What sort of things?" Harry asked.
Grigore sat back in his chair and watched Harry carefully. "Where were you on the first of September?" he asked calmly.
"I was at King's Cross Station in London," Harry answered, "—but you already knew that."
Grigore nodded but didn't take his eyes off Harry. "And why were you there?
"Josef and I overheard rumors of a Death Eater attack planned on the platform," Harry answered quickly.
"There were rumors of Death Eater attacks planned in Paris as well," Grigore retorted. "That's why I sent you there."
"I thought Dragomir and Andros could handle it," Harry said, "and I was right."
"In that instance, perhaps," conceded Grigore. "Yet so was I. Razvan and Tiberiu stopped the London attack long before you and Josef arrived and they drew far less attention than Dragomir and Andros did in Paris. It would have been better for you to remain where you were and help them see that it was done correctly."
Grigore folded his hands and stared searchingly at Harry. "But you were not thinking of the best interests of the Brotherhood or even the wizarding world when you went to London that day. You were thinking only of yourself. You went there because Ginevra Weasley was there."
"I went there to keep her safe," Harry countered.
"You went there to watch her," Grigore corrected him. "You knew she was in no danger. Tiberiu sent a message to Josef an hour before you left Paris. You went there because you wanted to see her."
Harry paused. Why should he deny it? There was nothing wrong with that. No one had been hurt. The Death Eaters had been stopped. There were no rules against such a thing. He looked Grigore in the eyes and answered: "Yes. I did."
"Do you know why you wanted to see her? You knew you couldn't speak to her. Why is it comforting to simply be near her?"
"I love her," Harry replied simply.
Grigore leaned back in his chair, looking pensive. "Curious," he murmured. "Love is a powerful emotion. As is greed. Both force you to place one person's desires over the needs of all others. Where greed is focused on one's self, love is focused on another. Beyond that, the differences are much more subtle.
"Greed is inherently combined with a desire for self-preservation, while love is rarely restricted by such burdens. Its hold is more than powerful enough to drive men to risk the lives of themselves and others, betray their friends, and even turn against the entire world. I have explained many times what consequences we face if we would fail at some critical point. So tell me, Harry: why do you love her, despite those terrible risks?"
"Love doesn't need reasons or justifications," said Harry. "There is no cause or explanation for love. I love her for who she is and we are both stronger because of it."
"An interesting way of putting it," Grigore replied with a nod. "And what of the evening training sessions? Are there no reasons or explanations for them, either? Were they fueled by your desire to strengthen yourself, or did you hold them just for the joy of fighting your fellow wizards?"
"No one ever said they were forbidden," Harry replied. "I didn't even organize them. Josef did that."
"Yes, and Josef said that you were the one who asked him to do it. He said that you told him the sessions should be held in the lower levels where they wouldn't be found as easily."
"He— That traitorous—" sputtered Harry. "Is that what he told you? That was his suggestion." A gentle warmth spread through Harry's chest, as though a small candle had been lit. "He was the one who told you about King's Cross. He told you about everything. After weeks of pretending to be my friend, he just— he betrayed me."
"Yes, Harry. In the end, he valued the Brotherhood over your friendship," Grigore agreed. "Yet it was not an easy decision for him to make. That should have answered all my questions, but I had to be certain. I'm afraid he and I nearly fell into the same trap as the late Albus Dumbledore. For us, however, it was not too late."
"What are you talking about?"
Grigore rose from his chair and strode over toward his large desk against the wall. "I have been noticing troubling things, lately. My mind has been clouded with a multitude of questions, and only recently have I been able to see the answers through the fog. I have re-discovered a very grave problem that I admit I had been blind to for some time. Will you come with me? There is something very important which you must see for yourself."
Despite his uncertainties, Harry stood and followed the older wizard. They left the study and began winding through the corridors. The other Brotherhood members were acting oddly. As he and Grigore would walk past them, they would stop, step to the side and watch silently as they passed. It was eerie. Harry had always found the Brotherhood to be surprisingly informal. To see them acting this way was alarming and almost threatening.
Grigore kept walking, seemingly oblivious to the behavior of the others. Harry followed slightly as Grigore led them down corridors he had never used before. It seemed as though every corridor was sloping downward. Occasionally, they would turn some corner and walk down a flight of stairs. Other things began standing out in Harry's mind. There were no other wizards walking around. Even at that hour of the night, the Romanian Ministry did not stop working and the majority of them had no idea the Brotherhood even existed. They must have passed into the part of the Castle hidden to all but Brotherhood wizards.
Harry began inspecting his surroundings with more scrutiny. They were passing pairs of Brotherhood members with peculiar regularity. Taking all other things into account, the conclusion was obvious. Wherever they were going, Grigore had posted guards all along the path. What was he afraid of? Who could attack them there? Harry felt certain that Josef had played some part in it, but he could not imagine what part that might be.
They descended another flight of stairs and Harry found himself standing in a large, circular room, ringed with crackling torches. There was a break in the wall off to his left, where a large arched corridor sloped downward even further. He was certain he had never been there before. "Where are we?" he asked.
"Do you not know?" Grigore replied. "This castle was not built as a fortress to protect wizards. At least, not in the way you might think. It was built to protect the chamber at the end of that hallway."
"I'm not in the mood for mysteries, Grigore."
"Nor am I," he replied seriously. "Not any more. Follow me. Tonight, we will unravel our mysteries together."
As Grigore walked off toward the arched corridor, Harry cautiously followed him. There was something strange about the room, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. It felt distinctly uncomfortable, and yet he didn't really want to turn back.
As he passed under the arch and stared down the corridor, he could see another circular chamber at the other end. The closer they got, the more Harry noticed the general uneasiness of the previous room growing into a more tangible feeling. It felt like a bizarre pressure coming from behind his eyes. The more he tried to ignore it, the more pronounced it became.
His head was already filled with pulsating noise, like the muffled sound of wind gusting through a forest. He found himself rubbing his forehead as he passed under the second arch and into the smaller chamber. There was something off about the air in the room. Harry could feel it pressing all around him. It was hard to breathe. His eyesight was getting a little fuzzy. Where were they? What was Grigore trying to show him? Somewhere deep inside his mind, something was trying to tell him the answer.
Harry felt drawn to a pair of gold-trimmed stone doors cut into the far wall of the chamber. Grigore had stopped, and was standing in the center of the chamber. He watched Harry as though waiting for him to make the next move.
"Do you still not know what lies on the other side of those doors?" Grigore asked. "Do you recognize them from any dreams or visions?"
Harry walked closer to the doors. He didn't remember anything like them. It had been years since he'd dreamed of the door to the Department of Mysteries. He kept scouring his memories, but couldn't remember anything like the two doors in front of him.
His eyes traced the curling shapes in the gold trim. As his mind picked out the images of snakes and lions locked in a thousand battles, he realized that the noise inside his head was clearer next to the doors. He could almost make out... voices. His curiosity overwhelmed him, and he reached for the door.
Sharp pain sliced through his forehead the instant his fingers made contact with the golden handles. His arm recoiled as though the metal had scalded his hand, while he instinctively reached for his scar with the other.
"You can feel it, can't you?" Grigore asked. "You heard it up in the other chamber, but now you can feel it. Does it make your scar hurt?"
"No," he answered quickly. "It's just... It's only a headache," he said. He doubted that Grigore would believe him, but he didn't feel like admitting Grigore was right, either. "My scar only hurt when Voldemort was angry."
Grigore frowned. "Voldemort is gone, Harry, yet your scar remains. It is a monument to the clash between the purest love and the darkest magic used in millennia. It formed the link between you and Voldemort. He is gone, but you remain, as does your scar."
"What are you saying?" Harry asked. "That I'm linked with a dead wizard?"
"Your scar is more than a link between you and Lord Voldemort. It is a wound in magic itself." Grigore began slowly pacing around the perimeter of the room. "At the instant it was created, absolute good and absolute evil existed in such proximity, that in that one moment, the two became one."
Grigore waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. "Luckily for you and every other wizard, it lasted only a fraction of a second. The curse rebounded, destroying your home and stripping Voldemort from his body. However, it could not destroy what had been created in that fraction of a second, and your scar is a physical manifestation of just how close the world came to destruction that day."
Harry's eyes followed the older wizard as he walked. He wasn't certain where the conversation was headed, so he decided to simply allow it to run its course. "So if the curse hadn't rebounded, it would have destroyed the world?"
"Perhaps not in the way you are thinking, but yes, it would have. It would have unleashed a force that the world is currently powerless to withstand."
"But that isn't the end, is it?" Harry asked. "Voldemort is gone, and I'm still feeling him."
Grigore paused to look at Harry. "Is it truly Voldemort you feel?" he questioned. "Could he, by some perversion of magic have returned? No, Harry. He is gone. You yourself have seen this. He was the darkest wizard the world has seen for millennia, yet he was only balancing an equation. He was an eventuality that was virtually guaranteed by the rise of wizards like Albus Dumbledore."
And so Grigore returned to the idea of balancing the forces in nature. It was not the first time Harry hat heard this idea. Grigore knew that Harry thought it was a load of rubbish, but it never stopped him from bringing it up and starting a fresh debate. Harry didn't have the patience for debates. The ache behind his eyes was getting more difficult to ignore.
"That doesn't tell me why my scar is hurting."
"It should," Grigore replied impatiently. "Your scar tied you to Voldemort, but only because he was the greatest vessel of dark magic in the world. Now that he has been vanquished, it will only be a matter of time before another gains enough dark power to take up the other end of the link."
"And you know who it will be, do you?"
Grigore's face fell into a concerned expression. "You do not?"
"I've never thought much of Divination," Harry answered mockingly.
"Nor have I," the old wizard said, ignoring his tone. "I prefer more concrete methods. Follow me."
Grigore quickly walked to the stone doors, and with some effort, pushed the doors open. Though the air remained still and dense, Harry felt a rush of warmth from the other side of the doorway. With it came an increase in volume and sharpness of the sounds in his head. He recognized them now as whispers —or distant shouting, perhaps. Whatever they were, they were coming from the other room.
Harry began creeping toward the door. He felt strange. He knew he had to look into the room. Grigore had already stepped across the threshold and waited at the top of what appeared to be a set of stairs. The floor was sunken, hiding whatever might be in its center. Harry couldn't decide if he was afraid to see what it was, or excited.
"Are you alright, Harry?" Grigore asked kindly. "You have nothing to fear. I believe you have seen something like this before."
Harry slowly walked forward, passing through the arched doorway and stopping at the edge of the first step. As he stared down into the sunken hollow in the center of the room, he felt his scar throbbing. Standing on a raised stone platform was an ancient-looking stone arch with a veil of black cloth. It looked identical to the arch he'd seen in the Department of Mysteries, except this one was damaged.
Harry glared at Grigore. "Why did you bring me here?"
"Certainly not to kill you, Harry," he replied as he began walking down the steps. "This is not the first time you have seen one of these. One is within your Ministry, within the Department of Mysteries, I believe. How convenient that they find such a thing on the very place they chose to build their Ministry, don't you think?" he asked with a smile.
Harry remained standing at the top of the stairs. "You haven't answered my question."
"I won't have to," Grigore replied. "The Veil will do that for me. Your Ministry has been seeking answers from their Veil for centuries. However, they always ask the wrong questions. They turn to it to answer their questions about death and the destination of our souls when we leave this world. Asking the veil of these things is as pointless as asking the ocean how to sail a ship."
"And what should they be asking?"
Grigore stopped halfway down the stairs and turned to face Harry. "They should not be asking at all. They should be listening. These arches are ancient doorways to the realms of the dead, Harry. They are gateways to the space separating the world of the living from the world of the dead. Through them, the two worlds are capable of perceiving each other. Few wizards understand the importance and danger of that ability. You see, Harry, to those who exist for eternity, the future is as predictable as the phases of the moon. If you have the will and patience, there is much you can hear. I have been listening to them quite a bit lately."
"And they said there is a new Dark Lord?"
"No, Harry. They say there will be one, or that is how he will be recognized," Grigore explained. "He has not yet risen to power, but when he does, he will be unlike any Dark Lord before him."
Harry felt an odd feeling of confidence. It was a familiar situation. It felt almost comfortable. He had dealt with Dark Lords. Slowly he began walking down the steps toward Grigore. "Do you know where to find him?"
"I have my suspicions," Grigore replied cryptically. "I know that this is the place where it will begin."
"Have you told the others?"
"No. We must learn more before we do that. At this time, I do not know enough to separate truth from speculation. I know he must be stopped, and I will not risk the inevitable dissension until I am certain."
"You would stop him?" Harry asked. "I thought you sought balance. Wouldn't a new Dark Lord bring balance to the world? Isn't that just what you want?"
Grigore turned and continued down the stairs. "In other times, perhaps, but this thing is not truly a Dark Lord. It is something far more sinister and destructive. If I am correct, the approaching battle will finally accomplish what was only narrowly avoided seventeen years ago."
"It will kill me?"
Grigore glared at him. "No, Harry, think of your scar," he said while tapping his own forehead. "The confrontation between good and evil will rip a hole in the barrier between this world and the next, releasing something that has been imprisoned for more years than any wizard can claim to know."
"How can you know that will happen?"
Grigore turned and extended a bony finger toward the veil. "As I said, I have learned much."
"The dead," Grigore replied simply. "The spirits of thousands of years of wizards speaking through this gateway."
"And you believe them?" Harry asked as he glanced at the Veil. He could hear the whispers in his head. They were different than he remembered. They sounded troubled and upset. There was something else as well. One voice stood out over the rest, but he couldn't quite make it out.
Grigore seemed to notice his confusion. He continued talking, but watched Harry closely. "The concept of deception does not exist to them. Lying is as foreign to them as it is to the tide."
"And they just told you what would happen? Did they say if it could be prevented?"
"We must hope that it can," Grigore answered. "If it cannot, then everything we love will be destroyed."
Harry was on the last step. His eyes skipped from Grigore to the veil. The voices were loud, and he'd only just realized that his scar felt painfully hot. Something about the veil was making his scar hurt. How could that be?
"How can you be certain they aren't wrong?" Harry asked as he stepped onto the stone floor. "How can you be certain that this is going to happen soon, and not in a hundred years? It might mean nothing to them, but it would change our plans significantly."
"I have reason to believe that it will happen sooner than that. That is why I have brought you here," Grigore explained. "I would not ask nor expect you to accept such a thing simply because I told you to. While you were away, Josef and I spoke about many things. I shared my concerns, and, like you, he questioned my conclusions. I brought him here. Together we were able to see and hear more than I ever had before. I brought you here so that you might see what we did."
Grigore motioned for Harry to step closer to the raised platform. Reluctantly, he did as he was instructed. Grigore positioned him so that he and the arch were facing each other. The throbbing in Harry's scar turned into sharp, rhythmic twinges of pain. Through squinting eyes, he couldn't decide if he'd seen the veil move or not. It seemed to be swaying with the pulses in his scar, but the entire room appeared to be wobbling with them as well.
He reached up to his scar and found it frighteningly hot. He'd been just as close to the veil in the Department of Mysteries in his fifth year at Hogwarts, but he hadn't noticed anything more than faint whispers.
"Something's different," Harry croaked. "It hurts."
"I suspected it might," Grigore replied. "I apologize for not warning you. I feared you would not try if you knew about the side effects. I'm sure you've felt worse pain, and I'm afraid this is the only way to answer your questions." Grigore walked up behind him, and put his hands on Harry's shoulders. "You must concentrate on the arch, Harry. Ignore the veil. The Veil is a barrier, but not an impervious one. Your answers lie on the other side."
"The one in London never hurt this much," Harry said over the growing ocean of voices in his head.
Grigore leaned forward and spoke into Harry's ear with a calm voice. "This gate is no different than the one in London or Istanbul or any of the other locations, save one thing: Many years ago, an army of dark wizards attacked the city. They sought to destroy the wizards protecting this chamber, and they believed this gateway to be the source of their power. They failed to destroy it, but they did manage to damage it.
"In their foolish attempt, they made this gate more powerful than it had ever been and more useful than any of the others. You see, the arches were not created as doorways to travel to the other side. Long ago, there was a great catastrophe, and the barrier between this world and the world of the dead was torn in many places. The ancient wizards tried to repair the damage, but it was beyond even their abilities. Instead, they built these gates. They shield and protect us from the world of the dead and prevent the two from mixing.
"When this one was damaged, it created a something like a small leak. In this chamber, a tiny bit of the world of the dead seeps into our world. As for the source of your pain, I expect you will be able to better explain it once you've seen what lies on the other side of the veil."
Harry took a deep breath. Whatever Grigore and Josef had seen, it had fundamentally changed the Brotherhood. Everything was different when he returned. There was a tension in the way everyone was acting. Even Grigore was acting strangely. There was some new darkness in him that worried Harry. At one time, he'd almost been a friend, but now Harry found himself doubting the old wizard. He needed to see for himself just what Grigore had seen. He needed to know what was going to happen.
Ignoring the pain from his scar, Harry forced his eyes open and focused on the veil. It was moving. It was flapping as though tossed about by a light breeze. For a moment, the breeze seemed to stop, then it picked back up, blowing in a different direction. The veil was now billowing out toward him, pushed by some stronger force. He could feel the air blowing against him. It was hot and dry, and new sounds wove between the gusts.
"There are voices," Harry said. He could hear them well enough to make out individual voices. They weren't the weak whispers of the arch in the Department of Mysteries. They were plaintive, warning, and urgent.
"What are they saying, Harry?"
Harry listened closely. There were too many to hear what any one voice might be saying, but there were enough of them to get an idea. He closed his eyes to try and concentrate, and found that he could still see the arch. In his mind, the veil was already stripped away, leaving the archway bare, an opening to an empty blackness. The voices swelled, becoming shouts and desperate cries.
"They're trying to warn me. They—"
Harry's voice was cut short as he froze in shock. A new voice was echoing through the arch. It was a voice he hadn't heard for four years. Run, Harry, it pleaded, There is no time. You must go. His blood ran cold. Somewhere on the other side of the arch, his father was trying to speak to him. When the second voice began, Harry's throat tightened until it began to choke him. Harry, please, begged the voice of his mother, You must leave this place. It's not safe. The tone of her voice became more urgent. You're in terrible danger. You must run! Leave while you can! You cannot fight this! It—
His mother's voice disappeared as though a door had been suddenly shut. In its place rose a sound Harry couldn't identify. It was a grinding, tearing noise, like the sound of a tree being ripped from the ground or the guttural rumbling of an ancient dragon. It was almost painfully loud.
Harry opened his eyes, wondering if the walls of the chamber were being ripped apart. The instant his eyes caught sight of the Veil, his scar exploded with enough pain to rival the Cruciatus Curse. He cried out, then felt himself dropping to the stone floor as his eyes closed tightly.
He found that even with his eyes shut, he could see the room about him, though it was drenched in shadow. Directly in front of him was a large round shape that glowed with a soft red light. It seemed to be connected to three other shapes by a ring of yellow. In its center stood an arch of dark stone, glittering with silver on the outside, but stained a sickly green toward the inside.
Harry gathered his courage, and turned his concentration to the opening in the arch. The dark shape of a man was standing on the other side of the arch, statuesque and imposing. Dark, oily looking smoke was creeping across the floor toward him, and billowing out of the cracked stone in the right column.
Slowly, the shape was moving. It had taken a step toward the arch. Harry's mind was filled with a harsh hissing noise that his mind quickly translated into speech. Welcome, it said, I have been waiting.
"No," Harry said aloud. "It can't be. He's gone. I killed him. He can't come back. No one can."
Harry pushed himself back onto his feet to stand before the thing on the other side of the arch. This was what Grigore had seen. "Stay away," Harry shouted defiantly, "I won't let you do this. I will destroy you."
I have tasted death, it hissed. Its sting is only a whisper in the symphony of pain I feel. You cannot stand in my way. No wizard can. I will be denied no longer.
Grigore's voice suddenly cut through the dark haze in Harry's mind: "Who is it, Harry? Who do you see?"
"It's Voldemort," Harry gasped. "He's been waiting for me. He's trying—"
"Voldemort no longer exists, Harry," interrupted Grigore. "His soul has been shattered utterly. Even in the world of the dead, he is no more than a ghost."
"But it is— it has to be—" Harry looked through the arch and saw a pair of emerald green eyes glowing as they stared back at him. Grigore's voice drifted through the fog, sounding more and more distant.
"The Veil will not show you truth," he said. "You are seeing only what your mind perceives. Focus your mind, not your eyes, and see what truly is."
Even as Grigore spoke, Harry watched as the figure stepped forward to stand directly under the arch. Its arms rose and pressed against some invisible barrier formed by the arch. As they pushed against it, green sparks shot out from the inner rim of the stone. In the eerie light, Harry could make out the features of the wizard on the other side of the arch.
"No..." he groaned. His stomach clenched and he felt as though he was about to be violently sick. "No, it can't— How—"
"What do you see now?" Grigore asked.
The figure in the arch was staring at him with a wild hunger. His green eyes were flickering malevolently from under a messy fringe of dark black hair. He recognized the eyes now. He'd seen them so many times before, but never filled with such hatred.
This was what Grigore had seen. But it couldn't be true. It didn't make sense. It wasn't possible.
"It's a lie!" Harry cried out to the darkness "It's a trick! An illusion! It's not— I'd never—"
"You have been deceiving yourself Harry!" Grigore called back. "Haven't you seen it? Don't you feel the others changing? Can't you feel yourself changing? You have grown strong, Harry. Far too strong, and far too quickly."
"It's a lie!" Harry shouted, but he couldn't take his eyes from the face staring at him through the arch. The eyes flashed with fury, and Harry felt pain lance through his forehead. When he looked back toward the arch, he saw a jagged line of fiery red light blazing on the forehead of his shadowy mirror image.
Grigore's voice continued, sounding closer and closer every second. "You are twisting everyone around you to darkness, Harry. Nature always tries to protect itself, and right now, it needs to protect itself from you."
"No!" Harry shouted. "It's a lie!" He tried to turn away from the arch, but everywhere he looked, he saw it and the impostor burned into his mind. Then, the figure began speaking in a measured, even rhythm. It was Parseltongue again, and Harry couldn't stop himself from understanding it.
Across the endless wastes and timeless sands
Born of atrocity and boundless pain
With vengeance, rage, and eternal hate
I come to claim what I have been denied
Over the chanting, Harry could still hear Grigore's voice: "I can feel the darkness growing within me. I have felt it since the moment you entered this castle. It is as though you are surrounded by a dark cloud and I am powerless to resist breathing it in. The others feel it now, too.
"It has been building slowly, but even you cannot deny seeing its effects. Simply look at your friends. Hermione has become the servant of a power-hungry warlock, and Ronald uses his selfish fantasies of fame to hide from the world. Look at how you affected them even after you separated yourself from them."
Harry stumbled and tried to feel his way across the ground. He needed to get away, but he couldn't tell which way led to escape and which to danger. Everywhere he looked, he saw only glowing green eyes and a vibrant trail of blood flowing from a lightning shaped scar.
An end to life which never began
A start to an age which will see no end
A scar for a wound which long ago healed
A return of a gift never given
The chanting echoed in his head, making it throb painfully. He couldn't escape. Grigore was there, but he wasn't helping. He'd turned on Harry, too. They had all turned on him. He should have seen it the moment he returned.
"Only Ginevra has resisted your influence. She has been brought under the darkness and emerged without permanent damage. She is the infinite light to your unquenchable darkness. But her spirit is not unbreakable, and I will not allow you to destroy her. She is the world's last hope for balance, and I will see that she reaches her potential."
"You're wrong!" Harry shouted. "Stay away from her."
Across the endless wastes and timeless sands
I come to end what cannot be ended
To deny others what has been withheld
And with all my emptiness fill the world
"Prove me wrong!" Grigore shouted in return. "Save her! Save us all! Cast yourself into the darkness, Harry! Without you, the world is balanced and safe. It is the only way to prevent what you have seen."
Harry spun about, searching for Grigore. He couldn't believe it was true. It was a lie. It was Grigore. He was doing this. He was the Dark Lord. He wanted Harry to kill himself so no one would stand in his way. It had to be Grigore, and yet, Harry couldn't get the chanting out of his mind. Even as he fought to free himself of its hold, a voice from deep inside his consciousness asked how Grigore could be doing it when he couldn't speak Parseltongue.
Not with the blood of a thousand nations
Nor the fires of ten thousand cities
Will the pain of eternity be cured
Or the hunger of agony be satisfied
Harry knew he had to get away. Something horrible was happening. He didn't believe what he'd seen. He couldn't. And yet, his disbelief couldn't stop him from seeing his face on the other side of the arch, and hearing his own voice echoing inside his head with a power he could barely imagine.
Across the endless wastes and timeless sands
I seek the primal source and final end
In my shadow, all life is without hope
In my light, only darkness will remain
He had to get away. He needed to think. He couldn't think with the chanting and all of Grigore's lies in his head. He needed to escape. He climbed to his feet and backed away from the point where the chanting seemed to be coming from. As he stepped away, the chanting stopped and was replaced by a roaring growl of rage.
"Harry!" Grigore shouted. "There's no time."
Harry forced himself to move faster. He had to escape. But how could he escape from himself? How could he protect his friends if he was the one who they needed protection from? He needed to find Ginny. He knew she was in danger, but how could he ever explain what he'd seen?
Harry's eyes blinked open, then squinted against the bright morning sun. Ginny was leaning over him with a hand on his shoulder and a worried look on her face.
"Wake up, Harry," she said urgently. "Something important is happening."
Harry rubbed his eyes. As he did, he felt his forehead. It was hot and tender. He tried to pretend as though he didn't notice, but when he opened his eyes to look at Ginny, she was frowning at him.
"It's red, as well," she said as though she'd heard his thoughts. "You had a dream, didn't you?"
"Er, a dream?" he stalled. "I— I don't know. I guess, maybe."
Ginny stared at him stonily. "Harry, you were... talking." she said. "I may not understand Parseltongue, but I remember what it sounds like, and I recognized some of what you said. You were repeating the same thing you said after looking in the Veil in the Department of Mysteries."
"I wasn't dreaming about the Department of Mysteries," Harry said as he threw his legs over the side of the bed.
"Then what were you dreaming about?" she asked as she rummaged through one of his closets. "Are you going to tell me now? How long are you going to wait?" Ginny turned around and sat down on the bed next to him. Her face was stern. "Harry, I know something is wrong. I was there, too. I saw what happened to Grigore. I've looked into the Veil. It's not over, is it? It was more than just Grigore, wasn't it?"
Harry didn't know what to say, so he simply answered her question: "Yes."
It didn't satisfy her any more than he expected. "What is it, Harry?" she asked. "What is it that you can't tell me?"
"It's complicated," Harry explained lamely. "I— I don't understand it myself. I don't know what I could tell you."
"I'm sure you could think of something if you wanted to," replied Ginny sourly. She threw a set of fresh robes at Harry. "There's no time for modesty. Put those on and get your wand."
"What's happening?" Harry asked as he quickly unbuttoned his nightshirt.
"Tonks is here," Ginny replied. "She said she needs to talk with us about something very important. Since you're still hiding from the rest of the world, the only way you're going to hear it is if you wear this—" she paused to hurl Harry's Invisibility Cloak at him, "—and follow me down to the kitchen."
Harry quickly put on socks and a pair of trainers and stumbled along behind Ginny as he slipped the Cloak over his head. If Tonks was there, she must have brought news from the Order. If the Order had finally gathered together again, then maybe the time would be right to finally reveal himself.
With that glad thought, he invisibly slipped past Ginny and waited by the kitchen door for her. She pushed it open and he silently stepped into the room and crouched in a dim corner.
Ron and Hermione were already sitting at the table. Tonks, however, had been pacing the length of the kitchen, apparently annoying both Ron and Hermione. The instant Ginny had stepped through the door, she had frozen in place and stared at her. Tonks tipped back her teacup and then set it back down on the table with a clatter. Harry noticed something odd about her mannerisms. They were tense and nervous. Whatever she came to say, it wasn't good news.
Ginny walked over to the table and picked up a couple of pieces of toast and began eating them. "Alright, I'm dressed," Ginny announced. "Sorry for making you wait. What did you want to talk to us about?"
"Well, it's... I think— I mean..." sputtered Tonks. She stopped and pressed her hands to her face. "Oh god, how am I supposed to say this?" Tonks sat down and collapsed onto the table. Pressing her palms into her temples, she looked up at Ginny.
"Ginny, you should probably sit down for this."
Ginny remained standing. "Why? What is it?" Tonks looked uncomfortable.
"It's about Harry."
Thus begins the sequel to 'The Ring of Gold'. Hopefully no one has given up on seeing this yet.
For those of you who are interested in actually speaking with me, I'll be the subject of an Author Chat over at WizardTales on August 5, 2006. See "www. wizardtales. net" (sorry for URL mangling) for more information.