Yin and Yang
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by J.K. Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury, Scholastic, and Raincoast Books, and Warner Brothers Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. I do not own Harry Potter or anything related to Harry Potter.
Chapter-specific warnings: Blood & gore, explicit violence, character deaths. Rated M for a reason.
Chapter 3 - One final test of Fate
Cold green eyes scanned over the crowd of flabbergasted witches and wizards seated at a long table in the Burrow's backyard. At the far end, newlywed Bill and Fleur Weasley sat side by side, their mouths agape, ruining their exquisite, carefully choreographed appearance. A good-sized contingent of Delacours took about half of the right-hand side of the table, while the rest of the seats were filled with Weasleys, their family, friends, and what appeared to be the entire membership of the Order of the Phoenix. Their garments were lush and festive, suitable for the wedding ceremony they had just attended. Their lips were still wet from the poisoned cocktail they had just ingested. Harry smiled at them through bared teeth. His long sought revenge was finally in motion.
"Hello Molly. Ladies, gentlemen," he nodded nonchalantly as he strolled to the near end of the table, where his former friends and other 'kids' were seated. Seemingly casually, he brushed a lock of hair from his forehead, exposing his scar for a brief moment. Like a chain reaction, gasps and exclamations spread around the table.
"Haaww?" Molly and a few of his ex-friends gargled in union. Their words were, however, completely inscrutable.
"Oh I'm sorry, did you say something? I didn't quite hear that heap of fake mollycoddling bullshit you just spewed there." Harry glared coldly at the traitorous bitch he'd once considered his surrogate mother.
Other guests quickly followed Molly's example, but they also failed to produce anything but disjointed sounds. Several smarter Order members tried to draw their wands in an attempt to dispel the muting spells, but they found their arms weakly slumping down by their sides.
"Oh come on now, after spending so much effort trying to track me down, the least you can do is relax and hear what your esteemed guest of honour has to say." he smiled unpleasantly at their futile attempts to break the effects of the muscle-relaxant.
Harry then swiftly turned to the nearest part of the table, where Ron, Hermione and Ginny were still straining to get up from their seats, looking around confusedly.
"Problems standing up, mate? What, too many second helpings?" he sneered at Ron, glancing at the pile of food already heaped on his plate. "Or maybe it's your pockets laden with my parent's inheritance thatare holding you down?"
The names from his account balance sheet flashed before his eyes, fresh as the first time he saw them - Ronald, Hermione, Ginevra, Remus, Molly, Kingsley, Fred, George.
"Or was it the celebrity stalking slut that talked you into it?" he whirled towards Ginny, who flinched back guiltily. "What was it, bitch? Wanted a little advance, before bagging me in for good? There'd be no more poverty and ridicule for your royal feistiness, with a rich and famous husband slouching in the daze of your love potions. One big fucking happy Weasley family, indeed!" he spat in disgust. What a weak fool he had been, falling so easily into the little gold-digger's trap. But not anymore.
"And what about you, Granger? Finally realized you were barking at the wrong tree when you made the effort to befriend me, that Dumbledore's political clout far outweighed my own? After all, Boy-Who-Lived or not, little old me could hardly provide you with one of those lucrative pureblood-only apprenticeships or whatever was it that Dumbledore had used to lure you in. I only wonder, when was it exactly that you decided to sell me out? After Rita's articles? Fudge's slandering campaign? Scrimgeour's threats?" Harry smiled coldly at Granger's well-constructed look of outrage, which quickly covered up her initial surprise.
"Yes, don't you think I don't remember our last year together. While your 'benefactor' was alive and kicking, you were so caught up in your own self-importance, getting all catty with me for even daring to jeopardize your God-given title of every teacher's pet. I gather Dumbledore's death must have made quite a mess in the time planner of your academic career. Suddenly, your old friendship with the Boy-Who-Lived was once again a valuable asset, wasn't it? The old bastard's body hadn't even cooled yet, and there you were, crawling right back into my arse and dragging your new pet along with you. What was the idea? Get the sucker back into the Golden Trio bullshit, and he might yet provide you with your precious mastery, or whatever is it that your self-centred bookwormish ego craves for?" Harry smirked at Granger's guilty flush, which broke right through her faked mask of innocent outrage.
While other guests were still caught in an astonished daze, it seemed that the realization had finally sunk into Ron's thick skull. His confused expression, that had slowly replaced his initial well-practiced friendly mask, has finally exploded into a reddening angry sneer. He managed to lift himself on shaky legs and started yelling some unintelligible words, trying to break through the muting spell. Hermione, the rest of the Weasleys and a few Order members were quick to follow his lead, desperately trying to form coherent sentences with their hindered voice boxes.
"Thus, the backstabbers' true faces finally emerge. Whenever your faked concern and sanctimonious bullshit fails, there's always Dumbledore's little backup plan to fall back to." Harry's smug leer disappeared under a new torrent of anger. "Well, not this time, fuckers! You can yell those command words all you like. They didn't help Mad-Eye when I blew his brains out and they certainly won't help you!"
With some satisfaction, Harry observed as gasps of astonishment and fear came from the Order's section of the table.
Just as I thought! he mentally gloated. All the self-proclaimed heroes of the Light are in on it, one way or the other.
"What? You didn't think I'd find out about your little backup plan? You thought you'd be able to keep me on your silken leash forever? Brainwash me into a good little Golden Boy? Laugh at me from the sidelines as I break my back trying to solve your problems and then ride off into the sunset with my family's legacy in your coffers?"
Harry whirled towards a few less prominent Order members, who were frantically shaking their heads in negative.
"Don't even think about playing naïve with me, Jones! Even if you didn't know all the details, you were there all the same, helping this traitorous scum destroy my life!" Harry's cold glare moved over the stupefied Order members.arHa
"Lying, cheating, manipulating me from the day one! All of you, each and every one of you, will be held accountable for your treachery! And as the poison you've ingested slowly drains your lives away, just like you'd drained my money, magic, freedom and free will, you'll realize why no one - no one - fucks with-"
Harry's triumphant finale was lost in a cacophony of grunts and moans, as the entire table exploded with commotion. Some people where yelling at him with anxious expressions on their faces. Others had murder in their eyes, as they vainly tried to make some meaningful flicks and slashes with their limp wand-hands. A few even managed to lift themselves from their chairs, only to end up sprawled beneath or on top of the main table, shaking from exhaustion.
Harry frowned, irritated at the interruption of one of his better preplanned speeches. He quickly analyzed his words and realized what had gotten his audience so riled up.
"Ahh yes, the poison. How could I have forgotten?"
His expression regained its arrogant, triumphant lustre, as the commotion died down and the entire party was once again hanging on his every word.
"Well, as some of you might have already guessed, voice suppression and muscle relaxant are only the first stages of the cocktail you've just ingested. Normally, I would have liked nothing better than to do you in myself like the filthy beasts you are, but alas, common sense dictated a more reliable solution. Thus, the slow-acting poison."
He glanced at his stopwatch and raised an eyebrow in mock-surprise, ignoring gasps and cries of dismay coming from the crowd.
"Why, I do believe some of you might already feel the first symptoms. Dizziness, increased temperature, maybe a bit of nausea?"
Harry's grin widened as several people in the crowd gasped, having realized their progressively worsening composure wasn't solely due to the situation they've found themselves in.
"These initial symptoms will, of course, slowly build up, followed by rising blood pressure, muscle cramps, vomiting, excretion expulsion, haemorrhage, dehydration, etcetera, etcetera." He finished waving his hand impatiently, as if deeming such tedious details unworthy of his notice. "Medical mumbo-jumbo aside, let's just say that you'll become intimately familiar with each of your body fluids, while your lives slowly and painfully trickle away. And the best part is, the potion will ensure that you remain conscious all the way through, until you finally expire from either dehydration or blood loss. Nothing but the front row seats for my faithful audience."
Harry's hateful voice rang in complete silence, the entire table staring at him in gobsmacked horror. It was obvious that, up until that moment, none of the guest grasped the full extent of Harry's contempt towards them, nor his willingness to see his revenge through. As the shockwave of this realization rippled through the crowd, true fear and panic started settling in.
"What, am I being unjust? Cruel? Not giving you a fair chance to explain yourselves?" Harry asked rhetorically. "Or am I merely giving you the same chance you gave Sirius Black before you locked him away and threw away the key, so you could get your money-grabbing hands on your precious saviour? Am I not showing you the same mercy you'd shown my fucking godfather when you surrounded him with Dementors and let them gnaw at his soul until only gaunt wreck of a person remained?"
Harry's thundering tirade faltered when he realized his voice was once again fading into the hum of furious, frightened and pleading mumbles, intersected by occasional sobs. He glowered at the undignified cowards as he levitated a pair of guests who had again tried to crawl away and roughly shoved them back into their seats, making one of them, Kingsley Shacklebolt, vomit all over the table. He hushed his 'class' with a stern look, before continuing his speech from where he left off.
"But even when he was backstabbed by everyone he once held dear and sentenced to a slow descent into insanity, Sirius didn't give up. His spirit was far greater than you fuckers ever dreamed of, wasn't it? How surprised the old goat must have felt when he heard my godfather had escaped his so-called inescapable prison. How his plans seemed to crumble, as his control over his pawn – Will you fucking cut it out!?" Harry suddenly snapped at the French side of the table, from where a veritable cacophony of demanding and pleading mumbles has almost overwhelmed his well-measured voice. He swallowed the upcoming rant and forced his tone down to the level of a tightly controlled irritation.
"Look, I know this has nothing to do with the lot of you, but you'll just have to endure it for the next ten minutes or so. If you're bored, find some other amusement... look at the clouds or something. I don't give a shit as long as you stay quiet. Capisce?"
His order was answered with an even stronger hailstorm of moans and mumbles, this time supported unanimously by the English side of the table. Few Frenchmen even had the gall to point demandingly at their throats, not realizing Harry had made sure that even he couldn't remove the muting aspects of his potion once they are set in place.
"Silence!" Harry finally thundered, glaring at the row of sweating and shivering aristocrats on his right hand side, before sweeping his eyes over the entire table. "I've had it with this foolish resistance! Do I really need to explain everything so you'd finally settle down and hear what I have to say? Fine!"
He whirled towards the left-hand side of the table, where most of the Brits were seated.
"Traitors! Listen and listen good, 'coz I'm not saying this again! First, I can't un-silence you, and I wouldn't even if I could. I have no idea who of you has the command words and I don't intend to find out. Second, I don't have an antidote because there is no antidote. One way or another, you are all gonna die today. So, I suggest you sit your arses down and show some fucking dignity for once in your two-faced lives! You might even earn some closure before you pass on!"
He then whirled on his right. "Delacours! I've had it with your incessant whining! We are innocent, what's going on, we have nothing to do with this, blah blah blah," he mimicked mockingly at a pair of beautiful women of obvious Veela origin. They glared right back at him with rage in their bloodshot eyes. "Alright! You might not be in on it! I fucking get it! But you get this: This is a fucking war and you've just become collateral damage. Congratulations! Is it fair? No! Can you change it? Fuck no! So fucking deal with it and cease your persistent yapping or I'll cease it for you!"
On the inside, Harry cursed his inability to simply silence the froggy wimps. By his own 'brilliant' request, one of the cocktail's components was a strong dispelling solution, which would prevent lasting spells, like silencing charms for instance, from sticking to the victims. His idea was to block out any enchantments and protective charms his targets might have set up before the attack. Ironically enough, his diligence was now working against him.
With one last glare at the furious elderly blonde, who was the most mutinous member of the French bunch, Harry cleared his throat and tried to get back on track. "Now where was I... Err... You know what? Forget Sirius. I hardly even knew the guy anyway. Let's instead talk about how my legal guardian's convenient removal allowed you to sink your greedy claws into the world's saviour and mould him into the exact love-starved clueless little boy you needed for your plans. Placing me with just about the worst bunch of muggles you could possibly lay your hands on was a stroke of genius, I'll give you that. The Dursleys made damn well sure I was malnourished, ignorant-"
Harry's new build-up was once again interrupted, this time by an animalistic screech of the mutinous elder lady he'd exchanged glares before. In a flash, she literally flew out of her seat, spreading her arms... no, her wings in freedom. Harry had just enough time to blink in surprise, before a fully transformed Veela was upon him, razor sharp claws going straight for his throat. But even if his brain was frozen in shock, his carefully honed combat reflexes certainly weren't. Instinctively, his wand hand made a sharp jab forward, followed by an automatic syllable coming from his mouth. There was an explosion of red light and next moment, the fearsome bird of prey was propelled backwards, sending pieces of her shredded flesh and intestines in an almost graceful arc, splattering along the length of the table.
Seeing their would-be meals swimming in blood and stomach content was obviously the last straw for some guests, as the broken Veela's final breath was followed by a choir of retching noises and muted screams of horror spreading like a disease along the table. Even Harry grimaced at the combined smell of vomit, feces and blood, before his brain kicked back in, wiping these uncontrolled reactions from his face.
"Hmm, so the Veela transformation can break through the immobilizing solution. Could other Veelas break through it as well? What about accidental magic?" He mused to himself quietly amongst the cacophony of screams, cries and retching noises coming from the crowd. "Either way, I can't risk it," he decided.
Just as he made his mind, another transformed Veela, this one a middle-aged woman, jumped from her seat and charged at him, crying in rage at the loss of her kin, probably a mother. But this time, Harry was ready. With practiced ease, he slashed his wand diagonally, sending a purple cutting hex through the charging bird-demon's neck, slicing it cleanly in half. Even as the woman's body collapsed into a twitching heap and her silently gaping head continued rolling on through the grass, Harry was on the move.
He circled around the table, easily avoiding clumsy swipes of a few determined Order members and stood opposed to the next Veela in the line. Another middle-aged beauty seemed to be on the verge of transformation, judging by her developing predatory features and a look of animalistic rage on her face.
"Avada Kedavra!" Harry intoned coldly, removing the threat just as the wings pierced through her expensive blue dress. The half-transformed Veela's cry of liberation went silent as her dead body slumped into the empty plate.
Ignoring cries and futile attack attempts, Harry walked another few feet down the table and found himself opposite to the final person in the group of Veelas he had just eliminated. With a sudden pang, he recognized Gabrielle Delacour, a foolish little fangirl he had needlessly rescued during Triwizard tournament. Judging by the tears of fear and frustration pouring down her flushed face, she was obviously too young to achieve a proper Veela transformation, despite her efforts.
Harmless little bint, Harry concluded disdainfully and was just about to move past her, when he recognized developing symptoms of poisoning on her face – bloodshot eyes, sweaty forehead, pale complexion and a small trickle of blood pouring from her nose. He took an involuntary glimpse at the developing horror scene around her and suddenly felt strangely reluctant to leave her... unchecked.
"Still, best to make sure," he told himself, a bit more forcefully then intended. Abruptly feeling sick of the sights and smells around him, he snapped his wand up and bellowed out "Avada Kedavra!" He felt oddly relieved when a green wave of magic washed away the look of betrayal from the 10-year-old girl's face.
It's a shame she had to be here today. Her foolish crush could have been of use in a year or two, he allowed himself a moment of regret, feeling relieved when he managed to get his stomach back under control.
A barrage of particularly fierce sobbing yells from his left brought him out of his reverie. He swirled towards the head of the table, where Fleur Delacour was desperately struggling to stand up from her seat, staring at her dead sister with fire in her eyes.
"Ah I forgot about you," Harry murmured, taking a better glance at the bride. Early signs of Veela transformation were visible on her face and arms, but she was obviously incapable of moving on to the next stage. "Having a little problem there, tart? Hmm, you're just a quarter Veela, if I recall correctly. Then the first one must have been your full Veela grandma and the other two your half-breed mother and aunt. You can't fully transform when you're this far down the line, can't you?" He concluded thoughtfully, ignoring Fleur's mounting frustration and rage. He nodded to himself, shrugged and lifted his wand. "No matter, better safe than sorry. Avada-"
"Nwwoo!" with an almost legible howl, Bill Weasley threw himself into Fleur's shaking lap, protecting her with his body. The entire table instantly exploded into an even fiercer cacophony of howls and cries, with Charlie Weasley making a desperate grab for Harry and almost managing to reach him, before ending in an exhausted heap on the grass.
"Oh for crying out loud," Harry rolled his eyes in exasperation. He stomped back to the bottom end of the table, angrily levitating dislodged guests back into their seats as he passed them by. Once there, he threw a silent glare at Bill Weasley, who was still protectively slumped over Fleur's struggling body.
"Crux transfodio!" Harry suddenly jabbed his wand forward, sending a blue spear of light cruising over the entire length of the table, amidst horrified stares of the helpless guests. The spear hit Bill's chest with a wet piercing sound, followed by a hard crack as it burst through the chair behind Fleur's back. Both newlyweds quietly slumped over the table, with Fleur's arms protectively resting around Bill's shoulders.
A moment of horrified silence was promptly broken by a shrieking cry coming from Molly Weasley. Other Weasleys quickly put in their own contributions, followed by an already rehearsed choir of Delacours.
Harry just stood at the end of the table, silently fuming at all the time he had lost on suppressing this... pointless resistance. Once more, he cursed his decision to have the potion master implement only partial restraints into the cocktail he had had him mix up. At the time, he thought it a good idea to give the traitorous filth a chance to cry and beg for their lives. But who would have thought that the backstabbers could care for anything but their own precious plans and schemes? Who could have expected they'd have genuine feelings for each other, when they hadn't shown any for him?
Harry now realized that, somewhere along the line, he had lost perception of who and what his enemies really were. Soaring through elaborate schemes and conspiracy theories, his imagination had gradually stripped his enemies of their humanity, turning them into fitting targets for his rage. In Harry's mind, unique human beings, such as the stumbling Ron, insecure Hermione and mothering Molly, were replaced by faceless calculating machines, with sole purpose of accumulating political and financial gain at his detriment.
But now, after five long years of dreaming up his revenge, he finally found himself face to face with the living, breathing versions of the grotesquely caricaturized bogeymen his mind had made up to focus his rage on. And he was suddenly coming to realize that the people who had betrayed him were just that – people. Between plotting, scheming and stealing, they were also eating and sleeping, loving and hating, crying and laughing, and doing all those things that distinguish comic book villains in his mind, from the real, fallible human beings before him now. He now saw that their undisputable treason was only a facet of their personalities - surely large enough to earn them revenge, but not prevailing enough to completely suppress their human nature when met face to face. And somehow, this rude awakening alone was enough to make Harry feel strangely frustrated with everything he had accomplished so far, including his precious vengeance.
No way to go now but forwards, he decided with forced determination. He knew there will be time for such musings later. Now was his one chance for a catharsic release that had been building up for half a decade. He refused to let this opportunity slip away on account of few insignificant technicalities.
Pushing his sudden consternation and self-doubt to the back of his mind, Harry redirected his rage at the screaming crowd of backstabbers, having had quite enough of Molly Weasley's high-pitched wailing.
"Enough! Shut up!" he yelled, trying to overpower the hubbub. He tried to get the table's attention with a couple of loud bangs from his wand, but no one seemed to be listening to him. Finally, allowing his frustration to get the better of him, he swished his wand in a wide sweep, intoning the mass silencing spell, "Sum Silencio!"
"Finally!" Harry's voice echoed in the ensued silence. "One more cry from that fat cow and I-"
Harry swirled towards the unexpected howl and found himself faced with the charging figure of Ronald Weasley, foam spilling from his mouth and murder dancing in his bloodshot eyes. At the same moment, he caught flashes of several wordless incapacitating hexes coming from the senior Order's part of the table.
Once again letting his battle instincts take charge, Harry twirled his wand silently, sending his traitorous ex-friend flying into the path of two incoming curses. Even as the howling lunatic got yanked away from him, leaving a trail of spit in his wake, his wand arm carried on its graceful motion, easily deflecting the other two hexes aimed at him. For the time it took Ronald Weasley to absorb the incoming stunners and crash into the table, Harry had already taken a duelling stance, his eyes coldly analyzing the four Order members who had attacked him.
However, he needn't have bothered, as the battle was apparently already over. Tonks, Kingsley, McGonagall and Lupin were slumped exhaustedly in their seats, their wands resting limply in their shaking hands. At the same time, hubbub of loud retching and weeping was once again overtaking the crowd.
Harry blinked in surprise, as his brain took a second or two to piece together what had just happened. When it finally came to him, he wanted to curse himself for his impulsiveness.
Of course, the dispelling solution must have kicked in to remove that damned silencer! It probably borrowed some magic from the next least important part of the mixture, which is the weakening potion, he theorised. A truly frightening thought suddenly hit him. What if it decided to weaken the speech obstructer instead? I'd be a helpless zombie right now!
Shivering at the thought of ruining his revenge when he was so close to the finish line, a new wave of cold anger washed over him.
The crowd quieted down at the sound of the cannonball charm coming from Harry's wand.
"That's it! I've had it with your shit!" his amplified voice boomed. "I thought you'd understand what I'm trying to achieve here, appreciate this unique chance you're being given. Thousands, millions of good, honest men die by slipping on a rubber duck while climbing out of a bathtub, or in some other mundane accident, never getting a chance to say goodbye to their loved ones or settle their affairs before passing on. But you - you, a bunch of child abusing, manipulating, lying, thieving bastards- you are given this treat, this unprecedented opportunity to have all your mistakes laid bare before you, allowing you to make peace before passing on, both with yourselves and those you had hurt with your greed and corruption!"
Harry's furious eyes scanned the cowed audience, while his wand absentmindedly sent enervated Ron back into his seat, leaving a trail of spit and vomit over the tablecloth.
"But no sir! I guess that'd be too noble for the lowlife backstabbing scum like you! Even in these closing moments of your lives, you'd rather snivel and struggle and ruin my day then face your sins proudly, with your heads held high, and receive the judgement you rightly deserve!" Harry threw his hands up in exasperation. "So that's how you wanna play? So be it! But if I don't deserve a chance to speak my mind to a group of sentient human beings, my fellow wizards and witches, then you don't deserve to be treated as such!"
"No wands!" With a furious swipe, Harry summoned all the unholstered wands from the struggling guests' hands, sending them into a pile behind him.
"And no more movements! If you don't wanna die like proud wizards and witches, then you'll die like the restrained wild animals that you are!" With a long incantation, he spread a wide network of ropes over the entire table, tying each guest firmly to their chair.
"There! I hope everyone's happy now!"
And indeed, it seemed that Harry's new measures, combined with failure of the Order's surprise attack, had finally beaten the fight out of the majority of the traitors. It didn't help that nosebleeds, defecation and stomach cramps, along with almost constant retching, turned most of the guests into shivering anguished wrecks. Smells of feces and urine added their contribution to the general odour of vomit and blood spreading from the table, further limiting everyone's ability to think of anything but their own misery. Naturally, a few persistent wizards were still uselessly struggling against the ropes, but most people were either weeping to themselves or mumbling to each other, trying to receive comfort and hope from their families and co-conspirators. No one was attempting to plead for their lives or use the command words anymore, which elicited a more genuine smirk from Harry.
Good, they're finally learning, he thought smugly, as he glanced at his watch.
"Right. Now, thanks to your antics, it seems I'll have to skip over the Dursleys part as well. Let's just say that living under their thumbs wasn't at all fun." He cleared his throat and seemingly pulled another virtual page from his memorized All-The-Ways-I-Got-Screwed speech. "But my suffering there was nothing compared to what I experienced once I've finally gotten under Dumbledore's direct control. I see it all now, the entire scheme was orchestrated to the finest detail. First, I was conveniently introduced to recently deceased Hagrid and Ronald here, who were more than happy to teach the poor abused boy which house is the proper one for their future pawn. I'll let you know I should have been a Slytherin from the start! But you and your two-faced leader manipulated me into believing Gryffindor is the only house where I'll be able to find the acceptance and friendship I craved for - a craving that you intentionally created with your meddling! But that's not all..."
Harry trailed off when he noticed that his speech was being listened with half an ear at best. The guests just sat there, crying in pain and fear, as steady trickles of blood poured from their eyes, noses and ears. Noting the increasingly worsening condition of his audience, Harry sighed in barely controlled irritation.
At this pace, the pussies will be in too much pain to properly appreciate my grand finale, he fumed. God damn poison is kicking in too fast.
Casting another cannonball charm, Harry continued his speech at an increased pace. "As I was saying, that's not all. During the following six years, your meddling commander did his best to mould me into an ignorant but obedient weapon he could throw to the wolves for 'the Greater Good' - which means his own good, of course. With one foisted clue after another, he gently pushed me and my so-called friends into a wild goose chase. He first had that oaf blurt out just enough to tickle my imagination... And spew that load of bull about Fluffy, like a dark wizard couldn't simply Avada Kedavra the mutt! Then giving me the Invisibility cloak you'd stolen from my father... Oh, and the Mirror of Erised - an assessment of how well the Dursleys and your mind wards had moulded me!"
Harry faltered again at a particularly strong cry coming from Molly Weasley. She heaved forward and overturned her chair, spilling the last of the content of her guts out on the grass. The Weasleys' cries intensified at seeing their matron in such pain, but their misery meant little to Harry, as it came at the cost of once again losing his rhythm. His wand itched to silence the crowd, but after the last incident, he knew better than to pull a stunt like that again. Cursing under his breath, he spit out his toothpick in frustration and instead cast a Sonorus charm at his throat.
"And of course, the whole setup ended with what amounted to a rat maze, where that manipulative fuck had stashed the fake stone. Am I supposed to believe that a priceless artefact was being guarded by traps geared so that three specific first years could break through them? A test! All of it! You just wanted to see what makes me tick, so you could manipulate me even better! Oh, and having that jealous piece of shit take a faked hit on the chess board had surely cemented his position as my 'faithful' sidekick. That must have been a real catch for his money grabbing backstabbing family, who got practically unlimited access to my trust-fund! Couldn't even wait 'till your slut of a daughter sealed the deal, you two-faced rats!"
Harry stopped himself, realizing he was rambling. He needed to be much more focused if he was to cover his entire schooling and still have enough time left for the conclusion. He took a quick glance at the audience and growled under his breath when he realized that no one was even pretending to listen anymore. Most of the guests were now shaking from pain, as rivers of blood poured down their faces and into already formed puddles of feces and urine beneath their seats. Some defiant wizards were still gritting their teeth bravely, but the majority was sobbing uncontrollably, wishing the torment would just stop. Another few chairs had fallen over onto a soaked ground, one of the French aristocrats slowly drowning in the puddle of his own vomit and feces. The cries and smells were almost intolerable, even for Harry's hardened stomach. Grimly, he fought down his rising sickness and frustration and added another amplifying charm on his throat.
"I see you don't have a lot of time left, so I'll be quick! The second year; Do you really expect me to believe Dumbledore didn't know where the Basilisk was coming from!? The old goat had his portrait spies all over the fucking school! No way they missed a 50 foot snake slithering through the halls! Oh and no one got killed? Now that was some coincidence, wasn't it!? Bullshit! Just another test for your little pet project! Third year, Sirius escaped... but I already covered that... It was a small hurdle in your plans, that's for sure. Not that it stopped you stealing and manipulating me further, of course. Got a drop on you when I broke through the blocking wards with that Patronus, didn't I? Fourth year and Triwizard Tournament..."
Harry's booming voice trailed off when he saw Sturgis Podmore ram his throat through a fork he was holding pressed against the table. With a gurgling sound, he slumped over into McGonagall's lap, eliciting a hysterical cry from the so-far stoical lady.
Come on, I'm not THAT boring! Harry thought indigently. He blinked in surprise when he noticed that Sturgis wasn't the only one who had managed to loosen the ropes. It seemed that constant shaking and distress-induced wild magic helped quite a few guests free themselves from the restrains, allowing Tonks and George Weasley to take a swimming lesson through a pool of body fluids beneath the table.
Glowering at the rapidly deteriorating situation, Harry started levitating people back to the table, while trying to keep his speech flowing at the same time.
"So, the Triwizard Tournament! One giant setup! No way I could get into a magical contract without signing anything! And with the old bastard's constant Legilimency, he must have known quite well who Mad-Eye really was. Dumbledore probably thought he could keep the situation under wraps, but his unwitting pawn caught the old fool unawares, breaking right through his web of manipulations and deceits. See the pattern here yet?" Harry asked suggestively, as he had practiced before a mirror countless times.
But instead of insightful, defeated or self-loathing looks, as he had imagined, no one seemed to have even heard his smart point. Most of the guests appeared lost in their own anguish, either crying limply in their chairs or trying to crawl through the soaked ground. It was interesting that some still harboured an irrational desire to resist and survive, although most were simply trying to move closer to their families and find comfort in each other's arms. His restraining potion was obviously having a hard time fighting against their awoken accidental magic.
Seething in irritation at his ruined speech and ruined revenge and rising sickness in his stomach, Harry savagely wrenched the traitorous werewolf from Tonks' arms and slammed him back into his seat. He doubted he'd have time to pour into his face all the shit he had to live through because the spineless coward was too busy rummaging through his vaults instead of looking after him, as his parents had expected him to. He was about to levitate the other crawlers as well, but then he thought better of it.
I don't have time for this! Let them crawl through their own shit if they like it so much! He seethed, trying to remember where his speech had left off.
"Fifth year! That's when the things got really heated. You screwed up with letting Voldemort out too early, so you set up that whole Prophecy watch to distract him until your prime pawn was properly brainwashed and ready to lay down his life for 'the greater good'. This is where Granger stepped in, I suspect. Our benevolent headmaster must have had her all riled up about the tests and promised her advanced schooling if she convinced me to train his stupid fan-club. A perfect chance to turn your favourite pawn into a future Hogwarts teacher, where I'd stay indefinitely under the Headmaster's thumb. You must have been delighted when you realized I was your way in into Voldemort's mind. Who would have thought your personal piggy bank had another use!? That greaseball you'd had deepen the link with his true master must have been delighted to be given a full access to his schoolyard rival son's mind!"
Harry's voice rang amidst the hoarse moaning and crying, failing to elicit even a barest response. No one was moving much anymore, nor showing any kind of reaction to his accusing words. In desperation, Harry fired another cannonball charm and hurried on with the talk, trying not to show how sick, frustrated and disappointed he was.
"And then, Voldemort made a move. It was a bummer for you, but hey, at least you got your chance to get rid of Sirius! Nice and clean, not to mention doing it before my very eyes. And then, when you no longer had a choice, you told me the Prophecy and stuffed me back with the Dursleys, for another batch of emotional abuse. Shaken, not stirred; that's the key!"
Harry paused hopefully, but the only reaction to his wit was more moaning and crying. Suddenly, he couldn't take it any longer.
"Hey I'm fucking talking to you! What's the matter with you!? Thousands of fans would kill for a chance to hear me pour out my heart like this! What, already know the entire story!? Is that it!?" he raged, spit flying from his mouth, his superior calmness long gone. Even with his amplified voice booming and his aura flashing uncontrollably, the traitors remained indifferent, lost in their own worlds of pain.
"Don't you pretend you can't fucking hear me!" Harry finally exploded, unleashing his fury into a wildly spinning dark hex, which literally blew one of the poor civilians on the French side of the table into hundreds of tiny bloody bits.
That had garnered him few startled flinches, but except a few more wails and another clumsy suicide attempt, nothing else changed. Most of the traitors just sat there, shaking in pain as trickles of blood freely poured out of their eyes, ears and noses. Suddenly, Harry's brain caught up with his raging temper.
"You... you can't hear, can't you? And you can't see..." he stuttered, as he realized that increased blood pressure must have burst his targets' eardrums and sensitive eye capillaries.
Suddenly, Harry started laughing. His bitter, wheezing barks ringing through the cacophony of cries and dry retches. "They can't hear me!" he kept repeating as his howls became more and more hysterical. "Fucking can't hear..." he finally choked out with the last few chuckles and then slumping deflatedly in a chair at the end of the table.
In his mind, he kept going over and over the events leading to this hurdle... No, he would be honest with himself. This disastrous failure. He had picked the best black market potion master the money could buy. He had carefully measured out how long he needed to keep the traitors alive and viciously specified how much he wanted them to suffer. But in his haste to finish everything before the wedding started, he had completely forgotten about such inconsequential details as human psyche, partial restrains or burst eardrums. In his blind desire to cause his betrayers as much pain as possible, he had inadvertently ruined his own chance at having the last word against them. An irony if there ever was one.
In desperation, Harry lifted his wand, thinking that he could maybe heal at least the most notorious traitors and give them the chance to get a taste of the grand finale he'd been rehearsing for so long. But his shoulders slumped as he realized it was of no use; high blood pressure would just deafen them all over again, leaving him to suffer light magic backslash for nothing.
So he just sat there, at the same table with the snivelling wrecks he used to consider mentors and friends, and watched as their lives literally poured out of them. The cries and hoarse mumbles gradually quieted down, as the traitors slumped in their chairs or wherever the last dregs of strength had taken them. For another minute or so, all that could be heard was pained breezing and whimpering coming from several dozen shivering, tortured bodies spread around the long table where a celebration was supposed to take place. And then, one by one, the bodies stopped moving altogether, some with pained rasps of dread, others with long-suffered sighs of relief. At last, the slumped and bloodied form of Ginny Weasley let out her final breath, leaving the Burrow's backyard washed in absolute silence.
• • • • •
Long after the last gurgling whimpers had died down, Harry was still sitting there, trying to get his raging feelings under control. For five long years he'd been fantasizing about his vengeance, dreaming of the day when he would finally confront those who had so systematically violated his innocence and trust. He had gone through every little detail of this perfect moment, from his victorious and awe-inspiring pose, over the biting and yet heart-wrenching speech he would unleash with thunderous righteousness, all the way to the traitors posturing before his feet in defeat, begging for forgiveness and mercy they would never receive. He expected a lot from this culmination; Satisfaction that his vengeance has been carried out; Relief that the threat of Dumbledore's command words has been removed; Maybe even jubilation that one chapter of his life was finally closed and he was ready to start anew, without blemishes of his ruined childhood hanging over his head. But instead, what he got was an overwhelming feeling of emptiness in his guts and a bitter taste of disappointment in his mouth.
As he looked over smeared dead faces of his betrayers, he couldn't help but feel that this was simply not what he wanted. He never had the time to prove his moral high ground. He never had the chance to see the traitors confess their crimes and acknowledge their mistakes. In the end, he never had the opportunity to refuse their desperate pleads for forgiveness, to watch as that last glimmer of hope disappear from their scheming eyes.
Harry realized that an outside observer wouldn't have seen a righteous warrior emerging victorious against all odds and bringing vengeance upon those who had wronged him. Instead, they would have seen a backstabbing rat poisoning a wedding party, more than half of whom were innocent, and then ranting and raving as they slowly bled out.
He knew that this shouldn't bother him; after all, he was now a dark wizard. Dark wizards shouldn't care about petty human feelings or social norms; First and foremost on their minds should always be reaching their goal as quickly and efficiently as possible.
And that was exactly what Harry did. The entire contingent of the traitors was gone for good, taking their accursed command words with them. He was finally free to emerge from hiding, with the soothing knowledge that his vengeance had been carried out. By all relevant indicators, today's mission was a tremendous success.
So where the hell was jubilation? Where was relief? Where was that sweet, sweet scent of victory he had grown to relish so much? He should be feeling like a conquering avenger that he was, not like a...
A backstabbing piece of shit, his brain supplied. Just like THEM... Harry cursed his own traitorous thoughts, glaring at the dead bodies surrounding him. Fucking bastards, even in death they poison my life!
Logical part of his brain tried to appease his spiralling temper by providing new and new bouts of cold logic. You were heavily outnumbered and outgunned. This was the only way, he tried telling himself. But each new reassurance served only to make him even more dissatisfied and angry with himself.
For a moment there, Harry allowed himself to fantasize what a proper revenge would have been like. He imagined himself tearing down the wards with his superior power and barging into the party uninvited, flinging curses left and right. He would have fucking forced those damn backstabbers to acknowledge his arguments and admit his victory, instead of crying and struggling like a bunch of pussies. Even the command words could have been handled with a simple deafening charm. Or even better, he could have put on a walkman and killed the Weasleys with the sounds of... something hard and angry... maybe that heavy metal thing? Now that would have been a sweet revenge!
In fact, Harry suddenly realized, at that moment he was perfectly willing to take his time turner, turn it six times and repeat the whole showdown properly, to hell with caution and overwhelming odds. Solely the knowledge that he would most likely be erased from existence as soon as he tried to change the past made him reluctantly let go of that fantasy. Of course, having the means of fulfilling his desire but being unable to use them only served to incense him further.
And through all the building frustration and anger, he felt something he hadn't felt in a long time - confusion about his own feelings.
For five years he'd been a definition of determination and self-reassurance, always knowing exactly who he was and what he wanted. So why was he now all of a sudden relapsing into his old mindframe and having these foolish fantasies of acting like some empty-headed Gryffindor? With a tingle of self-disgust, he abruptly realized that this 'heavy metal avenger' fantasy of his was utterly idiotic - a pointless risk that no sane wizard would ever take. So why in the Merlin's name did he think it was a 'cool' idea just moments ago? Was he experiencing some sort of lingering after-effects of Dumbledore's mind-ward? Or was that who he truly was?
As soon as that idea passed through Harry's mind, it was as if a dam broke and his old fears and insecurities started re-emerging from their five years long exile. He thought he had gotten rid of them when he shed off the last of Dumbledore's blocks and restraints. He was so sure he was finally living the life he was supposed to live. But was this really the truth, or was his current 'self' just another mask he was manipulated into? Had he spent so much time under various masks that he forgot the look of his real face? Was there ever a person, a human being, a natural entity named 'Harry James Potter', or was that merely the name of a tool moulded to perform someone else's bidding?
All the frustration, anger and disappointment suddenly became too much for Harry. He exploded from his chair screaming like a trapped beast, his wand buckling as it unleashed wave upon wave of scorching destruction over the entire enclosure. It took all the willpower he had left to prevent himself from incinerating the body of Molly Weasley, to which the wards were still tied to and would remain so while there's any magic left in it. A minute later, a five foot wide circle of drenched grass surrounding Molly's corpse was the only remaining oasis in the carbonized wasteland that was once the Burrow's backyard lawn.
Harry gazed at this image for another second or two, his eyes flashing as his anger slowly shifted from his own actions towards the other, more deserving targets.
"I'm sick of this angst shit," he growled and angrily turned his back to the scorched backyard, feeling utterly disgusted by his own hotheadedness. He hadn't felt this emotional in years, ever since he had put his past behind him and immersed himself completely into his predetermined role in life. This unexpected relapse had brought up the old, repressed memories of the time when he was just a confused foolish Gryffindor, helplessly caught in a web on intrigue, lies and betrayals. Needless to say, he didn't appreciate the feeling at all.
It's this fucking place that's gotten my head so screwed up, he told himself. The mere sight of the traitors must have brought out some lingering traces of my old forged personality... Yes, that's probably it. Fucking backstabbers, will I ever get rid of their meddling?
With a deep sigh, Harry closed his eyes and carefully shoved all his insecurities and doubts deep under the blissful haze of his mental shields. He could analyze his screwed up brain later. Now, he had a job to do and a limited time to do it. Having finally composed himself enough to function again, he resolutely strolled into the house, intent on putting the whole 'temper tantrum incident' behind him.
With more nostalgia that he felt comfortable with, Harry scanned the familiar homely interior of Burrow's living room and kitchen, his eyes stopping on the family clock which had only one hand left on it. He couldn't help but feel a shiver crawl up his spine when he realized just how unnaturally quiet the house was. All his memories of the Burrow were of a lively place, full of cheer and happiness. Of course, he was now aware that this image had probably been merely an illusion created for the sake of imprinting into his brain what the 'perfect' light family should be like. But somehow, it still felt wrong that the only noise in the Burrow was an occasional muffled bang coming from the upper floors and confused whirling of the single hand left on the Weasleys' family clock.
Harry's nostalgic mood was squashed away when he started noticing various knickknacks and pieces of clothing spread around the living room, that were well out of the Weasleys' price range.
I guess I should feel lucky that the idiots were too Gryffindorish to hold off their embezzling until Ginny had me completely in her claws, he theorized.
He was just about to repeat his locator spell, when he spotted a door that he didn't remember from his previous visits to the Burrow.
Ahh, this must be where they attached the Order's headquarters.
Sweeping through his enemies' base of operations was merely a secondary goal of this mission, but his curiosity had a nasty habit of getting the better of him. He cautiously approached the entrance, casting detection charms on his way.
Muggle construction engineers would have had a fit if they saw something like this, he thought, as the results started pouring in. The whole annex seemed to have been transfigured from the surrounding garbage, charmed not to fall apart and roughly 'glued' on to the rest of the house.
Once he made sure the Headquarters weren't booby-trapped, Harry stepped in and found himself inside a good-sized rectangular room, dominated by a large central table overflowing with maps, documents and recently used coffee and tea dishes. Lined along the walls were two filing cabinets, some bookshelves, one sturdy-looking cupboard with a lock and what seemed like the Order's equipment rack, which was basically a set of shelves brimming with scrying orbs, tracking devices, extendable ears and other magical knickknacks. The walls not covered by furniture held a mess of 'wanted' warrants, funny 'motivational' posters, charts of the death eater hierarchy and two large maps with small animated pins sticking out of them; one of the Great Britain and the other of the world.
Harry was immediately attracted to the map of the world, which occupied most of the wall opposite to the entrance. He carefully examined blue pins spread over the map and realized all of them were marking the exact spots which he had visited during his odyssey. Each marker had a little note attached to it, describing the date and circumstances of his appearance. Between the pins lay spread a network of arrowed blue lines, which could have roughly depicted Harry's trajectory through the world if not for their conflicting order.
Harry allowed himself a moment of smug satisfaction at seeing the Order's apparent confusion by his evasion tactics. It was one thing to be mentally aware of your victory and completely different to stand inside your enemies' very headquarters and witness with your own eyes their failed efforts at bringing you down. It was this jolt that finally brought some of that sweet scent of victory he has been missing so far.
Eager for more, Harry opened the filing cabinet and quickly located his own dossier. He was a bit disappointed to see the file was limited mostly to his Hogwarts years. All the info from his earlier childhood was missing - probably destroyed or stored elsewhere - and the intelligence from after his escape was scarce at best. In fact, it was a joy to see just how little did the Order learn about his expedition. Bulk of the documentation consisted of routine reports, neatly stacked Gringotts drafts, several eyewitness statements and a few camera snapshots, most of which he'd allowed to be taken.
Going through the reports, Harry learned that the Order had managed to uncover merely four tutors he had studied under, only one of whom had agreed to cooperate.
"Pierre Deprez," he read the name from the thickest report, not at all surprised by his one-time master's breach of agreement. After all, the crazy old Frenchman's reputation must have taken a severe beating when his mysterious student savagely destroyed one of the portraits sent to him for repairs, before disappearing into the night.
Harry smiled thinly, remembering his surprise when, barely six months after his flight to France, his charms master suddenly received a package with a very familiar return address in England. At the time, Harry had nearly forgotten about the unresponsive portrait of Albus Dumbledore he'd left behind during his hectic escape. In retrospect, he should have realized that the Order would pick a portrait repairman from a list of Dumbledore's contacts similar to the one he himself was following.
As Deprez started performing his initial tests with gusto of a toddler given a new toy, Harry came to realize just how foolish his casual dismissal of the painting's potential danger truly was. If Dumbledore knew the command words embedded into his brain, his portrait would surely know them too. All it would take was one excited 'Aha' coming from Deprez, followed by a command sentence from the freshly awakened portrait and his little rebellion would be over before it had truly began. After more than seven nerve-wrecking hours of looking over his teacher's shoulder, desperately hoping his attempts at reviving the old bastard's avatar would fail, Harry knew exactly what he had to do. That same night, he erased his tracks to the best of his abilities, destroyed the accursed portrait and fled France.
The only detail in Deprez's report that truly caught Harry's attention was a vague reference to something about...
"Dumbledore's missing body?" Harry read the line incredulously. "When the hell did that happen?"
Leaving the file open on the table, he went back to the archives and quickly located Dumbledore's own folder. This should be interesting, he thought eagerly, as he opened the file.
It turned out it wasn't. The old man had obviously been too smart to leave any hint of his true plans in a file cabinet that honest people - and the Order had certainly had a few - could access. Quickly browsing through useless, censored junk, he finally found what he was looking for in the last report in the stack.
As it turned out, on the Halloween of 1997, five months after his funeral, someone somehow managed to break into Dumbledore's crypt and steal his earthly remains. The strangest aspect of the mystery was that the Hogwarts wards apparently reported only miniscule amounts of magic released near the crypt - certainly not enough to break its protections. McGonagall immediately covered up the incident from the public, while launching her own investigation. This was where things got even weirder. According to the Order examiners, the detected magic was used merely to distract the wards, while the real ramming force came from within the crypt - a direction which the preoccupied wards were not able to defend against. Strangely enough, this was pretty much where the investigation ended. Some quiet inquires were made through appropriate underground channels, but with no new leads to follow, the Order apparently wrote off their leader's body as a casualty of war and moved on to more current matters, leaving the case unsolved.
Shaking his head in wonderment, Harry put away the strangely incomplete case-file and leaned back into his chair, lost in thoughts.
How the hell did they manage to blow the door open from the inside? Plant a transfigured infiltrator in Dumbledore's robes during his funeral? Portkey some brave lunatic inside the crypt? Fill the tomb with water and let the pressure do the job? He analyzed, trying to avoid the most terrifying possibility, until his brain suddenly blurted it out. What if Dumbledore is still alive?
As soon as the thought hit him, Harry's mind spiralled down into the depths of far-stretched possibilities and conspiracy theories.
Could Dumbledore have survived the Killing Curse? Was that what the Legilimency conversation with Snape was all about? Properly underpowered Killing Curse would leave you with barely a nosebleed, everyone knows that. Shit, I should have questioned Snape further once I had the chance!
Harry jumped from the chair and started pacing back and forth across the room, chewing his toothpick nervously.
Let's say Dumbledore had somehow cushioned his fall from the Astronomy tower and then immediately taken the Draught of Living Death. He's declared dead, buried and eventually forgotten. Several months later, he's awoken and let out by a secret ally. And then, there's the fact that McGonagall did her best to cover this all up and burry the investigation! Coincidence or not? But what about the rest of the Order? Wouldn't Dumbledore's own organization know he's alive? What's the point of all the cloak and dagger stuff? Unless... His eyes widened in realization. Unless it's me he's after! Shit, has he been following me? Is he watching me right now? Is he the behind these stupid relapses and rampart emotions? God, is he trying to turn me back into his pawn!? Have I ever stopped being his pawn in the first place!?
"No!" Harry suddenly snapped aloud, stopping his spiralling imagination in tracks. Enough with this paranoia shit! The breakout took place on Halloween, for Merlin's sake! Voldemort must have snatched the old man's body himself and burned it on a stake somewhere. The bastard is dead! Gone! End of story, he told himself sternly as he grabbed Dumbledore's file, stuffed it back into the file cabinet and slammed the door shut.
Pushing all the paranoid theories to the back of his mind, Harry went back to his own file, hopeful that reviewing it would help him repress seeds of self-doubts wriggling in his stomach.
Deprez's testimony revealed little he didn't already suspect. The old loon had pretty accurately predicted his tremendous potentials, but that obviously did the Order little good in helping them track him down. The same could be said for the assessments of his skills, which were now almost five years out of date to boot. The remainder of the file consisted mostly of the leading agent's personal notes and observations, which were interesting enough, but in the long run, once again obsolete and useless.
Harry was just about to put his file back into the archive and go on with his mission, when small tab on the cover of the folder caught his attention. Inside a frame titled 'Related files', one caption stood out like a sore thumb.
"Yin and Yang!?" he read the title incredulously. "How the hell did they found out about... that?"
Feeling slightly worried by this new development, Harry looked under the 'Y' compartment of the filing cabinet and indeed, there was a file titled 'Yin and Yang references'. With a strange sense of dread, he opened the folder and retrieved several dictated reports, one set of wizarding photographs and a ragged white envelope with a large yin-yang symbol over its face.
Harry's stomach flip-flopped when he recognized the envelope of the first message he had ever received from Yin-Yang. Thinking back to that last day he had ever spent inside Number 4, Privet Drive, he realized he must have simply crumpled the envelope and flung it into a trash-can, unaware of the revelations his correspondent would bring. He was only thankful he had taken the letter itself with him, preventing the Order snoops from learning anything more substantial about his mysterious helper.
Next item he inspected, however, was a bit more damaging. Looking at a stack of photograph, Harry was astonished to recognize the one place on Earth he believed the Order would never gain access to - the Chamber of Secrets; Or even worse, the interior of Slytherin's personal ritual chamber, the place where he had performed his first ever ritual more than five years ago. Everything was there just as he had left it - candle remains, blood-red pentagram, faded runes and the corpse of his first ever ritual sacrifice.
His heart, however, skipped a beat when he came across a series of pictures examining details of Yin-Yang's message he had hastily erased. The first picture displayed merely a fluorescent smudge on the wall, but with each subsequent photo, the message was becoming clearer and clearer. Remus and Shacklebolt could be seen standing beside the fairly readable message on the final photograph, tired but satisfied smiles shining from their faces.
Damn, that stupid dust is more resilient that I thought, Harry chastised himself for not removing the message properly. Even though this particular oversight didn't prove fatal in the long run, he knew that a man who doesn't learn from his mistakes is bound to repeat them.
But how the hell did the Order get into the Chamber? he couldn't help but wonder, as he browsed further through the file. The answer became clear when he reached a 'related items' addendum.
Oh, of course, I should have realized, he scoffed, as he approached the rack with various recording devices and tapped his wand on the one labelled 'REC-PT-1'.
"Open," the tripod-like gadget hissed in Parseltongue, confirming his suspicions.
Harry didn't know if the Order had bought the recording from one of the few Parselmouths in the world who performed such services, or if Dumbledore had secretly taped him, but in retrospect, it didn't really matter. One way or another, both the Order and Yin-Yang managed to gain access into the Chamber of Secrets, proving that Salazar's security system had definitely failed the test of time. After all, while the famous founder had every right to fancy himself the only Parselmouth of his age, ten centuries of adultery, expansion and conquest had passed since then.
Satisfied that at least one mystery was solved, Harry scanned the file one more time, eventually confirming that the Order had no better idea as to who or what Yin-Yang was, than he himself did. Browsing back to the addendum, he knew there was just one more thing left to check. Under the 'related items' caption, there was another item listed besides the Parselmouth recording, this one apparently stored inside the locked cabinet.
A few unlocking spells later Harry was standing before the Order's collection of dark, forbidden or potentially dangerous objects they had confiscated in their line of work. He quickly scanned over the artefacts, mentally cataloguing the ones he himself could use. Eventually, he located the item listed inside the Yin & Yang file. To his surprise, it appeared to be a rather plain looking brown envelope. He flipped it over and gasped when he saw a big, black yin-yang symbol printed on its face.
Beads of sweat appeared on Harry's forehead when he realized this wasn't one of his own correspondences that the Order had somehow retrieved, but a brand new letter, clearly addressed to the Weasley family. To make the matter even stranger, the letter was still unopened.
What could have prevented the Order from inspecting such a vital clue? Unless...
Harry carefully removed the letter from its protective satchel and inspected it more thoroughly. His suspicions were confirmed when he recognized Gringotts' 'Wills & Testaments' golden seal on the envelope's seam. He knew what that symbol meant - the letter would remain 'locked' until the individual it had been 'attuned to' pass away or break the seal in person. He now also understood the Order's reluctance to try and force the envelope open. No ward in the world can keep a thief away from his loot, but it can certainly keep the loot away from the thief. In this case, even if the Order's experts managed to bypass the Goblins' sophisticated wards, they'd only end up activating the self-destruct mechanism, ultimately coming out short-handed either way.
Harry's attention was suddenly drawn to a red writing he had missed earlier thanks to a dark-brown colour of the parchment. His eyes bugged over when he read what appeared to be a warning to the letter's recipients.
• • • • •
This letter will unseal only once Harry Potter is dead.
Do NOT try to force the envelope open, as it would only lead to its self-destruction.
• • • • •
"What the hell..." Harry trailed off, rereading the warning incredulously. It wasn't that getting a hold of his blood was very difficult - Merlin knows he'd visited the Hogwarts infirmary enough times during his school years. It was more the sheer surprise that his mysterious helper would send such a strange correspondence to the very enemies he had warned him against.
What could be in it? Harry wondered. Maybe a final howler in case I failed? Or data on Voldemort's operations, to help the only remaining opposition against him, regardless of how corrupted they were? Perhaps a deadly booby-trap, to avenge my death? Or maybe the letter is actually intended for ME to read it, once I've broken into the Order Headquarters?
Harry shrugged, forestalling any future wild theories. Well, there's only one way to find out.
As his hands nervously reached for the seal, excitement bubbled in his veins. After five years of silence, he would finally receive another clue about his secretive benefactor, perhaps even uncover their true identity!
Whoever they are, Yin & Yang would certainly be a mighty ally in the final leg of my quest, Harry schemed, thinking back to the way his helper had masterfully unmasked a conspiracy which had had him fooled for more than a decade. Still dreaming up a potential partnership, his thumbs sank into the red seal, breaking it open.
With a bang and a hiss, black fire suddenly exploded from the crack, startling Harry out of his reverie. Instinctively, he jumped away from the smoking letter, placing himself behind a strongest quick-shield he could manage. But instead of exploding into his face, the fire turned inwards and burned straight through the letter, leaving only a handful of ash behind.
For several seconds, Harry could only stupidly stare through his useless shield at the remains of the biggest clue about Yin-Yang's identity he'd had in five years. Suddenly, he sprung forward and started rummaging through the ashes, as if his diligence might bring back at least the tinniest piece of evidence he had hoped to get.
"Fuck!" spat at the ashes after a few seconds of futile search, realizing that the Goblins wouldn't make such an amateurish mistake.
This whole affair left him even more confused than angry. He just couldn't understand why would Yin-Yang send a letter to his enemies and secure it so that it could be opened only after his death. Even more confusing was the fact even he himself wasn't able to access the message, which went against the Gringotts' standard Will & Testament policy. Was Yin-Yang truly his 'friend', or did this person or organization have their own agenda on mind? Was he once again merely a tool used to achieve someone else's goal?
In retrospect, Harry admitted he should have examined his benefactor's motivation more carefully. But then again, he acknowledged that there was nothing he would have done differently, regardless of the conclusions he came up with. After all, when all is said and done, Yin-Yang did point out the web of intrigue and betrayal that had been woven around him. They did help him break free from both the old puppet master's grasp and his minions intent on finishing the job he had started. Whatever Yin-Yang's motivation was, Harry would always be grateful for the freedom they had given him.
But hadn't Dumbledore also looked after you, even saved your life once or twice? Does that mean you should be grateful to him as well? a small stubborn voice in his head persisted asked, creating another small crack in the mindset that seemed rock solid only several hours ago.
Shaking his head in frustration, Harry glanced at his watch and sucked in his breath when he realized he'd spent almost half an hour rummaging through the Order's dirty laundry. He barely had an hour left before the wards will collapse, notifying the Aurors of the break-in. With a vicious mental shove, Harry pushed another bout of questions and conflicting feelings behind his Occlumency shields. He knew it was merely a temporary solution, for which he would pay dearly later on, while sorting through the day's events. Nevertheless, he had a job to do and going into philosophical debates about his feelings certainly wouldn't help him get it done.
With his mind cleared of all the emotional clutter, Harry was now able to concentrate solely on the task at hand. His wand became a blur as an array of detection, examination and scrying charms started flying throughout the room, looking for the emergency evacuation controls.
He knew he was once again wasting time, but he had no other choice. Interrogating a captured Order member would have sped things up, but with command words lurking behind every corner, that was simply too big of a risk to take. He wouldn't put it past Dumbledore to mask one of the command words as a veritaserum-friendly answer to some commonly asked question, or have his minions memorize a piece of paper with command words written on it. Who knew what clever safeguards the old bastard had put in place?
Five minutes later, the last of the illusion and distraction wards were dislodged from the walls and a secret command panel behind a fake wall located and forced open. Inside, Harry found a glowing orange opal tied to a network of runic tables and pre-set shrinking spells, all of which made the core of the Order's emergency relocation system. It took him ten minutes of precise wandwork to untangle the mess of runic power lines and disconnect the ones in charge of security. With one final tap, he repacked the scheme back into its active form and then tapped the glowing opal, intoning, "Arcto ac refugere!"
Harry slowly backed out, as the room's furniture, maps and documents started gliding along the walls, first slowly and then faster and faster. Soon enough, the room's entire content was zooming around at breakneck speed, caught in a vicious magical tornado. The entire twister suddenly contracted into itself, sucking the entire mess of papers, trinkets and cabinets into a plain looking wooden trunk, which miraculously appeared in the midst of the chaos. With one final 'clap', the trunk closed itself shut, sealing the tornado from the now empty headquarters.
Nodding appreciatively at the efficient packing system, Harry sent the trunk to wait for him outside, knowing he would spend many happy hours ruffling through its contents. Dark or light, righteous or evil, no one has ever said no to the spoils of war.
Casting another glance at his watch, Harry hurried out of the empty headquarters, eager to finally get the second part of the job done. He re-cast his Horcrux locator spell and followed the magical line as it curved upwards, disappearing through the low wooden ceiling. He started climbing the Burrow's narrow staircases, expecting the line to steer into one of the side rooms. But even on the fifth landing, where the stairs ended, the line was still curving upwards, through the ceiling of Ron's unpleasantly orange room. With a mental shrug, Harry located a pair of ladders and climbed another level up, finding himself in the Burrow's cramped attic. The line was now pointing straight towards a huge crate in the back of the dusty room.
Feeling the excitement build up, Harry cancelled the locator spell and took a few tentative steps towards the crate. This was it. After five long years of training and searching, he finally located the sixth and final Horcrux. He honestly expected it to be something more dignified then an old crate inside some dusty attic, but far be it from him to complain about having a lucky break once in a while.
In a blink of an eye, Harry was several feet from where he had been standing, hidden behind a bright blue shield that hung from his wand-tip.
Loud, rhythmic sounds kept coming from the direction of the Horcrux crate, each one raising hairs on the back of Harry's neck. He remained frozen in place for what seemed like an eternity, poised to blast away whatever monster was guarding the Horcrux. But other than more bangs and some low guttural growling, nothing came out of the darkness. Eventually, he decided to take the initiative.
Switching to the strongest portable shield from his arsenal, Harry carefully moved towards the source of the banging. He crouched behind the Horcrux crate, his heart jumping with each bang coming from the other side. Gathering his nerves, he sprung up from behind the cover, a curse already on his lips. To his surprise, he found his wand pointed at the back of a pale, gaunt man in tattered clothes. Not even noticing the intrusion, the man remained kneeled behind the Horcrux crate and kept banging his fist against the floor.
Harry had enough experience not to be deterred by the unexpected sight. "Who are you?" he snapped, his wand poised to strike at any sign of danger.
The man slowed down his banging to a stop and then, with another low guttural growl, he sluggishly turned around. Only with a tremendous effort of will did Harry manage not flinch at the sight of hundreds of yellow, sap infected scars that marred the man's... no, the thing's entire body.
Inferi! Kill it! all his instincts screamed, but his wand wavered when he spotted something that no ordinary zombie ever had - a dash of intelligence, a purpose, glinting from behind his cold, dead eyes. It took Harry only a moment to connect the creature's banging habit with half-forgotten sleepovers in the room beneath the attic.
"A ghoul," he murmured as he relaxed and lowered his wand. Or more precisely, the infamous ghoul from the Burrow's attic. The jealous prick had bored the walls with his constant bragging about a genuine article living in his attic. I guess he hadn't been bullshitting about that at least.
Even though he tended to steer around theoretical gibberings, Harry knew enough about ghouls to appreciate their uniqueness and rarity. From what he remembered, a ghoul was basically a ghost trapped inside his or hers old body. There were numerous documented ways to cause such phenomenon and most of them involved some form of dark magic, be it a power enhancing ritual, inferi transformation, one of the outlawed shortcuts in animagus training or any number of other methods of messing with one's life essence. And even though the trapped soul was a victim as often as a perpetrator, the Ministry, in all its single-minded predictability, frowned harshly at the existence of such 'abnormalities'.
Over the centuries, various attempts have been made at releasing the restless souls from their mortal cages. The results, however, had been erratic at best. Experience had shown that freed spirits were usually too damaged to turn into proper ghosts, and instead either dissipated completely, never to take a tangible form again, or turned into semi-corporal chaotic sprites, widely known as poltergeists. Thus, in the course of history, only a handful of ghouls who had fallen into the government's hands had ever managed to complete their earthly business and peacefully move on to the afterlife. All this, of course, only made the presence of an actual ghoul locked in the Weasleys' attic so much more intriguing.
Why hadn't they simply called the Ministry and let them take care of the wretched thing? Did they see some sort of gain in having such asset under their control? Or did they hope to reaffirm their image of good little light-siders, under the guise of 'helping the poor soul out'? Maybe it was merely some misguided attempt at redemption for their other crimes? After all, it's not like keeping the thing locked up was costing them anything other than a bit of attic space.
As these thoughts passed through his head, Harry carefully inspected the ragged creature, prodding and analyzing every minute detail he had missed at the first glance. There was really no way to tell what the ghoul looked like before his death. His entire face and arms were perforated by deep parallel scars, which looked like animalistic scratch marks, except that they came in groups of five. Their sharp edges were surprisingly well preserved, with few signs of deterioration and rotting. The same could be said for the ghoul's robes, which even though had their own share of five-clawed tear marks, were almost completely clean of dirt. Thinking back to the kind of rotten, flea-bitten dust-bags he got used to working with, Harry found the ghoul's neatness more than a little strange. A buried corpse rots fast and tears up its clothes while trying to climb out of the grave. This one had obviously been protected in some way until the inferi enchantments kicked in, sealing its skin from further deterioration.
Even as Harry took all this in, his frown deepened in puzzlement. He felt there was more to this ghoul than met the eye, an elusive detail that kept tugging at the memories pushed to the far depths of his mind.
It's the smell, he suddenly realized. A faint spicy flavour clearly stood out in the damp stench of the attic, bringing up memories of salt and algaes and caves...
Why the hell am I even thinking of the damn ghoul? Harry shook his head, annoyed by his rampart thoughts. I should really get back to the crate, that's where the locator...
And then, just like that, the disjointed puzzle pieces fell into place, forming a startling picture.
"Of course," Harry gasped in realization, his lips stretching into a satisfied smirk. "So this is where you've been hiding all these years, Regulus Black."
A glint of recognition in the dead eyes, followed by a low guttural growl was all the confirmation Harry needed. His mind whirled with new possibilities, long sought explanations and smouldering questions, and he knew there was only one way to satisfy his accursed curiosity. Almost automatically, he met the ghoul's... Regulus' eyes, raised his wand and softly intoned, "Legilimens."
A whirlwind of memory snapshots engulfed Harry's consciousness, but his well-trained mind quickly took control, shakily pushing the mind probe through the ghoul's half-ruined neural pathways. With some difficulty, he managed to set up proper associative channels and started his trip through Regulus's irreparably damaged memories.
The first image Harry received was of himself... no, of Regulus, standing in some shady forest and speaking with a stocky red haired man that Harry instantly recognized as one of the Prewett twins from the Old Crowd photograph.
"Ahh, so Sirius Black's baby brother finally shows his true colours - those of a coward," the Order agent sneered. "I remember you from school, little Reggie. You and your slimy buddies were all over You-Know-Who's arse while it was just talk. What's the matter now, baby boy? You've had one little whiff of the real stuff and already had enough? Life of a dark cohort doesn't agree with your sensitive pampered tummy? Well, boo-fucking-hoo... Argh!"
Image of the Prewett's mocking face suddenly got lost in a maelstrom of fear, anger and frustration. When the memory cleared up, there were two shaking hands clenched around the Order agent's neck.
"Who the fuck are you to lecture me about war!?" Regulus hissed, his voice dripping with rage and desperation. "You and your pathetic little weekend warriors... Self titled high and mighty protectors of the light! Ha! Think yourself so brave to gather 'round a fire once a week and whisper stories of the big bad dark lord? A bogeyman most of you haven't even seen! Well he's very fucking real for me, you conceited fuck!" Harry's point of view shifted even closer, as his host's disembodied voice turned into a furious hiss. "Poor fool, you have no idea... NO idea whatsoever what the dark lord is capable of, what he did... what I helped... what he... he made me do..."
Regulus' voice turned more and more hysterical, as flashes of old, disjointed memories overflowed Harry's view.
A small girl tied in a sacrificial circle... A voice - Regulus' voice - chanting verses of the exclusive Black family lore... A satisfied smirk on the Dark Lord's face as magic swirls around his naked, pale body... A hand holding a silver serpentine dagger... A hissed order "Finish it!"... The dagger shivers but still manages to find its way between the child's ribs... Howls of magic and hisses of ecstasy and cries of guilt... A hand drops the bloodied dagger in horror... The power-high Dark Lord gloating about his own invulnerability, until he passes out from exertion... A wand casting a memory charm at the spent dark lord...
The maelstrom of snapshots ended when the Order agent pushed off blubbering Regulus, sending him to the ground.
"What the hell do you want from us?" Prewett swam back into the view, looking rather unnerved by the sudden attack. "To show you leniency because you're bloody sorry? Gift-wrap you an amnesty from the punishment you rightly deserve? You expect us to just snap our fingers and make it all go away?"
"Can you give me my soul back?" Regulus murmured deflatedly from the grass, not even bothering to wipe the tears that smudged Harry's view.
"The world doesn't work that way, boy," Prewett spat back, now completely recovered. "You wanna run your mouth off with your little slimy racist friends? Fine, be my guest! But once you've taken that filthy mark, there's no going back! You've made your choice and we'll make damn sure you face the consequences!"
The man leaned in and leered in a very un-Weasley-like fashion. "So you still want out? Alright, you'll get your chance. But be warned, boy, redemption doesn't come cheap, even with good old Dumbledore. You better be ready to bust your dandy little arse for it. I'm sure the old man can always use another filthy piece-of-trash turncoat for his-"
"No!" snapped Regulus' voice, as Harry's view shifted up. He was now once again on the eye-level with the other man. "I've no intention of joining my idiot brother in his foolish fight for the mudblood cause. If I had, I'd be talking to the old fool in person instead of you."
"You actually wanted to plead your case with me?" Prewett asked with an incredulous chuckle, before his scowl returned with vengeance. "You'll get no sympathy from me, death eater. As far as I'm concerned, you can crawl back to your slimy master and shove your head up his arse until you suffocate. That's more than murdering purist filth like you deserve," he said coldly.
Surprisingly, Regulus' lips stretched into a mocking smirk. "Be that as it may, I'm not asking for sympathy or forgiveness, especially not from the likes of you. It's yours and your brother's unique skills I'm after."
"What?" Prewett asked perplexedly. Harry could almost feel memory Regulus rolling his eyes.
"You know, the famous Prewett twins? The illustrious trinket maestros of Ravenclaw? The youngest enchantment masters in last couple of centuries?"
Prewett's his eyes widened disbelievingly, before forming a furious glare. "If you think you're gonna recruit me and my brother for your-"
"Oh heavens no," Regulus countered calmly. "Here's what I'm planning to-"
The memories become fuzzier at this point, until they were finally lost in the static of disjointed images and sounds. After failing to bring them up again, Harry theorized that only stressful, emotion-filled events were carved into the cortex deep enough to survive the brain's death and 20 years of half-life as a walking corpse. More mundane memories were probably irreparably damaged by the ravages of time. With a mental shrug, Harry fast-forwarded through the static, until he reached the next clear patch of the ghoul's memory.
"No! I will NOT have the Order know its location and that's final!" Regulus' screaming voice came into focus. As the image stabilized, Harry wasn't surprised to see Prewett's blotchy face once again hanging mere inches from his view. It seemed that the youngest Black had fallen into another ranting fit, confirming his theory about emotional memories being more resilient than the average ones. "I want nothing to do with your stupid vigilante club and the blood-traitor filth you're trying to save! I'm not doing this for the likes of you and your worthless approval! I'm doing this for me and me alone! This is my redemption! My revenge! Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, soul for soul!"
Prewett finally managed to push the spitting death eater away and take a few steps backwards. He gave Regulus a strange once-over, obviously beginning to question the man's sanity. After a second or two, he shrugged it off, as if saying, What do I have to lose?
He then pulled out his wand and tapped a small pin he had retrieved from his lapel, before giving the newly-made portkey to Regulus. Harry managed to glimpse a small cog-shaped blue brooch, with a golden brain symbol and two stylized 'P' letters on it, before Regulus pinned it to his collar.
Prewett nodded approvingly. "That portkey will take you to half a mile away from my brother-in-law's house. Me and my brother will be notified as soon as you activate it, so we'll probably be waiting for you at the house once you get there. If we're detained for any reason, show my cousins, the Weasleys, this broach and they'll at least know not to curse you on sight."
Here the man faltered, obviously not sure what sort of gesture was appropriate to end the meeting between reluctant allies who hated each other's guts - a warning, a formal handshake or best wishes? In the end, he compromised with a shrug and ambivalent grunt of "See you there."
Regulus smirked, secretly amused at the blood-traitor's predicament. He quickly gathered himself and called after the retreating Prewett's back. "Don't forget our deal! This conversation stays between you, your brother and me! I don't want anyone else in on this!"
"Your trust is touching. It'll be as you say," was heard from somewhere behind his back. Harry's view swirled rapidly, but he only had a second to distinguish the other Prewett brother's visage, before twin pops of apparation marked the end of the meeting.
With a simple mental command, Harry's Legilimency probe disengaged from the memory of Regulus cursing the entire Prewett bloodline, and moved onward through the ghoul's mind. After a few seconds of methodical exploration, he located the memory he was looking for. He concentrated his probe on it and soon enough, the disjointed images cleared away to reveal a well known scene of the cliff cave he himself had visited during his last year at Hogwarts.
Harry followed Regulus down the same path he had taken with Dumbledore all those years ago, all the way down to edge of the underground lake. But then, instead of searching for the pulley system, the Heir of Black simply retrieved a broom from his backpack and flew over the clear green water littered with dead bodies.
Of course, things were never that simple. As soon as he reached the central island, inferis jumped up from their slumber and started advancing towards his position. Harry felt Regulus channel solid amounts of magic and next moment, he and the Horcrux cauldron were surrounded by a defensive circle of fire. Surprisingly, instead of trying to charge through the inferno, the zombies stopped at the edge of the island and just stood there waiting.
Knowing that he couldn't hold the fort forever, Regulus quickly approached the cauldron and shakily picked up the bowl next to it, obviously already aware of what he had to do. Harry felt determination swell up within his 'host', as the rogue death eater started slurping the unknown potion, desperately trying to fight down the gag effect.
With every swallow of the disgusting liquid, Harry could hear a chant ringing louder and louder through Regulus' mind. I will not fail. I will have my redemption. I will clean my hands. I will not fail...
All the colours and sounds fuzzed over as the potion started taking effect. Harry could sense the dark magic taking grip of something deep inside Regulus' very being, at the same time as foreign thoughts and instructions started attacking his barely conscious mind.
Of course, inferi inductor, Harry realized the potion's true purpose, just as his 'host' drank the last few inches from the cauldron, before letting the bowl slip from his trembling fingers. With last drops of his strength, Regulus replaced the Horcrux at the bottom of the cauldron with an imitation from his pocket, before slumping on the floor, spent.
"Activate," Harry heard Regulus' dry lips rasp in relief and victory, just as the last embers of his fire shield died down. He felt the Prewett's brooch heat up and shudder against his host's shoulder, but nothing else happened.
Of course, Voldemort must have thought of that, Harry reasoned analytically. That's why the inferi didn't attack. They knew the thief would be helpless after obtaining the locket.
Regulus must have realized that too, as his brief bout of relief disappeared in quickly rising waves of despair and panic. No! I can't fail now! Not when the accursed thing is already within my grasp! I must succeed! I must ensure its destruction!
But Harry knew that Regulus' life was already leaking away, as the inferi control potion started strengthening its grip on his mind. "Activate... activate," he heard the doomed man's last desperate attempts, while the walking dead slowly crept around him, their merciless cold fingers already clawing at his helpless body.
No! I wasn't finished! I mustn't die now! Not yet... Not yet...
It was strange to hear someone's last thoughts as if they were your own, to see death through someone else's eyes. Harry didn't think that many people throughout history had had the chance to experience something like this.
The last thing he was able to distinguish from his subject's increasingly blurred recollections was Regulus clenching the locket in dead man's grip, while sharp nails clawed through skin, dragging him down into the depths of the underground lake - his undying body's new home. Even as salty water filled his lungs and images and sounds completely faded away, one thought stayed etched upon what remained of his mind.
Not yet... Not yet... Not yet...
What followed afterwards was a long series of disjointed flashes, too short to distinguish anything from them. Harry realized that Regulus was only occasionally regaining consciousness, while his trapped soul struggled against the grip of inferi control potion. But if Regulus had anything at this point, it was time. Periods of lucidity became longer and more frequent, until Harry finally sensed the dark mist completely lose its hold on the newly-created ghoul's will.
Through it all, one continuous message could be heard drumming in the back of Regulus' mind, a constant reminder of his sole remaining purpose on Earth.
Find enchanters... Destroy the locket... Pay my debts... Free my soul...
At this stretch, images and sounds were a bit fuzzy due to the irreparable damage done to his host's mind and body, but Harry was still able to distinguish the simplistic thought process that had led Regulus out of the lake and up the path towards the exit. It might have taken weeks or maybe even months, Harry wasn't sure, but vague flashbacks of seeking an outside help eventually led the ghoul out of the cave and into the ocean, where something unexpected happened. The long-forgotten Prewett portkey shuddered, as if released from a chain, and next moment, the cliff face was lost in a whirlwind of colours, accompanied by a yanking feeling on the ghoul's back.
When Harry's view cleared up again, he recognized a very familiar patch of forest near the Burrow, not too far from where his makeshift camp would be many years later. Acting on basic human instincts alone, the ghoul mindlessly trudged towards the only visible light source in the vicinity, eventually finding his way through the Burrow's notification wards.
Memories became a lot fuzzier after this point, as the excitement induced by the escape and portkey travel slowly wore off. Harry could only distinguish disjointed pieces of the conversation that had occurred when Molly and Arthur Weasley run out to meet their unexpected guest.
"Hold your wand, that's not a normal inferi..."
"A genuine ghoul at our house, Arthur! We must be blessed by the divine..."
"Molly, you know I don't buy into that superstitious codswallop..."
"He's not dangerous, Arthur. You know that as well as I..."
"Nevertheless, it's my duty to report..."
"Arthur, look! He has the Prewett Designs brooch! He must have been..."
"He could have stolen that..."
"From Gideon and Fabian? Not likely..."
"Molly be reasonable..."
"Arthur, for all we know, the poor dear might have been my brothers' best friend! I will NOT hand him over to the Ministry to be used in their experiments and that's final! I owe Gid and Fab that much!"
"Very well," Arthur Weasley sighed, his voice sounding a bit clearer than before. "I guess we can keep it... him in the attic, until we figure out what needs to be done for him to move on."
While the Weasley patriarch spoke, Harry's view shifted forwards through the door and into the Burrow's cheerful looking living room. He lingered for a moment as he glimpsed a few red-headed toddlers gaping at him openmouthedly, but Molly immediately yanked him on, leading him up the staircase.
"Shouldn't we contact Albus?" her anxious voice was now heard from his left.
"No, if worse comes to worst, the headmaster will need plausible deniability," responded Arthur from his right. From the shifting of his blurred view, Harry could tell that the ghoul was being guided up the stairs by the two Weasleys. "We are breaking the law here, Molly, and Albus is the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot. It's better that he never hears of this from us."
"I guess you're right!" Molly responded, before Harry's view shifted upwards as the ghoul was being levitated to the attic.
"Well Mr... Ghoul. You just stay up there... and see what business needs to be finished," Arthur provided somewhat lamely from below, before the trapdoor slammed shut.
"Ohhh, I can't believe we actually have our own ghoul now! If he moves on to the afterlife from our household, the entire family will be blessed by the luck of..." Molly's voice faded away as she hobbled down the stairs.
The memories too became fuzzier at this point, but Harry didn't fight it this time. Having seen enough to satisfy his curiosity, he let his mental probe slowly dissipate as he retreated from the ghoul's mind.
"Not so altruistic after all, you fat bitch," he murmured under his breath, while staring at the ghoul incredulously. Here it was, a product of an almost fantastic series of coincidences, starting from the Dark Lord's lose tongue, over the Prewett brothers' custom portkey design and ending with Molly Weasley's superstition and greed. Who could have predicted that such a ludicrous set of circumstances would obscure the trail of Riddle's final Horcrux? Hell, it even got the old Dumbledore killed!
And as Harry observed the quietly growling ghoul, mulling over all this in his head, he realized exactly what he had to do.
"Greetings, Regulus Black," he said in confident tone. He could have sworn that the ghoul perked up a bit at the mention of his name. "I'm here to destroy the Horcrux, upon our previously arranged agreement. Do you have the locket?"
Recognition flashed in the ghoul's black eyes, as his growling intensified and his posture became more guarded.
Harry proceeded carefully. "We did have an agreement, was it not so? You lacked skills necessary to safely destroy the item, thus you asked for help, yes? I am here to honour that agreement. Will you not do the same?"
The ghoul kept growling, but there was clearly visible hesitation in his posture.
Harry sighed as he realized he was needlessly tangling himself up into another frustrating negotiations with a lesser, barely coherent creature. He knew he could easily dispatch the ghoul and search his body, but for some reason, he hesitated. Looking objectively at his motivations, he realized that, for once that day, he wanted things done properly, without cutting corners and applying easy, Slytherin solutions. He knew neither why he wanted something as silly as that, nor how to achieve it in this case, but at least for a few more minutes, he decided to indulge himself.
Regulus did turn against Voldemort, but that obviously didn't stop him from being an inbred pure-blooded bigot, he mused, when an inspiration hit him. Perhaps a traditionalistic kind of bigot?
Straightening himself up, Harry placed his wand on the palms of his hands and spoke in a solemn, dignified tone.
"I Fabien Prewett swear upon my life and magic that, if given a chance, I will do everything in my power to safely destroy the Horcrux currently in possession of one Regulus Alphard Black. So mote it be."
He threw Regulus an expectant look, who appeared taken aback by such a bold proclamation. At Harry's raised eyebrow, the ghoul almost comically tried to pull himself together, before managing a growl vaguely resembling the standard response "So mote it be."
That's good enough I guess, Harry decided and channelled some magic through his wand, creating a nice little shower of sparks from its tip. He resisted an urge to role his eyes at the reverence visible in the ghoul's posture and eyes.
What a foolish superstition, he thought distastefully. A few bonding contracts get accidently formalized by bursts of accidental magic, and everyone's all of a sudden making a big deal out of these so-called 'wizard's oaths'. Rubbish!
Suppressing a smile, Harry proceeded in a formal tone. "Regulus, you did a wonderful job of procuring the Horcrux and keeping it safe all these years. But your mission on this mortal coil is now coming to an end." He leaned in sincerely, finding it all too easy to force some moisture into his eyes. "Regulus, give me the locket. Let me destroy its evil and release you from the burdens of your past. You have redeemed yourself, my friend. It is time for you to move on."
For a seemingly long time Regulus just stood there, still as a rock, while his eyes stared right back at Harry, brimming with emotions. Then finally, the ghoul lifted his fisted right arm and slowly, almost reluctantly opened his skeletal fingers. And there on the top of his palm, slightly scraped but otherwise fine, laid Slytherin's locket.
Of course, the poor sod had been banging it against the floor for years, foolishly trying to break it open, Harry suddenly realized. Eh, if that jealous asshole only knew what was the real reason behind the noise he was always whining about...
Harry carefully retrieved the locket from the ghoul's hand and placed it on the floor. He then started arranging his standard combination of temporary glyphs and runes around the accursed object, his every move carefully analyzed by the suspicious ghoul. He briefly entertained himself with the idea of running away with the locket and leaving the ghoul high and dry, but his heart somehow wasn't in it. For some reason, he actually wanted to help the poor sod.
This fucking place is turning me back into a pussy, he grumbled, idly wondering if there was truly some sort of a suggestive field around the Burrow, turning everyone inside it into insufferable Gryffindors. Hmm, in fact, that's not such a farfetched idea. Certainly more believable then the one about Coot-Who-Lived hanging over my head. If I had more time, I'd definitely check it out.
Finally done with the all three circles of containment, Harry stood up, took a step back and unceremoniously cast "Avada Kedavra!"
The moment the green curse hit the locket, a swirling cloud of sickly black mist shot out of it, trying to escape its fate. The runic containment circle kicked in, enclosing the Horcrux within a cocoon of bright blue magic. The black mist was now trapped between the locket pulsing with emerald green light, and the rapidly closing dome, against which it fruitlessly slammed, trying to break free. Despite its best efforts, the blue wall steadily advanced against the enraged soul fragment and eventually prevailed by pushing it against the pulsing green aura surrounding the locket. The doomed spirit let go one last soul-wrenching wail of despair, before the whole sphere exploded into a spectacular light show of magic, leaving only a broken shell of the Slytherin's locket behind.
Having made sure the Horcrux was truly gone, Harry turned back towards the ghoul, who was now sporting a strangely peaceful expression on his scared face. The air around him started shimmering with golden light, as an aura of serenity stretched across the silent room. The ghoul's shining eyes met Harry's and even though Regulus said nothing, the message was clearly received on the other end.
"You're welcome," as if in a trance, the dark wizard blurted out in an atypically soft voice.
When the golden glow reached its climax, the sparkle of life faded away from the ghoul's eyes and Harry knew Regulus has finally passed on. Harry opened and closed his mouth perplexedly, something deep inside him urging him to give his fellow soul hunter a proper send-off.
"Bon voyage mon ami," he finally compromised, just as the last of the golden embers slowly winked away.
For several seconds, Harry just stood there, soaking in the atmosphere of peace left in the wake of the ghoul's ascension. But as the magic of the moment faded away, the analytical part of his brain started kicking in. He frowned when he realized he had once again regressed from his proper mindset.
'You're welcome'? 'Happy journey my friend'!? What the fuck was that all that about!?
He tried to push some genuine disgust and revulsion into the scowl on his face, but for some reason, his heart simply wasn't in it. Confused and frustrated, he whirled around like a trapped beast. His eyes jumped around the room in suspicion, as if expecting to find Dumbledore peaking from a wardrobe, casting mind-altering charms on him.
But all he found as he turned back around was a clawed swipe aimed for his head. Letting his instincts carry him away from the attacker, Harry brandished his wand to find it pointed at the very ghoul he had just helped ascend. He almost flinched when he met Regulus' eyes; there was no longer a spark of reason shining from his dead pupils; only malice and hate.
Inferi control potion must have kicked right back in, now when there's no longer a soul to get in its way, he realized and immediately took another step away from what was now an ordinary inferi.
Playing a goody-good Samaritan like some wimp and now letting my guard down, he thought disgustedly. What I need is a dose of good old dark magic to whip me back into shape.
A cold smile stretched across Harry's face, as he summoned his hate and squeezed it into the incantation, "Carno acidus liquare!"
An acidic green glob of magic burst out of his wand and slammed straight into the advancing inferi, disappearing inside its chest. The zombie faltered a few steps before dropping on its knees, as hundreds of tiny lacerations started appearing over its body. Its furious growls were lost in the hissing of greenish smoke, which was now pouring in waves from its boiling skin. When the smoke finally cleared, the only thing that remained of Regulus Black's body was a pile of bones swimming in a puddle of blood-red jelly.
Ahh, isn't that better? he cooed to himself, as he felt the last dredges of idiotic sentimentality getting swept away by good old cold pragmatism and common sense. The warm afterglow of Regulus' ascension was completely gone now, letting him finally pull his thoughts together and feel properly disgusted by his earlier weakness.
Satisfied that the things were once again as they should be, he calmly replaced the over-gnawed toothpick in his mouth and bit into a fresh one with the air of somewhat overemphasized relief.
"Nice try!" he sneered at the room in general, as if blaming it for his earlier misconduct. With one final 'hmpf', he turned around and stormed off towards the trapdoor, vindictively stepping on the locket's broken remains.
Back in the living room, Harry soaked in the unusual stillness that had taken over the house. This time, not even the ghoul's thumping was there to break the eerie silence. The Burrow is now truly dead, he realized.
Shaking off the goosebumps, he retrieved another one of his home-made alchemy orbs from his robes. A red tag on it clearly labelled it as a 'gobbler orb'.
This is as good place as any, he decided as he flung the glass ball at the floor before him. The orb burst into a million pieces, releasing a mass of black sand-like substance. The sand instantly came alive and started milling over the floor, spreading like a stain on linen. Satisfaction shone from the dark wizard's face as he observed his own creation doing what it was meant to do - eat and expand.
While waiting for the chain-reaction to build up, Harry thought back to the origins of his invention. It was basically a magical version of a muggle concept known as nano-technology. As was often the case with such radical ideas, the basic theory was fairly straightforward.
Step one: Create a machine capable of reproducing itself without human supervision.
Step two: Place it inside an environment rich with materials it needs to reproduce.
Step three: Order it to keep constructing smaller copies of itself, transferring this order to each made copy.
The result of this endeavour should be an entire culture of artificially cultivated micro-robots, capable of performing whatever tasks their human masters program them to do. But before tackling jobs such as machine maintenance or bridge building, which was the ultimate goal, muggle scientists knew they'd have to figure out the basics first. And one of the simplest, most fundamental tasks any living or artificially created intelligence can perform is – destroy.
Thus came the vision of a destructive army of micro-machines - the so called gobblers - which sole purpose is to keep creating copies of themselves from the surrounding material, until there's nothing else left in the world. Eat and expand – two basic urges of any living being were, in this concept, driven into a pure fundament.
Luckily or not, Muggles still lacked technical capabilities for producing such a technological nightmare. The same couldn't be said for wizards, or more precisely, the wizards familiar with an obscure branch of magic known as alchemy. Thus, when Harry overheard a pair of half-drunk techno-mages complaining about their failed attempts at putting one over the Muggle nanotech researchers, he knew exactly where Dumbledore's book on this rare school of magic could come in handy.
Thus, a few months of hard study and experimentation later, Harry became a proud inventor of the first ever race of magical nano-gobblers. Even though he knew his work was leagues behind Flamel and his Philosopher's stone, it was still a pretty good accomplishment for someone with total of four and a half months of alchemy self-study.
Harry also knew that his gobblers were far from an unstoppable force of destruction muggle scientists imagined them to be. Any wizard could easily transfigure or simply dispel the crawling mass of micro-constructs. After all, it was a known fact that alchemic magic is considerably weaker than any form of direct spell-work and even most potions. That's why Harry had quickly dismissed his army of gobblers as an effective weapon and instead found it a much more suitable purpose - that of a cleaning tool. In rare moments of boredom, he even compiled an imaginary user's manual for his new toy.
Place a handful of gobblers on any solid surface, set up limits to the area you need cleansed and let the buggers eat all the hairs, blood, fingerprints and other embarrassing leftovers of your latest endeavour. Once all the evidence is gone, calmly watch as the gobblers turn into acid, leaving nothing but a patch of bare, scorched earth. An occasional charmed item may survive the purge, but a few summoning spells will quickly take care of that, leaving you with a spotless escape route.
Harry couldn't even count how many times his gobbler orbs had helped him escape in such fashion, leaving his flabbergasted enemies behind. A smirk stretched across his face when he realized he was about to pull his favourite trick on the scale he had never tried before. After all, cleaning up a campsite was one thing and cleaning up an entire household was quite another.
Throwing one last glance at the ever-faster expanding mass of black dust, Harry calmly walked out of the doomed house, absentmindedly ordering the trunk with the Order's archives to hover behind him. He stopped briefly at Molly Weasley's body and cast a quick detection spell. Pleased that he still had a good 30 minutes before the alarms sounded, he banished her carcass several feet beneath the ground and walked to the wards' edge.
Once there, Harry began chanting a long incantation over and over again, waving his wand in a circular motion. A continuous snake-like cord of light spilled out of his wand and started crawling alongside the warded circle, using it as a guiding line to encompass the entire property. Several minutes later, the magical 'snake' finally reached his position from the other side and merged with its 'tail', creating a uniform circle of magic which encompassed the entire household.
That should keep the gobblers contained, Harry thought, ending the chant. He then calmly walked right through the wards and out into the forest, where he once again found a good vantage point. Putting a fresh toothpick in his mouth, he leaned against a nearby tree and relaxed, looking forward to the grand finale of his revenge.
A true, pleased smile stretched across Harry's face as he saw his babies at work. The house was literally swimming in a sea of black sand, its ground floor already half-eaten from the bottom up. An occasional loud crack was heard as the gobblers chewed through wooden walls and furniture, easily bypassing inactive construction spells holding them together. A different sort of crack, accompanied by a bright flash of light, indicated a magical item buckling in under the force of amassed gobbler army. Enchantments were generally stronger then Alchemy, but in the end, it all came down to the quantity of brute magical force applied on either side. And there were certainly more than enough nano-filaments milling around the Burrow to chew through anything short of a Horcrux.
No, there won't be any charmed junk surviving this cleanup, Harry smirked as his eyes drank up the sight of his enemies' charred remains slowly disappearing under a carpet of black sand.
He briefly amused himself by imagined the Aurors' reaction once they finally get here and find nothing but a circle of scorched ground. He visualized their astonished and fearful faces when they realize someone had obliterated not only a heavily fortified pureblood household, but had also brutally murdered more than 50 prominent wizards that were there. The frantic questions and interrogations would immediately follow. What sort of new, terrible weapon is this? What kind of sorcerer could wield such a phenomenal power? Harry almost laughed aloud as he thought of the panic and finger-pointing that would ensue once a picture of the Burrow's scorched glade dawns on the front page of tomorrow's Daily Prophet.
Everyone will immediately blame Voldemort... Especially if there's a Dark Mark found over the crime scene, he realized and then chuckled nastily. The poor guy will be more confused than anyone; Frantically wondering who had outshined him and then given him credit for the attack. I wonder how will he explain his inability to repeat the feat? Try to buy more time or outright admit there's someone out there more powerful than him? Oh, what a double-edged dilemma that would be.
Harry chuckled again, scheming how this little trick could affect his upcoming visit to the Dark Lord. Of course, he could think of that encounter freely now that there were no more annoying side issues to get in his way.
No more side issues... This is it. I did it. It's finally over, a sudden realization crossed his mind. Even though his brain had already affirmed that his preplanned objectives were fulfilled, he was just now coming to appreciate what his victory truly meant for his future. There would be no more hiding in the shadows, patiently plotting and biding his time. No more risking life and limb in some God-forsaken dungeon, just so he could destroy yet another part of the Dark Lord's soul. No more running and hiding at the first sight of anyone who might know the command words. With each successive point he mentally checked, he felt as if another load of burden was taken from his shoulders, leaving him weak in the knees. By the time his gradual realization finally sunk in completely, almost tangible waves of relief and excitement were crashing through his entire body, leaving him lightheaded with giddiness.
For the first time that day, Harry was able to proclaim a complete victory and not have that nagging annoying voice in the back of his mind disagree. Not only was his grand Horcrux hunt finally over, but he also managed to permanently remove the sword of Damocles that had been hanging over his head ever since he discovered the full extent of Dumbledore's treachery. Of course, he still had a small matter of the final showdown to attend to, but in this moment of triumph, he couldn't help but feel that the hardest part of his quest was behind him.
Of course, it HAS been a surprisingly hard day, he rationalized his overblown optimism, which unfortunately brought back some of the less triumphant moments of the day.
In retrospect, while the Burrow's defences and Order agents were nothing to laugh at, it was his internal struggles and irrational feelings that had caused him most problems. Had it happen because of improperly removed mind-altering spells, a natural reaction to stress or maybe even some sort of active interference, he didn't know. Whatever it was, he couldn't help but feel unnerved by the unpleasant flashes of the wimpy old 'Dumbledore's man', whom he thought long gone, dead and buried. And even though he was now firmly back in his proper, positive mentality, he knew that pitfalls of his old self were still lurking, buried beneath his Occlumency shields. He really didn't feel like facing that kind of doubt and weakness again.
But I will. And I'll prevail too - over and over again, as many times as it takes. I won't let Dumbledore's shadow swallow me now! Harry thought firmly, decisively dismissing further brooding on his strange regression. Once again, he sternly reminded himself he wasn't the weak insecure fool they wanted him to be. No, he was strong and powerful and smart. So what if his feelings were all over the place because his revenge didn't go down exactly as planned? In the end, he still won. He has proven once and for all he wasn't a malleable puppet they wanted him to be. He was well aware that the battle for his free will was far from over and that there were still many skeletons of his ill-fated past locked up in the far reaches of his mind. But now, he was at least confident that his spirit was stronger than whatever dirty mind control tricks were left from Dumbledore's meddling.
The more he thought about it, the more Harry came to see his unexpected relapse as one last trial of Fate; The final and most difficult exam before graduating into the wizard he had been prophesized to become. He had survived an encounter with the hardest opponent a man could ever face - himself. He had confronted the demons of his past, fought tooth and nail for his individuality and emerged victorious, more than ever confident in his own self-worth and purpose. And for the first time in his life, he truly saw himself not as a freaky little boy, not as an up and coming dark wizard, but as the Dark Lord's one and true equal.
Glancing at his watch, Harry raised his wand to cast the dark mark and complete the scene setup, but his hand faltered as a new awareness resonated through his mind.
The Dark Lord's equal... can only be another Dark Lord, he mused, feeling completely at ease with such ponderings.
"A Dark Lord," he said the words thoughtfully, slowly, as if examining their texture under his tongue. His smirk grew a little bit colder and his eyes lost a little bit more of their former spark. He liked the way this phrase rang in his ears. He savoured its taste in his mouth. It tasted good. It also rang true. And he was completely OK with that. Even more so, he wanted it to be true. He needed it. His destiny demanded it, he realized that now.
Suddenly, Harry knew exactly what he had to do. A calm voice of reason droned from the back of his mind about the merits of his original plans, of the dissent it would create in the Dark Lord's... no, in Voldemort's ranks. Harry pushed away these concerns with an almost arrogant disregard. He was past the stage of having to hide under disguises and strike from the shadows. Those tactics had served him well in the past, but all things change. It was time for him to evolve as well.
In a way, Harry always knew this day would come. In the far back of his mind, there was always an awareness that Voldemort could only be taken down by an equal and not by some cowardly rat striking from behind. Thus, when he returned to England, in the pauses between setting up his grand plan and hunting down the remaining Horcruxes, he started working on it. At the time, he thought of it merely as a hobby, an 'interesting learning experience'. He didn't even notice when it slowly turned into an obsession and he started spending every moment of his spare time drawing runes and writing Arithmancy equations. Three months ago he finally performed the inscribing ritual, thus completing the second spell he had ever crafted in his life. And while his first spell, the Horcrux locator, had been used constantly, for some reason he had always been reluctant to think of his second creation as anything more but an amusing toy, a little homage to both a lost part of his childhood and a friend who had shown him a way to freedom. This reluctance was completely gone now.
Almost in a daze, Harry pointed his wand back into the sky and bellowed "Nigralbus Dupleitas!"
A swirling torrent of black and white magic shot out of his wand and flew high above the Burrow, where it exploded into a huge magical avatar in shape of the yin & yang symbol. There would be no Dark Lord Voldemort's symbol striking fear into peoples' hearts tonight. A new player entering the field has just dropped by to leave his calling card and say hello. Cries, panic and fear will be the world's answer, but that was OK - he expected nothing less.
And as Harry watched the symbol of his dominance and victory loom over the last two floors of his once-surrogate family's home, which were slowly sinking into a boiling black sea of destruction, he knew the image was finally complete. Horcrux quest, betrayal and revenge - it all ended here, in this one final checkpoint before the finish line. All the burdens and obligations of the past were finally gone from his shoulders, leaving him the clear field to Voldemort's camp and their prophesied confrontation. The final act of Fate's twenty years long puppet show could finally commence.
And as Harry swirled in place and Apparated away, one thought sarcastically rang through his mind.
Let the best Dark Lord win.
The second part of my monster chapter, which first half is now chapter 2. Hope this brings a sort of a closure before the finale, because I'll now concentrate on Potter's Resistance for a chapter or two.
You might get confused by Harry's conflicting characterization, but trust me, there's a point to that. Even though he's now a dark wizard/lord, underneath it all, he's still just a human being, with all the emotional crap like the rest of us. Becoming something as inhuman as a dark lord must come after a bit of internal struggle - you're not just born as one.
The same goes for the Weasleys and others betrayers. When all is said and done, they are just human beings who had chosen to mess with a wrong wizard and faced the consequences. Even if Molly Weasley saw Harry merely as a way to uplift her family from the poverty, do you doubt she still loved her own children?
Some of you complained that Gnarf had taken too much of the previous chapter. I humbly admit that you are right; I did go a bit overboard with that scene and stretched it more than it was strictly necessary. In my defence, I hope you now see that this scene is less than 20 of what the entire chapter was supposed to be (2nd + 3rd). I'm sure the scene will seem less daunting when reading the story in continuity, instead on chapter-by-chapter basis.
NOTE - Version from January 2008. Some rewritten parts and grammar fixes, but no major changes in the plot.
o - Dark wizard VS Dark Lord
The way I see it, a dark wizard is merely a wizard who uses dark magic, but otherwise minds his own business. Dark Lord, on the other hand, is a dark wizard who had basically lost control over his dark magic. Instead of him controlling his magic, dark magic is controlling him, pushing him into an endless chase for more power and more control. Note the motive behind his quest - he's seeking power for power's sake, not because he needs it to accomplish some other goal (like Harry has been doing before this chapter).
o - Wizarding oaths
This chapter briefly illustrates my opinion of this abomination of a plot tool. If you can just create a binding oath this easily, why did Hermione even bother with magical contract for the DA? Why didn't Voldemort force his followers to make an oath they won't betray him? Why doesn't the ministry forces all 1st year students to make an oath they won't break any law, ever (they could than just get rid of all the aurors and live happily ever after)? Etc...
o - Credits and acknowledgments
Since this used to be a second part of chapter 2, acknowledgements remain the same.
Thanks to Muttering Condolences for fixing up grammar and other errors. Additional thanks to AFC affiliates Japanese Jew and Charmscharles for their helpful suggestions. Special kudos to Jbern, who helped me figure out a crucial element of the plot.
Once again, three different thanks a charm.
o - Sources and additional disclaimers
For various imaginative curse words, slang and insults (helped me a bit with the Weasley killoff scene), look here:
www urbandictionary com
Encyclopaedic references are from the all-powerful Wikipedia
www wikipedia org
To access links, replace empty spaces (' ') with dots ('.').
I don't own any intellectual property mentioned above.