"HOLD HIM DOWN!" Yelled Dumbledore as the medical personnel on staff ran to Harry's side. The boy was thrashing around violently on the bed, giant cuts slicing open by themselves all over his body. The glow coming from his right arm almost made the entire thing impossible to do, but the medics somehow managed it. When they did, a disembodied voice shouted out.
"Now! Hold the Staff up! I will handle the rest!"
Snape, standing at the foot of the bed, did as he was instructing, lifting Ravenclaw's Staff into the air. Almost immediately, an erratic tendril of light extended from Harry's right arm, seeking out the Staff and taking hold of it. Snape released his grip as soon as Balthazar had gotten a firm grip on it. The ghost quickly began reciting something in a long-forgotten language. As he did, a burst of light shot from the head of the Staff, connecting with Harry's chest.
The thrashing ceased quickly and the cuts began to hiss as they sealed back up. But something else was going wrong now, as Madam Pomfrey suddenly cried, "His magical reserves are depleting too quickly! His core's in danger of rupturing!"
Balthazar's chanting picked up in pace and the light emanating from the Gauntlet grew even brighter, if it was at all possible. Shielding their eyes to look away, they could only just hear Harry's pained screams over the racket the spell was making.
"Is he alright?!" Asked Dumbledore.
But Balthazar didn't reply. And, at that moment, Ravenclaw's Staff exploded, sending burning splinters of wood in all directions. Several in the room cried out as they were impaled. The headmaster quickly rushed to the injured and began helping as fast as he could, keeping an eye on Harry all the while. The boy's eyes were open now, swirling with a deep blue light. His mouth was still open from his scream and blood was trickling from the sides.
"IS HE ALRIGHT?!" Dumbledore repeated.
"No!" Balthazar yelled. "He is dying! We have to hurry! Fit the final gem in its slot! I may be able to prevent his death, but it will be close!"
One of the mediwitches from St. Mungo's was closest to where the Eye of Caspar was grabbed it and, without thinking, slammed it into the barely-visible third slot on the Gauntlet. She let out a shriek as arcs of raw magical energy leapt from the Gauntlet onto her own arm. The headmaster ran back to the other side of the bed as the woman collapsed from the pain. She was unconscious and her arm was badly burned, but she had succeeded in getting the Eye in place. The energy was pulling it down and into the third slot, rotating it wildly as it went.
When it connected, an unearthly howl filled the air. The noise came from the Gauntlet itself as it began to fuse with the flesh and bone of Harry's right arm. This, in turn, caused Harry to let out a wheezing gasp before vomiting blood. Madam Pomfrey was quick to banish it, her wand flying swiftly as she performed check after check.
"He's beginning to stabilize, Albus..." She said, her brow creasing.
"Balthazar!" Dumbledore called. "How is he?"
"He is... alive." Replied the ghost, his form flickering to life above Harry's body. "But he is... near death. His magical reserves are as depleted as his life force."
"But he will survive?"
"He will survive." Confirmed Balthazar. "But we will need rest. Though my own power has been slowly returning ever since I was rescued, I have exerted too much. I... had not realized how strong the boy's magic truly was. It nearly cost us both our lives."
"Then rest. We will continue to monitor him until he awakens." Dumbledore said.
"Very well. And remember to never touch the Gauntlet until it has cooled. It will be white hot for several days. And, I suspect, Harry will be in great pain every second he is awake until the cooldown has finished..." Balthazar said, starting to fade.
The ghost vanished altogether shortly after that and the room fell silent for the first time in hours. Looking to the clock on the other end of the room, Dumbledore was only mildly shocked to see just how many hours had passed since they had begun the process. Everyone present was either injured or exhausted. And now that Harry was finally stabilizing, the rest of the men and women could also rest.
"Poppy, Severus, if you two could assist me with everyone that has been harmed..." Dumbledore said, glancing between the two, who nodded and began to move around the room, tending to the wounds of those involved.
"That was a hell of a thing." Scrimgeour said, walking over.
"Indeed it was..." Dumbledore breathed, rubbing at his temples. "Indeed it was."
"So what now?" Asked Quesland.
"Now," Dumbledore began, fixing the man with a mild glare, "You can return to where you came from. There's nothing left for you to see. Nothing will be going wrong at this point."
"No need to get so touchy, Dumbledore." Quesland said, smirking. "Merely here for the sake of seeing such an old relic be resurrected. That's all."
"And now you have seen it. Severus, once you get a moment, would you kindly escort Mr. Quesland to the edge of the grounds?" Dumbledore asked.
"Of course." Snape replied, a faint smile forming on the Potions Master's face.
Quesland looked somewhat disgusted at the prospect of being escorted out by Snape. "I can find my own way out, thank you." He stated, glaring back at the headmaster finally. "One day your little golden boy will screw up, Dumbledore. And when he does, we're going to take him in and dissect him. His magical talent is unnaturally high. We want to know why."
"I am sure you do." Dumbledore stated. "Unfortunately, Mr. Quesland, that is neither here nor there. Now then, if you do not wish me to ask Kingsley to take you away, I suggest you get out."
Dorian Quesland swore darkly under his breath, but turned and stormed out of the headmaster's quarters, slamming the door behind him. Moments later, a second slam was heard.
"I am sorry, Albus. He was quite insistent." Scrimgeour said, wincing.
"Quite alright, Rufus." Dumbledore sighed. "I know full well how those people can be."
"So now what?" Asked the Minister, turning to glance at Harry.
"...Now we wait." Dumbledore said. "And hope."
"This is horribly boring. I'd just like all of you to know that." Harry stated, glancing down at the wizard's chess board with open distaste written on his face. "Just because the pieces move and berate you doesn't change the fact that it's chess."
"Aw, come on!" Tonks pouted. "I saw you laugh when my rook flung Lupin's bishop clean off the table!"
"I did no such thing." Harry said, rolling his eyes.
"Did too! You saw it too, didn't you, mum?" Tonks asked, looking over to her mother.
"I was too busy consoling poor Remus." Andromeda replied, smiling down at the scowling werewolf, who was busy picking up his pieces and getting them reassembled.
"No one warned me you were this good at chess." Lupin grumbled quietly.
"No one knew she was." Harry stated. "As far as I remember, she's never played before."
"Yes I have!" Tonks said. "I've played against you and Leon!"
"Have you? Hm..." Harry murmured, frowning. "Seems like my memories still haven't 'settled' yet. Quite irritating, that..."
"Do you remember how we met?" Asked Tonks.
"Impossible to forget." Said Harry, smiling lopsidedly.
"Do you remember punching Malfoy out when you met him for the first time?" She chirped, grinning now.
"Remember? My knuckles still hurt."
"Do you remember Snape's stupid word puzzle?"
"I try not to, but yes."
"Then your memory's fine." Tonks declared. "Come on, someone else play me! I'm starting to feel sorry for Lupin."
"I'm not used to playing someone who's GOOD." Lupin argued. "Sirius was terrible at the game. But he still got a kick out of it. Always so damned sure he was going to beat me. He never did, of course, but it didn't stop him from trying."
"Exactly. Which is why Harry needs to play against you. He's the thinking type. I'm impulsive. You'd probably start a winning streak against Harry, though!" Tonks said.
"Oi oi..." Harry muttered. "...You're not going to pipe down until I give it a try, are you?"
"...Fine." Harry said, pushing himself out of the chair he was in and moving to kneel next to Tonks at one side of the coffee table. Andromeda and Lupin were sitting on the couch on the other side. "You can go first, Moony. I don't figure it's going to matter much, though."
Lupin, who had just finished placing the chess pieces back onto the board (and getting thoroughly chewed out by them for losing again), let out a chuckle. "As you wish, Harry. But I won't go easy on you."
"I'm not planning to roll over and surrender either." Harry stated, smiling pleasantly.
"Hey mum, can we have some popcorn?" Tonks staged whispered to her mother.
"No, Nymmy." Andromeda said. "This shouldn't take too long. The popcorn would be done far after they were."
Andromeda, as it turned out, couldn't have been further from the truth. The first (and only) match that Harry had against Lupin wound up being just shy of three hours long. Both men sat and calculated all of their options before moving pieces. And despite her initial whining of being bored, as the match progressed, Tonks found herself glancing back and forth between the two. Harry had gone into deep thought long ago, eyes darting from one piece to the next as he tried to decide what to do. As Harry thought, Lupin tried reading what Harry would do in order to plan out his own line of attack.
After awhile, it looked as though Lupin was going to lose again. Still feeling rather sorry for him, she leaned in to quickly whisper something to Harry. Whatever it had been, it was enough for Harry to lose track of his thoughts for a single turn. It was all Lupin had needed, though.
"Checkmate." Said the werewolf, grinning triumphantly.
"Damn!" Groaned Harry, letting himself keel over backwards onto the floor. He gave Tonks a sour face and muttered, "I was cheated."
"I have no idea what you're talking about." Tonks said, looking innocent.
Letting his arms flop out to the sides, Harry groaned again. "I was so close..."
"If it weren't so late, I'd let you challenge me to a rematch." Lupin said. "As it is, Andi and I need to get going. Albus said he wanted to mention something about the next meeting and as it stands, it might make us late to our dinner reservation."
Harry waved a dismissive hand. "Then get going. If the chess pieces are strewn throughout the house when you return, it's because I chased Nym around, pelting her with them."
"Hey!" Tonks cried.
Laughing, Andromeda walked over, giving her daughter a hug. "Can you two handle your own dinner?"
"I can cook even if she can't." Harry said. "It'd probably help me wind down. Haven't cooked for anyone in ages, it feels like."
Andromeda nodded. "Alright, then. Remus, are you ready?"
"Once I get the queen off of my blasted ear..." Growled the werewolf, as his queen had bit down on his ear and was refusing to let go.
"Oh, just bring her along for the ride. You'll make a fashion statement." Andromeda said.
"That statement being 'look at me, I'm a colossal ponce.'" Harry said, jabbing a finger into the air. A moment later, the queen bounced off his forehead. "Ow!"
"You deserved that." Lupin stated, grinning down at Harry. "Thanks for the matches, you two. It was fun, even if I should have technically lost the last one."
Tonks giggled as Lupin and Andromeda made their way to the front door. Once they had gone, she leaned over Harry and asked, "You aren't mad, are ya?"
"No, but that was a dirty trick." Harry said, cracking one eye open to glare weakly at Tonks.
"Yes, which it why I used it. You're so cute when you're caught off guard." Tonks said, kissing Harry's forehead where the queen had bounced off of it. "So - dinner, then?"
"Food. If I can be bothered to move, I will begin our dinner. Anything sounding good to you or should I rummage around and surprise you?" Asked Harry.
"Mm... surprise me." Tonks said.
"As you wish, milady." Harry said, sitting up and stretching. "Ugh... didn't expect to take that long."
"Lupin looked pretty happy about it, though." Tonks said.
"Yeah. Probably hasn't had many chances to sit and play games lately. I guess it was pretty fun..." Harry admitted.
"See? It's good to let loose and have fun every so often." Tonks said.
"Be glad I'm not going to hold you to your word, by the way." Harry said, giving Tonks the evil eye as he stood up. "I was thinking about it, but decided to be noble about the matter."
Snorting, Tonks swatted Harry on the backside as he walked past (and causing him to let out a highly undignified yelp) and replied, "And that's why I said it. Enough to distract you, not enough to make you go through with it."
"You're evil, woman. Anyone ever told you that?" Harry asked, shaking his head as he disappeared into the kitchen.
"You do. Quite often, in fact!" Tonks chimed, grinning as she got to her feet and hopped in after him. "Want any help?"
"Sure. I'm afraid I'm a bit rusty. This may not be the best thing we've ever eaten." Harry warned.
"Ah, it'll be fine. If not, we can just order a pizza or something." Tonks said.
"Now there's a romantic dinner. Delivered pizza." Harry said.
"Quiet down and get to cooking, O Mighty Chef." Tonks said, sticking out her tongue.
"Aye aye, sir." Harry said, saluting Tonks before turning to inspect the contents of the fridge. "Now then... let's see what our options are."
An hour later, stomachs full, the two returned to the living room. Sitting on the couch, Tonks slumped over against Harry and closed her eyes. Harry blinked, but smiled and put an arm around her.
"What's on your mind?"
"...Probably not a good question these days."
Tonks' head shifted slightly. "What do you mean?"
"I know you aren't entirely happy with who I've become since the merger occurred, Nym. No need to hide it. Unfortunately, I can't return to who I was. I'm not sure how different I'll be after I fuse with the Gauntlet, either. With the full stock of magic to tap into at any time I want, I could be driven insane from the procedure." Harry said, letting his head tilt back and his eyes unfocus. "There's really no telling. In addition, I don't like being so close to Number Four. Malfunctioning magic or no, I want to go and punish him for everything he's ever put me through. One of the greatest moments of my life was using the Sectumsempra on him and lifting him off the ground with it. A part of me simply wants to get rid of him entirely. No one on this planet would miss Vernon Dursley."
"Murder is still murder." Tonks commented.
"Justify Snape." Harry said, glancing down. "He's murdered how many? And for what? To keep his cover? Two men have asked him to willingly kill - Voldemort for giving the orders and Dumbledore for asking him to return. Snape is weak. He's weak and he's a coward. He only looks out for himself. He doesn't give a damn about anyone else. He wants to look useful in Dumbledore's eyes. If he doesn't, he probably thinks the headmaster will abandon him. And so he is allowed to slaughter the innocent. And what of me, Nym? What of me? I had to suffer abuse at the hands of Vernon Dursley for years and yet he still lives. And I would be considered a criminal if I were to kill him."
"...This has been building up for awhile, hasn't it?" Tonks asked, sitting up and looking at Harry properly. "Why didn't you ever talk to me about it?"
"Wrong side was active more often." Harry muttered darkly.
"Oh. ...Look, you can't let this eat you up, Harry. Lots of bad people are allowed to live while good people die too soon. Life is unfair like that." Tonks said, frowning.
"It shouldn't be." Harry said, shaking his head. "Men like Vernon Dursley should be the ones begging on the streets and shivering in the cold of night. And yet he was given everything he'd ever want. A wife, obedient until nearly the end. A son who was raised the same way he was. A steady job, a good home, and a slave to do his god damned bidding! And yet Leon gets killed by the woman who made him suffer all these years. There isn't an ounce of fairness in the world, Nym. Not a bloody bit of it. But as soon as I fuse with the Gauntlet, things are going to change."
"Change? How so?"
Bringing his right hand up and flexing his fingers thoughtfully, Harry murmured, "I won't let anyone suffer the way I did. I won't let them be killed the way he was. I'll protect everyone like I've always said I would. The only difference will be the fact that I'll have access to the power needed to fulfill that promise."
"You probably think I'm foolish to think this way. It doesn't really matter. It won't change anything, after all. Because things will be different once I have full access to my own power. Maybe this time the change will be one you approve of." Harry said, glancing off.
"Hey! I never said... dammit, Harry, stop putting words in my mouth!" Tonks yelled, glaring at Harry. "Sometimes... it just feels like it's still the other you there instead of the one I knew before the split occurred. The way you talk... the talk about killing. It's all the same as him."
"It might get worse after the Gauntlet is reforged. Are you willing to accept that possibility, Nym? That you might lose the me that you loved altogether?" Harry asked.
"...I'm not going to abandon you, if that's what you mean. No matter what happens, I'm not leaving your side. I just don't want to see you get hurt anymore. Don't you get that?" Tonks asked.
"I'm not sure I do." Harry said, closing his eyes. "Sometimes my thoughts get jumbled up and I can't think straight. Sometimes it feels like I can't relate to anyone now that I'm back together again. It makes talking to others difficult. Like right now. Before the Ministry happened and this mess started, this night could have been perfectly romantic. Now, though, look what it's become. Me talking about killing and wondering if you'll still care about me if I lose my mind."
"You haven't gotten things off your chest in a long time, Harry. It's not unusual for you to be feeling confused at times. You've had a rough year. You've been split in two and then rejoined. Anyone would be second-guessing themselves in a situation like that. That you've been able to continue on while acting at least partially like how you used to says a lot about your strength..." Tonks said, leaning against Harry again. "I love you, Harry. That's not going to change, no matter how much you do."
"...Thank you." Harry said, quietly.
Harry opened his eyes slowly, wincing at the loud noise assaulting his ears. This... decidedly was not his magical core's landscape. There was no field, there were no trees, and there was certainly no lake. Eyes squinted, he glanced around himself. He was inside something, apparently, as he wasn't standing on the usual grass he had grown accustomed to seeing. This place felt almost... mechanical. Almost like a clock, really.
As he started to look up and around, it became clear that he was, in fact, inside a clock. Or, at the very least, something resembling one. The floor he was on was grated and a dull grey color. It spread a few feet up the walls, melding into a deep brown that extended as far as he could see. If there was a ceiling to this room, it was somewhere in the inky blackness above him. And, spread along the wall and moving constantly, were massive gears. In some places, the gears seemed to vanish into a wall, yet still managed to move as though they weren't just half there.
A nearby ramp led up to the floor overhead, which looked similar to the floor he was currently on. And, as he walked around the area, he found a latch that made a part of the floor drop. And just as he couldn't see the ceiling, neither could he see the real floor of the place. He was somewhere in the middle of a massive clock tower that, for whatever reason, had replaced his tranquil landscape.
A clanking overhead caused Harry to jump and jerk his head up. Someone was walking around up there. Harry couldn't make much out, but whoever it was certainly didn't seem to be planning an attack on him. He glanced at the ramp leading up. For some odd reason, he felt drawn toward it now, as though something was calling out to him.
Glancing upwards again quickly, Harry turned and did what his instincts seemed to want him to do. As he walked, he kept his eyes focused on the person that was walking on the floor above his own. When he got high enough to see the person from a better angle, he was met with even more confusion. He had never seen this person before in his life.
A young wizard, looking to be in his mid-twenties, was pacing around in a circle, a quiet look of contemplation on his face. Near him was something Harry hadn't noticed from below - it was a thin table. The table held little more than an unlit torch.
"Uh... hello?" Harry said, stepping up and onto the new floor cautiously.
The man stopped, turning to look at Harry strangely for a moment. Then he nodded to himself slowly and murmured, "I've been expecting you. I was worried. It took longer than it should have. I do hope everything's alright. Have a seat."
"But--" Harry began, starting to say that there was nowhere to sit. ...Only there was now. A comfortable-looking chair had apparently popped into existence quite literally out of nowhere. It stood next to the thin table. Cocking an eyebrow and tilting his head, Harry walked toward the chair. "...Who are you?"
"Hm? Oh, yes. My appearance and whatnot. I probably should have warned you before - it might have sped this up a bit." Said the man, looking flustered. As Harry sat down in the chair, the man walked over and extended his hand. "My name is Balthazar Vesperov."
Tonks rolled onto her side and lazily draped an arm over Harry's chest. "So get some sleep. It is one in the morning."
"Can't sleep. Thinking about too much stuff." Harry said, staring up at the ceiling.
"Still? Anything new?" Asked Tonks.
"Not really. Trying to fit everything into place. As usual, a few pieces are missing. Still wanna know who Sergei Wagner really is and why things seem to have revolved around him for awhile now. They aren't telling me things. I hate it when they don't tell me things. Why I haven't gone off on my own yet is beyond me. They clearly don't think too highly of me if they're keeping important information from me. Even if it isn't important to them, it might be to me." Harry explained.
Yawning, Tonks moved her head over to Harry's right shoulder. "I think you're over-thinking things, Harry."
"I'm a Ravenclaw with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Over-thinking things is what I do for a living." Harry said, closing his eyes.
"C'mon. Shut your brain off and sleep. Sleep is good." Tonks stated, nodding slightly. "Sleep is always good."
"Not for me it isn't." Harry muttered.
"Yes, well, I'll be here to chase the nightmares away. So stop thinking, stop talking, and try to get some rest." Tonks murmured, her voice growing quieter as she spoke.
Harry glanced down at the girl, only to find that she had nearly fallen asleep mid-sentence. A faint smile on his face, Harry kissed Tonks' forehead before turning to stare up at the ceiling again. The call from Dumbledore was going to come any day now. He was growing more and more anxious as time passed. It was only a matter of time until he would be spirited off to get the Gauntlet attached to his right arm. It was certainly going to change his and Tonks' sleeping positions, that much was sure. It wasn't going to be quite so bad for him, as he slept on his back all the time anyway. But Tonks had a difficult time falling asleep unless she was on her left side.
'Never thought I'd miss having another voice in my head to talk to.' He thought bitterly, letting his eyes close again. All was quiet after that, save the sound of Tonks' slow breathing and the various night creatures going about their business. It was going to be a long night for Harry, as he wasn't tired in the slightest. And, with all that was going through his head, a lone thought slipped through - one that he felt rather accurately described his situation.
"Balthazar? ...Wait, what? What the hell's going on?" Harry asked, looking bewildered. "What might have sped up a bit?"
"What's going... oh, this! Right, sorry. Mind's overworking itself. What sped up was the change to your magical core." Balthazar said, pacing aimlessly, brow creased. "See, when the Gauntlet fused, it also effectively fused us together. Now me being a spirit, the change is mostly a cosmetic one. But I need a place to dwell so long as I'm here. Somewhere I can effectively control the ebb and flow of your magic!"
"So you... what, overwrote my magical core's landscape with your own? Is that what this is?" Asked Harry.
"No, nothing quite that drastic. But I have twisted it to suit my own needs. This tower will help me immensely. I wasn't quite expecting your magical powers to be so great, Harry. I knew you were strong - you did rescue me successfully, after all - but I wasn't expecting this. I had to think of something on the fly, as the forging process was rapidly killing you. If I hadn't taken control like this, you would've died in a few seconds." Balthazar said. "This place might not make much sense to you, but I know the place inside it out. Try not to worry about it too much. It won't affect you in any noticeable way, I'm sure!"
Harry brought a hand up to rub at his eyes. "Right... okay, next question - why do you look so young?"
"This place exists like a dream would, Harry." Balthazar said, smirking faintly. "Do you think I'd present myself as my real, ghostly form or my youthful one, given the choice? It wasn't fun growing that old only to seal myself in the gem, you know. But I did it for the greater good. It's just a shame it's taken this long for that good to finally come about."
"Okay, I think I see." Harry said, nodding slowly. "Guess that's why I can see without my glasses..."
"You really should get rid of those." Balthazar commented, busying himself across the room. "I was told there's been tremendous advances in magical technology since my days on the planet. I wouldn't mind seeing a bit for myself."
"I know, I know. I've been thinking about magical contacts for awhile now. I may go ahead with it now. I'm going to look different this year anyway - why not, right?" Harry said.
"Exactly!" Balthazar cried, making Harry jump slightly. "So... there's a bit to discuss. And by that, I mean I'm basically going to tell you how to use the Gauntlet."
"And I can chime in if I have questions?"
"Correct. It's actually a very simple process. The moment the thought enters your head, I can read it. I'll help channel your magic safely so that you can release whatever amount you want without risk of endangering yourself. This isn't to say that there isn't an inherent danger to loosing so much magical power at once, however. Let's say you did something that needed eighty percent of your magical pool, just for the sake of argument. Expelling that much of your reserves, even with me here to help, will leave you in bad shape. Imagine blasting holes at the bottom of a barrel full of water, then scrambling to stop them up before all the water flows out." Balthazar explained, walking back towards Harry. "A better way of putting it, especially in your case, would be destroying a part of a dam and then being unable to stop the resulting cascade of water. This isn't to say you can't do it, but I'll try and warn you when you're reaching that."
"No different there, then. Push myself too far, wind up in trouble." Harry said.
"Something like that." Balthazar continued. "Now once you wake up, you're going to be very, very vulnerable for a period of time. You're going to be completely unable to use magic until the Gauntlet finishes cooling down. Do you remember the pain from it burning before you blacked out?"
"All too well." Harry muttered, glancing down at his right arm and rubbing at it. "How long will it take to cool down?"
"Not sure. No one's survived the forging process!" Balthazar said, smiling pleasantly. "We imagined it could take up to a month. In your case, I wouldn't be surprised if we could cut that time in half. Dumbledore spoke to me a good deal about how quickly you seem to recover from things. That's good - it means you'll be back in action sooner. However, you need to know that you'll have to take it slow once the Gauntlet does cool down. You need to get used to me being here and helping to control your power. I'd prefer going somewhere secluded to get a few practice spells off, as well. That way I can gauge your intrinsic power and figure out just how much magic to let through."
"Sounds like a plan. ...Okay, so next question - we're talking about the Gauntlet cooling down, right? Is this just in regards to it finishing the fuse with me?" Harry asked.
"Unfortunately, no. The Gauntlet's going to be physically very hot." Balthazar said. "Now this heat shouldn't affect you, as you're the one wearing it. Dumbledore and I spoke on this. He said that he could figure out a way to keep your arm bandaged up until the cooldown finishes. Something about heat-resistant wrappings or spells or something."
"Great, I'm gonna end up looking like I'm part mummy when school starts." Muttered Harry. "I don't suppose I'll be able to sleep with Nym until the cooldown finishes, huh? She sleeps on that side of me."
"It would probably be best if you slept apart until afterwards, yes." Balthazar confirmed. "And again, I know it's going to be rough at first. But once we get beyond that..."
"All the way."
The very next night turned out to be when Dumbledore had decided to call. Oddly enough, he had called when Tonks had left the room. It had been for the best, though - the headmaster had told him that he wanted to spirit Harry off in the dead of night; that the fewer people knew the better, no matter how close to him they were. Harry argued, but eventually gave up. He could always make it back up to Tonks later. Besides, she knew he was probably going to up and vanish for awhile at some point. And Harry had no doubt that Dumbledore would let the Tonks women know where he was after the fact.
So Harry agreed and Dumbledore quickly excused himself. Around that time, Tonks had wandered back in, asking if Harry had been talking to himself. Harry had shrugged and quickly said that he was just trying to sort things out in his head again. This seemed to be enough for Tonks, who sat back down next to him and stretched out.
When it came time for everyone to turn in, Harry made an excuse for himself, saying he wanted to just sit and think for awhile. Tonks offered to sit up with him, but he shooed her off to bed, saying that he was probably going to just stare at one spot for a few hours. He told her to imagine the chess match, then extend it by not moving whatsoever. Tonks scrunched up her nose at this and had decided, with a great amount of nodding, that it would indeed be better to go and get some sleep. Before leaving, she told Harry that if anything was bugging him, he could tell her.
After that, Harry waited. For nearly an hour, he waited, being bored out of his mind. A mind which, when met with outright silence, seemed to refuse to work for once. He couldn't focus his thoughts if his life depended on it. Everything was finally getting under way. He was finally going to get the Gauntlet put on. As he sat there, he brought his right arm up, running the fingers of his other hand up it. It was going to be odd not having his own hand and skin there after tonight. But it was for the greater good. If he was stuck using the thing forever, then that's what he would do.
After that and until Dumbledore's face finally popped into the fire, Harry subconsciously tried popping the fingers on his right hand every so often.
When the headmaster did show up, he spoke quickly and quietly. "Are you ready? Almost everyone has gathered. All we need is you."
"I'm as ready as I'll ever be." Harry murmured, moving close to the fireplace.
Dumbledore nodded and, in an instant, the flames in the fireplace burned green and flared up. The headmaster stepped through, sparing only a moment to banish the soot he brought along with him.
"Going via Floo, then?" Harry asked, frowning.
"I know you do not like it, Harry. Rufus has connected Andromeda's fireplace with the one in my personal quarters. He is awaiting word of your arrival. Once it gets to him, he will join the rest of us." Dumbledore explained. "After you, then."
Harry sighed, taking a handful of powder and muttering darkly about his knees. Dumbledore told him what, precisely, to say when he gave out a destination to the flames. Harry nodded and did as he was instructed. And, moments later, he came hurtling out of Dumbledore's fireplace. As expected, he landed awkwardly and promptly cracked one of his knees on the floor.
Biting down on his lower lip harshly to cover the need to swear, he quickly rolled over and clutched his aching leg. When Dumbledore came back through, he gave Harry a chuckle before heading over to Fawkes. The phoenix then vanished in an explosion of flames, leaving the echo of his trill behind. Once he had gone, Dumbledore returned to help Harry back to his feet.
Chuckling again, Dumbledore put a hand on Harry's shoulder. "Rufus should be through the fireplace of my office soon. Once he has, Fawkes will return."
"Who's out there?" Harry asked.
"Severus and Poppy, along with several from St. Mungo's. They are to watch your health and do whatever they can to ensure that you do not slip away from us." Dumbledore explained.
"The medical team. Bit surprised Snape's a part of it. I guess it makes sense, though." Harry said, tilting his head somewhat. "...Who else?"
"Obviously, Rufus will be there. In addition, Kingsley has asked to be present. As the new head of the Auror division, he wishes to see the forging of such an old relic for himself..."
"...What aren't you adding to that?" Harry asked, fixing the headmaster with a shrewd gaze.
"...That Dorian Quesland has also asked to be here." Dumbledore said, making a face as he spoke the man's name.
"You've got to be kidding. What the hell does he-- what am I saying, he wants to be here in case something screws up." Harry said, shaking his head. "There was nothing you could do to keep him away?"
"I do not like him being here any more than you do, Harry. But we must try to keep Muggle and wizard relationships up, even if it means having someone of his nature here. Try not to worry too much, though. If something does go wrong - and I firmly believe that nothing will - then I will do everything in my power to ensure that you do not get taken off to Torchwood Four in the dead of night."
"Appreciated. The last thing I need is for those people to dissect me like I was some kind of bloody science experiment. Are they still trying to keep up the bluff that it's missing?" Asked Harry.
"So it would seem." Dumbledore said. "If you ask me, they are not doing a very good job of it."
"Yeah, that's what I was gonna say." Harry said. "I found out where it was and I'm 'merely' a student. It's their own fault, asking for wards around the place."
Dumbledore opened his mouth to say something, but Fawkes suddenly reappeared.
"Ah. I take it Rufus is on his way?" Asked the headmaster.
Fawkes let out a series of soft chirps.
"I will take that as an affirmative." Dumbledore said, smiling. "Well then, Harry - shall we?"
"If we must. I want you to know that any harm that might come to Dorian Quesland should be considered an accident and that I don't think he's a greedy, pontificating buffoon."
"Duly noted." Replied the headmaster, his tone dry. Walking over to the door to his quarters, he pulled it open and took a step back. "After you."
"There's something I've been meaning to ask."
Harry glanced over. "What kind of man were you in life?"
"Well," Replied Balthazar, cocking his head to one side, "I suppose I was good enough. I did help create the Gauntlet, after all. My intentions have always been good. But I wasn't a saint or anything. Why?"
"Just curious as to what path you walked. There might be a few things I want to do that most wouldn't approve of."
"Before I answer that, I think you should know a bit more about my past. This may take awhile..." Harry said.
"What else are we going to spend time doing?" Asked Balthazar, turning to scan a row of books. "It's going to be awhile before you wake up, after all."
"Alright. Just... wait until the end and hear me out, okay? There's something I've wanted to do for about a year now. And once the Gauntlet cools down, I think I can finally realize that dream." Harry said, smiling darkly.
Letting out a quiet groan, Harry opened his eyes. Bad idea. A groan escaped from his dry mouth and he coughed. "Ugh..."
"Awake already? Always the one to defy the odds." Dumbledore chuckled. The headmaster was sitting in a chair across the room, reading a book. "How are you feeling?"
"Hot." Harry murmured.
"That would be the Gauntlet. Do not worry, it will cool off soon. Would you care for something to drink?"
"Very, very cold water." Harry said, cracking one eye open again. "Maybe less light."
"Of course." Said Dumbledore. Marking his place in the book, Dumbledore set it down before moving to draw the curtains. "Easier on your eyes?"
As Dumbledore went to prepare a cold glass of water, Harry forced himself to sit up. "It... it isn't really heavy at all." He said, glancing down at the Gauntlet. The device had devoured his right arm nearly to his elbow, where a curved, blade-like extension jutted out from the back side. It was glowing white at the moment, but he knew that would eventually fade to red, then finally to gold. From what he could tell, though, the Gauntlet looked bulky. It was certainly different from the small, broken version he had put on. He could only just make out the glowing of the three gems that had been slid into place on the back of where his wrist should have been. Sitting in a row, the gems almost seemed to pulse every few seconds.
"How ya doin' in there?" Harry asked, rubbing his throat with his left hand as he looked at the Soul.
"Tired, but better." Came Balthazar's weary voice. "I'll be able to manifest soon, I feel. But it may be awhile."
"Sounds like we're both gonna have to take it easy for a few days." Harry said. Dumbledore walked back over then, holding the glass of water out. "Thanks."
He winced as the cold liquid slid down his throat. "Sss... oh man. If I'm never in a situation like this again, it'll be too soon..." He grumbled. Looking back up at the headmaster, he asked, "So what's happened since you got me?"
"We have relocated people back to Number Twelve for now." Dumbledore said. "I believe you are going to get an earful from Miss Tonks next you see her. And for that, I apologize."
"I'd believe that a lot more if you weren't trying to bite back a grin." Harry said, glaring weakly at Dumbledore. "...Oh man, I feel like I've been run over by a truck. When do you think I'll be good to join the others?"
"As soon as you can stand up without feeling dizzy and not a moment sooner. Poppy would have my head otherwise." Dumbledore stated, moving back across the room to sit back down. "Concentrate on resting, Harry. Nothing has been happening in the time since I got you. It has been a quiet couple of days. Nothing more, nothing less. Rather boring, in fact."
"I hate resting. I hate getting damaged to the point of needing to rest. ...And despite that, I want to kill Voldemort so I can rest. If that makes sense." Harry said, bringing the glass of water up to his mouth again. "I dunno how quiet the world'll be after I bring him down, but it'll have to be better than it is now."
"Undoubtedly true." Dumbledore said, conjuring a small ball of light to read by. As he picked his book back up, he looked up at Harry and smiled. "The important thing, however, is that we have a better chance at ending his insane plans sooner now that you have the Gauntlet. And the sooner that happens, the sooner all of us can rest."
Yawning, Harry leaned over and set the half-empty glass on the table next to the bed. He frowned as he slid back down in the bed. "I wonder how the devil I'm going to write with this thing on my hand."
"You'll have to get used to holding things differently. I can assist you in not discharging any magic from the fingertips of the Gauntlet, but you'll ultimately be the one who decides what happens." Balthazar said. "A bit of advice - start with small, soft things that can't be broken if we drop them. Pillows, perhaps. We can move up from there. When you can hold a smooth glass without accidentally breaking it or having it slip out of your hand, you'll be back to having full use of your hand."
"This summer's gonna suck." Harry muttered, closing his eyes. "Alright, I'm gonna get some more sleep. Thinking about this is making my head hurt."
"Rest well, then." Dumbledore said.
Author's Notes: And so we begin what very well may be the final book of the R-Series. It's been a long journey to get to this point. And to be honest, I don't have it all planned out now. All of my plans were mainly for Citadel. But I've had a few plot bunnies pop up, so I have a good direction to take this book in. It's just a matter of getting there. As you can tell, this is probably going to be a long book. It wouldn't surprise me if I managed to surpass Citadel's word count. For those who found this and are confused by the events going on - and I always have some asking this with each book - this is book 7 of 7 (I think) in a series. You can find them all on my profile, so go start with Philosopher's Stone. Work your way through the first five as you would the canon ones, as the names follow. Citadel comes after that. Then you'll get back here.
And yes, you'll get to see the very start of the forging process. Eventually.
And not a word on Quesland, you hooligans. I hate Torchwood. But I couldn't resist. It was just too simple. Besides, I threw in a few Who references in past books. Why not another, ya know? Make the universe a smaller place. This IS the kind of thing they'd love getting ahold of. A weird relic with so much destructive potential surely would interest them.
Anyway, welcome to book 7 and I hope you enjoy the ride! There's going to be a few big surprises to come, one of which no one will see coming. Maybe two. Or more. I haven't decided. The book will have its fair share of deaths. One of them has been written since book 1. And yes, I plan to do it in style. No, you don't get any hints as to who all is going to fail to make it to the end of the year.
Suffice to say that things are going to get interesting for awhile. The next chapter will deal with Harry coming to terms with having the Gauntlet on his hand along with the beginnings of what some might consider a descent back into madness, which will be further expanded upon in chapter 3. And I know everyone will enjoy chapter 3. If you read between the lines in this chapter, you might see what's coming. Guesses, anyone?