Summary: As the Second War begins, Voldemort becomes obsessed with harnessing the realm of Old Magic to his own ends. Meanwhile, Harry has to contend with four mysterious enemies in a race to reach the Old World and control the very essence of magic itself.
A/N: This is my first and only AN, so pay attention. This is a sequel to By the Divining Light, though it's probably understandable if you don't want to read that, this is a little less dry than By the Divining Light and more canonish also. This is highly AU, though less AU than Skitterleap, so if you hated that, you might well like this.
Chapter One: Dead Cities and Lost Ghosts
A storm approached, borne on the early morning breeze. It would be the second of the week. Albus Dumbledore could feel it in his bones, could taste the building charge in the air as clearly as he could taste the salt on the sea breeze. It was unnatural.
The birds that roosted here, nesting what crevices the basalt afforded them, could sense it too. There was an apprehension in their movements, in their nervous twittering.
Yet it was not the storm that concerned Dumbledore. He'd known that opening one of the long forgotten places of the world would have severe consequences and he also knew these storms were only the tip of an almighty iceberg.
No, it was not the storms that bothered Dumbledore so much as the calm. It had been months since the resurrection of the Dark Lord, but Voldemort was still yet to make a decisive move. They had almost lost Emmeline Vance, true, but the assassination attempt had been subtle and investigations had been inconclusive.
The calm only suggested one thing to Dumbledore, that Voldemort had learned from his past mistakes and this too weighed heavily on his mind. He had, perhaps foolishly, expected the war to continue where it had halted fourteen years ago. That Voldemort was adapting could only mean one thing.
This was the beginning of a new war; a second war.
And though Voldemort was unnervingly quiet there were whisperings in the dark places, telling tales that chilled the Headmaster's blood. He had quietly harboured the suspicion for more than a decade that Voldemort had employed the use of horcruxes and this theory had been confirmed by Harry and Neville in the Chamber of Secrets.
However, now his sources brought him stories of Voldemort's desire for knowledge. Knowledge of the old world. This unnerved Albus Dumbledore the most. He knew firsthand the terror and power that was hidden in the dark. Indeed, he also knew that he and Harry had barely scratched the surface in their own foray into the deep.
Indeed this place, the Giant's Causeway, was steeped in the oldest magic. It was a place of the old times, forged in the days before there were any human eyes to look upon it. The magic was so deep, so old that even the muggles could feel it.
Although muggle and wizard folk law spoke of warring giants, Dumbledore had his own suspicions. The magic here felt too akin to that which had sealed the Plain of Delight. If Dumbledore was correct and he so often was, there was a gateway here.
Though to what, he dreaded to think.
The magic here was on a scale that was almost unconceivable to him. Perhaps it was for this reason that it had attracted so little wizarding attention, perhaps it was merely the obscurity of the magic involved. It was fair to say that Dumbledore had a perspective on the old magic that neither ancient nor modern scholars would have possessed.
This, if anything, made Dumbledore grateful. As far as he was concerned, whatever was beyond the gateway was best left undisturbed. Yet he was here, meditating on the problem of opening the gateway for a single reason.
The whispers that had reached the Headmaster's ears told him of Voldemort's growing curiosity with the Giant's Causeway and this terrified him. Whatever power the realm beyond held could not fall into his grasp and so against all his better judgement, Dumbledore's hand was forced.
It was imperative he beat Voldemort to opening the gateway.
At last he turned his view from the sea and to the hexagonal pillars of basalt that stretched into the sea as though in a bid to touch the horizon. And, as he contemplated the columns, the skeletal fingers of adventure beckoned him forward.
With a long-suffering sigh and a small smile, Dumbledore began to descend from the Aird Snout.
It was not particularly hard going. The Sheppard's Path, a long flight of narrow stairs cut into the hillside, provided an easy gradient. Yet, something sinister emanated from the Grand Causeway, a mild discomfort that only grew in severity as he approached.
As he walked out onto the causeway itself, Dumbledore became acutely aware that something was terribly wrong with this place. He realised that he'd stepped into an area of stale, ancient magic, without even noticing. He paused and swallowed, every fibre of his being urging him to go back and for a moment he faltered and turned slightly, eager to withdraw.
No, it would not do to turn back now. Too high a stake rested on his shoulders.
He pressed forward determinedly, though his body shook with a climbing terror and sweat broke out on his forehead and hands. Each step became a mile, the end of the causeway, which couldn't have been more than a hundred meters away became the longest distance he had ever travelled.
With each step it felt as though his viscera were being scooped from his stomach and his vision began to swim. An ungodly wind broke out around him, blowing into his face and body as though trying to prevent him from reaching the end. The world around him darkened and became washed out and stained with a dull violet. Screams echoed through his mind and he fell to his hands and knees, reduced to a halting crawl for the final few yards.
Then as his fingers brushed the waves lapping at the edge of the farthest point of the peninsular, the world righted itself. Colour rushed back to his vision, the wind halted, and his body which had been shaking and flushed felt as though it had never changed at all. His legs which had felt leaden returned to him and he stood gently. Even the screaming in his head had gone, leaving him with only the calls of the gulls and the break of the waves.
Albus Dumbledore rose from his hands and knees and for a moment composed himself.
This situation was most certainly odd.
Never before had he heard of this effect when approaching the end of the causeway. Indeed, he had been here once before as a young man and encountered no such malevolence. For a moment, the fleeting idea that Voldemort had beaten him here came to him, but it was a foolish premise. The Dark Lord didn't trivialise himself with illusions. If it had been Tom Riddle's handiwork, it would have almost certainly been lethal.
Once more, he debated going back. Surely this shouldn't be the work of a man his age. Harry would almost definitely jump at the opportunity to explore this magic.
Then, in a moment of introspection, Dumbledore caught hold of this thought and examined it carefully.
This, he decided, was not his thought. Dumbledore had never been one to pass over a job that he could do himself. Especially one as dangerous as this. A flush of anger rose through the venerable headmaster and he silently berated himself for not noticing the invasion of his mind that he was now all too aware of.
A little prickle behind the eyes was all the sensation he needed to know that any thoughts may not be his own, his memories, affections, his entire outlook could be being modified without his knowledge.
Upon this realisation, he closed his eyes tight shut and the itch behind his eye vanished and his head cleared.
Confusion reigned in the headmaster's head for a few moments. A plethora of ideas, concepts and theories circled in his head, each more bizarre and unlikely than the last. Was he under attack? Had someone recently enchanted this stretch of causeway to entrap or bewitch him? Was this a latent effect of the elf's influence in the Plain of Delight?
No, he reasoned, all of those options would have manifested in another way. Clearly this magic had been here for millennia, so insipid was it that it had almost certainly been here for as long as the rocks had been. Yet he had walked this before as a young man and felt no ill effects. That could only mean one of two things; someone had awakened the magic or he had awakened something in himself in the decades since.
Gingerly, he opened his eyes, ever wary of the same prickling behind his eyes. It didn't come.
Warily, he reached out with his fingers into the air above the sea and felt them brush against a ridge in the air. His nimble fingers explored the phenomenon carefully. A putrid magic emanated from it, magic that reeked of ozone and secrets.
Dumbledore shuddered. There was something inherently alien about this magic. It was like nothing he'd ever known and its purpose evaded him. On his third pass over the ridge, trailing his index finger down the middle he was suddenly struck by vertigo and he had to crouch low to avoid falling.
As his hands touched the stones beneath his feet, his vision was suddenly overwhelmed once more. A blinding hot pain lanced through his brain, forcing his eyes close as he hissed in agony.
When he opened his eyes again, he was no longer standing on the Grand Causeway. Indeed, he was no longer standing on anything. With a sudden jolt of horror, Dumbledore realised he was falling. Yet no wind buffeted him as he fell and as he tried to draw breath, he inhaled not life giving air, but a hideous mix of sulphur and carbon dioxide.
Around him, the world glowed red with molten magma that gushed through holes in the walls of the deep pit he was descending into. At intervals along the walls, there was what looked like great cogs, machinery of some kind, turning laboriously as magma gushed through wheels, powering them.
Oddly, as soon as the horror had come, it left him. Instead it had merely been replaced with an odd sense of peace. The most notable sensation he noticed was an all pervasive magic that saturated everything around him. He was drowning in an ocean of magic.
Intrigued, Dumbledore allowed his own magic to investigate that which enveloped him. His consciousness detached from his body and peered out into the magic around him.
And the magic peered back at him.
With a gasp, Dumbledore fell backwards onto the basalt hexagons and lay there panting. He was wonderfully grateful for each gasp of air that he inhaled and for a long, glorious moment, he did nothing but enjoy the sweet tang of the salt air against his tongue and the faint tickle of the water against his feet.
When he rose, he was aware that he was no longer alone.
"Hello Tom," he said quietly and turned to face his old student, his hand slipping inside his pocket, seeking his wand.
"I wouldn't do that, Dumbledore," replied Voldemort lightly. "This magic does not respond well to wand waving."
He casually held up his left hand and Dumbledore was shocked to see the tips of Voldemort's fingers gave way to a strange gaseous secretion.
"Fascinating, isn't it?" asked Voldemort, looking down at his fingers interestedly.
Dumbledore hesitated slightly. This was certainly not what he'd come to expect from Tom Riddle.
"You are a different person today, Tom."
Voldemort laughed and it was no longer the high-pitched shriek that Dumbledore remembered. There was nothing of the old insanity, the desperation that had existed there before. It was rational and deep. Cold fear began to creep into the pit of the Headmaster's stomach.
Voldemort met his eyes and for the first time in twenty years, the two pairs of blue eyes gazed interestedly into each other's. Then Voldemort laughed again, lightly.
"Don't tell me you didn't feel it Albus?" he said hoarsely, almost rapturous in tone. "You stared into the abyss just as I did. Don't tell me you didn't feel the life blood of magic flow around you, the sheer power."
He turned away and Dumbledore seriously considered cursing him in the back. This Voldemort was rational and that terrified him far more than his insanity. Insanity was far more predictable, far less threatening than this.
"It humbled me, Dumbledore," he said finally. "Here I was, caught up in parlour tricks and my own cleverness. I fought for a meagre immortality, for the power to control Britain. Yet, in all this time, what have I achieved?"
He stepped forward towards Dumbledore and for the first time the headmaster saw the feverish gleam in his eye. The excitement in his posture. The smile on his twisted face. Yet, it was certainly less twisted than it had been in Harry's memories.
"I have played for trinkets, for mediocrity. But my eyes are open now. I've seen the stakes that I could play for and they're beyond your wildest dreams, Albus."
He turned his head aside slightly to stare across the water that stretched off toward the horizon and Dumbledore could see the high cheek bones returning, vestiges of Tom Riddle's handsomeness in Voldemort's face.
"You have forsaken your horcruxes?" asked the headmaster in amazement. "You no longer fear death?"
"Where we go, Dumbledore, death would not dare follow."
Dumbledore stared at him for a moment, his mind a whirling confusion of thoughts. Finally, he settled on a simple question.
"Don't tell me you don't want to come Dumbledore. I've read your essays, I know your mind. We're more akin than you dare admit, Albus. Think of it; the power of your beloved Hallows wouldn't begin to compare with the power we'd wield. We'd be Gods amongst ants. Me and you, Albus; ruling the world, for eternity." A smile spread across Voldemort's lips. A genuine smile. "For the greater good."
Dumbledore stared at him, his mouth dry, words momentarily lost to him. Then sadly, he sighed and shook his head.
"You have not changed as much as I'd hoped, Tom."
Anger crossed Voldemort's face and he took another step closer to Dumbledore and his eyes gleamed with passion as he spoke, vitriol leaking from every syllable.
"For once in your life, Albus. Cast down your chains of mediocrity! Join me and live to your full potential. Think of the world of possibilities. No more war, no more hate, no more suffering, ever."
"What you seek doesn't exist, Tom," said Dumbledore, his tone gentle, as though speaking to a young boy. "There is power you ought never to seek and believe me, if you go looking for it, I will be there to oppose you every step of the way."
Voldemort stared into his eyes a moment longer, then wavered and spun away.
"Fine," he snapped. "Oppose me and die, that's what it boils down to in the end, Dumbledore. Oppose me and die."
"You won't find what you seek, Voldemort," said Dumbledore and the Dark Lord, who'd been midway through apparition, halted and turned to stare in surprise. "There's nothing there, just dead cities and lost ghosts. An echo of a time long gone. It was hidden for a reason, let it stay that way."
Voldemort regarded him momentarily and then disappeared, leaving Dumbledore alone with the sea and the stone and the gulls.
"I have a feeling," Dumbledore confided in a passing fulmar. "That this is going to be a very different war indeed."
"Caw!" said the fulmar and took off into the early morning sky.