So the main reason why this update was so quick was because this was initially part of chapter eleven, but when I started writing it, I realized that there were pieces in here that I still wanted to tweak (and, as it always is, a ton of stuff I wanted to add to this particular sequence of events). Thus, I cut it and posted separately.

So here's…chapter eleven and three-quarters. Because my sense of humour sucks like that.

Thank you to everyone who's been so incredibly supportive!

Chapter Twelve

The Marked

"I need you two to clarify this for me," Draco said, feeling extremely on-edge after his comrades' revelation, "because I'm certainly missing something."

"Our magic isn't filtering the way it has been, lately," Bakura explained, reiterating what he'd already told Draco a moment before. "It's like our friend is holding us captive, again. It's been that way since we got here, but it has only just become…prevalent."

"I don't like your definition of friend," Malik muttered.

Draco did not like the way that information was being withheld from him. Sure, he knew that he wasn't a close friend, but they were depending on each other for survival. Some secrets just weren't a luxury that they got to keep. Bakura, especially, seemed very concerned with something, and Draco wanted to know what that was.

"And explain that for me, too," Draco said to Bakura, locking eyes with the white-haired spirit.

"What?" Malik queried. "You mean his definition of friend?"

Draco rolled his eyes. "No. Explain why it's Bakura when I thought it was Ryou, that whole time."

Draco knew that he wasn't nearly as adept as Malik at knowing whether it was Bakura or Ryou in control, but he liked to think that he'd begun to notice the patterns and physical differences. Most of the time, he could tell. This time, he'd genuinely been convinced it was Ryou.

"It was both of us, while the others were here," Bakura clarified, his eyes narrowed and harsh. He appeared frustrated. "Ryou couldn't pull total control – ever since we started fighting this other magic, he's been having difficulties."

"Ah," Draco said, realization dawning. "Those were the 'difficulties' you mentioned before."

That was definitely a more serious complication than Draco had been initially expecting. This threw a wrench into just about everything. Were they going to hesitate to use their magic, now that this issue with Ryou had cropped up? Draco didn't want to play the bad guy, but avoiding their power was going to get everyone killed.

Still, he wasn't going to expect Bakura to do anything that would harm Ryou. He'd heard bits and pieces, but he knew enough that Ryou and Bakura's relationship had been a rocky one, and their bond was more recent than an outsider would expect.

Bakura's expression was still hard. "We don't know what to do about it."

Draco was pleased that he was finally in the loop about what had been concerning the other two about Ryou this whole time. Then, like a light, a realization hit him. "You don't think he'll be completely pushed out, do you?"

Draco may not have need for friends, but he respected Ryou and all that the young man had gone through. He was the last person who deserved to disappear.

Bakura gritted his teeth. He met Malik's eyes and the blonde nodded at him. "We don't know," he said finally.

Draco felt his head bob, but he didn't really actively realize the motion. Bakura's words were sobering and not just a little upsetting. Draco swallowed and took a breath. "I'm sorry," he murmured. He didn't know what else to say.

Bakura looked surprised, but the expression faded quickly. "Don't be. There's nothing any mortals could do to fix this."

Malik's face scrunched up at Bakura's words. "God, I thought we'd kicked you of that 'everyone's a mortal' habit." It was meant to be humorous, but Draco knew that it was one of those 'inside jokes' that he was probably never going to have explained to him.

It seemed to break the tension for Bakura, because the spirit's lips quirked ever-so-slightly. The white-haired male shook his head at his friend before leaning back into the couch.

The room fell into silence. Draco stewed over the fact that he was still missing something, but he suddenly wasn't certain if, in light of his new knowledge, the other two would be receptive to further grilling by him.

The inner-debate was ended for him when Malik broke the silence:

"Potter has a connection to the Dark Lord," Malik said, his voice softer than was typical for him. He stepped to the couch adjacent to Bakura and sagged into it, as if the words had physically drained him.

"Of course he does," Draco answered. "That scar on his head…the Dark Lord cast the killing curse on him, but it didn't work."

That certainly seemed to pique Malik's interest, probably because it was a connector between Malik and Harry – both had survived the killing curse.

"I survived because Marik's soul was destroyed in my place," Malik explained, though Draco had already known this. "I wonder what Potter's excuse was."

"I honestly doubt he had another soul dwelling in the dark corners of his mind," Draco retorted dryly. From what he'd learned from his father, it had had something to do with Potter's mother, and undying love.

Honestly, the guy was just a poster-boy for the most disgustingly sweet drivel anyone could possibly conjure up.

"The connection is strong, though," Bakura said, drawing the conversation back to what was the intended focus. "Ryou's difficulty maintaining control over the body is proof enough of that."

"And I couldn't use my magic while he was in the room," Malik added. "It's no coincidence that it appeared the moment he left."

Bakura's jaw clenched, and suddenly the centre of his shirt glowed – the Ring – and his eyes faded to a natural brown.

"I can take control now, too," Ryou said quietly, looking a bit haggard. Draco had to wonder how much his fight for control was taking out of him.

"This can't be coincidence," Malik said.

Their revelation made Draco wonder. What was the connection between Potter and the Dark Lord? His father had spoken of a prophecy, one stating that one had to kill the other. Was that the connection, or was it something deeper?

The Dark Lord had also spoken about being able to access Potter's mind; that he was able to see some things that Potter saw. He had speculated that it went both ways, too. Draco had never thought much of it…until it suddenly became the key to something much bigger. The Dark Lord was a skilled Occlumens, but was it just Occlumency that allowed the Dark Lord access to Harry Potter, or was it something else?

Potter had a similar barrier-effect on Shadow Magic to what the Dark Lord did. That meant that there was something in Potter that was so saturated in wizard's magic that it cancelled out the others' power.

Or, Draco wondered, perhaps it was that something in Potter was a portal for the Dark Lord's power, in a sense. Was it Potter blocking it himself, or was it the Dark Lord – whether he knew it or not – blocking the magic through Potter?

There were way too many questions, and none of which could be answered. Draco doubted that even Potter could answer them.

The front door opened, and in walked Luna and Granger. Luna looked pleased with herself – or perhaps it was just her average daydreaming expression – and Granger looked surprisingly calm.

Draco was going to have to owe Luna Lovegood one, after this.

"I think we've come to an agreement," Hermione announced, and she met their eyes individually. Draco thought he was going to go into shock when she met his eyes without any noticeable disgust or hatred. "Harry, Ron and I will leave tomorrow morning. You three will go with Luna and try to get back to Hogwarts. Once we have everything we need to find, we'll meet you back there."

"There's stuff you still don't know about what could happen." Malik warned. At Hermione's frown, he elaborated with a frustrated sigh. "We don't know for certain, but if what we think is going to happen, happens-"

"-then we'll be at the school," Luna said softly, "and we'll do what we can."

"Harry Potter was in Ryou's vision," Bakura said, ignoring Hermione's confused expression at him referring to Ryou as another person. "That means we need to make sure he's present when all of this happens."

"How is Ryou?" Luna queried. "Because it was an awful lot of you today, I think."

That statement seemed to floor everyone present. It surprised Bakura, because he clearly hadn't realized just how closely Luna had been observing him. Draco was shocked because how could she tell? Hermione was gaping like some kind of fish, staring at Luna and then Bakura and then back again, because she was the only one who actually had absolutely no idea what was going on.

"Two souls in one body," Bakura explained shortly, stuffing his hands into his pockets. "I'm Bakura."

"Most of who you were talking to, earlier, was Ryou. Bakura's the spirit who possesses the Ring that Ryou showed you." Draco explained, knowing that Bakura was being a bit unhelpful to someone who didn't know anything about his magic. "Ryou's the nice one."

Bakura cast him a withering glare. Draco ignored it.

"I won't take it back. It's true and you know it."

Malik stood, but stumbled back into the couch with a strange look on his face. Draco didn't really know what to make of that. Instead, he just made his way over to the fireplace to observe the photographs resting there.

All of them were of red-haired people – red-haired children, red-haired adults. The curious thing, Draco thought, was that there was one that did not seem to move. It stood out for more than just that reason, because it was a photo of a young blonde child – similar in looks to Fleur, but several years younger.

"Anyways," Hermione said, "Luna knows a way back to Hogwarts, and we have to go to Diagon Alley."

That had been awfully forthcoming of her, Draco had to note. Thankfully, she was starting to give some information.

"Why Diagon Alley…?" Draco asked, testing the waters to see if he might get anything else out of her, while she was feeling like sharing. He traced his fingers along the frame of the girl's photograph before slowly making eye-contact with Granger.

Her lips pursed, and Draco realized he had probably just completely overstepped his welcome on things. One step forward, two steps back. What a frustrating, repeatedly accurate phrase.

To avoid causing another violent altercation with the young woman, Draco raised his hands up in surrender. He'd been surrendering way too much, these days. "Okay, I get it. If going to the school is going to be our best move, then we'll go. I was just curious."

Hermione still looked affronted, but that wasn't what caught Draco's interest. It was the guardedness in her face, the twinge of panic that Draco recognized in anyone who was failing miserably at hiding the fact that they were keeping a very big secret.

Then it dawned on him.

"You're looking for what the Dark Lord had Bellatrix hide," Draco breathed, a grin curling his lips. "You're going to Gringotts."

If the sour expression on Granger's face was any indication, he'd hit the mark.

"How do you know that?" Hermione asked, her voice deceptively soft. Draco could see her hand inching to her pocket, probably so that she could be the first to pull a wand if Draco was going to cause trouble.

He snorted at the reaction and rolled his eyes. "This is not going to win me points," he mused, "but you three weren't the only ones I liked to keep tabs on. I did sneak around on family, too."

"You overheard something," Hermione deduced. She then nodded firmly, as if ascertaining that Draco wasn't about to call the Dark Lord to ruin all of their plans.

Or, at least, that's what he hoped she was nodding about. He'd really been far more forthcoming about his own situation than he'd wanted to be, and he'd behaved too openly. He didn't know what else he could do to make her believe him. He really didn't.

The door banged open and in came Amos, Bill, and Percy. They all carried bags and chatted amicably, completely ignoring the kids in the living room as they made their way toward the kitchen.

"Bill?" queried a musical, accented voice from upstairs. Fleur descended the steps in a flurry, a brilliant smile on her face as she dashed after them and into the kitchen. "I have missed you so much today," Draco heard her say, her voice floating through the room from the small kitchen.

Luna smiled toward the kitchen. "I should probably offer to help. They have been taking care of me." That said, she skipped off after the others.

Apparently Luna's exit seemed to end all other conversation – why did one person leaving always seem to end the conversation? Hermione spun on her heel, quickly muttering something about Potter, and made for the stairwell.

Bakura and Draco watched as Hermione vanished up the stairs, doubtlessly to discuss matters with her two friends. Luna really had to have done a number on her, because she'd been astoundingly docile for the majority of the conversation since her return.

The one who's leaving surprised Draco was Malik, who stood up abruptly from the couch and made for the front door. "I need air," was his only explanation as he rushed out the doorway like someone had lit a fire under him.

Peculiar, Draco thought. He'd only just found out what had been wrong with Bakura and Ryou. If this was another strange secret that was going to be kept from him for another frustratingly long period of time, Draco was going to throw a fit.

"That does not bode well," Bakura murmured under his breath, eyes darting away from where Malik had left as if trying to redirect the focus. He probably hadn't realized that Draco had heard him.

Draco deliberately positioned himself opposite Bakura, forcing the spirit to meet his eyes. Bakura always made eye contact with someone who challenged him. It was a quirk he'd noticed a long time ago. "What's up with Malik?" Draco queried, glancing at the door with a fervent expression and hoping that Bakura would divulge something.

Bakura's hands were still shoved in his pockets, and he offered a vague shrug. "I don't know. Leave him for now."

Well, that blew that attempt. Draco huffed, not sure whether Bakura was keeping something from him or if the spirit actually didn't know. Probably a little of both, if Draco knew a bit of how Bakura operated.

"Whatever," Draco said, a flippant agreement. He didn't care when Bakura cocked a brow at his obvious irritation. Let Bakura know that his response had annoyed him. At least Draco wasn't the one hiding things.

He frowned at the hearth, glaring into the burned wood as if all of his frustration could light it again. "And what of Granger's plans?" he asked after a few moments. Regardless of Malik's odd behaviour, they had business to attend to.

"Splitting up, you mean," Bakura deduced.

Draco nodded in confirmation. "It's a bad idea. We have strength in numbers. We've barely survived so far with the three of us, and from what we've seen and heard from them, it sounds like so have they."

If Bakura had thoughts to add, he didn't indicate it. He just sat down on the couch, looking like a lion after a satisfying hunt. Draco found Bakura's 'I'm plotting' smile exceptionally disconcerting.

Draco took the cue, though, and also sat down, letting the tension run from his body. Though there had been so much trouble here, it was nice to not be against a real threat, for a few moments.

He let his head fall back against the back of the couch, his face pointed up to the ceiling. He knew what was coming next. He knew that they were about to make a decision that would blow all trust out of the water and possibly screw everything far worse than their agreement would. "We're not going to follow their plans, are we?"

Bakura grinned. "Of course we aren't."

Of course not.

Draco blew out a semi-frustrated sigh. He wasn't much for following orders, certainly not those issued by someone like Hermione Granger, but Draco also knew not to play with fire. "We're going to get burned," he said aloud.

"Most likely," Bakura admitted, but the admittance came only with a smile that appeared like the acceptance of a challenge. Draco did not like that look at all.

He really was starting to wonder if he was the only one among the four of them who had any true sense of self-preservation. Malik had survived the killing curse because another 'soul' existed in his body. Draco, however, knew that he was walking a thin line at all times. Two words, and he'd be dead.

His hand trailed down to his forearm, dancing along the skin that he knew was marked with a terrible symbol. He looked up and caught Bakura's gaze, which had gone from smug to focus in an instant. He was grateful to note, however, that the gaze was neither cautious nor concerned. He liked being trusted – or so he had decided more recently than most would find appropriate.

"I want to be rid of it," Draco clarified, so that Bakura could understand why he looked as upset as he knew he did.

"We kill the Snake," Bakura answered with ice in his tone, "and you will get that respite."

Draco laughed without humour, rolling his sleeve so that he could look at the Devil's handiwork directly. "Only that?"

"Yes. Some of it will always be there," Bakura said, looking remarkably wise and forlorn in that moment. "Your choices stay with you until death." He gave Draco's arm a pointed glance. "Some more visibly than others."

"It wasn't my choice," Draco choked, surprised by how much emotion this conversation had incurred in him. "Not really. My father made the decision for me."

Bakura eyed him for a moment, and Draco was suddenly reminded of just how old this spirit truly was. "Then perhaps you and Harry Potter have far more in common than you realize."

Draco scowled at those words. "How so?"

"You both bear the marks of decisions made in your stead," the spirit remarked.

Draco scoffed in frustration and jerked his sleeve back down to his wrist. Bakura's words rung more truly than he wanted them to. Indeed, they bore marks they would never get rid of.

But then, Draco noted to himself, Potter's was a symbol of greatness. It was the mark that made him all the things that people loved him for, and would love him for eternally. Draco bore only a mark of shame – a dark thing forever attached to him.

Not so similar, Draco thought to himself.

Malik closed the door behind him, stumbling down the steps and out onto the sand. He groaned as the sunlight hit his eyes, shielding them with his hand.

Ryou and Bakura were going to kill him. They were going to demand what was wrong and then probably go crazy on him for having kept this from them. Whatever this was.

Draco was probably going to throw a total hissy fit, because this was only another wrench in their plans and another secret he'd barely understand.

His entire body convulsed, and Malik forced himself to move away from the vicinity of the cottage's windows. He needed to find someplace where he could be alone, where he could ride this out – again, whatever this was – in solitude.


He felt like he had been lit on fire. It was invisible fire that radiated from his core and burned outwards, unbearable and painful and terrifying. Malik didn't like to be scared. Fear was something that had brought about the first Marik, the first monster that had almost destroyed his loved ones and then the world.

Malik had to just about bite straight through his lower lip to keep himself from screaming. That would only send people running – or worse, cause discord among Harry and his friends about the strangeness of his sudden malady.

He made his way down the beach, finding salvation at the base of a relatively tall sand dune. He dropped to the ground, leaning back against the hot sand. He fisted a hand in his shirt, taking deep breaths and hoping he could will away the pain.

"Fate does not apply to me."

His breath hitched in his throat, rising out his mouth as a strangled gasp. His body jerked forward, leaning over his knees and shuddering.

But he wasn't in the sand anymore. He was on a stone floor, in a cold, dark place he knew far too well. Around him rose walls of stone, the space dark save for the paltry lighting of a single torch nailed to the wall above him.

The room was small, with a rickety dresser and a small reading desk. There was also a bed – metal framed – that Malik knew had a mattress that was hard and old. If he closed his eyes, he could remember lying on that mattress, inhaling the musty smell of age from its surface. But he also remembered it being a place of comfort, a sanctuary from all of the things in his world he had been forced into or deprived of. It was a place where he didn't have to think, where he didn't have to pretend. In that bed, he wasn't a Tomb Keeper, he was just Malik.

Malik definitely knew this place.

On the bed, there was suddenly a person. They sat with their elbows resting on their legs, their head slightly bowed. Malik could see the wild, blonde hair and knew that when that person looked up, he'd see the emptiest violet eyes imaginable.


No, it couldn't be.

It couldn't be, but the figure before him was unmistakeable. It had haunted a thousand of his nightmares, and in the short time at Hogwarts, had become a wary companion.

Malik couldn't have forgotten this person if he tried.

"I thought you had been destroyed," Malik said, his voice barely above a whisper. "You're gone."

The words echoed through the room like a terrible prophecy. Only this wasn't a prophecy. This was fact, this was the past. This person was gone. There was no way that Fate would have allowed such a transgression after it'd already been so thoroughly messed with.

A life had to be forfeited. It was the nature of Ryou's vision – a life had been forfeit, assumingly Malik's. Instead, another had been destroyed.

But there he was. There he was, alive and sitting there. Marik looked up – smug as ever - and his lips curled back into an even smugger grin. "Perhaps I am gone. This could just be a figment of your imagination, Malik-pretty." A flash of teeth.

Malik just about snarled in rage at the response. He would not be toyed with.

He stood on shaky legs, his back to the cool, stone wall. He braced his arms against it to keep himself steady. "No," Malik hissed, narrowing his eyes at the being opposite to him. "No, that would be too easy."

"Too easy," the other mused, his eyes half-lidded with thought. Light danced in the violet emptiness, and then met Malik's with ferocious purpose. "Or wishful thinking?"

"That depends," Malik answered, his hands curling into fists against the wall.

"On?" his darkness prompted, raising a slender eyebrow in a sociopath's mockery of intrigue.

Malik's lip curled. "On which Marik you are."

"Well that also depends," Marik drawled, pushing himself off of the bed and onto his feet. "It depends on you." And there, again, was that grin. He hated that damned grin.

"On me," Malik said. It wasn't even a question. It wasn't worthy of being a question. Even more, Malik knew that he wasn't going to get an answer if he asked. He was just going to be toyed with until he drew his own conclusions, no matter how close they may be to the truth.

Even in his last moments, Marik had done this. He had told him to 'choose' after speaking of death and of loss and of not taking away from those who he loved. Marik had manipulated everything so that Malik made the decision that Marik wanted, and it'd ended up being his own demise.

"On you," Marik echoed in a voice that Malik was convinced was a mockery of his own.

"You're a real prick, did you know that?" Malik snapped, also getting to his feet. All trepidation and anxiety had vanished, replaced by rage that boiled like hot water under his skin. "Either you're a fabrication of my own guilty mind-"

"Guilty?" Marik interjected in dark amusement. "Did you really become so attached?"

"-Or," Malik continued, his words biting off into a snarl, "you're really here, and doing your typical head-screwing before you make some stupid, grandiose entrance."

"I have become regrettably predictable," Marik mused, but that smile didn't vanish.

Malik crossed the room, his footfalls slow and deliberate. He kept his eyes trained on Marik – Marik, who had tried to kill everyone he held dear. Marik, the one who had come back, different but still infuriating and strangely willing to help. Marik, the one who had tried to overtake the Pharaoh and destroy the entire world. Marik, who had willingly played Russian roulette with his own existence, whether or not he had figured he'd be back a third time.

His feelings about this being were so mixed it just about made his head explode. Could he count Marik an ally, or was he just a ticking time-bomb waiting to go back to what he'd been before, to what Malik had always feared him as?

…Or this really was just a faux manifestation, and he was questioning himself, now.

Marik's smile grew, suddenly becoming all teeth. "There's doubt in your eyes, Malik-pretty."

"I know that."

To his own credit, Malik was pretty proud of the way that his response seemed to have completely thrown Marik. His eyes grew wide, surprise running through his typically-lifeless irises.

"I do doubt myself, because I can't decide which Marik you might be, nor can I decide if this is just me needing some crazy pills," he said, fisting his hands at his sides. He looked away, glaring holes into the stone floor.

Maybe he just couldn't think straight because he hated this place like none other.

Marik raised a hand, as if to put it onto Malik's shoulder, but the human caught it by the wrist and held it aloft, away from his body. "This isn't a game," he warned, his brow knitting and rage seeping into his voice.

"Of course not," Marik assured him, studying his face. He flexed his hand, and Malik let it drop with a wary expression. "I am surprised, however," the spirit continued, "that you almost seem to have expected this."

"I'm no fool," Malik replied. "I knew the symptoms."

"Not the symptoms of a common illness?" Marik queried.

"You are no common illness," Malik replied harshly, snorting at the thought of it. Perhaps more akin to a plague, back during Battle City, and perhaps now more like a parasite, but never a 'common' sickness. A common sickness could be cured.

Marik had the gall to look surprised. "You wound me," he mourned, pouting a bit.


Apparently that changed things a bit, because they began to circle each other like a pair of competing lions in preparation for a fight. Marik's expression had turned predatory, his eyes roving over Malik as if to determine some kind of game plan.

Malik didn't even know what was going on enough to devise a pre-game plan. He was disoriented and disillusioned by all of this, not wanting to spend any more time in the place he had grown up in.

Their circling was halted by the Eye of Horus beginning to glow into sight on Marik's head. Malik tensed immediately, his hand reaching to the deck strapped to his thigh, but was mortified to realize that it was not there. In this dream realm, apparently, Malik's deck did not exist.

Marik caught the movement, which only made his dark grin even larger. "Forgotten something, Malik-pretty?" the spirit queried. The mockery in his voice was clear as crystal.

"Fuck you," Malik snapped, instead bringing his fists up in an instinctive street-fighter style. He learned a lot about dirty-fighting while leading the Rare Hunters, and he was certain that in a physical match-off, he could take Marik.

His actions only brought a barking laugh out of Marik, and the spirit rounded on him with a razor-sharp smile. "Harsh words, Malik-pretty, but you and I both know that we're evenly split. Neither of us will win if we play this game."

Malik didn't miss a beat. "You're suggesting another kind of game," he inferred. Still, he kept his fists up and ready.

The Eye glowed a little brighter on Marik's forehead. The grin turned from sharp to feral in an instant. The room shifted and changed, becoming a swirling myriad of shadows and stars, darkness pockmarked with little flickers of light. The light belied this place's nature, though. The light was impossible to reach and it always would be, in this place.

"The Shadow Realm," Malik said, glancing around warily. He didn't like that Marik had taken him here, but he also could escape, in this place.

"Your memory of it," Marik corrected, the smile dropping for an instant. "It is not the real place."

That was noteworthy, Malik decided. Marik had never been one to pause before sending everything to Hell, and by that, he meant the Shadow Realm.

"I challenge you to a Shadow Game," Marik said, his voice turning monotonous, almost robotic. "You must find the place in your mind where your deepest nature waits."

"My deepest nature…?" Malik queried softly, raising his eyes to Marik's. In the beginning, when Malik had first taken the Rod, he had played such games on people. It had started with thieves and muggers and the general trash that stalked Egypt and scarred her name. Later, it had become innocents, and then Malik had begun his plans for Battle City.

Still, through all of his exposure to Shadow Games in their truest, darkest nature, he had never been the victim of one. And he wasn't sure how he felt about that, because no one with darkness in their heart won those games.

"You are limited in time," Marik continued, as if he hadn't heard Malik's echo in the first place. "And you can only open one door."

"One door," Malik mused. There were two, he knew, in his mind. There was the one in which his soul resided, and the one housing Marik's. If Marik was still here, that is.

"Do you know why this is happening, Malik?" Marik demanded suddenly, and it jerked Malik out of his musings with a near-audible snap. Malik found Mark's harsh gaze, and had never seen such frustration on the spirit's face before.

Clearly, his own confused expression was not what Marik wanted to see, and the spirit snorted mockingly. "You lack conviction and have lost your way. You are a danger to the others. Why do you think your wound has not healed to scarring? You hold back your own magic with your own feelings of incompetence."

Malik was surprised by the venom in the spirit's voice, by the way that Marik spoke conviction as if he felt a similar thing. It was eerie to see so much emotion on the other's face.

"You make play at manhood," Marik said, his smile returning as their surroundings warped into a stone hallway that led into shadows on both ends. "I find, however, that you are still too much a boy."

"You don't know a thing-"

Malik stopped abruptly, however, when he realized that Marik was gone. He stood alone in the hallway that led to nowhere – or did it lead to everywhere? His entire body shook with rage at Marik's total audacity to accuse Malik of foolishness. He had been doing his best, all this time.

Hadn't he?

He glanced on either side of himself. On his left, a simple door adorned with a brass knob. This was his door. Malik knew what lay inside. Before his banishing to the Shadow Realm, when Marik had first taken his body, Malik had spent time (what seemed like forever) trapped in that room.

On his right, there was a door that seemed almost warped in comparison, like a twisted reflection of the door it opposed. The wood was chipped and broken, dirty with disuse. It had holes in the wood, but there was no light inside, only darkness. The handle was hanging slightly off-kilter, swaying slightly in a breeze that Malik couldn't feel.

One door represented the light, the other the darkness. One was clean, purposeful – a door that was meant to be opened and closed, a door that served its use without question. The other, however, was strange and mysterious. It was uncared for and broken. There was probably something deeply poetic about the whole thing.

The door reflected the soul that dwelled inside it. That was something that Ishizu had often spoken of. A bleak doorway made for the entrance to an even darker soul room.

Marik had to wonder, briefly, at how whenever Marik appeared, the involvement of doors seemed to have become a pattern. Part of him found it incredibly weird. The other part of him whispered that it had to mean something. Marik was nothing if not a creature of purpose – born as the canister for Marik's anger, then as a more driven monster seeking to topple the Pharaoh. Third, he had become a quiet companion – not necessarily wanted or appreciated, but there because he needed to be.

So what purpose, this time, did Marik serve?

He was going to lose it. They had too much on their plates already. Adding this kind of thing was only going to make things worse.

"When I get out of this, I'm wringing your neck, you bastard," Malik sneered into the nothingness, certain that Marik could hear him.

This is a mind game, Malik thought to himself, pausing to take a deep, cleansing breath. As all Shadow Games are, in essence, I'm a player in a game of mind and soul. People lose because they think hedonistically, and that's what the instigator counts on.

Malik surveyed the doors. Why did Marik even have a door? Marik was just an extension of his own soul. He had taken a semi-sentient form unto himself, sure, but he wasn't a proper spirit. Unlike Bakura and Ryou, Marik couldn't survive without Malik. He was a parasite trapped with one life, and once Malik passed on, so would Marik.

"You lack conviction and have lost your way."

Malik had never had a "way" to begin with. They had gone on an impromptu trip and had stumbled upon another world that they'd never known – and in this case, ignorance had seriously been bliss – existed. And after stumbling upon everything, they had just kept stumbling.

Lacking conviction, though? Malik had almost died in this.

But was that why? Ever since he had come back, since he had chosen to survive over martyrdom, had he lacked the conviction necessary to keep them safe?

After all, the whole mess at the Ministry of Magic had been his fault. He had screwed everything by accidentally washing off his own makeup. Malik had been a criminal – a brilliant one, if he could say so – for years. Such a rookie error should have been far beneath him.

He had nearly gotten them killed. Sure, things had worked out. If Percy Weasley and Amos Diggory had not been there, however, they would have died. Without a shadow of a doubt, they would have been killed on the spot. That risk had been his fault and his fault alone.

By referring to the 'deepest' part of his soul, what was Marik trying to get at? Malik knew that, deep down, he felt weak and useless, an incapacitated veteran soldier in a war that he should have died in.

The point was addressing whether or not that had taken away his "conviction".

Darkness roiled around him, shadows ticking at his ankles like fog. They clung to his legs, seeking physicality, seeking his touch.

He had neglected his Shadow Magic for so long, since he sustained that injury. He'd been blocked from his own power, courtesy of Bellatrix Lestrange. They hadn't been sure if the magic festering in his wound would impact his own abilities. Since they'd already known that wizard magic forced theirs to operate through a funnel, they had all agreed that chancing it would be dangerous.

Ryou had insisted that they didn't need Malik even more injured or worse. Malik had wanted to try, try something small, or try something that would give them certainty. He didn't want to be weak but left wondering if he really was, or if he was just being pathetic and letting others fight his battles.

He turned, resting a hand against the familiar wood of his soul room. He knew, from practice, that this was usually the only door. Marik usually existed in a state of nowhere. Since he was a fragment of Malik, not a true soul, he could not have his own soul room.

If Marik was a fragment of his own soul, his own mind, then how could it be that Malik couldn't figure out this whole…thing? Was it even a real Shadow Game? Even if it wasn't, Malik couldn't take the chance. Shadow Games were monstrous things, and if he didn't take it seriously, he could end up soulless and lost. And in a state like that, he was a help to no one.

Cursing, he slammed his fist against the door. He was getting nowhere.

"Why are you acting so upset about all this?" asked a very familiar voice. "After all, this was your decision. You chose to survive."

Marik lifted his head and turned, locking eyes with his reflection.

In the hallway stood his mirror image – not Marik – looking just like the "him" from before this: purple mid-length shirt adorned with golden chains, beige khaki pants, all outlined with a dark purple cape that hung from his shoulders.

"I did choose to survive," Malik agreed, staring straight into his own eyes.

The other-Malik smiled a wry smile that made him look much older than he was. "But you didn't do it because you wanted to survive, did you?"

And there, out in the open, revealed to him by his own mirror, was the truth. He hadn't come back because he wanted to be alive. It roiled inside of him, this sudden wondering of: how long had he wanted to die?

"You don't," answered the other-him, and the words were followed by a simple shrug.

Their eyes met again.

The other-Malik snickered at him. "You really don't get it, do you?" Other-Malik saw the blank look on his face, and the reflection let out an exasperated sigh. "I cannot be this dense."

You lack conviction.

"I don't want to die," Malik supplied, and the other regarded him with an intrigued smile. "It's more like I lack conviction in ensuring my own survival." He spat the last part of it out with disgust. It was true. It was true and he'd known it for so, so long. Even since Shadi had appeared before him, he'd known.

He'd completely lost his will to keep going, because after they'd all lost so much, he couldn't fathom why they would just keep trying.

"Death changes a man," his other-self said with quiet assurance. "Even you – even we –could have never been so self-centred to expect that we'd be the exception." Violet eyes raised and met a slightly less corporeal violet. "…Right?"

Malik chuckled without humour. "…Right."

So it was about him not taking care of himself, of him letting part of himself fall into disrepair…

He surveyed the doors. One stood crisp and clean, untouched because his soul was protected. His soul had been saved. The other: broken, forgotten, and worse for wear. Malik smiled. This had never been intended to be something serious. This was every bit the "game", and none of it the "Shadows".

He moved past the ghost of himself and flung the door open, fingers pressing into the uneven, splintered wood. He stepped into the room, crossing his arms and glaring at the figure opposite to him.

"That was incredibly anti-climactic, I'll have you know," Malik declared to the figure opposite to him, rolling his eyes to add to the effect. "A poor excuse for a Shadow Game. You owe me a duel, next time."

Marik smiled, pressing two fingers to his lips in a gesture that Malik recognized from Ishizu. It was what she did whenever she was laughing at something secretly. Marik met his eyes with amusement. "You needed the wake-up call."

"Probably wasn't your call to make," Malik sneered, but then his expression softened. "But thanks. I get it. I think I already got it, before you pulled this little…'thing' of yours," he gestured around them. "Really, though? This isn't even a real soul room. You're a part of me, so you don't have a soul room of your own."

Marik nodded slowly and deliberately. "Indeed. You knew that this was the way to the 'deepest' part of you."

"The part of me that's broken," Malik concluded. "Your symbolism is a bit obvious."

Marik's smile faded, replaced with an all-business leer. "The intervention was necessary. You are forcing the others to make contingency plans in case you are unreliable, and you will get everyone killed if you keep going the way you have been."

Malik winced at that, forced to look away from the intense, accusatory stare. Yeah, he'd kind of known the whole time that he was losing his touch. He was forgetting things and erring in ways that had left even Ryou, trusting as he was, concerned.

"You feel helpless due to your injury, and by that feeling you have made it so," Marik said.

He'd known that, too.

"You need your magic," Marik said to him, his voice firm. "With what is coming, with something so beyond these wizards' capabilities, you will need every scrap of Shadow Magic you can conjure."

"I know what's coming," Malik answered quietly, his forehead creasing. "I just don't know how we're going to stop it."

"Well," Marik drawled, "it would appear that you should try to find out, instead of just uselessly chasing the shadows of these child-magicians."

"So we should go back to the school," Malik observed. He had seen the look on Bakura's face, though. There was no way that they would just leave after finding Harry Potter. He was integral to something, important in the rebirthing process, and Bakura would not let someone like that just walk out of the picture.

Marik snorted. "You should do what is best."

"Is this going to turn into some kind of 'follow your heart' speech?"

Marik did not dignify that with a response, only levelled a flat glare at Malik. Malik returned the favour and crossed his arms.

"Last time, I manipulated the choices to ensure survival," Marik said, a wanton grin crossing his face. Of course he'd find some kind of malicious pleasure in having manipulated the "game" to his preferred ending. No matter the changes between this and the last incarnation, Marik was still Marik. The grin vanished, however, replaced again with a frown.

Jeez, Malik thought to himself, I think he's switched facial expressions more times in here than ever before in his entire existence.

"Not this time."

Malik also had to note the way that Marik's voice had taken on a decidedly creepy echo. He also realized that the room had begun to warp, shifting and roiling.

"This time, it is your decision."

The scene changed, and suddenly Malik was back on the beach. He gasped, reeling backwards and grasping wildly for some kind of hold. His hands only hit the hot sand, but the reality of it made him sag backwards.

His heart was pounding, a steady thrumming of blood rushing in his ears. He tried to slow his heart by taking slow, deliberate breaths. In the wake of that faux-Shadow Game, Malik found himself in a sense of vulnerability that he was not overly fond of.

A voice whispered through his mind: "well, you seem to have a choice to make."

Well, so he did.

A wry smile pulled his lips back. Oh, he was pretty sure that the decision had already been made.

Malik's eyes snapped open and his hands suddenly went to his torso, feeling for the bandaging – almost like a second skin, he'd needed it for so long - that surrounded his wound. Except the movement brought no pain, nothing like the dull throbbing he was becoming so used to. He sat up and pulled his shirt over his head, his movements free and normal. Foregoing all calm, he threw the shirt to the side and ripped the bandages off of his body.

He let the wrappings fall to the ground, his eyes wide with wonder as his hand trailed down the length of his body. The skin was clear of injury, normal save for a thin line of lighter skin. It trailed the history of his wound like a pen's stroke, however the pigmentation difference was so small it would be impossible to detect from a distance.

His breath whooshed from his lungs as if he'd been punched in the stomach, and he fell back against the sand, disoriented completely. His injury was healed. Somehow it had happened, completely beyond all reason – but then, what was reason to someone like him, anyways?

He could just have been going crazy.

So maybe it was just a trick of the mind, but somewhere deep within himself, he could swear he heard a door opening.

End Chapter

Malik's personal weakness is something that the character has been struggling with for a while, now. I figured it was about time to clear that up before things got nuts.