Disclaimer: Don't ask, the answer is still no.
"Negative Sarge, I think we lost him."
Short version: Life
Longer version: Life & Revisions
Longest version: See profile.
And yes, you read correctly. I'm a stubborn perfectionist and I've rewritten the story yet again. You can probably go about your merry way and not reread if you don't want to. Profile might be worth glancing at as I've listed a few details regarding this story. A new image is up too and links are in the profile for that as well.
In case you do skip the profile and don't reread just know this:
Merging == Coetus and despite you getting 'two' new chapters, its really 1.5 new chapters because of the revising.
I've kept you long enough
Chapter 19: Horcrux
Harry breathed a long sigh as he stared at the black tar puddle in front of him. Off to the left stood his magical counterpart, wearing an identical look of frustration. To his right was Mai, also frowning deeply at the slowly bubbling pit. She had been floating above him when he woke up from a fitful night's sleep and almost immediately brought him to this white plane of existence. To see her materialize here had been a slight shock but to Harry's credit, he was slowly becoming immune to her surprises.
What did surprise him however was the object in front and he suppressed a shudder at the memory of meeting this thing for the first time. Harry would happily admit the black tar was a welcome change to the once fleshy pile of bones and sinew. Unlike the last time, Harry knew what this abomination was.
"So," he began evenly, "Pity to see the horcrux is still here. Think it's a threat?"
Magic Harry shrugged, "I've been keeping tabs on it since I first showed it to you and it's been roughly three weeks ago since it changed into that puddle. Apart from this, nothing's happened."
Harry glanced at Mai, "Feel anything from it?"
She shook her head, "No, but it did startle me when I first saw as a result: there's nothing coming from it that I can feel."
Magic Harry smirked, "Nearly screamed her knickers off."
Mai flushed, "I did not you prat!"
"Seemed to me like you did."
"I did not!"
Harry shook his head at the bickering and turned away. Only after he walked a few paces did the two realize he was leaving and ran to catch up with him.
"You're just going to leave it?" she asked.
"Nothing more to do is there? I didn't feel anything over the last couple of weeks so the change appears to have no effect. My scar hasn't been bothering me for awhile either which leaves us with little to go on." He gestured to his magical self, "He's keeping an eye on it anyway so if it starts acting up, I'll be the first to know. Right?"
"Definitely. See Mai, I told you he would be fine with it."
Mai harrumphed. Before she left Magic Harry the night before, they argued briefly on whether or not Harry should be woken up for this. She made her case for while Magic Harry opposed.
"Harry is me after all, why wouldn't I know myself?"
She didn't justify his smirk with a reply and instead they walked in silence to the next thing they wanted Harry to see. By Mai's reckoning, they came to the barrier in a much shorter time span then when she and Magic Harry left it. Any reasoning for why left her mind as the barrier emitted a pulse of magic.
"What... is that?"
"Don't we mean what was that?"
Mai grit her teeth and wondered how they survived any conversations before, "That, Harry, is the result of your merging with Hermione."
His eyes went wide, "You mean, we're starting to bond magically - already? I thought it took months or even years to reach that level?"
Mai shrugged, "Every case is different remember."
Harry glanced away from her and studied the barrier again. It was kind of like looking through a foggy window.
"A library," Harry chuckled. "That's so Hermione, don't you think?" When no response came, "Har-uh, Magic me?" he asked, looking away from the barrier and at his unmoving twin.
"Hello?" said Mai, snapping her fingers in front of his face. "Did he zone out?"
"It looks that way but I... oh." Harry followed his magic self's gaze and what he saw sent a shiver down his spine.
Hermione was on the other side, but she didn't appear to notice them.
Harry whipped his head around, "Why?"
Mai cautiously stepped forward as Magic Harry began a slow zombie like march to the barrier. "This guy right here, is your magic. Her, over there" she pointed frantically, "is Hermione's."
A low rumble echoed in the distance, like an approaching storm, but then died. Harry and Mai followed his magic while keeping close watch on their zombified friend.
"So, uh, I see this ending only one way."
"Right, with that barrier vanishing and you two insta-merging," grumbled Mia. "Sodding hell Harry, must everything with you be difficult?"
His lips quirked, "It'd be boring otherwise. Would the barrier falling be, uh, explosive?"
She waited a few heartbeats to answer, trying to come up with something reasonable. "Well, yes and no. If your brother here starts to actively tear at the wall to break it down then yes, I'd imagine we'd have some fireworks. If he let's it go and allows time to do its thing then maybe not. Hard to say with you though, might be a bang either way."
They stopped right at the edge and Harry was surprised to see and feel an actual barrier between them. It looked like an incredibly thick glass wall and judging from how Hermione would occasionally glance at them without so much as a hint of seeing them; it must have been a one way view.
They stood there for several seconds, watching and waiting with bated breath.
Magic Harry took a step forward and Mai jerked, ready to pull him back when he laid his head against the barrier. He continued to stand there in a trance, his mouth slightly ajar and drool starting to appear.
"I don't bloody believe this!"
The real Harry was practically rolling on the ground in laughter while Mai steamed at the both of them.
"This isn't funny you twit! If she noticed him and the barrier fell, your cores would merge!"
Harry wiped his teary eyes, "It looks pretty solid to me, Mai. I realize this is a problem but I think we're okay for now. I mean, just look at him, he seems too occupied to really want to do anything."
Mai pulled at her hair and grabbed Harry angrily by the arm, "That's it, we're leaving."
Harry's laughter slowly faded from the world and neither of them noticed Hermione's magic look through the barrier with a quizzical frown before shaking her head and going back to sorting her books.
Harry sat up, still chuckling.
Mai's heated gaze helped to calm him a little, but not much.
"Sorry, it was just funny is all. Give me a few minutes and we'll go check on Hermione.
A quick shower and some new clothes later, both of them were hurrying off to Gryffindor Tower. Since the castle was still unoccupied, nothing slowed them down and the Fat Lady had been nice enough to swing open when he neared. Their timing was perfect, for Hermione was just coming down the stairs to the girls' dormitory.
"Morning, Hermione. Have a nice night?"
"It was, thanks. How was... is everything alright?" She noticed their concerned looks and Harry gave a quick summary of what had happened. This resulted in him getting a proper tongue lashing for not going to bed like he should have but beyond that, Hermione didn't feel all that different.
"Things can never be easy, can they?" he sighed. "Do you know the time?"
She fumbled for her wand and cast a silent Tempus, something that went unnoticed to all but Mai.
"8:00 A.M." she read aloud.
"Let's ask Dobby to bring us breakfast in my quarters. We can talk more there and afterwards, get Poppy to do a quick once-over just to be safe."
A ghost of a smile flickered across Mai's features as the two of them walked away, deep in conversation and having forgotten about her presence already. It was cute to see them so in tune with each other, but before they left the tower, their conversation halted mid-sentence.
Yet they continued on walking and making gestures as if nothing were wrong.
"Threat of a core bonding, wandless casting, and telepathy," Mai mumbled. "Luna, we are going to have a lot to talk about."
Dimly lit wands shed light into a small, dust covered corridor as three sets of footsteps padded down the ancient hallway. The stone on either side of them was cut smooth, a sandy light brown which allowed their wands to easily light the way. They had been walking for miles with no indication of light from behind or from ahead.
Remus sighed, "We know, Sirius. You told us that forty-two times already."
Albus' lips quirked, "You've been counting?"
"Not much else to do along this hike," the dog muttered. "Bloody hell, had I known this I would have brought a copy of Wicked Witch to help pass the time."
Remus snorted, "And I would have taken it and beat you over the head with it."
Albus chuckled softly at their friendly banter as he pushed his wand forward slightly, edging the light a little further ahead. The group of wizards watched the comings and goings of the Muggle archeological dig for a lot longer than originally intended, simply because the Muggles stayed for so long. There was no unexpected curse or horribly tainted artifact accidentally uncovered; just the curiosity of the Muggles and a lot of dirt and sand to be shifted.
It was one of the things Albus enjoyed most about them. Although unable to wield magic, they more than made up for it with their curiosity and ingenuity.
The bickering between the two finally died down again and as they all lapsed back into silence, the light cast from Albus' wand on the floor up ahead went out. He stopped the pair immediately, they too seeing the strange occurrence.
Albus moved his arm forward and watched as the light failed to reveal past a particular point and he took a cautious step forward. The absence of light revealed a black barrier barring the way. Nothing was written nor any details could be discerned about the object, it was simply a black mass.
"Any thoughts, Remus?"
"There are a handful of materials that do not allow light to reflect off it, magically speaking. Perhaps a muggle artifact?"
"I highly doubt it," mumbled Albus as he conjured a wooden stick and floated it at the barrier. It slipped through, unhindered and came back when he mentally called for it. No damage done and not a spec of bark out of place or discolored.
"Well that's encouraging," Sirius deadpanned. "I second Moony's observation; of all the Black family books I've read through, they make no mention of such a material. Or at least, one that wouldn't have been doing some unhealthy things to us by now."
Albus frowned and started waving his wand about, pausing every second or so and flicking it sharply one direction and then the next. Remus whistled in appreciation as a dove grew out of the thin air.
"You never cease to amaze me, Albus. A dove out of nothing?"
The old wizard smiled, "Oh there was definitely something just nothing that you or I could see." His eyes sparkled momentarily as the white dove cawed to them and fluttered around his head before settling on an outstretched finger.
"Hello little one; might you do us a great service and see what lies beyond?" Albus squinted ever so slightly and the little creature took off and flew straight into the barrier.
Sirius blinked, "Did you just place a legilimency probe on a conjured bird?"
Albus grinned at them, "Just because I'm old, Sirius doesn't mean I'm out of tricks. It should last about three minutes, assuming of course it isn't" and he trailed off, the light in his eyes fading, "destroyed."
"Do I want to know?"
"No Sirius, you don't but I'm afraid you must."
The discussion that followed painted a not so pretty picture. Aegyptiae Nocte, Egyptian Darkness, was one of several spells that came to Albus' mind while he was requesting opinions just moments ago. The purpose of such magic was simple: remove the sight of all who entered. In texts Albus read many years ago, it was speculated this very spell was used against the fleeing Israelite mages out of Egypt.
"The problem," he said after a short pause, "is two fold. One, the spell cannot be easily contained which means the area it covers is quite large. Our second issue is what lies inside the darkness and that will be much more difficult to combat if the Aegyptiae Noctre is removed."
"Sphinx?" offered Remus. "It fits the area and culture."
"Close, a second cousin actually."
Sirius cursed, "Manticore."
Albus nodded, "The light my dove created before its end wounded the creature."
Sirius smirked, "A conjured dove and White Light all in one little package? Nice gift if you want to level an arena of Vampires."
"Or disperse the darkness for a short time," added Remus. "Brilliant and all that, I sense a 'but' coming."
Albus didn't disappoint, "The manticore was one of many. The dove was created to pick the first dark creature it found and harm it, which is exactly what happened. Unfortunately Sirius, you're closer to the truth then you know; there's an Ancient's arena a few paces from where we currently stand where several dozen manticores are now looking for us."
"An Ancient's arena?" mumbled Remus while Sirius echoed "Dozens of manticores?"
"Quite so," Albus said jovially. "These manticores would momentarily be stunned by sudden light and since we have to disperse the darkness in order to go through it, we could theoretically handle them assuming their numbers aren't as numerous as they probably are. However, as I said this is an Ancient's structure which changes things, thus I must tip my hat to Tom's ingenuity. Clever, if slightly demented but still clever."
"How is this clever?" asked Remus.
"The ingenuity," began Sirius, "comes from the Egyptian Darkness spell and the Ancient's structure itself. So long as the spell is active, the Manticores are relatively harmless and only by bumping into one do you invite trouble. Dispelling the Darkness however removes their natural vulnerability and then the Manticore becomes a massive, flesh eating monster of yore. Sure, you get a moment where they're stunned but its kind of hard to kill a swarm bees with only one swatter."
"Precisely," continued Albus "The Ancients left behind hidden marvels under our very noses. Their abandoned communities were once epicenters for magicals and often held unique properties. For example, a healing house of the Ancients would see the effects of medicinal type spells triple if not quadruple in potency."
Remus groaned, "So an Arena would see an increase in offensive and defensive magic which I'm sure carries over to natural magic and thus, the Manticores."
Albus and Sirius nodded, "In short, we really don't know if the creatures are hindered by the Darkness spell or not but regardless, we most certainly would be." Albus regarded Sirius for a moment, "I'm surprised you knew about the Ancients. It's a topic usually left for advanced scholars."
Sirius grinned, "Mother always hated the fact I enjoyed history more than her lessons in the Dark Arts."
Remus scoffed, "You? A history buff? Bollocks."
"Don't give me that, I saw you sleep through three-quarters if not all of Binns' classes."
"Hey, hold on. Hashing and rehashing the goblins and their wars gets old after second year. Pardon me if I found something better to do with my time then listen to Binns drabble on."
"Gentlemen, if you would please?" smirked Albus and the two Marauders smiled at each other.
"Right then ol' boy, what do you propose?"
Albus held up his wand and created a white shield that surround the three of them, "The only thing we can do. Follow in the footsteps of our predecessors."
Slowly, the trio stepped into the darkness. Albus' shield dispelled a portion of it, allowing them to move forward but once they were inside, the darkness surrounded them. Sirius quietly intoned several Latin phrases while his wand spun in mid-air, directing them to the center of the Arena. Remus' eyes and wand darted every which way, keeping a lookout for anything that might accidentally stumble into them.
The Colosseum in Rome was modeled after the, at one time, many Ancient Arenas scattered throughout the Old World. Magicals would often come to these structures and watch as mages dazzled or fought one another as a means of entertainment. For what the Trio hoped to do, they'd have to find the relative center of the Arena.
Progress was slow, for they could only take a few steps before Sirius needed to realign his tracking spells. Several occasions had them all tense in anticipation, as a tail swished out of nowhere. Thankfully their reflexes were still in top condition and were able to ignore the unsuspecting creatures. On one occasion, the hind leg of a Manticore came into view but they were able to sidestep that one as well.
"Stop," whispered Sirius. "This is about center. By my calculations, we've got four-hundred feet in either direction give or take a few."
"I'm surprised we made it without alerting anything."
"I ensured the dove got as far away from us as possible before 'exploring.' Seems the Manticores aren't all that affected by the Darkness at least while in it. I'm merely guessing they followed it once it was detected."
Albus began to whip his wand around in a circle, drawing magic to him as the shield grew brighter. Remus began to mimic and drew additional magic as Sirius readied his own.
"On the count of three, Remus. Sirius, are you ready?"
He paused in his chanting, checking the glowing red spheres. "Ready when you are."
A tail, swished just above their heads.
One of the creatures growled, its voice uncomfortably close.
Albus and Remus were forced to jump out of the way as a claw slammed down right where they had been standing. Sirius twisted and shot a red sphere off, hitting his enemy and it roared in pain.
The small, white shield that protected them expanded rapidly, forming a white wall as it went. The darkness created by the old Egyptian spell was dispelled as the shield grew and it exposed four dozen or so Manticores within the first few seconds.
A red sphere shot out from the larger one Sirius was trying to maintain. As it struck one of the large creatures, red lightning bolts danced across the Manticore's body, electrocuting it. When the magic finally killed the beast, it shot off to the next closest creature, creating the same outcome. It jumped off again, this time only harming the Manticore it struck.
The assault from Sirius, combined with the sudden brightness earned the trio several precious seconds.
Sirius' estimate had been spot on. They stood in the center of a large circular arena, the edges lined with twenty foot sand-stone walls and wooden seats many rows behind them. Four large towers sat equi-distant from each other in the structure, running high into the cave walls. In each of the towers burned a small white sun, illuminating the area.
Dozens of Manticores stood about the arena, most of them shaking off the effects of the Egyptian Darkness. The three wizards grinned however; this wasn't as many as they were expecting.
Sirius immediately shattered the spheres, forming the fragments into a rapidly circling disk. The three of them went back to back, wands drawn and ready.
"Well, they're evenly split."
Remus grinned, "A wager?"
"A friendly competition," corrected Sirius. "You in old man?"
"Old, eh? Winner buys the first round, Rumple's Spiced whiskey if you don't mind." He arched his wand and a scythe of orange light spread out and cut the creatures, killing half a dozen and angering many more.
"That's definitely not fair!" and Sirius broke the disk, sending red balls of light to attack his opponents.
"Amateurs," scoffed Remus who sent out a wide area blasting curse, followed by bone crushers and a scatter shot confounding charm. "Why do the work when they can do it for you?"
The carnage that followed was fast and bloody. Several of the manticores were able to get close, but none of them were offered an opportunity to attack. The triangle-like offense and defense of the three wizards was no match for the dark creatures. As the last one fell, Sirius blew at the tip of his smoking wand.
"Been awhile since the 'ol core warmed up. How many, Moony?"
"I counted forty-six, Padfoot. Yourself?"
"Blast, equally matched it seems." They turned to Albus, "How'd you manage?"
He smiled, "Forty-s" but was cut off as the arena shook. The fun and game spirit left them as pillars started to rise out of the ground.
"Did any of you watch Harry's bout with the Death Eaters?" asked Albus. "This seems a tad familiar."
Sirius had seen the memory as well, "That was out of protection though, these don't look to be of the same nature."
On each of the square pillars, a golden eye-like object sat in the center on one side. After all the pillars stopped rising, they began to rotate.
"What in the, look out!" shouted Remus and dived out of the way as a beam of red magic shot out of the eye and missed him by inches.
"It's part of the Ancient's structure," called Albus. "Sentinels if I had to guess. Shoot for the eye! A well placed Reducto should do it!"
Sirius immediately changed into a dog and started running around the area, gaining the attention of the constructs for several seconds. The sentinels followed their target briefly before resuming the rotating pattern which allowed for a counterattack if timed correctly. Remus and Albus had to dance and dive around the beams several times, but the strategy worked and it wasn't long before the last sentinel was destroyed.
Sirius came back to them, huffing and puffing as he transformed back into a man.
"How do you know so much about Ancients, Albus?"
The old wizard smiled, "You're not the only one with a fascination for history." The pillars started to shrink back down into the ground, which caused the three wizards to jerk into defensive positions. When the dust settled and nothing happened for a few moments, they lowered their guard.
"Well, the egyptian darkness makes sense now," huffed Remus as he pointed to the towers. "Voldemort must have used them to cover out the light."
"Likely," agreed Albus. "Which also shut off the Arena's more elaborate tests which would have acted as pest control."
Sirius grinned, "That was some impressive self-automation magic, if I do say so myself."
"Indeed. Just one of many things we've lost to time. Come on, this way," said Albus and they started towards a side of the arena where there was a large cut-away section of the stands. "That looks like an official's station. Being the only real place of importance in an arena, I'd imagine Tom placed the cup there."
They just about got across the arena floor when the ground shook again, this time a square section of the center rising up. Four thin pillars held up the floor as it rose and exposed a small table with the cup shining in the artificial light.
"On your guard. Hard to say what other surprises Tom has waiting for us."
As if on queue, a shadow rose and swirled around the cup, taking the form of a man.
Sirius frowned, "Speak of the devil."
A corporal Voldemort appeared before them, wand and all, however it was still just the makings of wraith. His image flickered from time to time, but remained solid.
"Dumbledore and his lackeys. I see this location has been compromised."
"Hello to you as well, Tom. Shall we make this quick?"
The shadow grinned, "No, actually. I'd prefer we not." He glanced at the others and they were thrown back hard against the walls of the arena. Remus was knocked out and Sirius winded.
"Tend to Remus," shouted Albus and he threw back the robes on his wand arm, "I'll handle this one."
"Confident for a wizard your age."
"Cocky for a wraith with no body."
Taunts exchanged, Voldemort and Albus immediately threw two massive torrents of magic at the other. The shock wave created cracks in the ground and the once pristine Arena floor was devastated. Sirius, still reeling from getting thrown like a rag doll, made his over to the slowly waking Remus and helped him up.
Remus coughed up blood, "That went well uah," and he braced his chest. "Feels like a troll crushed my rib cage."
"Nice hard hit then. Shit!"
Several spells were heading towards them and neither were in any condition to dodge or even attempt to block them. They were both surprised when a Protego Maxima appeared right in front of them, making the spells bounce harmlessly away.
Remus closed his eyes while Sirius bowed his head in relief.
'We're useless until Voldemort lets up.'
The only indication Voldemort was annoyed had been a scowl as he poured more rage into his magic. Albus could only spare them a worrying glance before turning hard eyes back to his opponent.
Their wands started to dance, a multitude of colors cast and countered almost instantly and the two Marauders could only stare in wonder. Incantations were abandoned as the opposing wizards tried to outdo the other, bolts of lightning turned to dust and sand transmuted to water and back again as the arena started to become saturated with magic.
After a particularly loud explosion and flash of light, Sirius fished out two vials from his coat.
At once, they ceased their attacks and a loud crack sounded as the magics dissipated.
"Hard to find good help, isn't it Dumbledore?"
Trickles of sweat ran down his face, but otherwise Albus showed no weakness. Nor did he say anything and instead shifted his stance.
Voldemort growled, "Things are different now! Falcatae Mortem!"
An red arch of magic, similar to the blade of a scythe, raced out towards them. Like before Albus shielded them and as the magic hit the shield, Sirius slipped Remus the potion while quickly downing the other.
Albus effortlessly redirected the spell and once again they were brought to a standstill.
"What is this, Tom? Surely you can't be a horcrux."
The Marauders both stared at Albus momentarily before readying themselves. It was a gamble to lay the cards on the table like this, but they realized Abus had few chances to truly surprise Voldemort.
And he was surprised, "How do you know?"
"I wouldn't say I've always known. Certainly not when you killed young Myrtle but I suspected later on she was somehow tied to this."
What they did not expect was for him to smile, "So you do know. Pity, but not unexpected I suppose." He raised his wand again, "All the same, you may die now."
Albus and Voldemort once again hurled massive torrents of magic towards the other however this time, Remus and Sirius joined in. The two of them apparated to form a triangle around the the soul fragment and together they started to overwhelm it.
"Keep pushing!" cried Albus above the fighting magics.
Voldemort was enraged, dedicating most of his power towards Albus while trying desperately to shield himself from Sirius and Remus. It proved too much though and the spells he held at bay suddenly overtook his own and collided on top of him sending a shockwave throughout the arena.
As the dust settled, the three triumphant wizards quickly approached the cup as the once corporal Dark Lord melted off into black wisps.
"This isn't over," he snarled and vanished into the ether.
Aberforth sat quietly in the old inn, waiting as patiently as he could for the three wizards to return from their hunt. He'd drawn the short straw and was sent back to watch over their belongings. Not one to waste idle time, Aberforth was also trying to find another tendril of magic linking the horcruxes together.
Through Albus' study over the years, he had discovered a way to find the cursed objects. The purpose of a horcrux was to contain a person's soul so the object would need to mimic, to some degree, the functionality of a living body. Surprisingly, that point was based solely around the user's magic. The nature in which the soul bound itself was something neither of the Dumbledores understood, however since it was magic, it could be detected.
If you knew or had a sample of the wizard's magical resonance, even better.
Aberforth was just about to try for a lock on the tendrils when the others reappeared in a fairly silent apparition. One glance at them spoke of the dangers they faced and just barely overcame.
"Any luck?" Albus tossed over the cup and he caught it. "Funny, I was expecting this to be in any shape but pristine. Things not as simple as we hoped?"
Albus looked over his shoulder, "Go see if you can find a local healer who will be discrete and get yourselves patched up."
Aberforth shook his head. All three of them looked exhausted, "Brutal?"
"Disturbing," Albus replied while sitting down. "Tom appeared, as I expected, but he could wield magic like he was physically there."
"No. No, the magic was most certainly his own but the cup was a horcrux."
"Shouldn't his power have been a fraction of the original?"
Albus sighed, "Should have yes, but it wasn't." He looked out the window, feeling far older than he was. "I was so focused over the years on finding information about the horcruxes and what they did that I never considered what one might do with them aside from the obvious. What greater ambition is there over immortality?"
Voldemort peered over Severus' shoulder, "Find anything?"
The potions master, having greatly recovered, was parting a carefully made incision with the two scalpels in his hands. "There. See how the conduits intermingle with the nerve cluster?"
Voldemort nodded, "Helical. A natural amplifier using the same signals that drive it. Nature's a clever one isn't she?" He looked closer, "Is that" but paused and sucked in a breath, stumbling back against the wall. Severus moved to aid him but Voldemort gestured otherwise, "That's more important!" he ground out, gasping for air and finally falling to the floor.
Voldemort centered himself, feeling a missing piece long since removed returning to him. He wouldn't know it until he looked in a mirror but his skin tone became less reptilian and took on a more natural looking hue. The slit nose protruded further, no more hideous than before but far more terrifying.
He looked part human and part demon.
"My Lord, are you alright?"
Voldemort snarled but the glint in his eyes spoke of elation, "Yessss. I'm feeling much better."