Disclaimer: Rowling and Zelazny, something and something, but not something mine.
The Trump of Merlin
You have risked your life quite a few times, you have done many things others would call crazy, but... You are standing in muggle London, watching the house you have just run away from. That you are in dire need of something inside the house is just a way your luck goes.
"Are you sure we're at the right place?" Luke is sounding slightly tired.
"Yes, it's just under the Fidelius charm..."
"I know, I know..." he muttered, "It would be much easier if I pushed at it with Pattern, it should fold..."
You ignore him. "It looks emptier – there's light only at the top, maybe we should try getting in through the window..."
Luke shrugs. "Well, let's at least do something."
After you get him to the edge of the house he starts seeing it again. You help him reach the window and after a few seconds he opens it without any visible effort.
"I have learned a few things over the years." He winks at you, while helping you into the house. It's strange that there is no magical backslash from you entering the building. Perhaps its wards have recognised you, or maybe it is because the lack of any malicious intent... Or, maybe, no one ever broke into a wizarding house through a window?
You both creep silently into the inner corridors of the house, keeping yourselves to the shadows.
Then, you walk into her. Ginny.
She gasps, but before she can scream for help, you are beside her, clutching her mouth. Her eyes are wide and she is staring at Luke in shock. You quickly start whispering.
"It's alright, he's not a bad guy. It was a misunderstanding."
She struggles against your grip.
"Ginny, please, trust me."
Her movements become shallow; you can almost hear her struggling in her mind.
She stops shaking and manages a nod.
"I'm going to release you now."
Her brown eyes, open as huge saucers dig into your face. You shiver under the gaze.
"Harry," she whispers, her voice worried, "I hope that you know what you are trying to do..."
"I owe you an apology," you admit, "I haven't visited you in St. Mungos."
She manages a slight, albeit warm smile. "I probably wouldn't have noticed you visiting. Why..."
Luke interrupts you both, making her jump. "I don't want to intrude, but maybe we should at least move away from the corridor."
You enter one of the many rooms of the house and close the door. Luckily, it's one of the more clean ones – meaning its dark, moist and filled with shadows.
Ginny starts nagging you once the door is closed. "Where have you been?"
"It's important that I... It's because of the Voldemort. There is something that might give me an edge." You're not sure how to explain this. "We thought that we could find the place we need, but I need to find one of the paintings from the ministry."
"Are you sure of this, Harry?"
"Why didn't you tell anyone?"
"I thought that it would take but a few hours..."
"And as it's always with you it takes you two days."
Two days? You are certain you spent no more than two hours travelling with Luke. Besides, - it's still dark. How could you have missed two sunrises? You spare a glance to Luke, but he doesn't show much surprise. You file the question for later – your head is hurting enough as it is.
"I... miscalculated," you say, rubbing your head awkwardly, "Is everyone as worried as I imagine?"
"Well, even Sirius has gone to search for you. And Dumbledore forbade him leaving the house."
"Ginny... Tell them I'm alright and didn't want to trick them."
"You're not going to stay?"
"I have to finish this... I have to find the painting, and then..." You're not exactly sure, but it seems right. "...I'm going to finally do what I was supposed to. And, I'll probably meet with family..."
"Family?" She squeaks out of surprise. "Harry, but aren't they dead, except... well, do your aunt and uncle count?"
Luke smiles, "Well, it turns out that Harry is my nephew. I would have liked to meet my sister, but it appears that your Voldemort has robbed me of the opportunity."
Your fingers playing with the handle of the Werewindle, you smile at both of them. "My grandfather had quite a family. I might even meet my great grandfather."
"Sadly, no, he has passed away some time before my father did."
"Oberon is dead, not missing? Who is the king?"
You cough a few times and shake your head. "Never mind... Ginny, do you know where the paintings are, we need to find them soon?"
She looks thoughtful for a moment. "Could you wait here for five minutes?" Without waiting for your answer she darts outside and upstairs, her steps silent and swift.
Luke glances at you. "Do you trust her?"
"More than I trust you."
He lets out a silent laugh. "Fair enough."
Ginny takes four minutes to come back. She's not alone, though – seemingly as soon as the door opens there's Hermione hugging you.
"Harry... Harry. Harry..." She sobs repeating your name. "We were so worried."
Ginny pinches her from behind. "He said he's in a hurry. I shouldn't have told you."
Hermione finally releases you and her eyes widen at the sight of Luke. He nods his head slightly, to recognise her, making her guffaw nervously, her brain trying to make sense out of things.
You hush her quickly – you don't want to wake anyone in the house, even if the most of people are out looking for you. "Hermione, it's alright, he's my uncle." Seeing that it's not enough you add, "Ginny will explain it to you."
Hermione blinks a few times and nods.
"Look, I really appreciate you both being here, but I... we really need to find the paintings."
"They are in the basement," says Ginny, "I have head Sirius talking with Nicolas. Do you need the cards, too?" She takes out an already familiar trump. "I picked it before the... poison started working..."
Luke snatches it from her hand and takes a good look at his picture. "One of Merle's..." Seeing your look, he gives it to you. "Keep it, I don't really need one of myself. Perhaps now, we can go and take the paintings?"
The trip downstairs in uneventful and silent. Ginny is walking silently, but Hermione is mumbling something constantly. You have to hush her a few times, even.
This time, the metal doors look even more threatening. Yet, you have to try. One of the rooms turns out to be empty – it was where Luke had spent a few hours, the other one has a small potions and alchemy laboratory, and the third one is locked. There is some kind of spell work in place, though, as you can feel the door starting to pulse after your touch.
Ginny leans forward, slightly panicking. "There's supposed to be a password. I can't believe I forgot!"
Your mind throbbing, you notice Luke starting to gather some energy of his own, he's probably going to try and push through the spells with Pattern, whatever that means.
"Wait – it's Sirius' password." You suddenly are struck by a simple idea; holding your wand on the door you proclaim, "I solemnly swear I'm up to no good."
There is a loud click, and the door opens.
There are quite a few things littered in the room, seemingly without any visible order. Some of those appear to be the dangerous valuables the attic wasn't safe for, some of these are thing you can't identify... Luke smiles as he grabs a solid looking blade from the pile.
"Careful," Hermione can't help but point out, "I think this one is enchanted to harm its wielder."
He only laughs. "I'll clean it before using, don't worry." You feel the build up of power and hear him mutter a few words you don't fully recognise. There is warmth protruding from the blade, then a silent hiss, and then – silence. "There." He smiles. "Most shadow magics fold when hit with Pattern."
Hermione gapes at him curiously, but your gaze shifts to the three paintings, hung on the side. "We found them."
Luke takes two of them down, leaving the one with the island hanging on the wall. "We need to take them with us, we don't know if we might need them later." He thinks for a few seconds. "I'm going first, and then you're going to take the painting and use my trump to get to me. This way you're sure it's not going to be left behind – that can happen sometimes with bigger paintings. One of the reasons trumps are made the size of cards."
You nod, pointing ant the paintings he is holding. "But I'll hold onto these two until we get there."
"Suit yourself." He waves it off as insignificant and passes them to you. "Well, ladies, see you later. Harry, remember to use my trump." His gaze on the island, he suddenly fades out from view, a grey shadow with rainbow coloured shades lingering in his place.
You take down the painting and clutch all three of them uncomfortably to your side. You spare a glance both Ginny and Hermione. The latter mutters something about you having to explain everything some time soon.
You take out the card with your left hand and try to concentrate on Luke. This time it's somewhat easier than you would expect.
He's currently crouching behind a huge rock, holding the drawn blade, already bloody.
Someone is silently chanting near him. "He's not suppossed to be here... He'ss not to be here... He'ss not suppossed to be here... He hass a long tooth..."
Luke raises his head to look at you, "Careful, there's a horde of snakes, well – everywhere." He hacks at his side, outside of your vision. "Have any useful spells? It's hard to see them in the dark."
You snigger. "Just let me through."
As you emerge on the island, hissing, the snakes recoil and scatter, disappearing behind the rocks and inside the cracks.
"Well, that's certainly useful, whatever it was."
"I just told them to go away and leave us alone."
He raises an eyebrow, but doesn't question any further. "Do you have an idea what we are looking for, or you only know that it's in this island? Do we go to the tower, or is it outside?" He point out towards the centre of the island, where indeed a small square tower is standing.
"I don't want to dive into the sword more than I already am, but I'm sure we'll find some answers inside."
As you make way through the sharp and slippery rocks of the coast, glad that you don't have to look out for a stray snake suddenly biting you from some crack, you are the first one to break the silence. You both are carrying the paintings, but maybe it would have been a good idea to leave them at the shore...
"Is it true, that the trumps were invented by Merlin?"
"Well, he is one of the few able to draw them, myself included, but no, he didn't create them, he learned how to. The one you have of me is definitely his. The island was painted by Brand, I'm almost sure, and the one you have of him is one of Dworkin's. It might have been him who invented them, I'm not exactly sure..."
"So, Bleys did lie to me?"
"Or, at least, didn't tell you the whole truth. It's not that surprising, given who he is."
As you get nearer to the tower, it starts getting colder. That is strange, as so far it looked like the place is somewhere south of England. The stars flicker and the moonlight becomes weaker.
"What is this?" Luke mutters in surprise.
There is a muffled scream somewhere nearby – a woman? The paintings you were carrying drop on the ground.
"Dementor." You gasp out, trying to find and hold to a happy memory. The second you realized that Sirius was safe. "Expecto Patronum!"
A silver unicorn runs towards the night, finding a barely visible black shape. The coldness retreats together with the fiend, and your mother's scream dissipates in your mind. But this time the Patronus doesn't behave as it should – it charges after the Dementor, as if trying to skewer it with its horn. The Dementor gives out an unearthly scream that makes you cover your ears.
The silver unicorn runs past the hooded figure, the horn tearing at its side. The Dementor scrams again and again, and only after a few more stabs it quiets down. The unicorn turns around leaving a slowly floating black cloud to be blown away by the wind.
There is something akin to whimper as the remains disappear in the night – the Dementor is alive, but heavily wounded – no book tells that it's possible.
"That was..." Luke is struggling to find words. You have a feeling that the scream hurt him as much as it did you, and you can barely hear him speaking.
The unicorn, lighting everything in its path with the weak silver simmer, is slowly approaching. It's strange that it isn't fading away even slightly, but after the fight, you're not certain what is normal for it anymore. The unicorn gives Luke a long, hard stare and turns to you. There is something different in his gaze, some other magic at work, something you do not understand. Then, it gallops towards the tower, and slams its horn into the glittering gates. There's a shattering sound, the whole island shivers and the wooden gates shatter to pieces. The unicorn jumps in the air and disappears.
"Was that supposed to happen?" Luke is looking curiously at me, as we are making way towards the now clear way into the tower.
"I... The Patronus usually is intangible..."
"Figured as much. That means the Unicorn has something to do with all this."
"I keep forgetting that you don't know everything. Well, the unicorn is..."
"Look out." You push him aside from the sickly brown spell emerging from the doorway.
The spell splatters on the rocks with a shower of sparks. Luke is already in mid roll, approaching the opponent. Somehow he is still holding onto the painting of Hogwarts – the one he was carrying. After he breaks out of the roll, he is holding the blade at the ready. And you have only just drawn your wand. How did you manage to hold more than two seconds against him, again?
The cloaked figure – a Death Eater, manages another spell – this time, a well known green one. Luke is too fast for him – the second the light leaves the wand, the man's hand is severed with a vicious bite of the blade. The killing spell zooms past you, as you are already moving to look for any other opponents. There are none.
"The green spell." You feel the need to warn him. "It's the killing curse. I'm not sure if your Pattern would help against it, it's supposed to be unblockable..."
He nods, sword point held at the death eater's mask. "Can you cast it?"
"What? It's a dark spell..."
"I see..." he cracks the mask open, revealing some barely familiar face. Still you can't place it exactly. "Who are you?"
The Death Eater shivers. "Goyle."
That's why he looks familiar. You turn to your captive, asking him what's on your mind, "Why are you here? Were you not supposed to be at the ministry?"
"The Dark Lord said to guard the..." He starts shivering and falls silent, sometimes glancing at his left arm.
Luke cuts open his sleeve revealing a red Dark Mark on the Death eaters arm.
"The Dark Lord knows you are here." Goyle starts laughing. "He's going to come and kill all of you." His laugher echoes through the tower, dark and mad, tired and victorious.
You raise your wand to stun him, but Luke just cuts his throat without a second thought. Seeing your shocked expression, he sighs. "He's annoying, and he tried to kill me first. And we have to move. I'm sure we could take a Dark Lord or two, but I would really like to know what I'm up against before trying."
"You didn't need to kill him..."
"No, but it was a faster and more foolproof way. Now move, we need to inspect the tower."
You don't bulge from the spot.
"Look, Harry, I won us some time. You are wasting it now. You can scold me and talk about morals later, alright?"
You grudgingly follow after him.
"That's got to be a joke."
You're still hurt by his disregard for human life, so you don't answer.
"I really hope it's just a joke." He pokes the strange statue of the unfamiliar man. There is no response from it – it's a statue, what is he expecting? "I once carved my name into one of those... Will have to look for Merle's notes on that... Harry, we're taking it."
"It'll help me find Merle." He's smiling at some joke that's probably funny only to him. "And it's a funny looking statue. With it here, it almost looks like home..." He trails of.
"It really looks alike the place I grew up in..."
He leaves the statue standing in place and starts jogging up the stairs, as if suddenly he knows where he is going. So far the tower was almost as complicated as Hogwarts, with staircases everywhere – hopefully – none of them move. You run after him. There a few turns, a few doors he slams open, and finally you descend down a silver staircase to a strange room with a fountain. There's no water, nor any other liquid pouring out.
"No, it shouldn't look like this." He turns to face you again. "I think I made a mistake."
Your gaze, however is onto the basin where the water should be – it's floor is covered in a strange image, of clouds, sky and strange buildings. Almost as if everything is floating in the air. Suddenly, a glimmer of moonlight shines through the window and into the fountain, and the picture starts trembling and moving – as all trumps do.
"Luke!" You get his attention to the fountain. "What is that?"
"Tir-na Nog'th! I was wrong, but this is the way out... Quick, we need to take the statue with us."
There is a shout from upstairs. You would recognise the voice anywhere – Voldemort.
"There is no time..." You whisper. "Can't you just take the painting, and we can return any time?"
"No – you have lost the one of the island – we might not be able to find it again!"
A door above opens and a few figures emerge at the top.
"Harry Potter," there comes a surprised hiss, "And I thought that I was looking for some warlock Rinaldo."
"Voldemort." You mutter and raise your wand.
Luke laughs. "And who might you be?"
"I am Lord Voldemort!" he announces. "Everyone knows to fear my name. Throw down your weapons, and I might spare you."
Luke gives you a glance. "Give me the sword."
"No. Rinaldo? Was anything you told me true?" The anger is rising inside. "Is this how you behave with your father's memory?"
"Look, Harry, just give me the sword."
Voldemort gives a satisfied chuckle. "I'm sorry, but I cannot allow you to kill yourselves before I do. Crucio."
The spell speeds towards Luke (Rinaldo?), and he barely manages to dodge it. You snap an Expelliarmus at the Dark Lord, but he sidesteps it and conjures a huge flaming whip. The Death eaters at his side start shooting spells of their own.
It takes visible effort for Luke to dodge the assault, but you are not so lucky – you manage to stun one of the followers as the fire whip catches your hand and you almost drop your wand from the pain. Recoiling back, you watch Luke stab another Death Eater in the stomach. Then the whip digs into his side and throws him at the fountain.
The fountain – you quickly shift the gaze at the painted view, and imagine stepping through, ignoring the burning pain in your arm. There is a shiver and you hear Voldemort's spell, this time heading directly at your exposed back – "Avada Kedavra."
Starts are shining through the walls. It's a silvery city, a strange swirling image, living on the light of the moon. The stars themselves are mesmerising – it's incredible how they are different – You were never a prodigy of astronomy, but even you can tell that there are no similar constellations above Hogwarts. Where are you?
Tir-na Nog'th – the ghostly image of Amber.
Why are you here?
Because you stepped through, looking for it. And you need to hurry.
Why do you need to hurry? It looks beautiful, mesmerising, closer to the real home, that you could ever with to be.
Because the moment the moonlight leaves, it's going to return to its ghostly, intangible form.
Down bellow there is a real world.
There are faces, figures, motions, all around you.
Some people you can't recognise.
You cannot touch them.
They are the shades, they are not real.
You start to lose yourself between the silver staircases, the magnificent buildings, the streets of cloud, silver and light.
Werewindle is warm.
The Pattern is nearby. You have to decide.
There is a voice in your mind – it's unfamiliar, strange – alien, yet something that's in your blood.
Walk it, or walk away.
There is a loud grunt, and Luke appears before you, barely standing straight, his clothes burnt and his side a bloody mess. He collapses on the ground, before sparing a glance at your direction. Torn between the want to rush towards him or hide, you settle for a middle ground – you step toward the side of the ghostly street and start creeping towards him.
Then – there is a swirl in the night and there is Voldemort standing with all his chilling appearance, as if he owns the place. How?
Is he related? No – impossible.
The sword urges to be drawn.
He stole your blood. He stole our blood. You must make him pay.
You dart from the cover and cast the disarming charm. It doesn't work.
Voldemort responds with the killing curse. It also fails.
You draw the Werewindle out, its razor sharp edge glittering in the moonlight. You take a step towards the Dark Lord, who is still staring at the end of the wand, slightly surprised. Then, he takes out a trump, but you can't let him get away – somehow, magic doesn't work here, and you are the one with the sword.
Another step and you swing the blade in a short arc, aiming to sever his arm, but Voldemort twists to a side, your blade cutting the trump in two.
"Potter," he hisses, "don't think that you can defeat me with such muggle means."
You ignore him and bring the sword back down at him. He raises his hand and a silver snake darts at your face from his sleeve.
"Die..." you barely manage to stop yourself mid swing, and recoil back – had you allowed your strike to continue and didn't react – you would probably lack an eye now.
There is loud hissing, as there appears to be a few more snakes hidden in his robes, each and every one more poisonous than the next.
"Kill him." Voldemort commands and the snakes start attacking you.
You try stopping them with Parseltongue, but they don't listen. You resort to simple strikes, and cut them apart, with a surprising ease. Is that it? Voldemort looks too content as you are approaching him again.
There is movement on your left, and you leap back, the silver snake almost biting you in the leg. Didn't you cut it in two before? It hisses obscenities at you, and you decapitate it again.
There is another one of them near your legs. You hack at it, in time to see the silver serpent rising without any markings of the wound. Voldemort starts laughing.
Give me control. Give me your body, and I'll kill him.
You don't understand, the blade is supposed to be imbued with Pattern – it's mortal for the chaos beasts... But the snakes reform again and again.
Give me control and it will be.
Why should you?
Why not? You can trust your grandfather's memory.
Why is this happening? The Werewindle starts pulsing anew, and the snakes recoil, giving you a moment of respite.
Now, give it to me. It's your only chance. They are learning, it's harder and harder for you to keep them at bay. One of them will get through, then another and what then?
You spin on the heel, bringing down the sword in the glittering arc, severing two snakes with one swing, but the third one manages to get through. There is a sharp twinge in your right leg, and you barely manage to use the Werewindle to try and cut the serpent off. Its head, however looks just as alive as it was before and even severed from the body is not releasing the bite.
You can almost feel as the venom is spreading in your blood, the throbbing pain and unexpected stiffness following its path.
Quick, give me control!
"No!" You scream out loud and break into the run, towards the only chance you think you still have.
Voldemort is following you together with the snakes. Each step is painful and heavy. but you still can't manage to get the snake's head off you leg. The Pattern is nearby.
You don't need to walk the Pattern – you have the sword. Just give in, and you'll survive. I'll make sure of it.
You are close to the beginning now, and there is but a step before you try...
You won't make it through. You're too weak. You're poisoned. Why are you so keen on killing yourself?
You place a foot on the glowing line. Pain shoots up throughout your body. The serpent's head is burning with a blue-white flame and disappears in a puff of smoke. You take the first step, going against the stream of the river. There are blue-white sparks outlining the way.
There is no way back. The whispers of the sword fall silent, but you can feel that it didn't want to be taken into the Pattern. You still did it, against your grandfathers wishes. There is a crackle and your hair is beginning to rise. You push forward.
Sword in burned hand, your right led bleeding, pain echoing everywhere, you make it to the abrupt curve. Ten more paces and a certain resistance arises, as if a black barrier has grown before you. It pushes back, compeletely matching your effort to get through.
The First Veil. You need to get beyond it.
Harry Potter. The blood of Amber is in your veins, and your life is full of false expectations. When have done something for yourself? Why do you drive yourself so hard? What magic has Brand weaved upon your line?
Step after step, you push through.
There was a reason of the world you lived in. There was a reason for your existence. It's not a fairy tale, nor a story, its borderline cruelty. Brand never was a loving grandfather. He never wanted to see his daughter, as she was a price to pay. And had she survived, he probably would have come after few hundred years and 'rescued' you all from the Shadow prison and expected to be thanked and honoured.
Your mind is a knot of thoughts, some yours and some alien. It is incredible how much had the sword dug into your mind, how strong had it rooted inside. Yet – you are incompatible, had it been otherwise, you wouldn't be trying to walk the thin warm line. You are too different, as you believe in values your grandfather never even tried to acknowledge.
You are well into the Pattern now and the sparks flash continually about your feet, reaching to the height of your knees. The wound in the leg stings as it's touched by a stray spark, and you are lost in the pain, effort and steps. You don't know which direction you are facing now, it there is Voldemort watching. You don't think about Tir-na Nog'th, don't remember Hogwarts – it's just you pushing forward or dying in the process. There's a pins-and-needle feeling in your cheeks and a coldness on the back of your neck. Your teeth are clenched to prevent them from clattering.
Six more rapid steps, reaching the end of an arc and coming to the begging place of a straight line. You set your foot upon it, and with each step you take another barrier begins to rise against you. It's the Second Veil.
Why do you feel the connection to the past? Why is your former life important? Why is Voldemort? You can find a new life, a new place, the memories you got from Brand are enough for you to understand the Shadow and its workings. Don't you want a peaceful life?
You are lying to yourself. You're trying to push Hogwarts away, to concentrate on your progress, to ignore the wounds... But even as you know that the Amber is of Substance, that it's true and real, you can't help but remember your friends. Your godfather. Your school. Your home.
Hogwarts was your home, even when the troll attacked, even as the Basilisk tried to kill you. The Serpent tried to kill you. Why? You don't know, but it's as sure as the Unicorn protecting you in your third year and in Nicolas' Tower. They are trying to play you, and it's time their pawn moved out in the big world? But can you leave the wizarding world behind?
Ten paces, then a swirling filigree of fire confronts you. You essay it, your sweat dropping onto the ground. There are currents of air moving, trying to blast you away from the Pattern. You struggle on, resisting them. You know that to leave the Pattern before you have completed would mean your death. Your blood mixes with the drops of sweat. It's not good to bleed on the Pattern – there is something warning you in the back of the mind, but you know that it's not really the True one.
Three more curves, a straight line and a series of sharp arcs and there is the feeling of something you have seen in the memories that were given to you – the power over Shadows.
Ten more turns leave you dizzy, another short arc, a straight line, and the Final Veil.
It's agony to move. Everything is trying to beat you aside; you almost fall on your knees, but somehow manage to straighten the legs...
You killed the Serpent of your world. You will do anything in your power to stop the Riddle from reaching the canter of the Pattern. You will no longer succumb to the blade. But will you go back home? Where is your home, where is your family, Harry?
The world was harsh, cruel. Your home was a small cupboard, a place where you felt safer than anywhere else. Your family – a relatives by blood, but those that only hurt you. Then, Hagrid came and told you of another world. Hogwarts was your new home. Your friends and Sirius – your new family.
It appears that the true world is many times more than that. And your family is larger than you thought. Your Grandfather had many brothers. This family is cruel too. Your grandfather tried to... How is he better than Vernon? What makes Amber better?
You now have power over shadow. You could find anything, have everything, rest, learn, teach, play... You could find a world where you could get to know Cedric. You could find the world where you would watch James Potter cursing the hell out of Snape. You could find dozens of Hermiones and Rons, Ginnies and Nevilles, Lunas and Chos... You could even try and find Lily, but she would be but a shadow of your true mother.
What would be the point? Your home is still at Hogwarts, your Heart is still with your family. The one, that loves you as much as you love them. The one, that trusts you as much as you trust them.
And you would return home.
The air was both boiling and cold, the white-blue sparks reached as high as your eyes, you could barely see anything, much less the Pattern itself.
Then, a short arc, ending in blackness.
One, two. . . . And to take the last step is like trying to push through a concrete wall.
You manage it.
Your legs don't hold and you fall onto your knees, in the middle of the Pattern. Shaking, you are gasping for breath. The blood is almost boiling in your veins – the poison of the snake is being expelled the most painful way possible. Your hand is still hurting from the fire whip, and your legs can barely hold even without the bites.
The sword is cold alike the trumps. The memory of your grandfather has shifted and changed. Can you say that the memory is dying?
I could have given you the same control, yet you chose to become a tool for the Pattern. We could...
Your mind is suddenly clearer than before.
Your forehead feels warm – there are a few drops of warm dark blood pouring out of your scar.
Your mind is your own now.
Your mind is yours.
You stand slowly, painfully, helping yourself with the blade. It belongs to you. The Pattern in the blade is glowing, and has shifted slightly. You look around to see Voldemort standing before the start of the Pattern, his snakes circling him, his eyes onto you.
You must stop him.
He has killed your family – you can't let him roam shadow. But will the blood he has stolen from you be enough for him?
You must stop him.
You could ask the Pattern to bring you anywhere. To bring you back at Hogwarts.
I will. But first – you must stop him.
You take a step and suddenly you are before the Dark Lord, Werewindle almost singing in your hand.
As one of the snakes jumps forward, you jab at it with your blade. Werewindle carries a piece of the Pattern with it, and that piece is deadly for everything of chaos. The snake falls down erupting with blue flames.
You finish the others with a few swings, but Voldemort isn't standing still, either – he has been through so many enhancing rituals, through so much, that even without his magic, without his snakes...
His punch lands on your stomach and his other hand grips your burn marks. You scream out of pain and drop the sword. Your legs are barely holding, and your lungs are desperately trying to catch breath.
"You made me resort to Muggle combat." He hisses, kicking you in the ribs. Three times. "I hate everything Muggle."
He kicks the sword away. Werewindle clatters against the silvery ground. You have no strength left in you.
Hissing laughter fills the area.
"You are nothing, Potter, nothing. Yet, you shouldn't die before you watch me ascend into the godhood. I will attain the true immortality and the power over innumerable worlds."
He kicks you again for good measure.
"Nicolas is a good liar and a perfect teacher. You have destroyed the means he tried to give me for my resurrection not once, but twice. You have killed the echo of the Serpent."
This time the heavy boot, from some scaly hide, lands into your face. "The Serpent that was there since the deal with Brand. The Serpent that taught me of true world, it has taught me of the true immortality." His next kick makes you whimper.
"You see, there is a secret the Serpent has thought me – I'll walk the atrocity made with his eye, and the rituals I have done... There will be no petty distractions for my magic. I will kill you like a wizard. And I will be the greatest one there ever was. Forever. Yet, you should be happy, Potter. I won't return to the wizarding world you hold dear – your friends are safe. Do you like this last gift I give you? Do you understand the mercy Lord Voldemort is showing you?"
You cough up some blood; it splatters on the hem of his cloak.
"And just maybe, I will return, immortal and eternal, and show them what powers there are in the world."
He turns around and strolls towards the beginning of the Pattern.
You reach out and grab his leg. You held your grip as strong as you can and even manage to trip him. Sadly, he rises again, free of your touch and stomps onto your offending hand. There is a crack and a scream. The scream is yours – he has broken the bones in your right palm.
"Petty distractions, Potter. Pathetic. Were you trying to use your mother's curse against me? Who do you hold me as – I am Lord Voldemort, and I have beaten any curses of hers. Do you remember how I killed her? I hope you do."
You glance upwards and notice the clouds gathering slowly. The moon. You smile even in pain.
"You will die today, Tom." You call him by his given name, hoping that it would annoy him more. Surprisingly, it works, as his eyes are boiling blood red. "You will die like one of the muggles you despise so much, Tom. You will die today."
There is so much pain everywhere. He's kicking you and you are rolling on the ground, covered in blood and bruises. After a few minutes or hours of torture, he finally stops.
"You know, I'll keep you alive, Potter. I will make a statue out of you, one that could see and feel. And I will kill anyone you might have held dear, anyone you ever smiled at. And you will watch."
He kicks you in the face for the thousandth time and you even black out. It's probably just a second or two you are missing, but as you open your eyes again, he's stepping onto the line.
You start crawling towards the sword. It takes you quite some time, but you manage it. Werewindle heats you up, soothing the pain somewhat. Still, standing is probably above your current state. Voldemort is halfway through.
The clouds are almost covering the moon, completely. You laugh, loudly, and proud with the time you have won. Voldemort hears you, surprisingly and tracing your gazes notices that everything is more and more translucent by the second. He tries to rush, but there is no rushing once on the Pattern.
Still, he is getting closer and closer to the end, and you are suddenly afraid that it won't work. Gathering the remaining strength you prepare to hurl the sword at him, as the last resort, but he's too far, you won't probably manage it.
Then, the moon hides behind a cloud.
Tir-na Nog'th flickers and disappears completely.
You start falling.
Voldemort starts screaming out of rage – has had but the last Veil left to cross. Then, the rage shifts into surprise and pain as he too starts falling. It is deadly to leave the Pattern while trying to walk it. There is a smell of the burning flesh everywhere and the Dark Lord starts clawing at his face.
But he doesn't die.
You shift slightly – so that you are nearer and nearer.
And he still isn't dead.
You have almost no strength at all, but the Dark Lord recovers.
He soars in the air, swooping at you like an angry hawk. There is a tingle of magic in his movements, yet it's obvious he is still in excruciating pain.
Finally he slams into you and starts tearing at your clothes. You try to swing at him mid-air, but with your left hand it comes of weak and doesn't even scratch him. You don't understand what is happening but try to struggle. It's hard to do so, when your whole body screams with pain.
He finally founds what he was looking for and tears out one of your three cards out. You cannot let him use it. Werewindle gives you the last drop of strength and you somehow manage to twist the blade and pierce Voldemort in his stomach.
This time, the blade is yours and your enemy has a drop of chaos in his veins.
He has no chances.
There is a hiss in the air, and you can almost see the invisible binding strings snapping as the Dark lord gives his last breath.
Still holding onto the blade or, more exactly, – onto the remains of Dark Lord, you manage to reach the trump he just got out.
The ground is near.
Which one is it?
Nicolas – Bleys.
A few meters above the ground you manage to establish contact.
You don't really remember if you hit the ground or if that was Bleys dragging you towards him.
"Harry." The voice is pleasant, calm. "Wake up."
"Headmaster?" You finally match the voice with your memories.
"You're safe. I'm sorry to say that we didn't recover your wand, though. You probably lost it along the ride"
You open your eyes, and notice the concerned face of the headmaster. "Where am I?"
You look around to see the usual sight of the hospital wing.
"I'm sorry to disturb your rest, but I have to know, what happened to Voldemort?"
You try to sit up.
"Potter! You are to rest," the voice of Madam Pomfrey reaches you.
"I feel fine."
"The injuries were excessive."
"And they are healed now," you argue.
"Please, Harry." Albus motions for Pomfrey to leave it be. "Voldemort."
"What happened to your scar? Could you tell anything else?"
You touch your forehead, and find a very faint trail under your fingers. "It's healing."
"Where have you been all this year?"
"A year? It was but a day." It doesn't look like the Headmaster is kidding. "What of my friends? Are they alright? Please tell me they are alright? How is Sirius?"
Albus smiles brightly, his eyes twinkling. "They were quite distressed with your absence, but everyone is fine."
You let out a sigh of relief.
"Harry – I'm sorry to hold you from your friends, but this is important – when Voldemort died, did he turn into a shade?"
Albus eyes twinkle. "And would I be wrong to say that he died at your hand? And you used the powers of Merlin? The powers he was unaware of?"
"I stabbed him with my grandfathers sword. Does that count?" There is a slightest trace of irony in your voice. "Why is it important?"
"The prophesy has been fulfilled." Headmaster smiles. "The one we defended that day at the ministry."
You shrug. "I have never asked what it was. Is it important?"
"Not anymore, not anymore..." He smiles warmly at you. "Now, I believe, your friends would like to see you."
A smile finds your face, but as he gets up, you notice that one of his hands is black and wrinkled. "Headmaster?"
He turns to you, eyes twinkling and examines his own hand as if seeing it for the first time. "It's a story for another time. Its from the year you were absent - Nicolas has been most helpful both with my search and the stopping of the curse. But as I said, you don't need to trouble yourself; there will be time for the tale."
Then the door opens and a handful of Hogwarts students enter - your slightly older friends.
"...how did it end with Luke?" Ginny smiles at you.
You curse silently and start digging your pockets for the card. There is no mark of it ever being here. "Bleys."
"Harry?" Hermione sounds concerned. "Do you feel alright?"
"Where is the sword?"
There is a horrified expression shared by all of them. Hermione gasps. "It's dangerous..."
You smile. "It's not dangerous anymore, don't worry. Did Nicolas take it? He brought me here, right?"
"Flamel and Dumbledore both were at Hogwarts when you appeared."
"Where is Nicolas? He left, right?" You start to connect the dots as they nod. "He probably took everything with him."
You stand up, and prepare to go seek the headmaster, but then hesitate for a second, stuck with an idea. You dart into the mediwitch's office. "Madam Pomfrey?"
She raises her head questioningly and starts drawing her wand. "Is there something wrong? Maybe the broken ribs healed wrongly?"
"Do you remember our second year? Do you keep a reserve of Mandrake Draught?"
She motions towards the wall, where a line of potions is standing, and gestures at two small grey liquid vials. "What do you need it for?"
"I might know someone who is transfigured into stone."
"Potter?" her stern voice follows you as you grab the vial and dart through the door, almost throwing Hermione and Ron down on the ground.
"Harry? Where we you going?" Both Ron and Hermione decide to tag along.
"To the Headmaster."
"What do you need the Draught for?" Hermione asks. "Don't you think you took a bit too much?"
"What? Why? I figured a vial is a dose for one person."
She laughs, barely catching her breath – you haven't slowed down much. "It's just a few drops sprayed anywhere. I have read everything about it after the second year..."
You run the rest of the distance in silence.
The gargoyle parts after Hermione tells it the password. It's some kind of sweet, but your mind isn't focused on that.
"Headmaster," you shout as soon as you enter, "do you know how to reach Nicolas?"
His eyes narrow. "Why?"
"He stole the trumps and the sword."
"Harry, your obsession with the sword is dangerous. We both decided to destroy the dangerous object – Nicolas will take care of that."
"He won't destroy it. I need to find him and stop him."
"Stop Nicolas?" Headmasters question is echoed by Hermione.
"Sir," you try again, "I know that the sword was dangerous to me before. Now, it's harmless. I'm not asking for it to keep it, I just need to undo the trap my grandfather placed on this world. Nicolas knows about it and is smart enough to figure it out after Voldemort got out."
"Harry, Nicolas is my friend, has been most of my life, I don't think that he has any intentions to harm you or anyone else. But what trap are you speaking about?"
"This," you motion around you, your voice slightly shaking, "this world was both a safe house and a trap my grandfather built. This is the place where he was carrying the negotiations with chaos, here, here he was the one that weaved a number of shadows together – it's a complicated concept I still don't understand, but it all makes sense – the time differences, the time turners, everything."
Albus looks thoughtful. "Who told you that?"
"My grandfather. He left... I mean, the Pattern holds memories of those, who manage to walk it. He weaved a part of Pattern into his sword, incidentally – the part holding a part of his memories. Still, had I taken the sword after walking the Pattern, I wouldn't even have noticed that something resides inside. He almost took over me through my blood, but I have walked the Pattern and in the process – cleaned both the sword and my mind. Some knowledge remained. I know how to release the bindings. And I know that Bleys might make a mistake and collapse everything when he leaves. You would all crease to exist..."
Headmaster stands from his chair and places his hands on the table. "Alas, I cannot help much..."The expression of his face changes to the one in pain. "I assume, that the vial of your blood that he took is important as well?"
"He needs blood of Brand's line to be able to do anything at this place. My blood. Voldemort got out because he had since the rebirth ritual in the fourth year. The one Bleys helped him create."
Albus lets out a few painful gasps. "I'm sorry, Harry, I have failed you yet again..."
"You didn't, you didn't know..." Your voice is heavy, "or... Headmaster, please tell me what do you know about my scar? Did you know that it was a part of the Dark Lord? I managed to get a peak at his memories as it was destroyed."
"Harry... I... didn't, but I... expected it a possibility." Headmaster looks extremely weak and is barely managing the words. "I feared... that at worst it might lead you... to your death..."
"Why didn't you tell..." Your anger washes away as the Headmaster staggers again – this time your worry beats the slight anger, and you jump towards the headmaster, catching him from the fall. "What is happening to you? Sir? Do we need to get Pomfrey?"
He manages an old man's smile and a usual twinkle of his eyes. "Poppy... won't... help... me... In my youth... I... Flamel... had me promise... an Unbreakable Vow... to never... attack him... or aid those that... against him... It... price... for an apprenticeship..." He looks at the side, eyes finding Fawkes. "Fawkes... agrees... to bring you to him..." Albus reaches out and pushes his wand in your hands. "Take it... I give... as a gift..."
Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore closes his eyes and stills. There are tears on your cheeks. Anger, regret and pain. You feel the wand with your fingers, and it lets out a single spark, as if promising revenge for its former master. Given as a gift and not forcibly taken.
You get up slowly and step towards the case holding the Sword of Gryffindor. Hermione is sobbing uncontrollably and Ron is stunned into silence. There is some defensive magic at place, but you push at it with the Pattern and it dissolves before you. Clasping the handle of the sword, you turn to Fawkes, before Ron and Hermione recover. "I'm ready."
You vanish with a flash of flames.
You are brought back to the Nicolas' Tower. In fact, it was built by Brand, on his first few visits. It's supposedly a smaller copy of the Keep of the Four Worlds, but you don't have enough of his memories to compare. Instead of the raw power source in it depths – there is a way to Tir-na Nog'th, and the moon here always shines upon the fountain as it appears – a beautiful mix of trumps and local magic.
This is also a place holding the key outside. Bleys needs the sword and blood to open it, but he doesn't know how to do it without destroying this Shadow.
And you have no chances facing him in combat.
Luckily Fawkes brings you near the statue. Merlin.
A few drops of the Draught, and you start waiting.
The tower is slightly shaking. It's starting. That's not the only way to leave – he could have just killed anyone with a trace of Brand's blood. Had you not returned, after a few Amber years the Shadow would have collapsed by itself. Did Bleys have a hand in Voldemort choosing to attack your family? Dumbledore believed that it was because of the prophesy, but Bleys might have figured out who was there to sustain the stability of the shadow. Lily. You.
Brand held the shadow stable for many years, jumping in and out via trumps, but when he got tired of it all... He figured a daughter could do it better. Time works interesting here – while someone of Brand's blood is there, it's considerably slower and even stable... Sometimes, when no one of the blood is in the Shadow when you arrive, you could even end up before you left. The whole mess hurts your head – still, it's probably the only world where things such as time turners exist and work. Opening the way outside will make sure they won't.
Time. You don't have much left. It's regretful that having a time turner wouldn't help – the collapse is going to start too soon for it to work properly.
Merlin opens his eyes almost collapsing on the ground. "What?"
"Bleys got you." You smile at his stunned expression. "I need to stop him. I need your help."
"Who are you?"
"Harry. We don't have much time... how do you feel?"
You conjure a goblet and fill it with water. It's slightly easier than usually, but that's probably the Pattern helping along the local magic. Or the memories of Bleys. Or Tom.
He drinks it without much suspicion. The tower shakes again.
"Do you have any tricks with you?" You ask him. "I don't think we could take Bleys head on."
He laughs. "Give me a few minutes to hang a spell or two and we'll see."
"Don't you need a wand?"
There is a strange circling of energies, and something reaches out from him, and then with a silent pop, there is a sword and a small wand in his hands. You gape at him.
"And, Logrus still works locally."
You nod, not fully understanding – you have many memories, but there's still not much order in your mind.
"You are Lily's boy, right?"
"You look like your father. And you have Brand's eyes. We once we had a row about you - it was the day Bleys petrified me. It was sneaky, but nothing less to expect from an uncle. So, why do you want to stop him? I figure he didn't kill you after all?"
The tower shakes again.
"Look, Bleys is trying to collapse the shadow. Help me stop him, and I'll open it to be reachable."
"Will that hurt us?"
"Bleys way might," you lie. "I don't fully know. It might even kill both you and him. I should survive."
"Alright, let's go talk with my uncle."
There is a huge hall, with the sword protruding from the floor, wind is blowing everywhere, the tower is shaking heavily.
You enter from one side, and Merlin from the other – he disillusioned both of you beforehand.
Bleys is in the middle of some complicated magics.
You are the first one to reach him, and as Merlin asked you to – you are the first one to attack. You send a stunning spell, and move to the side as soon as it leaves your wand.
The red beam washes over him, scattering to small lights. Bleys turns around and looks at the direction the spell came from.
You send a severing curse. Bleys swats it away with his hand, the rings glittering with power on his fingers.
"Harry, I mean you no harm." Before you manage to snap another one, he gives another wave and dispels the disillusionment. "I'm just tired of this place and want to leave."
"So why don't you? I could show you the way out."
"I have already found the way out."
"It will collapse everything, destroying everyone."
"They are of no consequence. The only ones that I'm slightly reluctant to destroy are you and Merle."
"Did you kill my mother?" Your voice has metal undertones.
"I'm certain it was a certain Dark Lord, and not me." The tower shakes. "I have never touched a hair on her head."
"But you told him to go there."
"You tell me that as if I could order him around."
"But you could, and you did. He was your experiment of chaos powers and promises. You were trying to make a deal with the Serpent."
"Well, Grindelwald failed, so I had to try something new. Still, it's only as a way to get out of here. Harry, you cannot hold it against me for wanting to escape this place?"
"Why did you have to kill my mother?"
"Honestly? I thought that her death would simply end this prison. I was saddened to hear that her demise was in vain. And I didn't even try to kill you."
"When Voldemort was but a shade, you said him that you were trying to reach me, but the sacrificial magic and the curse were in the way. You said that you tried to make my relatives kill me, supporting their hatred with your spells. Why didn't you go yourself and simply ended me, while I was in school?" Anger is boiling inside of you. "If you killed my mother, why didn't you kill me yourself, you had your chances..."
"You know how did I end up here? I was trying to learn Brand's secrets. He brought many of them into his grave. I didn't want to kill you personally – I'm against killing my kin... too many legacies die with them. And the one who kills them usually gets to bear the brunt of the curse..."
The tower stops shaking.
"That was smart, Harry." He smiles at you with a huge smile. "Apparently you are not alone. A good move, to take the sword, but I'll just resume after I deal with your annoying interferance."
"I didn't just take the sword," says Merlin, dropping his illusion.
There is a gust of wind and some kind of greenish light that slams into Bleys from his side. He is blasted across the room and slams into the wall.
There is laughter as Bleys rises up again. "Pathetic, Merle, pathetic."
They both start exchanging spells – there are beasts of fire, elements of water, the rumbling stones and swirling winds. You manage to send a spell or two at Bleys, but he parries everything with his empty hand.
There is a crackle of lightning that makes your hair stand up, and finally it falls silent. Bleys is still laughing. "You know that your magic is weaker here, and this palace's one is a joke against the defences Pattern can offer. Still, there is a quicker way to finish this. Without any rituals, I'll simply kill the shadow's anchor." Bleys turns at you, and waves his hand towards you. "Die. Avada Kedavra." The green beam is too fast for you to dodge and it catches you in the chest. The only thing you manage is bringing the Pattern forward in your mind.
You scream as the light engulfs you, but after a few painful seconds it just washes away like a failed curse cast by a first year. Your wand drops on the ground, but you manage to stand and take the Sword of Gryffindor into your right hand.
"I see... You have walked the Pattern, then." He blocks another display of colourful magic from Merlin. "It's saddening to see your efforts fail this much."
Merlin smiles. "Don't think there's only magic I have at my disposal." He raises Werewindle up. "It's a brother to Greyswandir, and I do know how to use it."
"As far as I remember, you are worse than your father with the blade, and I think he doesn't match up with me."
"I have had some training at the Courts, before walking into Brand's trap." Merlin sends another lightning at Bleys. "I still think that your rings count as cheating."
"Why do you even help the whelp? We could kill him and walk away."
"You did want to leave me petrified in the collapsing shadow. And made deals with the Serpent behind my back. I might have taken some offence. And I think that trapping me here was your idea in the first place. Who is your friend in the courts? Did Dara want to make me take a vacation?"
Bleys doesn't answer.
Merlin takes as few steps forward. "Harry, don't hesitate to join." His first strike is in a wide arc, bringing the sword down on Bleys' neck, but instead of connecting, there is a clatter of metal, as a sword appears in Bleys grip out of nowhere.
You rush forward, striking from his behind with the Sword of Gryffindor, but the strike is blocked. You exchange a few blows, and then Bleys takes out a dagger, and hurls it at you. Somehow you manage to jump to the side at the last second and it only scratches your side.
After a few more erratic minutes, where you are trying to parry and evade a flurry of blows, you can't help but be pushed back. There are cuts on your hands and face, and a nasty wound in your left shoulder, but you are still standing. Merlin actually looks worse than you – apparently his muscles are still sore from the whole petrifaction problem. And Bleys is with but one scratch on his left hand – a lucky blow by Merlin. None of the spells Merlin threw at him appear to have done any damage at all.
After a few more steps back you come to a staircase and Merlin, after a rather vicious strike towards Bleys' face that makes your opponent jump back, starts dragging you up the stairs. "We need to retreat – he has no means to finish the ritual now."
You nod and follow. Occasionally there is a strike to parry or an opportunity to strike, but you both are steadily concentrating on making progress up the stairs. Once you reach the top, Merlin throws the door shut into Bleys' face and locks it with an unfamiliar spell.
"I guess we have two minutes," he says gasping for breath, "maybe one."
You look around for anything useful in the room.
"Is there a way to leave without using this Tower?"
You shake your head. "Unless you can teach me to draw trumps."
"But... trumps don't work here. And I can only paint the locations in this Shadow. Or those that live here. And for some reason – Luke. He never answers the call, though."
"Luke?" You perk up. "Do you have his trump? Bleys stole the one I had..."
There is something pounding at the door. Merlin casts another spell, erecting a stone barrier in place of the cracking door. "Maybe, I drew three or four of them. Why?"
"His trumps work for me."
He starts digging his pockets furiously – "Here."
It looks crumpled, and only sketched, but it feels cold to touch. It's going to work.
"Harry, please hurry."
You try to reach out and after a few moments manage the contact.
As soon as it is initiated, Luke jumps forward and grabs your hand, jumping into the room.
Merlin groans. "Great."
"Luke, you are a fool and you will die a painful death."
"Is that a proper way to talk to the king?"
"My crown is bigger than yours. Shut up and listen."
You are gaping at their antics.
"We needed you to bring us out of here, and what did you do?"
"What's the hurry?" Luke smiles and looks around to notice the crumpling block of stone.
"Bleys." You tell him at the same time as Merlin.
"Alright. But I want the fathers sword, since now I have to help you," he looks at the sword in Merlin's hand.
"You know, you should really try finding it by yourself next time." Merlin tosses it and unsheathes the one at his side – the one conjured before. "You can't expect me to bring it to you all the time."
Bleys finally enters the room, anger evident on his face.
"Hello, uncle." Luke smiles at him. "You know, I never thanked you for betraying and imprisoning my father."
Bleys spits on the ground before him. "And I never got a chance to hit you for Caine."
"I didn't know you were close." Luke grins. "And I don't think Random would mind me killing you – it will be in defence and you could even say that I'm not pursuing my vendetta."
"And he originally went here to make a deal with a Serpent to start a war, again." Merlin winks at Luke. "A very similar way like your father did."
The three of you rush Bleys. He is really good with the blade – before, you understand with dread, he was playing with both of you. Now, as there are three blades against him, he still holds his ground. He stabs you in the side, but has to draw the blade back quickly to parry the strike from Luke and then shifts his weight to let Merlin's strike soar above him.
You try to take a stab towards him, and your eyes widen as the Sword of Gryffindor pierces his side. At the same time he grabs Merlin's hand and parries a hit from Luke, you realize that he just chose to be hurt by the least dangerous one.
Bleys riposte bites deep into Luke's arm, his grip is still restricting Merlin's movement, and the twist of his body and a low kick you weren't expecting sends you tumbling down the stairs. The Sword of Gryffindor tears out with a silent gasp from Bleys and you are still holding onto it, but after a roll on the stairs, you drop it and manage to escape with but a scratch on your hand from the blade.
It burns? Why? It reminds of the venom of the Basilisk...
The Serpent. A touch of Chaos is still in the blade.
The drop of knowledge stolen from Tom whispers – it's goblin steel, it absorbs anything. A twisted mirror image of the Werewindle. A Shadow becoming Substance from the death of the Serpent's image.
Bleys staggers up the stairs, releasing Merlin and disengaging from Luke, and grabs his side with his free hand. Luke smiles seeing hope and feints a strike from the left side, but Bleys still manages to parry and return the favour. Luke counter-riposte finally lands, and draws another drop of blood – Bleys couldn't evade so he purposefully let his left hand get in the way.
You rise slowly, glancing around for the Gryffindor's sword. Only Dumbledore's wand lies there, calling for you. Warm blood is pouring out of your wounds. You stagger a step as Bleys intercepts a strike of Merlin's and pushes him into Luke.
You reach out for the wand and raise it in your hand.
Struck by a sudden inspiration, you remember Sirius, and shout, loudly "Expecto Patronum!"
The Unicorn jumps from your wand and charges towards Bleys, head lowered, horn ready for a strike. Bleys tries to swat it away with the rings, with his injured left hand – the Unicorn pierces whatever defence there was in place and stabs deep into the wound.
Then it jumps back, gives you a short stare and fades away.
"Do it again!" Luke's voice reaches you through the Bleys' scream of anger. "Again!"
"Expecto Patronum!" There is nothing, only a wisp of white smoke. "I don't think the Unicorn can interfere anymore!" you shout loudly, "Expelliarmus!"
Bleys still manages to slightly move his heavily injured limb to counter, but the spell goes through – there are no more protections for him. He still negates it effect with Pattern, but that costs him a second of concentration, and in turn, lets Merlin land a spell that throws him into the wall.
You start climbing back up launching an array of stunners and cutting spells.
Bleys eyes showing panic, he starts running down the stairs, dodging the spells, and charging towards you. A moment before he reaches you, though, he is hit by another spell of Merlin and his robes burst into flames. Pure fear in his eyes, he rolls on the ground, past you and extinguishes himself with a burst of raw Pattern magic.
"Accio Gryffindor's Sword," you call the blade to your hand.
Luke is on Bleys tail, and you both try to cut him at the same time. Parrying your strike and doing a backwards cross he manages to avoid both strikes. With a strange hiss that you, for some reason, only vaguely recognise, he wandlessly conjures two green snakes. One of them manages to bite into Luke and you cut down the other.
Then, he lands a successful cut on Luke's chest - it cuts harsh and deep. Merlin casts another spell, but the colourful ray misses Bleys entirely – everyone can barely stand. Luke falls down on the floor, bleeding heavily. Bleys waivers but holds himself steady.
You try one last time, with an Expelliarmus. Surprisingly, the spell lands, but there is a sting of pain, and you drop the wand from the pierced arm. Bleys falls down at the same time, your spell flinging him over.
Merlin is nearby, but his finishing strike misses, as Bleys somehow manages to evade it again. A dagger flashes in his hand, and after a second it digs into Merlin's leg.
You try to swing the Gryffindor's Sword at him, but your arm is too weak, and he caches the blade with his bare hand and tears it out of your hands – still it cuts into his palm, probably stinging him with the Serpents poison again.
Then, Bleys stands up and looks at you and Merlin, eyes shining with murder. The Gryffindor's blade is now in his hand, he raises it for a strike that you know you won't be able to dodge.
With a loud jolt, a bloody sword tip emerges from Bleys chest. Werewindle - Luke has just slammed into him, running him through with your grandfather's blade.
Bleys staggers for a second, and drops the Gryffindor's blade on the ground. His eyes roll up, he mutters something inaudible and falls face down on the ground, breathing his last breath before even reaching it.
"Do you really want to open it?" Luke is helping Merlin stand straight, and you are holding yourself up only by leaning against a wall. And that's after dozens of healing spells. "You could live here until you have a child, and then, you could leave and return as you see fit."
"I don't want to be like Brand was to my mother..."
"And it would clear up the mess with timelines," Merlin says in a weak voice, "I spend a few hundred years here and I still don't understand how this Shadow's time works."
"I think Brand understood," you whisper. "He was slightly mad, maybe that's how..."
"Well, let's open it then." Luke smiles. "And after that, you could go with me and visit Kashfa. It's a beautiful place."
"Or Amber." Merlin grins. "Or the Courts – I still sort of owe you for the statue. At first there will be a mess, as I have been missing for some time, but I'll bring it to order..."
"I think I'll stay with my friends."
They both smile at you, understanding. Luke is the one to say what's on their minds – "It's not like you have to hurry to leave. You still have a lot of time ahead of you."
Merlin touches your shoulder, making you wince in pain. "Harry, you are young and untainted, remember that friends die, whereas you will live forever – you can't tie yourself too strongly."
You shake your head. "That means I have to spend as much time with them as possible."
"It is your choice."
"Harry?" Your friends rush to your aid as soon as you arrive, tired and tattered. "We thought you were gone."
You will remember them forever.
"...you are telling me, that now Ginny is older than I am?"
There were a few quotes regarding walking the Pattern, taken from Zelazny's Nine Princes In Amber.
It's a finished enterprise, but I might edit it somewhat in the coming days.
Maybe I'll post an epilogue some other time, or something. Maybe.
If you enjoyed this - take a look at Feathers, Fangs and Flames, it's the work I'm diverting most of my attention to.
Revised the chapter somewhat, no major changes, though. Maybe I'll write something for this timeline after I finish the SitC.