The Master of Death
The Flames That Marched Against the Sea
The fire bloomed up from the depths like smoke, unhindered by such petty concerns as being underwater. It boiled the water around it in an instant and large bubbles of scalding steam appeared around the flames as they rose quickly towards their prey.
It wasn't hard to make Fiendfyre kill. In fact, it was too easy. In a way, the hellish flames had a mind of their own, if an alien and malicious one; it wanted nothing more than to devour anything that was not itself. The flames reached up from the deep like jealous, grasping claws, able to sense the life all around them. It could feel the power of their lives like they were sparks in the darkness. It wanted them; to take them and burn them away until they could not distract from the glory of its much greater brilliance.
And Harry wanted the same thing. He could feel them at the edge of his perception and he wanted to destroy them and everything else, until nothing but ash remained.
Such was the nature of Fiendfyre. It wasn't easily controlled like the creatures he'd conjured, or even easily understood like humans, but it was far too dangerous to leave unchained. Those who played with fire would inevitably find themselves burned—when it came to Fiendfyre, this was a horrible, dangerous fact. It sought life and if he let it go, it would delight in devouring him like would anything but itself.
But therein lay the one way to tame the flames—and the reason why it was considered one of the most dangerous forms of magic out there.
It would not devour itself.
To control the flames, Harry became one with them, until they were but an extension of himself—or perhaps, until he was but an extension of them. They would obey nothing but their own twisted will, so he made that will his own.
And so the battle began. Not just between Harry and the Giants, but between his will and the flames. His will was a part of it, but unless it was the strongest part, it was a dissenting voice in a burning field of flawless unity. The flames would not permit such a thing anymore then they would permit any life; there could be only one voice and only one will.
If that will was his own, the flames would conform to his demands.
If it wasn't, the flames would hollow him out. Those flames could burn anything, even souls. What was a mind to them? They would consume him completely and he would be nothing but an extension of the whole, until they decided to consume him completely, until he was just another part of the fire.
Even now, it was trying to quash him. He could feel it, like a burning on his mind. He felt like he had a horrible fever and he knew from experience that it would only get worse with time, until he felt like he was burning alive. He could have used Occlumency and shut out the foreign influence in an instant, but he didn't. That wouldn't have let him control them. No; to do that, he would have to be a bit more subtle, at least at first.
The flames broke apart, twisting at first into orbs before becoming a massive school of piranhas seeking out their first target, and that was when Harry began. With a whispered thought, he suggested that the flames would spread more quickly if they attacked multiple targets at once. For a moment, there was a stirring in the flames, as if it were about to question itself, but it smoothed out almost before it began. It realized, in its way, that the suggestion would indeed spread the flames. The next flock of piranhas also broke apart, even without him suggesting anything, as his idea spread.
As the different groups began to reach the giants, he concentrated on one that was faltering, injured by the Jellyfish and Octopi. Through the flames, Harry could see him and the painful wounds upon his flesh. All around him, other giants fought with sudden fear against the unnatural flames and jets of water broke them apart, casting them into sparks that immediately began to reform.
Harry ignored them, focusing on the weakest member of the pack.
This one, he urged, drawing in some of the surrounding piranhas to assist those in charge of taking down his target. Kill this one first.
There was a moment of resistance, but it was small. It didn't really matter to the fire whether it killed one man or another, as long as it was killing something. The idea of purposely sparing someone for a time was a strange, foreign idea to it, but after minute of no success against the slowly uniting front of the giants, a small school of piranhas broke off to assist in attacking his chosen target.
The giant was weak. It had taken a particularly harsh beating from the Jellyfish and enough time had passed for the poison to start to take effect. It was attacking his nervous system, heart, and skin, all at the same time. Given how many times he'd been stung, he might even go into cardiac arrest soon.
In other words, he was easy pickings for the flames and they sunk into the horrified giant with wicked glee. He could feel their pleasure, then, at having something to burn. The frantic giant tried to pat out the flames, shaking from the venom and the pain. His movements were clumsy, though, and wouldn't have worked even if he hadn't been. The fire danced joyfully upon his flesh, spreading unnaturally slowly.
They knew their victim was suffering and they delighted in it. They wanted to burn him slowly, which was why the piranhas had gone after his hands and feet. The flames would crawl sluggishly up his limbs as he screamed and cried and begged, burning away inch by slow inch until they reach his body. They'd spread across him, then, and burn the rest of him alive. The flames could control how hot they were and they'd turn it down to burn him slowly. They'd burn his flesh, char his meat, and then gnaw on his bones in delight, but they'd make it take as long as possible. They wouldn't let him die until they'd had all the fun they could.
But Harry didn't kill like that, so he cast his will towards the flames burning the man alive and spoke to them, not with a quiet suggestion but with an order that must be obeyed. They fought him for a moment, but he moved quickly, targeting only the flames around the giant and leaving the rest to do as they pleased.
He crushed them and made them obey.
The flames flickered and the giant gasped as they heated quickly, spreading across his body in seconds. He screamed, his voice ragged and torn for a moment—and then he fell silent as the flames burnt his throat away. He struggle then, just for a moment, still trying to scream.
And then it was over.
The dark mind of the Fiendfyre raged immediately, outraged as if Harry had committed a crime by so swiftly ending a life, and the heat upon his mind abruptly increased. Harry gasped at the sudden flash of pain that streaked through his head, but tried to ignore it.
The Fiendfyre controlled most of the flames that now lit up the sea—but not all of them. A burning patch around the quickly burning remains of a giant answered to him, now. And that patch would grow quickly under his command, until their situations were reversed and he controlled more that the Fiendfyre and could take complete control.
For now, however, he had to focus. He drew upon an image and his will sculpted the flames under his command.
Others had been poisoned by his creations and were getting weaker by the minute. He'd pick them off one by one while the Fiendfyre raged at anything that it could find and he'd spread more quickly through the battlefield. With a shifting of light, a burning shark began to swim through the water, seeking its already dying prey. Harry focused on it completely—
Until a voice spoke to him, the voice of the sea.
"I see you, Firestarter," The leader of the Giants purred. "You made a mistake coming into my domain."
And suddenly the water stopped passed through his gills. Instead, it wound around his neck twice, pulled tight, and suddenly he couldn't breathe.
The part of his brain that still thought logically despite being strangled by the ocean itself knew that there were probably many ways to get out of such a simple problem—but when something enormously powerful closed around his throat with enough force to bruise, Harry didn't take time to ponder the best course of action.
He just reacted.
Reappearing twenty meters away, he took a reflexive, relieved breath and tightened his control on the Fiendfyre under his command. It had lapsed momentarily but he recovered quickly before the raging mind of the Fiendfyre could attempt to usurp his grasp.
And then the watery noose found its way around his throat again.
"You cannot run from me within my own kingdom," The voice whispered in his ear, sounding as nearby as always. "There is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide."
Harry opened his mouth to retort with something witty.
"Grrk," Was all that came out as the noose continued to tighten around his neck. At the rate the pressure was increasing, it would probably break his neck before he could do anything else.
Apparating again, this time farther away, he couldn't keep himself from raising his left hand to sore neck, rubbing it gently as he swallowed. Waiting slowly, he counted.
He Apparated again, not even waiting for the water to fully grasp his throat.
About two seconds, he thought with a frown. He glanced around quickly, looking for any of the giants that he thought stood out, but he couldn't find anyone that immediately drew his eyes. He snorted in annoyance before Apparating again, wincing as he reappeared and glancing towards the Fiendfyre.
That had been close. Apparating wasn't hard, per se, at least not after the amount of practice he'd had with it, but it did require one to be completely focused on reaching one's destination. Splinching was what happened if you Apparated with insufficient determination to reach your destination. Normally, that didn't matter, but even the briefest lapse in focus was dangerous while using Fiendfyre. The first few times he'd gotten away with it, because the Fiendfyre hadn't seen it coming—but apparently he wasn't the only one timing his jumps. That time it had struck almost exactly when his control had lapsed—almost.
If it had hit him half a second sooner…
He couldn't keep Apparating around. Two seconds wasn't enough time to do anything important, especially while fighting the giants, the Fiendfyre, and whoever was trying to choke the life out of him. At the very least he needed to get out of the reach of the latter, so that he could get rid of at least one of the other two.
He quickly flipped through his options before the water tightened around his neck again, followed by his arms and legs until he was held firmly in place. Apparently giving up on just choking him, the water tried to force its way up his nose and past his tightly closed lips.
Harry would have growled if he could.
There was no helping it.
He wasn't safe in the water.
He flickered out of existence and reappeared in the front of his stolen boat and had a fraction of a second to prepare himself before the Fiendfyre struck.
It wasn't enough. Maybe it would have been if he'd been using his Holly wand, but against the fires the Elder Wand had dragged up? It was a paper defense and was pierced in an instant. It was rather foolish of him not to have accounted for that.
Gasping in pain, he lifted his hand to his head, desperately trying to cover a wound that wasn't there. But he couldn't help it. It felt like someone had taken a pickaxe and swung it hard at his forehead. He tried to fight against it, but the burning pain spread in an instant, sinking into his mind like the thorned, twisted roots of some sort of horrible plant.
The Fiendfyre had the advantage and it had every intention of pressing it all the way to the deepest layers of his mind—and in that moment, as it tried to make him conform, he was closer to the Fiendfyre then he'd ever been before.
It was…hard to describe. It was like touching another mind but very different at the same time, with a side order of feeling intense heat on his mind. The Fiendfyre was almost overwhelming, now that he could really feel it and for a moment he felt daunted at having to face such a thing. It hurt too much to bring up his Occlumency barriers and he couldn't focus through the pain running through his mind. Even if he could, with the way it was already sinking deep into him, he wasn't certain he could fight it out of his mind. Put up false memories, perhaps, and mislead it, but since it only wanted to destroy his mind, it wouldn't care whether what it found was real or fake. And he wasn't sure if he could match his will against the sheer burning fury of the Fiendfyre; as it was, he could only pull his thoughts around himself and try to keep them safe—
He had an idea.
Through the pain, he felt that he knew the fire was trying to do to him. It was trying to make him conform to its will; hollow him out so it could pour itself inside. So he let a few falsified memories float to the top of his mind amidst several useless thoughts and waited as they were instantly devoured and replaced by the foreign, intrusive mind of the Fiendfyre as it tried to fill in the gaps it had made—and he struck as soon as it had.
As he'd done with the piranha's before, he slid his will forward, attacking when it didn't expect him to, and took control of the fire that had formed inside his mind. Focusing on it completely, he turned it against the flames at the edge of his thoughts, letting the fire grow into a wall by burning the fake thoughts and memories he quickly fed it. The two flames were like maddened beasts at first, but the simple surprise of what he'd done gave him the advantage and he stopped the Fiendfyre, for the moment, at the cusp of his mind.
And suddenly he had room to think. The Fiendfyre was still there; he could feel it circle around his mind, poking and prodding for weak points. His trick wouldn't work on it twice—it never did, at least not on the same batch of flames. If it had a chance, it would try to invade his mind again and it wouldn't make the same mistake; it would burn away everything before trying to replace him.
But he'd bought himself some time, at least. It was up to him to make sure the Fiendfyre didn't get another chance to erase him—which meant he had to end this.
"—ada!" One of the men nearby shouted as Harry stumbled to his feet. "Nuada, are you okay?"
Harry's brow furrowed when they called him that before relaxing as he understood. He'd never given them his name, had he?
'Protector'…Hopefully he could live up to that title.
"I'm fine," He said. "I just have a…headache."
He tried his best not to falter as he slid towards the window, but he couldn't keep himself from shaking at the close call and the adrenaline rushing through his veins. He looked out into the ocean, eyes searching. The Fiendfyre had been busy while he'd been distracted, and had spread rapidly through the ranks of the giants. The flames he'd brought under his command had been subsumed back into the flock as well.
He'd have to start over. But this time, he didn't have time for the 'safe' and subtle approach.
He focused, reaching out to the smallest spark in the sea. It wasn't large enough to be a piranha or even a snack for a piranha. But it was there and it was small enough to bring under his command.
He lifted his shaking wand and braced himself for what he was sure would cause him a truly legendary headache—and then, with a wave of his wand, all the water within ten meters of the little spark separated into Hydrogen and Oxygen.
Harry managed to see his spark become an inferno before the pain drove him to his knees, because as the conflagration blossomed in the depths of the sea, several things happened at once.
First of all, the sudden eruption of flames didn't just bolster his own spark, but every piece of Fiendfyre in the area. Ten cubic meters could fit a lot of things and while he'd done his best to limit to presence of the other flames, there was only so much he could do with all the 'fish' swimming through the depths. As such, the eruption of flames consisted of both his flames and the opposing ones, intermingled to the point that there was nothing to separate either of them. With the majority of the flames now existing within that volume, the controller of the fire depended completely on who managed to take control of the flames.
Second of all, always one to kill two birds with one stone if he could, Harry had placed his fish close to the giants before setting off the bomb and the resulting explosion had killed nearly all of them, which meant he had one less thing to worry about, thankfully.
Sadly, due to the third thing that had happened, he wasn't in much of a position to be satisfied with himself, because he was almost falling over in pain. Amassing its power, the Fiendfyre once more attempted to drive a wedge into his mind. As he was prepared for the attack this time, it wasn't anywhere near as bad as it had been last time—but there was only so pleasant having a malicious, sentient fire shoved into your head could get, prepared for it or not.
Worse, he had no choice but to multitask, splitting his concentration further. Whether or not he could have pushed the Fiendfyre back out of his mind if he focused on it—and he honestly wasn't sure he could have without severing his connection to it completely and risking it trying to eat him and the ship—it wouldn't have helped him in the slightest. It would have just taken over the sphere of flames outside and come back more powerful than ever to simply crush him again.
If he wanted to win, he had to win on both fronts. So he bolstered his own fire, inside and outside.
Inside his mind, he fed the flames false thoughts as quickly as he could produce them, along with scattered memories that he deemed unimportant, adding fuel to the fire that was the only defense his mind had. Outside, he tried to spread his control, taking advantage of the intermingling of the flames. He spread in a way differently from the Fiendfyre—less like an army and more like a disease. He infected a specific area, made it his completely, and then divided, rather than trying to crush his enemies with pure force. He continued to try and subtly turn the fire against itself and make its power his own, knowing he had no chance in a blatant battle of power against power.
As he made progress on the Outside, the Fiendfyre tried to shift its concentration and stomp out his creations, but Harry didn't let it. When it took off the pressure, he expanded the fire within him outside the limits of his mind, attacking the Fiendfyre when it didn't expect it and doing the same thing on that end while merely trying to retain control of the areas he had taken in the sea.
Whenever the flames tried to focus somewhere specific, Harry attack them from the other side, never letting it regain its bearings. When it tried to spread out its will, Harry made powerful attacks from one end or another, giving ground when he thought it was unimportant for the simple goal of forcing the Fiendfyre to spread itself too thinly.
The Fiendfyre was strong, dangerous, and smarter than most people thought—but it wasn't good at accepting minor defeats and falling back for greater victories. It could wait for a chance, if it had too, but it preferred to crush others beneath its power. In the end, it just didn't have the patience.
Harry did. Auror work involved a lot of waiting. The final take down of a dark wizard could happen fast, but putting together evidence, questioning witnesses and suspects, and all the myriad of things one had to do to get to that point could take weeks or months—to say nothing of what was required as a father. He had experience when it came to waiting.
So he patiently took his opponent apart, covering his weaknesses and attacking it where it was weak and he was strong. Creating openings where there weren't any to exploit, putting it in a bad position, and taking it off guard. Pushing forward, falling back, but never letting the tide shift completely against him—that's how he won.
And just like that, he took control. As soon as he had dominance over the majority of the Fiendfyre, he wielded it against the rest, carefully but quickly turning the rest of it to his will, until his will was all that was left. To him, there were no minor threats or things that could be dismissed—he snuffed out every last spark of opposition or potential opposition.
The pain in his head was long gone when he straightened, brushing himself off needlessly.
"I'm okay," He said, knowing without looking that he was the target of worried glances. "I just had to—"
The wood of the boat creaked, as if some enormous hand had seized it and was attempting to crush it. It struggled for a moment, valiantly attempting to continue its ascent, but the force simply dragged it downwards. It didn't stop there, though, and the force increased until Harry suspected the boat was going to break long before it reached the bottom of the sea.
Of course, water would start flooding in long before that happened and once they were in the water, nothing would keep the giant's master from simply crushing the passengers to death. Harry could just Apparate away, but the people on the boat couldn't.
But then, that was probably the idea.
Harry took a slow, deep breath, and lowered his gaze, looking back down at the ocean floor.
"You've officially made an annoyance of yourself," He commented quietly, some of the Fiendfyre's heat leaking into his voice. "That was a mistake. You should have quit while you weren't dead."
He closed his eyes and commanded the Fiendfyre to move.
No, that was inaccurate. He didn't command it to move; he moved. The Fiendfyre was no longer anything but an extension of his mind, body, and will. He didn't tell it to rise—he lifted himself from the depths, put his thousand scattered pieces together and wrapped himself around the ship. The creaking stopped immediately as the flames kept the water at bay with their heat, vaporizing it on contact.
And yet, the same flames that did all of that merely glimmered across the hull of the ship, setting it aflame and yet not burning it—because he didn't want it to.
Within his smaller body, Harry apparated to stand atop his ship, quietly striding through the hellish flames without being burnt, his eyes piercing easily through the flames as he tried to find his enemy. He shifted his jaw slightly in displeasure as he had no more luck this time then he had before.
Fine, then. He'd just have to burn down everything until he found him.
With a sweep of his wand, the water separated into its composing elements, resulting in another explosion. Now having a bit more fire to play with, he gave his silent command, knowing without question that he would not be disobeyed.
The flames on and around the ship writhed and convulsed for a moment, quickly shaping themselves into forms. The Fiendfyre itself preferred the forms of great predators and beasts, whether magical or mundane, preferring them for some reason he'd never understood. But these flames were his now and when they assumed shapes, they did so according to his thoughts and beliefs.
Instead of animals, they grew into the shapes of men and women, twisting into shapes he didn't consciously decide but could easily recognize. Roman Legionaries and Greek Hoplites, mixed among random warriors he vaguely recalled seeing images of. Persian Immortals were scattered among Medieval Knights and Japanese Samurai, standing behind rows of the British Armed Forces. They shaped themselves into a small but varied army of warriors from a history that had not yet occurred, weaved from memory and flame. Their faces were all but featureless, but they still stood, as proud as any army that had ever existed.
Or perhaps that was just him. He tried his best not to allow this power to go to his head as he'd seen so many dark wizards do, but it was hard not to feel a little professional satisfaction after dragging an army out of the sands of time, if only in image. He was pretty sure even their armor was historically accurate, though that was probably just due to Hermione nitpicking over mistakes he had made in the past and his subconscious responding.
He took a moment to look at them then and nodded.
"Burn it all," He said, not to them but to the voice that he knew would surely be listening. "Until there's nothing but slag and ash."
The flame warriors jumped off the boat as one falling like stones in the water. And yet, as weightless as flames, they landed silently on the oceans floor and quickly began to spread throughout the city. With a Fiendfyre army, conventional tactics were largely unnecessary except in special occasions, so Harry just had them scatter immediately and spread throughout the giant's city, setting everything they touched ablaze.
Shouts erupted quickly as the wicked flames spread, making metals glow brightly even as they began to melt within the fires that had engulfed them. As the exteriors of the towers melted, they revealed the treasures held inside, serving as further fuel for his armies. The molten slag slid down the sides of towers, dripping to the ground and spreading out into puddles on the bottom of the sea, the heat of the liquefied buildings heating and setting ablaze anything they touched. And as they did, the shapeless flames quivered before rising in simulacra of men, forming ranks upon the melted remnants of the destroyed buildings.
Again and again, they destroyed—and from that destruction, created an even greater force. They burnt through the sea, taking nothing and leaving nothing behind.
But even so, his opponent did not show his face. Harry knew there was a limit to every man's restraint, but even with the giant's city being erased before him, there was no reaction.
And then, he noticed them.
Harry lifted his head, turning it once to the right and once to the left, spotting the figures at the edge of his vision. They were far away—too far for him to see properly—but they were definitely there. Leagues away, they were nothing but speckled dots in the distant, drawing attention only due to the havoc of their battle and the scattered, random lights intermixed within them.
For a moment of simple, blind reaction, he was prepared to set his flames upon them, but his rational mind made him hesitate as he realized the obvious.
The people in the distance were fighting each other. Presumably, at least some of them were giants, but there could easily be some other faction involved, whether it was an uprising, a civil war, or an invasion.
Harry pursed his lips for a moment before chuckling.
"I see. It seems you have other problems, too." He shook his head ruefully. "You're just having a bad day, aren't you? Hm…let's see if I can't make it worse."
Flying—if that term applied underwater—towards the battle to see what was going on, his flames adorning and following him, he arrived to witness a colorful scene. Varied giants fought creatures of all shapes and sizes. A Troll was fighting a giant that had no head while a small flock of what looked like mermaids were trying to claw the eyes out of a giant fish. A woman with blueish skin, fins, and gills was dueling with an aristocratic looking giant with swords, darting around him quickly to avoid the wide sweeps of his sword while a dwarfish man was wielding a sword three times his side was fending off a creature with the teeth and body of a shark but the arms and head of a man. Hippocampi fought with giant seahorses, fish-cats hunted among the deeps for swimming birds, and Krakens waged war with sea monsters.
The two strangest looking armies Harry had ever seen clashed and waged war as the giant's underwater city continued to burn. No one seemed to notice or, if they did, care, focused completely on destroying the enemies that had appeared before them.
Harry pondered it all, pausing for a moment to take it all in. The strangeness of the scene now before him was enough to warrant a raised eyebrow even from him.
But then he raised both of his hands high above his head and he filled the space above the battle with clouds of fire. Twisted lengths of wicked flames wound up and up from the depths of the sea, scattering groups and ending fights as combatants and allies alike broke apart in an attempt to dodge the flames as they rose and gathered above them.
For a moment, everything was silent in the depths of the sea. Harry scanned the stilled warriors as they shrank and sank away from the flames. From right to left, he judged them, before making a decision and focusing on one in particular.
He couldn't be sure who this other army was—though he was kind of guessing they were fairies or something here to rescue those other prisoners—but as the saying went, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Until that enemy was dead, of course, in which case his experience on the matter said that things tended to break down quickly.
But, at least for now, they wanted to get rid of these giants and he wanted to get rid of these giants. That was enough for him to decide whose side he was on. Still, with his 'allies' running around, he'd have to be a bit more precise with his attacks, he supposed.
Dropping his left hand quickly, he pointed two fingers at an important—as in, he had decorations on his armor—looking giant. From the burning clouds slide a bright streak of flame, hot to the point of being pure white, and struck him high in the chest. It had moved fast; not as fast as the lightning it resembled, perhaps, but as quick as any arrow. Skin, cloth, and hair caught fire instantly and the Giant began to scream, a high pitched noise to make up for the lack of thunder, breaking both the silence and stillness of the gathered armies.
The fairies gathered, sending up a battle cry, their moral and bloodlust doubled in the face of the unnatural aid, and threw themselves head first back into the fray. On the other hand, as the targets of the strange attack, the giants panicked. Some scattered in fear while others gathered into groups in the hopes of protecting themselves.
It was the later Harry focused on. Wiggling the fingers of his right hand like he was typing on a computer, drops of fire began to rain from the clouds, falling down on the largest group. They tried to move away from the flames, only to be pushed back by the fairies advance, trapping them with their backs to the wall of fire. Soon, the fire soldiers he'd left behind would finish destroying the city and come to his aid, and this battle would be all but over.
"Oh?" A smooth voice said from his side. "Perhaps I should thank you for the aid?"
Harry blinked and turned his head. Floating to his left was quite possibly the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. Her hair was white and her eyes a cold, cold blue and they stood out like sapphires against her white skin. He wasn't completely sure how her skin managed to look white against that hair, much less while she was wearing armor that looked like it had been carved from a glacier or something, but it did. Even with most of her body covered by its thick plates, her face alone made him think of muses and goddesses. If he was a poet or an artist, he'd have been inspired.
He wasn't though, so he just raised his eyebrow again, chalked it up as another strange occurrence, and snorted.
"Noticed that did you? How'd you notice me?" He asked, drawing back the hood of his cloak. "I'm usually pretty confident in my ability to go unnoticed when I want to, but you're the second one to pick up on me today. Could I be getting rusty in my old age, perhaps?"
The fairies began to successfully push back the group, driving them into the flames. Their screams rose up like a chorus as they began to die, but he paid them little mind.
"I wouldn't know, though I do not believe anyone else knows you're here yet. I assume the city burning down was your doing?" She asked, casual as if this was just another day for her.
"Yes, well," Harry adjusted his glasses. "A number of things happened and I got rather cross at them. There were few prisoners I stole away before I destroyed them all—I believe a few of them are yours."
"Hm?" She sounded it amused, but there was an undertone of…something. He wasn't sure what. "Then it seems I owe you a favor."
Harry shrugged and returned most his attention to the battle as she did the same.
But he couldn't keep from wondering, even after he'd done so.
"Who are you, exactly, my lady?" He asked politely, and felt without looking that she was smiling at the question.
"I am called the Morrigan, the Queen of Samhain's Seat. And who are you, sea-burner?"
Harry opened his mouth to reply when he felt the sea begin to churn.
"Hold that thought," He said, starting to smile. "I have to kill someone."
Found you, he thought, as a shape began to form.
The water churned before him, bending the light in odd ways as it twisted and moved. Currents and streams appeared, strong enough to be clear against the ocean around it as they flowed past, though, and around each other. Salt broke off from the sea water, gathering together subtly at first but growing more and more obvious by the second, forming grainy bones that stretched for what seemed like miles. The water that flowed around him darkened like the surface of a swamp, growing filthy and dark until his figure was obvious against the rest of the ocean, though as he moved his bones peaked through, as if the rest of his body was a bit slow to follow his motions. Twisted knots of some kind of luminous seaweed grew like moss over his head and his eye sockets filled with hundreds of dull, glassy orbs, as if he'd slain a thousand animals, plucked out their eyes, and taken them as his own. As he set his feet upon the seafloor and stood tall, the distant light of the surface that seemed to hover around his head like a crown of like made him seem like Atlas, carrying the sky on his shoulders.
"Morrigan," The same voice as early murmured, now a thousand times louder. As his lips parted, Harry could see his teeth, formed of salt like the rest of his bones, but odd in their shapes. It was as if he hadn't been able to decide what creatures mouth to imitate; shark teeth here, human ones there, and a number of blunt formation that could have belonged to any of a thousand fish. "You are a fool to come here, where my power is a law unto itself. You should have stayed hidden beyond the ninth wave as you have for so long."
"You are as arrogant as ever, Conand," Morrigan murmured, amusement lacing every word. "And yet, here you are. Your city has been burnt away, your army has been broken, and for the first time in over two hundred years, you have been forced to retake your form. We both know you would not have made yourself so vulnerable if you did not think us a threat to your throne."
She cast him a sidelong glance at that, lips twitching briefly upwards as she spoke. Harry nodded minuscule at her words, understanding her. His throne, whatever it did, was important to him—enough so that he made himself vulnerable to external attack just to protect it.
Conand growled, a sound that seemed to shake the ocean around them and the dead orbs in his sockets almost seemed to come alive with hatred.
"Such a pity for you then, that I am here now. Your powers have grown, Morrigan, and you have many allies now, but even still you have not the forces to stop me long enough to find what you seek—"
"Interesting. I'll take that bet," Harry butted in, removing the hood of his cloak and smiling slightly with a confidence he was not sure he felt—there was just something about finding yourself in front of a man the size of a skyscraper that was off-putting. But he'd come too far to stop now, if victory was as close as he suspected. Tilting his head at his newfound ally, he mused aloud. "I'll wager my life that I can keep you preoccupied long enough for my dear friend here to find what she's after."
"Firestarter…" Conand snarled. "Even now you interfere!? Leave now and I'll let you keep your entrails!"
"Mmm, well, that's certainly a tempting offer but…I'm afraid I simply must decline. You see, Lord Conand, there are things that are simply beyond forgiveness. Whether you know why or not, after what you and your people have done I can no longer simply live and let live when I have a chance to stop you permanently." His eyes drifted to Morrigan. "Go along then. I'll handle things here."
She gave a somewhat wicked grin and bowed her head—and then she was gone, like she'd been a shadow and someone had turned on the lights. It wasn't apparition, maybe not even a form of teleportation, but something else…
This world…what a strange and interesting place it had turned out to be.
He shook his head of the thought as Conand spoke, angrier than ever and maybe just a little afraid. They had the advantage now and everyone knew it. The only way for Conand to salvage this situation was to kill them all.
Granted, that seemed to be his intention.
"Handle me? You'll…handle me?" He spat. "You think you can? I tower over you like I tower over the rest of these pathetic little insects."
"Oho?" Harry lifted an eyebrow. "Are we going to make this some sort of juvenile measuring contest, then? Because if we are, I have to say…"
The fires burning in the deep answered their Master's wordless call, forms falling away as they abandoned their fights, returning to shapeless flame as they gathered into serpentine rivers of fire, burning away any groups of Giants unlucky enough to be caught in their paths before merging upon Harry and engulfing him completely. The mass of fire shifted into an almost perfect sphere as the last of its pieces joined the whole, before extensions grew, formless at first, but quickly growing distinct, shaping fingers and hands to go with arms, boots at the end of legs, the outlines of eyes, a mouth, and a nose, which came together to form a rough, burning figure. The fire giant stood unhindered by the water, fearsome and mighty as its fell light cut through the darkness.
It also stood a full head taller than its opponent.
"…Mine's bigger," He finished, smiling amusedly.
The fight began without another word, their differences quickly becoming apparent. Beneath the murky water that made up most of his form, Conand had some substance, if only in his salty bones. He also seemed to have an at least loosely defined shape around said bones. By contrast, the monster Harry had formed was completely composed of fire, thus lacking any actual solidity—it was just heat and light, in the end, after all. As a result of not having anything to define its form besides Harry's will, changing it was relatively simple.
On one hand, this meant Conand couldn't actually harm Harry's creation, as it lacked anything even remotely resembling vital organs—or anything else biological—and gave Harry a definite advantage in versatility. On the other hand, Harry's creation was largely incapable of blocking physical attacks, most of which slid cleanly through it, if somewhat superheated and on fire.
It would have been interesting to watch, mused Harry, hiding patiently in the flames, waiting. If there wasn't a real possibility of him dying. The simple truth of the matter was, for all his advantages, Conand had something he couldn't compete with—experience in this matter. Fiendfyre was not something he used to make enormous action figures to play with—or even fight with really. It was something that he would use and everyone would either run away or die, rather than facing it head on—his version of 'nuking it from orbit,' as it were. Having to use it to fight someone properly was…a first.
To make matters worse, the currents that made up most of his opponent's body acted as some type of wall, running too fast for his flames to penetrate down to his bones—which was probably the point. It was also probably the reason Conand had formed his bones from salt, which isn't normally flammable; though, of course, Harry was of the professional opinion that everything burned, given sufficient effort. That didn't change the fact that his currents were preventing him from reaching said salt in the first place, however.
Nonetheless, he reminded himself. Despite everything, this was a waiting game and Conand was the one fighting against the clock. All he had to do was keep his attention on him and avoid any surprises and there probably wouldn't be any trouble. Which seemed strange to him, in its own way. He was accustomed to trouble—familiar with it. It was weird to be without something that seemed to follow him everywhere. But even if he wasn't sure how to fight Conand like this, all he had to do was wait—there was no need to enter a fight he wasn't sure he could hold his own in.
He stroked his beard, pondering that for a moment, as a towering—as in, literally the size of a tower—broadsword emerged from the sand and stone beneath them and was quickly grasped by Conand's hand. The giant swung it through Harry's puppet, slicing neatly through the flames and Harry had too quickly lift himself from the stomach of his construct to near its heart to avoid the blow that would have…well, at that size, it wouldn't really have cut him. Liquefy might be a better term.
"Ah," Harry noted absently. "And that would be the trouble."
Yes, he supposed that Conand would win if he could hit him with such a weapon; his flames didn't have the tangibility to block such a thing and it'd take them a long, long time to burn away that much stone. Just like he'd win if the Morrigan found what she was looking for.
In that case, simply letting him continue to attack and waste time could itself be a dangerous idea.
So much for waiting. He'd just have to get creative.
The humanoid shape dropped away, 'melting' until it settled like a lake of fire on the sea floor, and Conand stumbled quickly back several steps to keep it from catching his feet before shifting his hold on his slowly burning sword and sweeping it quickly back and forth through the pool, like he was trying to clean the floor with a broom. Having none of it, the entire lake of fire tilted up and balanced entirely on its edge, like a coin made to stand on its side, before collapsing forward, trying to catch Conand with its fall.
With more agility then Harry would have expected from something his size, Conand leapt above the oncoming flames, a swish of his arms and a kick of his legs proving his skill in the water. From the ground, the flames pooled and shifted, rising up as a giant hand, long fingers reaching up towards the giant, who cut them off with a swipe of his enormous blade. The severed fingers twisted into the mouths of giant sharks even as the remains of the hand and forearm slide into the shape of a colossal squid. Long tentacles reached out with deft motions, trying to bind limbs tight, even as rows of jagged burning teeth raced towards Conand's eyes—but the 'skin' of his right arm bulged grotesquely, widening the tentacle's hold, before he literally pulled his bones and sword out of it. Even without anything coating it, the salty bones twirled the blade expertly as Conand gave a disdainful snort, severing each tentacle in a single motion. As new water came rushing in to remake the flesh of his arm, the giant swung the flat of his blade in an arc that blew away the shapes of the fangs before bringing it down on the squid with enough force to send it flying away in pieces in every direction.
Finding himself careening through the water end over end, it took Harry a moment to gather the focus needed to cast a Cushioning Charm on the quickly approaching wall and keep the impact from shattering his bones, though the sudden stop still hurt. Bouncing off it, he caught himself in the water and had just enough time to realize he'd been blown clean out of his flames before then the water caught him. Coming around him like a vice, spots exploded across his vision as it tightened around his neck with enough force that Harry was pretty sure it would crush his neck out of shape if he didn't do something. He apparated quickly, not having time to locate the safety of his flames. As he reappeared he had just enough time to take a quick breath and catch sight of Conand before the water took a hold of him again.
It was enough.
All around Conand, the flames he'd reduced to embers and sparks with relentless, sweeping blows gathered together quickly, their target decided, shaping themselves into ten thousand little knives and cutting through the water, stabbing into the currents of his body and trying to penetrate deeper despite the implacable resistance. They twisted and tugged, trying to grow barbs and claws to take ahold and give them leverage to sink deeper into the giant, to no avail.
It did, however, make a pretty amazing distraction and the moment the pressure eased off of him, Harry apparated back to the safety of his fires, taking complete control of them yet again. Splayed across the giant's hide, he made them spread, trying to cover his opponent from head to toe. If he could boil away all that water and keep him from drawing in anymore—
He had only a second to realize something was wrong and it wasn't nearly enough. Conand drew away, skeleton stepping cleanly out of liquid flesh, and the black water that had made up his form folded outwards, bending so that the flames that had covered them were now contained neatly inside it, and the skeleton of salt curled the bones of its fingers at the sphere was the last thing Harry saw before blackened waters hid the world from his sight. More and more water piled atop them, drawing around the flames and trying to drown them. In the end, all the managed was to compress them, but it accomplished the same.
If he apparated out, he'd be in the water, and with the amount of force Conand had caught him with last time, he wasn't sure he'd have the presence of mind needed to apparate again. If he stayed in here, though, Conand would just compress the fire until he was sure he couldn't miss his target and that giant blade would splatter him—and then a thought occurred to him and he could have smacked himself for his own foolishness.
"Anything to say, Firestarter?" Conand murmured over the black sphere.
For a moment, everything was silent in the dark.
And then there was light.
It started as a pinprick—a candle flame against the shadows of the deep sea. But it grew, as if the darkness that tried to smother it had caught flame, burning the blackened waters as if they were but paper held above a flame. Its light spelt through the murky veil, dim at first, like a light covered in cloth, but growing steadily brighter.
The water Conand sought to compress shrank so suddenly that for a hesitating moment, he thought that it might have been getting consumed outright, but it only took a moment to realize the true reason—the resistance it had been facing had completely disappeared.
And yet, the light being emitted from within remained and he hadn't felt that sudden displacement of water that had characterized his opponent's sudden reappearances. Then…
The light within the sphere moved suddenly, sliding through—and out—of the pressurized water as if it were no different than moving through simple air, and Conand saw the reason behind what had happened. The old man that he had been fighting had changed, the layers and layers of fire around him having folded in upon themselves, over and over and over again, until they must have been all but flat against him—a second skin of light that made it seem as if he were a man carved out of a star. It burnt bright enough that it hurt to look at him and making out any specific features was all but impossible.
The water around him shifted and turned oddly, the heat constantly evaporating all that it touched and then superheating it even beyond that —just as it had the water under Conand's control. The man within the flames did not even seem to notice, anything that resisted his movements burning cleanly away.
Instead, he simply looked at the giant before him, expression impossible to see through the Fiendfyre mask.
It seems that one never becomes too old to make mistakes, Harry mused. And this entire battle had been nothing but one, prolonged mistake. He hadn't used his tools properly, perhaps having been put off by having to face such a massive opponent. When faced with a giant problem, he had attempted to answer with a giant solution—enormous constructs of Fiendfyre, animated by his will—despite how ill equipped he knew he was for such a tactic. Prior to this, Fiendfyre had been a last resort; this was his first time he had ever used it in such a manner.
And that was where he'd made his error—why would he willingly fight this way? Especially after it repeatedly proved not to work? Wasn't it his policy to not be inefficient? To stick with small and simple approaches for greater results? Had he really been intimidated by an opponent just because he had been a few thousand times bigger than him?
No, that wasn't the reason. His opponent had been big, but the real cause had been him—he had been arrogant. It had been nearly seventy years now since the last time he'd entered a battle that he wasn't completely sure he could win and after Justin, he'd thought this would be no different. Justin had reminded him that he couldn't just ignore matters and take things for granted, but when they'd fought, he hadn't doubted for even a second who would be the winner. Just as he hadn't in this fight, certain that his skill and power would see him through anything his opponent could bring at him—and even when someone had appeared before him, towering over the battlefield like a giant and taken away his ability to apparate freely, he hadn't taken it seriously, not really. Not one to make the same mistake twice, he'd ensured the people he sought to protect were safe and couldn't be harmed, but he hadn't approached the problem as seriously as he should have.
Instead of sticking with what he was best at, he allowed himself to be dragged into his opponents preferred form of combat, certain he could win a fight like this, even lacking any experience in the matter. If the him from a seventy years ago could see him now…After all those times he'd preached these lessons to the younger Aurors, you'd think they'd be carved into him by now.
Did you ever make a mistake like this, Dumbledore? He wondered, before sighing to himself. Probably; age seemed to make fools of us all.
But if he could still make mistakes, he could still learn from them as well, and he would. No giant movie monsters, this time, and no unfamiliar battles or fair fights. This may have been a trick he'd never used before, but it was his trick, the type he'd use, not something he'd allowed himself to be tricked, knowingly or not, into doing. Rather than spreading the Fiendfyre into larger and larger constructs—as if such things would mean anything with something that wasn't even solid—spreading out the heat and the flames, he gathered them to himself; all that heat, all that power, contained an inch from his skin and tightly under his control.
This trick…Conand had shown it to him, in a way, when he'd tried to compress his flames. He'd shown him the way to victory and showed him his mistakes.
So Harry told him the last words he'd ever hear.
"Burn," He said, lifting a finger.