Disclaimer: Usually I write out a very specific disclaimer explaining exactly what it is I don't own but I find myself not really interested in doing so this time as it is very tedious. Suffice it to say I own nothing that was created by anyone else and I am not making any money off of this story or any of the other stories I have written.

AN: This story is self-beta'd; so there may be occasional grammatical or spelling errors that crop up every now and then and for those I apologize in advance.


Chapter 62: Laying Demons to Rest

Three days after first learning about the additional horcruxes, Taliesin stood outside of the castle and watched as Firestar and Windstar carried Snivellus's old desk out through the tunnel that led down to the temporary door that had been spelled into the side of the castle closest to the dead wizard's old office in the dungeons. Once the two Gundams were clear of the castle, Taliesin began sealing the openings that he'd created just an hour earlier (the mage having used the same spell that had been used to create the opening to Diagon Alley, though in this case it was not a permanent enchantment).

Once the wall was sealed once more, the wizard turned his attention to the desk as Abdul and Ahmad set the offensive piece of carpentry down on the ground inside the protective wards that Taliesin had raised a good mile from the castle. Standing just outside of those wards was a loose circle of magically enhanced mobile suits that held two his brothers, half of his squad, and a miniature Grimstar (the suit having followed him about the castle all day for some reason that morning). The wizard would step inside the circle of protective suits and through the wards just a few minutes after the two Gundams had backed away to join the others standing guard around the edge of the protective wards.

It was a little intimidating to be standing on the ground when everyone else was inside of their suits but Taliesin did his best to ignore the feeling as he focused on his next task; dropping the wards protecting Snape's horcrux.

Taking a deep breath, Taliesin lifted his wand and began the delicate task of unraveling the deadly wards that Snivellus had placed upon the desk to protect the stolen engagement ring he'd turned into his horcrux. It was a tedious and taxing task that required his full attention; the smallest little mistake could trigger the wards (killing Taliesin) or worse, turn the wards into a magical explosive on par with a nuclear warhead if they collapsed halfway through the process (killing everyone within a hundred miles and leveling all of Hogwarts, Old Hogsmeade, and New Hogsmeade). Sweat beaded on his face and trickled down the side of his neck as he meticulously pulled apart the magic that was protecting the horcrux.

While he worked, the remainder of his squad and his other three brothers each led a search team through one of the seven floors of the castle in search of Ravenclaw's Diadem. Zechs would have led an eighth search team into the dungeons the moment the desk holding Snape's horcrux had been pulled outside of the castle. Captain Shelby was monitoring all eight search teams from the Command Center and marking off each room and corridor as it was searched on the most recent copy of the castle's blueprints for each floor that the construction crews had drawn up upon the completion of each renovation project to date.

Forty-eight minutes after he first started, Taliesin felt the final ward unravel. He then spent another minute casting a number of low level detection spells on the desk to verify that he hadn't missed any of the wards. Once the desk came back clean, he lowered his wand and wiped the sweat from his brow before he pulled on a pair of dragon hide gloves as he walked forward and cautiously removed the bottom drawer from the desk. He set the drawer on top of the desk once he pulled it free of its tracks and cast another set of detection spells for any evidence that the hidden compartment had been warded separately.

He found two particularly nasty wards and promptly set about removing those as well; these ones rune based wards that had been keyed to Snape. Removal of those wards were both slightly more difficult since he had to erase each rune in a specific order in order to dismantle them where mixing up the order would trigger the wards. Thankfully, there was a simple formula to determine the order of removal for the older style wards (those that were strictly based upon the common rune alphabets that were used by the former British magical society).

The moment both wards had been removed, the desk drawer collapsed to reveal a simple black ring box sitting in what had once been the hidden compartment of the drawer. Surprisingly, there were no further wards on the ring box and Taliesin carefully reached out to open the ring box to reveal his mother's tainted engagement ring nestled in a bed of slithering green velvet. The young monarch's heart ached with the knowledge that he was going to have to destroy the ring completely in order to destroy the horcrux housed within it and he had to fight back a surge of fury and hate as he recalled what the portraits had told him about how Snape had created that first soul fragment.

After taking a moment to center his emotions, Taliesin dug into his pocket and pulled out a wide mouthed flask filled with several inches of basilisk venom that he'd taken from the basilisk's corpse earlier that morning. Once he removed the cork from the mouth of the flask, he picked up the ring box and carefully dumped the ring into the flask of venom without touching the ring. Taliesin jumped backwards the moment he heard the ring splash into the venom and brought his wand up in anticipation of protecting himself from whatever happened next.

He was more than a little disappointed when nothing at all happened; the venom ineffective due to soul fragments being sealed inside of the ring and therefore protected from the deadly venom. He would need to damage the ring before the venom could destroy the horcrux; an act that would in turn wake the horcrux and cause the multiple soul fragments contained within the ring to attack the nearest sources of magic – which in this case would be Taliesin.

Biting off a curse, Taliesin drew Gryffindor's blade from its sheath and carefully removed the invisible protective case that he'd kept on the blade as a precaution. He then poured both the ring and venom out onto the desk before he vanished the flask with a flick of his wand. The nineteen year old mage then tucked away his wand and tightened his grip on Gryffindor's sword in preparation for destroying the ring. He'd just raised the sword to strike the ring when a rumbling growl from Grimstar distracted him as the sentient three-headed suit flew into his line of sight.

Taliesin felt an unexpected surge of magic being pulled from his core through his connection to Grimstar just seconds before the center head of the shrunken suit belched out a stream of searing flames aimed at the venom coated ring sitting in the center of the desk. Taliesin let out a sharp cry in response to the wave of heat that washed over him and threw himself backwards to avoid getting burned. As the magical flames generated by the sentient suit washed over Snape's horcrux, a rapid fire series of small magical shockwaves were released from the tainted ring; each shockwave representing the death of a single soul fragment.

The fast flying chain of shockwaves hit Taliesin as he instinctively brought his sword up as if to block a blow. Instead of flinging him across the grounds, each magical backlash slammed into the blade of the sword and shoved him backwards an inch at a time with each blow. At the same time, the waves of uncontrolled magic released from the destruction of the multiple soul fragments hammered at the protective wards he'd raised to help contain the destruction of the horcrux. The only thing that saved the mage from being seriously harmed or his wards from collapsing was the fact that each soul sliver contained only the barest trace of magic inside of them.

The final shockwave would also be the largest shockwave; leading Taliesin to believe that that had represented the largest soul fragment that had been contained in the ring. It would be another minute after the final shockwave had exploded out before Grimstar ceased breathing flames at the now charred remains of Snape's desk and his mother's engagement ring. The miniature suit would then let out a smug bark as it moved to hover in front of Taliesin's face.

"What the hell was that all about? I thought the plan was for you to use the sword if the venom didn't work?" Heero demanded from inside of Wing.

"Your guess is as good as mine," Taliesin called back as he shakily resheathed his blade before drawing his wand so that he could put out the flames that were still burning. "I had no part in what Grimstar just did – the damn dog-suit went and did that on its own; you saw me preparing to destroy the ring with the sword!"

"Are you hurt?" Trowa inquired once those who had witnessed the horcrux's destruction had digested the news that Grimstar had acted without direction from the wizard.

"No, just feeling a bit tired; removing the wards took a lot out of me and Grimstar drew magic directly from my core through our connection in order to pull off his little stunt."

"Was the ring destroyed by Grimstar's flames?" Abdul asked before either of Taliesin's brothers present could ask another question.

"Give me a moment to scan the charred remains of the desk for any traces of active dark magic," Taliesin replied as he gingerly moved closer to the pile of charcoal and ashes so that he could cast a series of diagnostic spells. He then shifted through the ashes to find the melted remains of his mother's engagement ring so he could scan them next before he lowered his wand and stated, "All clear; the horcrux was completely destroyed. I just need to seal away the remains so they can be studied and compared to the remains of the locket later."

Taliesin then cast several back to back cleaning spells to cleanse the residue of dark magic that clung to everything; including himself. He would have liked to have taken a purging potion as well, to remove any foreign magic that might have seeped into his skin while he was being blasted with the magical backlash of the ring's destruction but that was one potion he was not yet able to recreate and he only had a small handful of them on hand. So it was best not to waste one just because he'd felt tainted by the shockwaves of the wretched wizard's foul magic; best to save them for after he'd dealt with the five remaining horcruxes in case one of them tried to take possession of him.

Once he finished cleansing the mess, Taliesin pulled a small, empty flask from his pocket and carefully scooped the melted remains of his mother's engagement ring into it before he sealed it shut. A second flask was then modified to hold the remains of Snape's desk (in case he missed any bits of the ring). Taliesin then tucked both flasks into his pocket and put Snape's horcrux out of his mind as he turned his thoughts towards the search he would be conducting in the castle for Ravenclaw's diadem.

As he stepped outside of the protective wards and headed towards the castle, he was joined on foot by everyone bar Ahmad (who would be standing watch over the warded site to insure no one messed with the wards). Heero casually slapped him on the back of the head as he fell into step beside Taliesin and instead of taking offense, the wizard snickered softly as he recognized the gesture as being Heero's way of saying he was glad that Taliesin's usual luck didn't mess things up too badly. Trowa's follow up head slap was greeted with the same reaction.

"Command Center, this is Commander Gryffindor reporting the successful elimination of Cursed Object One," Heero stated into his cell phone after rolling his eyes and shaking his head at Taliesin. "The Mage will now head down to the Chamber of Secrets as planned to join in the hunt for Cursed Object Two."

"Roger that, Commander Gryffindor," Captain Shelby replied faintly through the phone.

Fifteen minutes later, Taliesin watched as Brian and Haddock dropped down into the dark mouth of the pipe that led down into the antechamber of the Chamber of Secrets. It took the ten long minutes to send back the all clear signal and Taliesin slipped down through the pipes after them with the rest of his search team following in ten second intervals. The moment his feet crashed into the pile of crumbling bones at the base of the pipe, Taliesin moved out of the way so as not to get knocked over by whoever was following on his heels.

"How did all of these bones get down here?" Hilde asked the moment her eyes landed on the huge pile of bones she was now standing on.

"They're the remains of the creatures that the basilisk killed," Taliesin absently replied.

"There shouldn't have been any bones left; snakes swallow their prey whole and digest the bones alongside of everything else," Abdul pointed out with a slight frown.

"The basilisk isn't a true snake though," Taliesin corrected as he headed towards the tunnel that led to the Chamber of Secrets. "They aren't even a natural creature; they are creatures of pure magic brought about through dark rituals and their entire bodies are infused with dark magic. It is that dark magic that makes their venom so potent. And while they can and will swallow their prey like normal snakes to nourish their bodies, they only need to consume their prey during the first fifteen to thirty years of their lives. The rest of the time, they simply kill their prey with a look and move on."

"According to what I learned from Ragnok's portrait yesterday, a basilisk absorbs the life energy and magic of the being or creature it gazes upon with its eyes and it is that theft that actually kills their intended prey. The basilisk will then use that stolen energy to sustain its life and the magic to grow larger so that it can attack and kill even larger prey. The larger the basilisk, the more energy it can steal before it grows exhausted – the effort to steal another creature or being's magic costly as it has to fight against its victim's will to live."

"If they can kill with just a look, why do they need venom?" Takoda inquired curiously as they reached the point of the cave in where Lockhart had lost his memories to a backfired spell.

"The venom attacks the magic of their prey; it corrupts the victim's magic on top of poisoning and crippling the body, making it far easier for them to steal the magic and life energy of a prey that is stronger than them. It is also a defense mechanism for immature basilisks and for those times when a basilisk is too exhausted or otherwise incapable of using their killing gaze."

"What else did Ragnok's portrait tell you about basilisks yesterday when you went to consult him?" Trowa asked as he and the other stood back to watch Taliesin finish clearing the rock fall that had once blocked the passageway.

"More than I ever wanted to know about the foul creatures," Taliesin quipped in reply as he showed up the walls and ceiling to prevent additional collapses. "Including the three common methods used to force a toad to fertilize a snake's egg. He also told me how to go about hatching out a hydra, a cockatrice, or a drakon which are three more types of unnatural hybrids that are created by dark magic. The hydra is created the same way as a basilisk, only it comes from a toad's egg that has been fertilized by a snake and hatched by a rooster. The cockatrice and drakon are both born from a rooster's egg; with the cockatrice being hatched by a toad and the drakon being hatched by a snake."

"Why in the world would wizards create such terrible monsters?" Hilde demanded with a shudder.

"I couldn't even began to understand what drove the first wizard to experiment but the ones that followed in his, or her, footsteps sought the power that the misbegotten creations represented," Taliesin answered as his memories of Tom Riddle paraded in front of his mind's eye before he locked them back into the mirrors in which they belonged. "All I am really concerned with is how to kill the monstrosities in the quickest and safest way possible. Well, that and destroying any records that mention how to go about creating such twisted monsters. I won't hide the fact that they once existed or how they can be defeated but I refuse to allow those who may come after me to recreate those kinds of terrors."

"How exactly does a person go about killing monsters that can kill with just a look?" Brian asked curiously as they reached the main entrance to the Chamber of Secrets.

"Depends on the creature; I killed the basilisk upstairs with a sword through the roof of its mouth when it attempted to swallow me. I wouldn't recommend going that route though; there won't always be a handy phoenix nearby to gouge out its eyes or heal your stupid ass if you're dumb enough to get bit during the process. The crowing of a rooster is supposed to kill both basilisks and cockatrices but I don't know how much truth is in that. Weasels are rumored to be the basilisk's natural enemy but I put even less stock in that rumor simply because I just can't see a thousand year old basilisk the size of a bullet train quivering in fear in the face of an animal that is typically smaller than a house cat."

"So how would you go about killing one then?"

"Two words; mobile suit. They didn't exist back when I was born but they are here now and they are capable of doing far more damage than eighty percent of all known spells. Beam technology alone could probably pierce the basilisk's hide far easier than a conventional blade and the pilot would be shielded from the full strength of its deadly gaze, though there is a chance the pilot could still be petrified. Drakons and cockatrices could be killed the same way. Hydras, on the other hand, are a trickier beast to kill since merely cutting off their heads will increase the number of mouths you will have trying to take a bite out of you."

"Do hydras get as large as the basilisks do?" Takoda asked as the group moved inside the main chamber.

"No, they actually stay fairly small, never getting any larger than the size of a mid-sized pony. They also can't kill you with their gaze but they secrete a nasty venom from the pores of their toad-like skin that is acidic in nature and for every head you cut off two more will grow back within seconds. They're known for poisoning whatever body of water they make their home in as well as the ground they walk upon when they leave the water to hunt."

"As if giant spiders and fire breathing dragons weren't enough all on their own," Heero muttered under his breath and Taliesin snickered when his sensitive ears picked up both the words and the mocking incredulousness he heard in his brother's voice.

"What exactly are we looking for in here, boss?" Haddock inquired after he'd finished gazing about the chamber.

"Snakes," Taliesin replied as he walked forward toward the large statue at the far side of the room. "I need you to search the walls and floors for etchings and carvings of snakes. I'll test the snake sculptures after I search the basilisk's nest a second time."

"Pair up and pick a corner to start in; one person to search for the snakes and the other to keep an eye out for potential hazards," Heero instructed as he snagged the back of Taliesin's shirt to keep him from going too far. "If you find anything, and I do mean anything out of the ordinary, stop and call me so that Taliesin can investigate it further. I don't want anyone taking any stupid risks."

"Yep, no one is allowed to pull a Stupid Heero Stunt or I will kick everyone out of the castle and continue the search on my own," Taliesin drawled as he drew his wand, flipped Heero upside down with a flick of his wand, and dragged the younger teen towards the statue by his ankle. "Let's go, sunshine; I'd rather not spend any more time down here than I need to."

Everyone laughed when Heero yelped the moment his feet were swept off the floor before they split up to search the chamber. Taliesin listened to his brother soundly curse him for being an annoying brat until he reached the foot of the statue and let Heero down. He then opened the entrance to the basilisk's nest using the same pass phrase that Riddle had used during the incident at the end of his second year. The two teens then entered the large tunnel leading into the statue's mouth at the same time; Heero unwilling to let Taliesin go first and Taliesin refusing to allow Heero to go in alone.

It would take them three hours to search every last inch of the Chamber of Secrets for any hidden rooms within the chamber. Taliesin had even used a Sonorous Charm on himself before he spoke any number of possible passwords in parseltongue in an attempt to unlock any hidden doors. All he'd succeeded in doing was opening and closing the main entrance and the entrance to the basilisk's nest several times. On their way back to the castle proper, Taliesin continued to randomly spout out passwords on the off chance that there was another room outside of the main chamber but again found nothing.

Upon reaching the entrance point, Taliesin pulled out his wand and hesitated a moment before he vanished all of the bones filling the antechamber. He could have packed them all up and hauled them out of the chamber but he saw no point in making the scientists and doctors sift through the bones of millions upon millions of rats just to find the rare magical creature that had died down there. That and he didn't know how safe it would be to make clones of any creature that had been killed with the tainted magic of the basilisk.

Getting everyone back up to the castle proper involved Taliesin flying up the pipes with his Firebolt with Hilde (the lightest person in their search party aside from himself) and dropping a rope back down the pipe so the rest could climb out. They then met up with the other search parties in the Great Hall for a late lunch where they discussed the progress they had made while they ate. After the meal, Taliesin's group would follow Zechs' group down to the dungeons so that Taliesin could start searching those areas that required magic with Abdul as his partner this time while the rest of his team paired up and helped Zechs' group search the rest of the level.

And while Taliesin ended up finding a dozen formerly undiscovered hidden rooms and secret passages that had not been marked out on the Marauder's Map, they found no sign of the room where Riddle had hidden Ravenclaw's diadem.

Each newly discovered entrance to a previously unknown room or passageway was called in to the Command Center and noted on the blueprints so they wouldn't be lost again. Any motifs involving snakes were also marked so that the wizard could double check those areas for hidden secrets with parseltongue. When the search broke off for supper, Taliesin took a side trip up to the Restricted Library to nick the Sorting Hat from its shelf so that he could question the animated piece of clothing about the Gray Lady's final words regarding the location of the diadem and its knowledge of the castle.

In the end, while he learned quite a bit about the castle and the mechanics behind the secret passageways, he garnered no hints as to where the diadem could be hidden; not even what floor they needed to search. After returning the Sorting Hat back to the Restricted Library at the end of the meal, Taliesin would return to the dungeons to finish searching that level.

After the third day spent searching (in which the young king only managed to cover two full levels), Taliesin became frustrated over the lack of success. He was also physically exhausted and sore from casting thousands of revealing spells, detection spells, cleaning spells, and an assortment of other spells non-stop for three days straight with very little rest. So saying he was a little cranky by the fourth morning would be an understatement. The fact that the teams searching through the vault inventories hadn't had any luck in locating the three potential horcruxes beneath Gringotts (part of the delay on that search being the fact that the inventories were in gobbledygook) didn't help.

A frustrated mage is a walking time bomb and it was inevitable that something or someone would set him off. Duo and Heero just happened to be the unlucky pair that triggered Taliesin's temper during breakfast that morning after spending half of the meal listening to the two of them discussing the day's schedule (translation: they were bickering again).

After the one hundredth insult the two had traded, Taliesin got fed up with their bickering and slammed his hands down on the table as he surged to his feet and roared, "Enough! Will the two of you just shut up!?" The entire room fell silent as all eyes whipped around to stare at the angry mage as he glared at the two that had set him off; his magic swirling around him in a visible aura. "I have had enough and we have wasted far too much time on this already. We're doing this my way now."

Taliesin drew his wand at that point and began walking away from the table. He'd barely gone a dozen steps when Heero stood up and ordered, "Taliesin, stop! You can't…"

Whatever it was that the blue eyed pilot thought Taliesin couldn't do was lost when Taliesin silently transfigured him into a rabbit mid-sentence. Taliesin's mismatched eyes then swung around to briefly meet everyone else's gaze as he silently dared anyone else to tell him what he could and couldn't do. When no one else dared speak, the nineteen year old nodded his head once and continued walking until he reached the edge of the dais.

He then stopped and focused his entire being on the mental image of Ravenclaw's Diadem and his desire to have the cursed headpiece in his possession as he lifted his wand, pointed it towards the doors, and pulled upon every last bit of magic he could spare as he incanted, "Accio."

His command cut through the air like a blast of plasma as he completely drained his overflow reserves and nearly his entire core for the first time since the day he'd been strapped into the Epyon by Quinze. The amount of magic he'd put into the spell struck out at the castle and rocked the ancient structure down to its very foundations as the spell bored through stone, wood, and metal to fetch the object it had been instructed to retrieve. Several voices cried out as people were knocked off of their feet and the platters and bowls on the tables rained down on the floor to spill their food.

Taliesin ignored everything though as he tucked away his wand and drew Gryffindor's blade as his eyes never left the open doors that marked the entrance to the Great Hall. The castle would shake and groan twice more before settling heavily on its foundation and in the silence that fell over the room a loud whistling sound could be heard growing closer. It was the sound of a relatively small object flying through the air at high speeds and whatever it was, it was rushing straight for the Great Hall. A full seven minutes after casting his overpowered Summoning Charm, a crumpled ball of tarnished metal soared into the room and headed straight for Taliesin.

Lifting the sword up in a one handed grip, Taliesin held the ancient goblin forged blade like a javelin as his eyes locked onto the scrap of metal that he knew had once been Ravenclaw's Diadem and patiently waited for the perfect moment. The second the ruined diadem had closed half the distance between them, Taliesin threw Gryffindor's blade at the flying object with as much force as he could muster. The sword flew threw the air with precision as it impaled itself on the once treasured heirloom of Rowena Ravenclaw and soon pinned the twisted ball of metal to the wall beside the entrance.

A shockwave of magic exploded from the diadem as blood and a foul blackish green liquid oozed out of the crumpled crown and streaked down the wall to puddle on the floor. Taliesin stared at the foul remains of Voldemort's horcrux for a long minute before he turned around to glance at the pale faces of those who'd witnessed his angry fit. His eyes then fell on the blue-eyed and black-furred rabbit that was his bossiest brother and those watching him had just enough time to see a small smirk cross his face before Taliesin's form collapsed and blurred until Zero was standing in the wizard's place.

If Heero the rabbit could have cursed, he would have cursed loud and long as he tore out of the Great Hall with the winged wolf right on his heels. He didn't get very far before said wolf pounced on him and proceeded to cover his fur with wolf drool before gently snagging him by the nape of the neck and carrying him up to the Wizard's Roost where Zero would use him as a pillow when Taliesin's exhaustion finally caught up to the wizard in wolf's clothing. Duo made it a point to take several pictures of the pair both before and after Heero reverted back to his natural form; Zero firmly pinning the pilot in place as he slept.

While Taliesin slept off his exhaustion, the large volume of magic he'd unleashed upon the castle was absorbed by the stones of the castle. A small fraction of that magic was used to activate all of the remaining secret passageways while the rest was taken in by the ancient wards that had been carved into the very stones of the castle. Deep within the dungeons, the newly reactivated wards of the castle gave birth to a new defender in the form of a newborn poltergeist.

Now, when most people think of poltergeists, they think of mischievous spirits that go about playing tricks on people or the malicious spirits that seek to harm the living souls whose paths they cross. Those are not the only types of poltergeist that exist though as each poltergeist is shaped by the energy from which it is born. In this case, the new poltergeist was an entity of pure magic whose soul purpose was to wander the halls and protect the castle and its residents from harm.

In time, as the newborn poltergeist aged and absorbed stray magics from various sources, it might stray from its original purpose and start playing pranks on the residents (much like the lost Peeves had) but it would take centuries for the new spirit to reach that point. In fact, the being was currently nothing more than a glowing ball of magic and light with a newly awoken consciousness. It could not yet speak nor did it actually have a personality yet but in time the being would evolve to gain both a voice and a personality along with a proper form.

In the mean time, the little newborn poltergeist would simply wander the castle as a silent, floating ball of light that would guide the lost through the halls until they were safe or light up a darkened hallway so one did not trip over what they could not see. Once the infant witches and wizards returned to the castle, the poltergeist would be found most often watching over the young magicals; the protective instincts it had been created with leading it to stand guard over the children when it didn't feel the need to protect another from imminent danger.

Taliesin wouldn't meet the little 'geist until nearly two months and when he finally did, he would name her Serendipity after watching the poltergeist entertain his son for an hour.

It would take Taliesin two days to sleep off his exhaustion. During those two days, the Maganac present blocked off the damaged portions of the castle (where the diadem had punched holes through walls) before they supervised everyone's move back to the castle. Wufei and Quatre took charge of the group that was searching the vault inventories with the help of several portraits that were fluent in gobbledygook and the gobbledygook primers that Taliesin had brought from Ragnok's office. Duo and Heero spent their time sorting through Taliesin's records of the items that had been removed from the Ministry to look for Hufflepuff's cup.

Zechs and Trowa began gathering supplies for those that would be part of the expedition to retrieve the remaining non-living horcruxes. Half of Harry's squad focused on shifting through the date provided by Wolfstar's search for rumors of the Nagini's victims while the other half was mapping out the potential locations of the places that needed to be searched if the three horcruxes were not in the Ministry salvage or stored in the vaults below the bank. They all wanted to be ready to go the moment Taliesin woke because there was a fifty-fifty chance that Taliesin would still be short on patience.

And Heero had no intention of being Zero's cuddle bunny a second time – he'd never been so embarrassed in his life when he finally saw the pictures that Duo had taken of him. His hair (after the rabbit transfiguration had worn off) had stuck up in every direction and had been stuck together with dried wolf spit. It had taken him hours to unglue his hair and wash out the mess. His clothes hadn't escaped the bane that was Zero's spit either.

Waking up in Dorothy's arms for the first time in nearly a week was heaven and Taliesin felt the last of his frustration melting away as he snuggled closer to his wife; his hand slipping down to rest over her stomach and the child growing within her womb. He then felt a thread of guilt as he recalled what he'd done to Heero in his anger. Sure, he enjoyed pranking his brothers but he never should have turned his wand on any of them in anger. He was going to have to apologize as soon as he saw his brother; if Heero hadn't left in order to avoid him.

Taliesin reluctantly slipped out of bed about a half an hour after waking up; the wizard careful not to wake his wife. He then took a quick shower, dressed in clean clothes, and checked on his son before he slipped out of his room and headed towards his office. He spent another hour going through all of the paperwork he'd missed during the past week before he headed down to the Great Hall in search of Heero; his usual contingent of five guards shadowing him once more.

The moment he stepped into the Great Hall, the young king felt his eyes drawn to the blocked off section of the wall beside the door where the horcrux had been destroyed. He let out a soft sigh; he'd forgotten all about the diadem's remains. Drawing his wand, he ordered his guards to remain outside of the blocked off section before he stepped inside to cleanse the traces of dark magic clinging to the former horcrux before he called one of the elves and asked the one that popped up beside him to bring him a large flask. The ruined crown was then transferred into the flask along with the remains of the soul piece that had been bound to it before he reclaimed his sword and cleaned up the rest of the mess.

Once he stepped back out from behind the blocked off section, Taliesin found himself face to face with a cautious Heero whose eyes flicked nervously to his wand for a brief moment. Sighing again, Taliesin put away his wand before he addressed the blue-eyed pilots, "Heero, I owe you an apology; I should not have taken my frustration out on you when you were just trying to look out for my well-being. You have my word that I will never again turn my wand on you in anger… although, don't think that will save you from being pranked once I've calmed down."

"I should have asked you what you planned to do instead of ordering you about," Heero countered as he relaxed now that he knew he wasn't about to be hexed again. "Last week was frustrating for all of us, I think."

"That is an understatement, if I've ever heard one. How much did I miss out on while I was sleeping?"

"We continued researching the locations of the remaining three objects and tracking the patterns of victims to narrow down the exact location of the fourth. All of our equipment is packed and ready to go at a moment's notice as soon as we know where we'll be searching first."

"What about the inventory lists?"

"Wufei and Quatre have been going through the ones from Gringotts while Duo and I sorted through the lists you made when you cleared out the Ministry. So far nothing has been found. The Dumbledore Vault had a considerable amount of jewelry stored inside of it but none of the rings listed matched the description of the two items we're looking for."

"In that case, our first target is going to be the Hogshead Pub in Old Hogsmeade. It would be a good idea to check the old Headmaster's Chambers off of the former Headmaster's Office just in case Dumbledore snuck the rings into his rooms without the knowledge of the portraits as well. I never bothered entering the private chambers and there's no telling what is in there since there are no portrait frames inside of the suite."

"Shall I let the others know we'll spend the morning in the castle before taking the search to Old Hogsmeade this afternoon?"

"Yeah, we'll only need one team to search the Headmaster's Chambers. And I don't want more than two teams for the Hogsmeade search; the wards around the ruins are far too unstable and the last thing we need is someone carelessly wandering off on their own and tripping a ward cascade."

The search of Dumbledore's former quarters turned up a veritable treasure trove of stolen heirlooms and a truly hideous collection of robes but no horcruxes. Once Taliesin was certain that there were no cursed objects in the room, he called on a pair of the elves to pack up the robes and take them down to the clinic where they would be used to fuel the fires that Dr. Watanabe had set up for the next attempt at hatching out ashwinders and fire salamanders. The magic used to create the garish robes should impart an extra boost of magic that would increase the chances of the hatchlings surviving. The rest of the stuff that the bearded manipulator had been hoarding would be inventoried and packed up another time when Taliesin wasn't quite so focused on hunting down the missing horcruxes.

The afternoon search of the Hogshead turned out to be far more fruitful as Taliesin found the rings hidden inside of a seven hundred year old bottle of scotch in a hidden safe beneath the basement. Zechs lamented over wasting a perfectly good bottle of alcohol as Taliesin poured the amber liquid onto the ground in order to get the rings out once they hauled their find back up to the warded stretch of grounds where Grimstar had destroyed Snape's horcrux. The mage snorted in amusement as he tossed aside the now empty bottle and drew Gryffindor's blade. Just before he destroyed both rings with the sword, Taliesin searched the immediate for any sign of Grimstar; the wizard not wishing to be caught off guard a second time by the suit.

The three headed suit was no where in sight this time though and two seconds later, the envenomed sword sliced through both rings with ease one right after the other. The backlash of magic from the destruction of the matched rings was the strongest one yet as the two shockwaves exploded outwards at almost the exact same time. It also didn't help that both horcruxes had each held half a soul and both Grindelwald and Dumbledore had been extremely powerful wizards (the two men ranked as sorcerers). Despite the bruises Taliesin had earned when he'd been knocked off his feet by the blast, he was pleased that the number of horcruxes out there had just been cut in half.

He was even happier when Wufei announced that Hufflepuff's Cup (or a cup matching the description of it) had appeared on the inventory for the Lestrange Vault. A one week long trip was planned down to New London in order to retrieve the cup, clear out several more vaults, and visit St. Mungo's in search of healing potions and potion ingredients. All nine of the search teams would be going; eight of them set to empty vaults as Taliesin opened them on the way down and the final team (including Taliesin) to collect the cup and empty the Lestrange Vault.

They would only spend one day in Gringotts; packing up the contents of over forty vaults. The cup was retrieved and locked away inside of Wolfstar until they could get it back up to New Avalon where it would be destroyed (Taliesin not wishing to risk destroying it inside of the bank because the goblin wards could potentially react negatively to the magical backlash created by the horcrux's destruction). The remaining six days they spent in New London was spent excavating the entirety of St. Mungo's Hospital after sending for the excavation team that had worked with Taliesin when he'd excavated the Ministry of Magic prior to his appearance before the E.S.S.C. seeking world recognition for New Avalon.

The wizarding hospital had been hit hard during the War on Magic and the building was in shambles beneath the wards that hid it from the casual eye. Thousands of skeletons were unearthed during the excavation; including the remains of Frank and Alice Longbottom and Gilderoy Lockhart. It pained the young king to think of all the lives that had been lost due to the actions of three stupid and selfish old men and he prayed for the strength and guidance to prevent such a fate from falling upon the wizarding world a second time.

Halfway through the excavation, one of the teams found the children's ward and Taliesin needed to walk away before he lost control of his emotions; it was far too easy to see his son and the other infant magicals in the small bones of those children that had been in the hospital when it had been attacked. He absently strolled around muggle London or rather New London for three hours lost in thought while his current protective guard dogged his heels. At the end of those three hours, Taliesin found himself being drawn out of his contemplation by a scene straight out of one of his memories; five bullies harassing a lost waif.

"Shove off you lot," Taliesin ordered sternly as he waded into the fray and began lightly slapping heads and shoving the bullies off of the younger, smaller child. "Have you no sense of human decency? Go on, get lost!"

"Piss off ya bloody tosser!" one of the bullies snapped back as he tried to kick the wizard in the shin in retaliation for the head slap, only to yelp when he suddenly found himself being restrained by a burly guard.

"Shall I contact the authorities to deal with this ruffian, your majesty?" the guard inquired; his question actually making all five bullies go pale before those that were unrestrained took off in order to save their own skins.

Taliesin briefly glanced at the now terrified bully before he answered, "Not yet." He then knelt down beside the bully's victim and gently asked, "Where are your parents, little one?"

"He ain't got none," the bully offered up when the trembling child curled up in the gutter only whimpered in response to the question.

"And instead of helping him, you and your friends chose to harass him and make his life even harder?" Taliesin asked as he tossed the boy a scathing look. He then shoved down his irritation at the bully as he returned his attention back to the shivering child as he slipped off his cloak and gently draped it over the child as he stated, "I'm going to pick you up and take you to someone who can tend to your hurts. I promise you that you will come to no harm."

The wizard then suited action to words and carefully scooped the child into his arms. He was more than a little surprised when the child actually curled into him and clung to his shirt instead of fighting him out of fear. He then recalled a time when he would have been willing to trust a stranger to help him before he'd grown cynical. A soft sigh stirred the child's filthy hair as he tenderly cradled the child close.

"What did you wish for me to do with this one, sire?" the guard asked when Taliesin began walking away.

"Bring him; he obviously has information."

"Oy, let me go!" the bully protested as he tried to wriggle out of the guard's grip.

"Silence, your penance for bullying this child and others is to come with us and answer all of our questions. Cooperate and we will allow you to leave when we are finished with you. Refuse to cooperate and we'll hand you over to the local authority once you have answered our questions. The choice is yours."

"I'll tell ya anythin' ya want; just don't call the bobbies."

"Good choice," Taliesin commented as he shifted the child in his arms so that he could pull out his phone before he dialed Trowa's number and waited for his brother to answer his phone.

"Barton here."

"Hey Trowa, can you meet me back at the Leaky Cauldron with your medical kit?"

"What happened? Did you get in a fight? How badly were you hurt?"

"No, I was not fighting and I am not injured; I broke up a bit of bullying that I stumbled across and the one in need of your services is the little waif I rescued."

"What is the child's status?"

"Terrified and I noticed a few cuts and bruises, beyond that I do not know."

"Alright, what's your ETA?"

"Half an hour; providing we don't run into any additional trouble. Can you please track down Heero and tell him that I have a young man that needs to be questioned in regards to the incident?"

"You caught one of the bullies?"

"Yes, he has some information on the waif and he has agreed to cooperate. It might be a good idea to have Duo join us as well; he should be able to relate to both boys."

"I take it that the child you saved is a street rat?"

"Yes, for at least two months now, possibly longer."

"Understood, I'll pass along the message to both of them."

"Thanks, Trowa."

"You're welcome, Taliesin," Trowa replied before he cut the connection.

By the time they reached the Leaky Cauldron, the child in Taliesin's arms had cried itself to sleep. Heero was waiting for him just outside of the pub alongside two more guards and Taliesin paused just long enough to explain the situation to his brother. The bully was then escorted to Wing, where the questioning would take place while Taliesin slid through the wards with his burden. Inside the Leaky Cauldron, Trowa had prepared a makeshift infirmary behind the bar and Taliesin gently set the child down on the camp bed that the green-eyed pilot had set up.

"Such a tiny little thing," Duo commented as he watched from his perch on the bar. "Reminds me of ya when we first found ya runnin' round on your beach."

Taliesin snorted in response to the dig about his former height issues as he pulled out his wand and cast several diagnostic spells on the still sleeping child while Trowa began working and the wizard didn't hesitate to pass along the information his spells were gathering to Trowa, "The child is a boy and his exact age is five years, three months, and two days. His blood type is A positive. Injuries include two bruised ribs, abdominal bruising, a split lip, black eye, a mild concussion – damn, if I'd known about that I never would have let him fall asleep, and multiple cuts and bruises all over his body. He's also suffering from malnutrition, exposure to the elements, and the onset of pneumonia."

"Da kid's lucky ta still be alive," Duo muttered as he crossed his arms defensively over his chest and glared at the floor.

"He's going to need more help than I can give him here," Trowa stated without looking up; his hands deftly stripping the boy out of his clothes as he continued to treat the various injuries. "Do you have any child friendly healing potions on hand that can deal with his internal injuries, his concussion, and the pneumonia?"

"I can look but as far as I know, all of the potions in my supplies are geared for adolescents and adults," Taliesin replied as he pulled off his necklace of trunks and promptly restored the supply trunk.

He'd barely opened the trunk when Trowa began cursing soundly as the child stopped breathing; his little body unable to cope with both his injuries and his illness. Taliesin's breath hitched as he watched Trowa working to save the little boy's life; the wizard recalling the way the little boy had trustingly curled into his arms. Something inside of him rebelled at the mere thought that another child, another innocent, could be lost because no one had cared to save the poor child. A wisp of magic curled around him suddenly and he canted his head to the side to catch the soft whisper that trailed in magic's wake.

This child has been judged worthy of Magic's Blessing…

"Trowa, move out of our way; we know what must be done," Taliesin ordered as he unconsciously slipped into king-speak the moment he understood the message that Magic had given to him.

As he knelt beside the camp bed, Taliesin slipped off his outer shirt to free his wings before he cupped his hands together and placed them over the child's mouth as if he was offering the child a drink of water from his hands. Instead of water though, a spark of pure white about the size of a grape floated in the middle of a pool of pure magic that had immediately filled his hands. As he tipped his hands to pour the magic into the boy's mouth, the spark inside was drawn down inside of the boy. The child gasped as the spark attached itself to his soul and settled into place and then the child drank deeply of the magic that continued to pour from Taliesin's hands.

Each drop of magic the child drank flowed through the child's body, healing his injuries, before being drawn into the newly gifted core the child had been given at Magic's urging and with Her blessing. Taliesin allowed the child to take as much magic as his tiny body could safely hold before he withdrew his hands from the boy's mouth. He then leaned down to kiss the child's brow as the boy slipped into a deep, healing sleep that would allow his body to finish healing and give his magical core time to merge completely with his soul.

"He will sleep for several days while his body and his soul recover," Taliesin stated as he sat back up to meet his brother's concerned and confused green eyes. "He'll need to stay here until he wakes and then he will go with us back to new Avalon."

"You can't just steal him from his family, Taliesin."

"Call it a hunch but I'm pretty certain he has no family and if he does, I sincerely doubt that they will be allowed to retain custody of him after they abandoned him on the streets of New London in the middle of winter. Either way, the boy will need to go with us because he will need to be trained."

"Trained how?" Duo asked curiously as he dropped down off of the counter to get a closer look at the child.

"He will need to be trained how to use his magic."

"You gave him the Shafter woman's core," Trowa stated with some surprise.

"Yes, Lady Ceridwen judged him worthy of Her gift. Giving him a magical core was also the only way to save him."

"Ya better call da Wuffers and warn him that ya picked up a stray, kiddo."

"Not until after I get a report from Heero; Wufei will need the boy's information in order to issue an emergency visa. I can't completely disregard my own laws after all," Taliesin countered with a slight smirk as he watched Trowa resume cleaning up the little boy he'd rescued.

"I already sent Wufei a copy of the interrogation report," Heero declared from behind Duo. "All three emergency visas should be ready by the time we're finished excavating the hospital."

"Three…?"

"Yeah, the older boy you dragged along apparently has a little sister he's been taking care of; she's the reason why he joined that gang of bullies – he needed a way to feed her and keep her warm for the winter. He wasn't actually one of the ones that hurt the kid you'd found but he'd turned a blind eye to the beating because he thought a quick death was better than leaving the kid to starve or freeze to death after the gang's leader kicked the kid out when his mother died. I sent Squad Twelve to help him collect his things and his sister; they'll make certain the bullies don't turn on him for pulling out."

"How old?" Duo demanded with a scowl.

"The boy is twelve, nearly thirteen, and his little sister is three. They've been on the streets for almost a year now. Their parents were killed in one of the border disputes and he took his sister and ran. He's got a partially trained telekinetic Talent; which was the only reason why he'd been allowed to join the gang at his age and with his sister in tow. They were using him to lift wallets and other valuables from their marks."

"They aren't gonna let him go without a fight," Duo pointed out as his scowl deepened.

"I figured as much; which was why I sent Squad Twelve with him," Heero dryly retorted in response to Duo pointing out the obvious. "As soon as the boy and his sister are clear, the local authorities will move in to deal with the rest of the gang. Apparently that particular gang has been terrorizing the city for at least three or four years but the local police force had been unable to pinpoint their base in order to break up the gang permanently. They also didn't have a full description of the leader; who just happens to be only son and heir of a rich business man slash politician that is currently campaigning for reelection."

"Scumbag," Taliesin muttered under his breath.

"Yeah, it gets better; the politician and the son both have a Talent. They manipulate people's emotions in order to make them do what they want."

"They are abusing their gifts?" Taliesin demanded sharply as he pulled his eyes away from the sleeping child.

"It would appear so."

"Names…?"

"I will make arrangements for them to meet with you in person before the end of the week."

"Send them an invitation for a three day all expenses paid vacation in New Avalon instead," Taliesin ordered with a shake of his head. "They will need to be tried, and if found guilty, they will need to have their cores stripped. The same goes for any member of the gang with a Talent; I can't allow any of them to continue to abuse their gifts."

"I'll take care of it right now," Heero confirmed as he pulled out the laptop he carried with him everywhere and began making the arrangements for the U.P.F. to deal with a local terrorist cell in order to avoid any potential jurisdiction disputes with the local authorities.

"What other information were you able to gather in regards to the young victim?"

"The kid showed up on the streets with his teenaged mother or possibly his older sister four months ago and she died of a drug overdose two weeks ago. According to our informant, the girl had offered sexual favors to various members of the gang in exchange for drugs and food. The arrangement worked exceedingly well right up until the girl announced that she was pregnant and claimed the child to be the leader's; three hours later she was found dead."

"Was there any mention of the boy's father?"

"He was rumored to be an alliance soldier that left the girl after he knocked her up at the tender age of thirteen. She'd lived with her grandparents up in Bishop's Stortford up until they passed away five months ago. No other living relatives."

"How did that other kid know all of that?" Taliesin wondered with a slight frown.

"The girl told the leader who in turn spread rumors about her being on her own and therefore available to pleasure the member that brought in the largest and most valuable haul at the end of each day."

Taliesin sighed and shook his head before he changed the subject, "Make certain that Wufei knows to make all three children wards of the Crown and ask Catherine to prepare appropriate beds for the two youngest in my tower; the older boy can be given a smaller single flat close to my tower so that he can visit his sister but also have a bit of privacy and space. Arrangements will also be made to test his current level of education so we can get him into the appropriate classes before I assess the strength of his gift and determine the best way to help him master his ability."

"I'll send Dr. Winner a request to schedule full medical screenings for all three children upon our return," Trowa offered as he finished washing the last of the blood from the child's mostly healed body. "The two little ones will undoubtedly need to be caught up on their immunizations."

"They're also going to need complete wardrobes but I think I'll leave that for my dearest queen to arrange."

"Ya know da kids aren't gonna wanna sleep alone, right?" Duo inquired as he helped Trowa dress the boy in a spare change of clothes that Taliesin resized with a quick flick of his wand.

"True, but it is just as important that they have a place to call their own; a permanent refuge where they can keep their things and retreat to when they need a moment alone. Sleeping arrangements can be worried about once the children are home and can add their input."

Nothing more was said on the matter. Taliesin stuck around the pub long enough to snag a handful of healing potions out of his storage trunk for Trowa after he cast another diagnostic spell on the sleeping child to determine just how many of the child's injuries remained. He also grabbed a few extra pillows, blankets, and two changes of clothes. After that, he returned to St. Mungo's with Heero to check on the progress of the excavation.

The final three days they'd scheduled for the trip passed by quickly as Taliesin bounced back and forth between the magical hospital and the old pub. Trowa spent that time watching over the three children (once the older boy and his sister were escorted back by Squad Twelve). Duo took over the command of Taliesin's guard while Heero took charge of rounding up the local gang once General Po gave him the green light. Those gang members with talents were shipped straight to New Avalon while those without any talent were turned over to the local authorities.

The only exception was in the case of a handful of under aged orphans that hadn't had anywhere to go and therefore only joined the gang out of self preservation. Those children that were over the age of ten were given a choice to either be delivered to the local orphanage or to become wards of New Avalon; most chose New Avalon in order to avoid the less than pleasant orphanages in the area. Those under the age of ten were automatically made wards of the Crown except in the case where they had a parent or older sibling that could and would take care of them.

Once the entire gang had been rounded up (including the corrupt politician and his son), New Avalon would gain a total of eighteen new wards (including the first three children) thirteen of them between the ages of twelve and fifteen and the remaining five all under the age of nine. Out of those eighteen children, only three of them did not have some form of Talent. Out of the adults that had been rounded up, twenty-seven had been shipped to New Avalon to be tried for abuse of their gifts while another forty-three had been turned over to the local authorities.

At the end of the week, the New Avalonian excavation team packed up all of their supplies and headed back north with a depressingly low count of thirteen crates of salvaged potions, medical equipment, and other magical artifacts and the remains of over two thousand magicals. Half of the original nine search teams that had gone to Gringotts with Taliesin would remain behind to help the local authorities deal with the fallout of taking down one of the more troublesome gangs in the area. Both Heero and Duo would stay as well with Taliesin's protection being entrusted to Brian and Haddock.

The first thing Taliesin did upon returning to Hogwarts that evening was to see all eighteen of the children delivered into the capable hands of Iria and Catherine. The second thing he did was oversee the transfer of the recovered remains into temporary storage until D.N.A. samples could be extracted from them before arrangements were made to have them interred in the graveyard. Taliesin then spent an hour checking in with Captain Shelby for an update on their newest guests and to set aside time over the next two days to question each one of the prisoners on their intentions.

The fourth and final thing he did that day was to destroy the horcrux within Hufflepuff's Cup.

That left only one horcrux left to deal with; Nagini.


Notes:

Drakon and Hydra – both monsters are from Greek mythology and both are highly venomous (I believe). I chose to have them be unnatural creatures in this story in order to create counter parts to the basilisk and the cockatrice in order to cover the different possibilities of creating new monsters from the same trio of animals. I could have made more but four was a nice small number that was easy to manage while at the same time covering what I saw as the most obvious differences between how each one came about.

Basilisk – snake mother, toad father, rooster surrogate mother
Hydra – toad mother, snake father, rooster surrogate mother
Cockatrice – rooster mother, unknown father, toad surrogate mother
Drakon – rooster mother, unknown father, snake surrogate mother
Rooster Egg (cock egg/cockerel egg) – is an old term for a yolk-less egg which is also known as 'dwarf' or 'wind' egg


AN: Ah, late again... but at least I'm only one day late this time. Only three more chapters left now. I'll have the next chapter up by this weekend (hopefully) while the final two chapters aren't quite postable yet but I hope to have them ready soon. In the mean time, I'm going to get back to work on WWYR2 so that I can get the next chapter of that fic up fairly soon.

As always, readers and reviewers are appreciated even if I don't give each and everyone a personal acknowledgement - something I've been very lax on lately. I'll try to answer any questions posted soon but I make no promises right now because I've got a dozen muses pulling me in a hundred different directions and need to try and get them whipped into shape before they give me a headache. *sets unopened boxes of candy-canes and other holiday goodies out for everyone on the way out the door* ~ Jenn