The Search for Life and Death

The Artifacts

THE SEARCH FOR LIFE AND DEATH

XIII

The Artifacts

You know you don't have to make a decision tonight, Harry. It's probably best if you think on it for a few days.

And if you do want to stay, that's perfectly fine. You don't have to go anywhere and it can be just the three of us. We could move to America. I've been there a few times and it's no England, but—

Sirius!

Fine, fine… just know that you don't have to go back, unless you want to.

I know, but I need to.

Harry stared down at his unsteady handwriting. It always had been atrocious, but it was even worse now – or, at least, when they tremors in his hands struck. They only came now and then, but it seemed that they were becoming more and more violent when they did strike.

The journal in which Harry was writing was another invention by Sirius and Remus as a way for them to communicate. The journal was charmed to record whatever a person said, in their handwriting. The two of them had gotten the idea from Tom Riddle's Diary, which Harry had told them about when they had asked him about what had happened during school in the years before they met him. Needless to say, it hadn't been a pleasant conversation, but it had been a necessary one, and some good did come of it.

Because Harry couldn't speak, obviously the book wouldn't record his intended words, so he was forced to pen them in himself. Unfortunately, the tremors in his hands had been bad enough all day that they had needed to cancel their normal spellcasting training, because Harry could hardly aim when his hands were shaking so horribly.

Sighing softly, Harry placed the quill back on the page and continued writing.

Voldemort is after me. I don't know why – Dumbledore has never told me that, but I can't just run away.

Of course you can!

Sirius…

Look, Harry. This isn't you're problem. It's not your job and you don't have a duty to Albus Dumbledore to be there to stop Voldemort every year. You're fifteen years old! You're a child! I know that's hard for you to understand because you've never been allowed to be a child, but we want to give you the chance to be one now. I don't want you to think you have to run back there because it's your job to stop him. You never should have been placed in the situations you were, or forced to face him at all. You've had enough taken from you already, Harry. I will not let Albus Dumbledore take more from you, or from me!

Harry swallowed thickly, blinking as he read the words as they appeared on the page. He didn't look up at Sirius or Remus as he placed the quill back on the page.

You've told me all of that before, and I know you guys would let me stay with you forever if I wanted. And…

And part of him really wanted to. Part of Harry wanted nothing more than for him to turn his back on Hogwarts and the Wizarding World both and spent the rest of his life with Remus and Sirius, with people who he loved, and who he knew loved him. It was such a strange, rare thing for him, and it meant so very much. More than he had words to explain, really.

But he could try…

And part of me wants to. And I've thought about it, but I really do need to go back. I want to see my friends again, and I want to finish my classes at Hogwarts. I want… to be normal, or as normal as I can be. I don't want to run all of my life, and if that means I have to face Voldemort, even if it's not my job, then I will. If I have to stop him to be free, then I'll stop him.

He chewed his lip a moment.

That's… you're okay with that, right?

Of course we're okay with it, Harry. We told you, it's your decision. If you want to go back, then we will. But let's wait a few days. I need to prepare a few people first, and give some of them time to calm down.

Harry relaxed. He had been worried that Sirius or Remus might think that he didn't like being here with them, when the opposite was true. He truly wished that he didn't have to leave, but he had this feeling that there was something coming. Along with it came the sensation that, unless he was at Hogwarts, where, save once, he had always faced Voldemort, he wouldn't survive.

And neither would anyone else.

"There were seven originally, but the seventh hath fallen. The Dust was ground too deeply to be summoned back, its glimmer gone, its magic wrought. Six remain, that you shall hold. Six remain, that shall summon I. Six remain, that you must find."

Six stones formed a circle in the air that spun slowly. Each stone was a solid sphere as large as a boulder, but as they rotated, one by one, they began to change.

The first, a green and blue mix of color, quivered as though something sharp were striking it. Small flecks of stone were chipped away bit by bit, as a chisel invisible to the eyes was hammered against the rock. The bits were taken from the center and tossed into the air, where they fell for only a moment, before disappearing – unimportant.

Paeluis was the first formed. Her magic rested always in her power to hold. To strengthen her powers, her center was removed until she could hold all that could fit within her. She was the strongest of all of the stones, able to bear any burden, unhindered.

The sharp stones edges left over from the chipping were sanded down carefully, until they gleamed smooth, creamy, and the center of the sphere now bore a basin into which something could be poured.

"Paeluis will hold any object within her center with no harm befalling her womb. Her mate is Gladius, the speared one."

The second stone was a gold and silver mix of colors. As Paeluis returned to the circle of stones changed, the second stone began to alter. The edges were stripped, chiseled away, flecks and hunks broken off, to disappear out of sight. Something sanded down her edges, until they became smooth, but remained straight. The bottom of the stone ended at a point, like a sword.

"Gladius always held his magic within his center, for he is strong and strikes true for the heart of things, but it is his heart that is his weakness, for no blood shall ever coat him and let him bear the burden of wrought destruction. He brings harm to no living creature, but his magic and strength can slice through any object."

The third stone that began to change was a milky white. Something unseen moved over it, smoothing the creamy texture until it appeared almost porcelain. The center was sanded and dug at and burned, until the color was drawn away and all that remained was a thin layer as clear and transparent as glass.

"Lapis Verim is sister to Paeluis, and her magic dwelled not within her body, but within her sight. She will look at all things in time, but no lies will pass her vision into the mind of another. No illusion or spell can hide from the sight of the one who chooses only to see Truth."

The fourth stone was black as onyx, and something chiseled away at the edges, smoothing the stone into a cylinder that widened at the base. The object itself seemed familiar, like the model of a tower.

"Turris is the defender, brother to the speared one. Where Gladius will cut, Turris will defend and protect. He bears the pain of others so that such pain can be halved in his presence. He protects all who he holds dear, all who are worth defending, and knows how to keep them safe. He is both the opposite of his brother, and his brother's greatest foe."

The fifth stone was a deep red. It both gleamed like fire and dripped like blood. This stone did not move or change, but remained steadfast in its form.

"Nothing could be done to strengthen the magic of Cor, for she is as she is – strong, made of magic and magic-making, bearing for all things passion, and alone both strong and fragile. She feels everything for others, and feels the everything of others, and can use this, twist this, become this, and change who, where, and how another is."

The sixth stone was rather unassuming. A mute brown in color, like dark mud, its sole change was a hole that was dug through the center of it, the edges smoothed into thin, elegant curves, until it was not so much a stone anymore, as a ring.

"Orbis is the last of the stones, now that the seventh hath fallen. He is the one who hides, for one who seeks a stone shall see a ring as nothing of consequence. Those who seek out his magic shall not find it, for the magic hides but for that moment when it is not sought, and then it comes. Orbis is the binder, who bears the minds of two, and only two, in tandem. He is the mate of Lapis Verim, for he takes the truth that his mate sees and offers it to the mind of another, forever binding them, heart, mind, and soul."

The six circled each other in the air, no longer stones, but now taking on the form of their magical properties. Slowly, they each began to shrink, until they would fit into the palm of a hand, near all but mere pebbles to be grasped.

"These six must be sought, fought for, and borne. Paeluis, the bowl; Gladius, the sword; Lapis Verim, the Stone of Truth, Turris, the tower; Cor, the heart, Orbis, the ring.

"Once there were seven, and so there are seven of you, who shall seek and know and find and fight. Six of you will bear an artifact within your hands, and one of you shall turn to the shadows when your hands touch nothing. Let the six stones call to you in your dreams, and in your dreams, seek them. Find them. Fight for them. Summon me.

"Do so quickly, lest you be bested by he who walks with Death, and seeks its master.

"Fly, my six chosen. Fly, find, and fight."

In the darkness of night's cloak, seven children woke up from a dream of stones and an echoing prophecy. Six children awoke with a purpose.

One child woke up screaming.

"M-Master… they're here." A short, balding man tried to curl into himself as he twitched and quivered before his master. He bleeted his words on a tongue of terror, his fingers flicking and twitching as his eyes scanned the room for the fastest escape route, should one prove necessary.

"Very good, Wormtail." A shadow in the corner moved and the pale visage of Lord Voldemort appeared, flowing across the floor like a creature from Death's playpen, escaped. He rested long, spindly fingers on the head of his personal lackey, who flinched under the touch. The Dark Lord smirked appreciatively.

"You have done well in this, Wormtail. If I could expect such work continuously, you would have no fear of reprisal."

Wormtail twitched and quivered, eyes rolling in search of the words he should respond with. "Y-Yes, m-my lord."

"Do not promise what I know you will not give me! Crucio!" The wand was in his hands in but a second, flicking and sending the rat-like man screaming to the ground in the throes of agony. The Dark Lord made a thoughtful sound, as he steadied his wand into a deeper press on his magic, causing the agony Wormtail was experiencing to increase double over.

Finally, he released the spell abruptly, and watched with only a small amount of interest as the man continued to convulse for a few moments, as he drew in great gasps of air.

"Have I driven you mad and useless yet, Wormtail?"

The balding man quivered, unable to rise. "N-No, my lord."

"So you're still sane, but you were always useless, weren't you, Wormtail?"

"Yes, m-m-my lord."

"Yes, I thought so. Do you know what I do to subjects who are useless, Wormtail?" Wormtail only whimpered in response. "Yes. Yes, I thought you did. Crucio!"

As the man dissolved again into screams, Voldemort walked to the large double doors that led to a grand ballroom. He was careful to keep his wand trained on Wormtail, continuing the cruciatus curse, as he pushed open the doors and stepped into the room beyond.

A group of Death Eaters, seven in total, waited for him in kneeling positions on the floor. Behind them stood four more cloaked figures – not Death Eaters, but something far more potent. They were each swathed in black cloaks, tied about their throats with crimson string, the hoods pulled forward so far that no penetrated the hoods to reveal even their eyes. Voldemort smiled a feral grin at the sight of them, but turned his attention first to his Death Eaters.

"You know why you are here?"

No one answered him, and he released Wormtail from the cruciatus to bring his wand forward, pointed at the Death Eater to the furthest left. "Answer me!"

"Yes, my lord."

Voldemort kept his wand level on the masked face of the kneeling man. "Tell me why you are here."

"You need us to—"

"Crucio!" As the man collapsed, screaming, to the ground, Voldemort turned to the Death Eater next to him. "You tell me."

"You want us to find the Stones of Life and Death."

"Yessss…" Voldemort removed the cruciatus from the other man, leaving him gasping. "I need none of you, but I shall save myself some time. There are seven stones of Life and Death. They can be found within the Realm of Dreams, and once found, you will awaken with them in your hand. With all seven, I can summon Life, to kill Death." Or, his death, rather, giving him immortality, and damning everyone who would try to oppose him. He had but to hold all seven stones within his hands to have command of the two most powerful magical creatures in the world. He would be completely unstoppable.

"Wormtail!"

The short man skittered into the room, having had enough time to recover that he could walk. He held a large box in his hands, which he held out to Voldemort when he had reached his master and dropped to his knees before him.

"Aahhh…" Voldemort breathed, as he flicked the locks that bound the box closed and opened the lid. Inside, there were seven small vials, each containing a mouthful of lavender-colored liquid. Gingerly, Voldemort picked on up in his long fingers and held it before his eyes.

"The Slumber of Ages. A potent potion, is it not, Severus?"

"That it is, my lord." Severus snape, clothed in a blackoyaoak and the white mask of one of Voldemort's loyal followers, stepped out from the shadows. He moved with a grace from the corner of the room where he'd lain in wait, and made his way nearer to the seven Death Eaters that bowed before their lord.

Voldemort glanced his way lazily. "Tell me of it."

"The Slumber of Ages is a potion that takes exactly a year to brew. It must be consumed during a full moon for full potency to take effect. When it is consumed, it sends the subject into a sleep that will last until the duty that has been assigned him prior to his slumber is accomplished. This duty can be anything, but if it is not accomplished, the sleeper shall never awaken. He will not remain asleep until he dies of old age, either, but shall begin to putrefy after seven day's time. Eventually, his body will devour itself."

"Yesss." Voldemort smiled cruelly at the liquid in the vial and spoke to the seven who knelt at his feet. "The seven of you are my chosen, to take the Slumber of Ages and make your way through the Realm of Dreams. The duty you are assigned is to find the seven artifacts of Life and Death and awaken with them in your hands." He held up the vial of lavender liquid. "You will each consume this whole vial upon the rise of the Sturgeon Moon, and then seek out the artifacts.

"Lucius, my most trusted."

"Yes, my lord?" The Death Eater to the furthest right rose to his feet and stepped forward.

Voldemort handed him a vial. "You are to seek out Lapis Verim."

"Yes, my lord."

"McNair, you will find Turris. Amycus, you are to find Paeluis." Voldemort handed each of them a vial of lavender liquid as they came forward.

"Bellatrix…"

"Yes, my lord!" the woman cried, very nearly leaping forward.

"You will seek out Gladius, the speared one."

"Of course, my lord!" the woman took the vial eagerly and unstoppered the top. She sniffed the potion with fervor, grinning from ear to ear.

"Fenrir, you will find Cor. Avery, I want you to find Orbis."

Voldemort stepped in front of the seventh Death Eater, the last vial of potion dangling from his fingers. "Alecto, I send you after the seventh artifact – the most elusive of them all." He handed the last vial of potion to the grinning woman. "I want you to find Afa, the Dust."

"As you wish, Lord Voldemort."

Once the seven Death Eaters who had been named Voldemort's chosen had left, and Severus had bowed and swiftly followed them from the room, the Dark Lord turned his attention to the four cloaked figures that were waiting for him.

"Lilith," he said by way of greeting, "I would tell you it was a pleasure—"

"But it is not." The voice that hissed from the shadows of a hooded cloak was a wheezing gasp of air that formed words that very well may have been a scream, if any force ever could have been placed behind them. They sounded like the last words from a dying woman's breast, the final sound on a final breath, but more kept coming. "Do not waste my time with petty trivialities, Marvolo. I am not pleased at having been disturbed, even for the likes of you."

Voldemort had always hated his father's name – the first, given to him like a brand, and the surname, marking him as belonging to the despicable muggle – but Lilith had forever refused to call him by a name which struck fear into the hearts of mortals and which his servants called him by. Thus, she called him by his middle name, Marvolo, which was not liked, but certainly less repulsive than the rest.

"For what reason did you summon me, Marvolo? I have many things better to do with my time. There are many creatures I would rather spend my time with than you." Voldemort knew she would much rather spend her time eating some of these people than spending any significant time with them, but he said nothing of the sort.

"I have a proposition for you." Lilith said nothing, waiting for him to speak. "Albus Dumbledore has proven himself to be as constant in his interference as a thorn in its pricking. I need him to fall, and with him, the hierarchy he has built around himself. As he rests within a fortress, this cannot be done from the outside." His crimson eyes narrowed. "I need someone to do it from within. Someone that I can trust to be as ruthless and she is discreet."

Reaching up long, gnarled brown-green fingers, Lilith pushed back her hood, displaying a thin, bald head, skin stretched tight over a misshapen skull. Where her eyes and nose should have been, there was only skin, the same sickly color as her rotting hands. The only feature her face contained was a wide, round hole – a mouth that continually sucked air, as though constantly searching for a soul to devour.

The mouth abruptly widened and stretched into a grin that split her head in half, baring large, razored teeth that sat crooked in black, rotting gums. "The children of Hogwarts are always a treat, Marvolo, and I shall gladly infiltrate their masses. As for my children…"

"The dementors always have a place amidst my ranks."

"Very well. I leave you to your mortal rabble." She turned her head back toward the remaining cloaked figures, and had she eyes, it would have been obvious that she was looking at them. Lacking eyes, however, only her cavernous mouth sliding into the form of a sneer could be read on her face, before it fell back into a wide grin. "I shall ready my children. Soon, we feast."

"August 28th."

"Yes, Headmaster." Severus grimaced. "I know that doesn't give you much time."

"No, but perhaps enough. Why the Sturgeon Moon, however? Why not the Thunder Moon? I would have thought that he would wish to move faster, to ensure his success."

"It seems he has been planning this for some time," Severus admitted. "His patience is… alarming in this situation. Not that he has a great deal of it, but still, he is strategizing – setting up his pieces."

"Yes. Playing the Chessmaster. Still, his reasons for choosing the Sturgeon Moon?"

"The Crimson Moon, it would seem. It is merely a myth, of course—"

"As are most things of great power in our world." Dumbledore pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. "I hadn't even considered that a possibility, but it shouldn't have escaped me. So, Tom wishes to draw even greater power from the red haze of the August moon. Very well. I will do my best to gather together who I think would be most fitting to face Voldemort's chosen. They shall each have to face one of his Death Eaters in the Realm of Dreams.

"I am afraid, Severus, that I would choose you as my seventh. You may need to give up your duties as a spy for this."

"That is well enough, Headmaster. The second batch of the Slumber of Ages that I brewed is ready to be taken. I will gladly take one of the vials myself and enter the Realm of Dreams. Should I take the potion tonight?"

"No, Severus. The Realm of Dreams is a world quite different from this one. Entering it alone is dangerous, but to slip into its depths on multiple occasions is asking too much. We shall wait until the rise of the Sturgeon Moon ourselves, and enter the Realm of Dreams when Voldemort does. We will match his forces and find the artifacts before he can.

"If you have any suggestions for those who will join you, I would like to hear them."

"Only one, Headmaster, and I would like for it to remain beyond anyone's knowledge that I asked for him."

"Oh? Might I assume you would like a former professor to join you?" Dumbledore asked, his clue eyes lighting up in delight.

Severus scowled at him in return. "It is no manner of kindness of kindred spirits that have me wanting him there. Remus Lupin is a werewolf, and in the Realm of Dreams, the full moon will release his powers just as they do his control. A werewolf with mind intact and full use of his scenes and all of the gifts Lycanthropy grant him. I would ask for no greater tool than this, save omniscience."

"I cannot grant you the latter, Severus, so I shall speak with Remus of it should I see him before August's moon. I daresay Sirius may have some words for you, however."

"He I would request you exclude, Headmaster."

"I do not wish for the Realm of Dreams to be bathed in the blood or spirits of either of you, my boy, and so that is a request I will acquiesce to." The headmaster rose to his feet from his chair, followed quickly by Severus. "And now, I believe we both have duties to return to. I must speak with those whom I can contact about entering the Realm of Dreams, and I believe you have potions to attend to."

"Yes, Headmaster." Severus inclined his head. "I shall bring the potion to you on the twenty-eighth."

"I will see you then, Severus. You have my wish for much luck, my boy. Do be careful."

"Of course, Headmaster."

Live long. Live well. Write. Read. Dream.

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