Time To Get Professional Help
A/N: Takes place right after Halfblood Prince in the Harry Potter universe, and not long before Ryou moves to Japan in my interpretation of Kazuki Takahashi's manga world (so Bakura is already 'active', but Ryou doesn't know it).
Harry let the letter fall from his listless fingers. He felt numb.
Dumbledore had been dead for three days and he'd just now received a packet that his late mentor had arranged for him to get in the event of his death.
The words of the long letter, elegant in their familiar loopy shapes, weren't registering at all in Harry's mind; it was as if they had no meaning. Words of praise, of encouragement, commending his bravery and endurance. Hollow.
The unassuming parchment attached to it, however, held his gaze trained on it, for he was drinking avidly in the wealth of information it contained. Information Dumbledore hadn't had the time (or perhaps simply hadn't seen fit) to share when alive. Information about the remaining Horcruxes.
Harry closed his eyes and recalled the mantra he'd been reciting to himself over and over in the last days, as though by listing them he could bring the needed items within reach: the locket… the cup… the snake… something of Gryffindor's or Ravenclaw's… the locket… the cup… the snake… something of Gryffindor's or Ravenclaw's…
Now, the list of findings Dumbledore had compiled filled seamlessly the holes in this mantra, pulsing through Harry's mind with growing clarity.
Rowena Ravenclaw's Diadem.According to legend, lost by her own daughter and never recovered over time. Somehow found and then hidden once more by Tom Riddle.
Salazar Slytherin's Locket.Passed down the Gaunt line even when they'd lost all semblance of the nobility they once held. Sold out by Voldemort's mother at last and eventually bought by one Hepzibah Smith, whom a young Tom Riddle seduced, murdered and robbed in that order. Hidden, perhaps, in the cave where Tom first showed off his control over his magic as a child - but Harry knew this piece of information was wrong of course.
Helga Hufflepuff's Cup.Inherited, by some weird chance, by that very same Hepzibah Smith and stolen by Voldemort along with the Locket, through a combo of lust and death only topped by his framing a House-elf, of all things, for it. Now presumably in a loyal follower's Manor – like the Diary – or perhaps their Vault in Gringotts.
And of course, the snake. Voldemort's familiar.
Harry gritted his teeth.
How in the name of Godric's smelly socks was he supposed to find – let alone get his hands on – three legendary Artefacts of the Founders, hidden by the most feared Dark Lord of the last millennium, under heavy protections, in what were presumably the most secure places in the wizarding world?
The answer was simple.
Perhaps it was time to seek professional help.
Bakura knew his wimp of a Landlord would be more than nervous in this shady, dirty pub filled with – he cackled silently – 'disreputable patrons'; but he, Thief King Bakura, greatest tomb robber of the past three millennia, felt right at home.
And this Firewhiskey thing wasn't half bad either.
Now if only this supposed 'impossible job' turned out as good as promised…
He spotted his 'client' the moment the teenager entered: the boy – practically a child! he thought in disgust – did not belong here, that much was glaringly obvious.
Bakura almost left there and then, but something in the way the dark-haired bloke moved intrigued him.
The boy… wasn't scared. He wasn't even nervous.
Maybe he was just suicidal… but that didn't ring true. Out of place, yes, but the kid didn't look like an idiot. This was... interesting.
This youngster did not belong in the shadows, yet he moved with the confidence of someone who could get the shadows to belong to him, if so inclined. Bakura had met very, very few people like that. He had power… he had power in spades, this pretty green-eyed boy. No idea how to use it properly, clearly, but still.
No wonder he walked undisturbed through the dingy room, despite his obviously expensive cloak. Lesser thieves were likely intimidated.
Oh, yes!… This night might yet prove interesting after all.
He gulped down his Firewhiskey and let a sinister smile form on his face.
Harry forced himself to ignore blatantly the rest of the unnerving patrons and instead observed overtly the white-haired stranger slouching like a lazy puma at a corner table.
The Thief King, Mundungus had said, and there had been a note of disturbing reverence in his voice.
The rogue didn't look one day older than seventeen, but then again, this was the wizarding world: appearances meant little.
Harry sat down calmly and felt an impression of movement.
He hoped it was the thief nicking the fake locket he'd purposely left almost unprotected in a pocket. If it wasn't, his gamble would backfire.
He didn't allow himself the luxury of a deep breath: "I do not mind you keeping a… souvenir, let's say… of our encounter, but I will need that locket to explain part of the assignment I'm offering", he said coolly.
He hid his relief and triumph at the flicker of surprise and respect in the Thief King's eyes.
His bluff had worked, then. Good. Hopefully this would reduce his disadvantage while bargaining, at least a little. Bluffing really was a misjudged art…
He bit back the smile he wished he could afford and focused entirely on getting the white-haired bloke to do what he needed.
Bakura flickered the silly trinket on top of the table, refusing to show he was impressed. Perhaps he'd underestimated the boy.
More and more interesting…
The wizard cast a spell he was unfamiliar with, presumably to ensure their privacy. He made a mental note to remember it – muffliato. It could come in handy.
He listened intently to the explanation – which was lacking, but that was all right. Reassuring, even: the boy apparently understood the value of information and was loath to part with it. Yes, yes; very good. Always better to work with people who weren't complete dunderheads after all.
"So let me get this straight", he summed up eventually. "There is a set of four millenary items – a Sword, a Cup, a Diadem and a Locket – that have been hidden under heavy protections. You got one – the Sword – and you want the others to complete the set. And you're willing to pay me to get them for you."
He'd been right to come. This was appealing, very much so. A four-part challenge: find the items, get the items, get paid for the items, steal away in the night with the items.
He almost cackled loudly with glee. Professionalism took over, though. If barely.
"If you got one yourself, what's stopping you from getting the others?"
Let's see if the kid owned up to what he'd left out of his 'explanation'…
Harry grimaced. He'd hoped the thief would be eager for the 'job' and not ask too many questions, but apparently the white-haired rogue was far too cautious. Damn.
He answered carefully: "It was more luck than skill, and it nearly cost me my life – and the life of my betrothed. And I have leads on the others, but following them looks out of my league."
There. Nicely generic, wasn't it?
The Thief King's eyes lit up with interest. "Tell me more", he drawled breathlessly.
Harry narrowed his eyes. But in the end, what choice did he have?
Sinking back and relaxing with yet another Firewhiskey now that the deal was made, Bakura reflected that the boy's tale had seriously impressed him.
Well, who didn't like a good story?
He wished he could have seen the giant snake. That truly sounded like a monster to behold!
Perhaps he'd go and have a quick look around this Chamber of Secrets when he found the time. A room that couldn't be accessed without an innate magical ability… hah! Thief King Bakura could absolutely get in – and would have a lot of fun in doing it.
He chortled. Who knows what treasures might lay there, besides? The boy clearly hadn't stayed to look around…
Bakura shook his head sadly. So much wasted potential. Really, the kid had gone about it all wrong! No wonder he almost got himself killed.
Then again, he'd been only twelve, poor sod, and it was painfully obvious he'd never had proper guidance in his life. The fact that he'd got the Sword at all was perhaps a testament to latent talent more than anything.
Not that Bakura would ever let him know.
Harry breathed deeply in the night air.
Knockturn Alley was horridly smelly, but it still beat the stench of greed, lust and brutality in that pub.
He took another deep breath, feeling his tension ease a tiny bit.
The Thief King had agreed.
He shivered, happier than he could say that he no longer was in the presence of the creepy 'youth'. The tomb robber gave him the unpleasant sensation that he should watch his back, because the Thief King was already stabbing it. But desperate times called for desperate measures.
He glanced down at the fake locket the rogue had not taken after all. It seemed the robber liked the challenge more than what he gained from it.
Harry was reasonably sure he could drop it back in the cave tonight, now that he knew how the horrid place was set up. He'd purposely left out the information about Dumbledore's and his foray into the cavern. It was an easy test, a way to see if this Thief King was truly as good as he claimed, without losing much if he wasn't. Perhaps testing the thief like this wasn't very honourable, but on the other hand… all is fair in love and war, right?
Just because he needed all the help he could get, didn't mean he should be careless with said help. Especially with the likes of the Thief King.
He started moving slowly down the darkened alley.
Had he made the right choice? Only time would tell.
At least now he could concentrate on killing the freaking snake…
Deep underground, by a chilly, dark lake, Bakura screamed, enraged.
Tendrils of Shadows twisted around him, called forth by his rage, making his Landlord's shirt flap about like an angry living thing.
This fucking cave had pushed all of his buttons wrong.
Blood Magic – that never sat well with him. Memories rose unbidden, of blood, his people's blood, of screams and sobbing, and then of silence, the unnatural silence of death, but there were no bodies in those memories, no bodies on the ground in the whole, eerily silent village, just blood, so much blood…
It was Blood Magic who had killed his people, more horribly than the soldier's swords. It was Blood Magic that had poured their melted bones, their very essence, into the seven cursed items made of gold and blood, so much blood.
Now he was once more confronted with that kind of evil.
And if that was not enough - what the fuck was this fucking Dark Lord doing with all those fucking corpses? The dead are dead, you don't go about messing with them!
This Voldemort fucker was like the fucking Pharaoh. Bastards, the both of them.
Then that disgusting concoction had very nearly killed his Landlord. Nobody got to kill his Landlord!He was sorely tempted to find that damn wizard and steal his miserable life along with everything else the fucker ever had!
And now this!
He screamed again, fury raising the Shadows around him like black, smoky flames.
It was a fake. A freaking fake!
Bakura let out an explosive breath, scattering the Shadows every which way, then started shouting a string of colourful curses into the echoing darkness.
A freaking fake! And it wasn't even a decoy. He could have accepted that. Decoys were ok. They were expected. He would have tipped his metaphorical hat to a worthy opponent and gone on to find the real deal.
But no… he'd been bested. He, the infamous Thief King!
This R.A.B., whoever the fuck he was, had reached the price first.
A last, wordless scream tore itself from the Thief King's lips, before the ancient youth stormed out of the cavernous space, ferocious determination in his every step.
Bakura did not do second!
Harry threw his glass at the wall in frustration, drawing a marginal satisfaction from the crashing sound.
That damned snake seemed to have disappeared off the face of the world.
Voldemort had appeared in 'public' on no less then seven different raids and murders – most notably the torture session that had killed Minister Scrimgeour – but not once had his familiar been with him.
Did the monster suspect Harry was onto his secret?
Harry had even sent two snakes of his own to scout Malfoy Manor, where thanks to his scar he knew Voldemort was residing, with promises of fat mice if they could tell him how many snakes were there and how big.
All the snakes were 'not-living' - which after a bit of perplexity he took to mean they were magical drawings or carvings rather than flesh and bones.
No trace of Nagini.
He conjured another glass and promptly smashed it.
Where the hell was that overgrown worm?
Bakura hid his contempt for the pathetic life form before him. He despised the fucking paper-pushers on principle, but this waste of a clerk was even worse than average!
Usefully greedy, though – and Bakura wasn't above parting with a sack of gold in order to dump the worthless task of digging through the loathed Ministry's Archives on the wimp.Especially since he was going to steal it back when all was said and done.
He examined the list the worm had provided for him. All good thieves know the value of meticulous information, no matter how boring. The parchment listed every witch and wizard who was or had been alive between 1960 and now and whose initials were R.A.B., along with all details about them that could be found on record. There were fewer names on it than he'd feared: good.
He nodded sharply: "Well done. Here's the rest of your payment."
The useless coward's eyes barely had the time to light up with renovated greed before Bakura snapped his neck neatly.
Nobody was going to miss the worm anyway. There was a fucking war going on after all.
He whistled a merry tune as he bounced away, making the retrieved gold clink and tin rhythmically in its sack.
Harry was pacing the room like a furious tiger trapped in a too small cage.
Oh, there was nothing wrong with the room, he could concede that: Hogwarts was always lovely after all. It was being a virtual prisoner in it that had him glaring balefully at the walls and everything they contained.
Add to that, that Hermione had transfigured everything that could potentially be crashed, cracked or smashed into fluffy, soft, and most of all frustrating pillows.
The Order were behaving like a bunch of beheaded chickens, too frightened to do anything against Voldemort, yet they had the gall to keep him confined!
For his own good, no less. Riiight.
It had been a mistake to trust McGonagall, that much was obvious now.She insisted she had to know his plans and demanded the right to give her input. Read: boss him around.
And everybody seemed to defer to her! She wasn't Dumbledore, for Merlin's sake!
Well, Harry certainly wasn't interested in her input. Nor did he want the well-meaning idiots to keep tagging him every bloody moment!
And he wasn't obsessed with the damn snake, anyway.Why couldn't they understand how vital it was that he found and killed it?Why did they need everything explained over and over?Why couldn't they just trust him?
His venture into Knockturn Alley was being used against him. Everybody seemed to take it as proof that he wasn't reliable, that he was just an immature fool. 'Unfair' didn't even cover it.
Damn! He needed to get out of this cage, he needed to keep looking for that blasted snake, he needed to try and contact the Thief King again, he needed action!
He punched the nearest pillow with fury, and screamed in frustration when it didn't even hurt.
Bakura walked leisurely down the muggle road, with the confident smirk of someone who's done a good job and knows it.
He kept bouncing on his hand the intriguing golden Locket he'd at long last gained, playing with it with dexterity and rapidly swirling it around by its chain.
He felt particularly satisfied after his… encounter… with the pinkish toad and her frilly bows that drag of a pitiful petty thief Mundungus had directed him to.
True, he wasn't much for uprightness and righteous zeal, normally, but trapping the disgusting woman in a Penalty Game had been a real pleasure, and not just because he got to smash the horrid toad statuette she'd been reduced to (which he'd done with genuine relish).
No, it was that this time, uncharacteristically, his opponent had deserved worse than he could dole out. Why, that practically made him one of the good guys! Take that, you fucking Pharaoh.
Not that he wanted it to become a habit, mind.
Still… perhaps he'd give the Landlord control back, since he was feeling so generous, along with a little nudge towards the ice-cream parlour. Poor weakling did like his ice-cream after all, and Bakura was feeling generous…
Ah, what the hell. He wanted ice-cream, and by the Gods, he was getting it!
But first… he eyed the Locket again. His expert eye estimated it with a simple glance: it was invaluable.
Not only were the manufacture exquisite and the materials of the finest quality (the gleaming emeralds wouldn't have looked out of place in the fucking Pharaoh's treasure).
No, even more than its undeniable worth, it was the magic radiating off it that, Bakura was sure, would make it priceless on any collectors' market.
To his trained eye, however, it was the tainted stench of Darkness tied to it that made it truly interesting.
It felt as if something was beating inside the Locket, like a tiny metal heart: a malevolent heart, that Bakura could feel prying at the edge of his mind, searching, searching, for memories of horror and feelings of dread, to use against him.
It almost felt like a Millennium Item… almost, mind.
Oh, well. There would be time to ponder this newest mystery later. In the meanwhile…
One down, three to go.
Yep, ice-cream would do for a celebration!
It was Hermione, in the end, that offered him a way out; Harry had never been so grateful for her steady friendship, even if she was just freeing him because he was – quote – driving her up the wall for no good reason – unquote.
He scowled. He so did have good reasons! It wasn't his fault he was going stir crazy. He certainly wasn't the one who'd chosen to be locked up!
She'd tried getting him to study first, of course. He'd done as she'd bidden, because knowing how to destroy the Horcruxes was as important as finding the horrid things. But it hadn't taken long and he'd soon been back to pacing furiously the confines of his prison. Room. Whatever.
Hermione had been less than happy with him; nevertheless, he was grateful she'd suggested the escape plan and that Ron was willing to go along as well.
He hadn't even realized his friends understood how strong his desire to return to Godric's Hollow was.
Maybe they didn't, though. Maybe they just thought he wanted to see his parents' graves, which he did of course, but that was only part of the attraction. He had a deep-rooted, though inexplicable, feeling that the place held answers for him.
The good thing however was that most of the blasted Order had gone misty-eyed at his desire to 'pay respects to his parents in their place of rest'. McGonagall's words – not his.
Because of this, he had kept quiet about the fact that he wasn't so much wishing to see their graves as he was simply drawn to the place where he had survived Voldemort's Killing Curse, wanting to understand.
Of course, the bloody idiots had to make it overly complicated. Debating over and over whether or not Voldemort was likely to have a watch on Godric's Hollow, whether or not he'd expect Harry to go back and visit his parents' graves, whether or not Harry should be under guard, and how many, and who, and how…
So while they floundered about wasting their time and his without getting anything done, Harry and his two best friends were planning their getaway on their own.
Surprisingly, when Ron had declared that it was probably for the best to leave the 'squabbling chickens' behind before Harry decided to behead them for real, just so they would have a good excuse for their behaviour, even Hermione had agreed.
That had earned her Harry's first laugh in days. It was good to have friends…
Bakura listened to his own ragged breathing as he crawled down the steep burrow-like passage. That last trap had really done a number on him. How the hell was a poor honourable thief to guess the fucking thing had random patterns for its fucking magical blades?
Heh, the little blighters were freaking good at their job. No wonder their bank was considered the safest place around.
He stopped to laugh maniacally in absolute quiet. He was the Thief King! The greatest tomb robber ever! He'd fucking gotten into too many 'safest places' to even remember!
Fucking goblins didn't know what they were up against!
He started crawling again, all senses in high alert lest the pests were catching up to him. Hah! As if they could! They were good, yeah, but not that good. They didn't even know who was tearing through their wards like a machete through lianas.
Though they did know someone was there. Heh. That was a point for them. They were tough opponents, he'd give them that.
And this place! The protections were really a thing of beauty.
Seals, magical bolts, secret rooms which were difficult to access and hidden from sight and still turned out to be empty traps rather than treasure chambers, stone slabs that hid lethal additions, blind passages and trap doors, hidden holes and wells, traps rigged to decapitate incautious robbers, magical barriers to strip any disguise off, poisons in powders which were released into the air when certain stones were disturbed…
…and he wasn't sure what was still awaiting him!
What would the next trap be? When would it spring?
He'd heard the actual Vaults could hide even greater dangers… the rumour was that everything you touched would burn and multiply, but the copies were worthless – and if you continued to handle the treasure, you would eventually be crushed to death by the weight of expanding gold. Why, it was worthy of an ancient Pharaoh's tomb!
He really hoped it turned out to be true.
Bakura reached the end of the tunnel and peeked down from a crack in the ceiling of a cave. His eyes sparkled. There was a dragon there. A freaking, huge, honest-to-Gods dragon!
He resisted the urge to laugh out loud; wouldn't do to actually get caught!
Excitement ran through his veins like a drug, making his blood sing as he carefully lowered himself on a shadowed rocky spur.
He hadn't had this much fun in centuries!
When had everything gone so wrong?
The quaint little village had been charming in the end-of-summer heat, the graveyard empty and quiet, his parents' graves chilly in their beautiful whiteness.
Most of all Harry had cherished the sight of the wrecked cottage that must once have been his home, with the wooden sign denoting it a monument covered in signatures and scribbles: magical graffiti left by visitors over the years, speaking of support and encouragement.
Then a subdued figure was hobbling up the lane toward them, a woman, though it was hard to judge, moving slowly, possibly frightened, with a shuffling gait that gave an impression of extreme age.
And suddenly everything was wrong.
Too many things were happening at once: he was ducking, jumping, swiping, hitting, desperately trying to keep himself and his friends alive, unhurt.
His scar was prickling painfully, a high, cold voice was shrieking in his head and he couldn't tell if it was fury or delight, and both were equally horrible; he could see flashes of fighting out of the corner of his eye; the snake kept striking as they raised their wands again and again; Ron was rolling sideways, narrowly avoiding the snake's tail, which thrashed down upon the spot where he had been a second earlier; Hermione was shrieking, was she hurt?
The panic and horror that had struck him as he'd seen the old body collapsing and the great snake pouring from the place where the 'woman's' neck had been were a paralyzing force, slowing down his every movement.
But Ron was being strangled and he launched himself at the snake coiling itself around his friend's torso, trying to force it away, to pry the coils from the body they were crushing; Hermione's ringing voice was casting spells above them but he couldn't hear, he couldn't think.
Then suddenly Nagini's fangs were in his forearm; he screamed, then a powerful blow from the tail to his midriff knocked the breath out of him and he fell silent, because he could no longer get enough breath into his lungs.
He felt dizzy, his brain was flooding with cold, white light, all thought obliterated, his own breath drowned, distant footsteps, shouts, was that his friends?
Fragments of glass rained upon him and hit the street. Where had they come from? Then a heavy smooth mass smashed him to the floor and he felt it slide over him, powerful, muscular, pinning him to the pavement. Why was no-one coming to help? Surely the fight was attracting attention!
He was abruptly released, just in time to see the snake strike and Hermione dive aside with a shriek; her deflected curse hit a nearby lamp-post, which shattered. He vaguely registered that it wasn't the first one to go that way, but it wasn't important, it wasn't essential.
He scrambled to help Ron, who was gasping and bent nearby, too close to the thrashing tail; Hermione was nowhere to be seen and for a moment Harry thought the worst, but then there was a loud bang and a flash of red light, and the snake flew into the air, smacking Harry hard in the face as it went, coil after heavy coil rising up then falling heavily to the pavement and suddenly Harry knew, knew what he was supposed to do, what the only way to go was, but with the realization came the pain, his scar searing with white-hot agony.
"He's coming! Voldemort's coming!"
He was yelling and the snake was hissing wildly and everything was chaos: Hermione was shrieking with pain and Ron was dragging her away and he was shouting and Harry yelled again, because he knew that worse than the snake was coming, was perhaps already too close, his head was going to split open with the pain from his scar…
Nagini reared again and then lunged at him and with strength born of desperation Harry took a running leap, twisting in mid-air to scream his rage into the one spell that could destroy the snake, calling up the devastating power of Fiendfyre that alone could annihilate the Horcrux.
He caught the edge of the horrifying scream of a dissolving soul shard just as his friends reached for him and Apparated…
And then his scar burst open and he was Voldemort and he was running, flying, panicked for the first time in years, rushing to save his precious soul anchor, but the snake was burning, he was too late, too late, and he screamed with rage, a screech that echoed across the gardens in the hazy summer sun…
Bakura whooped with glee, effortlessly balancing on the ragged back of the huge dragon as the beast majestically swooped then soared then gracefully dipped in the air.
Not what you'd call a subtle escape, no. Definitely not…
…but hey, if he'd done subtle, he wouldn't have been able to steal this magnificent specimen and if there was one thing Bakura couldn't resist, it was a striking monster. That and shiny trinkets, they were his soft spots, what could he say.
He cackled gleefully in the cloudless, infinite sky.
Hmm… what now? Seeing the pesky goblins shrieking and running for cover as the dragon stretched its mighty wings and took off, leaving the metal doors buckled and hanging from their hinges, had certainly been good fun, but it unfortunately meant the owners of his latest… acquisitions… would know sooner rather than later that he'd paid a visit to their Vaults.
He quickly examined his loot. Yes, he'd gone in for the alluring Cup with the same Dark taint as the Locket, but where in his contract did it say he couldn't take on a few side jobs on the way?
Well, he didn't have a contract in the first place so the answer was 'nowhere'.
What to do, what to do…
He could either disappear for a while, lay low, let the Landlord live his life until the uproar died down; or he could take advantage of the wonderful distraction his genius had provided himself with and check out that intriguing Chamber of Secrets while everybody was still gawking at the damaged doors of their precious bank.
He threw his head back and laughed raucously. North it was, then!
He sent a darting tendril of Shadows to poke the dragon's flank sharply and the powerful beast rolled in midair with a quiet roar, turning north.
The three friends landed hard on the grass of Hogwarts' Apparition point, the school's gates glinting in the sun just a little to their left, and they lay in a heap onto the slippery grass, panting and exhausted.
Hermione had collapsed, coughing and shuddering, and Ron looked like he could have happily lain down and slept for a week, but Harry didn't notice any of that for more than a second. The sky, the smell of the grass, the sound of his friends' soft sobbing were extinguished. Pain cleaved Harry's head like a sword stroke…
…and he was Voldemort and he was screaming in rage and loss and his scream was Harry's scream, his pain was Harry's pain... that it could happen here, where it had happened before... here, within sight of that house where he had come so close to knowing what it was to die ... to die ... the pain was so terrible ... ripped from his body ... But if he had no body, why did his head hurt so badly; if he was dead, how could he feel so unbearably, didn't pain cease with death, didn't it go ...
A sudden distraction, and he had a new target for his fury: he was enraged at the summons he felt – he had warned them, he had told them what he would do to them if they summoned him for nothing. It better be damn important because if they were mistaken…
Voices were calling him, dragging him away from the rage, he knew those voices. "Harry, it's all right, you're all right!" Ron, that's who it was. "Harry, it's okay, wake up, wake up!" - and Hermione. Better do what she said, she was usually right…
But he was standing in a dimly lit room, and a semicircle of wizards faced him, and on the floor at his feet knelt a small, quaking figure and this was important, he had to hear, he had to know…
"What did you say to me?" His voice was high and cold, but fury and fear burned inside him. First his Nagini and now… could it be? The one thing that he had dreaded - but it could not be true, he could not see how...
"Harry, please answer me!" …But he couldn't spare the time to answer, he had to listen, he had to know…
"Impostors? What impostors? I thought Gringotts had ways of revealing impostors? Who were they?"
"Harry!" Sunny grass and a dimly lit room swam in and out his vision, he was scared and elated, furious and hopeful, and eager to know more…
The scream of rage, of denial left him as if it were a stranger's. He was crazed, frenzied, it could not be true, it was impossible, nobody had known. Who was this white-haired stranger? How had he discovered his secret? Where was this threat coming from?
A powerful slap brought him back to the Hogwarts gate and Ron's pale face was suddenly before him, terrified. "No, no! I need to know, I need to…"
White-haired stranger, it must be the Thief King, he'd managed the task! Elation rose in Harry and he was frantic to know more…
Ron was scared and shouting but the call of the mind link was powerful and Harry followed the far blazes of green light erupting through that room so far away…
… and unexpectedly they were passing before him in vision: his awful targets, his treasures, his burdens, his safeguards, his hated goals, his anchors to immortality, his hopes of victory…
It was hard to remember who he was, as Voldemort's frantic thoughts jumbled his own - the diary was destroyed and Nagini, Nagini was gone, and now the cup was stolen. What if, what if, this mysterious thief knew about the others? Could he know, had he already acted, had he traced more of them?
Was Dumbledore at the root of this? Dumbledore, who had always suspected him; Dumbledore, dead on his orders; Dumbledore, who reached out from the ignominy of death – but he had expected him to use the boy, the boy… had Potter been just a distraction then? A blind for his eyes all along? Who was the white-haired thief? Had he destroyed the others already?
No, surely, the rest were safe... The other Horcruxes must be intact... But he must know, he must be sure... He paced the room, kicking aside the goblin's corpse as he passed, and the pictures blurred and burned in his boiling brain: the lake, the shack, and Hogwarts –
and Harry shouted in triumph, coming up from the vision at last,wrenching himself back to the here-and-now, grabbing his friends' arms to steady himself, and shouting, shouting again, shouting in glee, for at last he knew…
Bakura wasn't whistling happily, but only because the fucking suits of armours didn't seem to have the decency to keep still and quiet around here, and he'd grown tired of disabling them as he went along.
These stone hallways were truly something.
He jostled merrily the few little trinkets he had stolen recently, like that very special quill – well, how could he leave it, it was practically oozing magic! – some golden silverware – was this really a freaking school, with so much gold thrown around? – a black ball about this big that wouldn't stop squirming – was the thing trying to hit him? Him? Hah! – a pair of magical brass binoculars along with an extremely interesting… huh, well, it was probably a watch. Probably.
Exploring this stunning castle properly promised to take hours.
Good thing he hadn't had programs for the evening anyway…
Harry struggled up and tried to ignore how the world seemed to be undecided of where its axis was.
Dizziness was clouding his vision; he took several deep, gasping breaths, fighting both the remnants of the vision and his own choking triumph.
Ron and Hermione were looking at him worriedly – no, it was more than that: they were frightened. "Harry," Hermione whispered. "Do you feel all - all right?"
He swayed, shivering, vaguely surprised at his surroundings, and saw the Cup lying innocently in the grass before him, and the gate, shining with gold reflexes in the sun.
His own voice sounded strange and low after Voldemort's high screams.
"He knows and he's going to check where the others are, and the last one," he was finally firmer on his feet, "is at Hogwarts. I knew it. I knew it."
And he had known, somehow, even if his friends had dismissed the idea as ludicrous, he had known somewhere inside that Voldemort must have left a piece of him in his first real home.
"What?" Ron was gaping at him; Hermione sat up, looking anxious. "But what did you see? How do you know?"
"I saw him, I - I was in his head, he's" - Harry remembered the senseless killings he'd tried to block out - "he's seriously angry, and scared too, I saw him find out about the Gringotts break-in, the Thief King must have stolen the Cup, Voldemort's going to check if the others are safe, the Ring first. He thinks the Hogwarts one is safest, he knows Dumbledore never found it so he believes no one can, he'll check that one last, but he could still be there within hours, we must warn everyone -"
"Did you see where in Hogwarts it is?" asked Ron, now scrambling to his feet too.
Harry shook his head, relishing the knowledge. "No, but I saw what it looks like… and I've seen it before, I know I have. I only have to remember where…"
Huh, House-elves. Ugly little things, he didn't expect to find something like them around, that was for sure.Nevertheless… what useful little buggers, they were. Who would have thought?
Bakura stared up at the blank wall, opposite a draping so ugly even he wouldn't have stolen it. Come-and-Go-Room. Hah!
And the 'wizardses is not knowingses it'. Ha ha ha ha!
What was this room hiding then? He paced back and forth, stroking the wall with hands and magic. What was hidden in there?
A door materialized in front of him and his sinister smirk grew into an ominous grin.
"What part of 'Voldemort's coming' don't you understand?" yelled Harry.
Bloody hell, how stupid could they get? He'd stormed into the Great Hall shouting that Hogwarts was about to be attacked, and here they were all just lounging about, sceptical and unconvinced, making sympathetic-but-doubtful faces or outright dismissing him like a child that needs to be humoured.
He dimly realized that the only reason he wasn't exploding with fury was that he was too incredulous of their attitude.
"Mr. Potter", said McGonagall in the long-suffering tone of someone who will humour their interlocutor out of politeness but feel they're wasting their time. It irked Harry badly. "We have received no hint that the Death Eaters might be considering an attack on the school. It would take long days of planning and preparations for such an attempt and word would leak out."
"I'm telling you it's a reaction to something he's just found out! Do you really think he'll be wasting even a minute on plans? He's an arrogant bastard, he'll think he can storm the place with barely any effort…"
"Language, Mr Potter!" exclaimed McGonagall scandalized.
Harry's jaw dropped. Was she serious? She couldn't really be scolding him for language at such a moment! In what kind of delusional little cloud did she live?
"Now, I will tell you once more", she said sternly and Harry felt the anger at her condescending idiocy mount. "Your claim is simply ridiculous and…"
"Ridiculous?" he whispered incredulously. "Ridiculous?"
He felt cold fury settled in him, down to his very bones. He was beyond hurt, beyond righteous anger, beyond fury. His eyes narrowed and the air around him seemed to rapidly become chilly.
Somehow, his whispered hiss resounded louder than any of his previous shouts: "Ridiculous", he stated, and his voice had acquired the strength of steel. "Ridiculous like the Philosopher's Stone being in danger was ridiculous?"
She had the grace to flush but didn't seem too cowed. She straightened her back and opened her mouth again and Harry felt the urge to hit her.
Before he could, thankfully, Ron cut in with his own, sarcastic question: "Ridiculous like Sirius Black being in our dorm was ridiculous?"
McGonagall frowned at them, displeased; Harry saw a mulish light in her eyes that told him she wasn't understanding what they were saying, not really.
Hermione's voice was arctic cold from the other side of Ron: "Ridiculous like Voldemort having returned was ridiculous?"
McGonagall looked positively shocked, as if she hadn't believed her prize pupil would speak up against her.
All the presents had fallen silent and were watching the confrontation from the sidelines.
Harry fought the temptation of calling them daft cowards and spoke up again, so as not to give McGonagall any time to retort.
"Ridiculous like my attention-seeking lies were ridiculous, I suppose."
He didn't bother to hide his contempt.
McGonagall rallied, annoyed: "I didn't mean…"
"Yes, you did." Lapidarian, and it shut her up.
Harry let disgust fill his eyes and let her see it. She looked stunned and lost. Frankly, he was past caring.
He took a deep breath and made sure his voice carried: "Voldemort is coming, and he is furious. If you have any sense left, prepare to meet him."
Then he turned on his heels and stalked out of the Hall, ignoring the cries that tried to call him back.
Bakura was awed – and that took a lot to accomplish.
The place was the size of a cathedral and looked like a fantastic maze, with towering walls built of thousands and thousands of objects.
Who had managed to build such a place?
All was silent. Bakura moved gracefully up the aisles, slowly pivoting on himself, watching with admiration and listening to his own footsteps echoing through the towering piles of bottles, hats, crates, chairs, books, weapons, broomsticks, bats…
Oh, to find the treasures that must be hidden in the piles of junk, like rough diamonds in the mud!...
Deeper and deeper into the labyrinth he went, looking for objects he might recognize as valuable, and soon he started checking randomly this or that old cupboard, this or that blistered curtain…
Then suddenly his senses were caught by the stench of Darkness he was becoming familiar with and he shivered, turning sharply to find the tiny, malevolent heart beating in synchrony with the two he already had.
The feeling came from right ahead of him, where atop a blistered old cupboard, he spotted a pockmarked stone warlock wearing a dusty old wig and what looked like an ancient discoloured tiara.
The words of the green-eyed boy in the pub reverberated in his mind. An ancient diadem with Ravenclaw's motto etched upon it; 'wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure'…
And there it was: a discoloured crown-like circlet with the faded words still recognizable upon it.
Bakura went utterly still, so still it was almost unnatural, and glared at the innocent-looking piece of headdress atop the ugly sculpted head.
He couldn't believe it.
Heavy protections? Too difficult? Hah! Bloody fucking wizards, they knew nothing, nothing, of properly protecting their belongings!
He checked, just to be sure, but no… nothing was there to stop him from just picking the diadem up and leave.
What kind of bloody fucking idiot left such a thing just lying around like that?
And what kind of ridiculous pathetic blockhead couldn't manage to get it?
It made him seriously reconsider his opinion of the boy…
Harry stopped halfway up a staircase, feeling he was at last far enough from the idiots he left behind, and tried hard to calm himself. He pressed his hands over his face, and closed his eyes, trying to concentrate.
What was most important?
Ron's hand was suddenly on his shoulder. He opened his eyes to meet his friend's determined face. It helped.
"Horcruxes", he voiced his most persistent thought. He needed to be sure they were all destroyed before he faced Voldemort… "The Horcruxes are the priority. Somehow, I need to contact the Thief King and find out how his assignment is going."
He was pretty sure the robber had the Cup, but what about the others? Had he found the Locket perhaps? He doubted the thief could have got the Diadem, it was here after all and Hogwarts wasn't easy to infiltrate…
His thoughts were drowned by a hated voice echoing throughout the hallways, issuing, it seemed, from the walls themselves, high, cold, and clear. Voldemort had arrived.
"Your efforts are futile. You cannot fight me. I do not want to kill you. I have great respect for the teachers of Hogwarts. I do not want to spill magical blood…"
Harry blocked it out. Lies. Falsehoods to hoodwink the idiots. He had better things to do than listen to the likes of Voldemort!
Hermione cleared her throat hesitantly. "Harry, I don't mean to sound unsupportive but… are you sure trusting this 'Thief King' to do the job is sensible? I mean, is he… trustworthy? Is he even up to it?"
Truth was, Harry didn't know.
Bakura exited the room feeling half-proud that he'd found the third item and half-miffed that it had been so easy.
The moment he left the peculiar silence of the cathedral-like depository, he became abruptly aware of noises. Shouts. A real racket. Coming from downstairs… What were these fucking wizards up to now? More importantly, did he care?
He debated for a moment.
There was still that Chamber of Secrets to be found… was he curious enough to figure out what the noise was all about?
He waltzed down the nearest set of stairs, intent on reaching the lower-levels of this 'school'. He'd finally remembered the boy saying that the Chamber was underground, so really, going upstairs had been silly. Fruitful, but silly.
Halfway down he spotted the boy with two others.
Well, he had all three items after all… Should he go up and demand payment? Decisions, decisions…
It probably wasn't the right moment though. The boy seemed fairly distracted: most likely not in the mood for some more tales. And Bakura needed him to be chatty. What use would it be to just get paid? Can't get much details on the Sword if the target's mind is elsewhere!
He turned his back on the three, when his sharp hearing caught the female of the group saying his name. He stopped, ears straining.
Now: he would have happily ignored the frantic idiots running around without a care, and temporarily overlooked the provider of his payment without a second thought; but letting that fucking bushy-haired girl doubt his skills? Not happening.
He sauntered down to the trio with the utmost nonchalance, completely unwilling to admit even to himself that he had no clue of what was going on and absolutely determined to make that silly chit eat every misgiving she'd ever had on him, him! the most awesome tomb robber ever to grace this world!
The three friends all sported the same, gobsmacked expression of utter disbelief.
The white-haired ancient youth was casually holding out the three remaining Horcruxes, lounging on the steps of a Hogwarts staircase as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
Harry was the first to recover. Well, he'd hired the bloke for this, and the Thief King had delivered. Good. No, perfect! Questions on the how and why could wait.
He snatched the three items and examined them. They were beautiful, the Locket with its elegant engravings, the Cup with its graceful curves, the Diadem with its refined etchings. But unlike most metal objects, they didn't absorb his hands' heat and remained terribly cold against his skin, unnaturally so; and if that wasn't enough to spark his uneasiness, the longer he held them, the more nameless forebodings crept upon him, relentless, insistent, carrying the creepy sensation that those Horcruxes were ticking away the time he had left.
He shook his head.
He just had to destroy them, then everything would be fine. But first…
Bakura had observed with keen interest the strange play of emotions on the boy's face when he'd let him take the items. In fact, he was so interested he barely even basked in the silly chick's amazed disbelief. A mixture of admiration and incredulity that was truly flattering. Ha ha! Take your outrageous doubts and run, girl!
"Here:" the boy thrust an official-looking parchment at him. Bakura narrowed his eyes, suspicious. It looked like some sort of… puzzle?
The green-eyed teenager smiled thinly: "Double or quits kind of deal. You figure out the riddle, you get control of my trust vault: not just your payment, the whole content. You don't… well, why should I pay you at all if you're not good enough?" he smirked challengingly.
Bakura gritted his teeth. Bloody kid knew him too well! He couldn't turn down the challenge, he just couldn't… fucking stripling had trapped him well and good.
The boy turned away and started barking orders to his minions.
At least the minions didn't seem too keen on obeying.
"You can't use Fiendfyre inside Hogwarts!" Hermione was appalled and that made her voice shriller than it should be allowed.
"Well I have to!" Harry shouted right back. He so did not need this now, not with Voldemort and his underlings already fighting and much closer than it was comfortable. The Horcruxes needed to go, now.
"Do you want the entire Castle to go up in flames? Is that what you want?"
"Hermione…" tried Ron but she rounded on him: "There is no stopping Fiendfyre, Ron, it only goes out on its own after it wipes out everything in its path. Everything!"
"We need to destroy these fucking things!"screamed Harry. "You're the one who said that ripping, smashing, or crushing them won't do the trick, that we've got to put them beyond magical repair!"
"There must be another way…" tried Hermione stubbornly.
"Oh, yes, of course, we could stab them with basilisk fangs, couldn't we! Lucky we've got such a large supply of those… I was wondering what we were going to do with them!"
"Don't take that tone with me! I'm trying to prevent mindless destruction here!" she shrieked.
"The kind of mindless destruction Voldemort will wreck if we don't destroy these things in time to stop him?" asked Harry snidely.
She glowered at him and spit out: "It doesn't have to be a basilisk fang, just something so destructive that they can't repair themselves. Basilisk venom only has one antidote, and it's incredibly rare –"
"– phoenix tears," interjected Ron, nodding sagely. Hermione shot him a disgusted look and he winced, then mimed locking his mouth and throwing the key.
Harry wasn't as easily cowed: "Only problem is, there are very few substances as destructive as basilisk venom, and guess what? We don't have any!"
Bakura kept very quiet as they argued. What a wealth of information they were offering.
He was also rather impressed with the green-eyed kid's ruthlessness. Being willing to burn the place to the ground to get his objective. That was impressive!
Even if the goal itself was outrageous. Really! Destroying the fruits of his hard labour! Such lovely pieces of intriguing cursed objects! Bakura was offended.
Then the boy, lost in the argument, said the word that opened Bakura's eyes to the whole situation, handing him the key to finally understand everything that was going on.
"If you have a better idea to destroy these fucking Horcruxes, I'm listening!"
Bakura held his breath in shock.
He knew the word. He'd know the concept even before the word was invented, back when they were still called phylacteries, or 'safeguard amulets' (which was an even older and even more hypocritical denomination).
He knew that magic.
It was evil.
But… a slow, frightening smile stretched on his face… it could be used.
The Shadow Games were all about using disembodied spirits as mystical monsters and warriors.
He cleared his throat, in a creepy travesty of politeness.
Three pairs of angrily glittering eyes – green, blue and brown – pierced him
In the sudden silence, yells and shouts and the unmistakable noises of duelling came from distant corridors.
Bakura resisted the urge to gulp, or shake his head. If he was a lesser man, he would have been seriously fazed… but he was awesome, and merely smirked.
"Say that again", asked Harry carefully.
The Thief King gave him an undaunted look.
"You… you really can?" came Hermione's uncertain voice from beside him.
"Wow. That's… that's. Wow", was Ron's contribution.
Harry stared at the tomb robber so fiercely he wouldn't have been surprised if a hole had been burned in the white-haired head.
Could he trust this offer?
Screams of pain reached him. A statue nearby blew up in a rain of debris and smoke. The battle was drawing nearer. The tall narrow windows were already rattling.
Abruptly, he handed the Horcruxes over. "Do it."
Bakura kept his face carefully mild, hiding the excitement that was building in him like a tidal wave.
He reached for the items, then stopped in mid-motion: "What about the Sword?" It would be better to do them all at once. Plus, it would be easier to steal them afterwards if they were all together, right?
But the kid grimaced. "Bloody Ministry confiscated it. 'The sword of Godric Gryffindor is an important historical artefact, and as such, belongs to the wizarding community at large'…" he mumbled crossly.
Bakura gave a disgusted growl, but there was little he could do about this irritating development. Fucking Ministry.
He grabbed the three items he did have, and concentrated.
He called up the Shadows, slowly, determinedly, and felt their eagerness as he drew them to him, for this time it was not to use them, but to nurture them, not to exploit their potential, but to add to it.
The rush of power left him gasping; no matter how many times he did it, it was always breathtaking: frightening, exhilarating, overwhelming. It was as if the Shadows were running all over his body, like soft caresses, like raking nails, and his very skin ached with it.
But he was Thief King Bakura. He'd dealt with them for longer then memory served mankind. He would not be overwhelmed.
He let the Shadows rise, not around him, but on him, smoky tendrils that coiled around his limbs, snugly, deadly, and when he felt like his skin was going to crawl off on its own, he shoved the power flowing through him into the precious artefacts, searching, seeking.
Out and out he sent his Shadows, a piece of himself mixed in the smoky flames, yet never disconnected; he spread the power outward like ripples in a pool, until it was stretched thick and clean over the three items, and then he gave it targets: the soul shards, ripped and torn and already so similar to the Shadows that were about to engulf them.
The power was intoxicating. He was riding it like a bird on a current of air and it felt as solid and as insubstantial as air.
It was magnificent, and dangerous, and Bakura knew that he was walking a very fine line between controlling and being controlled; and that was why when the Shadows darted forward all of a sudden, aiming straight at the green-eyed boy in a lightning-fast dash, he was powerless to stop them.
A moment later he tasted the same Darkness that he was collecting coming from the boy and stopped wishing he could hold back. The kid was a Host! And Bakura was gaining the Spirit in him, was tearing it from the child and dragging into his own Shadows, hauling it under his own rule.
He shouted, loud and triumphant, wordlessly, because he simply couldn't keep his triumph inside anymore, and his exultant yell mingled with the boy's pained screams, with the cries and bellows of his friends, and all were lost in a dizzying confusion.
Then suddenly the four mystical threads that he was using to gather the soul shards seemed to grow more concrete and the Shadows coalesced around them.
Bakura wrenched them all to himself and the Horcruxes snapped, the souls screaming in pain as they were hauled among the Shadows… and as the boy collapsed with excruciating cries and the artefacts dropped on the stones with tinning bounces, Bakura laughed.
Harry gasped desperately, every inch of him wrecked with agonizing aches, and gulped in air that somehow didn't seem to help him breath.
Dimly he became aware of arms encircling him, holding him, helping ease the pain. He wasn't conscious enough to recognize them, but somewhere inside he knew it was his friends.
Then light exploded before his vision, unbearably bright, and it took him long minutes to understand that it was just the afternoon sun streaming in from the windows.
With that awareness hearing returned too, and he struggled to answer the anguished pleas of his friends, but he was too weak and aching to articulate his standard 'I'm fine'.
He didn't have time to recover more. A bellowing shout echoed around him and his friends, bouncing off the walls in an eerie symmetry of the red and green curses ricocheting off the shield that had somehow appeared around the three of them. He looked above the nearest banisters and recognized the hooded figures as Death Eaters.
"Help me up," he managed. His voice sounded ragged and broken.
"I can keep them at bay, don't worry," came Hermione's straining voice. Oh. She was the one holding up the shield.
"Harry, talk to me," demanded Ron as he helped him stand.
Harry looked at him. He felt too befuddled for words. "What…?"
Ron shook his head. "That Thief King, he did something, it looked like he was torturing you, we couldn't stop him, we thought you'd die…" he trailed off, clearly anguished.
"Gone." Ron said tersely, then aimed at the Death Eaters, stunning one with precision.
Hermione spat viciously: "Good riddance!"
But Harry was recovering his wits and his thoughts jumped immediately to his obsession. "The Horcruxes. They're gone! Aren't they?" He didn't bother to hide his excitement. If his pain had been the price to make Voldemort mortal again, it wasn't too high.
Ron shrugged, but Hermione nodded, a bit reluctantly. "I heard four unnatural screams… just like the one with the snake…"
Four? Harry was confused, but this was not the time. An explosion reverberated from the grounds. He shook his head sharply. "Let's go."
"Harry?..." asked Ron, but he was already halfway down the stairs and running.
It seemed to take no time at all to reach the Great Hall. Harry paused and surveyed the scene for an instant, taking it all in. He recognized teachers and Aurors and far too many black robes. The Death Eaters seemed to be winning. Bodies lay on the floor, unheeded; he winced when he recognized Kingsley as one of the fallen.
As if he was watching the scene in slow motion, he saw McGonagall duelling Voldemort in the centre of the battle. He was shocked to see how skilled she was, as she let deadly Transfigurations fly at her terrifying opponent in a non-ending stream. But her enemy was out of her league: Voldemort was easily keeping her at bay and striking and smiting all within his reach at the same time.
Then one dark curse pierced McGonagall's shield with the force of a bomb and Harry saw her blasted backward, flailing and writhing through the air, and finally hitting the wall with a sickening crunch.
That shook him out of his daze at last.
His yell commanded silence abruptly and completely. All sounds of battle were stifled at once as everybody seemed to take a step back, afraid to step into this particular confrontation.
Harry saw Voldemort open his mouth and had a split second to decide he didn't want to hear him; he shouted out a question: "Here for the Diadem, Riddle?"
Voldemort froze, his red eyes going wide in fear.
Harry laughed, and there was nothing happy in that laugh: it was harsh and callous. "It is too late. Do you hear me? It is too late, Riddle!"
"NO!" the snarled shriek was denial in its purest form.
"Now it's just you and me. You and I, Voldemort, your power against mine!"
He raised his holly wand defiantly.
Bakura hid easily among the stone pillars the Castle so obligingly provided almost everywhere.
The boy didn't seem too worse for wear, despite what he'd just been put through. That was… good.
Not that Bakura felt guilty or anything that dumb. The tormented fragments of that shattered soul were additions so powerful to his Shadows, that any idea of regret was laughable.
Nevertheless, he could root for the kid, could he not?
Especially since it looked like the lad was going to win.
Bakura found a comfortable spot with good view, secured the three artefacts he'd 'recovered' to his belt, and settled to watch the duel.
All of Harry's doubts, insecurities, hesitations, confusion had vanished into nothing. For the first time in his life, he was utterly sure that this was his place, his role, his battle.
It did not matter that Voldemort had bypassed the obstacle of the twin cores and that the wand his white fingers were raising imperiously against him was Lucius Malfoy's elm and dragon-heartstring rather than Riddle's yew one.
It did not matter that the ghastly snake-like face, stark in the blackness of his hood, was shouting the deadliest spells known to mankind or that the Dark Lord's followers, despite being frozen as if Petrified, were still there and could easily turn on him in an instant.
It did not matter that the pitiless red eyes gleamed with rage or that the cruel mouth snarled vicious curse upon vicious curse or that sickly-coloured spells were missing him by inches.
All that mattered was waiting for the opportune moment, the right instant to stop this madness.
No face existed but Voldemort's, no sound was real but his jeering laugh, humourless and insane, more frightening than his screams, as Harry waited, tense and taut, feeling like there had been a weird role-reversal and now, he was the snake, poised and ready to strike, laying in wait for the monster that was now his prey.
Then, suddenly, Harry saw the red pupils contract to thin slits, saw the skin around his enemy's eyes whiten, felt the curse coming, felt it building inside the wand pointed at his face; he had no time to take action, no time to think, no time to even simply react.
It was his wand that acted of its own accord.
He heard Voldemort scream, "Die!" and at that very instant he felt his faithful holly wand drag his hand around like some great magnet; a spurt of golden fire erupted from it, and it wasn't a spell he recognized: he half-closed his eyelids to avoid being blinded; he heard a scream of fury and then a bang like a cannon blast when his unexpected golden flames collided with Voldemort's Killing Curse.
The gold expanded in a mighty wave that exploded outward for an instant and then crashed back into Voldemort with a blinding blast, drowning his screamed "NO!" and engulfing him in its devastating power.
And then it was over.
Voldemort fell backward, arms splayed, the slit pupils of the scarlet eyes rolling upward, dead.
Harry blinked into the ringing silence, dazed, staring down at his enemy's shrunken body.
And then he smiled.
While the crowd of watchers stood in stunned disbelief, shivering in the shock of the moment, he smiled: because he could see the sun properly again, because he felt freer than he'd ever been, because the great weight of destiny had been lifted from his shoulders at last.
It was over.
Everybody seemed frozen by the snake-like creature's death: one large group collectively suspended in the afternoon glow, bathed in light, apparently unable to do more than breath carefully, shallowly, to overcome the shock.
It was in this suspended moment that Bakura saw it.
A gleaming silver hilt, barely poking out of a black robe, a beam of light bouncing off glittering rubies.
Bakura moved like a breeze, dancing through the living obstacles, invisible and barely felt, and reached to pilfer his fourth and last prize.
An iron fist clasped his wrist like a manacle and two pools of obsidian shone out of a blank mask and pinned him, fathomless, while the dark wizard's wand was already half-raised against him.
He hadn't thought such a powerful and skilled opponent could hide among these useless wizards.
Quick as lightning, a silver blade guided by Bakura's sure hand buried itself in the wizard's stomach and moved up, lacerating the flesh, searching for the heart; it found it and tore it in half.
Surprise tinged those black, black eyes for a moment, and then its light vanished, and life with it.
Bakura deftly disentangled his prize from the folds of black fabric and moved with agility away.
The robes and mask marked the man as one of the losers. Chances were no one would look into his death too closely. And anyway, Bakura was gone before the collapsing corpse finished folding onto itself and sliding onto the floor.
The set of four items rested securely in his grasp, along with the parchment that hid the key to his payment.
His task was completed.