A/N: Tw: brief mention of self harm imagery in the scene where Michiru watches the fight with Death Phantom (about 3/4 of the way through the chapter).
I need to dedicate this chapter to all my wonderful friends over at Moonie Central - Glory, De, Slices, Nightwing, Rainon, Destroyer, SkyKing... you all know who you are :). Thank you for your two years worth of support, encouragement, nagging, brainstorming, and beta-ing. You helped me get back on the writing horse after grad school kicked my butt. And you motivated me to dust of this... goliath of a fanfic experiment and got me writing it again. This chapter would never have happened without all of you. 3
To Kill A Horcrux
The hardest part of a battle was not the fighting, but the anticipation of it. Hogwarts was un-characteristically silent save for the tense undercurrent of many pacing feet and the soft murmurs of fretting portraits. Students and teachers scanned the grounds from every window and tower, watching unnatural black clouds blooming high overhead. They had begun forming, black and billowing, quite suddenly at half-past-one in the morning above the tallest towers and had sprawled outwards, rolling slowly over the expanse of the grounds. They soon obscured the moon and stars, masking the landscape until even the Quidditch pitch's tall bright colored-towers were little more than a vague silhouette, even Hogsmeade's lights to the east were faint. To all but the sharpest eyes, nothing outside the castle was visible.
As Hogwarts waited for the attack to come, the death eaters' means of entry was being hunted down. Floor by floor, door by door, the senshi and prefects combed the castle searching for the cabinet. Teams had already been dispatched to the known secret passages, blocking them off, and most teachers were currently in conference in the great hall, trying to prepare for something few had ever imagined would occur – an invasion of the castle. Not even in the last war had Voldemort been so bold. Wards had been erected, common rooms sealed shut, and traps laid along the main thoroughfares and stairways for anyone bearing a dark mark.
All of it was being monitored on the Maurauder's map, plastered to a mirror on the second floor girls bathroom. The two who were monitoring it had briefly vanished from that map, as they ventured into an area of the castle most could not enter and otherwise left well alone.
They appeared again with a soft whoosh, soaring up via broom through a tunnel under the sink: the tall red-haired Ronald Weasley flying and riding behind him, one Hermione Granger, whose hair was all the more wild thanks to the humid air from the Chamber of Secrets. She was levitating a black bundle behind them – a clock wrapped around a collection of things one ought not accidentally prick themselves with.
The two of them set-down on the tile floor and Ron thanked their liquid luck Moaning Myrtle had gone to hide in her toilet rather than stick around for the battle. He went to the map, checking on the teams. "They've reached the fifth floor," he said. "No sign of the death eaters." He sighed. "Damnit, where did Malfoy move it?"
"Do you think this will be enough?" Hermione asked him, running a hand through her frizzy hair, worsening its disorder. "I mean, they're so old – we don't even know if they've still got any venom in them."
"Could always test it out on Malfoy," Ron grinned, bending and scooping one of the fangs up by the base.
"Careful with that!" Hermione strode up and snatched it from him. She waved her wand at her cloak on the floor, dicing it into many smaller, black strips. She muttered a more complex spell, and as usual, Ron smiled at her, she got it right on the first go. He refrained from ribbing her about it not being silently cast. There'd be time for teasing later. Instead he watched as the black strips twisted and warped around each of the fangs, including the one she'd grabbed from him. In seconds, they had all been transfigured into sleak, black sheaths, making the fangs easier to carry and handle.
"We'll have to find a charm to make these easier to grip." Hermione said as she belted one fang around her waist. "I should have thought of that." She gave a second one to Ron.
"Relax," he said, equipping his own. "Thanks for following me, I'm sure these will help with the horcruxes, whether we give them out tonight or…"
"Or later," Hermione nodded. She took his own cloak, transfiguring it into a black knapsack to carry the rest of the fangs. Ron took it from her and slung it over his shoulders. "And we can…" her voice trailed off as she looked up at him and realized how they had, unintentionally, drawn quite close together. They were nose-to-nose
"Yah?" he breathed, tickling her face. His breath smelled like peppermint. "Um,"
"We should… um…" Hermione stammered and stepped away, "we should close that tunnel in any case."
Ron's ears turned an even darker shade of red. "Right, yah." He moved over to the map trying to focus back on the task at hand. They still had a vanishing cabinet to find, and a battle to prepare for.
"And when did Harry have time to teach you the parseltongue that opens the chamber?" Hermione asked from the other side of the bathroom as she searched for a way to close the tunnel. Clearly there was a way that wasn't parseltongue, because Harry himself had never been called on to seal it up.
Ron chuckled. "You sound jealous," he teased and laughed at the sound of protest she made. "I don't know what I said," he told her as he willed the blush off his face and studied the map for anything else they hadn't considered. "I've spent six years listening to that git talk in his sleep, for all I know I asked it for a butter beer."
As he spoke, Ron's eyes drifted to a room on the map, the Kitchens, that was oddly empty. He frowned and raised his eyebrows. Oh. How had none of them ever realized the map didn't show the houseelves… "Wait don't close it yet," he told Hermione.
"The house elves," Ron said without looking at her, still more focused on the map. "I mean, they ought to have somewhere to hide, right." Engrossed as he was in this common sense matter, he didn't see the expression on Hermione's face, or the way her eyes darkened as he rambled. She moved towards him.
He didn't notice. "I mean they might say it's their place to stay, but really, there's no sense in them getting caught up in – mmmph!"
Whatever plan Ron had to get them to agree to hiding in the Chamber was cut off when Hermione inserted herself between him and the sinks and took his face in her hands, dragging him down to meet her lips. He was not at all slow on the uptake, and took no convincing to wrap his arms around her and start kissing her back.
He was a clumsier kisser than Krum to be sure, but he got the hang of it quickly. The bag full of basilisk fangs dropped to the floor when Hermione's hands accidentally pushed the strap from his shoulder in her quest to pull him closer. Ron didn't notice it fall – his arms were busy moving to her waist, lifting her up onto the sink. Bloody hell was it nice to be the same height and have his hands so close to…
The two of them sprang apart so fast Ron stumbled back into one of the stall doors. They turned towards the little cough drawing their wands on none other than…
"MERLINS BLOODY BALLS NEVILLE!"
"L-language," Hermione squeaked. She straightened her robes and combed back her hair, and would have looked quite stern were it not for the dark blush on her face.
For his part, Neville's blush rivaled Ron's own. "I ﹘well," he stammered. "I mean you didn't hear me come in. Er… and. And Luna said I ought to be here since she's gone to help Hotaru, and… well." He looked pointedly between them. "You do know there's a war on don't you?"
On the same floor, in the headmaster's tower, the mood in Dumbledore's office was quite a different one. Jadeite stared hard at the Penseive on the desk, and the empty vial next to it. This was the last memory from Dumbledore's collection. If Harry couldn't find anything in there that would explain how he ought to defeat Voldemort then they were well and truly fucked if the man – if one could call him that – decided to join tonight's attack.
He wouldn't have before, Jadeite tried to reassure themselves. Tom Riddle would have found it beneath him.
But Voldemort was on the defensive now, trying to rebuild in a few years the kind of power and fear that had taken him decades before. Jadeite wasn't all together certain their knowledge of young Tom Riddle still applied.
A sound outside drew their attention. They turned to the tall window into the office, but it was only Fawkes, opening the latch with his beak and hopping through. He looked old but alert today, ash dusting the tips of his feathers. He spotted Jadeite and circled them, perching on their head.
Jadeite winced at the feeling of the phoenix's claws. "It's not good if even you're nervous." They muttered.
Through the now open window, the wind carried a rustling sound from the forest, it sounded quite loud even from this far, too loud to only be the wind. Jadeite frowned. It was hard to see the trees with all the black clouds overhead. "Expecto Patronum," they whispered.
The young horse flew from their sword and cantered once around the office. It was quite wispy, and Jadeite tried hard to hold on to the happy thoughts that would sustain it. "Go to Ron and Professor Mcgonagall," they said. "Tell them there's something coming from the forest."
The horse turned and galloped through the office door, and Jadeite heard a gasp and a thud behind them, and turned to see Harry Potter stumbling out of the Pensieve.
Harry shook his head, hand messing up his hair as he began to pace. "He's got to have at least one more horcrux, but we don't know what it is, where he might have it, and all I've got to face him with is… is…" he made a frustrated sound. "Love." He paced. "And Dumbledore says since I'm not at the Dursleys anymore he can get to me as easily as anyone else, so what the hell am I supposed to do to stop him." He sighed and rubbed his scar. "What's the point of being the Chosen One anyways."
"He might not come tonight," Jadeite advised him. "Even if he does, you can't kill him until all the Horcruxes are destroyed." They felt Fawkes take off from their head and land on the desk in front of Harry, poking him with his beak. "There's still time to figure this out."
"I know, but I want to understand! Why me! Why are we connected? What can I do to stop him?" Harry groaned. "I just…." Then he paused, his frown turning curious. He turned his gaze to the Pensieve. "No one remembers what happened that night," Harry said. "But that's not true. I was there… when I'm around the dementors, I can hear it so… part of me remembers..." He looked at Jadeite. "Has the attack started yet."
"No, but I don't think it will be long."
"Okay." Harry moved to the pensieve, taking the old memory out and dropping it gently into its vial. "No one understands how I'm connected to him, cause know one else was there when it happened." He took a deep breath. "Maybe, with the pensieve, I can remember the rest."
"Harry… you were a year old. What you remember is from the dementors. I'm not sure that's possible."
"I've got to try." He closed his eyes, putting his wand to his temple. He concentrated on the worst things he could remember whenever the dementors got too close
"Lily, take Harry and run!"
"Not Harry – please not Harry!"
"Stand aside, Girl."
Jadeite gasped as Harry drew his wand away from his head, a bright green thread of memory – the color of the killing curse, attached to the tip of his wand. "They're not supposed to be that color," Jadeite murmured, freckles standing out on their pale face.
Harry looked just as shocked, and hesitated over the Pensieve. But Jadeite watched his jaw clench; there was no backing out of it now.
Harry dropped the thread into the pensieve, and the whole basin lit up the green of the killing curse. It made Jadeite feel ill as Harry leaned over it.
"Harry," they whispered.
He turned his head back to them, eyes betraying only a glint of trepidation.
Harry nodded, and turned back to the pensieve. Jadeite watched him take a deep breath and then lean forwards, falling into the terrible, green memory.
Professor Meioh's quarters were so dark, Luna had to cast a lumos upon entering. There was only the faintest light from the study, the door of it open just enough that a soft voice could be heard talking inside.
Luna knocked before entering the study (it was only polite after all).
There were two people inside, well, if ghosts counted, and Luna always counted them. The Grey Lady was floating above the desk; it was her voice Luna had heard from outside the study. She looked up in surprise as Luna entered.
"You didn't tell me other people were coming" The Grey lady accused Sailor Saturn.
The youngest senshi looked back at her and acknowledged her with a nod. She looked solemn. It made the hair rise on the back of Luna's neck.
Luna put on a cheerful front despite it. "Evening Lady Ravenclaw" Luna said.
"Don't call me that!" The Lady grumbled. "You know I don't like that name."
"You don't feel like you deserve it, you mean."
The Grey Lady looked away, "Well..." she sighed, circling once more around the desk. "Well alright. I suppose she can be here." And she brightened for a moment. "It's almost a proper Death Day party now"
"Cyrus Ravenclaw won't come back as a ghost," Saturn said.
"Yes yes, I know. Cyrus wouldn't want that. Oh, when I realized what I'd done I was almost glad he'd disappeared. What would he think of me: a Ravenclaw afraid of death." She huffed. "Mother never understood you see, it was all some grand adventure."
"You weren't afraid," Saturn murmured.
"No no of course not," she prattled. It was rather unusual to hear her talk so much. "But you know I couldn't just die and lose the diadem but no one else would understand that, you see, imagine what they'd think of me - poor little Helena couldn't even die right." She said. "Just my luck, I get back and Mothers already gone on, and Cyrus is still missing." She paused. "Do you know where he was?"
"He was manipulated by the Dark Kingdom," Saturn said. "He'd have already been a Dark General by then"
"Oh," the Grey Lady sighed. "I should have paid more attention," she said. "Mother always said to look out for him." Her body floated halfway into the desk and she bent over the diadem. "He was her favorite, you know?" she said. "I was always so jealous. I think he knew too. He was infuriatingly kind to me. I was foolish to be so scornful"
Luna looked to the side, noting how tightly Saturn's hands were clenched around her glaive. her gaze stayed focused on the diadem, stony and resolved.
"I shouldn't have stolen it." The Grey Lady sniffed. "This is my fault that that... boy has gone and... and violated him." She looked up at Saturn. "Are you sure he won't return as a ghost?" she fretted. "If... if Riddle wants to return, could that keep him here as well?" She looked down at the diadem. "Then he'd be with me. Oh, but then he'd haunt me forever for losing the diadem. Like mother would." She scowled. "Or what if he's half cyrus and half Riddle, that would be ghastly."
"He won't return as a ghost," Saturn repeated.
Luna frowned. "Then he'll be sent on to what's after."
"His soul has been corrupted," Saturn said, her tone void of emotion. "He's bound to the horcrux." She tightened her jaw. "If I must swing the glaive to keep him out of death eater hands, the piece of Tom Riddle's soul will be banished to oblivion and destroyed... and Cyrus Ravenclaw along with him"
A nervous whimper escaped the Grey Lady, but she hung her head. "I guess I wouldn't mind… if he could be here to haunt me. But it really won't be possible?"
Saturn shook her head. Then she looked up at the Grey Lady, purple eyes sad. "Will you tell me more about him?"
"I thought you had these preparations well in hand?" The slick, male voice penetrated the unconsciousness that clung to her, as Michiru slowly struggled towards awareness. Accompanying the voice, she recognized a heavy scent of smoke, a cool surface beneath her, and a crackling sound in the darkness…
"I did, but trust these imbeciles not to know how to manage a basic enchantment," A woman's voice – one that made Michiru stiffen – Bellatrix Lestrange.
The man's voice, she realized, was the same as the dark being who had tried to invade her mind: Death Phantom. She could feel his magic clinging to her, hovering too close for comfort. It was a heavy, dark presence that radiated from the space just to her left, too hot and too cold, causing a prickling sensation where it hit her skin, such was its pure chaotic nature.
"Bella, Bella you can't possibly tell me your Riddle doesn't trust you to handle things yourself."
His essence lingered so close to her he might have been beside her – but the Phantom's voice filtered to her ears from farther away, along with, she realized, the crackling of a fire.
Michiru held still, fingers skimming the surface beneath her and recognizing the familiar texture of tatami mats. She pulled her hands close to her face, to hide behind. Very slowly, she cracked her eyes open and lifted her gaze just enough to see through her fingers.
"Of course I can handle it!" Bellatrix snapped, accompanied by a harsh crack of burning wood splitting.
Michiru was in a large, dark room. The green flames of a floo-fire cast high shadows on wall-to-wall shelves, bookcases, and tables. The fire burned in a pit in the center of the room. From here, she could not see Lestrange's face in the low flames, but she could hear her.
"But I know how good the work will be if we do it together," Lestrange purred. "And you know…how affected I am by watching you work."
Michiru held impossibly still as a white cloaked figure floated in front of her vision. The Phantom leaned over the fire. "You flatter me," he whispered.
Bellatrix giggled within the flames, a sound every bit as disturbing as the sensation of the Phantom's essence hovering like a shadow near her body. Michiru reached within for her magic, it seemed that it was still weakened from the dark crystals in the cave.
She had tried to win the Phantom's trust. She remembered the way her skin had crawled as he'd penetrated her mind, and her satisfaction as he'd fallen for the memories she'd left for him to see. But what had happened after that. Had her defenses weakened? Had he seen through her ruse? Where was she?
Suddenly she saw his cloak swish as he turned. Michiru dropped her head to the floor, focusing on keeping her breathing slow.
"Hmm… I suppose this is a mission best not left to chance," the Phantom said. "After all, the most powerful magic from the White Moon is still outside my grasp." She heard his robes swish and the clink of his fingers against glass as he drew his crystal ball out of his robe. There was a pause. "Yes.. I can leave things here for the moment, but I will return here before the battle's end, I must welcome a defector into our ranks."
"A defector!" Bellatrix gasped.
"Yes… I will tell you about them after this campaign has finished."
Michiru kept her breathing even and focused on the feeling of heaviness and darkness that she had woken up to, holding the feeling at the forefront of her mind, praying he did not feel the need for more than a cursory investigation.
The Phantom moved to her, she could sense it from the increasing sensation of his dark essence, not just next to her but over her. She forced herself to remain still as his freezing robes ghosted over her arms and his boney hand touched the back of her head.
The faintest touch of his mind against hers was followed by the withdrawal of his hand, and a satisfied hum. Most of his dark essence drew back from her. "Excellent," he murmured. "I do hope you wake soon… I have the feeling this could be a most…fortuitous alliance"
Michiru heard a hiss and crackle from the floo flames. The Phantom spoke clearly: "Greyback's Camp,"
There was a soft whoosh and hiss, the green glow visible through her closed eyes and the faint heat from the fire went out.
In the dark, Michiru let out a breath and smirked.
But part of the Phantom's essence lingered in the room, just to her left, not unlike the dark crystals from the cave. She drew herself quickly to her feet, right hand unconsciously moving for her wand. She cursed when she realized it, like her senshi magic, was still out of reach. She spun to her left, noting the dark presence moving with her, clinging close to her. Where was it? She whipped back in the other direction. It moved with her, swinging back just as she had.
Suddenly, the source of it – hard edged, too hot, too cold, grazed the side of her neck. Michiru gasped and froze, hand automatically darted up to it. She stopped short of touching it. Her fingertips traced just shy of where the source of the dark magic emanated from. Small, pendant shaped, attached to a cool metal setting that weighed down her ear.
A dark earring. Michiru breathed out slowly, focusing her mind on her own self. Her thoughts were her own. The vestiges of her magic were intact, uncorrupted, screaming in fact, at the too-close dark magic coming up against it. She tilted her head to the left, trying to put as much distance between the dark crystal and her skin as possible.
She took stock of the room. Even with the fire extinguished, it was not completely dark – bright yellow light emanated from a column in the far corner of the room. From its light she took her surroundings.
It looked like a large, magical workroom. Cauldrons hung from racks along the walls; between them were well stocked shelves of ingredients. Another wall held floor to ceiling books, rolls of parchment, and several slabs of stone that, she squinted, had some writing on them. Beyond them in the corner diagonally across from her was the column of bright yellow light. She moved towards it, hand skimming along the shelves and work tables – immaculately clean. As she walked, she passed a doorway, the only opening in the room. The walls were hard and cool stone – no dark curtains masking windows, not even a chimney for the firepit. The smoke simply vanished at some point before the ceiling, removed by a charm she could not see. At least, not without her mirror.
She felt the absence of her mirror like the absence of a limb, even more acute than the frustrating weakness of her powers or the loss of her wand. If she were to find a way out of here – and find the horcruxes, she needed to find her mirror first.
And I need my power... She flexed the fingers of her wand hand. I need magic.
Close to her neck, the earring pulsed, warm and tempting, flaunting its own power.
Not that. She itched to tear it from her skin, but feared such action might alert him. Taking a calming breath, Michiru focused her attention instead on the light source – a protective ward of some sort – rising from a circle over a desk in the corner.
Her steps quickened as she got close enough to see what the ward was guarding. Her eyes were riveted on the desktop as she drew within a hair's-breadth of the crackling magical barrier. There, close enough that she could snatch them both, lay the horcruxes – Lestrange's knife with the Phantom's dark crystal in the pommel, and Voldemort's Slytherin locket with Zoisite's stone gleaming brightly from the center.
She worried her lip. The ward so close to her face sizzled, a sulfur smell rolling off it. Until she could disable the ward, snatching the horcruxes back would be a fool's errand.
The dark crystal earring pulsed again, as if mocking her, and she knew without a doubt that her senshi powers would be useless so long as it remained with her. Who knew how long she had to act before the wizard returned. I need my mirror, she thought. I need my wand.
They would be somewhere close most likely. The Phantom would want to study them. Michiru closed her eyes, she could sense them on the edges of her awareness. Her wand and mirror were somewhere in this house.
There wasn't time to be cautious. She would have to bet that if the Phantom could be fooled by her ruse, he might also be arrogant enough to think his dark crystal a sufficient means of restricting her. With that in mind, Michiru crossed the workroom and slid the door open. She stepped into a hallway, freezing at the sight of paintings on the walls. But they were only landscapes. She relaxed slightly; there were no animated figures within who might raise alarms.
To the left the hall led right to a door, with a small glass window through which she could see long grass and grey skies. But her wand and mirror were not out there. She turned right, venturing into the dark bowels of the house.
She turned right again down another hall, noting the dark, empty kitchen and den rooms to the left side and the two closets on the right. Another hall. The house must wrap around the work room. This one had a bathroom on the left side, an ornate mirror spanning much of the right wall, and at the very end, an open door with a faint light inside.
It was a bedroom; she noted the single black candle flickering by the single bed. The pillow and blankets were smooth and undisturbed, as if it had not been slept in in quite a while. But the small desk had seen some use, if the tools and scorch marks were any indication.
Her attention was drawn swiftly to the closet, where her awareness of the mirror suddenly grew stronger. She pushed the door open. Inside, was a set of stairs, leading down to a white door. Bright yellow light emanated from underneath.
Her pulse was loud in her ears, hammering in time with the pulsing of the dark earring, Michiru descended the stairs to the basement, and entered the final room.
A rush of triumph filled her at the site of her mirror, gleaming at her from within the same kind of ward that guarded the horcruxes upstairs. It hovered above a pedestal, circling in the air alongside the other talismans and all five of their wands! Michiru rushed to it; unable to help herself, her hand darted forward, intent on her mirror's handle.
The ward burned like a hot iron where she touched it. She jerked her hand back with a curse. Idiot. She looked at her hand, noting how the tips of her fingers had turned bright red from the heat. She glared at the sizzling yellow ward. How could she possibly get through it…
As if it could sense her thoughts, the dark earring pulsed again, hotter and stronger, rolling over her like a heatwave, making her feel light and dizzy. She clenched her fists. There had to be another way…
She bent down to see the reflective face of her mirror through the ward, and winced as projecting her intent through the dark magic barrier caused a sudden searing pain in her head. Concentrate. She squinted through the barrier; there was an image in the mirror.
It showed her the dark crystal earring.
Michiru paled, nausea roiling in her stomach. "Is it the only way?" she murmured.
The mirror's image did not waver.
Michiru gulped and straightened, heart thundering loudly as if in protest. But her mirror was never wrong. Slowly, she raised her left hand, Even as weak as her power was, it warred mightily with the dark earring's magic. As the earring's power reached for her, it ebbed and flowed against her innate power, opposites sliding against each other like oil pouring over water.
But, as that theory of magic she had studied the past two years would believe it, so much of magic was simple intent and force of will. Her magic resisted this dark power because she wanted to. A moment's wavering of will would be enough…
Michiru bit her lip. Her hand closed around the dark crystal earring.
Dark magic sang in triumph as it rushed into her, causing a heady drumming in her head, through her chest, down her spine. Magic hummed through her blood, making her head spin and her toes curl. It was hot and pulsing, tingling, reverberating through her like a grand orchestra. It was overwhelming…
It was delicious.
Michiru blinked, and the spinning room abruptly came into sharp focus. There was so much power here – in every seam in the walls and floor, covering every surface, infusing every artifact.
Her power was here! More power hidden behind the yellow ward. She stumbled to her feet from where she'd somehow wound up falling on the floor and stepped up to ward. Her movements were jerky, driven by impulse. The ward was in her way. How dare it keep her from her power!
Her wand and mirror were so close. She licked her lips. The dark magic thrummed through her coating her hands, sparkling over her fingers. It was pretty…how had she never noticed before? Michiru flexed her fingers, the dark ripples of power following her movements, fitting to her like a glove. I'll make it more powerful, she thought. I'll master it. No magic can control me.
She felt giddy as she concentrated dark power into each of her hands, watching it dance along her fingers… so magnificent…
The ward would be no match. She stepped closer ﹘closed each hand into a fist – and punched them through the sizzling barrier.
Her power sang – a chorus of trumpets, chimes, and heavy booming drums ﹘as she closed her hands around her wand and mirror. Her earring pulsed, infusing more hot, dizzying power through her. The fresh wave of power carried with it the words of a spell, a good spell, one that would punch through the safeguards around Haruka and Setsuna's prison.
Pain immediately lanced through her head and down her spine like a lightning bolt, as the dark spell put her magic up against the strength of the other and, as she found herself the more powerful, allowed her to twist the magic she fought to her own advantage. A great ripping sound wrended the air, and the other wands and talismans disappeared through it in the blink of an eye, stolen away back to where Michiru willed them to go. The spell left her dizzy, her head light, and her pulse rapid. She hardly noticed the damage the spell had left behind ﹘ a dark gash was gouged through the air within the ward, into the ward itself, and into the wall behind it. It was eating away at the space around it, corroding the wall and the pedestal where their talismans had been put on display. Dirt and water were beginning to pour through onto the floor.
Leave it. A giddy feeling filled her. Maybe it would turn everything in here inside out, eat away at the Phantom's magic and the trophies she saw on the walls. Fair payment for helping her free her friends. It would certainly cause the Phantom trouble. Michiru left the dark gash to do what it would.
She gripped the wand and mirror tightly, admiring them as she ascended quickly up the stairs.
Outside the ward now, her hands looked oddly red and blistered, some spots like her knuckles were blackened like coal. But she felt no pain. Only the tingling, pulsing power of her magic.
She shook her head. She couldn't forget that it was dark power. She'd use it just until she'd accomplished her goal. Only temporary. Necessary.
Thoughts of removing the earring though were cut short as the ambient light in the staircase cut out. At the top of the stairs, the closet's door slammed shut. Power like her earring's power rose up to challenge her.
It can't keep me here.
She raised her wand. "Bombarda!" The blasting spell exploded out of her wand, hitting the sealed door and splitting it in two. Splinters burst into the room beyond, and she stepped through in their wake.
As she cast another blasting spell at the bedroom door, her wand shivered and whined. She shouted as it jumped free of her hand, rolling away from her into the recesses of the hallway. Her magic flared up, fed by her frustration, turning it swiftly into fury. The wand was a puny wizard's tool, she decided. "I don't need you."
She looked at her mirror as she moved down the hall, away from her wand, back towards the workroom. The mirror's depths were hazy, but in it she could see the knife and the locket. Yes. The mirror was still with her. She would steal back the horcruxes. And hopefully, armed with their wands and talismans, the others would be able to escape. Her gut clenched at the thought of the others still trapped underground, Haruka and Setsuna without their magic and Sirius and Remus fading fast due to the dark crystals. What if they did not have enough power left to escape?
She had to hurry. She could not fail. Based on the wraith-like shadows now pouring off the walls and out of the paintings in the halls as she ran past, capture seemed increasingly likely. The wraiths raced along with her, building up in a group right in front of the workroom door. She dismissed all thought of the mermaid-hair wand and raised her mirror and her wandless hand – teeming now with dark power. She was determined: intent on storming past these defenses, and making it back to the horcruxes.
The bronze doors screeched as they materialized in an empty field on the island of Hokkaido, close to its northern coast. The double doors swung open and four young senshi stepped out.
Sailor Aker was first, sweeping her turquoise hair back as she pressed her conch shell to her ear. She worried her lip. "They're here. But they're not close."
"The wards around this place won't let the time doors get any closer," Sailor G said, raising her bronze staff. The doors swung shut and vanished. She looked at Sailor Chibi Moon who had touched her shoulder. "Once we determine where to find them, we should de-transform while we cross the warded area. Our magic shouldn't be detected that way." She sighed. "Or at least that's what I think… based on what I read."
Chibi Moon nodded. "We trust you, G, and Mercury helped you and she's never wrong." Then she looked at their fourth teammate, her hands up, ready to attack, as she kept watch on the open field. "Pele, can you sense them?"
"Not yet. Need to be closer." She turned to scan the other side of the field, standing on the toes of her dark pink heels. "I should go first. He only knows about me. I could distract him while you rescue the others."
"No," Chibi Moon said, pigtails snapping back and forth as she gave a firm shake of her head. "No one's facing him alone." She clenched her fists.
"Um, G," Sailor Aker drew their attention as she lowered the conch shell. "Problem." She pointed to the west. "Uranus and Pluto are that way, underground." She swung her arm to the north. "Neptune's somewhere over there."
"Where's the wizard?" Sailor G demanded.
"In both places… or part of him anyway." Aker frowned at the conch shell. "His magic's very strong around all of them."
"Hang on," they watched as G looked up and to the left, furrowing her brows as the bright green gem in her tiara glinted in the sunlight. "Uranus and Pluto are stuck. They're not transformed," she reported. "Neptune…" her frown deepened. "Also untransformed. But she… She's just got a wand." Her eyes snapped to the others. "Unless the wizard intervenes, she and the others will have their wands back soon." Her gloves wrung around her bronze staff anxiously. "But he could intervene. I won't be able to tell if he does… has." She shook her head. "We shouldn't split up."
"Agreed," Chibi Moon nodded. "So who do we go after?"
"If we have Pluto and Uranus," Pele suggested, "we'll be able to take on Death Phantom better."
"And leave Neptune on her own wherever she is?" Aker worried. She shifted her hands behind her, but not before they saw how her fingertips began to turn translucent.
"She might have a wand even if the others don't," G reminded them. "And she's resourceful."
"Wait," Pele raised her hand, "If she has a wand, how did she get it?" She looked at the others. "Why is she by herself."
"She may have escaped," G, walking to Sailor Aker and putting her hand, coated in cool green power, on her shoulder. It helped Aker stay solid in this chaotic timeline.
Aker stamped her feet against the ground to reaffirm their solid-ness. "Or Death Phantom separated them," she worried. She hugged her arms, shivering.
They all looked to Chibi Moon. "You know their past-selves and powers best," Sailor G said. "And you know the Phantom. We can't trust time right now. Your guess is our best option."
Chibi Moon closed her eyes as she thought. "No matter where Death Phantom is," she said. "Two of them together could resist his powers better." She looked at Aker. "And it may not be one of them dying that makes your future disappear."
Aker paled to nearly the shade of the pearl in her tiara. "You mean..."
"He tried to get Pele on his side." Chibi Moon said. "In the future he got to me."
"Wicked Neptune," Pele muttered. "He couldn't."
"He could," Chibi Moon and Sailor G said in unison.
Decision made, they nodded to each other, and Aker, her shadow on the grass missing its hands, directed them northwards.
The last will-o-wisp had winked out some time ago, and the four prisoners of Death Phantom sat huddled together in the dark, against a stone wall, as far from the caverns growing dark crystals as they could get. The two wizards slumped listlessly against the wall, the two senshi leaning on each other, hands clasped tightly, endeavoring to share their strength.
Abruptly, a sound like nails on a chalkboard cleaved through the underground cavern, startling the two senshi to their feet. Light appeared overhead as the Space Sword, the Garnet Rod, and four wands dropped out of the air.
Setsuna made quick work of the tear in space the dark magic had left, turning to Haruka, who was hauling Remus and Sirius to their feet, closing their hands around their wands.
"Dark magic sent these," Setsuna said.
"Michiru?" Haruka said.
"I'm afraid that might be so."
Haruka gulped and Setsuna helped her brace Remus and Sirius between them. "We've got to get out," Haruka said, "but my power is still shot."
"Use your wand," Setsuna advised, "We can channel what we have." She pointed her wand up at the ceiling. "The walls are just rock now; whatever got our wands to us has collapsed the other protections on this space."
"Then give us some cover." Haruka raised her wand and her sword, spinning them like they were one and the same. "Space Swords Blaster!"
By Ron's estimation, another half-hour had ticked past. Hermione and Neville were monitoring incoming patronii and the messages on the D.A. coins, passing him information on which parts of the castle had been checked for the missing vanishing cabinet and keeping him apprised of the professor's defensive preparations. Both were pacing the bathroom behind him.
Ron eyed the markers they'd asked the Marauder's Map to leave in place for locations they had checked. At any other time, he'd find it terribly ironic that the creators had used Wormtail's footprints as their place markers. Right now though, he was too caught up in his mounting frustration. The pawprints now covered over three quarters of the interior of the castle: It had been two hours since they had discovered the missing vanishing cabinet. Every second that ticked by was another that they went not knowing where in the castle Voldemort's forces would emerge, only knowing with growing certainty that it was inevitable...
Jadeite's last patronus message had directed their attention to the activity in the forest, and on the edges of the map, Ron could see at least three individual's footsteps peaking into existence on the border of the grounds. He only recognized one name – Lord Gregory Goyle Sr. – and wondered how many magical creatures or other offensive measures were hidden from the Map's view. Across the map, on Hogwarts front steps, McGonagall's pacing feet stood waiting.
Where the bloody hell is it? Ron checked on Malfoy for the upteenth time; his footsteps were still pacing a hole in the Slytherin common room. Where did you move it?
"It's big and magic," he muttered.
"Probably fragile," Neville said.
"Especially all the spell work they've done on it…" Hermione chimed in, fingers tracing the locations of their cabinet search teams. "I really think they couldn't have taken it far or shrunk it or kept it invisible without damaging their work."
"We've been talking about this in circles for hours." Ron ran his hand over his face and sighed.
He looked at Malfoy's pacing feet again, frowning. "Where the bloody hell is Nott?" he muttered.
"With the Death Eaters coming through?" Neville shrugged. "Or maybe out in the forest."
Ron shook his head. He looked at Hermione. "If this were our plan, what would we do?"
"Protect the cabinet," Hermione said promptly.
Ron turned a chess master's frown on the map. Nott was arrogant, but not stupid.
A silver fox bounded through the wall on his left, coming to a stop on the lip of a sink. "Divination Tower is clear," Mercury's voice declared.
"Well it was a long shot," he rubbed his eyes and touched his wand to the D.A. coin. Patronuses had quickly become too difficult for him. "Dungeon is also clear," he dictated, knowing Mercury would read it on her end.
"Even Slytherin?" Mercury's fox tilted its head.
"They couldn't have gotten something that big and delicate outside the castle." Hermione murmured.
"There's still a lot of this map we haven't searched," Neville pointed out.
"We're not going to have time," Ron groaned and ran a hand through his hair.
Mercury's Fox spoke, relaying her own musings half a castle away. "He did not have the means to disguise something so large and so heavily enchanted, and he would not have wanted to move it over several trips, just one would have been risky."
Ron nodded. "Let's re-check the places we thought of first, close to the room of requirement." He sighed. "Maybe we missed something,"
"We were quite thorough," Mercury's voice sounded more thoughtful than prideful. "There's got to be somewhere close to the room of requirement we missed," Mercury's fox continued, "a place we did not think to check."
Ron nodded as her Patronus paced across the sink. His eyes found the seventh floor, mapping every detail. Her reasoning made the hair on the back of his neck tingle. Something she'd said triggered a thought in his mind. "The room of requirement was perfect," he told Hermione and Neville. "You could only find the room with the cabinet if you knew exactly what to look for."
As if she were thinking through the exact same thoughts across the castle, Mercury's patronus piped up again. "Ron, most doors on the room of requirement have a slight overhang, the doorway itself isn't always apparent from the hall."
"A blind spot." He snapped his fingers together. "From where we spied on the entrance we wouldn't have seen it." He considered the indent in the wall, a tiny detail on the map, where the door to the room would rest. Was that alcove large enough to hide the cabinet from where they'd guarded the door?
And… to what end.
"There was one day I was on watch," Mercury's fox piped up. "Two first year students came to the door, stepped out, and entered again. They could have been polyjuiced."
It was like one of his father's light bulbs lit up inside Ron's head. He turned to Hermione and Neville "Get a patronus ready for all the teams ﹘ anyone who doesn't have a DA coin," he said.
"They didn't move it!" he said, "It never left!" He spoke a new message for the DA coin at the same time as Mercury's fox declared the same conclusion: "The cabinet is behind a different door!"
Michiru sprinted, tearing down one hall and down another, dodging flying paintings, burning doors, and wraiths and inferi that she blasted aside in her quest: get the horcruxes, get the others, get more power.
Michiru tore into the workroom, dark magic blasting from her hand and punching through the last door between herself and her quarry. She hopped the firepit and dashed to the table with the horcruxes, not even feeling the tickling sensation as she punched a dark-magic-coated hand through the yellow ward and snatched up both horcruxes.
The earring in her ear was practically humming with joy. She clutched Zoisite's locket close and twirled Lestrange's knife. Her eyes were suddenly caught on the dark crystal in the pommel. The earring she wore was like this… so powerful.
Her own magic surged up in response, like ice water crashing over her, refocusing her senses. She gasped and dropped the knife. No, she wouldn't use it. What was she thinking?!
As she reached up for the dark earring again – to take more power, or rip it off, she wasn't sure – the whole house rumbling on its foundations, accompanied by a roar. The knife on the floor rattled and the Phantom's ghostly form surged out of it, crystal ball aiming a spell at Michiru. She only barely dodged out of the way.
"White Moon treachery!" the Phantom howled. "You LIED!" His hands closed around the locket she held, trying to pry it from her grip. "How did you lie to me!"
Michiru wrenched the locket away from him and dodged another attack from his crystal ball. Time to go. She threw an attack of dark power at him – his dark power. He caught her wandless magic and hurled it back at her, three times as large. It hit her arm, and she stumbled and spun, but she kept hold of the locket and her mirror. She would not let him get a hold of this power. She dashed back into the hall. The exit was on the left. She'd seen it earlier. Michiru made for that door now. It was covered on all sides by dark power, save one spot, a hole in the corner of one glass pane, the size of a sickle. Ha! She rushed it, leaping into the air. She would be too fast for the Phantom. Michiru transformed into a snake as she sailed towards the breach in his defenses, so simple, how foolish of him to leave it. She could smell the sea air outside, see the vivid green grass and thick clouded sky. She would slip right throu-
A great force rammed into her head on, sending her flying backward with an almighty crack. She shouted as her body was wrenched and twisted back into human form just in time to collide with the floor.
She groaned How had she overlooked something as simple as animagus wards?
On her left, she saw the glint of the mirror and the locket horcrux on the floor. she reached for them.
As she reached out for them, magic jerked her away. The Phantom shouted as he wrenched her upwards, levitated her, and threw her into the wall with enough force to send the nearby paintings smashing to the floor. She looked up in time to see Death Phantom rush her, face sneering and white with rage. He closed a hand around her throat, knocking her head against the wall again as he drew up nose-to-nose with her.
"White Moon scum!" Death Phantom seethed. His nails dug into her neck; his brown eyes had turned black with fury. "How did you trick me!"
"Easily," she gasped, matching him glare for glare even as she fought for breath. She fumbled with her right hand to reach the earring. Power… She needed more power. How dare he try to stop her.
But she could not reach it. His arm was in the way. Her other hand clawed at the one he had around her throat.
"I saw your mind!" Death Phantom raged. "Your anger! Your frustration! Your despair! Those memories were real!"
"Saw…what I wanted you to see," she mocked, her grimace curled into a grin as she took victory where she could get it.
His confusion leaking through his fury. "What power does the White Moon have over you, why do you follow them." His dark eyes seared into hers. "Legilimens!"
This time, unlike when she had tricked him, his consciousness smashed against the solid shield of Neptune's bright, stormy face, and could not breach it. The deep blue planet did not give an inch despite the spots beginning clouding Michiru's vision and her thoughts.
She sunk deep within her mind, under the protection of her occlumency, swimming in the memories…
...A girl's innocent smile reflected back at her through the Aqua Mirror as she stood sentry on an otherwise lonely moon... all royal finery save a crown of daisies, just like the one she still kept preserved, pressed between Uranus letters…
…Holding a heart crystal in her hands, enraptured by its soft, pure glow, shaking with the relief that it was not the one they needed, for she was not sure she would have been able to do what was necessary if it was…
…Kneeling in the wreckage of a gruesome battle, staring in awe at the soldier who had emerged from Pharoah 90s destruction, transfixed by the tiny infant she held secure against her chest, even as her strength and powers failed her…
…Haruka's warm arm around her waist, Setsuna's soft hand clasped in her own, as they watched from the porch while a young Hotaru chased fireflies through the garden, the moon's light gracing them all from overhead.
These were things she would not betray.
The hand around her throat squeezed tighter, dragging her out of the memories as she gasped for breath.
"Tell me!" the Phantom hissed, loosening his grip. "What does the Moon have that engenders this… obsessive loyalty?"
Michiru coughed and chuckled, reveling in his fury. "Something you could never understand," she taunted.
She wished a moment later that she'd saved her words and caught her breath. His hand tightened again. And she could feel consciousness leaching away along with her oxygen.
"That silver crystal," Death Phantom spat. "That must be it, that insidious power." He held his crystal ball up, gazing into it even as he held her nearly off the floor, not even flinching as her nails clawed at his hand. "No matter, as long as I have her soldiers hostage, I will have the advantage. You'll help me one way or the other. Either when she comes looking for you or when I send you back to fulfill my mission." He shook his head. "No one can hold off legilimency forever, or imperio. And there are certainly other creative ways that I can ensure your cooperation."
Michiru had no breath left to counter his words. Her vision swam, the dim hallway around her became murky muted swirls of color, blotted out by the spots continuing to fill her vision. Over his shoulder, a bright light filled the hall.
"You've failed," he said, chuckling. "Your friends will waste away in my prison. And soon I will make you wish you were still trapped with them."
He was wrong. Haruka and Setsuna would escape. They would get the horcruxes. They would find the Phantom and finish him.
But not, she lamented, in time.
Her hands fell away from the one he had wrapped around her throat. The bright light swimming in her vision was pierced by a brilliant bright blue…
Suddenly, like the growing light, a new voice penetrated the darkness.
"AKER HORIZON HARMONY!"
The Phantom's grip faltered as they both turned to look. The door had been wrenched open. They turned just in time to see the figure silhouetted in the sunlight, pitch two spiralling balls of energy forth from her palm, sending them spinning in counterpoint, barrelling down the hallway and crashing together an instant before the combined sphere slammed into Death Phantom's gut. He did not have time to make himself incorporeal. Michiru felt a rush of mist against her skin, and the scent of a sea breeze in her nose as the attack tore through the Phantom, who screamed as the attack swallowed him up in blue light, tearing his hand from her throat as it tore him apart. It continued down the hallway, finally exploding against the far wall, blasting it to splinters.
She slid down the wall, coughing as a spree of small, clacking footfalls converged on her. Small hands pressed on her shoulders as someone knelt before her: dark blue eyes cut across by a wild fringe of aqua 's eyes widened. She took in the pearl adorned tiara that graced this senshi's brow, the wrist-length gloves covering her small hands, and the light and dark blues of her uniform that looked like sea and sky and cresting waves.
"Sora?" she rasped.
"You're okay!" That was Chibi Moon, kneeling on her right. Next to her was Megumi, in bright green with bronze bows, clutching a bronze staff that was nearly identical to Setsuna's. Megumi's eyes were darting between Michiru and the end of the hall, as her hand clasped tight to Michiru's.
"The horcruxes," Michiru rasped, shaking her head to clear the dizziness. "I need them. Where are they?"
"One's here." Michiru looked up at the sound of a new voice; she recognized Akira Hino beneath the dark magenta skirt and peach bows. She was standing watch, her finger pointing down the hall. "Guys… we have company."
Michiru looked where she pointed, down the hall more shadows were peeling off the walls, seeping up through the floor and down through the ceiling or curling out from behind the paintings, doors, and furniture. They began to form into the same wraiths that she had blasted through in her mad dash to get to the workroom. There were three wraiths coalescing down the hall, soaring towards them. The two closets she had seen earlier also fell open as two skeletal inferi charged into the hall. The monsters of bone and shadow turned and began advancing towards them.
"In there too!" Chibi Moon pointed into the workroom. Wraiths were peeling away from the dark walls and ceiling at the same time as rotting, skeletal hands, bearing weapons, punched their way up through the tatami mats. In among the shadows, Michiru could see a stream of ash spiraling up into the air. She cursed. The knife was still in there! He was reforming from its dark crystal just like before.
She'd left the knife behind on the floor. Idiot. "The Phantom!" she said, struggling to sit up.
"Quickly," Megumi said, "Chibi Moon, Pele, Let's get rid of these and then get him. Aker," she waved to the inferi and two wraiths forming at the end of the hall. "Watch our back."
"On it, G!" Aker whirled to the left as the others ran into the work room. "Aker Horizon Harmony!"
The two planetoid balls of energy spiralled out of her palm in opposite directions, one up and one down. This time, Aker caught them as they converged, sending a combined beam of energy towards the monsters. It broke one inferi's legs to smithereens and consumed the other, leaving just its head and feet clattering along the floor. The two wraiths merged back into the walls to avoid it.
Wait, two wraiths? Michiru realized there had been three. She looked back towards the open front door and saw it, 6 feet tall, advancing on them. She moved without thinking, diving to reach the Aqua mirror and thrusting it in front of the beam of energy. The Horizon Harmony bounced off it, reflecting it over their heads and right into the wraith, shredding it.
"Nice one!" Aker cheered. "Can you transfo…." She trailed off, pointing at Michiru. "You've… got the earring."
Aker reached for it and Michiru shied away, startling both of them. "I… I need it" she rationalized. "For now."
"No you don't."
"Until we get Death Phantom," she insisted. "We need every advantage we have."
But Aker was still frowning. "Well… just… just stay back here," she said.
A roar came from the other room. And Aker swiveled around. "I got it." She looked back at Michiru. "Don't use the earring, okay?" and she ran into the room. "Hang on, Pele!"
Michiru checked down the hallway and saw the wraiths reforming from the walls. She raised her hand to the earring, hesitating briefly. But…
But I don't want to distract them, she thought, or catch the Phantom's attention. She grasped the earring one more time. The exhilarating rush hit her again, and this time it left her feeling not dizzy, but giddy. Her senses sharpened and power tingled at her fingertips. She thought quickly of a vanishing spell and launched one wandlessly, crudely at the two wraiths that had just re-emerged from the wall.
The first was consumed along with an end table and half a tatami mat.
The second one vanished along with most of a closet door.
Task accomplished, Michiru turned towards the cacophony of battle in the workroom. She tried to focus her was something else important…
Dark power snapped and sizzled around the room like an electric storm, conducted by the wizard and the wraiths and inferi – a horde of at least 10 of each – all chasing the four young senshi. The inferi carried glowing blades or wore jewels that were blasting unknown spells at will. The wraiths were attacking from above. They seemed to have some control over their corporealness, like the Phantom. She noted that Aker and Sailor G hit three with their attacks and missed two more. They seemed corporeal only as long as it took them to charge their attacks – bursts of paralyzing electric energy. She watched one wraith's attack hit Sailor G as she dove in front of Chibi Moon. It sent her to her knees, the attack clinging to her like static.
"Can't…move," G grimaced, fingers twitching as green power sparked at her fingertips, fighting to free her from the paralyzing power.
"Stay away from those ghosts!" Chibi Moon shouted. "Moon Frozen Heartache!" A rain of pink flurries hit the wraith that had attacked Sailor G, dissolving it into pink dust.
Sailor Pele's magenta fuku was a blur in the air as she spun and kicked three inferi to the ground. One grabbed her ankle, unsuspecting, and released it with a shriek. The monster's arm was now on fire, and Pele's body was flooding with magenta and red light. "Not so fast," Pele said. "Pele… Meteor Meltdown!"
Her attack created a rain of smoldering heart shaped meteors. While most were blocked and extinguished by the wraiths the others rained down on the three closest inferi, burning them to dust, their magical weapons hissed as the fire melted them into useless pools of metal.
"The bodies are weak to fire!" G shouted. She pointed up at the wraiths. "Aker – clear a path!"
"On it!" Aker hollered. When the next round of paralyzing blasts came from the wraiths she dashed to the center of the room, summoning her conch shell, and blowing into the end.
The resulting wave of sound – like a whale's call from the depths of the sea – clashed against the round of wraith attacks. Aker braced herself for the resulting backlash, but the wraiths were caught unprepared as their attack and hers washed over them, slamming them into the ceiling and the walls.
It also resonated in Michiru's bones, disrupting the haze of sweet, pulsing dark magic that had swamped her senses. She gasped and released her hold on the earring.
With the wraiths out of the way, Pele was left clear to jump into the air, spinning and launching another rain of meteors that incinerated the remaining inferi.
Pele and Chibi Moon ran up to Sailor G, still on her knees, arms shaking as she leaned heavily on her staff.
The Phantom looked on, hands over his crystal ball, mouth in a tight line. His hand came up to trace the melted skin on his jaw, a souvenir from his first meeting with Pele. "New followers of the White Moon?" he mused. "Two of you I've never seen before." As he spoke to them, new wraiths peeling out of the walls to shield him.
Michiru refocused on her surroundings. Now freshly freed from the dizzying power of the dark magic she saw her objective, Zoisite's locket, lying on the floor beside her. She scrambled to pick it up, immediately, she felt the urge to put it around her neck to keep it secure, but thought better of it. She stuffed it into her pocket instead.
There was another. She looked back into the workroom. There, lying behind the desk where she had dropped it, was the knife. It had one of the Phantom's dark crystals gleaming in the pommel. A horcrux of both the Phantom and Lestrange! How had she ever considered leaving it behind.
"So young to be conscripted into battle," the Phantom was saying. "You think you're a match for me?" He had his back to Michiru and she stiffened as she saw him raise the crystal ball, directing an attack at Sailor Pele.
A bright green wall sprang up to block his curse, covering all of the young senshi. Michiru watched Sailor G push herself to her feet, red eyes dark, glaring with the same intensity as the bright green light from her tiara. "We might be young but we're not weak," G said. Bracing as the wraiths sent another round of shockwaves at her shield.
The wraiths knew to dodge Chibi Moon's attacks now, and more and more continued to stream out of the walls, their shockwaves becoming more and more powerful and far spreading as they adapted and began to launch them in concert.
"Those mortal shells might have fallen easily," Death Phantom mused. "But these are their souls, all those devoted to mine and Lady Lestrange's experiments." He laughed. Before him the number of wraiths had grown to close to thirty. "Not even the White Moon can conquer death so easily."
The amassed wraiths launched another round of shockwaves. They battered Sailor G's shield and attacked her magic. The dark electricity traveling through the wall and along her staff, up into Sailor G's hands and arms. It sent her to her knees again. The wall of her magic flickered. And the last of the shock waves breached it, hitting Pele and Aker who stiffened, but absorbed them, keeping Chibi Moon out of reach behind them.
The wraiths continued for another round. G and Aker together kept the shockwaves back while Pele and Chibiusa threw their power to take them down. Pele's attacks simply sent their ashes rushing back into the walls, where they reformed and re-emerged. And while Chibi Moon's left the wraiths as inert, pink dust on the floor, replacements continued pouring forth from the walls.
The Dark Earring's power could do it, Michiru thought. She'd dispatched the two in the hall quickly enough. But… Knife first, she thought, willing her head to remain clear. She didn't need the earring. Soon... but not yet. I can control it, she thought, the hand she had been using to grab the earring was shaking as she kept it down at her side. Mirror clutched close, and locket heavy and cold in her pocket, Michiru made her way into the workroom, crouching and keeping her back to the wall. Slow and silent, she edged across two walls to the desk. She ducked behind it when she reached it, and snatched up the knife.
Yes! She gripped it in her hand and raised it. It sizzled with power, tingling through her fingers and up her arm, clamoring to join with her own.
Take it, it's yours now, a sweet voice whispered in her ear. She twirled the blade and a thought filled her head: an image of bright, pretty red trailing down the gleaming blade from a slice on her palm. The blade needs a master. Claim it – Claim it!
Michiru clenched her teeth and shook her head. She hastened to stuff the blade into her belt. Its call dulled when she released the handle. "Careful," she cautioned herself.
Then she rose to her feet, refocusing on the battle. The vollies of shockwaves against Aker and G's defenses, and then the blasts of Chibi Moon and Pele's attacks had carried on with limited success, as a sizable mass of wraiths still lingered between them and the Phantom.
"I can't get a shot at him!" Chibi Moon was saying.
"They just keep regrouping!" Pele cursed.
"We need Saturn," G grimaced, still on her knees, as she absorbed another round of the shockwaves battering against her green shield. "If these are really...spirits."
Aker lit up. "That's it!" she said, stepping up in front of Sailor G and summoning her wand.
"What's this now?" the Phantom sneered. "Are you going to try a pathetic little charm on my power?"
Pele took out her wand as well, and Aker ignored the Phantom's taunts. "Remember Peeves?" she murmured.
Pele nodded, smirking.
"Chibi Moon," G said, her green shield holding against another round of shockwaves. "Get ready."
"I am," she said, her pink heart scepter was twirling in her hand.
G nodded to the others. They timed their response perfectly. G dropped the green wall as the others raised their wands and scepter. Attacking between the rounds of shockwaves.
"Moon Freezing Heartache!"
The spell struck the wraiths closest to the Phantom, jerking them down out of the way and stuffing them through the seams in the floor. Chibi Moon's attack soared through the opening in their defenses, hitting the wizard head on and tearing him to ash that rushed into his crystal ball as it clattered inert to the floor.
The remaining wraiths screamed and exploded, their master defeated. They turned to dust that dissipated before it reached the ground.
Sailor G pulled herself to her feet and stumbled forwards, still wracked by the paralyzing power of the shockwaves. She directed the glowing green gem that capped her staff down on the crystal ball. "Temporal bubble," she commanded. A green sphere of power appeared around the crystal ball, which remained still and inactive within it.
Around the room, there was a collective sigh of relief.
"Alright," G said. "His soul should stay in here until we can move him to the future, thankfully his dark crystals are well hidden."
"Then it is done then?" Michiru asked, stepping out from behind the desk.
Sailor G nodded. "We needed to wait to act, until we were sure he had created the dark crystals," she said. "It took him much longer, in the original timeline, to hide from Pluto, and we knew she wouldn't allow the same trick to work twice, even if she'd intended to let events take their natural course, she would have taken precautions that prevented his intervention into her future sight."
"Since he's made them," Chibi Moon continued. "We can keep them hidden, and return him to the 25th century, where he should have begun to gain followers."
"The future will return to its proper course," Sailor G confirmed.
"Leaving the present to deal with Lestrange," Michiru lifted the knife from her belt, careful not to touch the blade or the dark crystal in its pommel. "Who has made any number of Horcruxes through similar methods used to make these, and may be stronger thanks to the Phantom's assistance."
"There is a plan to deal with Lestrange," Sailor G sighed. "The second prophecy."
Michiru frowned, recalling the bit of the prophecy they had learned last year, before it had smashed in the Department of Mysteries…
"As the sun sets on the Elder Steward, the chosen one becomes a pair…"
Michiru jumped; Sailor Aker was standing right next to her, arms crossed. Her eyes were on the dark earring. "I think you need to take that off now."
Right. Of course. Michiru reached up for the earring, and felt her hand shaking. But I can control it! She thought. It'll give me an edge against Lestrange.
She shook her head. That was wrong. I've used this too much, she thought, strengthening her resolve. She reached for it again.
Before she could touch it though, a wave of dizziness swamped her. Michiru gasped as her earring and the dark crystal in the knife suddenly turned white-hot. The room spun as her knees hit the floor.
The shouts of the four, future senshi drew her attention. She'd fallen onto her side, and the knife had slipped from her grip. It had rolled several paces away, along the floor, and the crystal in its pommel was glowing - white, pink, red, green - as it leached power off the senshi in the room. Michriu gasped as the earring turned on her, leaching power away as easily as it had given it. The crystal in the knife now blazed with her own aqua power too. It pulsed and expanded to double, then quadruple its size.
Sailor G cried out. "It's coming apart!"
Michiru jerked her head towards G's voice. Sailor G was on her knees, hands pressed to the green bubble of her power, splinters were cracking through the bubble and her green and bronze uniform was flickering, fading fast. "I can't hold it!" she cried.
The dark crystal had sent the other senshi to their knees as well. Chibi Moon, her own uniform also flickering out, was struggling to stand. Closer to the growing dark crystal, Sora and Akira had already de-transformed.
"Hang on!" Chibi Moon said as she clutched her moon crystal's locket in her white-knuckled hand. She shuffled to G's side.
Michiru swayed as she pushed herself up. It was like the gravity had abruptly increased 10-fold.
Sailor Chibi Moon had reached Sailor G; her hand was glowing with gold and silver power. She was reaching for the green bubble, intent on adding her strength to G's trap, when, with a terrible chime, the bubble shattered, exploding and knocking G and Chibi Moon back!
The freed crystal ball rose up into the air, and the five of them watched with dread as ash began to swirl out of it, swirling round and round, up, up into the air, and coalescing into the Phantom, smirking down at them. He lifted one hand. The knife flew up beside him, the still-growing dark crystal in its pommel still pulsing with their stolen powers.
"How amusing," he said, swiveling to face them all. His eyes rested longest on Chibiusa and Megumi. "You think your soft, light magic can stop my perfected horcruxes?"
A shockwave﹘made stronger with their own stolen powers﹘blasted out of the Phantom's crystal ball. Michiru dropped to the ground in time, feeling it crackle over her head. She heard the shouts and thumps as it slammed Sora and Akira into the desk at her back, and saw as, across the room, Megumi and Chibiusa were pushed apart, toppling into adjacent corners on the opposite side of the room.
The Phantom's attention remained on the two of them.
Behind Michiru, Sora and Akira helped each other to their feet. Gravity was still making it hard to stand. Michiru saw, out of the corner of her eye, as they drew their wands. The impact against the desk had snapped Akira's in two.
Sora gulped and raised her own. "I've got it," she whispered.
Michiru doubted it. She turned, fighting the gravity so she could stay on her feet, and raised her arm, reaching out for Sora.
The Phantom hovered overhead, uninterested in the three of them. He was gazing into his crystal ball. "How interesting," he mused. He turned towards Chibiusa. "You, I've seen before, Nehelenia spoke of you… the runt." He hovered towards her as she struggled to sit up, hand gripping her locket tightly. "You have the old Earth Kingdom's power in you… and the White Moon's look."
The crystal ball suddenly turned bright red. As anger colored the Phantom's tone. "Trying to steal our ancient power."
Sora and Akira were moving, Michiru realized, stumbling and struggling to the opposite sides of the room. They used the walls to support them as they moved﹘Akira towards Megumi and Sora towards Chibiusa.
Chibi Moon was glaring at the Phantom. "I...won't let you take it."
"You have the White Moon's glare too," he mused. "Stupefy."
The red light rushed out of the crystal ball, and Chibiusa stiffened like a board as it struck her in the gut. She fell back, slumping over and onto the floor, hand still protecting the pink moon crystal.
And as they all cried out in shock, the Phantom whipped around, zeroing in on Megumi
"But then there is you," the Phantom advanced on Megumi.
She had been struggling to her feet and froze, one hand gripped tight to the closest workbench. She raised her wand as the Phantom loomed over her.
"You are what is truly interesting"
"W-waddiwasi," Megumi squeaked.
The Phantom let it strike him full on. It turned him instantly to a spiral of ash that rushed into the glowing crystal ball. The ball began to drop.
Instantly, his ashes spiraled out of the growing dark crystal, now hovering in the air in the center of the room. His crystal ball rose off the floor again as he smiled at Megumi's ashen face and clapped for her. "How ingenious," he mocked her. "But I am a Phantom in form only… hmm." He chuckled. "I like that name… is that how you know me in the future... Little Time Guardian?"
I need a wand! Michiru thought. The dark crystals in the room were making it impossible to summon even a trace of their planet powers.
"Where was I," the Phantom said. "Oh yes…" He raised one hand, and Megumi squeaked as she was pushed against the wall, held up by the front of her robes so that her toes lifted off the floor. "You are of Time," he mused. "You're not of the White Moon."
"You-you're… mistaken," Megumi said, and screamed as a bolt of black lightning cracked out of the large dark crystal and shocked her.
"I'm never mistaken," the Phantom said. "You're different than the others…" He drew closer and snapped the fingers of his other hand. A piece of dark crystal broke off of the larger one, sailing towards them. "Your power could give me the advantage that I need…"
Megumi shook her head. Feet kicking against the wall. She raised her wand, but, with a dismissive flick of his wrist, the Phantom disarmed her. The wand jerked free of Megumi's hand and sailed over the Phantom's shoulder. It flew into the hallway outside the room, far from Michiru's reach.
"I was careless to assume I could convert a senshi so easily…" The Phantom said. "I shall not be so careless with you."
The shard of dark crystal floated closer to Megumi as she shrank futility back from it. It began to glow with her green power as it neared her chest.
"Gah!" the Phantom shouted as the shard of crystal jerked up into the air, sailing out of his reach. He lost his concentration and Megumi dropped like a stone, sliding down the wall and scrambling back into the corner.
"Leave. Her. Alone!" Sora said. Without the Phantom noticing she had dragged herself along the wall away from Chibiusa, and now she stumbled as she left the support of the wall and placed herself squarely between the Phantom and Megumi. The heavy gravity made her knees shake, but she held her wand steady. "Petrificus Totalus!"
The spell shot cleanly towards its target, but the Phantom deflected it with barely a flick of his wrist. It bounced off the crystal ball and struck Akira, who was a few paces away from reaching Chibiusa's disarmed wand.
The Phantom laughed. "Puny, light magic," he said. "Does not hold a candle to mine."
Sora was not deterred. She pointed her wand at his floating crystal ball. "Expelli-"
"Expelliarmus," the Phantom beat her to it and her wand jerked out of her hand, flying behind the Phantom and clattering to the floor, inches from Michiru's feet.
Sora raised her fists, stepping back closer to where Megumi huddled against the wall.
"No wand," the Phantom observed coolly. He passed his hands over the crystal ball. "No powers."
The giant dark crystal looming over the middle of the room crackled. Another bolt of dark lightning shot out of it. It struck Sora, who stayed standing, barely, limbs shaking.
"Stand aside," the Phantom said.
Sora raised her chin mulishly. "Nope."
"Hmm… have it your way then." The Phantom raised one hand.
A sudden wind swept up from the floor, catching Sora behind the knees. She tripped and shrieked as it sent her flying upwards, slamming, with an audible crack, into the ceiling. She slackened and went limp.
"Sora!" Megumi shrieked.
The Phantom chuckled and let Sora drop, with a heavy thud, right at Megumi's feet. Megumi leaned forwards, bending over Sora, fingers searching for a pulse.
"Any more tricks?" the Phantom asked, looking between Megumi, huddled in the corner, and her three unconscious friends, lying on the floor. "No?" he looked back at Megumi and smirked, beckoning one hand to summon the forgotten piece of dark crystal. "Amazing how such a gaggle of children can be such a nuisan—"
The room lit up with green light, startling Megumi as the Phantom stiffened and fell, heavy and corporeal, onto the floor.
Standing over him was Michiru, one hand clutched around the dark crystal earring, the other holding Sora's wand leveled on the Phantom's corpse. Her face was clouded with rage.
Before Megumi could speak Michiru looked up, and raised her wand to the giant dark crystal overhead. "Avada Kedavra!"
It exploded. The shards disintegrated into wisps of smoke. The knife horcrux that had been affixed to it cleaved in two and clattered as powerless dull fragments of metal onto the floor.
Michiru whipped the wand around again, leveling it this time on the tiny shard of Dark crystal that had been used against Megumi. "Avada Kedavra."
It hissed as it turned instantly into a puff of smoke. Michiru didn't pause. She turned the wand on the crystal ball, now lying useless on the floor.
It snapped Megumi out of her shock. "Wait!" she cried, scrambling over Sora and getting between Michiru and her target. She threw herself between Michiru and the crystal ball. "Wait, we need that one!"
"It's a horcrux," Michiru seethed. "It's like his crystals. As long as it exists, he isn't dead." She stepped forwards, forcing Megumi to step back instinctively, closer to Michiru's target.
"That's why we need it," Megumi said quickly. "It needs to bring him back in the 25th century… we have to keep your past… and the future intact."
"I don't care," Michiru fumed. "He needs to be destroyed."
"S-sora's okay!" Megumi said, continuing to move step-for-step with Michiru as she backed towards the crystal ball. She was scrambling to get through to Michiru, who had, not once, let her hand drift from the dark earring. "She'll… she'll wake up soon. She'll want her wand."
"The mission comes first," Michiru said. She tried to feign left, but Megumi was not a senshi of time and space for nothing. She stayed a step ahead of Michiru, and once she was within reach of the crystal ball, she snatched it up, holding it in both arms. Her green senshi symbol began to glow on her forehead as the effect of the destroyed dark crystal began to dissipate. "We don't need to fight," she told Michiru. She could feel enough power returning to her that she could summon her time staff. Feeling stronger for having it, Megumi straightened and drew it protectively across her body, a barrier between Michiru and the crystal ball. "The dark earring is muddling your head," Megumi told her. "It's okay now, you can take it off."
"Not until he's gone," Michiru seethed. "He can defend against light magic and our powers. Dark magic is necessary. I can control it." Michiru raised Sora's wand again. Megumi's eyes widened as she saw smoke streaming out of the blackened wand tip. "Give me the horcrux," Michiru demanded.
"I can't," Megumi said. Her senshi symbol flared up as she tapped her time staff on the floor, creating a green dome between herself and Michiru.
Michiru growled. "You don't understand!" she said, her voice cracking. "I need to finish this."
"You have to take off the earring," Megumi said. "M-Michiru...listen. Please!"
It was like she was hearing the begging from under water, distorted and disconnected from the reality around her. Michiru's focus was stuck on the crystal ball. She needed to destroy it. Megumi's words didn't make sense. Death Phantom must have gotten to Megumi. He had brainwashed her. Michiru raised the borrowed wand, forcing her will and her dark magic into it. She couldn't let him use Megumi. She needed the horcrux. This was the only way. "Imper—"
A gloved hand caught the wrist of her wand hand in a bruising grip
"Stop." Sailor Uranus commanded.
Haruka. Her voice shocked Michiru enough to drop the wand. It immediately rolled away from her, and snapped in two, smoke rising out of both ends.
"Michiru," Uranus said more softly, her grip on Michiru's wrist loosening. "You need to take that earring off now."
"I...do I?" she looked between the crystal ball and Uranus. The fear in her partner's eyes startled her. But the horcrux… She looked back at it. The Phantom's crystal ball. Megumi had it. Megumi. Nausea churned in her gut as she realized what she'd nearly done. "Okay," she agreed with Uranus, and still seemed to struggle, fighting herself, as her hand moved to unclasp the dark crystal from her ear.
The change as it dropped away from her and onto the ground was instant. Michiru's eyes brightened and widened. She jumped back from it, kicking the shard of dark crystal away.
Megumi pointed at it with her staff. "Temporal Bubble," she said, catching it inside a green sphere. She did the same with the crystal ball.
"You alright," Uranus murmured, hand now stroking up Michiru's arm.
"I - I…" Michiru let out a shaky breath. Her arms wrapped around her middle. "Oh, God."
Michiru turned around. Sora had gotten to her feet. Pluto stood behind her.
I didn't even think to check on her! Michiru realized horrified as she looked around, taking in more of the room.
Pluto had clearly already revived Chibiusa and Akira. They were standing close to her and Sora. And Sirius and Remus hovered in the doorway, wands raised warily.
"Your deception got us free," Pluto told her, brushing dust and ceiling plaster off of Sora's shoulders.
"I… I had to use it," Michiru croaked. "It was the only magic I had that would… would kill a horcrux."
"Which you accomplished," Pluto said gently. She walked to the remnants of the knife, holding up the two halves of the former horcrux that had cleaved in two from tip to hilt. "These might help Mars identify Lestrange's other horcruxes," Pluto said.
"Something you saw?" Remus asked hopefully.
"Only a hunch, I'm afraid," Pluto said, waving her wand over the pieces of the knife. Magic shimmered over the sharp edges, blunting them and allowing Pluto to pass them to Sirius, who stuffed them into his pocket.
"I… have the locket," Michiru whispered. She took it gingerly from her pocket, holding it just by the chain. Her eyes darkened as they fixated on the swaying silver horcrux.
"Michi," Uranus worried. She reached for the locket.
Michiru suddenly jerked it away. And then blinked. She took in Uranus' startled face. "I…" she turned to Pluto, thrusting the locket towards her. "I don't think I ought to keep this right now."
"Alright," Pluto whispered, taking it without fuss and wrapping the chain around her palm.
"You should all get back to Hogwarts," Megumi said then, drawing all of their attention as she moved to stand with the other time travelers.
Pluto nodded. "Yes… I can see it now.. A battle is already underway." She frowned, looking off to the left, struggling to see through time and space. "It is confusing... Lestrange and the others hidden from my sight are, I believe, heavily involved." She sighed.
"We need to let the present and the prophecies work themselves out for now," Megumi told the other young senshi. "We must complete our part." She passed the bubble containing the dark earring to Chibiusa, freeing up her hand to wield the time staff. "This crystal ball contains the largest part of Death Phantom's soul. His first attempt at immortality. He will be drawn to it. We must move it to the 25th century, to the proper time when he should have risen to power."
"Why are we taking this too?" Chibiusa asked, lifting up the dark earring's bubble.
"It needs to be found by the same young boy who will pick up the crystal ball and return the Phantom to a corporeal form."
"Prince Diamonde," Chibiusa frowned. "Then… we're the ones who are going to turn him evil."
"No," Pluto interrupted quickly. "You are only bringing it to its proper time. It is still his choice whether to turn down that path."
Her gaze flicked to Michiru, who had once more wrapped her arms around her waist and had tucked herself into Uranus' side, avoiding their eyes as she focused resolutely on the floor. Pluto shared a look with Uranus. There would be repercussions from this, surely. But they had not the time to deal with them now. They were needed.
"Do you have your wand?" Uranus asked.
Michiru frowned. "It… I lost it."
"That's alright," Uranus raised her own, summoning Michiru's. The hazel-and-mermaid-hair wand zipped around the doorway and into Uranus' hand, but shivered as she placed it in Michiru's grip.
What have I done?! Michiru thought, still reeling from her experiences.
"Can you transform?" Uranus murmured.
Mutely, she nodded. With the dark crystal no longer interfering, she could feel her natural power surging back.
Uranus brow furrowed in concern. More than anything, she wanted to get Michiru away from battle, to make sure she was alright. Instead she was sending her right back into one. She glanced up at Pluto. "Do we have time?"
Pluto shook her head. "Lestrange's involvement with this battle means I cannot see it clearly, we can not let it go on too long without being there ourselves."
"The Princess needs us," Michiru whispered.
"Yes," Uranus said. "And Hotaru."
That brought strength back to Michiru. "Hotaru?"
"She's been tasked with guarding the diadem in our absence," Pluto said. "And will have to make the call whether to destroy it and Nephrite if it is endangered by the Death Eaters."
"We have to help her," Michiru decided. She looked up at Uranus. "I'm okay. Let's go."
Uranus nodded. "Alright," she looked over at the group of young senshi who had clustered around Megumi. "You'll all come back after you're done, I hope? There's still a lot we could use your help with."
"We will," Chibiusa smiled and crossed her heart, "promise."
Megumi tapped her staff on the floor, summoning a set of tall, bronze time doors that swung open, bathing the room in golden light. They shielded their eyes as the time travelers walked through. The doors were fading away before they had fully shut.
Pluto had already summoned her own time doors. "Let's go." she said.
The group of five of them walked through her own doors, wands ready to emerge into the battle unfolding half a planet away.
~I Solemnly Swear I Am Up to No Good~