AUTHOR'S NOTES: Another One!
DISCLAIMER: I do not own Harry Potter, and I do not intend to make any money off of this. Harry Potter is the intellectual property of J. K. Rowling , and I take no credit of it whatsoever.
I was also inspired by Demon Eyes Laharl's: THE RED KNIGHT! and also from Random-Fruitcake04's: CHOICES! I hope you check them out as well because they are genuinely very good stories.
There's also a couple more Ron fics out that are on point! They're called 'There and Back Again' by Chuchi Otaku, and 'Cooking Like a Bachelor' by Avatar Vader. Please, go check 'em out! You won't regret it, spread the Ron love, people!
P.S: Starway Man is a chad! (I'm never removing this)
Chapter 145 – Dreams of Salvation
Ronald Weasley's POV
Ron stepped out of the shower, drying himself off before standing perfectly still in front of a mirror. His haunted eyes scanned the unmarred body in the reflection in absolute silence, envying it despite not wanting to. It was perfect, tall and toned, and not stained by the cruelty of the Entity and his own stupidity. It made him feel ashamed of himself, so very ashamed, for he knew that he could never achieve what this Ron had achieved. He himself had ruined any chance of obtaining such a life, nor did he deserve it. He was a monster, whereas the man staring back him through the reflection was a husband and a father. I'm unfit to walk about in his skin… I'm sorry, mate… All I can do is promise to leave as soon as I figure out what's going on here.
The last thing Ron remembered before being transported to this place were the Sages whispering to him from the shadows, promising him freedom from his wretched existence and delivering his heart's deepest desires to him. If Fate were behind this, then I reckon she would at least inform me, first. But then again, I doubt she cares for such pleasantries. Fuck… Whatever is going on here, I need to put an end to it and get back to the mountain. I… I left the Headmaster, Professor Snape, and Artyom behind… How could I do that to them?
Ron frowned at himself, averting his gaze from the mirror and stepping out of the bathroom. Ignoring the modest bedroom entirely, he searched for some clothes to wear, eventually finding his favourite suits hanging inside the spacious closet to the left of the bed. It can't be… These are my suits, all of them. His unblemished right hand felt the material, immediately recognising it as the exact same from his own life. Even the lining inside is Basilisk skin… These are literally my suits!
Astounded, he looked about the closet in awe, even smiling a little when he noticed that Daphne's many dresses filled the majority of the closet, with only a small space reserved for his own clothes. He must spoil her, eh? I mean, I'd do the same, if I were in his place. Merlin, I hope this is some dream, and I'm not actually possessing this poor bloke. If I am, then-…
Ron shook his head clear, banishing the horrible thought of a good man losing his life, only to be replaced by a creature such as himself. Carefully, he picked out a dark navy suit, dressing himself slowly as to not crease the suit before selecting a tie to match. Again, I own ties just like these… This is mental, and I need to start collecting information if I'm to figure out what's really going on here, but more and more, I get the feeling that the Sages are behind this, and not Fate.
Stepping out of the bedroom, he was greeted by a long corridor, also furnished in a most pleasing manner. The walls were made of a darkened wood, a white rug covered the flooring, and pictures of family and friends could be found in abundance on the walls and the hallway tables. Ron moved silently through the upper floor, stopping in front of a portrait of his grinning self and a smiling Daphne, both of them holding each other and dressed in wedding attire. They look happy together. Truly happy. And she looks beautiful. Bloody hell, he's a lucky bastard, isn't he?
Once again, he caught himself smiling, but was quick to school his features. This wasn't his life, and he needed to return to his own as soon as possible in order to search for his friends. For all I know, they're dead… And if that's the case, then the Sages will shortly follow. If they've hurt the Headmaster, then I'll-…
Marty suddenly cracked into the hallway, right beside Ron, making him jump a little. Sweet fucking Merlin, why does he always do that?!
"Ron, breakfast is ready," Marty beamed, shooting a glance towards the wedding portrait. "Ah, this one is Marty's favourite! Marty has never seen Ron so happy as that fateful day!" Right… Hold on! Marty! He'll answer all my questions, won't he?
"Yes, ahem…" Ron cleared his throat, putting on a charming smile. "How could I not be happy? Just look at her." I mean, really… Look at her! What wizard wouldn't be happy knowing he snagged himself such a witch?
"Mistress often says the same," Marty chuckled. "About Ron, that is." Happily married to this day, then? That's nice… Shame that I'm here now, which means everything's about to go to the dogs.
"How long has it been, now, eh?" Ron sighed out, pretending to be nostalgic.
"Just over six years," Marty smiled fondly. "Six good years, full of love and laughter." …The last six years of my life have been anything but that… "Come, now, Lady Cedrella is beginning to grow impatient." The kid?
"Why?" Ron asked, and Marty blinked.
"…Ron promised to take the young Lady out today, to Diagon Alley," Marty replied slowly, studying the man before him. "Is Ron unwell? Marty can take-"
"No, I'm fine," Ron assured him, drawing in a deep breath. I could get even more information in Diagon Alley, now that I think about it. Asking strangers questions about this world won't raise as much suspicion. "Take me to her, won't you, mate? It'd be poor form to keep the little one waiting."
"Yes, most definitely," Marty smiled again, offering Ron his hand. Wait, Apparating might fuck me up-… "Ron? Is everything all right? Marty is beginning to grow concerned." Oh, fuck it. Being indecisive now will just give me away.
"Everything is perfectly fine," Ron lied, taking Marty's hand.
The Elf Apparated them without hesitation, and when they landed, Ron found that he didn't even feel dizzy, let alone sick. Well, that's nice, isn't it? Usually, I'd be on the floor by now-…
"Daddy's here!" Cedrella shouted from the dining table, and Ron looked to see her sitting next to an even younger child, a very familiar blonde boy, causing his face to lose all of its blood. Is-… It that you, Lysander? What the fuck? What are you doing here?!
Ron began to stare at the toddler, and soon realized that the boy wasn't truly Lysander, though they looked eerily similar. Wait, this doesn't make any sense. Two children? How is that even possible? Daphne can't risk having more than one child, her Bloodline is supposed to be Cursed-…
"Marty will fetch Ron's eggs and bacon," Marty said, heading off towards the adjoining kitchen, leaving Ron alone with the two children. I should say something… Gawking at them won't get me any answers.
"Hello, you two," Ron greeted awkwardly, watching Cedrella munch on her apple slices with great zeal. "How are you doing?" How are you doing? That's the best I've got? What the fuck is wrong with me?
"Here, daddy!" Cedrella giggled, waving an apple slice at him. "Eat it! It's yummy!" She's quite loud, not that I mind. I'm sorry for not picking you up earlier, and I'm even more sorry about wearing your father's skin. I'd promise to give him back to you in one piece, but I doubt that'll be the case. "Daddy? You don't want apples?"
"No, you go ahead and enjoy them," Ron answered, breaking out of his thoughts and taking a seat at the head of the table. "I'll just wait for my foo-…"
Ron stopped short, spotting the golden pin he had gifted to Daphne, all the way back in first year, clipped to Cedrella's hair, which was no longer styled in pigtails, as it hung freely down to her neck. It's the exact same fucking pin… Why does she have it? Ron reached out to touch it, but Cedrella quickly covered her head and dodged his hand. Shit-…
"No, daddy!" she whined, and Ron promptly pulled his hand back. "That's mine! Mummy gave it to me, okay?!"
"…Sorry," Ron apologized, letting out a nervous chuckle. "I didn't mean to scare you there, I'm sorry. It's just that… Well, I gave her that pin back in first year…"
"First year?" Cedrella asked, eyeing him suspiciously.
"Oh, first year of Hogwarts, I meant," Ron elaborated, shooting a quick glance at the toddler. It's uncanny how similar he and Lysander look. "When did she give it to you?"
"On my birthday," Cedrella replied, picking up another slice and devouring it in record time. "Oh! And she bought me lots and lots of dresses too! Like this one!" Cedrella hopped out of her chair, doing a twirl to show off her sleeved, sky-blue dress, even pulling on the white bow in the front just in case he had failed to see it. "It's my favourite! And it's blue! Like my eyes! I love blue!" Okay, then…
"It's very… pretty…" Ron put on a smile, shooting yet another glance at the silent toddler. Fuck me, this is exactly how I imagined Lysander would look as he got older. "Your mum's always had good taste, and I like blue as well-…"
"Why are you looking at him, daddy?" Cedrella interrupted him, pouting as she stared down at her dress. "You don't like it?"
"Oh, no, of course I do," Ron assured her, even though he couldn't have cared less. "It looks perfect on you, I swear. It's as if it was made just for you."
"Promise?" Cedrella asked, appearing somewhat appeased.
"I promise," Ron replied, even giving her a proper smile. "I'm just a bit tired, Cedrella, but that's my problem. Don't let your… old man… ruin your mood, okay? You look like a princess, and I mean it."
Cedrella beamed at him, hopping back onto her chair and staring at Ron. "You're being silly today, daddy. Silly and weird." Yep, that sounds about right. "When are we going to diagonally?" Where? Oh, she means Diagon Alley. "I want to see the shops! And I want ice-cream! I love ice-cream! Do you love ice-cream, daddy?" Merlin, she loves talking, that's for certain.
"I do, and we'll go after breakfast," Ron decided, shifting in his chair as he shot the boy one more look. "Um, just quickly, why isn't your brother eating?"
"I don't know," Cedrella shrugged, before something flashed behind her eyes. "Do the choo-choo, daddy! He eats when you do the choo-choo!" The fucking what? Oh, just go along with it! She seems sharp, and she's already sensing that something's off with her father.
"…Choo-choo," Ron spoke to the toddler, but the boy just stared back at him. "It's not working…"
"No, daddy," Cedrella huffed, picking up a slice and bringing it to the boy's lips. "Choo-choo! Choo-choo!"
The boy turned his head away, waving his tiny arms about, much to Cedrella's annoyance. Oh, I get what she means, now. Mum used to do that for us, I'm pretty sure.
"Here, let me try," Ron got out of his chair, taking the slice from Cedrella and moving it about in front of the boy as if it were a train. "Oh, look, it's the Hogwarts Express! Choo-choo! It's going to leave if you don't take it, and you'll miss out on Hogwarts! Now's your only chance! Choo-choo!"
The toddler laughed and grabbed Ron's hand, biting into the apple in order to keep it still. Ron smiled fondly without even realizing it, scratching the top of the boy's head lightly with his free hand. He's very cute, they both are. I wouldn't mind if even a handful of my mornings were so peaceful. Maybe that's why mum and dad had so many kids? Our house wasn't as grand as this one, but things were still good. Merlin, I really miss those days. The days before the Entity… Before all of the madness…
"Sorry for making you wait, Ron," Marty said as he entered the room, stopping and smiling at Ron and the boy. "Ah, at last! Young Master Septimus never eats unless Ron, or, the Mistress are doing the feeding." Septimus, eh? My grandfather's name? First, Cedrella, and now this. I like both names, and I get the feeling that that's why they're named as such. Everything here is just so… perfect.
"Just leave my plate on the table, Marty," Ron said, deciding to feed the boy first. "I'll eat after Septimus here finishes his breakfast."
Albus Dumbledore's POV
"Albus, lunch is ready!" Kendra Dumbledore, his mother, called from downstairs. "Boy, you had best be dead in there! Sleeping in this late?! Your father will be here any minute for his lunch break! Wake up!"
Albus shot a quick glance at his door, but remained seated on his childhood bed, regardless of his 'mother's' call. Whatever was going on here, it was not real, and Albus refused to play a part in it. He was no longer the auburn-haired, boy he had seen in the mirror upon first waking up, nor was he so easily tempted as he had been in his youth.
None of this was real, and Albus needed to find a way to break free of this illusion. I need to return to those caves. Severus and Ronald… They're my priority. I have to find my way back to them before it's too late. Those Sages, they planned this. They attacked our greatest regrets and brought us to our knees… They will pay for using my sister's memory against me. They will pay most dearly!
A half-hearted knock at his door interrupted his wrathful thoughts, but once again, Albus remained silent. It's not real. Don't give in-…
"Alby?" came the soft voice of his little sister, and Albus clenched his fists. Damn them! "Alby, mummy is getting mad. Wake up, please."
Albus looked to the door, feeling his heart clench painfully, for he knew that it always saddened Ariana to be ignored by him. She was a sweet, shy girl, and so, she had never given voice to her feelings of rejection, but as he had grown older and wiser, he had come to realize just how often he had cast her aside in favour of his own ambitions. She must've felt so unloved because of me, when it should've been different. I should've protected her with my talents, not scorned her for 'getting in the way'. I was such a petty, foolish boy-…
"Sorry, Alby, I'll go…" Ariana apologized, and he heard her little feet dragging away from his door. No! Come back!
Unable to stop himself, Albus rushed out of the room, freezing in place when he saw her turn around at the end of the hallway. Merlin's Beard… She looks exactly as I remember her before those boys attacked her… I thought I'd forgotten her voice, but clearly, it still lingers deep within my mind.
"Sorry if I woke you…" Ariana apologized again, hugging her diary and looking down at her feet. "Are you angry with me?"
"No, of course not!" Albus promised her, feeling guilty over the fact that she would even entertain such a thought. "I'm glad you knocked on my door, Ari. Come over here, won't you?" Albus, this is all a lie… Don't let it tempt you so easily…
Ariana hesitated, shooting a look down the stairs before walking over slowly, all the while staring down at her feet. She'd always had trouble maintaining eye-contact with others, save for their father and Aberforth, but seeing how timid she used to be around him hurt Albus deeply, for he knew that it was his fault, as he'd always found reasons to neglect her and would often scold her whenever she would interrupt his studies. All those books couldn't even begin to fill the hole her passing left behind. I never realized how much I loved her until it was too late… Until she had died by my hand…
"Did I do something wrong?" Ariana muttered, hugging her diary more tightly. "Were you studying again?"
"No, you didn't do anything wrong… Not ever," Albus kneeled down, staring at the blonde girl with tears brimming in his eyes. "I was just sleeping, but now, I'm wide-awake. Thank you."
Ever so slowly, he reached forward and took her by the shoulders, gently pulling her into a hug. He knew that she didn't enjoy being touched by others, but he was unable to stop himself. He'd dreamed of this very moment for nearly a century, so much so that he found himself trembling. I'm so sorry I hurt you, sister… I wish I could take it all back… I would give anything just for you to be happy and healthy-…
"Why are you crying?" Ariana asked aloofly, while Albus sniffled over her shoulder. Get a hold of yourself, Albus. You're worrying her needlessly.
"I'm crying because I love you," Albus pulled back, wiping his eyes clear and giving her a shaky smile. "And I never give you enough hugs."
The little girl looked pleasantly surprised, her cheeks becoming rosy as she smiled nervously. "You love me?"
"More than anything in this world," Albus laughed, his voice cracking. "Can… Can I pick you up, please? Take you downstairs?"
Ariana looked a bit uncomfortable with the idea, but regardless, she gave a weak nod. Rising to his feet, Albus carefully lifted her up and placed her against his hip, being mindful of her yellow dress. When she wrapped her tiny arms around his neck, the wound left behind by her untimely death felt soothed for the very first time, and it took all of his strength to stop himself from tearing up again. Instead, he shot her a loving smile as he began heading for the stairs, content to just hold her close to him for as long as she would allow.
"Can we play today?" Ariana asked as they neared the stairs. "In the garden?"
Albus froze immediately, as it finally occurred to him what day this was. They wouldn't dare-… Today's the day she gets attacked by those Muggle boys, isn't it? The Sages are giving me the chance to save her? He didn't know whether to be grateful to the serpents for this opportunity, or, to bury them under their mountain for torturing him thus. The only thing he was certain about in this moment was that he would not ignore Ariana's request for his pre-Hogwarts studies, not this time.
"We don't have to if you're busy…" Ariana whispered, looking dejected. "Sorry…"
"No, we can play for as long as you want, Ari," Albus promised, tightening his hold absentmindedly. They will not touch her this time! I will not allow it!
"Really?" Ariana's eyes twinkled. "You really mean it?!"
"I do," Albus nodded, walking down the stairs. "How about after lunch?"
"Can Aberforth play too?" Ariana asked, and Albus gave another nod. "Thank you, Alby! We can play hide-and-seek!"
"If that's what you want, then that's what we'll do," Albus chuckled at her excitement, giving her a kiss on the cheek. Was there ever a sweeter girl than her?
"Finally!" Kendra huffed as Albus entered the kitchen, turning from the stove in order to scold him, but stopping short when she saw him carrying his little sister on his hip.
"Good afternoon, mother," Albus greeted the tall witch, not failing to notice that her hair was still jet-black, and not greying due to the stress of hiding an Obscurial from the Wizarding World. "I'm sorry for sleeping in, again."
Kendra blinked, since when did her eldest son apologize for anything?
"…It's fine, love," Kendra said slowly, looking between Ariana and Albus before turning back to her stove. "Take a seat, both of you. Aberforth, set the table, will you?"
Albus looked towards the sink, finally noticing his grumpy younger brother. As always, Aberforth was frowning at him, no doubt upset that he was forced to do all the chores around the house, whereas Albus had the freedom to do whatever he pleased.
"I don't understand why I have to do it, mother," Aberforth turned to their mother. "Albus is the one who's late, and I helped you cook-"
"None of that, Aberforth," Kendra clicked her tongue, shooting him a frown as she waved the ladle about. "I asked you to do it, not Albus. That's all that matters."
"…Of course…" Aberforth grumbled, before quietly going about his task.
Albus watched quietly, once again feeling guilty over how poorly he had treated his younger siblings during their childhood. Very early in Albus' life, his parents had come to the realization that he was going to change the world one day, and more often than not, he was spoiled rotten as a result. Even when his parents were facing financial troubles, they had always made sure that Albus received whatever tome piqued his interest in the slightest, no matter the price, encouraging him to become the great man they knew he was destined to be. I rarely ever did chores around the house, and so, it all fell on Aberforth's shoulders. He cooked, he cleaned, he did the washing, he watched over Ariana, and never once did I thank him for it. My greatness stole his childhood from him, his potential. He has every right to despise me, especially after what I robbed him of his beloved sister as well.
"Alby? Mummy said to sit," Ariana whispered to him, and Albus smiled at her before doing as he was told.
Once Ariana was settled into her favourite chair, Albus returned to watching Aberforth set the table, shooting him a sorry smile as he set a plate before Albus. I should apologize to him-…
"What are you smiling at, huh?" Aberforth growled. "I've been working like a mule from the moment I woke up, and here you are… The princeling ponce himself-"
"Aberforth!" Kendra snapped, shooting him a threatening look. "Show your brother some respect! He's your elder!"
"Then, maybe, he ought to act like it once in a while!" Aberforth shot back, he had inherited their mother's temper and stubbornness, after all.
In days past, Albus would have been content to watch Aberforth scolded and sent to eat upstairs all by himself, but not now. Now, he found himself agreeing with his younger brother, and so, he finally spoke up.
"He's right, mother," Albus said, keeping his eyes on Aberforth. I'm so sorry for everything, Aberforth. I didn't deserve you, and you certainly didn't deserve to be in my shadow. "I'll clean up after lunch, and then, I'll do the rest of the chores around the house. I should pitch in as well, it's only fair."
Aberforth took a step back, scanning his brother from head to toe in utter bewilderment, while their mother went completely silent and still.
"Albus… Are you unwell?" Kendra asked, which only served to shame and humble Albus even more so.
"No, mother, I just don't want Aberforth to do all the work," Albus answered politely, smiling lovingly at his younger brother. "You can tell me which chores are left during lunch, and I'll sort out the rest."
He suddenly felt Ariana tugging at his sleeve, and he turned to see her staring down at her lap. "What about playing outside? You promised, Alby…"
"And nothing will stop me from keeping that promise," Albus said reassuringly, his heart flooding with warmth when she smiled up at him.
"He's been replaced by an imposter," Aberforth stepped further away from him, looking to their mother. "Some Creature must be possessing him!" You're not too far off, actually.
"Good afternoon all!" Percival suddenly stepped into the kitchen, dressed in his usual work attire. "…What's going on here? Kendra? Are you boys at it, again?"
"Albus has been possessed, father!" Aberforth ran up to the man, pointing an accusing finger at his older brother. "He wants to do chores around the house! And he's promised to play with Ariana!"
"Aberforth, stop that…" Kendra sighed out, before shooting Albus a suspicious look herself. "You're acting very different today, Albus." No, this is how I should have acted all along, but I was too arrogant for my own good. "Are you sure you're feeling well?"
"I feel more than well, mother, I feel wonderful," Albus replied, looking to his confused father. He gave his life for Ariana, dying in that cold, horrid prison just to protect his daughter, and yet, I had the gall to feel ashamed of him up until the day I spat directly in the face of his sacrifice. My father was a better man than me, and he deserved far more from me than my ungratefulness. He deserved my respect and love, but he got neither until it was too late. They all deserved so much better, and I disappointed them all-…
"If you want another tome, Albus, you'll have to wait," Percival told him, and Albus realized that he was staring at the poor man. "I get my next pay-…"
"I'm just happy to see you home, father," Albus said, rising from his chair as Percival sat down.
"I see…" Percival muttered to himself, signalling Albus to sit back down as he shot Aberforth a quick glance. "Kendra, are you sure the boy's not possessed?"
"Will you all stop it, please?" Kendra frowned at her husband and youngest son. "I doubt anything is powerful enough to take possession of him, besides… Come, let's eat before the food gets cold. Aberforth, help your sister-"
"I'll do it," Albus volunteered, and Kendra blinked at him. "I'd like to help her, if that's all right with you, mother."
"Aberforth, go get my wand from upstairs," Kendra ordered, and Albus let out a long sigh. And there goes her patience. Oh well, I doubt they'll discover anything, and if they use Legilimency, I'll easily thwart their efforts. Until I discover a way to break free from this dream, there's no need for me to further hurt any of them. Just seeing them altogether once again, all of them safe and sound, it's already more than I could ever ask for. It's certainly far more than I deserve.
Severus Snape's POV
Snape moved through Hogwarts with a dark scowl plastered on his face, sneering at any student who was unlucky enough to cross his path, until eventually, he found himself standing before the stone gargoyle. This blasted thing… What's the password this time, I wonder?
"Lemon Drops," Snape whispered, and the gargoyle moved out of his way. Of course! Why would it be anything different?!
Not missing a beat, Snape strode up the spiralling staircase and knocked on Albus' door, waiting for an answer. Open up, you old fool! I'm in no mood to wait!
"Come in, Severus," Albus' voice rang out, and Snape pushed himself into the room, slamming the door shut behind him. "Oh, my… In another one of your moods, are you, my boy? Shall I put on some tea?"
"I don't want tea," Snape snarled, marching up to his usual seat and planting himself before Albus, who was smiling fondly at him. "Stop smiling at me, illusion. I've no time for your games, so listen well, for I will not repeat myself. I know you're listening to this, Sages of the Grey Mountain, and I demand you set me free! Whatever game you're playing, you're going to regret it if you don't adhere to my demands. You don't realize who you're dealing with, but I will gladly teach you-"
"Is this some game the youngsters are playing, Severus?" Albus blinked, looking around in confusion. Curse you! I will end each and every single one of you bastards! "Oh, I know! Ahem!" Albus adorned a darker look, and Snape barely stopped himself from dragging the old man across the table. "You have me, Severus Snape, and now-"
"Shut up!" Snape barked, making Albus shrink a little.
"Severus, if you don't give me time to get into character, how am I meant to-?"
"People I care about, my… allies, came to help you," Snape told the Sages, for he knew they were listening. "We put ourselves in harm's way for you, and this is how you repay us? With treachery? I saw you before I went under, I saw you watching us from the darkness. I felt you in my mind, and I will not forgive that intrusion lightly. Put an end to this now, and maybe, I'll spare your young. Maybe."
"Okay… I think this is what Poppy would call a 'mental breakdown', I think," Albus muttered to himself, and Snape clenched his fists under the table.
"So be it, then," Snape rose out of the chair, sneering at the alarmed old wizard in front of him. "You chose this, not me. Remember that when I reduce you all to ash and bone."
With that, Snape marched over to the fireplace, ignoring Albus' pleas to return and discuss things further, quickly preparing the floo for The Leaky Cauldron and striding through the green flames. Once he was on the other side, he waved his wand and sealed the floo shut behind him in order to stop the illusion from following him any further. I need to figure out what is going on here, first. I remember the caves, and then, I woke up in my chambers at Hogwarts. My leg, my hand, my eye… All of it has been restored somehow, which I know is impossible given the Magic that slippery bastard used on me. Whatever is going on here, it's not real, and those damn Sages are behind it all.
"Morning, Professor," Tom greeted from behind the bar, smiling and waving at him as he walked over. "You're here awful early-"
"Silence," Snape hissed, coming to a stop at the bar. "I have questions for you, bartender, and you will answer them all. If you cooperate, you will be reimbursed accordingly. Am I clear?" I should just use Legilimency on him, but who knows how that will pan out. The Sages could use the connection to further confuse me with deception.
Tom blinked repeatedly, before looking around for anyone who was eavesdropping. Once he was certain that they were truly alone, he leaned forward and knocked on the counter twice.
"You had me at reimbursed, Professor," Tom grinned, his eyes gleaming at the prospect of making money before noon. Seems that, even in this false world, information can be bought with gold. I have never seen illusions this powerful before. It could be that the Sages are using my own memories to fuel this false world. It is an interesting form of Magic, and I look forward to studying it further when I return to the real world.
"Tell me the date, first," Snape ordered, and Tom looked confused at the bizarre question. "Humour me."
"…Sunday, the twenty-eighth of March, 1994," Tom answered slowly. What?! That was the exact date we set out to heal the mountain!
"Who is the Minister for Magic?" Snape continued.
"Amelia Bones," Tom replied, looking even more baffled. "Sir, did you hit your head-?"
"No, and unless you want me to hit you on the head, you'll keep answering me," Snape warned, dropping his coin pouch on the counter. "You hear that clinking? All of it can be yours if you just do as you're told."
Tom eyed the pouch, and then, he let out a long sigh. "Sounds fair to me, Professor, though I must confess, it feels as though I'm stealing from you on a bad day."
"Tell me more about Amelia Bones," Snape ignored the illusion's pointless chatter. "Why is she the Minister, and not Fudge?" Don't tell me Ron butchered him in this world as well.
"Fudge was a corrupt crook, Professor," Tom frowned distastefully. "Bastard was making himself fat on the gold of those Pure-Blood Supremacists, but Madam Bones put an end to that! Showed the whole Wizarding World his true colours and had him locked up in Azkaban. May he rot!" I see… That is the outcome Albus and I had wanted, before Ron took matters into his own hands.
"So, he's locked up, but what about the Supremacists who were filling his pockets?" Snape asked. "What of Lucius Malfoy?"
"Malfoy?" Tom blinked. "Um… Him and his wife have been locked away since the end of the Great War, Professor, thanks to you and the Order." What…? "The bastards who were giving Fudge gold are from overseas. You know how foreigners are, right? They think they can do whatever they want in our country."
"What of Draco Malfoy?" Snape asked before thinking. I didn't see him at Hogwarts, but then again, it's a big castle.
"Um… Correct me if I'm wrong, but I heard that you were looking after the lad yourself," Tom was beginning to look more and more suspicious. "You're his Godfather, aren't you? I tell you; it must've been a real shock for his parents to find out that you were an Order spy all along! Not that they didn't deserve everything bad that came their way!" Me? An Order spy right from the start?
Snape took a step back, slowly realizing what was going on in this false world. It had always been a quiet dream of his to have approached Albus before joining the Death-Eaters, acting as a spy for the Order, and eventually, helping them bring down the Dark Lord and his forces from the inside. It was a pathetic fantasy, he knew that, but his life could've been different if he had been less arrogant about his talents and not greedy for the approval of others. If the Sages are truly giving me a world that I always dreamed of, then that must mean…
"Keep the gold," Snape said absentmindedly, Apparating to Godric's Hollow before Tom could even answer.
Snape landed right outside the house of Lily and James Potter, gawking in shock when he saw that the house was not in shambles as he remembered it, but rather, was perfectly maintained. It cannot be… She… She's still alive, isn't she? In this world, I never shared the Prophecy with the Dark Lord. I didn't cause her death, nor the death of Potter.
After a minute of silence, Snape finally found the courage to walk over to the picket gate, pushing it open and stepping into the Potters' Magical garden. Crossing the threshold had revealed the splendour within, and Snape eyed the many Magical plants that Lily, no doubt, had planted all on her own, as Potter was too stupid to appreciate Herbology. I don't understand… If the Dark Lord never attacked the Potters, then how was he defeated? Does the Prophecy not exist in this world? If that's the case, then the Sages must've seen it when they were inside our minds. Damn… Only Merlin knows how much information they've gathered from us.
Careful not to tread on any of Lily's plants, Snape kneeled down beside a bed of Dittany, finding them to be healthy and strong. Dark green leaves and dark green stems, all of them. Good. She must be using Dragon Manure as the fertilizer, just as I taught her. That, or, she's using a substitute such as Manticore Manure-…
"Sev?!" Lily's voice came from behind him, only this time, he wasn't trapped inside one of his nightmares. "Is that really you? What are you doing in my garden, you silly goose?"
Snape remained perfectly still, his heart pounding in his throat out of sheer dread. Lily was still alive, and now, she was right behind him. He didn't know what to do, he hadn't exactly thought this through, which he was sorely regretting now. How was he supposed to explain his presence near her home, much less in the middle of her garden?
He heard her approach him, but he remained perfectly still, right up until the point of her tapping him on the shoulder. "Sev? Are you listening? What are you doing here?"
"I…" Snape started, standing up and turning to face her, only to find his throat closing up at the mere sight of her. "Lily…"
She was slightly older than he remembered, but as beautiful and full of light as always. Her brilliant eyes and infectious smile filled him with infinite shame and remorse, and he found that he could not bring himself to look her in the eye. It's not real… She's not real… The real Lily died because of me, and that won't ever change-…
"Are you all right, Sev?" she asked worriedly, her nickname for him making him wince internally. "Why aren't you at Hogwarts? Oh, no… Don't tell me Harry's been causing you trouble, again… That boy… I don't know what to do about him, sometimes!" Harry? Does that mean that she still married James bloody Potter? Why?
"No, no…" Snape cleared his throat, using his Occlumency to steady himself a little. "He's nothing to brag about, certainly, but he gets his work done. Most of the time." Your son is an idiot, just like his father.
"Oh, good," she looked very relieved to hear that. "Then, why are you here? Did James tell you that I'm making roast for lunch?" Potter is still alive? He didn't die in the war?
Snape drew in a sharp breath, finally noticing the bag of groceries she was carrying. "Um… No-"
"It's all right," she sighed in an exaggerating manner, before smiling at him just as she used to. "Come inside, I'll feed you properly. You're looking a bit peaky, today." I always look peaky…
"You don't have to trouble yourself…" Snape averted his gaze again, ashamed that she would even offer him a meal after how he had treated her. "I was just passing through-"
"Well, it's a good thing I saw you, then," Lily took him by the arm, all but dragging him towards the house. "You know me, don't you? I always make too much! Poor James is starting to get fat because of me!" Is he? That would be a sight to see, considering how arrogant he was about his physique.
"Please, you don't have to-"
"Oh, hush," she silenced him with a laugh, wilful as always. "You can help me prepare! You've always been better at preparing ingredients than me, so you might as well pitch in! Plus, we never get to see each other anymore! You're always busy with the kids at Hogwarts, and I miss my friend, Sev!"
Ronald Weasley's POV
"I'm ready, daddy!" Cedrella ran over to him and stopped by his leg, putting her arms up. "Up! Up!"
"Come here," Ron laughed, lifting her up and planting her on his shoulders. "Hold onto my head, all right? I don't want you falling over."
"Okay!" Cedrella tightened her legs around his neck and held onto the sides of his face, giggling in anticipation. "Let's go! I want to see all the shops!"
"Hold on a minute," Ron felt warm all over due to her childish excitement, she was simply adorable. "Marty, are you sure you don't want to come with?"
"Marty must care for young Master Septimus," Marty said from the couch, rocking little Septimus on his skinny knee. "Ron should enjoy this sunny day with the young Mistress. Marty will still be here when Ron returns."
"He can come with, can't he?" Ron asked, and Marty quickly shook his head.
"Mistress will be home soon, and young Master Septimus has a play-date to attend," Marty replied, and Ron gave a nod. A play-date, hm? With whom, I wonder?
"Daddy! I want to go!" Cedrella pulled at his hair. Ow! You little monster!
"Okay, okay," Ron chuckled, reaching up and pinching her side.
"No!" she laughed, batting his hand away. "I'm don't like tickles!" Good, that makes us even, then.
"I'll be home soon, mate," Ron bid Marty farewell, shooting one last smile at the ogling Septimus before stepping through the floo, being mindful to lower himself for Cedrella's sake.
The smells and sounds of The Leaky Cauldron bombarded them as soon as they were through the green flames, and once Ron had straightened up again, he looked around the jolly tavern in astonishment. Despite the early hour, The Leaky Cauldron was packed with happy customers, all of them laughing loudly and chatting with gusto. Merlin, everyone looks so happy… It's brilliant!
"Mr. Weasley," a patron broke off his conversation just to greet him as he passed by, and Ron smiled and gave him a respectful nod in return.
"Loved the latest issue, dear," an older witch hailed, stepping out of his way. Issue? She must be talking about The Quibbler, I bet. "You keep up the good fight, won't you?"
"Thank you, Madam," Ron said gratefully. "And I promise, I will." I'm almost certain now that Fate has nothing to do with whatever is going on here. It's as if all my dreams have come true. People are happy, there's no war, and if my theory is correct, then there are no more Death-Eaters either. No Lord Voldemort. This is the perfect world. My perfect world.
By the time he had reached the door leading out to Diagon Alley, over a dozen people had approached him just to say hello, a kindness he had happily returned every single time. It filled him with joy to see how content everyone was in this world, none of them being bogged down by life's many struggles and disappointments. They were living life the way it should be lived, with merry smiles and kindness in their hearts. And because of that, this world doesn't need the Champion. It doesn't need a monster prowling its shadows, causing untold pain and bringing about such despair that people turn away from cruelty out of fear of his wrath.
"Daddy, you're famous!" Cedrella boasted as they made their way outside, sounding very proud of him. "You know everyone!"
"Certainly seems that way, doesn't it?" Ron sniggered, blushing a bit. "I didn't really know them, though, they were just being polite."
"Polite?" Cedrella repeated slowly.
"Yes, polite. It's when you're well-behaved and respectful towards other people."
"Am I polite?" Cedrella asked him.
"Hmmm," Ron hummed, pretending to think it over. "Do you say 'thank you' whenever your mum buys you dresses and sweets?"
"I do!" she answered immediately. "And I say sorry when I break things too! But I don't really mean it…" Ha! She's definitely a Weasley! "Is that bad?"
"It's not polite to say sorry without meaning it, but many people don't even do that, so I'll give you a pass," Ron replied, being careful not to hurt her feelings, but also attempting to teach her an important lesson. "How about we make a deal? I'll buy you ice-cream and whatever else you want today, and in the future, you'll try to understand why your mum gets upset when you break things. That will definitely help you mean it."
"Okay!" she readily agreed, much to Ron's amusement. "Can we get ice-cream, now?! Please, daddy?!" While she eats her ice-cream, I'll have time to read a paper and ask the locals some questions. Sounds like a good plan.
"I don't see why not," Ron chuckled, stepping up to the brick wall which acted as the gate into Diagon Alley. "Have you been to Diagon Alley before?"
"I told you, daddy, mummy buys me dresses," Cedrella replied haughtily. "Where else would we go?" That makes sense-… Wait, did a five-year-old just sass me? Eh, I deserved it, that was a pretty stupid question.
Counting the bricks above the trash can, three up and two across, Ron tapped his finger against the Charmed brick three times, before taking a step back. The brick wriggled, much to Cedrella's delight, before a small hole appeared in the middle, growing wider and wider until the brick wall had become a brick archway, one that led directly onto the famous cobbled street.
"Mind your head," Ron said, stepping through the archway and into Diagon Alley.
As they made their way into the bustling crowd and up the street, Cedrella began making sounds that could only be described as 'happy noises', her head darting from one shop to another in awe and curiosity. She asked question after question, not even giving Ron enough time to answer her, which he thought was beyond cute. He still remembered the first time he had seen Diagon Alley, clinging to his mother's leg and constantly pestering her about every tiny detail. I think that was the first time I realized that we were poor, because mum only ever took us to the second-hand shops. I'm glad Cedrella never has to feel that way, and that Daphne and I have the means to spoil her and Septimus.
Ron came to a stop in front of Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour, removing Cedrella from his shoulders and planting her on her feet. "Do you know which flavour you want, Cedrella? What's your favourite?"
"Apple!" Cedrella threw her hands in the air. "I love apples!"
"This could be your life, Ron, but not like this," a young girl whispered in his ear from behind them, but when Ron turned around, he saw only the large crowd of people going about their days. Who was that?! She was right behind me, I felt it!
"Daddy?" Cedrella tugged at his trousers, and Ron slowly looked down at her.
"Did you hear that, Cedrella?" Ron asked the tiny girl, who tilted her head in confusion.
"Hear what, daddy?" Cedrella asked, while Ron felt goosebumps on the back of his neck. There was definitely someone behind us. She all but whispered in my fucking ear!
"…It's… nothing," Ron said, deciding not to worry Cedrella. "Let's go inside, eh? Here, hold onto my hand, and don't let go."
"Okay!" Cedrella reached up and took his pinkie into her hand, holding on tightly. "Daddy has big hands! Like a gorilla!" Wow… That actually hurt a little…
"Careful, or, these big hands will start tickling you," Ron warned, looking around one last time before opening the door and heading inside.
As always, there was a long line of children and parents waiting to give their orders, all of them eager to taste Mr. Fortescue's genius. It didn't take long, however, for people to start noticing him. I really am famous, aren't I? Not sure how I feel about-…
"Mr. Weasley, you can go before me," the witch in front of him offered, much to his and her small son's surprise. Why, huh? What do you want from me?
"Um… No, thank you, that's quite all right," Ron refused, immediately feeling Cedrella tug on his finger.
"Daddy, I don't want to wait," the little redhead whined, pouting.
"They were here before us, Cedrella, and they have the right to order first," Ron lectured, and Cedrella's pout grew evermore miserable. "Remember what we discussed outside? About being polite? Waiting for your turn is the polite thing to do. You're a polite girl, aren't you?"
"…I am…" Cedrella grumbled, before looking up to the witch. "…Sorry…" Yep, she doesn't mean that in the slightest, but it's still progress.
"Oh, don't be, princess!" the witch cooed, while her son looked awfully relieved with keeping his spot. "You're just a button, aren't you?! The cutest button in the world!" Stop making weird noises at my daughter, and stop calling her a-…
Ron paused, had he just thought of Cedrella as his daughter? It had felt wrong to do so, because he knew that this wasn't really his life, and yet, it had also felt right, because he knew that he wanted it to be. Deep down, in the bottom of his very soul, he wanted nothing more than to be what he was right now; a doting father and a loving husband. He wanted to be a normal human being, living his life to the fullest and not wasting a precious second of it. I just want to be Ronald Bilius Weasley, again… Not the Champion, not some avenging Angel, not some murderous 'Hell-spawn'… Just Ron… Just human.
He had spent so long wishing for an end to his miserable tale, but was death really the only ending he could hope for? This ending wouldn't be so bad, I reckon. Being married to Daphne, having a family, continuing my good works all over the Wizarding World… Yeah, that wouldn't be so bad at all-…
"Do you know what you want, daddy?" Cedrella tugged at his finger, breaking him out of his thoughts. What do I want? I think, I finally do.
"I'll get apple as well," Ron smiled down at her, and she beamed in response. "And since you were polite, you can have as much ice-cream as you like."
"Really?!" Cedrella looked ready to burst with joy, tightening her hold on his finger. "I love you, daddy!"
"…I… I love you too."
Albus Dumbledore's POV
"Ariana? I'm done with my chores," Albus stepped out into his childhood garden, eagerly searching for his little sister. "Are you ready to play, now?"
Ariana was sitting under the shade of their mother's favourite tree, an old English Oak, and Aberforth sat beside her, holding onto a pair of dolls with a dull expression on his face. He's here too. Good. The two of us will be more than enough to keep those boys from hurting her. Waving at his siblings, Albus began making his way over to them, his mind racing. He still remembered the events which had led to his sister's trauma, how he had locked himself away in his room to study, whilst Aberforth was forced to take care of the house in their parents' absence, and as a result, Ariana had to play alone. And when those boys attacked her, she was defenceless… I should've been there for her. I should've protected her.
"How are you done already?" Aberforth frowned at him, his eyes narrowing on Albus. "Did you clean out the chimney?"
"I did," Albus smiled at his suspicious brother. It took a wave of my hand, nothing more.
"Did you wash all the dishes?" Aberforth continued.
"You can see your reflection in them," Albus promised.
"You can be Mrs. Penny, Alby," Ariana spoke up, holding out a doll for Albus. "She likes tea, and she's in love with Mr. Burton." Mrs. Penny and Mr. Burton… Weren't they our neighbours at the time?
"What?" Aberforth looked mightily displeased, as he was holding 'Mr. Burton'. "I don't want to be him, then. That's weird. Give me Mr. Adams."
"No…" Ariana pouted, lowering her gaze and hugging Mr. Adams to her chest. "…I want to be Mr. Adams…"
"Give him to me, Ariana," Aberforth demanded, and she shrunk in her spot.
"Aberforth," Albus raised his voice a little, and when Aberforth looked in his direction defiantly, Albus' war-hardened stare froze him in place. "If she wants to be Mr. Adams, then she'll be Mr. Adams. Am I clear?"
"I… Fine…" Aberforth grumbled, looking miserable. "…I hate dolls…"
"Don't be that way, little brother," Albus smiled once again, sitting down across from his siblings. "If you behave, I'll do all your chores tomorrow as well."
Something sparked behind Aberforth's stubborn gaze, and after mulling things over, he gave a nod. "You can't tell mother about this. You have to do them all, without complaint." Gladly. Nothing would make me happier.
"Then, let's play, shall we?" Albus looked to Ariana, the joy on her little face filling him with more warmth.
They played house for nearly an hour straight, with Albus acting the role of Mrs. Penny with incredible gusto, much to Ariana's amusement and Aberforth's horror. Even still, he even managed to make Aberforth laugh once or twice, allowing Ariana to create whatever scenarios that pleased her and acting out the scenes with over-the-top movements and funny voices. By the end of their game, he was playing the role of every character, putting on a puppet show for his siblings' entertainment.
"Make them dance, again, Alby," Ariana pleaded, and even Aberforth nodded along. "Please?"
With a wave of his hand, he cast the Dancing Feet Spell, Tarantallegra, upon Mr. Adams, who shot up to his feet and began tap dancing for Aberforth and Ariana. Ariana clapped and giggled at the doll's stellar performance, whilst Aberforth watched his brother's handiwork in awe. I still have all my Magical knowledge and skill, despite being in the body of my ten-year-old self. This just further stands as proof that nothing here is real. This perfect day, this perfect moment, it's all designed to keep me trapped here. And I'm allowing it to… Perhaps this is why the Sages allowed me to retain my memories? Instead of blocking them and leaving me blind as to how I got here? So, I would willingly resign myself to their power-…
"Albus?" Aberforth called out, and Albus turned his attention to him. "What's the matter? You look bothered, all of a sudden." My friends, my world… They need me, but I'm so selfish, Aberforth… I still haven't changed… I want to stay here, with all of you. I just want my family back, even after all this time. "Albus?"
"It's nothing," Albus put on a smile, his eyes stinging a little as he knew that he had to abandon them once again for the greater good. "I'm just… I'm very happy, that's all. I'm happy that we're spending time together like this. It means the world to me."
Aberforth looked a bit baffled with his brother's sudden sappiness, but Ariana smiled from ear-to-ear, crawling over and hugging him from the side. Albus hugged her back, holding her tightly and resting his cheek on her head. I love you both more than you could possibly imagine, and I'm sorry I never took the chance to prove it. I'm sorry we never played like this when we were children, and I'm sorry that my arrogance blinded me to the hurt I caused you both for so long. I wish I could take it all back, but… I can't… This illusion, as perfect as it is, is still just an illusion, and I have to leave you again. I have to, for all the other families that Tom will destroy if I don't.
"Are you doing this because you're leaving for Hogwarts, soon?" Aberforth asked, frowning a little. "We don't need your pity-"
"No, brother," Albus drew in a deep breath, his mind made up. "I just need you both to know how much you mean to me."
"Poof," Aberforth drawled as he averted his gaze, making Albus laugh a little.
"Thank you for playing with me," Ariana said, pulling back and smiling up at him. "Can we play again tomorrow?" No, dearest sister-…
Albus suddenly heard the leaves of their mother's hedge rustle, and then, three boys pushed themselves through, gawking at the dancing doll. Right on time. With a flick of his wrist, Albus undid the Magic before rising to his feet, staring the boys down.
"That bleedin' doll was dancin'," the boy at the front murmured, looking back at his mates. "Did ya see it?! It was dancin' all on its own!"
"How did you do that?" the boy on the left demanded, glaring at Albus. "You a Magician?!" No, I am far more than that. I am the Grand Sorcerer, and once I've dealt with you, those who have conjured you up will learn of how I earned such a title.
"You just damaged my mother's hedge, you oafs!" Aberforth shot up to his feet, but Albus stopped him from charging the Muggle boys. "You have any idea who has to clean that up?! Me! I ought to pound your heads together-!"
"No fighting…" Ariana squeaked, and both Albus and Aberforth looked to see her curl her knees into her chest, her eyes closed and her ears blocked by her tiny hands. "Don't fight. Don't fight. Don't fight." Ariana… My sweet sister…
Albus wanted nothing more than to eviscerate the three boys who had all but destroyed his family through their ignorance, and he knew that he could easily do so, but as he watched Ariana hide herself away from the very notion of violence, he changed his mind. Hurting these illusions would achieve nothing, for they were the illusions of three frightened boys. What had happened to the real Ariana had been a tragedy, even for the Muggle boys his father had maimed forever in the name of revenge, which is precisely why Albus had vowed long ago to never be a part of such a vicious cycle. He had spent his entire life fighting for a brighter tomorrow, and he couldn't forget that, now.
It was time for love and forgiveness to prosper, and for hate and vengeance to finally give way. It was time for them all to be better, to be more compassionate, even in the face of overwhelming cruelty.
And so, with another wave of his hand, he cast the Confundus Charm on all three boys, making their shoulders sag and their mouths drop open. "You will never return to this house, again. You will never spy on others, again. You will never bully and beat other children, again. You will strive to be kind and compassionate, and you will do your best to be understanding of your fellow man. Leave, now, and never return."
The Muggle boys nodded dumbly, turning around and walking out the way they came in. Albus waved his hand again, undoing the damage they had done to the hedge, before letting out a shaky breath. Violence only gives birth to more violence; I must never forget that. We have to be better than that, always.
Albus looked back to his siblings, both of them were staring at him in absolute awe, and he smiled lovingly. "Thank you for reminding me of who I worked so hard to become. I won't let you down, again. Not ever. I love you. Goodbye."
"…Albus…?" Aberforth managed, reaching forward just as Albus took off in a sprint. "Albus?! Come back! Where are you going?!"
"Alby!" Ariana cried out, but Albus kept running.
He climbed over the fence, ignoring the cries of his confused and scared siblings, wiping furiously at his eyes as he stormed down the street. Aberforth tried to chase after him, calling out his name over and over again, but Albus kept running, for he knew that if he stopped, he would lose the will to leave. Ronald, Severus… Our work is not finished yet! We have to protect them from him! We have to save our world!
The further he ran from his childhood home, the blurrier everything around him became. He could once again feel the Sages trying to subdue his mind, but Albus empowered himself with Occlumency, gritting his teeth as he picked up the pace. You won't stop me from escaping! I failed my family, but I won't fail the world! Get out of my head, serpents! Your lies end here!
Severus Snape's POV
"So… It was Dumbledore who struck down the Dark Lord?" Snape asked, slicing through an onion. "In the heart of Diagon Alley?"
"…Yes," Lily shot a curious look back. "Don't tell me you've forgotten about that, Sev?" How can I forget something that never happened? In this fantasy, the Dark Lord never even had a reason to go after Lily and Potter, no reason to hunt down their son. And according to this illusion, my efforts as a spy actually bore fruit. Instead of destroying her life, I helped destroy the Death-Eaters-…
"Lily! I'm home!" came Potter's booming voice, and Snape immediately sneered. Why is it that he's still alive? If this world really is my greatest fantasy, then shouldn't Potter be dead and buried?
"In here, love!" Lily called out, and Snape felt the urge to Apparate away.
"You wouldn't believe what happened at-" James sauntered into the kitchen, but stopped immediately at the sight of Snape.
"Potter," Snape greeted icily, his hold on the knife tightening. Why aren't you dead?
"What are you doing here?" Potter asked slowly, looking towards his wife. "Merlin… It's Harry, again, isn't it? Whatever he's done, Snape, I'm sorry. The boy's a handful, a trait he's inherited from his old man… If he's damaged your lab again, I'll reimburse you. You have my word."
Snape blinked, staring at his childhood bully as if he were a complete stranger. Never once had Potter spoken to him without looking down at him, and yet, here he was, offering to pay for any damages his degenerate son had caused. There was even a modicum of respect in Potter's tone, which disturbed Snape more than it confused him. Now, I'm dead certain that none of this is real… This arrogant, pretentious bastard… This swine! He never treated me as a human being, save for the one time Black nearly got me killed! And even then, he was only protecting his friends!
"Snape?" Potter muttered, his eyes darting towards the shaking knife in Snape's hand. "You all right there, mate?" MATE?! You are no mate of mine, Potter! I should gut you right now-!
"Sev? What's the matter?" Lilly asked, and Snape tossed the knife onto the table.
"I have to go," Snape barely managed, remembering how much it had hurt him when Lily had chosen his worst enemy to be her husband.
"What? What's wrong?" Lily asked, worried.
"Goodbye, Lily," Snape shot her one last look, before Apparating away.
He landed in the street of Spinner's End, just outside his home. He had no clue as to why he'd come here, of all places, he simply knew that he needed to get away from Potter before he tore the man apart limb from limb right in front of Lily. I don't understand… Why would he still be alive? I thought I could tolerate him when Lily-… When that illusion of her first mentioned him, but I can't. I will never forgive that man for all the humiliations, all the misery, he put me through… And she still chose him?! I made one mistake, and she never forgave me for that, but she had no issues forgiving Potter for all the years he was an insufferable bastard-…
Snape paused as a bizarre thought suddenly occurred to him; what if Potter had never mistreated him in this world? What if Potter had never targeted him for being poor? What if Potter hadn't constantly made a mockery of him to everyone because he wore old, ill-fitting clothes? What if Potter had never stripped him naked in front of a crowd of jeering students? In front of Lily?
"Damn it all…" Snape frowned to himself, he had acted far too emotionally, and now, he had lost his chance to gain more information. Seeing him again… I thought I'd finally moved past all that, but clearly, I haven't. I'm as weak-minded as I've always been-…
"Severus?" came Eileen Snape's voice from the house, and Snape nearly let out a cold laugh. Of course… Of course, she's still alive. You Sages… You're all going to die for this. I will burn your children before your eyes, and then, I'll skin and gut you for potion ingredients. That is a promise.
"Hello, mother," Snape turned his attention to the illusion of his mother, who looked healthy and happy, rather than weak and sour-faced. "Do you mind if I come in? The river smells particularly foul, today."
Ronald Weasley's POV
"Did you have fun, today, Cedrella?" Ron asked as soon as they stepped through the floo, her shopping spree floating behind them.
"Yes! Today was the bestest!" Cedrella exclaimed, her manic grin making Ron laugh. "Thank you for taking me to diagonally, daddy! Mummy never lets me get so much!" Which means Daphne's going to tear me a new one when she finds out… Not that that matters, given the decision I've come to.
"Then, let's keep all of this a secret, eh?" Ron smirked, pinching her cheek as she giggled. "Mummy doesn't need to know about your new toys and clothes."
"Okay!" Cedrella happily agreed, surprising Ron a little with how quickly she was willing to deceive others. She's definitely mine, no doubt about it, anymore. Merlin, this is so weird, acting as a father at the mere age of fourteen, but after all the shit I've seen and endured, this is a nice break from the madness. Shame that none of this is real, and that it needs to come to an end.
"Marty," Ron called, and within a second, the Elf Apparated into the living room.
"Ron is finally back with the young Mistress," Marty bowed, before going wide-eyed at all of Cedrella's shopping. "Gods above… Marty can see that Ron is continuing to spoil the young Mistress…"
"Can you take Cedrella and her things upstairs, please?" Ron didn't feel guilty in the slightest. "And give her a bath? She's a bit of a messy eater."
"No! I had a bath this morning!" Cedrella pouted. "I don't want another one!"
"No arguments," Ron tutted, eyeing the stains on her dress from when she had spilled her ice-cream. "What will mummy say if she sees you like this?"
"Can't I just wear a clean dress?" Cedrella tried, but Ron simply shook his head. I'm sorry, but I need you out of the way so I can focus.
"Bath, or, I'll tell mummy about everything," Ron offered her a choice. "Pick one."
"…Bath…" Cedrella groaned, dragging her feet as she walked over to Marty.
"Don't be upset, young Mistress," Marty said, snapping his fingers and vanishing all the shopping. "It will be a short bath, Marty promises."
"I hate baths…" Cedrella complained one last time, before Marty took her hand in his and Apparated them both away.
This left Ron alone in the living room, and he turned and looked back to the fireplace, smiling at the family portrait hanging above the mantel. Daphne sat in the centre with a baby Septimus in her arms, whilst Cedrella stood to her left with a practised smile on her face, and behind them, Ron's tall form loomed over them all. It was a beautiful piece, and it left Ron in awe of the Sages' power. They've all but created a world for me to live in… This goes beyond Legilimency, it is something else entirely. It's… terrifying. No one should have this kind of power. No one.
He hadn't wasted a second of his day with Cedrella, reading a few issues of The Quibbler and asking strangers questions about the world they resided in, all the while distracting her with gifts and sweets. From what he had learned, the Dark Lord had been defeated by him, Dumbledore, Snape, and Harry in an epic duel, which is why everyone all but worshiped him. His brother, Percy, was the current Minister for Magic, and under his guidance, the Ministry had finally come to serve its people before itself. Many, if not all, Elves had been freed from the bonds of slavery, which no doubt included Marty himself, and thanks to Ron and his allies, the Wizarding World was finally moving past its bigoted ways and giving all a fair chance at prosperity.
This was truly the world he had always dreamed of, which only served to cause him all the more heartbreak as he had come to a sombre realisation. If his own world was to ever reflect this one, then he couldn't remain here. He had to find a way back to his miserable life, back into reality, and then he had to fight harder than ever in order to bring about such changes. And for that to occur, I need to be the Champion of Fate once again. This life… This perfect, beautiful life… It won't just fall into my lap. I have to fight for it, kill for it, and I can't do that if I'm Ronald Weasley. I won't dishonour my true name any further than I already have, but unlike before, I won't give it up either. The Champion will fight on, he'll fight the Gods and all of mankind if need be, until one day, he can be Ronald Weasley, again. Until I can be Ronald Weasley, again.
The Champion's eyes flashed red, his smile dying on his lips. Now, how do I get out of here? There must be some way to escape! Whatever it is, I need to figure it out quickly! Time is of the essence!
Albus Dumbledore's POV
Albus' eyes shot wide open, and yet, the darkness remained. His body ached terribly, he was shivering from the cold, and it felt as though he was being pinned to the Earth by an invisible force. What is the meaning of this? Where am I, now? With great struggle, he managed to shift about, his hands feeling his surroundings. Wood? I'm encased in wood? No, this feels different. Where's my wand? I need it to get out of this trap.
Within the darkness, Albus searched for the Elder Wand on his person, but was unable to locate it. He could sense that it was nearby, however, calling out to him, urging him to unleash its true power and leave nothing but ruin in his wake. I'll have to do this the hard way, then. No matter. All that matters now is finding the others and putting an end to this!
Aiming his palms upwards, Albus drew in a deep breath. "Depulso!"
Much to his surprise, however, he only managed a weak gust of air, as if there was no more Magic left in him. Depulso! Once again, he failed, but Albus Dumbledore was never one to surrender. He tried again, and again, and again, not caring for his aching limbs and his desire to rest. He had to get out of this coffin, he had to save Ronald and Severus. This cannot be how it ends for them! I will not let them die in such a horrid place, alone and in the dark! They've suffered enough indignities throughout their young lives! I will not allow it! DEPULSO!
Albus' body finally heeded his command, and the 'coffin' was blown apart. Immediately, Albus felt his lungs fill up with the cave's damp, foul air, and the hold of the invisible force was broken. Freeing himself from his confines, Albus rose to his feet, his hand outstretched and calling for the Elder Wand to return to its rightful Master. Return to me, Life-Stealer! Return to me at once! As your Master, I compel you!
"Lumos!" Albus chanted the moment his wand flew into his hand, banishing the darkness around him. Now, where am I? Where are the others?
He gazed at the vines scattered around his feet, cocking an eyebrow at the cocoon he had been trapped inside and the thick, pulsating vine it was attached to. What is this? This is not Human Magic… Kneeling down, Albus waved his wand over the thick vine, and he was shocked to discover that his own Magic was vibrating through it. So, this is why I was struggling to cast such a basic Spell? This vine was stealing my power from me. This form of Magic… Stealing another's life-force… This is vile! This is something Lord Voldemort would resort to!
It quickly occurred to him that, if he had been so poorly treated, then his companions would have been as well. The very thought made his blood boil, and without wasting another second, Albus shot up to his feet and studied his surroundings, and much to his horror, he found three cocoons resting not too far from him. NO! Ronald! Severus! Artyom!
Panting and grunting, Albus limped towards the cocoons, his eyes scanning the walls around him in absolute dread. Black Crystals, like jagged fungus, lined the walls, brimming with such potent Dark Magic that even Albus shivered at the mere sight of them. I don't remember seeing these before! How far into the mountain are we?!
"Ronald!" Albus fell onto his knees besides the nearest cocoon, noticing that it wasn't attached to a life-draining vine as his was. "Are you in there, dear boy?! I'm going to free you! I'm here!"
Planting the tip of his wand at the top of the cocoon, Albus slashed it in a downward motion, splitting the cocoon open down the middle. His eyes widened in disbelief when he saw the sleeping form of Asmodeus inside, a content smile fixed upon his gaunt face. By the Gods… They've trapped him as well? These vines are not their work, however. This had to be Octavia… That deceitful Dryad will answer for this!
Albus looked to the other two cocoons, realizing that only one of them was attached to a vine pulsating with Magic. He quickly moved over to it, splitting it open and finding the large form of Artyom inside. Just as Asmodeus, he too was smiling serenely, with tears of bliss sliding down the sides of his face. Albus was left both jarred and intrigued, and he quickly deduced that, very much like himself, they were all trapped within their fantasies. And yet, Asmodeus was not being sapped of his power as Artyom and I were. Was this always the Sages' plan? To steal our power for their own gain? Or, was it just Ronald that they were after?
Tightening his hold on the Elder Wand, Albus moved over to the last cocoon, breaking it open and finding William within. The old Pukwudgie was barely breathing, his frail form trembling even as his lips formed a happy smile. They aren't draining him either, but to leave one such as him down here… These Sages are cruel, indeed. It hurts me to learn that Horned Serpents truly are as treacherous as the old tales describe, and that the Wizards of Old wiped them off the face of Europe for good reason. Truly, what a shame.
Albus inspected the three cocoons once again, noticing signs of them being dragged here. He faintly remembered that he had lost track of Asmodeus early on, which led him to surmise that Octavia must have brought them all here one by one, leaving them trapped inside and using her Magic to form the life-draining vines on his and Artyom's cocoons. She wished to spare her own such a terrible fate, I imagine, but she showed no such mercy to us, and she has most likely done the same to Ronald and Severus. Damn her! I have to find them, but first, I must liberate these three from their deepest desires. The only question that remains is if I'm strong enough to do it?
Drawing in a deep breath, Albus placed the tip of his wand on William's forehead, whilst steeling his own mind with Occlumency. "Legilimens!"
Albus found himself standing within a lush forest, the sounds of birds and other small animals emanating from all around him. The sun shined brilliantly above him, warming his cold body and filling him with a strange sense of freedom. Across from him stood William, his back turned towards Albus, and it appeared as though he were preparing to fire his bow on an unsuspecting creature. I wonder if he too realizes that this is all in his head, that this is not real. Regardless, I must set him free as quickly as possible.
"Hello, William," Albus called out, but the Pukwudgie remained silent. "William, can you hear-?"
William fired his arrow, and within the next second, Albus heard a rabbit shriek its last breath from a distance. William then turned to face Albus, and he looked centuries younger than he did within the caves, standing proud and strong.
"What are you doing here, Chief Warlock?" William growled, evidently not happy to see Albus. "Why are you intruding upon my afterlife?" Afterlife? Does he believe himself dead, then? Oh, William…
"This is a dream, William, not the afterlife," Albus said apologetically. "A perfect dream crafted by the Sages to keep you trapped. They did the same to me, and they've done the same to Asmodeus and Artyom. We have been betrayed, huntsman, by the Sages and by Octavia." William said nothing in response, simply staring at Albus with pure disdain. "Why do you say nothing? Does it not bother you that they're playing the role of the hunter, and you the role of the hunted?"
William looked down at his bow, frowning deeply. "This is no mere dream, Albus Dumbledore. This beautiful, bountiful forest… This was my home, in my youth, before your kind burned it to ash. Before you erected your civilisation upon the bones of my ancestors and children. Before you turned us into your slaves, your pets." Albus bowed his head slightly, as he too understood all too well what cruelties wizards were capable of. "I thought I had perished within those wretched caves, and that I had finally gained entry into the Untamed-Lands, but it appears that I still live… How shameful…"
"Shameful?" Albus asked softly, as William threw his bow aside. "Why do you say that?"
"Because I have lived for far too long," William answered simply. "Even by my kind's standards, I've lived too long… I was there when all creatures were free to live as they pleased, even man. I was there when man first moved against Mother Nature herself, filled with unquenchable avarice and dark desires. I was there when man toppled her from her perch, and planted himself on her throne. I was there when my kind lost its way, and adopted yours as a way to meekly survive beneath your boot. And it appears, that I must go on to watch more of what I once cherished be tainted and destroyed. It is my fate."
"I am sorry, William," Albus apologized, fully bowing his head in respect. "I know what my kind has wrought, and who paid the price for our sins. Nothing I can say will change the past, I know that, but I still require your aid."
"And what if I wish to linger here, until death, the First Hunter, finally claims me?" William asked in response. "What is waiting for me out there, wizard? My onlyremaining grandchild has turned from me, and I am left with no purpose but to honour the memory of the only one of your kind who ever showed genuine kindness to the Pukwudgies. The younger generation spits on me and all that we once stood for, wilfully forgetting the atrocities inflicted upon their elders by their new masters. My heart is broken, Chief Warlock, and I have grown weary of disappointment. Why should I let you disturb my peaceful rest for your gain?"
"Because you honour no one in this dream, William," Albus answered. "In fantasies, we serve only ourselves, but in life, we have the chance to serve others. If you remain here, then nothing will change between you and your grandchild. If you choose to surrender before your time, you abandon the younger generation to remain ignorant of your people's suffering and loss. Out there, as terrible as it is, you can still bring about change. In here, in this perfect memory, you can change nothing."
William looked Albus over from head-to-toe, the disdain behind his eyes slowly waning. "…Well spoken, Dumbledore, well spoken…"
"Will you join me, then?" Albus offered William his hand. "The Sages are powerful, but I believe they cannot keep anyone trapped within their illusions by force. You must willingly give them power over you, just as one would give their prophecies the power to control their destiny. The choice is in your hands, not theirs."
"Then…" William started, approaching Albus and taking his hand. "…my choice is made. For my grandchild, and for my people."
Having awoken William, Albus had now entered the mind of his old friend, Asmodeus Harkin, and had found himself standing within the forest which grew behind Ilvermorny Castle. It was a picturesque, sunny day, and after exploring the woods for some time, Albus had heard a soul-soothing melody calling out to him. He had followed it without even thinking, for whichever woman was singing it could not be capable of bringing harm to others. And this is how he had discovered his old friend, resting his head in the lap of a beautiful, vivacious Dryad under the shade of the Sacred Tree, its silver-leafed branches providing them shelter from the nurturing sunlight. They are lovers? …I finally understand, now. My friend, I am so sorry for your loss.
Albus approached them silently, as to not disturb the Dryad's song, studying them both with sorry eyes. Asmodeus looked years younger, his visage far less skeletal and dark, and more more robust and soulful. The Dryad resembled Octavia in many ways, though her facial features were sharper and her presence more tamed. They both appeared truly content, and it pained Albus greatly to know that he was about to sour such a pleasant dream. I have no choice, however. She is dead, and if he doesn't leave her, he will follow her into the next life before his time.
"My love, we have a guest," the Dryad suddenly stopped her song, smiling graciously at Albus. "Welcome, friend. Come, join us under the shade."
Asmodeus' eyes opened, and when he turned his head to look upon Albus, fear and anxiety replaced his serene expression immediately. "No… Not you…"
"Forgive my intrusion, Asmodeus," Albus said apologetically. "But I have come to collect you, and bring you back to the waking world."
"The waking world?" the Dryad asked, while Asmodeus shot up to his feet and glared at Albus menacingly. "…Asmodeus…?"
"Leave, now!" Asmodeus barked, making the Dryad flinch. "You are not welcome here; do you hear me?! Begone!"
"I cannot do that, my friend," Albus said softly, taking a step forward. "I cannot leave you behind, trapped inside a memory of days gone by. I am sorry I was not there for you when you suffered your great loss, but I am here, now-"
"Get out," Asmodeus hissed, rushing forward and grabbing Albus by the collar. "I want you gone-!"
"Asmodeus! Let him go!" the Dryad rose to her feet, her emerald eyes suddenly blazing with righteous fury. "He is a guest within my domain, and you shall not harm him!" Asmodeus sneered at her command, looking back with so much rage in his dark eyes that the Dryad's fierce expression vanished as quickly as it had arrived, replaced with shock and wariness. "…Who are you? You are not my lover, my mate… He would never look upon me with such hatred within his heart… He was not capable of it. Who are you, imposter? And what have you done to my Asmodeus?"
Asmodeus remained silent in the face of her questions, his grip on Albus' collar weakening ever so slowly, until finally, he let go completely, hiding his gaze from her in shame.
"This is indeed your mate, fair Dryad," Albus spoke up, bowing his head to her. "Heartbreak and time have changed him, yes, but he is still the same man, whereas you are merely the memory of his beloved-"
"…Stop," Asmodeus whispered, closing his eyes and letting out a shaky breath. "…Just leave me… Please… I want to stay here. I want to be with her, again."
"I don't understand," the Dryad said, looking to Asmodeus for answers. "What is this man trying to say? I am… a memory?"
"He lies-" Asmodeus started, but Albus intervened.
"May I ask your name, Lady of the Forest?" Albus moved past Asmodeus, stopping in front of her. "I am Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts."
Her eyes widened and she quickly bowed her head, she had clearly heard of his legend. "I am Awena, the Guardian of Ilvermorny. Welcome to my forest, Phoenix King. It is an honour to finally meet you, for I have longed to do so." Phoenix king? Oh, my… "Stories of your power and valour have reached even one such as myself, this truly is an honour."
"I am no king, my dear," Albus smiled, gesturing her to raise her head. "I am merely a man, whereas you are the Great Mother personified. The honour is all mine."
Awena's shoulders eased up a bit, and she once again looked to Asmodeus, something shifting behind her bright eyes. "Asmodeus, why do you look away from me? You are Asmodeus, aren't you?"
Once again, the man remained silent, staring off into the distance. This is, perhaps, one of the cruellest actions I have ever undertaken. I am sorry, Asmodeus, but you have left me no choice.
"You are an illusion, Awena," Albus told her, not failing to notice Asmodeus' hands clench into fists. "A powerful illusion crafted by the Sages to trap Asmodeus in his happiest memory. The truth is that you have passed away-"
"She didn't pass away!" Asmodeus finally spoke, his voice full of venom. "She was murdered! Butchered! By the monster you failed to stop! By the monster you failed to recognize! The 'great and wise' Albus Dumbledore…" Asmodeus spat on the ground. "You created him, and he took everything from me! He gained power right under your nose, and what did you do about it?! Nothing!" He does not know of the Prophecy, which means he doesn't understand that I could not act against Tom as I did against Gellert. However, he is wrong to think that I did not recognise Tom for what he was. I did, and yet, I chose not to act, and due to my inaction, thousands have died by his hand. By my hand…
"Some part of me always knew what hewas, Asmodeus, from the very first day I met him," Albus confessed, and Asmodeus blinked. "I underestimated his ambitions greatly, and in my pride, I believed I could stop him whenever I wished to do so, just as I had stopped Gellert Grindelwald. But time has proven me a fool, for Lord Voldemort's power grew beyond even my expectations. If I had acted sooner, if I had cast him out of Hogwarts, you and many others would not have suffered at his hand, and for that, I am so sorry."
"…I am truly dead, then…" Awena muttered, and both men looked to her. "…I see… And all of this? It is just a memory of the man I loved?"
"It doesn't have to be!" Asmodeus rushed to her side, taking her hands in his. "I can stay here! With you! I want nothing more-!"
"Stop," Awena intervened, removing her hands from his. "Oh, Asmodeus… You cannot live in the past, only in the present. It was you who taught me that, remember? We learn from the past, we live in the present, and we shape the future. These were your exact words, my love-"
"I was wrong," Asmodeus tried, but stopped when she gave him a sorry smile.
"No, you were right," she whispered lovingly, caressing his cheek. "My only regret in life was that I didn't understand your words sooner, because if I had, we would've had more time together."
"We can still-"
"I do not want you to waste your life, living inside your own mind," Awena continued. "Your brilliant mind, which I adored most about you. I had power, I had a purpose, but you gave me wisdom. I will always love you for that, even in the Beyond, but until you join me there, you must go on." Incredible… She has just discovered such terrible truths, and yet, she is so quick to make her peace with them for his sake. Is this how he sees her in his mind? Or, was she truly so compassionate? I hope it's the latter.
"…I don't want to go on without you…" Asmodeus managed, his eyes brimming with tears. "There is nothing left for me out there-"
"There is," she hushed. "There is always something worth living for, especially when it feels as though there isn't. What of my successor? Will you leave her alone in the cruel world we both wished to change? What of the students? The ones we vowed to protect from the war? Will you abandon them?" Asmodeus trembled and sniffled, shaking his head as a guilt-ridden child would. "No, you would never do that, because you are the kindest, most giving man I have ever encountered in all of my many lives. I love you, Asmodeus Harkin, and I always will. You are my heart."
"…Y-you are m-my heart…" Asmodeus croaked, resting his forehead against hers. "And I will a-always love you… Only you…"
"Then, until we meet again, keep changing the world for the better," Awena kissed Asmodeus goodbye, before taking a step back and looking to Albus. "Thank you for coming for him, Albus Dumbledore. Please, keep him safe for me."
"You have my word," Albus promised, offering Asmodeus his hand. "Come, my friend, time is not a luxury we can afford currently. We must stop the Sages from enacting whatever scheme they have launched."
Having left the grieving Asmodeus with William, Albus had now entered the mind of Artyom, finding himself standing within the snow-covered lands of Russia. In the distance, there was a lone cottage and a large man chopping firewood with a sharp axe. That's him, no doubt about it. Not many men look as though they could wrestle and pin a bear, after all.
Albus approached the younger Artyom with a pleasant smile, stopping at a safe distance. "Not many wizards would resort to using an axe, Artyom. I commend you on your effort."
Artyom looked back to Albus, his hair cut in a fashionable manner and his face beardless. "You… Why are you here? In my heaven?" He too believes himself dead?
"This is heaven?" Albus joked, shivering from the cold. "My boy, I can barely feel my fingers and toes out here!"
"Because you are soft," Artyom turned fully, wielding the axe in a menacing manner. "Why are you here? I will not ask again."
"I have come to wake you from your slumber," Albus answered, looking to the cottage. "Is this your home? It's lovely! I always wanted such a home for myself, but I never found the time."
"I am sleeping?" Artyom asked, ignoring the compliment. "Speak sense, old man. You test my patience."
"You don't remember the caves?" Albus asked, curious. "We set out together to undo the Curse of the Grey Mountain."
"…I do," Artyom answered after several seconds. "I saw-… I saw things. Things I did not want to remember."
"I understand," Albus nodded, for he understood the pain behind the man's words all too well. "The Sages have tricked us, Artyom. They laid siege to our minds from the moment we entered the caves, until finally bringing us low and locking us away without our deepest desires."
"I do not know, but it is clear that, whatever they're up to, they do not wish to be interrupted by us," Albus replied. "I have managed to find William and Asmodeus, but Severus, Ronald, and Octavia are still missing."
"Client is missing?" something flashed behind Artyom's eyes. Client?
"He is, and he is most likely in great danger," Albus replied, and Artyom frowned deeply. "I am sorry for interrupting your dream, Artyom. I know it must be difficult to-"
"You know nothing, and I would keep it that way," Artyom growled, tossing the axe aside.
"I understand," Albus gave a nod, ignoring the happy voices of a woman and a child emanating from inside the cottage.
Artyom looked to his house longingly, and for a moment, Albus was not sure what he would do next, but then, Artyom began collecting the firewood he had chopped up. "Give me some minutes. I will give wood, and come back. It is cold, today."
"Certainly," Albus moved aside, watching silently as Artyom made his way towards the house.
"Papa!" a young girl cheered the moment he opened the door, and Albus felt great sympathy for the Russian wizard. It seems that we all carry great pain within our hearts… Pain that the Sages have exploited to deadly effect. No wonder Asmodeus is only a shell of what he used to be, living under their rule.
After nearly five minutes, Artyom stepped out of the house and made his way over to Albus, wiping his eyes clear and clearing his throat. "…How do we escape…?"
"Allow me," Albus offered Artyom his hand. "You've done your part, so leave the rest to me."
"I've never seen this before," Asmodeus told them, holding up the life-draining vine attached to Artyom's cocoon in his hands. "But this is definitely Octavia's work… When did she learn such revolting Magic, I wonder…?"
"The Sages must've taught her, while you ignored your duties," William grumbled, while Asmodeus continued to stare at the vine with hollow eyes. "Albus Dumbledore, you must promise me now that you will not harm the Lady. She is young, and she only sought guidance from serpents because of this fool!"
"There is no need for such venomous words, William," Albus sighed out, following the vine into the darkness with his eyes. "And I promise, I will not harm her, unless she leaves me no choice. Artyom, are you ready to move?"
"I am," Artyom answered simply, turning away from the Dark Crystals lining the walls. "I sensed this evil before I fell. It was hidden before, but no more." Extraordinary. Even Severus and I failed to sense them. He is a natural at Sensing Magic, the strongest I've encountered since Tom himself.
"Come," Albus began leading the way, holding onto the Elder wand as tightly as he could. "Let us put an end to this, once and for all."
Severus Snape's POV
"You are acting very strange, today," Eileen pointed out, pouring Snape a cup of tea. "You're usually a bit cheerier, love, at least with me. What's the matter?" Me? Cheery? Perhaps, I would be, mother, if I hadn't failed you either.
"I've had a long day," Snape said curtly, accepting the cup but not drinking from it.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Eileen asked, taking a seat across from him. "Sorry about the mess, Severus, but if I had known you'd be visiting, I would have cleaned up."
"No need to apologize to me, mother," Snape assured her, because she kept house much cleaner than he did. Draco was meant to move in with me during the break, but here I am… Trapped in this nightmare. "How is father?" He must still be alive, given that, in this world, I travelled the higher road.
"You know I haven't seen him since the coppers dragged him away," Eileen clicked her tongue, displeased at the mere mention of the man. "We're better off without him, Severus." That's what I used to say, but you never listened. "Now, tell me what's wrong?"
"Nothing is wrong, mother," Snape answered, and his mother gave him a knowing look.
"That's the problem," Snape continued. "Everything is just… perfect, and I can't stand it. Lily is alive and happy, I'm a respected Professor of Hogwarts, and my actions directly led to the fall of the Dark Lord." Snape then gazed into his mother's eyes, remembering the meaningless fight they had before she passed away. "…And you're still here, and you've finally left that monster behind. I have everything I ever wanted, and yet, all of it feels like a slap in the face. As if I'm being reminded of my countless mistakes, and of the amazing life I could've had if I weren't so…" he trailed off. If I weren't who I am.
Eileen nodded slowly; her brow furrowed. "I'm not sure I understand, but I can see that you're being torn apart, love. Tell me everything. I want to understand what's hurting my son."
Snape drew in a sharp breath, locking eyes with her again. "This is not my life, mother. All of this is an illusion crafted for the sole purpose of trapping me. And my captors, the fools that they are, have underestimated my drive to undo my many mistakes. They think they can wave my fantasies in my face, and I'll just willingly give up control of my mind to become their puppet. Perhaps, I would have, in my youth, but I learned a long time ago that salvation always comes at a price. My price is to carry my sins until my dying breath, and choosing this wonderful dream over my bitter reality would be an insult to the many people I've hurt. People like you, mother."
Eileen looked utterly bewildered and even a little disturbed, but Snape continued regardless. "The truth is that I was treated like dirt from the day I was born. I was neglected, under-fed, and beaten by those who were supposed to love me unconditionally. When I finally thought I could escape into a better life, I ran into a group of boys who tormented me on a daily basis, each of their 'pranks' more cruel and more elaborate than the last. I grew bitter and resentful towards everyone, towards myself, and in my weakness, I lashed out at the only person who ever showed me any kindness. She gave me everything, and I spat in her face because it made me feel powerful for a change. She then did the only logical thing a person could do after such a betrayal, but even then, I blamed her for my mistake." Snape released a shaky breath, feeling as though he'd drown in his own hatred. "I… surrendered my soul to the Dark Lord in exchange for power…"
"Severus…" Eileen muttered, looking aghast. "I'm reaching out to Dumbledore-"
"Stay where you are!" Snape barked, slamming his fist on the table. "You will listen to me, Sages, because I want you to know what sort of man I am. I want you to understand me. No more games. No more lies. Your tricks have failed you, and no matter what you try, I won't fall for it. It's over!"
Eileen's expression suddenly turned blank, as if the mask of concern had finally fallen. There you are, you worms. Your illusions will not save you from me.
"I surrendered my soul to the Dark Lord," Snape continued, sneering at the illusion. "And in exchange, he gave me power. The power to destroy. The power to protect my mind from pain and regret. I learned at his feet, and I became cruel. Far more cruel than my father and those who bullied me. I became a monster. I killed without remorse, and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it… But then, one day, in my desire to prove myself to the man I wished was my father, I gave him information which directly led to the death of the woman I loved. The woman who had always shown me kindness. I killed her, because I was blinded by my hatred of the world which had always sought to bring me low. I learned the hard way that hatred and cruelty only ever leads to more hatred and cruelty. It is a cycle, and I had become a slave to it." But then, I turned to Albus, and he showed me a better way.
"Since then, I have devoted myself to ending this cycle," Snape leaned back, steeling his mind with Occlumency. "But for you, I'm willing to make an exception. For you, I will become a monster again, and you will understand, in your final moments, that your treachery is what led to your downfall. Just as I spat in the face of Lily's kindness all those years ago, you have spat upon mine. It didn't have to be this way, but you made your choice, and now, you too will learn the hard way."
With that, Snape drew in as much power as could into his mind, feeling the tug of the Sages' power trying to stop him, but Snape was far too powerful for the likes of them. This was not his life, because he did not deserve it. He had chosen his path long ago, and he would not be led astray a second time. Not for anything, and especially not for more lies. Say your farewells whilst you still have the chance, Sages, for death is coming for you all. I am coming for you.
The Champion's POV
He sat cross-legged upon the bed, drawing in deep breaths as he focused putting up his Occlumency Shields. Time and time again, he felt close to breaking free, but the Sages were somehow holding him back. They had breached his defences, and now, he did not have the experience nor the power to defeat them at their own game. I'll get through, eventually, though, because I'm not going to stop. I'm never going to stop! Until this dream becomes my reality, I will press on! I will win, and those who try to stop me will be left broken by my resolve!
The door to the bedroom suddenly clicked, and the Champion opened his eyes in time to see it creak open. No one entered, however, much to his surprise. Slowly, he moved off of the bed and approached the door, opening it fully but finding no one on the other side. Did the door open by itself? Is there a draft? No, that's absurd. There's no draft, because everything in this false-world is perfect. Too perfect, if I'm being honest. It's a bit unnerving.
"Cedrella?!" the Champion called out, stepping out of the room. "Did you open my door?"
Silence was his response, and so, the Champion called out to Marty, but once again, there was nothing. Strange… He should be able to sense whenever I call out to him. Something is wrong here; I can feel it. More alert, now, the Champion moved further down the hallway, but just as he passed by Cedrella's room, the door of the master bedroom slammed shut. What the fuck?! He turned quickly, cocking an eyebrow at the shut door, feeling goosebumps on the back of his neck. Why does it feel like something is watching me?
Cedrella's door suddenly clicked open, and the Champion took a step away from it. What in the fuck is going on here? Are the Sages behind this? Are they trying to fuck with me, is that it? The door began to creak open, and after drawing in a deep breath, the Champion stepped through. Cedrella? Are you in here?
The Champion found his false-daughter taking a nap on the bed, her arms and legs spread out in a carefree manner as she snored loudly. Sheesh… She snores almost as loud as dad. I'm surprised I didn't hear her going off in my room! After looking around the room, the Champion carefully placed a discarded blanket over Cedrella's tiny form, before turning to leave. Nothing here, I guess-…
"She's gorgeous, isn't she?" a voice whispered from behind him just as he reached the door, and the Champion immediately recognized it as the voice from Diagon Alley.
He turned swiftly, going wide-eyed when he saw a short, blonde girl sitting on the edge of Cedrella's bed, her back facing him. NO! Get away from her!
"Who are you?" the Champion growled, controlling his anger as to not wake up Cedrella. "Get. Away. From. Her."
"You know me already, Ron," the girl turned her head, smiling fondly at him as he felt the blood drain from his face. You… What the fuck are you doing here?!
Although Dream was not wearing his usual face, those bottomless blue eyes of his were unmistakable. It was now appearing as a pale, teenage girl, one with soft, round features and an air of aloofness that greatly reminded him of Luna.
"…What is this…?" the Champion asked, his eyes darting towards Cedrella out of instinct. "Why are you here?"
"I like this dream of yours, that's all," Dream's smile widened. "It's been a long time since you dreamed of anything but war and death. It suits you."
"Get the fuck away from her," the Champion clenched his fists, his outrage second only to his need to protect the sleeping child. "You so much as touch her, and I swear… I'll find some way to kill you. I'll devote every second of my life to ending you and your siblings, and I won't ever stop."
"You would, wouldn't you?" Dream looked even happier, much to the Champion's chagrin. "Good, the human part of you can't be suppressed by the Void. I wasn't sure, at first, but it makes me glad to know that you're still you. Lost, still so very lost, but still you." Bah… You don't know anything about me.
"Why are you here?" the Champion repeated.
"I wanted to watch," Dream answered, rising from the bed. "The Sages have done you a great service, but at a terrible price. Such is their way, their nature." So, they really are behind this! Cunts! And what service?!
"Speak sense, or, better yet, fuck off back to wherever you've come from," the Champion moved to the other side of the bed, standing guard over Cedrella. "I'm dealing with a lot, today. I don't have time for you and your riddles."
"I am speaking sense, Ron, you just have to listen," Dream chuckled, before smiling down at the snoring girl. "I have watched you with her, and what I saw was a man finally at peace. I want that for you." …What?
"You… want me to have a family? To escape your sister and her machinations?" the Champion cocked an eyebrow, somewhat surprised. "Why? What do you get out of it?"
"I get nothing," Dream replied. "But regardless, I'd like you to be happy. Is that so wrong?" Oh, sod off… I'd be plenty happy if it weren't for you lot!
"You don't get to say that to me, not after what you've all put me through," the Champion sneered, it filled him with murderous rage just to look at this thing. "If you really do want me to be happy, why don't you go to your bitch sister and ask her to leave me alone? Hm? Why don't you put your Galleons where your mouth is?"
"What she has done cannot be undone, not even by me," Dream replied, still smiling softly even in the face of absolute hatred. "However, seeing you today, I can see that she cannot erase your humanity, no matter how hard she tries. You mortals… You're just so beautiful. You live to love, to hate, to sing, to cry, to dance, to fight, to eat, to hunger, to nurture, to destroy. You live to dream, and if anyone tells you otherwise, no matter their power, you live to defy expectations. I admire you, Ron, more than you could imagine." Okay… Where is this going?
"What is your deal…?" the Champion had to ask; he had always found this one far more unsettling than even the Entity. "What are you really?"
"I am you," Dream answered, before looking to Cedrella. "I am her. I am everything."
"Right…" the Champion muttered, feeling his head throb. "Are you also a headache, by chance?"
Dream laughed, genuinely laughed, making the Champion feel even more uncomfortable.
"To some, dreams can be nightmares, so yes, I am often a headache," Dream beamed, as if exceedingly proud of making such a statement. "Am I giving you a headache, Ron?"
"You're starting to," the Champion sighed out, shaking his head clear.
"Then, we have spoken enough, for now," Dream said, turning to leave. "Hurting you, in any way, would break my heart."
"Why did you come here? What do you want?" the Champion asked, baffled by this exchange. "Tell me, damn you."
"To help you escape," Dream answered, stopping by the door. "Once you leave this room, this dream will die." It will?! I'll be able to get out and confront the Sages?! "But it doesn't have to remain dead. The choice is yours, Champion. Will you let it die? Or, will you find a way to bring it back to life?"
With that, Dream left the room, closing the door behind itself. The Champion stood silent for many moments, staring at the door as it dawned on him that he might never see Cedrella again. She was not real, he knew that, but spending the day by her side had reignited something within him that he'd believed forever extinguished; hope. Is that what Dream meant? That the Sages did me a great service, but at a terrible price? He looked back down at the little girl, his girl, and he felt as though someone had jammed a knife into his heart. This… This is it, then… I'll never see her again, even if I do get my wish, which in itself is a pipe-dream.
Ron felt weak in the knees as he decided to say goodbye to her, and so, he slowly sat down on the edge of the bed. "Cedrella? Can you hear me?"
She grunted, and when he gently shook her, her eyes slowly began to open. "Daddy?"
"Yeah, it's me," Ron felt his throat tighten. "Your silly and weird old man… Can I talk to you for a minute? Please?"
"I'm sleeping…" she groaned, but after some prodding, Ron managed to make her sit up. "…What is it? Is it time for dinner?"
"No…" Ron started, clearing his throat. "I just… I'm heading out, and I wanted to say goodbye before I left."
"Heading out?" she wiped at her eyes, looking bothered all of a sudden. "Where are you going, daddy?"
"To meet with some Horned Serpents," Ron answered, despite knowing that they were listening to him. "I didn't want to leave without telling you that… that…" he trailed off, feeling his eyes sting painfully. "…You're very special to me…" And I'll never forget you, and what you've given me.
Cedrella blinked in confusion, clearly taken aback when tears rolled down his face. Fuck… What's wrong with me? She's not even real, but it fucking hurts… I feel like I can't fucking breathe-… She suddenly scooted forward and hugged him, wrapping her tiny arms around his neck. Ron let out a sob and hugged her back, embracing the tiny girl as if his life depended on it.
"You're special to me too, daddy," Cedrella said, still confused. "When are you coming back?"
"Soon," he lied, unable to bring himself to voice the truth. "Be a good girl while I'm gone, okay? Look out for your mother and brother, and don't give Marty too much trouble. Can you do that for me?"
"Okay, daddy," Cedrella yawned, before pulling back. "Will you bring me something? When you come back?"
Ron let out a strangled laugh, before sniffling loudly and giving her a nod. "Of course, I will. Whatever you want, it'll be yours. Now, go on. Go back to sleep. I'm sorry for waking you up."
"It's okay," she smiled tiredly, lying back down. "Bye, daddy."
"Goodbye, Cedrella," Ron tucked her in, before standing up and wiping his eyes clear. "…Sleep well."
"I will," she yawned again, closing her eyes and turning on her side.
Ron reached out to stroke her hair, but stopped himself just in time, knowing that he had to leave before he changed his mind and surrendered to this dream. Of all the struggles he'd faced, all the hard choices, this one was perhaps the most difficult, because even if he'd only been here for one day, he had finally felt what being content in life was like. And I don't want to give it up… I want this feeling, more than anything…
It took everything in him to finally step away from the bed, dragging his feet all the way to the door, before shooting one last look back. I'll never forget you, I promise. Thank you for waking me up.
The Champion looked forward once again, turning the handle and stepping through the light.
He awoke in darkness, feeling cold and sore all over. Where am I? What the fuck is going on? He tried to sit up, but found that he was unable to do so, as if someone was holding him down, and after a brief struggle to regain control of his limbs, the Champion let out a frustrated grunt. Why can't I move?! Why is it so dark?! Where the fuck am I?! He felt trapped within a cage, a feeling he was all too familiar with, and the mere idea of being held captive by the Sages once again filled him murderous rage. Fucking backstabbing cunts! Cutis Terra!
Pain shot up his entire body when he attempted to use his Magic, causing a strangled cry to escape his throat. …What was that? What is happening to me? Lumos Solem! Once again, more pain seized him, making him writhe and grit his teeth. Panic quickly began to set in when he figured out that he couldn't use his Magic for some reason, and all he could do was cry out for help. His croaky voice, however, barely came out, causing his throat to ache terribly in the process. Fuck, fuck, fuck! What is happening to me?! What have the Sages done to me?!
After failing to use even a simple Depulso, the Champion finally stopped resisting, grasping for air as he felt his eyes sting. He was scared, absolutely petrified, at the notion of being powerless, and he desperately wished to return to his dream. But even that was denied to him, leaving him alone and in the dark. How do I get out of here…? How do I-?
An idea suddenly jumped to the forefront of his mind, giving him hope of escape. Drawing in a deep breath, the Champion commanded his body to grow, to change shape and warp its bones in order to tear back control of itself. More pain assaulted him, but the Champion pressed on, hearing his bones snap and creak under the weight of his will, until eventually, he felt like a baby in the late stages of pregnancy, nestled within a womb which could no longer contain him.
Whatever force was keeping him pinned down suddenly gave way, and with a monstrous shriek, the Champion tore his way out of his wooden confines. He rose out of a cocoon made of familiar vines, standing over ten feet tall and snarling like a wild beast, his crimson, toad-like eyes illuminating the darkness. The putrid smell within the cave was overwhelming, but the Champion breathed in deeply, grinning victoriously. Now, where are these fucking Sages? We would like to break words with them, before We break their bodies! Fucking duplicitous worms! They will regret moving against Us!
The Champion stepped out of the cocoon and surveyed his surroundings, eventually spotting both his wands lying side-by-side next to a thick, pulsating vine which was connected to the cocoon. He crawled over to them with terrifying speed, seizing them both and letting out a monstrous laugh.
"Lumos!" the Champion chanted, igniting both wands with blinding light, and finally revealing the Dark Crystals growing out of the walls and the ground, reaching out for life like jagged fingers.
The sight of them jarred him, despite his raging emotions, and flashes of alien worlds utterly consumed by them ran rampant through his mind. Whatever they were, the Champion knew that they would consume all life if left unchecked, much like the monster that had unleashed them. Noticing three other thicker vines, one pulsating and the other two shrivelled up, next to the one attached to his own former prison, the Champion followed them further and further into the dark, steeling his mind with Occlumency as he realized that the Dark Crystals were growing larger with each step he took. Where are the others? We must find them!
The passageway grew slimmer and slimmer, and because of the Dark Crystals, the Champion was forced to return to his usual height before long, being extremely mindful as to not touch such potent Dark Magic. What are these vines, though? One of them was attached to my-… Hold on… Didn't Octavia create one of those cages for William before I passed out?
"…to keep him safe…" Octavia's voice echoed in his mind, and the Champion frowned deeply. Where is she? Don't tell me she went on without the rest of us! What's she playing at?!
Picking up his pace, the Champion soon saw a light at the end of the tunnel, and when he finally crossed the threshold, his eyes shot wide-open. The passageway had led him into a circular chamber lit with Bluebell Flames, large, grey statues of Horned Serpents lining the walls and looking towards the smaller, obsidian statue of a fanged Horned Serpent standing guard in front a doorway made of the same material. What. The. Fuck? This place reminds me of the Chamber… Who built this?!
Following the vines with his eyes, the Champion saw that they passed through the mouth of the fanged Horned Serpent statue, as if it were eating them. This is… This is absolutely mental. What are the Sages up to? What are those damn vines? Confused, but not deterred, the Champion made his way over to the obsidian statue, noticing that the Dark Crystals he had seen lining the walls and ground didn't exist in this chamber, a fact that only served to alarm him.
"And what are you supposed to be?" the Champion whispered to the statue, stopping in front of it. Hold on, there's some sort of inscription carved onto its forehead, where the jewel is supposed to be. "Through flesh and blood, that which guards enlightenment will give way. Through sacrifice, your mind shall be opened." Right…
The Champion cocked an eyebrow at the statue's sharp fangs, there was recently dried blood on them. Two fangs, two fingers… He looked to the large gate behind the statue, and it all clicked into place. He had to sacrifice his fingers to the statue, and only then, would he be allowed entry. Only then, he would gain 'enlightenment' and the answers to so many questions. Answers that will come at the cost of my freedom, I bet… Harkin gave up his flesh and blood, and they must've used it to somehow gain power over him. They've been enslaving people for centuries! And now, they expect to do the same to me? Well, that's not going to happen. I tasted freedom, today, and I'm not giving that up for anything! Never again!
The Champion smiled with malicious intent, aiming his wands at the statue. "Reducto!"
The statue's head was blown clean off, and the vines within its mouth were severed. Fuck you, you cunts! You're living on my planet! And I'll take whatever I want from you! That's the price youhave to pay for me tolerating your existence! Storming backwards until he was at a safe distance, the Champion fired a volley of Blasting Curses at the gate, causing the entire mountain to tremble under his wrath. It took several blasts for the obsidian gate to begin showing cracks, but even then, it looked ready to withstand a lot more. Fine, then! You think I'll stop?! I'll bring this entire mountain down on our heads before I give in to your demands!
"Furens Tempestas!" the Champion snarled, unleashing arcs of crackling electricity from his wands.
They cracked off of the black surface, shooting off in different directions and causing destruction all around him, tearing up the ground and scorching the grey statues. He continued the onslaught until he noticed that the cracks had grown in size thanks to the extreme heat, quickly pocketing his wands and pulling his left arm back as if preparing to throw a haymaker.
"Baubillious!" the Champion roared, thrusting left hand forward as if it were a spear, piercing through the final shield safeguarding the Sages from him.
The sound of thunder reverberated throughout the caves, no doubt even reaching the school above, followed by the sound of the obsidian gate being shattered to pieces. Gusts of dust and small rocks blew past him, blowing out the Bluebell Flames and leaving him in the dark, with the only source of light being the lightning that crackled all over his arm, forking out and striking anything that was close enough to be destroyed.
Smirking, he sauntered forward, crossing the shattered gate and stepping into the Sages' home, into the very Heart of the Mountain. It was a much larger chamber than the one he had just crossed, and near the end of it were dozens of Horned Serpents, cowering in fear of him. Behind them was an eery, ashen tree, one that had four vines connected to its base, its spindly branches reaching up to the ceiling and burrowing themselves into the stone.
"You have rejected our gift?!" the largest of the black Horned Serpents hissed, slithering forward and rising as if to strike at him with fang and venom. "You have desecrated our mountain! Our home!"
"My mountain, you limbless cunt," the Champion sneered, his eyes flashing red. "Did you really think you could stop me with illusions? With a big gate? You fucking maggot… You have no fucking idea about who you're dealing with, but now, I'm going to teach you! You'll give me everything I want, because I'm going to tear it out of you! Piece! By! Piece!"
AUTHOR'S NOTES: He did it again! He ended it on a cliffhanger! I love being a scumbag sometimes hehe!
You won't have to wait long for the next one, as I'm trying to get back into my old schedule!
See you guys soon!