A/N: This story begins during the Gringott's Heist in Deathly Hallows, and an indeterminate amount of time after the War of the Spark in Magic the Gathering.
Once they had passed beyond the range of the great Ukrainian Ironbelly, Harry Potter noticed the silence of the vaults for the first time. The smooth stone passages and great metal doors of all sizes seemed like they would create a myriad of echoes, but he could not even hear their footsteps as they walked deeper into the depths.
If his nerves had bothered him before, they were really putting him on edge now. Even putting Travers under the imperius had not bothered him as much as the quiet did now.
One of the first vaults they saw had a smooth, gleaming silver door. Hermione had to look twice as they passed, for the design did not match any of the vaults they had seen to this point. It seemed at once both ancient and ultra-modern - perhaps even futuristic, if the gleam of its polished silver was any indication.
"What vault is this?" she asked Griphook.
"Not the one we're here for," he replied. The goblin sneered at her. "I'm already doing enough to break my oaths, Miss Granger, I won't help you do more."
"She didn't ask for a look," said Ron, stepping a little closer to the goblin. "She just wanted to know whose vault that was."
Griphook glanced up at the redhead, before scowling at Hermione. "That vault is one of several that belong to Gringotts. It houses unidentified artifacts."
"Uh huh," said Harry, unconvinced. He wanted to say more, but stopped himself when he saw Griphook stop in front of another, more traditional looking vault.
"This is the Lestrange vault," the goblin said. "Let us begin."
Once they escaped the vault, they found a squad of goblins waiting for them. Griphook's betrayal was not a sudden attack of conscience, it seemed. The trio began fighting their way out of the passageway, stunning and shielding as they could.
"Harry, we're going toward the dragon!" Ron said, once he realized which way they were going.
"I've got an idea!" Harry shouted in reply. "But I don't think you're going to like it!"
"Bloody hell!" was Ron's answer, as he blocked another attack.
When the dragon heard them approaching, it gave as mighty a roar as it could. Even in its weakened and underfed state, even at its advanced age, it was still a full grown dragon - and it was angry at the disturbance.
"Shit," said Harry, as he realized where they were standing. "Duck, now!"
Hermione had been shielding, and yelped as Ron tackled her to the ground. A blast of fire shot over their heads, blasting several goblins away and impacting the odd vault they had seen earlier. The door melted readily, which surprised them - it was made of silver, or a silver-like metal, and not the steel it had seemed to be.
Before they could get back up, the three found themselves surrounded. A second squad of goblins had flanked them as the dragon was attacking, and they were even angrier than the first group.
Griphook swaggered forward. "Commander, these three tricked me into breaching a high security vault. Let them face goblin justice."
One of the soldiers stepped forward, his face hidden behind a golden helmet. He looked at Harry. "Is this true?"
"We told Griphook what we needed and why, and that we were stealing from the Dark Lord, not from his customer. He brought us here willingly." Harry was in no mood to defend their betrayer, and basically said as much. At the back of his mind, he hoped that the soldier would at least listen before killing them.
"Did he?" Turning to Griphook, he nodded once. The soldier nearest to Griphook raised a hand, and Griphook fell to the ground. "Take him away."
Before the goblins could comply, they seemed to freeze in place. It was not a stunning spell, nor were they immobilized - they simply stopped, as if frozen in time.
Harry, too, was frozen in place - but unlike the others, he was simply unable to move from where he stood. He could look around, and did so, seeing Ron and Hermione also frozen. The dragon remained active, unfortunately, and let loose another angry roar, but did not attack.
A heavy noise drew Harry's attention to the melted vault door. The vault it protected remained dark and ominous, with no internal lights to reveal its contents. The only thing Harry could see was an odd set of runes that glowed with a pale, yellow light. What's more, the runes seemed to be approaching the doorway.
Shortly before the runes - and whatever carried them - made it to the door, Harry saw two more lights. They were both the same yellow color, and their size made him think of eyes. The thought chilled him - no creature he knew had eyes like that.
Once he saw the being to whom those eyes belonged, he understood. The yellow eyes were set into a broad metal face. It appeared to be vaguely human, in the way a blind sculptor might carve a human face sight unseen. Its mouth seemed set in a perpetual frown, but one of disappointment rather than anger or sadness.
The being seemed to wear armor of some sort, its thick shoulders displaying the ridges of what might have been plate. As it approached, Harry realized that there was no armor - the metal ridges were part of its body, and its body was seemingly made of a dull silver. It's movement was precise and steady, with more than a hint of inevitability in its stride. It was obviously a device of some sort, a mechanical thing, but the eyes conveyed emotion nonetheless - and right now, that emotion was confusion.
The dragon roared again, and the being turned to look in its direction. It raised a hand toward the dragon and Harry could tell that a pulse of magic had been used, somehow. The dragon seemed to freeze, just as the others had.
"Bolas, you are not," the being said to itself. Its voice was a smooth, rumbling bass, and Harry could not help but hear a deep weariness in it. When the eyes turned back to him, he saw something in them he had not noticed - they looked impossibly old. Or, rather, the being behind them seemed ancient.
It walked toward Harry, its head tilting as it considered the individuals in the passageway.
"You are a mage," it said.
Harry found that he could nod.
The being considered him for a moment, before his eyes glowed briefly. Before he could consider doing otherwise, Harry had glanced up at the brilliant yellow. As soon as they made eye contact, Harry felt a gentle brush against his mind.
It was not the brutal mental attack of Voldemort, nor the bludgeoning assault of Professor Snape. The image that came to mind was of a diagnostic charm like those used by Madam Pomfrey. It felt analytical, as if it were making a list of books on a shelf rather than reviewing the contents of those books.
The probe withdrew from Harry's mind, and he became aware that the being was still looking at him. Now that he got a better look at the face, he got the impression that it was contemplating its options.
"Where are we?" it finally asked.
"Gringott's," Harry replied. "We are in the vaults of the goblin bank."
"Goblins?" asked the being, an almost amused tone in its voice. "These creatures, then?" it asked, indicating the guards.
"Yes," Harry confirmed.
"And you are thieves? That one," it pointed at the lead goblin, "Seems to think that you had stolen something."
"We fight against a dark wizard, who took steps to prevent his own death." Harry spoke cautiously, not wanting to reveal too much - but he felt that he could trust this being, whatever it was. "We must destroy several items before the Dark Lord can be defeated. One of those items is the cup in the bag on my friend's shoulder."
The being saw Harry's look, and walked over to Ron, who remained frozen. Again, the being's hand came up, and Harry saw the glow of a spell on its fingertips. The only reaction Harry saw was a narrowing of the being's eyes as it realized what the cup actually was.
"A soul jar," it said. "This wizard created a soul jar?" It straightened up and looked back at Harry. "Distasteful."
"That's one way of putting it." agreed Harry.
The being raised its hand again, this time at Harry. There was no indication that he was being scanned, just the barest touch of what felt like a breeze across his face.
"He created more than one." It was not a question.
"Yes," Harry said, without thinking. "How did you know?"
The being stepped closer, its movements smooth and fluid, despite its size. A finger came up and pointed at Harry's forehead. "Your friend carries one in his bag, and you carry another in your wound."
"In my…." Harry's voice trailed off as the being's words sank in. "My scar…"
"Yes," stated the being, simply.
"Merlin," Harry's voice was a whisper at this point, his eyes closed.
A scrape of metal shook Harry out of his thoughts, and he opened his eyes to see one of the goblins shifting slightly. The metal being also noticed this, and seemed unconcerned.
"The 'goblins' will be free momentarily," it said. "We will need to be gone before that happens."
"We will?" asked Harry, emphasizing the 'we'. "You would help us?"
The yellow eyes turned to him, and Harry stilled under the attention.
"I find that a dark mage who has gone so far as to create artifacts of this type is beyond redemption," it said. "You cannot stop them if you are captured here." Its hand came up, and closed into a fist. With a pulse of magic, Ron and Hermione were unfrozen. Harry, too, found that he could move again.
"Harry, what happened?" Hermione asked, just before she turned and saw the being standing there. Her hand came up to bring her wand to bear, but stopped partway through the motion. "Who are you?"
The being looked amused. "You may call me Karn."
"Karn has agreed to help us escape, Hermione," said Harry. He could see Ron's look of disbelief, but also saw that Ron was keeping his wand down - for now. He was playing it by ear, just as they all were these days.
"Oh, well, um… Thank you, Karn." Hermione spoke haltingly, as she processed the fact that Karn - whatever it was - was an ally, at least for the moment. "We do still need to get outside of the wards, though."
Karn's eyes narrowed. "That would be the energy field permeating this area?"
"Probably," answered Ron. "You can't apparate from within the bank."
"I do not know how to 'apparate', as you say," replied Karn, raising his hand and pointing it at a nearby wall. "I am adept at other forms of travel, however." With an intricate motion, Karn seemed to open a hole in the wall. Its edges glowed a bright red, and soon the hole was a solid disc of light.
"I saw a house in your memories," Karn said. "A dark house, hidden from view."
Hermione shared a glance with Harry. "As soon as we set foot outside that house, we would be captured again."
"Indeed," said Karn. "So why not enter the house directly?"
"Can you do that?" asked Harry.
"I can," was the simple reply. The red disc faded, to reveal the foyer of 12 Grimmauld Place. As Ron, Hermione, and Harry stared in shock at the sight, another goblin began to move slightly. Karn noticed, and nodded toward the portal. "Time is of the essence, it would seem."
Ron approached cautiously. "We can just step through?"
"You can," answered Karn. "If you do so quickly."
When the disorientation passed, the goblins realized that their quarry had vanished. The lead goblin growled in anger as he saw the melted vault door.
"Inform the Director," he said. "The Tolarian Vault has been opened." He sheathed his blade, taking one halting step toward the ruined vault. "Gods help us."
Ron and Hermione both gave Harry a nod before leaving the sitting room. Hermione wanted to make sure that Ron's injured shoulder was healed properly, and trusted Harry to ask the right questions of their new ally. Ron, for his part, was starting to calm down from the heat of the battle, and had realized just how close they came to losing everything. He very badly needed to sit down for a while, and Hermione was pleased that she did not have to press the issue, for once.
Harry went to the kitchen to make himself tea, and paused. "Karn," he began, turning to the passive face of the metal being. "I'm sorry, there's no way to ask this, but…"
Karn nodded slightly, and again Harry got just a hint of amusement in the gesture. "In your tongue, I would be called a silver golem." The corners of Karn's mouth moved slightly, almost giving the impression of a slight smile. "And I have no need of sustenance. But please, feel free to tend to your needs."
"Right," said Harry, shaking his head as he prepared the tea. "And you were locked in a vault in Gringott's."
"Yes," Karn replied. "Tell me, what do your people know of planeswalkers?" Off Harry's blank stare, Karn paused. "Tolaria? Dominaria? The Nexus?"
"I'm sorry, I've never heard of any of that before," answered Harry. "I am just a teenager, though, so there may be some wizards who know more."
"Perhaps," said Karn, thoughtfully. "Suffice it to say, there are many planes of existence, each filled with its own magic. I, and many others, can use magic to travel from one plane to another. This makes us planeswalkers."
"Alright," said Harry. "And while you were walking between planes, you found yourself on Earth?"
"Earth," repeated Karn, as if saying the name for the first time. "Yes, I found myself here quite by accident. Whatever drew me here seemed to drain me of my magic, such that when I finally awoke I found myself being examined by those… creatures. They thought I was a statue, I imagine."
"If you weren't active, they may have," Harry said.
"They reacted poorly when I spoke, and rendered me inert once more. Then I woke today, when the vault was breached."
"I see," said Harry. "How long were you in there, do you think?"
The glow of Karn's eyes brightened slightly, which seemed to happen when he was trying to answer a difficult question. Harry wondered if the golem's mind was like some of the computers he had read about, or if it was something more in line with magical artifacts like the sorting hat that were self-aware.
"By your reckoning," Karn said, "I arrived on this world in the year 1792."
"Bloody hell," came Ron's voice. Karn stepped to the side, turning as he did so, revealing Ron and Hermione standing in the doorway, looks of shock on their faces.
Smiling to himself, Harry went to get two more tea cups.
Over the course of the next hour, the three told Karn the tales of the Dark Lord Voldemort. How he had murdered Harry's parents in a bid to forestall a prophecy, how he had split his soul to thwart death, how he had rampaged across the country in the past year. At every turn, the silver golem listened attentively and asked few questions.
The only real show of emotion Karn exhibited was when they explained that Voldemort was known as the Dark Lord because of his use and affinity for Dark magic. Here, the golem had almost scoffed at the term.
"There is no such thing as dark magic," said Karn, when Hermione questioned him on his reaction. "Magic is a force of nature, nothing more. It is what one does with that power that charts their course."
"This war is entirely about light magic versus the darkness," said Hermione, as if lecturing. The truth of her statement was self-evident, though perhaps not to an outsider.
Karn turned his yellow eyes toward her. "How many colors might one find in a rainbow, Hermione Granger?"
Puzzled, she answered. "Seven, sir."
"Indeed. Do they not bleed together at the edges? The red meets the orange, which meets the yellow, and so on. Where colors meet, do they not form different hues?"
Hermione was not sure. "Possibly…" she ventured.
Karn raised his hand, and it glowed softly. Five orbs of light rose into the air, circling between him and the three humans. They watched, fascinated, as the orbs took on different colors.
"In my experience," Karn began. "Magic comes in five basic forms. Each can be used for nearly limitless purposes, bounded only by the creativity and will of the spellcaster." As he spoke, the orbs slowed, taking up positions in a rough circle, floating in the air.
As he indicated each orb, it glowed with a brilliant light.
"White magic, or what you might mistakenly call 'light' magic, is the magic of the plains. It is the color of healing, true, just as I suspect your light magic might be in this world. But it is also the color of both order and justice. Law, bureaucracy, authority, these all hew to white magic." Karn focused on the orb as he spoke. "How many in your world, I wonder, sought power for pure purposes, and ended up being worse than those they replaced?"
An image of a sun appeared within the orb. "The symbol for white magic is a sun. It brings life and growth to the lands, but can also bake the desert and slay the unwary with its heat."
The green orb glowed next. "Green magic is the magic of the forest. It is the magic of life itself, of nature, of growth. It is the strength of the hunt, but also the bloodlust of the hunter, the killer instinct of the predator." A tree appeared in the orb. "The tree is our symbol for green magic. One can easily shape wood to their needs, cut it, burn it, as you like - but given time and room to grow, the forest cannot be so easily tamed."
Hermione watched, fascinated, as the blue orb began to glow. Ron and Harry shared a brief look, each amused at her reaction. This was old knowledge, something she would never find in a book.
"Blue magic governs knowledge and reason. It is the magic of insight, creativity, invention, cleverness. But even cleverness can give way to trickery when wielded as a weapon." A drop of water appeared in the orb. "Water is our symbol here, for the realm of knowledge is as vast as the oceans - and like the oceans, those who delve too deep often find themselves drowning."
The red orb glowed next. "Red is, as you might expect, the magic of fire and destruction. Chaos and the devastation of war are both aspects of red magic, just as the rage of the planet itself can be, as one might see with a quake or a volcano or the like." A small ball of fire appeared in the orb. "Fire is the symbol used for red magic - but not just any fire. The fireball is an aspect of red magic that exemplifies its nature, for it is a magic that is trivial to cast, but utterly impossible to fully control."
The fifth orb turned an inky black, eliciting a gasp from Hermione. "This is your dark magic, the magic of the swamp. Black magic." Karn waved his hand, and a stylized skull appeared in the orb. "Death and despair are the provinces of black magic, but death is not always evil or unnatural. Black magic is without moral imperative, lacking external control. It is individualistic, in a way no other realm of magic can be. The most ambitious of mages are students of black magic, and that frequently serves them ill, as your Dark Lord may learn to his regret."
Karn watched as the three teenagers gazed upon the five orbs, their fascination evident. With a flick of his wrist, the orbs began shifting once more.
"No being, no mage, no planeswalker, is entirely devoted to one aspect of magic." As he spoke, the white and green orbs merged briefly in the center of the circle, separating moments later. The red and black orbs were next, before the green and blue, red and white, blue and black, and so on. "Just as with your rainbow, there are many different blends of magical skill."
"So," began Harry. "I'm not a light wizard, then?"
Karn held his hand out toward Harry, and his palm glowed once more. As they watched, a sixth orb appeared, blended evenly with white and green magic.
"You see yourself as a protector, Harry Potter. At some level, you are offended at the continued existence of your Dark Lord, as your current mission proves. The nature of your protection, though, is thick with the magic of life." Karn tilted his head, considering what he saw in Harry's magic. "I see a great horned beast, striding through a forest, defending all who have need."
"Prongs," Harry whispered, staring at the orbs in awe.
After a moment, the white and green orb faded. Karn turned his attention to Ron, who nodded in response to the unasked question. Again, the palm glowed, and again a sixth orb appeared. This time, it was a blend of white and red.
"You, too, are a protector, but your magic is much more chaotic than that of your compatriots. What you lack in skill and precision, you make up for with strength you did not know you possessed. That will serve you well in the battles to come."
"Could you…?" Hermione's voice trailed off as Karn turned to her, his palm glowing. Instead of a blend of colors it was a bright blue with streaks of white, almost like clouds across a sunlit sky. Harry saw the wonder in Hermione's eyes, and watched as she reached a tentative hand toward the orb.
"You are a seeker of knowledge, Hermione Granger, much like the scholars of my home. But always your hand is guided by a strong sense of justice and order." Karn looked at the three, all of whom were still gazing at the visual representation of Hermione's magic. "None of you are surprised by my words."
It was Hermione who spoke first. "It all makes sense, when you look at it from this perspective. I never knew… Karn, this is amazing." Ron placed a hand on her shoulder, nodding his agreement.
"Voldemort would use black magic, then?" asked Harry. With a simple motion, another orb appeared - this one a dark black. To Harry's surprise, there were also streaks of red and blue as well.
"Your Dark Lord delved into magics best left untouched, it would seem," Karn said. "His rage is evident, and I suspect he would be a brutal master even to his most devoted followers." He nodded toward the small patch of blue, lurking at the edge of the orb. "Had he been given the chance, and with the proper guidance, he may have become a gifted teacher of magic. But his lust for power, his ambition… these doomed him."
Harry tilted his head, watching the golem. Something in the being's words gave him pause. "You've seen this sort of magic before."
A nod. "Once, long ago." The central orb grew, absorbing the others. In the cloudy depths, a shape began to form. Harry was the first to recognize the shape as that of a dragon, but one unlike any on Earth. Its wings were enormous, to carry its massive form. Its horns were equally impressive, and Harry could see that they almost crackled with magical power.
It was the creature's eyes that chilled him, however, for the dragon gazed out of the orb with unfathomable malice. Without thinking, Harry Potter took a step away from the orb, reaching for his wand as he did so.
"Behold Nicol Bolas," Karn said, disgust plain in his normally stoic voice. "Different worlds called him by different names over the eons. The Deathbringer, The Forever Serpent, The God-Pharaoh of Amonkhet, countless others."
Harry noticed Hermione reach over to hold Ron's hand as they watched the display, both troubled by the idea of such a creature. Harry focused himself on the meaning behind the comparison - on why the idea of Voldemort reminded Karn of a dragon known as the 'Forever Serpent'. The hatred in the features of Nicol Bolas could easily be compared to the Dark Lord, but the destruction Harry saw in the orb's images was well beyond anything Voldemort had managed in either war.
It was as if Karn had followed Harry's train of thought, for the images changed to depict a great battle, hordes of witches and wizards, alongside creatures of all sorts, fighting in a massive war.
"Even among magic users, planeswalkers are special. Each has the ability to pierce the boundaries between one world and the next, and thus tend to wield great power. Nicol Bolas was one such, perhaps the most ancient, said to be old before his world was born." Karn gestured toward the orb. "On a world known as Ravinica, he lured planeswalkers in by the thousands. Then he trapped them, intending to feast on their magic."
Harry saw the battle, saw the unimaginable power of the wizards arrayed against the hordes of what looked like zombies fighting for Bolas. In that instant, he saw a similar battle, wizard against wizard, taking place on the steps of Hogwarts, and felt the anger growing inside him. This, he thought, is exactly something Voldemort would try.
"What happened, Karn?" asked Harry.
"In his arrogance, Bolas sowed the seeds of his own defeat. He had created a weapon of immense power, a spear fit for a goddess, containing some of his own essence. With that spear and his magic, he corrupted Hazoret, the Amonkhet Goddess of Zeal. She remained under his control until he betrayed her and left her for dead. Years later, when our alliance sought to fight him, Hazoret gifted me with the spear. The dragon Niv-Mizzet impaled Bolas on the spear, allowing him to be stopped once and for all."
"He did the same thing…" said Hermione to herself. Off their looks, she gestured at the frozen image of Nicol Bolas. "Don't you see? Bolas left part of himself in the spear, and that was what defeated him. You-know-who left pieces of himself all over the country, never believing for an instant that they could be found and used against him."
"If we can find them," said Ron. "We're still missing one."
Karn looked intently at Harry. "How many soul jars did this Dark Lord create?"
"Six," said Hermione.
"No," said Harry, remembering the conversation in the vaults. "The diary, the ring, and the locket are destroyed. We have the cup. He has his snake. Something of Ravenclaw's is hidden at Hogwarts." Harry turned toward Ron and Hermione, his shaking hand on his forehead, lifting his hair to display his scar.
"And the seventh is here, in my scar." He sighed. "In me."
Karn watched passively as Hermione went to hug Harry, following his revelation.
The boy expects to die, he realized. Yet he goes forward anyway. Gideon would have loved to meet this boy.
Ron stepped closer to Karn, giving Harry and Hermione their space. "Can you help us?" he asked.
Karn looked down at the redhead, but said nothing.
"Look, we're Gryffindors, and normally that means that we'd charge in without a plan and without a clue." Ron nodded toward Harry. "If I know my friend, there, he'll want to go to Hogwarts right away, and hope that we figure it out before You-know-who does."
"You hope for another way." Karn said, simply.
Ron nodded. "There's a prophecy, you know, about Harry and the dark lord. How does it go… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…" He looked up at the silver golem, his expression unreadable. "The way I see it, there isn't much magic that Harry knows that You-know-who doesn't. But what they don't know is that you're here."
Karn seemed to be amused by the thought. "You believe that I am the power this dark lord knows not?"
Ron shrugged. "Could be, mate." Ron's eyes went to the image of Nicol Bolas. "Seems to me you've already taken care of one dark lord, and a much worse one than ours. We could use your help."
"Every act of destruction has repercussions," said Karn. His voice sounded more weary than it had all evening. "I cannot slay your dark lord for you."
"No," agreed Ron. "But that doesn't mean you can't help us in other ways."
"Perhaps not," said Karn. "I told Harry that a mage who created soul jars was beyond redemption, and I stand by that. Just like the Nameless One, he must be stopped before his rampage consumes your world."
Karn's yellow eyes met Ron's. Neither of them noticed Harry and Hermione watching them, listening. The great silver face nodded once, and the deep voice spoke once more.
"I will stand with you, all of you."
"Thank you," said Harry. "Truly, thank you."
Karn nodded in acknowledgement. "We will want to get moving, then."
"Right." agreed Harry, standing up. "To Hogwarts."
A/N: I got into a discussion with my brother over beers a few weekends ago, during which we got out our old Magic: The Gathering cards and played a few rounds. That led to a discussion about how various characters in other fandoms might fit into the magic system of MTG. This story is the result. Now that the background is out of the way, we have room for what might be a very interesting Battle of Hogwarts.
Much of the lore about mana is taken from the MTG Wiki, where it is well summarized. Karn's perspective, as both an artifact and a reformed pacifist, informs the entire discussion. Though the colors for Nicol Bolas are canon, the mana colors chosen for Voldemort, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are my own, and I imagine fifty different readers would have fifty different interpretations. Indeed, many named characters in MTG lore have multiple blends of color to their cards - except for Karn of course, who (as an artifact) utilizes all mana equally.
Karn's quote to Ron about repercussions is from the 2015 version of the Aftershock card. Other quotes are my own, though he may get some classic quotes in the next chapters.
Last time I wrote a one-shot, I ended up getting talked into continuing it - and Who Dares Wins is the result. I hope to avoid that here by starting right at the end of canon. As fascinating as Karn can be, he really does change the balance of power in some fun ways that I'll enjoy writing.
Feedback, as always, is welcome.