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Act IV - Skin In The Game

Chapter 5: The Perils Of Genius

It was a silver tiara, beautifully carved with an azure gem in its centre, pulsing with magic. It sat upon the chipped bust of an ugly, old warlock, blending perfectly into the surroundings. Yet to Hermione's eyes, the polished crest of Ravenclaw, etched upon the tiara stood out more than anything else. And in the centre, right below the azure gemstone were words inscribed in Latin.

Ingenio est maxima virtus omnium.

Genius is the greatest virtue of all, Hermione translated. She had half-expected something like Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure, as the Ravenclaws liked to chant over and over, and took a moment to chastise herself for thinking something so inane. Rowena Ravenclaw was regarded as one of the greatest witches to ever exist, her prowess in magic eclipsing the other Founders. History of Magic told her that.

And yet, Hermione thought bitterly. All I receive for my genius is resentment and humiliation. What say you, Rowena Ravenclaw? Is this how you perceived the future would turn out?

"Look at me," said Hermione. "Right from the first year, I've excelled in every subject out there. But do you know what I've gotten in return? The know-it-all tag, because I love magic. Because I am actually enthusiastic to know more, to become more. They call me ignorant, because I'm a muggleborn. They call me inferior, because I am muggleborn. They say my blood is worth less, because I'm a muggleborn. Merit has no place at Hogwarts, Rowena Ravenclaw. Gold and Pureblood Elitism has. What would you have done if you were in my place?"

The gemstone sparkled.

A frown formed at the edge of her lips.

"I've been a perfect student all my life," she said. "Prodigy! That's what my teachers called me. When my friends were learning basic arithmetic, I was solving quadratic equations. Knowledge and books were my friends, not people. My teachers adored me, you should've seen them rave about me to my parents. Genius, that's what they called me. Genius."

A strange darkness marred her face.

"Then one day, I received a strange letter. From Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. A school of magic."

The last words left her lips in a sneer.

"I… I was so happy. Professor McGonagall told me how magic made me special. To think that there were kids out there, magical kids, witches and wizards, that were just like me. Prodigies. Talented. Special. I left school and joined Hogwarts to be with my true equals, I —" She paused, and let out a bitter laugh. "I was actually scared that the others might actually be better than me, so I read all my books from cover to cover in advance, I…"

She fell silent.

After several lonely seconds, she looked up at the tiara. "It didn't matter. It was all the same. No, it was worse. These… these purebloods, they just took magic for granted. Like it was just homework. Why couldn't they see the power in those spells, the way they interacted with reality and made our wishes come true? Magic… the power to do impossible things, to make our wishes come true… It's something every muggle child wants, and yet these purebloods, they've made it ordinary. Like it means nothing."

She gingerly held the edges of the tiara.

No, she corrected herself. Diadem. The Diadem of Ravenclaw.

"I thought Harry would be different, you know," said Hermione wistfully. "Ron is just… Ron. He'll never become great. But Harry? He has so much potential, and just see him now, he's become the Defence Professor. He's a Warlock, and he's even part of the Workshop."

An intense surge of pride flared in her.


Her gaze fell on the blue gemstone.

"He's changed. He was supposed to be with me. We have been together through thick and thin since the first year. I helped him find the Sorcerer's Stone. I helped him with the basilisk and Tom Riddle's Diary. I helped him save Sirius and save his own life. He — he was stupidly stubborn about his Dad coming back to life to save him. If not for my egging, he wouldn't even have cast the Patronus. And last year, I was the one that coached him on all the spells he used to fight in the Triwizard. And now, he has it all, and I am… I am inferior."

Her fingers clenched around the diadem.

"An inferior researcher."


"An inferior friend."

Her skin was turning white.

"An inferior student."


"A mudblood."

Blood was beginning to ooze out.

Tears were running down her cheeks. "He has everything. Name, fame, a family to call his own. And those… those bitches that he calls his girlfriends. That inbred bigoted whore Greengrass, and that veela. And he's so stupid he can't even see he's getting manipulated by them against his true friends. At the end of last year, I thought… I thought we truly shared something. But now I know that's not true. I'm… I'm just a mudblood. I'm nothing. Harry Potter wants Daphne Greengrass and Fleur Delacour, and nothing to do with me."

"And I clearly deserve far, far better than him. He's a magical cripple with above-average power that got lucky, but I'm the one that scores the highest in all subjects. It's not my fault if he chooses to stay blind to his shortcomings."

Had Hermione been in her senses, she'd have realised that such a thought would've never crossed her mind, not even in a heartbeat. But —

"Don't I have every right to feel that way? Don't I deserve a bit of entitlement after all I've done? I deserve to be treated better. I deserve better than deserters like Harry Potter."

Again, had she been in her senses, she'd have noticed how the diadem was actually absorbing her blood into itself. But Hermione was too emotional, too filled with righteous indignation. She didn't even realise when she had held the Diadem with both hands and slowly lifted it up, and put it on her head. There was a sudden tingle of magic the moment the headpiece touched her skin, and a split second of panic shot through her, but was instantly replaced by a surge of worthiness, as she felt her breath go slow, and a sense of invincibility flooded inside her.

This was the Diadem of Ravenclaw. Just wearing this was supposed to make the wearer gain intelligence. And Hermione was already intelligent. Just what would this enchanted headgear turn her into?

Opening her eyes made her stagger as she was hit with a sudden rush of impressions. The entire junkyard was absolutely seethed with magical energies. Wild green and golden light spilled from far, far away, merged with fire-like crimson and dense, black-as-night magical tendrils, with a shell of grayscale keeping them from escaping out. The rest of the place was like a translucent garden, flashes of colours spreading through them, clawing at the gentle floor, anchored here and there at points of light so vibrant and bright that she couldn't even look directly at them.

She glanced back at the grayscale shell, where two energies were in conflict, each of them as bright and dense as small suns. Hermione could, just barely, see the shadow of solid beings within those lights, and even the shadow of each was an overwhelming presence upon my senses. One was a sense of warmth, choking heat, so much that she could barely breathe, that it pressed into her and set her aflame. The other was of cold, horrible and absolute, winding cold limbs around her, stealing away her strength, Their presences flooded through her, their power so terrifying and exhilarating and awesome that she fell to her knees and sobbed.

The powers played against one another — Hermione could sense that, though not the exact nature of the conflict. Energies wound about one another, subtle pressures of darkness and light, leaving the landscape vaguely lit in squares of cold and warm colour. Fields of red and gold and bright green stood against empty, dead blocks of blue, purple, pale white. A pattern had formed in them, a structure to the conflict that was not wholly complete. That said, something about that coldness felt incredibly familiar.

Like it belonged to her, or at least someone close to her.


Before she could further delve into that particular thought, her entire body froze as she registered a different presence. Unlike the two wizards with titanic reserves of power, this new thing didn't fill the room. It emptied the room in a way that Hermione couldn't even understand. Utter stillness was spreading out of it, not peace, for that would have been something tranquil, accepting. This stillness was a horrible, hungry emptiness, something that took its power from being not. Like the last breaths of a dying man, like the last flickering embers of a bonfire, like the inevitability of the empty void that would swallow stars and galaxies in the end.

It was wrong.

And it was coming for her. It wanted to destroy her. And nothing could stop it.

Hermione clenched her bloodied fist, and drew her wand out. With this Diadem on her, the windows to her mind hadn't just been opened, they had been shattered.

And Hermione saw.

She saw the impossibility. Saw it take form.

She saw the blade in its hand. It was a Relic. Godric's Sword. What was it doing in the hands of this abomination? That anathemic power was swirling around it, corrupting it, forging it into a massive broadsword. The colours vanished, dispersed by a dull, monochromatic grey. The brilliance and colour all around shrieked and pulled back, shrinking into itself. Even the darker coldness facing the fiery crimson in a deadlock paled into insignificance. The entire aura of the Room around her seemed not so much diminished, but merely as though it no longer mattered. It was, as with everything else, simply devoured by the vacuum-like radiance of that sword. It glowed like the blackest night, and began to grow in intensity. Hermione could barely move, could barely see, and could certainly not manage anything like a thought. And yet, the image of that upraised blade bypassed her mind entirely and simply seared itself into her soul.

The figure raised its arms and drew back. The power grew to a peak, becoming impossible to look upon, even for her.

Then she saw its face.


The blade came through, and the light burned.

The battle turned when Harry Potter began unleashing the Death-powered spells while performing at Extrasensory state, bearing the brunt of the enemy's combined attacks, shrugging them off with a severing slice of his blade. It turned into a slaughter when he started chopping them apart one after another, swinging the Sword of Gryffindor in one hand, and wielding his wand in another, with the air of a man wiping sweat off his brow. It became wholesale butchery when he unleashed the majestic thestral — Death made manifest in the form of the Peverell totem — stampeding and radiating black flares like they were going out of fashion.

Despite that, the projections inside the Room kept fighting with admirable courage. No, not courage. Courage was a complex emotion best left for 'real' existences. These faceless acolytes, Draco-spawns, and monster caricatures were just cannon fodder, their instincts guided by the purpose of the heinous curse that wanted the Defence Professor's downfall at all costs.

And yet Rage reigned. As did vindication. And that intense hatred.

The entire chamber was ridden with malignant growths. A sea of twisted figures, some slithering, others flying, most of them running and firing curses. Like the diseased skin of a plague victim, they came at him in vast numbers. The illusory forms kept transforming into birds and beasts alike, twisting and contorting, relentless in their attempts to take the form of something that could turn the tables in its favour. The sounds they made was something no sane person should hear.

It was the sound of a world gone mad. A reality trying to kill itself.

Like a comet falling from the sky, a massively oversized runespoor fell at him, fangs bared and ready to sink into his skin. The right head went for the thestral and was instantly incinerated the moment it touched the thestral's bladed wings.

That didn't stop it.

The left head came swooping down, and slammed against a hastily raised shield. The second was met by the hilt of Gryffindor's blade, and it too was stopped, as if it had struck a wall. With a single, sharp motion, Harry sliced both maws apart, Death flowing through the magnificent goblin-forged blade, hungrily devouring every single illusion that came in its way. He slashed his wand at the snake's tail, and a streak of purple flame struck it, hacking it into half a dozen pieces. He spun around, and met a Draco-spawn's surprised face.

"What…." it asked. "What… are… you?"

Harry smiled. "Judgement. Now, Reducto!"

Draco's head exploded.

"Ew. Gross!" Harry exclaimed. He really ought to keep his instincts under control.

He drew the blade down, the black flames of Death coating its axis, and spun around, tearing into the serpent's flesh, splitting it into half, a wound that was easily as tall as himself, and the creature screamed from somewhere….

But it did not fall.

Harry rolled his eyes, and propelled himself backwards, as a fourth head appeared out of nowhere, followed by two new offsprouts. He could see white mist arising from the previously slashed parts, now regenerating back with extreme prejudice.

He sensed a growing number of opponents surrounding him from all directions. All of them regrowing their hacked body parts, glaring at him with extreme prejudice.

"I see," he said with a grin. "Tug-of-war, it is. I hack them apart, and you regenerate them back? I wonder what will make all of these stay dead and…"

He spun to his right, and went still. There it was, beyond two more blocks, that feeling. For a moment, it was like his brain had been frozen solid, as if literal bars of ice had been driven through each lobe. Like all the colour in the world had been sucked out, leaving everything in grayscale. There was a curse on it, oh yes, and it was dark. Very, very dark magic. But the origin of the curse… just sensing it made him snarl.

It… It… it sickened him. He didn't know what it was, but some part of him…

The deepest, darkest part, that answered to a far higher authority than Albus Dumbledore…

So, that is what I have to End.

Ever since he had woken up after the cemetery incident on the night of the Third Task, Harry had felt the power of Death coursing inside him, and held it back. It was intense and difficult at first, and he had felt the primal drives that were its power, the need to hunt, to fight, to kill, to destroy what needed destroying. Every single time he came across a form of Magic that corrupted and twisted Reality into an abhorrent caricature of itself, an urge to end it surged within him. And with his connection to the Spirit Realm, or the Anima forged through his animagus form, those instincts had gained prominence. The owl's nature was beautiful violence, stark clarity, the most feral needs and killer instinct pitted against the malevolent nature of magic and prey, the will and the desire to hunt.

He had fought against that desire, that drive, repressed it, held it at bay. That savagery was not meant for Hogwarts where students came to learn. It was not even meant to be used against the Ministry that was intent on playing needless politics just to hold the reigns of power.

It was meant for times like this.

So he let Death in, and everything changed.

Every bit of weariness vanished. Not because he was no longer weary, but because his body was no longer important., only his will. His fear vanished too. Fear was for prey. Fear was for the things he was about to hunt.

His doubts vanished as well. Doubt was for things that he did not know their purpose, and he knew his.

Emerald eyes morphed into putrid yellow ones.

A propulsion charm hurled him into the air, and Harry raised both hands, and in his palms, discs of black flame appeared, dark against the darkness.

He threw them down at the new opponents, and the sound was a bit like a thousand chainsaws going violently insane in perfect unison as the illusions began to burn.


The spells fell upon the crowd in massive explosions, creating craters of ruined junk, upturned stone, and layers of ice in their wake. The next moment, he was on the ground, striking left and right with the sword, flickering cuts as swift and light as the beating of a hummingbird's wings, leaving nothing but little incisions in the depth of a fingernail's width in spaces of illusory flesh, but covering a pace as big as his hands around the wound with vicious Death-energy hungrily infecting the site and spreading outward. Wherever he went, a nexus of carnage followed. The abominations closest to him recoiled and were struck with bitter wounds, Death hungrily devouring them inside out, leaving them in a half-frozen, half-gone state, blocking their allies from getting close to strike him. This left Harry riding forward into a vacuum of space that would never quite close around him.

Something deep and primal within him was calling him to action. Something that was seething at finding that poisonous presence staining Reality and wanted it gone at all costs. With frightening ease, Harry traversed through the battlefield, apparating in and out, sliding right in front of the mouth of a dragon, only to point his wand into his maw and make it explode into gore. Every move brought with it an increased aggression. One strike became three. A missive hit created a crater on the floor. The faceless enemies twisted themselves in mid-air, and instantly Harry doubled his perception using Extrasensory and sucker-punched them in the face, disintegrating them instantly.

Spells flew. Limbs fell. Heads rolled, and disintegrating corpses paved the way as Harry, an indestructible master of war, brought the sword down, carrying a column of thick, tangible Death rising like a pillar of black flame along the axis of the blade.


If the sonic boom of the slash had been like thunder, the impact was like a warhead. The semisolid, mist-flesh that now made up the majority of the opponents did not burst or scatter or slowly disintegrate. Instead, it detonated, flames that burned both black and white roaring over the junk as they erupted from the point of impact in a geyser of black and white magic that seared the very air, leaving a sickly grey void against the ceiling.

"Huh…" he panted. "All of that and you're still regenerating? What a confounding creature you are… Still, it can't get too much worse…"

Without hesitation, Harry lunged, his blade-wielding arm leading the way held straight like a spear in an attempt to destroy the thing before it could attempt to hide. What he didn't expect was a raw, invisible force — pure will, focussed into a violent burst of kinetic energy to be hurled at him. Hastile, Harry raised his best Protego, and braced himself against it in precisely the correct way. A perfect defence.

It was what saved his life.

The protego lit up like a floodlight, and despite all he could do to divert the energy coming at him, it hit him like a giant on adrenaline frenzy. If he hadn't been able to smoothen it out and take the blow uniformly across the entire front of his body, it would've smashed his collarbone or his nose, depending on where the energy bled through.

Harry fell several feet into the air, hit on his back, and scraped along for more, and somehow managed to turn the momentum into a roll. He staggered to his feet, leaning on his sword. He must have clipped his head at some point, because stars were swirling in his vision.

By the time he had gotten himself upright, the panic had set in. No one had ever thrown power at him like that. Not even Voldemort. Merlin's beard, if he hadn't been prepared for that blow…

He swallowed, and looked up at his attacker. There, in front of him, stood Hermione, wearing an angelic expression on her face, a strange tiara on her head with a pulsating blue jewel in its middle that made Harry want to snarl in rage. And surrounding Hermione were illusory forms of Minerva McGonagall, Filius Flitwick, Severus Snape and the other Hogwarts professors, their wands pointed at him, ready to kill at her command.

Harry chuckled again, a bitter sound. "Oh look. It got worse."

She looked at him, and did not know what enraged her the most.

The fury was so intense that she could barely analyse it, like walking through a dream. She gazed upon the scene before her, and her eyes could barely focus through the grayscale that fell over her vision.

The Room, perhaps the finest piece of Mystery and Magic in all Existence, was burning. Screaming. Screeching in pain. Crafted using an art that forged the lines of Fate and Destiny, empowered by an unique merging of four Ley-lines, secured within a castle that was both alive and not, was the Prison of Possibilities. This place was crafted to be the last line of defence for witches and wizards against the Beyond. Rowena Ravenclaw foresaw that Oblivion would come for them, like it had come for the old gods. She foresaw the decline of the Magi, and not even the billions and billions of permutations the Room conjured for her, she could not foresee the utopia she wished for her kind. Her sole hope lay in her vision, her vision that in every generation, a witch would come and take charge of this Room, and guide the World with her vision.

The Scourge could not be bated away forever.

The Beyond would keep seeping through the cracks.

And eventually… Oblivion.

But this… this corroding influence, a spot of blight in her garden that threatened to grow and consume it all? It devoured her creations, making her world lesser just by existing in it. This was Harry Potter's power? This sickness… this anathema was what her best friend was granted the status of a Warlock for? Could he not see what he was doing? Could he not see that he was destroying wizardkind's hope, that he was tearing their only bridge to prosperity?

Unbridled rage poured through her.

Her creations were many, varied, and ever-forming. Harry was just one boy. Surrounded, outmatched, and yet he survived. No, he thrived. Her creations were coming at him from every direction, spellfire lashed at his body, the woes of the Prison of Possibilities called for his suffering, yet he lived on. Every spell of his was a mortal sin. Every instant of survival, an insult to her prowess.

Her Prison of Possibilities, threatened.

Her bastion, wizardkind's last hope against Oblivion, ravaged.

Death, the defiler, the End of all things, the monochromatic distortion in her world of colour, spreading in every direction and coming for her. To End her.

This could not be allowed to stand.

She had finally Seen everything. She would not let this fool touch her. She would destroy him.

Hermione raised her wand like a sword, and the doors to her mind sprang open, countless possibilities and vistas of opportunity opening to her. They came in hundreds and thousands, each and every single one of them aimed at the utter annihilation of Harry James Potter, wielder of Death. Infinite energy flowed through the Room, infinite alternate futures began to unfold, and through a million paths of foresight, Hermione Granger launched her offence against the intruder.

It was time for judgement.

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