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Chapter Forty-Three—Forces of Fate

Tom lifted his head. There seemed to be a vast humming noise all around him that had fallen silent suddenly. At least, he couldn't think of any other way to describe it.

His fingers flexed beneath the desk, near one of his crystals, rather than his wand. He had the feeling that whoever was coming towards him would be better fought that way, instead of with spells.

His instincts were almost never wrong.

Tom stood as one of his windows broke, and a small shape spun through it towards him. Tom ducked easily out of the way, feeling something burn on his right arm. For a moment, he assumed that a piece of glass or rock from the broken pane had hit him, and then he saw a glow through his clothes and realized what it was.

The scars the goblin had given him when she'd drained his blood into the basin were alight, shimmering with golden fire.

Tom smiled slowly. He stepped around the desk, his eyes locked on what he could now clearly see was the Resurrection Stone, hovering in midair. Black spokes seemed to stick out from it, piercing invisible weaves of power.

"Why are you here?" Tom asked softly.

The scars lit again at the same moment as the Stone spoke into his mind with a horrible voice, like the fall of ashes from immense mouths. You are the one who turned away from the path you should have walked, the path that would have led to my freedom. You are the one who must be put back on that path.

Tom nodded slowly. It was what the goblin had told him. The Hallows were forces of fate, determined to bring the world back to the path that would favor them and that "should" have happened.

Unfortunately for them, Tom had paid the price in scars to tell how the world should be guided towards freedom instead.

Will you submit to your fate?

Tom laughed, and the sound made the air in his bedroom crackle. He thought he saw a soft flare of light around the Stone, although he didn't know what it meant. He would have liked to think the thing taken aback by the sound of his laughter, but who knew if it could even feel such human emotions?

"I have never submitted to anything in my life."

You should have. The Stone drifted towards him. You would have been happier than you have been in the endless struggle of this war. And you would not now need to be made a slave.

Tom simply shook his head. Nothing the Stone said could be trusted. It was a force of slavery as much as the inertia or fate the goblins had spoken of. He lifted his hand, and his magic flared around him as he dropped the restraints he still usually kept on it. "I think not."

The Stone flew towards him, as silent as a hunting owl. Tom wound the lash of his magic around himself, hunching in the kind of dragon wings that Nott had spread when he and Severus went hunting in the man's house.

He did not think he could defeat the Stone in direct battle. What he could do was defend himself.

The Stone crashed against the barrier of his mind—and was stopped. Tom poured his magic into his Occlumency, and the walls rose higher and higher, muffling his thoughts but also shielding him from the incredible power the Stone was exuding.

You cannot be doing this, Tom heard someone say, dimly, on the other side of the walls.

Tom didn't reply. There was no point. But caught in his own Occlumency as he was, trapped in his mind, he brought forth the swirling memory of one of the things the goblin had said to him after he had bled into the basin.

The Hallows have succeeded as often as they have because on some level, everyone desires them. They cannot overtake those who truly do not.

Tom smiled, although it felt as if his lips were being ripped open. He had no desire for the Stone, no desire to commune with the dead or harness the power it represented. Even if the Stone got through the Occlumency walls, it could not enslave him by picking up on a shard of willingness in his soul.

And as long as even part of him was free, underneath the surface…

He would keep fighting.

He heard a silent snarl, and then a sound like the door of his office flying open, although no one should have been able to enter against the forces that he and the Stone were hurling at each other.

The Stone spun in midair, and then pressed part of its force against whoever had come through the door. Tom had no time to worry about whether they would survive or not. He flung himself forwards, against the Stone.

There seemed to be a ring of magic surrounding it, glowing and sparkling and pressing outwards with invisible strength. Tom drove himself forwards, ignoring the feeling of his skin peeling back and his veins burning. He was going to win.

The Stone abruptly broke free and reeled back against the wall as if flung. Tom was in time to see Harry, who was standing by the door, lift a palm of glittering fire high and turn it on the Stone.

It was a much brighter and purer blue than any fire Tom had ever seen before, even at the heart of a flame, and it was almost certainly one of the war wizard spells Tom had told Harry never to use on the grounds of Fortius. But he was glad to see that Harry's teeth were bared like his and that he lashed at the Stone with a focused lance of blue power.

There was a time for rules to be forgotten. Tom had always known the time would come, although he'd never suspected it would be so early in the war.

There was a spitting sound, and part of the Stone caved in. Then a keening wail filled Tom's ears. He staggered, but didn't fall.

The Stone turned and sped out of the room, through the same hole in the window that it had made coming in. Another splatter of heated glass landed on Tom's arm. He flinched, but after the cessation of the battering at him from the Stone's power, it was nothing. He blinked and took a deep breath.

"Are you all right?"

Harry's eyes were wide and worried, pinned on Tom. Tom nodded and swept a hand down his robes, rustling them back into place. "Yes. I am—surprised that the Stone attacked me at all, and surprised even more that it retreated when confronted."

"The Cloak just attacked me in some kind of dreamscape," Harry said, and his mouth writhed for a moment as though he wanted to say more and couldn't. Perhaps the magic that was on Disaster's book kept him from speaking of it more, Tom thought. Harry glanced around with narrowed eyes. "The Stone could come back at any time, couldn't it?"

"Yes," Tom said quietly. "I am not sure how we should stop it."

"I've—learned of some wards that depend on the power of a war wizard, but I've never practiced them."

Tom turned and reached for the crystal he had originally intended to use in the fight with the Stone. "This may help you."'

Harry turned the crystal over in his hand, his eyes growing wider. "There's—something pulsing in the center of it. Reaching out to me?" He looked up at Tom as if expecting him to validate Harry's perceptions, but Tom thought Harry had grown beyond the need for such reassurances. He held Harry's eyes instead, and Harry nodded. "There is."

"Yes. And that particular flutter and pulse, if you want to explain it that way, can help you anchor your wards." Tom didn't want to guide Harry's every move, but a few words of wisdom couldn't hurt.

Harry sat down right in the middle of the floor, the crystal still cupped in his hand as he reached inwards for his own unfathomable power. Tom felt his eyebrows rise, but he remained still, waiting to see what happened next.

Harry began to spark, and then glow. The red light that developed around him was feverishly bright, and it turned and considered Tom as though it were a sentient fire. Tom stood still, his hands cocked at his sides. He might have spread them out, empty and harmless, but he thought it prudent to remain in the same position that he had been at the beginning.

It took a moment longer of growing fire, but then Harry leaned in and breathed on the crystal. The pulse and flutter that did indeed jump in the middle of it surged up for a second, and Tom thought they might meet the fire and die. But the fire wrapped around the crystal, and then expanded, and soon Harry sat in a pool of light that reached past the crystal and out, to settle around the grounds.

Tom nodded slowly as he saw the sharp edges to those wards. He had had a moment of surprise that anything so defensive was found in Disaster's book, but now he understood. The wards' primary purpose was still offensive. He could feel them hungrily scanning the darkness, waiting for another enemy to appear, so they could devour it.

Harry opened his eyes and rose to his feet, although his legs were shaking. "There. I don't think anything will get past them while I'm—"

His head snapped up, and he bared his teeth. Tom thought he could actually see Harry's nostrils fluttering as he sniffed the air.

"What is it?"

"Something is wrong," Harry said, and then he turned and ran from the room. Tom ran after him, ignoring the pounding headache from the assault he'd taken on his inner barriers.

Anything that worried a war wizard was something that needed to be dealt with now.


Harry burst into the healing hall, ignoring the admonitions of the Healer on duty, and barreled straight across the room towards the small door at the back of it. He hadn't known where he was going until he got in here, and now that he knew, he could feel a hollow pressure against his neck, the temptation to swallow.

He couldn't. Not until he was sure.

He tore the door open and bounded into the small room where Draco Malfoy lay with the Elder Wand clutched in his hand. He stared at the wand, and felt the wards he had created with the help of Professor Riddle's crystal coming to bear, curving down and ready to consume what Harry told them to consume.

Panting harshly, Harry held up a hand. He could feel Professor Riddle halting behind him, and heard him say something sharp that made the Healer's complaining cut off.

"What is it, Harry?" Professor Riddle asked, calm and cold.

Harry used the voice to steady himself the way he had used the crystal to steady his wards. "This isn't the whole Elder Wand," he said, staring at the length of wood in Malfoy's grip.

"What?"

"There's a—it kept a shard of itself elsewhere," Harry said. "I felt the wards react to it, but not the way they should react to a threat as profound as a Deathly Hallow. This is a part of it. Three-quarters of its power, maybe, but not the whole thing."

Silence from behind him. Harry turned around to see how Professor Riddle was taking it, and found his nostrils flaring as he stared at the wand clutched in Malfoy's hand.

"You are certain of this."

"As much as I can be, sir." Harry braced himself. He wasn't sure he would be able to explain how he knew, or the intricacies of the war wizard spells or senses that made him sure.

Professor Riddle nodded once. His eyes were distant, and he made a cupping motion with one hand as if he were picking up something and cradling it close. "We will do what we must to make sure we are safe, Harry."

"Sir?"

"If most of the Elder Wand is still somewhere outside the wards, then it might participate in the assault on Fortius that I am sure is coming." Professor Riddle turned his head to the side. "In the meantime, try to get some sleep. I am sure that I will need to spend the rest of the night preparing for that assault, but there is no reason you need to."

He strode out of the healing hall, leaving Harry staring after him. He thought Harry would be able to sleep when part of his greatest enemy was still somewhere out there, and might help their other enemies?

But then he remembered a line from Disaster's book that he had read at the time without really understanding it. It murmured now in his head like a tune or a benediction, and Harry found himself sighing and straightening his shoulders.

Rest when you can. You never know what enemy will come after you in the future, or try to injure those under your care.

Harry nodded shortly. The impressive magic of a war wizard was fueled by that war wizard's strength, and he would be no good to anyone if he was collapsing because of exhaustion and lack of food. He turned and walked back towards Gryphon House, absently planning to stop at the kitchens and grab some food on the way.


Andromeda wished she could scream.

She was standing a few miles away from the gates of Fortius with Narcissa next to her and Bellatrix crouched in front of her, staring at something that writhed and danced as a golden image on the air. Andromeda had never heard of a spell like this. All the scrying she knew of had to be done with crystal or water, or, in times of desperation, tea leaves. It had to have some connection to liquid to show an image.

This again, this was probably one of the things that Bellatrix had learned in the other dimension they'd banished her to.

Bellatrix pushed her long, wild hair behind her ears and frowned at the golden image. "It says that power is somewhere nearby, but it's not more specific than that." She snapped around from the image. She had chosen to wear the clothes that she'd come from the other dimension with, or rather, enchanted some of the robes Narcissa had offered her into ones like them. These heavier battle robes fluttered up and then fell back around her again. "Narcissa, are you sure that the Elder Wand is available for me to use?"

"Why would it not be, sister?"

"So you don't know," Bellatrix muttered, and sighed a little. She seemed to be saner than she had been since they'd pulled her through the portal, at least when she was considering ways and methods of battle. She stood upright from the golden image and spent a moment tracing her wand through the air. Andromeda tried to open her mouth to say something about the aimless movements, but her voice was still choked back into her throat.

"There!"

Andromeda had no idea what to make of the red symbols flashing in the air where Bellatrix had traced her wand, other than that they seemed to be in some foreign alphabet. But Bella was smiling at them as if they were a secret recipe for an important potion. "Yes, I see. The power of the Elder Wand is split, in more than one place at once."

"How can that be?" Narcissa was on her feet in a moment, her own wand snapping into her hand as if she expected to curse someone in the back. Andromeda watched with contempt that was no less real for being silent. "The Elder Wand has chosen my son! There is no way that Draco would break it!"

"I didn't say it was broken," Bellatrix muttered with a roll of her eyes. "I said it was in two places at once."

"There is no way for that to be the case without its being broken!"

"You were never that good at magical theory, Cissy," Bellatrix said conversationally, and swept her wand around in a new motion. The golden light on the air followed the spin of the wand tip, and new spokes of radiance extended off to the sides. Bellatrix studied them, and her eyes widened. "Fortius has a colanchirazan."

"A what?" Narcissa asked, luckily speaking the question that Andromeda would have asked if she could speak freely.

"It's a term for a ridiculously powerful wizard who can destroy entire armies," Bellatrix said, her eyes narrow and still focused on the golden light. "Not so much of a problem in the other dimension, because magic works differently there and many people working together can overcome one. But more of a problem here."

"You must be sensing Draco and the power of the Elder Wand," Narcissa decided to speak up.

"No. I don't sense any trace of a magic like yours or Lucius's in this colanchirazan."

Narcissa started to argue with Bella. Andromeda stared in silence towards Fortius, and wondered if this was Harry Potter. Probably.

She wondered if it would make any difference, in the end, or if Bella would simply end up being more careful with her plans and come up with some way to avoid Potter and how he might defend Fortius. She drew in a harsh, painful breath as the bonds around her mind tightened. They wanted her to tell Bella and Narcissa the truth about the war wizard.

But Andromeda pushed back against them, and…

They loosened.

Andromeda must have made some sound, because Bella glanced towards her with sharp eyes. "Did you have something to say, sister?"

Andromeda massaged her throat. "No, nothing," she whispered, and bowed her head so that her hair fell around her face. She made sure to stand motionless for the half hour the argument took, until Bella had managed to persuade Narcissa that the powerful wizard she sensed could absolutely not be Draco.

But in the meantime, Andromeda carefully tested the bonds around her mind and soul and magic, and felt them drifting, as if they had been placed on water instead of looped tightly around her.

If what Bella had said about the Elder Wand dividing its power in two was real…

Then it might no longer have enough power to hold Andromeda captive the way it had.


Hermione stepped outside Phoenix House and took a long moment to stretch. It was her favorite time of morning at Fortius, when grey light was still brighter than golden and the chill of the air around her hadn't subsided. Normally, Hermione took a long walk before she buried herself in study or went to eat.

This time, she couldn't. There was an enormous thestral mare standing in front of her and staring at her.

Hermione swallowed and took a step nearer, bowing her head. She hadn't been able to see thestrals for long, only since she had accepted the fact of death in the middle of fourth year when she'd seen a patient die in the healing hall. But Professor Riddle had always made it clear that students at Fortius should respect the herd.

"Greetings, Great One," Hermione said. It was the title that Professor Riddle had said all thestrals appreciated, but it seemed more appropriate for this mare than most of them, given her immense size and the great bat-like wings she stretched above her head. "What can I do for you?"

The thestral cantered towards her. Hermione forced herself to stand still and not run, but she did shiver when the cold breath gusted across her forehead. It smelled like carrion. Hermione kept holding still and bore that, too.

The thestral abruptly backed away and slid to one knee, wings deployed like ramps. Hermione swallowed slowly and took a step towards her.

She kept kneeling, so Hermione kept walking. She slid onto the thestral's back and winced at the stretch of her legs around the beast's barrel. The thestral rose and simply slid into the air from the ground with hardly a flap, the way she'd slid to her knees.

Hermione clutched at the short, bristly hair of the thestral's mane, and stared beneath them as the ground got rapidly further and further away. She repeated to herself several times that she knew magic to save her life if the thestral decided to just toss her off for some reason.

It didn't calm her.

But at least the thestral turned to sweep in an immense circle above Fortius's grounds instead of flying away from it the way Hermione had been afraid she would. Seven circles the thestral made, and Hermione wasn't entirely surprised to see a wave of darkness pass across the pearly, gleaming grounds on the seventh one.

She still had to hold her breath against a scream.

There was no Fortius in the vision the thestral was showing her. There was only a blasted battlefield, crisscrossed by Dementors drifting back and forth. Bodies lay there with their faces turned upwards and their eyes blank. Hermione clutched harder at the thestral's withers and bent over a little so she could see if there was anyone she recognized.

She couldn't see any familiar faces. But then the thestral let loose an impatient whinny, and as if the sound had knocked something loose in her brain, Hermione could see what it had wanted to show her.

None of the corpses on the ground wore robes. There were suits and skirts and dresses and casual clothes, but all of them were Muggle. All of them.

"What is this?" Hermione whispered, the wind seizing her words and bearing them upwards. "Are you trying to show me a future where Muggles discover Fortius?" For all that Professor Riddle wanted to protect Muggles, like Hermione's own parents, against purebloods, Hermione didn't think that he would allow that to happen.

The thestral neighed again, this time with a sound like a great bell tolling. She dived towards the ground, and Hermione clamped her legs down and shrieked. The thestral paid no attention.

Halfway to the spread of Muggle corpses, they seemed to pass through a thin film of darkness in the air. Hermione blinked, and blinked again when they came out of it and she realized the vision was different.

There were wizards and witches struggling below, dark-cloaked ranks fighting against people in robes of many different clothes. A wizard with a long white beard led them, wearing robes so bright that Hermione's eyes watered. Her breath caught when she realized she had seen him before, in some of Professor Johnson's History images. This was Albus Dumbledore.

The man facing him was—was not a man, Hermione thought at first. He was taller, paler, with red eyes so piercing that Hermione flinched away from them even though she knew this wasn't real. The gestures of the pale wand in his hand seemed to send exclusively Killing Curses and the Cruciatus everywhere.

People wept and screamed and died. The thestral bore her closer and closer, and Hermione flinched every time one of the figures fell over so that they were staring at the sky.

They can't see you. This isn't real.

That still wasn't as reassuring as it should have been.

The thestral was finally hovering right above the tall man. He was important, Hermione supposed, and she probably had to make sure she recognized him if she ever saw him again. Maybe he was a monster the Department of Mysteries was creating to attack Fortius. Holding her breath again, this time against the smell of blood and death and loosened bowels, she bent over to study him.

She knew him.

No, wait. She knew his wand.

Professor Riddle's wand.

The thestral swooped further down, and down, and for a moment Hermione thought she saw those red eyes turning up towards her…

And then they were landing on the ground in the modern Fortius, with no dead people and no battle. Although Hermione knew it wasn't likely to stay that way for long.

She slid off the thestral's back and leaned against the mare, shaking. For a few minutes, the beast let her do that, and then she pulled back and champed her teeth near Hermione's ear, making Hermione jump as a piece of her hair caught in the thestral's teeth for a second.

"Why did you show me this?" Hermione whispered, still wiping tears away from her face. "I'm not—gifted in Divination or anything like that. And my magic isn't as powerful as Harry's or Professor Riddle's. Or even Professor Elthis's."

The thestral trod on her foot. Hermione yelped and jumped back, staring at the creature.

The thestral focused on her, and Hermione had the impression of magic straining at a leash. She swallowed and tried to keep as still as she could, focusing on the message that the thestral was trying to send her. Professor Riddle had warned her that there wasn't a means to talk to the creatures like he could talk to snakes.

Words arrived in Hermione's mind abruptly, like carvings chiseled into a stone wall. One minute she didn't know what the thestral was trying to say, and the next moment, she had always known.

Your right magic at the right time.

Hermione sighed out slowly. "I don't—understand. How can Professor Riddle become that creature I saw when he's himself? And how can Albus Dumbledore be fighting in that battle when he's been buried for decades?" She faced the thestral again and reached out with her mind, this time trying to connect with Legilimency. Professor Elthis was going to be angry at her for this later, she just knew it.

The connection smashed into her and bore her off her feet. Hermione screamed before she was able to control herself, clenching her hands in front of her.

Forces of DEATH. Trying to CHANGE THINGS.

The words slammed out again and left her reeling, and when Hermione managed to blink her watering eyes open, she saw that the thestral had taken flight. She took a deep breath and sat up in the grass, wrapping her arms around herself and shivering.

There was still the grey light and the chill she liked in the world, but it seemed a lot paler and more precarious than it had before.

She didn't know exactly what the forces of death were, but she supposed that if anyone knew about them, it was a thestral. And somehow, they were trying to change things so that Professor Riddle would be the creature she had seen and Dumbledore would come back and Muggles would die. Maybe with time travel.

And somehow…

She had the right magic to change things at the right time. She could use her battle Legilimency on someone to make things happen the way they should.

She just wished she had more reassurance than a thestral's word, and her own growing dread.