I also rode upon the backs of thickly scaled dragons and magicked the moon to eclipse at my whim. I extended spider-like fingers and rough wood, and cast the cosmos into my darkened pocket, suppressing fortune from taking its natural turn.
They said I lurked under beds and stole children's fortunes from beneath their pillows.
Actually, I had done that.
Some part of me had, at least. Slipped from the small cot near the dormitory door, down the broken stairs of Saint Paul's orphanage to a large, sleeping form. At least, that is how he seemed to me. Even now in my mind he still appears large, though at the time he was little more than ten. The bedroom he inhabited alone continues to feel immense in my mind, the air staler than possible, the window's curtains darker than black. Reality says this is not possible, but that doesn't seem to matter in the reflection. And in that memory I slid a hand no bigger than child's – for that is what I had been – under his pillow and stole the coin that lay there. The orphanage keeper's son had snorted and I jerked my hand back, staying in the safety of shadows long enough to glimpse the smile on his sleepily expectant face, the gap of a missing tooth evident. As he slid his own hand beneath the covered pillow, dozing but delighted and fixated upon the act, I'd fled with his earned treasure. I'd deserved it more than he. And I'd needed it.
And I would do it again.
I am above that sort of action now, but I have been below it, too. Status is never a balanced scale. The steely ego melts when the survival instinct is enflamed. And then, the ego is reforged. The molten chars cool, and from their ashes a scarred tower is rebuilt stronger.
The fairy tales told of me lend themselves to such speech, and I indulge in it bemusedly as I walk the darkened halls of the Ministry. It helps to push away the memories that ceaselessly bat at me whenever an unopened door is passed.
And then I face windows that are not so easily passed, like the doors are. Windows with emeralds behind them.
Green eyes. Wet now, though not tinted behind the glass. They burn like a flame, and I wish to reach out and encase them between my fingertips to extinguish their existence. I must do that. But for a moment I'm unable to move at the sight.
Isn't green an adjective for unfledged and inexperienced? My chest eases at the thought. And it's contrasting color…
I muse this as I approach, before a noise behind me beckons like a crooked finger. An interruption! My body is tense already, and this rattles me. Breathe. Staring round, I slowly focus on the wizened figure before the golden gates, which appear dull. The timing of my attack has overcast their vivacity with a dawning shadow.
The sight of those eyes, blue now, induces an electric spark in my mind, a current which automatically knows which nerve to stimulate. My wand, my hand's extension, rises to greet my old Professor with, how appropriate -- green light. He will not interfere tonight. I will not let him win, and me scurry off with nothing.
He vanishes, but isn't gone. Never gone. I fight to quell the rising panic, to wash it over with cold hate, to rationalize it away. I know this man, and I can figure out his tactics. I know he will turn up behind me.
And he will end up there.
Spinning, I catch sight of his parlor trick; statues springing to life. The screams of Bella ring out, but after a moment I dim them, tunneling my focus to what is coming after me.
After a brief moment of consideration, I choose my tactic. I can play your game, Headmaster. I vanish as a centaur gallops at me with its one arm, reappearing with what I see as more precision than Dumbledore had moments before. I say this to myself as he approaches, the centaur now circling us off from the rest of reality.
"It was foolish to come here tonight, Tom. The Aurors are on their way –"
"By which time I shall be gone, and you will be dead!" I cut him off. His tone infuriates me, but I speak too hastily. Struggling to subdue the passionate waves inside, I send another flash of green across the dark expanse to burn off any mark my outburst might have been forming on his mind.
I miss. I miss.
My mind divides, part wanting to reach out and throttle him with my bare hands, the other part scolding for calm. He has no power over me. He doesn't. He doesn't.
He is just Dumbledore. Just –
I feel his motion, the power building before he even casts the spell. Quickly I conjure a shield. I can form one of such strength that it is not broken, though it rings loudly as it is attacked.
But not loudly enough… its chilled vibrations are weaker than they should be. It is not death he has thrust at me. My eyes narrow as I interpret his act. He either means to perplex me, or to infuriate me by deeming me unworthy of a killing. I will let neither attack touch me.
"You do not seek to kill me, Dumbledore? Above such brutality, are you?"
He seems almost amused, and decidedly secure. Either his ego has made him delusional, or he is trying to rattle me. I tighten my resolve as he speaks words that must come from his mouth, though the sight of it is hidden from me by his beard and the dark night. "We both know that there are other ways of destroying a man, Tom."
My wrist twitches – or flinches. Either way I keep it raised, fingers tightening into the yew as he strides forth. I fight to transform all my auditory senses into my vision, to cut off his words as I target him. I try.
"Merely taking your life would not satisfy me, I admit –"
"There is nothing worse than death, Dumbledore!' It flies out in a snarl, but inside it is a base cry. He has no idea. He is still an ignorant, foolish --
"You are quite wrong," says Dumbledore. Albus. He approaches with the gull of the sanctimonious and unscarred. With the pride of a lion who never was lamed, with the ease of a man who was born as he was and never had to rebuild. I have no wish to teach him; only to make him pay for his ignorance and hindrance.
Memories close in on me. Meeting this man -- and yes, that is all he is – in London's train station. I had been half starved, a run-away orphan who made his way to London with nothing but a small snake and a parchment that held the promise of someplace called Hogwarts. And my own wits and will. That was all. I had made it all the way to London alone, surviving on just that – a refusal to die as most seemed to wish. And there he had met me, offering nothing but a smile, treating me as a child. I had been forced to allow it. Yes, I had needed him then, for I'd had no clue where anything was, or what to do.
I had no such needs now. I wasn't a pupil who struggled a few times – a very few times -- at a transfiguration he performed with ease. I was not the child who felt reproached under his eyes, though never caught. I was no longer unsure whether I would survive an orphanage, a new world at Hogwarts, a House I had to make accept me, a past that refused to leave me. No, I had thrust down all the chains that wished to bind me. I had avoided death, the tomb of Tom Marvolo Riddle, and risen better than a phoenix, for I had rebuilt stronger.
Survival was all there was. And is. It is the foundation, my foundation, and he will not take that from me.
"Indeed, your failure to understand that there are things much worse than death has always been your greatest weakness —"
I know where to strike. Another jet of green light flies from behind my silver shield, which the centaur intercepts. I wish to call Dumbledore – Albus – on hiding behind a statue when a rope of fire envelopes me. It takes me a moment to see that it comes from his wand, a thin strip circling my robe, which is damp from exertion.
The constriction burns. A coiling of acid, mirroring his magic, wells up inside my stomach. At my bidding, his magic melts, then scales into a serpent. Its silver back glows in the moonlight, far shinier than the gates of gold. I release it, or it releases me, and once again I vanish.
Take my sacrifice. It started out as yours, anyway.
I see the flames from the plinth in the middle of the pool, but the caster does not see me… The snake is, surprisingly, still intact, and we move as one…
I barely hear that cry over the beat of wings.
A familiar sight swoops down, a splash of red greeting the green I cast. Fawkes explodes for his keeper, a display I find pathetic and vile. Dumbledore – Albus – should appear smaller from all the help he was getting.
He should, and yet, he does not as I watched him dispel my snake.
Wetness washes full awareness back over me; the water is rising. It is cold and heavy, not a fiery blaze but a leaden, unceremonious tomb slowly covering me.
Instincts flair. Protectiveness that is a sharp point, not a warm enclosure, drives me out from the trap. I don't recall speaking or thinking a specific spell, but survival by now is second nature to my will. I vanish from the murky depths, whose dregs strive to desperately grab after me. Nipping, soulless imps seem to form in the waves' crests before I dissolve from their clutches.
Retreating into pure will, I propel myself forward, as always. Dumb –Alb – his words broil my blood, wringing my heart out as if it were a rag saturated with used bathwater and oil. And again, I know where to strike. The green appears before me like an open field, the black hair and small form a helpless animal positioned on the edge of that sterling meadow. I refuse to make it about him right now – that is beneath me. It IS. Both are my goal, and I open the bolt that is plastered across a sweaty child's forehead.
The closeness is torture. I want to both explore this wretched abomination, and to recoil from it. Fear is felt, and I decide it all comes from him. Nagging tides threaten my hold. The only way to make this bearable is to control him, to force my will to action and do it fast. I spread my spirit throughout, unhinging his jaw.
"Kill me now, Dumbledore…" I manage the words, and try not to think on why I seem to always say Dumbledore, not Albus.
Not pondering that for long is easy. The unity of this body and me is oil and water clashing. No, it's fire and flesh, axe and wood, sun and ice. And yet, the lines between them blur as the consumption continues, until we are both burning flesh, splintering wood, melting ice. I know this body I am using, and I feel its pride. How Dumbledore. No wonder this scarred child is a source of pride to the old man.
I feel the pain; however, the physical component of the agony is nothing to me. It is my words thrusting themselves over and over in my mind that inflict wounds enough to flinch. But I am resolved, and let my offer of death scrape layers of my being away to reveal only a bloody, sheared pride.
Reckless frenzy in part, perhaps. A deluded ego, no. I know I am right. That is how I can say such things.
"'If death is nothing, Dumbledore, kill the boy…"
Nothingness, indeed, is his answer. Still silence greets me. I see through this shell, this tomb that I am binding with, to catch sight of that blue. Giddy pleasure rises over the pain, though not quite matching it. It never does.
But it is enough, and I take it and leave the wreckage. The pain is shoving at me, trying to expel me, and I put up no more fight. I have enough for now, from them both. As I go, I see that he does indeed seem dimmer now, though not completely diminished. But he is clouded, and it is not just from the shadows of night. The lines on his face furrow, though I know he is not thinking of me. He is down besides the boy – the shell -- I left.
Yes. I have found the space for a scar. I set the trap to lame the lion, and now I see a man who must rebuild.