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Entry #6

Discussion in 'Q3 2018' started by Xiph0, Sep 24, 2018.

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  1. Xiph0

    Xiph0 Yoda Admin

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    Q3 Story Competition Entry

    So, seven it is, Tom Riddle thought determinedly.

    Slughorn had been shocked, of course, had thought it morally reprehensible, but he hadn’t said anything about dangers he didn’t know about, hadn’t worried about the remaining piece of his soul falling apart. No one had tried it before, that was all – and that wouldn’t make him stop.

    However, Slughorn had said something else, something more disturbing.

    "Less than a ghost. Few would want that."

    If it helped him not to die, great. But the Horcruxes had an undeniable disadvantage: They couldn’t prevent the destruction of his body. Sure, sooner or later he’d revive himself, but to be less than a ghost … no, that didn’t fit with his plans.

    Of course, his defeat was highly improbable. He’d become the greatest wizard the world had ever seen.

    And yet … it wasn’t impossible. Bad luck could hit anyone. There was no defense against the killing curse – if he overlooked just one of those, it was over, then he’d be where weaker minds preferred death.

    Of course it was better than being dead. But he needed to aim for more, he needed to not even come close.

    There had to be other options to strengthen his body, make it more durable – get as close to immortality as possible. Well, he knew of some potions that helped with that, but potions meant dependency, and Lord Voldemort wasn’t going to depend on anything. He needed something more permanent – and something even the killing curse would be powerless against.

    No magic in the world could stand in its deadly course, no potion, and certainly no ward. It perished upon collision with matter, but he couldn’t have stones floating around him the whole time.

    However, someone had also devised the Horcrux, someone had found out how to bind his soul to earth. He’d go further, further than anyone else had gone on the path towards immortality.

    Suddenly, he opened his eyes. It was right, there was no magic able to withstand the killing curse – but there were magical creatures that could. Almost invincible, there were only two ways to kill them.

    Vampires.

    How very convenient that they liked to transmit their abilities.

    ~ * ~​

    Horace Slughorn appeared as if he had just run head first into a wall when he arrived in Dumbledore’s office. Dumbledore saw how upset he was, but he chose not to comment. If Horace wanted to talk about it, he’d surely do so in time. And if not, the man’s regrettable stubbornness would prevent anything contrary to his plans.

    "Horace," he said and then looked up from the essay he had been correcting, "what can I do for you?"

    "Ah?" Slughorn shook his head hastily. "No, no, Albus, I’m not here to ask anything of you."

    Albus nodded and went back to his essay while Slughorn’s obese hands kneaded each other. He was standing in the middle of the quadrangular room and stared, first at Dumbledore’s desk, then at the perch on the right side, where an age-old owl was sitting.

    Albus was almost done with the grading when Slughorn finally spoke up. "I wanted to talk to you about Tom Riddle," he said quietly.

    Fast, maybe a bit too fast, Dumbledore put down his feather and looked at Slughorn. "A fascinating student, indeed."

    "Yes, a brilliant boy," responded Slughorn. He nodded strongly, his fatty cheeks wobbling. "He’s cunning and resourceful, and you could almost call him a master of potions already – you should have seen his Amortentia, I was almost tempted to offer it to a few acquaintances of mine – but of course; I‘d never dare to do anything like that. After all, the boundaries of law are also my boundaries…"

    Slughorn trailed off at the end, and he crossed his arms in front of his mighty belly.

    "Doubtlessly so," Dumbledore said drily. "Concerning Mr. Riddle, though – I have to admit I admire his magical prowess. Even though, from time to time, I suspect that there are one or two things he isn’t telling us", he added, careful not to let any judgement slip in his voice.

    Slughorn let his crossed arms sink. "It’s quite normal, isn’t it, quite normal for such a brilliant mind, to occupy himself with every branch there is? To take a look at everything magic has to offer?"

    "Horace," Dumbledore replied, a certain edge to his voice. "If you want to tell me something – please feel free to do so. But I do not plan to pull every word out of you."

    Slughorn didn’t seem to have heard him. "Immortality isn’t that uncommon a goal," he mumbled to himself, "Especially in the youth – really not that unusual." It almost looked like he wanted to walk away, but then he paused again. "I know you keep an eye on him, Albus, and I … I believe you should continue to do so."

    With these words he waddled out of the room. Bright blue eyes stared after him, seemed to investigate him, even after he’d long left the office.

    ~ * ~​

    Occassionally, the bite of a vampire is considered to be just as gruesome as the Dementor’s Kiss, but while the dementor only has access to the soul – and wholly erases it – the vampire mars the soul just as it damages the body, and twists both without destroying them.

    Damages … there was no damaging involved here. It was an improvement in the only aspect that truly mattered: Might.

    Vampires are famous for their profuse body strength and superhuman speed. However, even more impressive are their regenerative powers, surpassing every magical creature but the phoenix in that regard.

    It was perfect on so many levels, particularly because of the fact that he could become one of them at will – if there hadn’t been that one, undeniable problem. It wasn’t the sensitivity for sunlight. He could handle that with a bit of magic. And he certainly could imagine life without garlic. But vampires didn’t only lose the ability to walk in daylight when they were transformed.

    Thankfully, the transformation doesn’t only cause the bitten wizard to lose a remarkable part of his moral reliability. Moreover, he loses access to every single one of his magical abilities.

    It had driven him insane. Even his grades had dropped, at least in the minor subjects. There had to be a way to have both – his magic and the advantages of being a vampire. Regrettably, no one had found anything as of now.

    The loss of magic didn’t have anything to do with the physical changes, that much was obvious. Werewolves were able to use magic despite their bodies being cursed. And while magic itself was no part of the soul, there was a close connection. A wizard’s abilities depended on his character, on his intelligence, on his instinctual understanding of magic - not on his bodily shape.

    In hindsight, it was almost incomprehensible how he hadn’t seen it before. Yes, the soul of a common wizard lost its access to magic as soon as it was drastically changed by the vampire’s bite.

    He, however, was no common wizard. He was more, quite literally.

    There was a way to have his cake and eat it, too. Tom Riddle fiddled with the black stone embedded in a golden ring he wore on his palm. An old heirloom, but, more importantly: A horcrux. At the moment, its magical abilities were restricted – it had neither wand nor body.

    Together, though, with a few adjustments … it’d be a twisted union, far beyond everything even the boldest dark wizards ever tried. However, fast. Strong. Deadly. Almost invincible.

    A vampire with magical abilities, his abilities. The greatest force the wizarding world would ever see.

    ~ * ~​

    Aberforth Dumbledore didn’t even cast a glance at his brother when he entered his new office. Armando Dippet had resigned from the headmaster’s position last year, and there’d been no discussions about the identity of his successor, especially after his victory over –

    Abe clenched his teeth. A heroic act, that one, to get the world rid of the very evil he’d helped to create. Even better: Albus had only needed six years of war for that. A deed truly worthy of the Order of Merlin, First Class they’d shoved up his ass afterwards.

    "I’m very thankful for your appearance," said Albus quietly, and Abe eyed him for the first time. He looked somewhat strange, like a schoolboy who had been caught at mischief and didn’t know how to act now. Abe noticed a few grey hairs in his brother’s beard and he couldn’t help but feel a bit smug – his still was wholly brown.

    "You said you’ve got an offer for me," replied Abe cooly. He knew he didn’t look too good, with the brown cloak that had been mended several times, and his greasy hair. After he’d quit Hogwarts in his sixth year, there hadn’t been many people ready to employ him. It was one of the many things he’d sadly only learnt afterwards: You could be as above average as you wanted – it didn’t matter if there was no paper to prove it.

    And he certainly wasn’t about to use his brother’s fame to get a job.

    "I want you to know that I am also willing to help you in case we do not reach an agreement, but -"

    "No!" Abe hissed. "I certainly don’t need any charity from you."

    Albus gave a tortured smile and looked towards the phoenix that sat on its perch and returned his gaze, an unspoken challenge in its eyes. "I’m sorry," he whispered. "Believe me, you cannot imagine how dearly I wished to do more but say this, over and over again – how dearly I want to turn back time, even though - "

    "You could’ve done something, and I don’t think it’d have been that difficult, Al‘!“ Abe spat. „Your great duel with Grindelwald – how in hell did that take six years?!“

    Now it was Albus not looking at him. There was a suspicious gleam in his eyes, and Abe almost, almost felt bad for him. But to be so close to his brother, after all these years – it seemed as if Ariana was everywhere in the room, as if every single portrait bore her face, reminding him how Albus had ruined their lives.

    A part of Abe was sorry for him, yes – but another, far bigger part, wanted to break his nose a second time, just like he thought he would when he had rejected every meeting his brother had proposed before.

    "I was afraid," said Albus, and Abe snorted.

    "Honestly, I don’t want to hear it. What’s your offer?"

    Even this time, after Al’s letter had arrived, he’d hesitated, thought about whether he should visit his brother. But it had been such a long time, and even though he’d certainly never admit it: From time to time, he missed his brother. Apart from that, a few additional Galleons would certainly help his current position.

    Albus blinked, collected himself for a moment, then he breathed in deeply. "Well, a few years ago a student named Tom Riddle visited this very school. Born in an orphanage, he quickly proved himself to be remarkably - "

    Abe rolled his eyes. "Short version, please."

    For the blink of an eye, there was a wistful smile on Albus‘ lips. "Tom Riddle has been seen at Copșa Mare, a small village in Transsylvania, just a week ago. I would very much like to know what he hopes to find so close to Orasul Sângelui."

    "Why?"

    "Because a reliable source told me that he has been looking into different forms of immortality for quite some time. I have to confess I am somewhat unsettled to see him travel to those creatures in particular."

    "Just allow him to get bitten. No magic anymore, and no going out before 8 pm."

    Dumbledore frowned. "I’m not quite sure I would put any money on that particular bet. Tom Riddle was one of the most brilliant minds to ever walk these halls, and quite resourceful at that. I would assume he has found a way to circumvent this minor detail."

    First, Abe was tempted to press the matter, but then he shrugged – the earlier he’d get out of here, the less risk there was he’d break his brother’s nose again. "Suit yourself. What’s in it for me?"

    "The Hog’s Head."

    "Huh?!"

    "Mr. Quigglehead was already looking for a buyer, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time."

    Abe jammed his tongue between his teeth. "I told you I don’t need your charity." Which he definitely didn't. Except he really, really wanted to have his freedom, and make a bit of money, too. An own pub sounded just about perfect. It was almost annoying how well Albus still knew him.

    "Oh, this is not charity at all. I am asking a lot of you. Orasul Sângelui is a highly dangerous place even though the Romanian Ministry of Magic tries to monitor it. Moreover, there is little time to prepare, as I imagine Tom has already made his way there."

    Abe examined his brother, even though he felt like he'd already made his decision. Every present Al had sent him within the past years, he’d sent back unopened. But this … Albus gave him exactly what he wanted, even though he himself hadn’t known he did, and he gave him the chance to earn it.

    "I have already prepared a portkey," said Albus and got a wool sock out of his cloak. "The activation password would be 'Chocolate Ice Cream‘."

    Abe almost ripped the sock out of his hand. "So, when do I start?"

    Albus ignored his question. "I have also created a litte safeguard for you – I‘d feel quite a bit more assured if I knew you had this with you."

    Abe looked at Albus‘ outstretched hand, and frowned. "That’s one of Bertie Bott’s Beans," he remarked, picking it up.

    "Not quite. Should you activate it - it reacts best to the words 'Strawberry Ice Cream' - it will turn out to be very different from an ordinary Bertie Bott's Bean."

    "What’s it for?" It didn’t look very impressive, but that didn’t mean much where magic was concerned.

    "It helps."

    Abe rolled his eyes. "Are you actually addicted to speaking in riddles?" His voice was missing a lot of the vitriol it usually carried whenever his brother was concerned, and he knew Albus had to have noticed that. He might as well just said ‚thanks‘.

    Almost eagerly, Albus began to elaborate. "In my free time, I oftentimes find myself looking for a breath of fresh air, which, in this case, turned out to be the vast field of charms. It tends to be a very specific - albeit varied - branch of magic, but I found that quite unsatisfying as far as protections go. Alas, I tried to trick the enchantments on this bean to be a little broader, to the point where I myself cannot pinpoint the exact effects it might have upon application – as soon as the user perceives them to be of use for him, which is, of course, depending on the circumstances - "

    "Got it. It helps," Abe interrupted what surely would have been the start of an hour-long monologue. "So, again, when do I start?"

    "Well, I think it would be advisable to gather a few information about vampires first, and then, as soon as possible - "

    "Chocolate Ice Cream!"

    A bolt of lightning shot through the office, and Aberforth Dumbledore was gone.

    ~ * ~​

    In front of him, there was a mighty, black wall. Even though it was the middle of the day, darkness seemed to seep out of it, laying on the surroundings like a blanket. The sunlight seemed weaker, everything around the wall was covered in shadows. Not like there was a lot to be seen though: Stony mountain range and isolated shrubbery; apart from that, there was only wasteland. A rusty sign pointed towards a barely recognizable path which would presumably lead to the next village.

    It was cool up here, especially because of the gusty wind, and Aberforth briefly thought about whether it might have been clever to at least put on a thicker cloak before activating the portkey, but then he shrugged.

    Now it just was like that.

    Only eleven or twelve feet away from him, there was a hut that looked like a ticket booth. Originally, it might have been painted blue, but the colour was faded and blotchy grey was all that remained. Only the tractor surrounded by ears appeared as if he’d just been added – but that one didn’t even represent Romania anymore, they had just changed their flag as far as Abe knew.

    The booth was bigger on the inside, Abe could tell that much, even though his view was partially obstructed by the person sitting in it, a wizard long past the age of 120. He had angular cheek bones, a pointy chin and his skin was heavily creased.

    "Ce vrei?"

    "English please," replied Abe.

    "No English."

    Ah, right, language barrier. You‘d forget that sometimes if you were able to travel from country to country in mere seconds. Abe looked around. At his right, there was a stand containing only four brochures and he could see that not a single one of them was in English.

    "I wanna go in there," said Abe and pointed towards the huge black wall.

    The man stared the wall and seemed on the edge of saying something, but then he shrugged and began to rummage about in one of the drawers in his booth. Shortly afterwards, he unearthed a yellowed brochure. Abe suspected it had lain there since the day this lodge had been built.

    He only needed one glance at the tiny letters, the lacking paragraphs and absence of any pictures to know that, surely, the best option was to crumble it up and throw it behind him. He‘d do without that one.

    For a second time, Abe pointed towards the wall. "Where’s the entrance?"

    The man looked at him, big-eyed, and stayed silent.

    Abe hesitated, then he gave himself a push. "Where’s the entrance?" he asked, speaking slightly broken Romanian.

    There’d been a time where he’d looked up to his brother, a time where he’d wanted to prove he could be brilliant as well, if he wanted to. He’d attempted the spells Albus learnt, took a look at the books he found in his room, and even tried to learn the languages Albus occupied himself with.

    The emphasis here was on tried, though. His brother had been perfect at pretty much everything, and he just couldn’t keep up with that. At some point, he’d accepted that and given up – and later, after the death of their mom, he’d slowly understood that being a genius didn’t stop you from being a stupid asshole, too.

    But some of the knowledge he’d acquired back then had stuck with him, even though he normally didn’t let anyone know that. He was fed up with being compared to Albus.

    Shortly, he wondered whether Albus still remembered these days. After all, he hadn’t said anything about him having to learn Romanian before starting this mission.

    The old man scratched the wart sitting at the top of his chin. "Are you sure you want to go in there?" he asked quietly.

    "Depends. By any chance, did some pale guy with black hair come by during the past few days?"

    The man thought about it, frowned as if remembering things was a particularly hard task, and then shook his head no.

    That was strange, but then again, this guy didn’t look too trustworthy – definitely no reason to stop searching. "That’s a pity. I still want in there though."

    "The night vision devices are out," the man said extra-slowly and clearly.

    "Good for you. Now just tell me how I get in there."

    "You don’t understand - "

    "Yes, I do. So, please, just do it."

    The old man blinked, then he scratched the wart again, causing it to rip open. He wiped off the blood on his cloak. "It’s dangerous in there."

    So he wanted to be unhelpful. Abe sighed and turned around, away from the open side of the ticket booth towards the wall. He’d not even walked five steps, when, suddenly, there was a breath of movement behind him, a notion of danger –

    With a wave of his wand, a shield formed behind him, and he felt how it vibrated when it got hit by the stunner. Slowly, he turned around. The old man had stood up; his wand pointed directly towards Abe – and now he looked at him, almost fearful.

    "The Ministry says I can’t let you in," he said through gritted teeth.

    "Well," Abe replied, his voice laced with cold fury. That guy had just attacked him from behind. No matter what, you didn’t do that. And if you did, you better succeeded. "As soon as you wake up, please tell this to the Ministry: If they think it’s so important that no one goes in there, they should hire a guard that can actually stop anyone."

    Seconds later, he again was on his way towards the wall, and the man in the ticket booth was slumped on his desk, his forehead bleeding.

    ~ * ~​

    The closer Abe got to the wall, the gloomier it looked; even its mere presence put a dark veil over the sunlight that allowed only a few sunbeams through. There had to be magic at work here. Abe saw a slightly higher plateau roughly a mile away shining in the sunlight, but none of that could be seen here. The city would be a dark place, that much was clear. Still, he had to find out how to get in.

    It wouldn’t be anything he’d need a wand for as vampires couldn’t do magic. Abe doubted they climbed up the wall every time they left their city, even though they were probably able to. After a closer look, there was only one possibility remaining.

    Abe unwillingly looked back towards the ticket booth. Where had he been standing when that old man had tried to attack him? That’d been a strangely violent reaction, especially because he’d been miles away from the wall at that point. But maybe, by pure chance, he’d come close to the true entrance.

    Just a minute later, he again was standing in front of the ticket booth, just where he’d been standing during his talk with the old man, who was still slumped on his desk, a massive bump forming on his forehead.

    Carefully, he took a few steps forward looking at the floor, searching for irregularities in the ground, for a shrub maybe hiding something, for a shadow forming at just the wrong –

    There!

    In hindsight, it was obvious. The rack with the pitiful four brochures was a bit too wide, and it stood a little too far away from the booth to be a perfect cover.

    "Alohomora," said Abe, his wand pointing towards the rack.

    Something clicked. Bingo.

    Immediately, it started to rise by rotating around its own axis. Below it, there was a small black oaken door embedded in a massive stone cuboid.

    There were no signs anyone had noticed his little spell; everything remained as silent as it had been, but he was still alert. Missing sounds didn’t mean anything where vampires were concerned, he didn’t need to read a book in order to know that.

    Without further hesitation, he walked towards the door and pushed. It opened suspiciously easy, as if being built of plywood. Behind the door, there was nothing.

    The beam of light that should have been falling through the gap in the door didn’t even make it to the quaddle of stone. Oppressive, thick blackness swoll against him, as if the cave in front of him was too small for it, and it wanted to conquer the whole mountain range.

    In the darkness, wild animals lurked, animals that were faster than him, stronger than him, and they probably already sensed his every heartbeat, sensed how the blood rushed through his veins. Abe felt how his body seemed to scream at him not to make the next step. In hindsight, he should’ve taken a night vision device with him, or at least collected a bit more information.

    Abe gritted his teeth. The Romanian Ministry monitored the whole city. The vampires wouldn’t dare to harm a wizard.

    If that’s the case, why did that old man try to curse you?

    Good question. He’d answer that one when he was out of here. There was no way he’d just toss away the opportunity Albus had given him.

    Taking a deep breath, Abe took a step into the compressed blackness. The oaken door behind him closed itself with a muffled bang, but that sound was immediately swallowed by the walls, no echo to be heard.

    Below was where he felt rutted rock below his feet. Above, right, left – there wasn’t a single difference between them. His hands groped the air helplessly, looking for any hold, maybe a wall, but there was nothing.

    For a second, he felt as if losing balance, but he didn’t fall, at least he thought so, as there was still stone below his feet. His heart beat even faster than before – he felt as if he was in a dark, narrow tube that gradually cut off his access to air.

    "Lumos!"

    The light trickled out of his wand; far too slow it pushed the oppressing darkness away, lighting up granite stone and the isolated ruts in it, which looked like something had scraped them with impressive claws – and a purely white, unnaturally smooth face, just inches away from the tip of his wand.

    He jumped back in shock, ready to defend himself – but the vampire stayed where it was.

    "Nice entrance," Abe said, fighting to keep his voice as unimpressed as possible, even though there was cold sweat on his forehead. He hadn’t breathed once since he’d entered the cave.

    The vampire moved jerkily. Like a reptile on attack, he reached for Abe’s wand – but then, he met some invisible resistance and moaned almost soundlessly.

    "Listen," Abe hissed and increased the power of his Lumos. The vampire in front of him had blood-red eyes that were examining him fixedly, but there was something missing in them, a certain spark to prove he really was alive. "If you try that again, the two of us will do some sunbathing, understood?"

    "You should not be here," whispered the vampire. His voice was toneless; Abe had forgotten its sound as soon as he stopped speaking for a second. The long, slightly curved canines he’d caught a glimspe of, however, were far more memorable.

    Maybe it walked on two legs, maybe it was able to talk, but this was a monster.

    "I’m not the only wizard in here, am I?" Abe retorted. "You won’t harm me."

    "We won’t?" The vampire licked his lips which were almost invisible in his porcelain-like face. "I hear the sound of blood rushing in your body and believe me, there isn’t one vampire in Orasul Sângelui who doesn’t feel the life you are so deliciously full of. What do you think, how many of us will you be able to stop once the craving becomes too powerful?"

    And suddenly, Aberforth knew what game was played here. "Could it be you’re afraid?" he asked.

    The white face showed no emotion, it almost seemed to be painted on the vampire’s head. "There’d be no reason to warn me if you didn’t have to fear harming me."

    "I can tear you into pieces," the monotonous voice replied, but this time, if you listened closely, there was an undertone of acknowledgement in it. "But if I do so, the war will return."

    So his suspicions had been correct. After the famed battles of Transsylvania, the Romanian Ministry had taken control, and it had ordered the vampires not to harm a single wizard. And both sides did everything to ensure that they wouldn’t – that was why the old man had tried to stop him.

    Aberforth looked into the eye of the vampire, and he felt as if his gaze wanted to slip past it, past the sparkless, empty eyes, that almost appeared to be nothing more than ordinary skin. "Let me pass."

    The vampire tilted his head like a cat that wasn’t sure whether to kill its prey or play with it a bit more. "None of us will care for your life."

    This is getting annoying. „And you don’t need to. I’ve got myself for that.“

    The porcellain-like face disappeared in the darkness without a sound, and Abe began to move forward again. The Lumos-spell was more difficult down here than he remembered, he had to focus on it unusually hard, and yet, the light cone was small, frighteningly so. He wasn’t able to see the wall on both sides of the passage – maybe a dozen of vampires was standing there, just waiting for him to pass by.

    For a second, he thought about using Lumos Solem, the amplified version of the spell, but he supposed that this action would maybe turn out to be his last. Lumos Solem was the standard defence against vampires; they’d no doubt see it as a direct attack.

    Abe moved unusually hastily; he noticed that himself but there was nothing he could do against it. The uncertainty of where these beasts lurked, the knowledge of the utter silence they could move in – it already gnawed at him. Darkness could be creepy even at home, but if you knew that there actually were monsters hidden in it, it rapidly grew unbearable.

    The passage seemed to have been built spaciously on purpose; it surely measured 70 feet in width. In terms of bends, there weren’t many, but Abe only noticed the few that were there after nearly running into a rockface. He felt as if he’d walked through darkness far longer than he should’ve in order to reach the wall, but then again he didn’t know where the cave ended.

    Maybe, there was an entrance to the city he’d already missed, but he doubted it.

    He didn’t say anything, only implying the wand movements of the Revelio-spell, but during the last fifteen minutes, he’d become quite experienced at that one.

    At once, Abe stood still and spun round, wand stretched forward.

    "Why are you following me?!" he hissed at the empty light cone.

    There! A whiff of cold air at his ear!

    "Too slow," the vampire whispered. "I could have gotten you countless times just in the past few minutes."

    "And yet, I’m still alive."

    The vampire stepped into the light. "I would not kill you, not really. Vampires do not kill wizards."

    Abe frowned. He was pretty sure he’d heard one or two rumours to the contrary.

    "This is your last warning. You might be convinced of yourself, you might even be arrogant enough to believe that we cannot harm you – no matter. But if, if one of us catches you … do you know what it means to become a vampire?"

    Well … no. He hadn’t been that attentive in DADA, if he was to be honest. Strictly speaking, he hadn’t been attentive in any class, he hadn’t needed to be.

    "Your skin pales, your eyes turn red, your teeth grow and you begin to despise garlic and sunlight – all of that is meaningless, wholly unimportant. Humans are complete, but we‘re not, we are damaged. Every single one of us once was a wizard, but we cannot do magic. And there is no vampire who can ever be a ghost." The vampire seemed agitated, Abe almost thought his cheeks had reddened a bit – but only almost; it seemed repressed, as if something stopped him from being truly human. "We suck the blood out of humans so we do not get consumed by the emptiness within us. We are immortal – but none of us lives."

    Something ugly was brought about in the eyes of the vampire as he spoke, but it was genuine, real and whole like nothing else about him. Greed, pure and undisguised, and inhumanly strong.

    Abe took a step backwards. Had it really been a good idea to just go on this mission, without notable preparation, because of one of his brother’s crackpot ideas? He was very much aware that the Hog’s Head was little more than a big carrot Albus had put in front of his mouth so he’d do as he was told.

    However, he really, really wanted that carrot.

    Apart from that … every single attempt at keeping him away was another reason to enter Orasul Sângelui. Especially when it was so annoyingly patronizing.

    "I’ll stay."

    ~ * ~​
    To say there was light at the end oft he tunnel would have been an exaggeration. But the almost concrete blackness thinned out notably, such that the eyes suddenly weren’t quite as useless as before. Aberforth Dumbledore looked at the city of the vampires.

    His shoes seemed to disappear in the black wall he was standing on. Murk relentlessly trickled out of it. Outside the city, there maybe was bright sunshine, but in the city, there was about as much light as you’d expect in a starlit night.

    Vampires loved height and asymmetry, as much was obvious. The buildings in the city were scattered aimlessly, huge thorns in the landscape. Craggy, jagged and seemingly carved out of the stone with great violence and little regard for aesthetics, they seemed more like random excrescences crawling towards the horizon. In the dimmed light, they all looked greyish, and they cast grotesque shadows on the alleyways meandering between them.

    None of them stood out notably; either they didn’t have an established ruler, or he didn’t care for visible power.

    It was no real city, it appeared more like a disjointed cluster of boils that had just happened to emerge at the same place. The sounds one would expect from a city – conversation, steps on the uneven paths, laughter – were wholly absent.

    Aberforth saw vampires gracefully wandering the streets – if you could call them that – sometimes even stopping in front of certain buildings whose purpose he didn’t know. It seemed surreal looking at it from above, as if he was just imagining them. The city sounded dead, even though it obviously wasn’t.

    He didn’t know how anyone would be able to look at that and not decide that immortality wasn’t worth it.

    A narrow spiral staircase that’d been built next to the exit of the tunnel led him downwards, even though he didn’t really know what he should do now – and even less about what he had to expect.

    Maybe there was a pub, some kind of Hog’s Head for vampires he could begin his search in, but even the very thought seemed absurd. The silence proved that the vampires didn’t live together because they were so sociable; presumably the Ministry didn’t leave them any choice.

    When he arrived at the end of the stairs, everyone carefully pretended not to notice him, but Abe saw them. He saw the greedy glances that were hastily thrown the other way when he returned them, and also canine teeth only bared for seconds. The vampires were very aware of what had just come into their midst – a human made of flesh and, far more importantly, blood.

    He hadn’t been able to see it from above, but the fissured buildings to his left were actually stores – obviously he’d arrived in some kind of shopping street. If he listened closely, he could even, from time to time, hear toneless whispers or quiet rustling.

    It appeared like a dark, distorted and silent mirror of Diagon Alley. There was a sweets shop named Sanguine Sweets that sold donuts filled with blood and lollipops with different flavours – from blood group A to 0. There was a trader for coffins who also provided caskets for the extravagant customer. There was a little store whose owner claimed that every vampire, who regularly took his patented powder from grounded bat wings, would one day manage the fabled transformation into a bat the first vampires had supposedly been able to do.

    Next to that, Abe was surprised by the sight of a pet shop – which sold spiders that allegedly spun five to six extra large webs on a daily basis.

    Had the alley been less quiet, and had the surreptious, greedy glances been less obvious, Abe might have thought that this place, after all, wasn’t that unusual.

    Still, it was missing humans. When he’d heard about the vampire’s city for the first time, he’d thought it’d be like the werewolf colonies in Australia. The pernickety watch of the Australian Ministry didn’t allow for even one thought concerning misbehaviour.

    The Romanian Ministry, however, seemed to be pretty relaxed. No, even worse: It seemed like it wasn’t even here, except for the small ticket booth with the old man who had obviously been ordered to keep anyone from entering this city. After that, there was the pitch-black passage, and in the city, there were vampires and nothing else. At least, he hadn’t seen anything else.

    Aberforth took a closer look, searching for someone he could ask about Riddle – he didn’t plan to have too much conversations with the vampires, if he could avoid them.

    Nothing, only red eyes, white skin, and silent steps.

    And yet: No matter how dark it was, how foreign the buildings looked, there were things that could only be explained by the presence of humans. Back there, a fountain – vampires weren’t exactly famous for drinking water. A bit more to the right – a compact, angular building with peeled off letters that said "Place to Stay".

    The only thing missing now were actual people.

    Either, the Ministry, after all these bloody battles, had, after some time of trouble-free supervision, actually thought it a good idea to leave the vampires be – that wasn’t entirely impossible, of course. After all, the British Ministry didn’t closely monitor the goblins despite all the goblin wars. But, well, the goblins weren’t much faster, stronger and resilient than every single wizard.

    Or there was something wrong.

    At least in the beginning, there had to have been a monitoring post of the Ministry. Maybe he shouldn’t have thrown away the brochure, maybe there would’ve been a map that showed it. Even though the attractions were somewhat limited here.

    Abe entered an alley that was far narrower and waved his wand. He needed a bit of light – it was too dark in here, at least for a human’s eyes. To be fair, it wasn’t really an alley, more like an interlacing path between the ugly stone thorns the vampires appeared to live in. There were no more stores; even the few vampires out on the streets at this early hour probably wouldn’t have had enough space here.

    Attentively, he looked around, but there was nothing outstanding here, and of course no one had seen the necessity to signpost anything.

    The very moment he wanted to turn back, he suddenly felt something strange below his feet; slabby and soft.

    Oh, dammit.

    He knew what that was, he knew what he was standing in, but he still had to look at it. The white light from the tip of his wand met a rusty red; a whole puddle that hadn’t even dried out completely.

    Animal blood?

    He wasn’t sure whether vampires actually drank that, but it couldn’t be the blood of a human. If the Ministry kept even half an eye on this place, it wouldn’t allow anything like that.

    "Revelio. Revelio." Nothing, at least for the moment. That blasted city was definitely far too gloomy.

    He almost ran, even though he didn’t notice it. Leaving was still an option, he knew that, but he repressed that thought as best he could. He’d show that guard vampire he was no coward. He’d show his brother what it meant to be no coward, and he’d take the Hog’s Head and deserve it.

    At least, he still had the little gadget Albus had given to him. If things got too dire, he‘d use that.

    Suddenly – he didn’t even know how many alleys he’d passed through – he stopped. Between all those ugly, rutted thorns, there stood a completely normal, human house.

    Abe grinned – he’d finally found what he was looking for. At least he hoped so – better to not get too euphoric right away; after all, he hadn’t seen a single human being yet.

    Even though it was anything but magnificent, it looked like a luxury villa compared to everything around it. He hadn’t seen it when he’d been standing on the wall, probably because it wasn’t nearly as high as the vampire’s homes. Painted in yellow, blue and red peeled off colours, it looked a bit worn down, just like the ticket booth he’d seen first. Abe came a little closer, feeling more anxious than he liked to admit to himself.

    This could be his starting point. Surely, if Tom Riddle was in this city, the wizards who monitored it would have noticed.

    But they needed to exist in order for that to happen. Would he even meet anyone? Notably, the house was completely quiet, even though, outside this city, it was still day.

    Abe breathed in deeply. At least, he’d know how careful he’d have to be from now on. On the other hand, the idea of being alone in the dark was –

    With every fibre of his being, he hoped the door in front of him would open when he pushed it.

    It didn’t.

    Suddenly, he felt very cold. His arm trembled slightly when he raised it a bit and increased the light coming from his wand. Maybe they were just closed at the moment, maybe there was a paper which told you the opening hours?

    Nothing, just bare, yellow painted wood. He lowered his wand again – to no avail. The house of the Romanian Ministry seemed deserted.

    He slowly moved to the right, looking for a second entrance. But his search ended before it could really begin. There was something, at the outermost edge of the light cone.

    A drop of blood glued to a piece of paper, two feet away from the door.

    Shut down as of the 1st of September, 1948
    Béla Ghinion, Head of the Department for Hazardous Humanoids


    Shut down. Shut down just two weeks ago.

    Well, shit.

    So, his worst suspicions had been true. He and Tom Riddle – if he even was here at all – both of them were alone with the vampires. He’d thought they wouldn’t attack any wizard because they couldn’t, because some contract with the Ministry forced them. No contract in the world was worth the paper it was written on if no one was there to enforce it. Maybe, if the vampires attacked him, they'd notice his disappearance, but that'd be a bit late.

    The darkness felt twice as thick now, almost as bad as it had been in the cave. Every shadow was a threat of its own.

    No powerful Ministry between him and the canine teeth of these beasts. Only his wand. And the vampires were fast, the guard vampire had shown him that. The only thing that stopped them from attacking him until now was their lacking knowledge; they were hard to kill, but it wasn’t impossible. Even they had to be a bit careful about who they attacked.

    Sooner or later, one would try it first, and they’d see that he wasn’t incapable, that he was no slouch – but no Albus Dumbledore either. His time was running out since he’d arrived in the city; he just hadn’t been that much aware of it before.

    Despite the danger that seemed oh so real now, he couldn’t help but think about that note. This was one of the most peculiar coincidences he’d ever come across. They’d stopped their monitoring, for no apparent reason, just two weeks before Abe entered the city? Had Riddle waited for them to do that, knowing beforehand they would? Or was there more to –

    The scream cut through the silence like a cold sword, chilling and high-pitched. He took a few steps backwards and increased the light coming from his wand, no longer caring whether any vampire was disturbed by it – he’d overstay his welcome soon enough, no matter what he did.

    There was blood splattered across the greyish walls of the houses, but it had long since dried – the scream hadn’t come from this alley. It had been close, though.

    All thoughts of finding Riddle were gone. There was a young girl that needed his help, and he couldn’t – no, he wouldn’t -

    Firmly clasping his wand with his sweaty right hand, he marched through the small paths between the vampire’s houses. As far as he was able to see through the smoky veil which shielded the city from the sunlight, the sunset had begun and the streets were becoming notably busier. Some vampires even talked to each other. The city was awaking, but he barely noticed it.

    He knew he hadn’t come here for that; he knew he shouldn’t go there, frankly: He was very aware that it was an awful idea – but he couldn’t change who he was. Gryffindors stayed Gryffindors, they just became a bit more aware of how irrational they were really acting as time went on.

    Except he knew that wasn’t all there was to it, but he didn’t need his thoughts to go there now, did he?

    Panic-stricken, desperate, a second scream echoed through the city, and Abe ran faster. There was an alley to his left, and the scream had been coming from his left – it was close, so very close. And the vampires he passed by didn’t even look up, didn’t even seem to care – this was normal here, it probably happened every day.

    He’d draw everyone's attention to himself if he intervened.

    Doesn’t matter, I’ve got to save her.

    The path between the buildings he was standing in now was very small, but there was a small cove a few feet away from him. Six vampires were standing there, their teeth barred. Another scream, but this one was more like a roar, throaty and awfully final.

    Abe felt as if his eyes were too slow when he tried to watch the vampires. Their movements were blurry, their sheer speed surreal. In their midst, there was a young girl, barely older than 20. Her fingers were scraped and bloody and there were several red scratches at her neck.

    She kicked her legs, she tried to hit her tormentors, she tried to get up, but the vampires were far too fast. The same moment she wanted to push one of them he’d already grabbed her neck from behind, kept her still, and came closer to her tanned neck, mouth opened, teeth shimmering in the darkness – only to snap it shut again just in front of her while she screamed her fear through the street.

    There was a bizarre smile in these creature’s faces, fixed and cruel, but just as disturbingly real as the boundless greed in their eyes.

    Abe didn’t hesitate for one second.

    "Lumos Solem!"

    The light from the tip of his wand flickered, and then it went out, solidifying the darkness around him. Abe stared at his wand open-mouthed, his thoughts an angry turmoil. What the hell - ?

    A tall figure stepped out of the shadows into the twilight. Its face was pale, but by far not as white as that of the vampires behind.

    This was a human.

    "Good evening," Tom Riddle said pleasantly. "I’m afraid I cannot allow you to disturb my new friends."

    His … his friends?!

    Riddle turned his back to the girl, he didn’t seem to care for neither her nor the monsters behind him. "I’ll be asking you a few questions," he said.

    Abe clenched his hand around his wand as the girl screamed again. If that guy didn’t move right now, he’d –

    "Considering your unfortunate situation, you better not try anything stupid." There was a very cold edge to Riddle‘s voice now.

    "My situation?" Abe felt for the bean Albus had given him. He’d not let the vampires torture her to death – if there was ever going to be a time to use it, it was now.

    Suddenly, two white faces showed up just behind Riddle’s back. Their red eyes were solely focused on Abe, like a tiger examining its prey before finally attacking. He didn’t need to turn around in order to know there’d be more of them.

    He had no chance to save her. Even though he didn’t know her personally, it felt as if he’d just been punched hard in the stomach.

    "I think you know what I’m talking about," Riddle replied, smiling arrogantly. "Stupor!"

    Abe simply stood there, unmoving, as the red bolt hit his chest and the darkness around him went black.

    ~ * ~​

    You couldn’t compare awaking from a Stupor to awaking from a non-magical unconsciousness. It was like you hadn’t even been gone, there was no sleepiness, no grasping for memories of what had happened. The first thing Abe thought of was the young girl, and he felt for his wand, ready to defend her, before he remembered that he’d just been cornered.

    The girl – no, he would not allow himself to think of her. It hadn’t been about her, really.

    The first thing he became aware of was the fact he was surrounded by light. It wasn’t too bright, but after all this time in the twilight, it seemed to be. Also, he was in shackles, tied to a chair by a rope and unable to move. He wasn’t where he’d been just a few moments ago. This had to be the building of the ministry he’d only seen the outside of – he doubted any vampire had a thing for glowing torches or, considering their irregular, fissured buildings, for square rooms.

    There wasn’t much to see – only some shelves containing countless file folders and a desk where Riddle had placed his wand.

    Well, and Riddle, who stood in front of him and twirled his wand between his long, skinny fingers.

    Abe tried to focus – what was done was done, he had to concentrate on what wasn’t. His opponent seemed to be a pretty conceited man – maybe he’d underestimate him. The fact that he dared to put his wand in the same room, so close to him, was a first clue that he did. He was young, too, in his early twenties at best. Surely, he'd make a few mistakes.

    This wasn't over yet.

    "I think I don’t have to explain to you how pitifully few options you’ve got," Riddle said; he’d probably seen Abe’s eyes darting around, looking for an escape.

    Perhaps he’d been a little naive, walking into the vampire’s city unprepared like that, but still … he’d find a way to pay that brazen boy back.

    "You are at my mercy," continued Riddle, and there was a repulsive little smile on his lips, "and you will be telling me everything I want to know – or I’ll encourage you until you beg me to finally allow you to reveal everything."

    There was a strange, almost reddish glint in his brown eyes. A sadist, as it seemed. Abe grit his teeth and instead focused on the ropes that squeezed him to the chair. If Riddle really was as arrogant as he thought he was, there was a chance he hadn’t even bothered to enchant them.

    "Who are you?"

    Abe had no reason to lie; the last thing he needed right now was pain to distract him from the ropes.

    "Aberforth Dumbledore."

    Riddle tensed; he immediately stopped twirling his wand. The last remnants of his smile disappeared from his face and he leaned forward, clasping his wand.

    That very moment, Abe had to stop himself from cheering. As it had just turned out, Riddle was exactly as presumptuous as he thought he was. For a second, he almost felt insulted – but if Riddle wanted to give him a chance, why complain? Even without a wand, he'd have a shot at getting out of here.

    "Professor Dumbledore sent you?!" Riddle‘s tone was tough and clipped, almost panicked.

    "Yes."

    Riddle rose and his chair crashed on the floor. His hands –

    His hands! For a second, Abe was pulled from his concentration when he saw the right ring finger. The problem wasn’t the golden ring with the black stone embedded in it. The problem was that this very ring seemed to have eaten away at the finger like a worm crawling through an apple. The skin was an angry shade of red, almost black at the edges, and the ring had almost disappeared in the flesh; only the stone was still fully visible.

    Riddle followed his gaze and his eyes widened drastically. "Crucio!"

    If you weren’t prepared, the pain was even worse. It was everywhere, and it was irresistably strong; flames were burning his joints, his whole body seemed to scream –

    Nearly as fast as it had come, the pain disappeared. Riddle was still standing in front of him, the fingers of his right hand spread as if he didn’t have anything to hide – like that horse wasn’t already out the barn.

    Abe breathed heavily, his heartbeat felt almost painful while the echoes of pain slowly faded away – he had to focus, he wouldn’t get more than one single opportunity to pull this off. Wandless magic was difficult, but only almost impossible – after all, he had to loosen the ropes just a little bit.

    "How much do you know?" asked Riddle tonelessly.

    "A fair bit," he replied a absent-mindedly – come on, damned ropes, move! – "For example, I know that you want to get bitten here."

    Riddles face was a mask, almost as white as the vampire’s skin. Try as he might, he couldn’t conceal that Abe had hit the mark.

    Well, it hadn’t been that difficult to find out after all Abe had discovered. As it was so often the case, it all made sense in hindsight. The ministry hadn’t shut down anything, and the vampires didn’t have the power to force them to. No, Riddle had done that for them when he arrived. He didn’t want to be disturbed, so he’d told – or forced? – the man in the ticket booth to hold up every uninvited guest. His last measure of security had been the creepy vampire that had tried to scare him away. And told Riddle all about him, presumably, because how else would he've been able to find him as quickly?

    Given the troubles Riddle had went through to remain unpertubed and Albus‘ tales of him trying to reach immortality, and the ominous state of Riddle‘s finger, it was pretty clear that he prepared for some kind of dark ritual. The ring should probably prevent the loss of magic that normally came with being a vampire – if Albus was here he’d have surely already found an explanation how that might work.

    "Something else?" Riddle’s voice was very calm now, and yet it sent a shiver down Abe’s spine. This cold determination meant that his time had almost run out.

    "This ring’s got something to do with it," he said. As he spoke, all of his attention was focused on the rope and he whispered "Finite" in his head, again and again, desperately hoping for success, even though he’d never done this before.

    The tip of Riddle’s wand glimmed red – another Cruciatus just waiting to be unleashed.

    Nothing, no movement at all.

    "Who knows about that?" Now his voice sounded silky, almost compassionate – if it hadn’t been so cold.

    "Hm …" FiniteFiniteFiniteFinite – "I think" – FiniteFiniteFiniteFinite – "and mind you, I can’t guarantee anything" – the rope, it quivered! He was able to influence it, his magic did have an effect – he just needed a tiny bit more.

    "Speak!" Riddle hissed and raised his wand, pointing it at Abe’s face. "Crucio!"

    The rope loosened; it was barely noticeable, but it did, and he triumphed inwardly, just when the Cruciatus hit him straight in the face. The force of the pain pushed him backwards and Abe roared when his joints seemed to jump out of their sockets, when razors perforated his belly, but in his head, there were only the ropes, he didn’t allow for anything else, not even for the ubiquitous pain-

    FINITE!

    The very same moment the ropes fell down, he bolted out of his chair, his fist outstretched – and slammed it into the nose of Tom Vorlost Riddle. It broke with a rich and very, very gratifying crack.

    Riddle tumbled – then he lost his balance and went to the ground. The sheer sight of it was so satisfying that even the aftershocks of the Cruciatus didn’t seem that bad for a moment.

    Abe reached for his wand and turned around – just in time, because Riddle was standing again, livid with rage, his nose bloody and his eyes glowering.

    The young man was even faster than Aberforth had feared – and precise. The first curse barely missed him, and he could only block the second one in the last moment.

    From then on, he was defending, not even a thought of attacking possible. Riddle’s spells were powerful; Abe felt how his hastily conjured shield vibrated, almost collapsing from their force.

    His gaze traveled through the room, scanning it for anything he could use as a weapon, but to no avail, it was only the both of them, apart from –

    Again, Riddle was faster. It was just a casual flick of his wand, but the effect was immediately visible. The legs of the chair trembled, then it suddenly began to walk while Abe still couldn’t do anything but desperately deflect the curses sent his way.

    How could Riddle be anywhere near that powerful? He’d barely graduated from Hogwarts, after all! Abe was a powerful wizard, compared to pretty much everyone but his brother, but at the moment, he couldn’t keep up with this guy; his only option was to defend and pray.

    He was only one hit away from losing. The walking chair had almost arrived, and as soon as it arrived, it’d be one distraction too many. Riddle stood there, confident, smiling, already sure of his victory.

    He had to do something, if only to wipe that blasted smile away.

    A sickly yellowish curse hurtled towards him, it was almost there – and suddenly, he had an idea.

    With a determined swish of his wand, he collapsed his shield at the very moment the spell hit it.

    The air in the room vibrated, and a sickly yellowish bubble formed where the magic had collided, expanding in Riddles direction. He hesitated for a second, and Aberforth used that.

    He tipped the bubble with his wand. Suddenly, its yellowish edges grew stronger, and the air in the room became even thicker.

    Riddle’s next curse hit the bubble, a blue one this time, and it began to shimmer.

    Abe did two things at the same time; with the first part of his wand movement, he cleanly cut the chair in two pieces – both halves collapsed and began to thrash around – and with the second one, he formed another shield, just before the bubble exploded.

    Its force was incredible; he tumbled despite the shield. It felt as if he was standing in the middle of a hurricane, and his protection wavered frighteningly. Debris was flying everywhere; the walls of the building weren’t strong enough to withstand the explosion.

    But what about Riddle?

    When the dust had finally settled – more or less, at least – he noticed that darkness had begun to claim the room, as the torches were no longer lit. Next to him there was a hole almost spanning the whole length of the room, allowing him to view the alley below. The walls separating the room from the corridor had been blasted away entirely.

    Riddle was still standing, his previously sleek hair unruly, his nosebleed stronger, and his pose quite a bit less confident. He blinked, as if seeing him for the first time.

    Guess what, I can do magic, too.

    Riddle had had the upper hand in the beginning, but he hadn’t hit him. Now it was his turn. He pointed towards the rubble scattered in the room, and Riddle sent two orange curses his way.

    They didn’t even reach their target; two pieces of wreckage flew in their way before they even had the chance to come close; they flared and shattered.

    In quick succession, Abe tossed curses at Riddle, who’d lost all of his former grace. Defense didn’t seem to be his strong point. He deflected them, barely.

    Another one of Riddle’s curses was stopped by the debris, and Abe smiled grimly. He doubted that his opponent knew the spell he’d used – and he’d give him no time to break it.

    In the very same moment, fire flared up beneath him, and he hastily jumped aside – in front of him, a piece of debris exploded; Riddle had almost caught him with a curse. The dimmed twilight was lit with an aggressive, dangerous orange – every single piece of debris he’d enchanted was blazing fiercely.

    Damn it. He felt the heat surrounding his body, sweat dripping from his forehead. But compared to the choking fumes trapping him, it was almost secondary. The smoke clouding the room was unnaturally thick; he couldn’t even see the flames through it.

    But he didn’t panic like Riddle had probably hoped he would. He didn’t even try to extinguish the cheeky flame that had encroached on his cloak.

    Riddle’s tactics were high-risk – and if one’s opponent still had an intact defense system while oneself didn’t have anything of the sort, it was almost insane.

    Abe saw where the next curse came from, its light so bright that it pierced through the clouds of smoke – and then, suddenly, it went out when, again, a piece of burning wreckage got in its way. Sparks shot through the fumes and scorched his cheek. His leg felt as if it was ablaze, and it probably was.

    But the fire wasn’t the worst thing; the smoke was. It massed together around Abe, as if trying to choke him. Abe gasped, but there was no air, there were only fumes; black dots danced in front of his eyes, and he forced himself not to breathe even though his lungs screamed for air, even though he felt himself tumbling – he had to resist, he’d faint if he didn’t.

    The only thing he could still see was the aggressive orange flaring from his trouser leg. If he tried to put out the fire, Riddle would have too much time to think of anything that could penetrate his defense. Abe’s face convulsed – he wouldn’t lose, he wouldn’t allow it.

    With gritted teeth, he pointed his wand downwards, one single, cutting movement. The curse disappeared, a short flash in the pervasive fumes.

    The black dots grew bigger, he couldn’t even wait until he knew whether he’d hit Riddle, he had to act right now.

    With a second swish, the flames stopped blazing all at once, and the smoke lightened up immediately.

    Just a few feet away, there was a scream and a muffled bang.

    Abe’s lungs greedily drank in the air, even though there still was far too much smoke in it, and it still felt like the freshest breath of air he’d ever gotten. Then, he coughed violently, tasted the metallic flavour of blood in his mouth, but he didn’t care.

    Tom Riddle lay on the floor, his right leg bent at an unhealthy ankle, bleeding heavily. He’d dropped his wand; it had almost rolled out of the hole in the wall.

    Sweet, sweet victory.

    "You fool," Riddle hissed, his face contorted in pain. He didn’t seem to be able to fully process that he’d just lost their fight.

    "You’re the one on the floor, not me," Abe retorted, still coughing.

    Riddle didn’t even listen. "If you don’t want to become a vampire within the next five seconds, give me back my wand!"

    Abe felt a sudden streak of raw panic, something that was bigger than both of the combined – danger, approaching fast.

    With a flick of his wand, a thin, blueish shield formed around the two of them. And suddenly, there was a tall, dark figure, its teeth bared, climbing through the hole as if it was nothing, running towards the two of them, its movements blurry.

    It hit the protection Abe had just created with full force, and tumbled backwards.

    He looked towards Riddle, but the young man’s face made it very clear: He hadn’t sent this monster. For the first time, he seemed actually afraid.

    A second one showed up in the room, and then a third one, four, five – it didn’t stop, it seemed as if he’d somehow destroyed a dam that was keeping them away.

    "I thought they were on your side?" asked Abe, ignoring, for a moment, the vampire’s futile attempts at breaking through his shield.

    "You imbecile just spilled blood in the middle of Orasul. The nosebleed was bad enough, but this - did it ever occur to your there was a reason why I didn’t use cutting curses?" Riddle was fuming, but there was something more in his eyes – he was panicking, even though he tried to conceal it. "They don't remember anything right now, I doubt they even know their own names anymore."

    After all, if he hadn’t been panicking, he’d have known why telling him that bit of information was an awful idea. "So … you mean, if I were to cast you out of the shield, they’d attack you no matter what you did for them?"

    "NO!!" Riddle shouted, desperation evident in his voice, and Abe connected the hints he’d just been given. As it seemed, he had definitely planned to get bitten at some point – but it very much appeared like his protections weren’t quite ready for it to happen now. Which meant Riddle would lose his magic if the vampires got to him.

    How unfortunate.

    "No, listen to me." Riddle‘s eyes were darting around restlessly; he almost looked like a madman. "Your shield, it won’t last. They can’t do magic, but their teeth, there’s something left … they can make it collapse. You can’t fight them all at once, you’re going to need me." He leaned forward, his movements as clipped as his voice. "Heal me – just a little, I can work with that, and then we‘ll fight them off, back to back."

    Was that guy aware of how delusional he sounded? "Sorry," Abe said while a vampire sunk his claws into the shield – only to yelp and yank it back immediately. "But - "

    "You can’t apparate out of here," Riddle added hastily. "They made sure of that."

    "You know, I’m really trying to motivate myself to fight with you, but somehow I doubt I’ll ever be feeling like standing back to back with anyone who tortured me. To be honest, I think I like you exactly where – and how - you are."

    Riddle didn’t have anything to respond with; he remained fully silent, as if his brain was still working on processing how dire his situation truly was.

    There was a dark, vicious sense of satisfaction when Abe saw his dumbfounded expression.

    One of the vampires standing around his protection opened his mouth comically wide and slammed her teeth into the shimmering blue. Abe frowned. Did they really think that would - ?

    The wand in his hand started to tremble. Suddenly, he felt weak, as if not his magic, but his bodily strength was being fed upon. Abe looked at the vampire, and saw a second one open his mouth. He gripped his wand even stronger, but the trembling didn’t stop.

    He didn’t know how they did it, but he felt as if he was losing blood, even though there was no way he was.

    "You need me!" Riddle insisted.

    His fingers were white from the pressure, but Abe’s whole body had started to shake. He wanted to drop the shield, he knew it would stop the vampires from sucking his energy out of him, but he knew what would happen if he did.

    And suddenly, he had an idea, one that didn’t involve Riddle fighting with him. "Yes," he said while an unnatural coldness crept up his spine and his fingers grew even weaker. "I think I do need you after all, Riddle. Actually, you’ll be a great distraction. Maybe you‘ll even defeat them – have fun!"

    Riddle looked at the vampires, then back towards Abe. "No." There was no plea in his voice, it still sounded like an order, even though he looked like he’d just seen a Dementor. "No, you can’t - "

    The first flick of his wand sent Riddle’s wand in his direction, but he didn’t even bother to check whether he’d caught it. The second flick caused half the shield to drop. At once, Riddle – bleeding, injured Riddle – was without protection, and the raging vampires noticed immediately.

    Abe whirled around, while the vampires who’d been draining him let off his shield and focused on Riddle, like all the others. The second they did, his strength returned like a fire warming him from within, but he had no time to even acknowledge it.

    Abe would probably only have a few seconds to pull this off; they wouldn’t ignore the second human forever.

    The debris his exploding bubble had created had hit the opposite building, just four or five feet away. One piece of wreckage had destroyed parts of its front. He glanced downwards, but he couldn’t jump into the alley, the vampires would get to him before he even knew where he was.

    The opposite hole, though, was big enough for him. He’d be going into a vampire’s house, and he was pretty sure he didn’t want that, but there were even more of them in the building he was in right now.

    Behind him, a vampire shot through the air, hitting the floor heavily – and standing up again as if nothing had happened. Riddle was still fighting, still distracting them, even though he couldn’t even stand. If he wanted to use that to his advantage, now was the time.

    Taking a deep breath, he jumped.

    For a second, he felt air rushing through his hair and saw the hole in the opposite wall come closer.

    He landed on rough stone, rolling on the floor and coming to a halt in the darkness of whatever chamber he’d just entered. His back hurt; the distance had been larger than he‘d thought it was.

    Another loud bang echoed through the streets and he heard how something broke – it seemed Riddle wasn’t about to give up.

    Too bad he had no time to watch.

    Outside the ugly thorn he’d fallen in, there was dimly lit twilight, but in here, the darkness was as thick as it had been in the cave, despite the hole. It seemed as if the jagged stone itself was keeping the light away.

    "Lumos," whispered Abe, and then he watched the light spread slowly, as if gliding through ether – and almost jumped backwards in shock.

    He hadn’t formed any ideas about how a vampire might want to furnish their home. A coffin, of course. Maybe desks and chairs or a cupboard – but what for? This vampire, however, hadn’t thought any of these things necessary for this particular room.

    But there were people. Muggles, probably, pale like the vampires, but their eyes weren’t moving. Six persons, all of them dead.

    None of them were rot. Either, they hadn’t been here for long, or the vampire’s curse meant they’d stay as they were, bodies intact but lifeless.

    "H-hello?"

    Abe flinched when he heard the tear-stricken girl’s voice. Not again, please, not again.

    "P-please … I … d-don’t kill me."

    He threw a glance at the ruined building of the Ministry. No one had come after him yet, they were still fighting against Riddle, but it was only a matter of time. He had no time to rescue anyone – not to speak of the vampire who lived here. He’d probably want to meet the guy who’d destroyed his house front.

    But he couldn’t escape his own skin. There was no way he’d be able to ignore a helpless, young girl – Albus had been far better at that, too.

    Screw it.

    He raised his wand, but he couldn’t see anything. "Where are you?"

    Silence. Of course. "I … I want to help you," he said, his voice rough. He hadn’t been able to help the young woman on the streets, but Riddle was a bit too preoccupied to stop him now. He slowly moved through the room, past the white, empty corpses that looked like porcellain.

    There! She had a symmetrical face, white in the light of the wand, a little upturned nose, and –

    Her head bolted forward like that of an attacking snake; she opened her mouth, and just a second later, Abe felt two long, sharp thorns pierce his arm, just where his artery was.

    It should have hurt, but it was painless. It should have been a shock, but Abe felt completely calm – the teeth in his arm were wholly incidental. She was such a nice, young girl – if she wanted some of his blood, she could have it. He had so much of it – he could share.

    His wand dropped down all by itself, and its light went out.

    Then, things happened so quickly that his slow thoughts had no chance to even comprehend a quarter of it. He heard a quiet tripping, feet maybe, but they were moving far too fast, and suddenly, there were no more teeth in his arm and the little girl was screaming.

    Strong arms groped him, carried him away, and he heard a clicking sound; his wand rolling over the floor.

    He should’ve been afraid, at least he knew that, but he felt far too dizzy. The vampire that carried him hesitated for a second when he was standing in the hole of the wall. Above them, blazing light pierced through the darkness like a sudden explosion – but this explosion had come to stay; it even seemed to get stronger over time. His eyes hurt when he looked at it, but the pain was far away, like everything else.

    The vampire hadn’t moved yet, it seemed to struggle against something; almost as if he wanted to do two things at the same time. But then, without any preparation, he jumped towards the light. Two feet high, five feet in length, with the elegance of a cat.

    Mildly, Abe wondered where the other vampires had gone, and why this one carried him instead of taking a bite – and then, he suddenly noticed that the light wasn’t doing the vampire’s skin any good. Its milky, white colour grew stained with red, it was frizzing and boiling, but he stayed where he was, stoically enduring the torture.

    Abe shook his head violently, trying to regain his awareness. What kind of spell was that? Even his skin felt as if it was being burned, and he was no vampire.

    At least he hoped so, after what had just happened.

    A figure emerged amidst the ocean of light, limping heavily. So, Riddle had survived the attack of the vampires, and this spell was his doing. Abe swallowed. He doubted Riddle would allow him to fetch his wand. He’d made one mistake too many, and he’d die for it.

    He hadn’t expected to be so calm, now that it was about to happen. But he'd made the mistakes, and he'd deal with them, that was all there was about that. No Hog’s Head for him, after all. At least he’d see Ariana again.

    He couldn’t make out Riddle’s face within the aggressive brightness, but his voice was harsh and dripping with hatred. "Crucio!"

    The vampire dropped Abe just before the curse hit him, but he still stood in the light; his peeling off skin didn’t seem to disturb him at all. Imperioused, Abe thought, before the pain hit for a third time that day.

    This time, it had come to stay. He couldn’t help it, he screamed, thrashing around with his arms like a drowning man – he hit something, but he didn’t even care, his whole world consisted of raging, endless red. His voice broke, grew hoarse, but he still screamed, and it went on and on –

    He didn’t know where he was; he didn’t even know anymore who he was. Riddle had ended the curse, but there were still needles in his nerves; the torture hadn’t quite stopped. Abe’s hands looked awful, he’d surely broken the bones in them when he’d punched the ground again and again, not noticing how much harm he was doing to himself. They felt like two fiery lumps of pain.

    "Did that hurt?" Riddle’s voice was close nearby, dark with pleasure. "That was only a fraction of what you deserve."

    Abe groaned.

    "But don’t worry, Lord Voldemort is quite a bit more creative than that."

    He had nothing to defend himself with. He didn’t even have the strength to get up from the ground. But maybe he had the means to take Riddle down with him.

    "Strawberry Ice Cream," he whispered, his voice shaky – when his brother joined him wherever he’d go, he’d make sure to thank him for these perfectly ridiculous last words.

    The bean in his pocket collapsed. For a second, nothing happened, and he almost thought Albus had fooled him.

    Then, Riddle’s wand was yanked out of his hand and he flew backwards; spiralling through the air and hitting the ground hard.

    The blazing light went out all at once, and the darkness conglomed where it had been, as if trying to undo its previous invasion by burying what had just been lit up.

    They didn’t hear them.

    They didn’t see them.

    But they knew the vampires were coming for them.

    Abe smiled contentedly, and even before the first one had reached him, he passed out.

    ~ * ~​

    Aberforth Dumbledore hadn’t reckoned with waking up again. His skin burned, but the pain was dull, as if there was something keeping it away. There were smells, valerian and some sort of sweet lemon, strangely intense, but still, there seemed to be a veil separating him from it.

    Beneath him, there was smooth wood, he felt it extraordinarily clearly – and yet he didn’t, there was a layer of cotton between him and the world.

    There were feelings – fear, fury, confusion – but even they were attenuated by the veil. They belonged to him; they wanted him to feel them, but the veil didn’t allow it.

    Abe gritted his teeth. Whatever it was … it had to go. He was alive, but it felt like the life of a mechanized puppet. Not real.

    He opened his eyes. The room he was in was dark, lit up only by three candles, but his vision was far better than he remembered. Opposite him sat Albus, his expression grave and burdened. He looked as if he’d aged by half a century within the last few days. Abe could see every single grey hair – and at the same time, his brother appeared almost blurred.

    "You cannot imagine how sorry I am."

    The moment he heard his brother’s voice, he felt something different, and it was real, it was close. The blood rushing through his brother’s veins. The thin, living skin that separated him from it. His muscles contracted, he bared his teeth – but suddenly he noticed what he was doing and stopped immediately. What the hell was wrong with him?!

    "I have underestimated Tom, despite everything – I did not expect him to go that far."

    Abe waved his hand as if trying to dispel a fly. "I’m one of them." It was no question.

    His brother’s face was a mask. "Yes."

    Images flashed in front of his eyes. Humans are complete, but we’re not, we are damaged. He knew what that meant, even now, just a few minutes after waking up. It seemed as if some part of himself had been transformed, and it didn’t belong where it was now.

    But he was still Aberforth Dumbledore, no matter the change, and he’d been able to work with that the past 55 years. He might have unsettling red eyes now, and a strange desire to rip people’s throat open, and a distaste for garlic, and –

    The point was, most of him was still there, and he’d force himself to make do on that. "Damn, I forgot they could do that. They caught Riddle, though?"

    Albus Dumbledore blinked twice, which, for him, was the equivalent of total consternation. "To be honest; I am not quite sure," he said after a moment of silence. "I arrived just a few seconds after you had activated the bean, and I have neither seen him nor his body."

    Abe groaned. "Looks like I have my work cut out."

    "I am afraid you haven‘t grasped the gravity of your new situation, Aberforth," began Albus carefully, "but - "

    "Well, I’ve got to stop myself from going for your jugular – but that’s not quite that big a difference compared to before. Apart from that … yes, I know what happened. I’ve seen it, it was my decision. I’ve made a few mistakes and I’ll suffer the consequences."

    Of course, Albus was the cause for all that, with his conveniently placed carrot, but then again he’d also known about that and accepted it. He was pretty sure Albus would have gifted him the Hog’s Head if he‘d just asked. He was just as sure that there was no force in the universe able to make him do something like that.

    His brother looked like he wanted to argue, but he didn’t, in the end. After all these years, it seemed like he was indeed able to learn – who’d have thought?

    "You were right, by the way“, Abe continued. „He wanted to get bitten. There was something on his finger, a ring – looked like dark magic, and I think he wanted to use that to avoid losing his magic somehow. When I arrived, he wasn’t done with his rituals, though."

    All at once, the faintest of twinklings was back in his Albus‘ eyes. He turned around to a fourth candle Abe had overlooked, and promoted a circular, golden thing with a black stone into Abe’s field of view. "You are not, by any chance, talking about this ring, are you?"

    "How in hell did you get that?!" He was pretty sure Riddle wouldn’t have made it easy for his brother to carve that one out of his flesh.

    "It lay a few feet away from you – believe me, I have never imagined this particular find to proceed anywhere near the way it did." Albus‘ voice sounded exceedingly bitter, and Abe suspected there was more to the ring than met the eye, but he didn’t ask. Now wasn’t the time to reopen old sours.

    "But that means he’s got to be dead. I don’t think he just gave you that one." After all, Riddle had tortured him for just glancing at it.

    Albus hesitated, and for a second, the urge to attack his brother was almost overwhelming. He knew that look – he always wore that expression when he thought about how many pieces of truth his dialogue partner might deserve.

    "I am not quite sure," he finally said. "This ring is saturated with powerful dark magic I have not seen the likes of. As of now, we don‘t know how possessed Tom Riddle really was by the idea of immortality – nor do we know which steps he took in order to accomplish his goal."

    "Albus … do you think that, if you really tried, you’d manage to say even less with even more words?" Abe retorted.

    There again was that wistful smile he’d worn during their last conversation. "I do not believe him to be dead."

    "A vampire?"

    "A ghost, maybe even less," Albus said, his head tilted.

    So, Riddle wasn’t a problem anymore, at least for now – and it wasn’t sure whether he’d ever manage to return. "So … I think I’m ready to get started at the Hog’s Head."

    Albus eyed him suspiciously. "Are you absolutely convinced that this is a good idea? I have to admit that you seem to have taken all of this remarkably well – nonetheless, the vampire’s self-restraint is all but infamous."

    "I’ll manage," said Abe determinedly. Then, he hesitated. "At least I hope so."

    ~ * ~​

    A shadow flew above the forests of Transsylvania, black and restless, held together only by its hatred. He was less than a ghost, less than even the lowest animal, but he still existed, despite the mistake he’d made. Vampires were no part of the path towards immortality.

    He’d return.

    And when he did, he’d burn down the whole cursed city. There’d be nothing left of Orasul Sângelui. They’d try to steal his magic, and they’d almost, almost managed to. He wouldn’t forgive them that, he’d hunt the vampires down, one by one, until none were left.

    But first, he would destroy Aberforth Dumbledore.
     
  2. BTT

    BTT Viol̀e͜n̛t͝ D̶e͡li͡g҉h̛t҉s̀ ~ Prestige ~

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    This was really good. My favorite entry of the lot, no contest.

    The choice of Abe as the main character was extremely inspired, and he was a good blend of bitter about his brother's mistakes and his own man. I had no idea he was going to be turned until the girl popped up again, and then it just seemed so obvious. I could practically hear a musical sting at that moment.

    Tom Riddle attempting to create his own strain of vampirism makes sense, too. I thought at first that the story would be all about that, but then we switched over to Abe. I think you could've done without that particular bit prologue, honestly, but it's well-written so I suppose I can't really complain.

    Also worth mentioning: the action was great. I suppose some more transfiguration could've been used, admittedly, but the duel made decent use of the environment so I thin k you've got it down.

    If I have one complaint it's that Tom was asking/begging for help a bit too quickly. Surely he'd have some sort of measure to help him escape, careful as he was about his immortality.
     
  3. Typhon

    Typhon Order Member

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    This story belongs to the tier of entries 4 and 5, I feel, which is to say it's a very well done story. What that means, unfortunately, is the review feels more like a list of quibbles than praise. Despite that, make no mistake - I'm a fan.

    Before I get to the negative, I want to shout out a couple of particularly well done things. First, like BTT mentioned, I thought using Aberforth was a stroke of genius for what he brings to the table as a character and a plausibly good wizard. Related to that, I felt that you handled the Dumbledores and their relationship in a way that really worked for me. Considering they're tricky fucking characters to pin down at times, that's no small feat.

    On the other hand, I also have to agree with BTT in thinking you'd have been better off to avoid the Riddle POV lead-in. I feel that it would have heightened the tension a fair bit if we only knew what Aberforth knew at any given moment, especially since Aberforth has no interest in listening to Albus be omniscient. The Riddle bit was executed well enough, there was nothing particularly wrong with any of it or anything, but I definitely feel those words would have been better spent in setting up the opening scenes between the Dumbledores or maybe even just left off in aim of streamlining the piece a bit.

    That aside, I had a couple issues with the Aberforth bit of the story as well. You nailed the early Aberforth portion of the piece (and the later bits too, quibbles aside), but I have a couple reservations about the way the story unfolded after the action kicked off between Aberforth and Riddle.

    First, the part where Aberforth gets bitten by the vampire read quite oddly to me. Part of me feels the shift is meant to indicate some sort of vampiric compulsion on Aberforth, but there's no real sign of that in the writing besides the oddness in the prose. The other part of me feels that it's Aberforth showing that he's at peace with getting fucked over for trying to save a young girl, which is also fine, but there should probably be more anticipation from him if that's the case, and a more cynical response in his internal monologue. As it is, it strikes me as a bit bizarre (although I'm a little sleep-deprived so I might just be missing something).

    The other thing is the enchanted bean. I understand that you wouldn't want to use the mcguffin to rob the story of conflict, but it strikes me as a little contrived that Aberforth holds on to it till the very last moment. There were a few fairly dire situations prior - I know Aberforth had something to prove wrt being able to stand on his own feet, but I think if that's the justification here it probably needs to be made more clear early on that Aberforth has no intention of using Albus' magic mcguffin before having him get over himself when he's literally at the brink of death. As it is, he treats it like a suicide bomb without any indication that it would work that way.

    Having said all of that, I refer you again to the top of the review - this is a standout piece in the competition, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Solid work.

    Link to longer review.
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2018
  4. Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros. Moderator

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    This story is good, but I feel like it has excess bits to shed. I'll echo the others in saying that all of the non-Aberforth parts felt unnecessary and not particularly interesting to me. Once Aberforth comes in, that's when I started really paying attention, but Riddle and Slughorn were both pretty meh. I mean they're alright, but do you really want to start and end your story on "alright" when you the meat of the story is just so much better? It's for that reason that I can't quite call this story the best in the competition - beginning and endings are paramount and can make or break stories. Beginnings set tone and promise and atmosphere, and the ending is the culmination of plot and promise.

    The bean feels almost like a deus ex machina, except you did Chekhov it early. I guess I'm struggling to understand, in character, why Aberforth didn't use it earlier, when he was being tortured or when he was choking to death? Why wait til the last moment?

    Aberforth as a choice of character was a great one, just the right mix of bitterness and nobleness for this piece to work. While I didn't like your Riddle and Slughorn parts, Abe was spot on. He really carried this story and I wish you'd trusted the readers more instead of having to prologue and epilogue things for us.
     
  5. James

    James Auror

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    This has been written without reading others’ posts in the thread, to escape the bandwagon, so it might repeat what has been said already.

    Oh my!

    Plot & Pacing - 4/5

    Plot is inspired. I especially love the fact that this could very well be canon compliant, with the mentions of ‘white skin and red eyes’, ‘Hog’s head’, and I can imagine this Aberforth being talked about, using improper charms on goats (the blood replenishing kind).

    Pacing is okay for a one shot as well, even though I’d prefer the information gathering arc in the vampire town to be longer.

    Characters - 4/5

    Albus is on point. Young Tom is on point. Aberforth is the best: the right mix of being skilled, but always just a shade worse than his brother. Being angry and bitter about all kinds of things, yet still being a good guy, basically. I loved this!

    One point is off for not having Harry, yet this was one of the very few stories I’d read even knowing there isn’t Harry.

    Prompt use - 5/5

    Full marks. Vampires define the reason this fic is happening, give location to it and act like a minor antagonists. It’s perfect.

    Other - 5/5

    I enjoyed this story very much. Tiny new additions, like Albus changing the charm on Bertie Blotts’ bean from “random flavour” to “random kind of help” is exactly the sort of magic I wish other stories included as well—tiny part of mosaic that makes the Harry Potter world interesting.

    The characters were another highlight, and I wish you did some kind of time travelling Harry Potter against young Tom Riddle, because I believe you’d do it better than anyone else has, yet.

    Total: 18/20
     
  6. Jeram

    Jeram Elder of Zion ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    Ergh, this is difficult, isn't it? So I'm a fan of Aberforth as protagonist, such a rarity, and it was a delight to see him kick some behind here. The action scenes were fun and energetic, and the magical elements intriguing. Characterization was almost entirely spot on, with only a few hiccups here and there, a few odd turns of phrase that weren't quite right for the person or era. The prompt too, was used in excellent fashion, tied in to Riddle's immortality quest that almost entirely paid off -- although that is a fantastic ending line, something I complained about in a different entry's review. The pacing was a bit up and down -- good start and good end, a bit saggy in the middle area.

    On the negative side, there were quite a few technical and grammatical errors, some of which did start to bother me while reading -- the worst offender being that Transylvania was spelled wrong (I double checked this in case it was some odd narrative choice). All that aside, I don't actually know why Abe was sent in the first place instead of Albus himself. That isn't really made clear. But overall, it is a solid, strong entry that actually makes me far more interested to see "what comes next" if you will, more so than any of the other entries so that's certainly a plus.
     
  7. enembee

    enembee The Nicromancer DLP Supporter

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    This was incredibly frustrating to read. Not because it was bad, because it was fine. But because there were all of the elements of a really good story in here, and you didn't quite realise them. This is going to come off as an incredibly critical review, and well, it will be. And I'm sorry for that. But you were so close to writing the best story here and you were let down by some very poor fundamentals and execution.

    As such I'm going to come down hard on this story in a way that I haven't with others. Because I genuinely think with some TLC this could be an incredibly good story.


    Brevity

    This is, to put it plainly, a huge problem for this work. Not only within individual sentences, but generally at all levels. There doesn't need to be the Voldemort or Slughorn scenes at the beginning of this story, they add literally nothing except to strip the mystery out of this story (I'll come back to that). This story could have started with Dumbledore explaining the mission to Dumbledore and summated in 100 words what you used nearly a thousand to hit. You're going to show that Voldemort is trying to become a vampire and why do we need to see a rehash of a scene we know happened in canon? Dump 'em.

    On a smaller level, you have this very annoying habit of making a statement and then making the precise same statement only a few paragraphs later. Case in point:
    You don't need both. This is short story writing where words are like gold bullion, trade in them carefully. Make your point and then move on.

    There are other points where you could easily combine things, or summarise a little, rather than giving us a blow by blow, and it would have drastically reduced the length, and tedium, of this story. You could immediately improve this story by purely trimming away the excesses and the only strategy you need to employ is to ask some very simple questions. Why is this here? What purpose does this serve in the story? Do we really need to know that Aberforth walked up to the wall, only to walk back to where he was standing only a moment ago? No, of course not. Trash it.


    Proofing

    Frankly, this doesn't feel like it was proofed at all. I'm making a guess, purely predicated on some wonky quotation marks, that you're not a native speaker. If so, you needed to get someone who was to read through this before you submitted it. There are whole sections of your prose that make absolutely no sense.

    Ala:
    This feels as though there's been several sentences removed or you're expecting us to follow along with your brain. Like, I am reasonably familiar with the CCCP Romanian flag and it took me a long moment to work out what on earth you were talking about. Sorry if I'm belabouring this point, but it needs to be made. There are mistakes like this all the way through.


    Description & Ambience

    I'm having a hard time with this, too, if I'm honest. In an early scene you tell me that there's a wall in front of Aberforth, one that seems to ooze darkness. Fucking awesome. Tell me more. Oh, wait, that's it? For something fundamental to the scene, you give this absolutely no context. It might be 10 feet long, it might span the width of a valley. I absolutely cannot picture what you're describing in this instance, and it isn't the only time that this occurs.

    Here is another thing that really irritated me: Orasul Sângelui could have been an amazing setting. A city of vampires is a fucking cool idea, and I don't even like vampires. So why didn't you dial this up to 13? There should have been mood and atmosphere dripping out of your description as you brought us into the city, instead we get… a very sad vampire and then vampire Diagon Alley. It feels like a squandered opportunity.


    Plot

    This is a super complicated thing to get right in a short story, but I feel like there's an awful lot of potential here you didn't capitalise on. My primary problem is that you've written this entirely procedurally, with no attention given to the narrative currency. To demonstrate, we as a reader discover at beat 1 that Tom Riddle is going to be a vampire. But there's basically no reason for us to know this at this point, in fact it probably would have improved the tension of this story to not know who the villain is until sometime after he appears. If you removed beats 1 and 2, as I suggested, have Dumbledore only hear rumours of dark activity at Orasul Sangelui, you could have a very satisfying reveal of Tom Riddle's true identity well into the story, and without the uncomfortable question of why Albus doesn't manage to piece this together when I could have spotted that it was a bad idea to send Aberforth into a situation involving Tom Riddle and Vampires.

    Furthermore, I can't help but have a slightly sour taste in my mouth that after everything that Aberforth went through, Albus Dumbledore managed to save the day, with a fucking magic bean, no less. This was a monumentally unsatisfying climax that entirely vindicated the wrong Dumbledore brother.


    Misc.

    I feel, weirdly, like the premise of this story is a bit a contradictory. I think there's a philosophical question as to whether someone can have both horcruxes and be a vampire. Given that one prevents your death and the other requires your death. But I suppose it's up to you as an author to describe what both of these things mean in the context of your story and then convince us.

    My final, pathetic quibble with your prose is that if someone thinks a thing or says a thing, they're damn well going to do so in the heaviest handed and most unsubtle way possible. This is more of a personal gripe, than absolute criticism, but you leave absolutely nothing to the intuition of the reader. Everything that might have been subtext is emphatically spelled out in no uncertain terms.


    Conclusion

    I hope that I was clear that I thought this was a good, but flawed entry. If you'd have cut out a few of the technical issues, and made this about half the word count, it would have stolen the show. But as it is, there's just too much wrong here.
     
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2018
  8. Zombie

    Zombie Black Philip Moderator DLP Supporter

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    This is one of my favorites from this competition round. It ties very closely to me and my feelings for entry #4. There are a few things in which I think this could have been done better and you'd have had a much more solid story.

    I'd have ditched Tom's perspective at the start and maybe integrated it at a later point, if you felt it was still necessary. I was drawn to your characterization of Abe in a way that very few people have managed to make me feel about their character. I like that he's well aware that he's always going to be second best to his brother, Dumbledore, but there is an understated competence in which he operates that makes this story believable.

    I could have read, in all honesty, an entire chapter between just Abe and Dumbledore. I felt like that was the most natural aspect of this story, the familiarity in which the two of them spoke to one another.

    I liked your concept of using the Horcrux as a method to grant magic to a vampire. I feel like a vampire not being magical is a very real and logical conclusion, otherwise vampires in general would be very overpowered.

    The area in which your vampires resided had a very canon-esque vibe to it. I felt like it could have been canon that vampires existed in an area that was locked off by the Romanian ministry and they existed under a very fine line of going to war and not going to war. It reminds me of Forests of Valbone in a sense, because there is a similar dynamic there.

    In regards to execution, I'd like to reiterate something. I would have been just as pleased, if not more, if we had a story told entirely from Abe's perspective, and all the stuff he did in pursuit of Tom was told in the sense that he was always playing catchup. He's always one step behind. I think it would have added more desperation to his character, when ultimately, he was captured.

    I like this story. I'm glad you wrote it.
     
  9. Otters

    Otters Seventh Year ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    The characterisation in this story is absolutely on point. I'm usually very grouchy about multiple perspectives, even as very short snippets as we have at the beginning here, but these were excellent. Slughorn, both Dumbledores, Riddle - they were all exactly in line with their canon selves, adapted for the nuances of this environment. I love it. The only downfall seems to come from a few odd colloquialisms such as "have his cake and eat it, too" which felt a bit jarring.

    Your action scenes were rather workmanlike, but I enjoyed it in this piece. It was simple and efficient without artsy flourishes - exactly as it should be for Aberforth. Other reviewers have mentioned their thoughts on the magic of vampires, horcruxes, and beans, and I second all the positive thoughts in here.

    Overall this was a really strong piece. It told a well-structured story from beginning to end, gave us all the information we needed to keep up with what was happening without wasting words on too much detail. It was a bit heavy handed in places, but nothing too grievous. The pacing was excellent for the most part.

    If I had to criticise one thing, it'll be the technical aspects of the writing. The language felt a little off in many places. There are the colloquialisms I mentioned before, moments where words are spelled incorrectly or even missing. And then there are turns of phrase which are, quite frankly, ugly. The syntax is erratic at best, and the narrative voice was occasionally shaky. This wasn't a huge issue, if I'm honest, but it held it back from being the best in the competition but it seems like laziness more than a lack of ability, given the high standard of skill shown in story-telling and character work.

    You get second place from me.
     
  10. Dicra

    Dicra Groundskeeper

    Joined:
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    Written in reaction style, because I feel I can contribute best that way.

    Q3 Story Competition Entry #6

    Your opening is weak.
    This doesn’t raise questions, it’s not a particularly well crafted sentence, it’s not special in any way. You, as an author, have to convince the reader of reading your story – and you haven’t got all day. In fact, the first sentence is vital. And you start with something we already know. Worse: You continue describing things we already know. There isn’t a single question raised in the first two paragraphs, the plot only starts in the fifth paragraph:
    Too little, too late. Also, we know the solution to that 200 words later, and after that, there are no questions left. Compared to the other entries, this opening is bland.

    Afterwards, there’s too much description for my taste, and after the first „scene“ (it’s not really a scene, it’s a thought process – not the best way to start a story if the thoughts themselves don’t raise questions), I expect to see Tom Riddle’s journey from now on, how he strives to become a vampire. And it’s … not interesting. There’s no sign of any conflict to come, there’s nothing that points to an interesting plot. The scene’s essence is "Tom Riddle wants to become a vampire." And while I’ve got to give you that the idea itself is interesting, the idea itself is literally the only thing to have any kind of interest in.

    This is even worse, because, in the third scene, you let us know that there are obstacles to overcome on the path towards becoming a vampire, like losing one’s magic. Why did you wait that long to tell us?

    Afterwards, we have a Slughorn-Dumbledore scene, and I’m not sure what you wanted to do with that. I suppose it provides an incentive for Dumbledore to investigate Tom Riddle, but he already had that anyway, so it’s kind of pointless. Also – this, again, is lacking any kind of promise – you have to at least scatter little hints and unanswered questions in your first scenes, otherwise no reader has any reason to read what comes afterwards. This scene proves that you are decent at writing Slughorn and Dumbledore. Why did you feel the need to prove that.

    Then, again, Riddle. I’d recommend you to read Entry #5 – that’s how you stage a strong beginning. This time, we’re presented with the second problem of the story and, again, it gets solved within the same paragraph, and we’re left with nothing to wonder about.

    And then, in the fourth scene, you suddenly shift towards Aberforth. That was the first scene where you truly had my attention – because I was a bit confused. The story‘s not about Riddle? Or is it just another uninteresting snippet we don’t need?

    What comes afterwards is a scene that, in itself, is well done, but contains two plot weaknesses. We get to see the relation between Abe and his brother, and it’s well balanced. Abe isn’t overdone, but he isn’t appeased either. Characterizing Abe means walking a fine line between reducing him to his brother’s mistakes, and giving him an own personality that doesn’t take into account what happened between him and Albus. In general, you do a good job at that, and it’s the strongest selling point of this story (which you introduce in scene 4, because … ?)

    The plot holes: The first one is something that makes scenes 1-3 even more unnecessary. There is no reason why Albus should keep an eye on Transylvania (yes, Transylvania, with one „s“. If you don't know how to spell, it's not that hard to google.). He knows about Riddle’s location because the story needs him to. And that’s OK, because I don’t see any other way how this story could happen.

    But why don’t you make it more mysterious? Scene 1 and 3 basically answered every single question the reader might have had concerning Abe’s mission. Now, it’s only a matter of "will he succeed" (yes or no question), and not "what will be waiting for him there?" I think it’s pretty obvious which of these is more interesting. Enembee suggested telling Abe about a dark activity in Orasul, and I think that’s a pretty good idea.

    In general, try to view your story from the reader's point of view. Try to create scenes that would hook you in.

    Then, the bean. Several persons say it’s an interesting bit of conceptual magic, but I disagree. I’m as starved as anyone else for good conceptual magic, don’t get me wrong, and it goes in that direction. But ultimately, it’s the ultimate downfall for any plot. How are we supposed to care for a character that, whenever it fits the narrative, can use some bean that Shelps"? You don’t even specify, which means it can probably fix every single situation the plot might lead to. That’s awful writing.

    Enembee already covered the description of the wall. Size does matter, after all.

    The scene with the ticket booth contains one thing I need to praise: The way you handle the language barrier. This is an obvious plot issue, and by telling us about Abe’s desire to keep up with his brother, that he ultimately gave up on, you add depth to his character and simultaneously solve that issue. Very well implemented.

    Your second decription of the wall feels wordy and repetitive. You basically say „it’s dark“ using a whole paragraph for it. Also, this is a short story. I feel like repeating enembee a bit too much, but his review nailed pretty much everything that’s wrong about this story, so: It might make sense that Abe goes to the wall, does nothing, and goes back to the ticket booth. You also need 300 words for that, and nothing of significance happens in them. If you were the reader, would you really consider this part of your story interesting or vital to the plot and therefore worth keeping?

    In general, the reader knows Abe will find the entrance anyway, because he needs to in order for the story to work. Making such a fuss about it is pointless, especially if you don’t have any ideas to make it more interesting.

    As for the encounter with the vampire … it was alright, but I think, knowing that Tom Riddle wants to preserve his immortality in this city, you could’ve gone with a far more aggressive approach. Why keep up with these pointless warnings if they don’t work? Why not simply attack Abe, at least scare him with more than just a few words about how awful it is to be a vampire? That’d also provide more of a sense of danger for all the scenes in the city.

    Also: Darkness does not equal atmosphere. You’re spending a lot of time telling us about the absence or rareness of light. That’s OK, but why not use the surroundings to underline it? The only part that comes close is this:

    Again, I’ll echo enembee: You could’ve done far more with the idea of a city exclusive to vampires, especially if there’s no ministry to supervise them. Don't tell us they're monsters and only show it 4k words later, when they get their hands at a little girl.

    The stores, though, are a nod to canon I appreciate.

    Your point about the city missing humans is fine, but you take 8 – eight! - paragraphs to get this point across. How about 3, or maybe 4?

    Yeah, that right there is the fucking problem.

    There were things well done, though. I liked the build-up you did towards the point where Abe discovers the vampire’s don’t have any supervision anymore. I liked the way you moved the plot forward immediately afterwards, and how you linked the screaming girl to Ariana.

    That said, though: Why doesn’t Abe use the bean when he’s surrounded by Riddle and some vampires? How does he know it won’t help? Because the plot knows?

    The fight between Abe and Riddle was well done, however, again: The fact he doesn’t use the bean tells us Abe’s in no real danger. Because he'll of course use it later on, and in order to do that, he's got to survive until that point.

    The ending is as unsatisfying as they come – Albus, in the end, defeats Riddle, Albus saves Abe’s ass, Abe's struggles don’t really matter. @Typhon summarized that perfectly in his review.

    In general, this isn’t bad per se, because "well characterized Aberforth Dumbledore vs Voldemort in a city full of vampires" is an amazing premise. You didn’t quite manage to make an amazing story out of it, though.
     
  11. Blorcyn

    Blorcyn Chief Warlock DLP Supporter DLP Silver Supporter

    Joined:
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    [I haven't read the other reviews yet yada yada yada etc.]

    I've read this three times, mostly because I kept getting delayed and I've had to keep returning to this review. It's a tricky one for me. In Enembee's excellent reviewing advice thread, he gives out a number of ways in which a review may help an author. It's discussed how opinion is useful in its own right, to aid a writer's reflection and judge how their intentions came across to a reader. On my first reading, I felt opinion might be all I'd be able to give on the adventures of Aberforth Bond, you're obviously an extremely competent and experienced author.

    And yet...

    And yet.

    When I first read this, I was blown away by the quality of your prose. You have a much greater understanding of story structure and craft than myself, certainly, and perhaps than anyone else in this competition. Furthermore, you have such a good grasp on stylistic choice and make it serve that overstory more ably than anyone else I've seen. Your writing decisions and the way you structure your story and your voice in just this short piece is more competent than some real published fiction, and certainly better than some famous and popular serials online.

    Certainly, though there are still things which could be improved.

    Some weak similes, for example. And a tendency to the esoteric like 'conglomed' with some dropped apostrophes, misspellings and the like throughout. Overall though, this is the cleanest of the entries to date.

    The conundrum for me, then, was 'why has this degree of competence not quite inspired and awed me as in four, which was a hair weaker structurally?'. It reminds me of nine out of ten Paolo Nutini songs I've ever heard, where whatever jibber jabber he's singing about is just fantastic on every level but I don't really know what the fuck is going on and I can't really pick out what it was about in the end.

    Because, there is a lot to love.

    The opening section with Tom, and then Dumbledore and then Tom again were incredibly well written.

    Again, your experience shines through. You adapt your language so subtly for the viewpoint you're writing that you create full-bodied characters implicitly in the difference of language choice. The editorial language in Tom's sections is more frequent than in Dumbledore and Aberforth's. It serves his characterisation.

    Pratchett does this with sections where his mastermind character The Patrician is exerting social pressure on whatever character he wants to do something. The judgemental terms used in the language show the type of mind you're dealing with. Here, with Tom, you get a sense of his grandiose perspective in every word he chooses.

    Beyond the opening, you offer some of the most vivid and lasting images that I have seen in the competition to date. The Vampire city, once within the walls, is described with an impressive attention to the sensory, identifying the most tonally unique aspects possible to create a full and real image.

    When the vampires are attacking the young woman, playing with their food - it felt visceral. You wanted someone to step in, you wanted someone to stop them. To tap into such a primal instinct and response and to make me so deeply uncomfortable in just a few words is nothing short of masterful.

    Dumbledore you've got down pat. His unique manner of expression, his sternness (man is from the 1890s) which is rarely reflected in fanfiction because we only see it from Harry's perspective, and his intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm made the scene in which he introduces Chekhov's bean very enjoyable for that alone.

    This is my absolute favourite moment though. I freely admit, I'm mostly a little bitch. In any film with a lick of horror, I'm clammy and nauseated. Mostly, this doesn't translate well to literature.

    This moment got me.

    A jump scare in a novel, to me, is an achievement. And, it serves very well as the first moment where Aberforth begins to feel vulnerable, something that builds and builds and builds to this.... well, we'll talk about that.

    Vampires, here, are a suitable excuse for why Quirrel developed a stutter and wore a garlic filled turban, both physically and spiritually. Your story does vampires right. The vampires are really a ghoulish horror for wizards. Certainly, something their society can overcome but not something for individual wizards to tackle alone, you can imagine Aberforth's hair rising as he progresses through each unsettling facet of this city of vampires.

    Your fight scenes are intense and brilliant. The image of a young Voldemort fighting Aberforth in the thick, choking smoke of a magical fire was brutal and intense. It felt like a real and lethal fight, where the slightest misstep could and would result in irreparable harm. The torture scene with Aberforth tied to a chair reminded me every spy film I've ever seen, which isn't to say it wasn't effective, and memorable and visceral, too. You accessed that well-worn groove in my mind, and the trope helped deepen your story as I read it, without taking me out of the story. Again, this is masterful.

    Things are suitably vicious, and you succeed in showing a Voldemort who has not sunk to the depths of canon. He's still a hint vulnerable, a hint naive, and there are more recognisably human qualities in him (even if they aren't positive ones).

    All that serves to make this moment cool as fuck. It reminded me of nothing so much as Dumbledore's fire-whip against the inferi, through a mirror darkly. The build-up at this point was reaching maximum hype, and I was so ready for a satisfying climax (matron).


    Instead, we got this:

    and this:

    The hyped bean was a wet squib.

    I mean, generally speaking, it's been 16 years since I started reading fanfiction and some of my favourite scenes in otherwise shite stories are a good old Tom vs. Albus grudge match, but we didn't even get to see that here. Even if we had, I suspect it would still have been disappointing. Aberforth is Tom's near-match at this point, as Tom lurches Voorhees-like into the arena. Aberforth has lost one, won one and this should be the decider. All have been, in some regard, decided by the environmental factors of their bouts and this should be no exception with both significantly worse for wear. It should be down and dirty. If it had been, I'd have become fully erect, I suspect.

    Instead, the bean. Aberforth faints, and the story is resolved off-screen.

    But that's not where my perplexion stems from, I'm thinking. It's more a symptom of a systemic problem that took longer to identify.

    I think the problem is the narrator.

    I think this can possibly be seen by the fact that you opened with two scenes about who you really wanted to write about, and closed with a scene of Tom just floating around angrily. And Dumbledore in his final bit kinda' identified this first.

    Aberforth pros:
    • He's one of few adults around at the right time for Voldemort's quest for immortality
    • He's a talented wizard
    • He has a method of ascertaining this knowledge (his brother can tell him)
    • He has known flaws and weaknesses and speech patterns we can see in canon.
    Aberforth cons:
    • He hasn't got any particular stake at this point in the game
    • Time has had less chance to cool his hatred of Grindlewald and Dumbledore's role in his rise and defeat.
    • He is gruff and matter-of-fact, actively leaning away from the whimsy and intellectualism of his brother.
    The cons taint the excellence of your characterisation of him. Firstly, he doing this for monetary gain. Secondly, his difficulties with his brother require some suspension of disbelief that he'd take this on for purely financial gain. Thirdly, his cantankerous nature is at odds with the horror story you're trying to create.

    Don't get me wrong, when we get stuck into it, your atmospheric description is so on point, and the pacing so even that Aberforth's horror builds well. But I think it doesn't build for long enough. He comes in pissed off and half the story has passed before he starts to understand the danger of the task he's been sent on. Then, in the end, when tragedy has occurred and his life is irrevocably altered he shrugs and moves on. Got my pub, quid's in, my goat-bothering amigos.

    Aberforth's arc in this is like nothing so much as a still pond that has a stone thrown into it and then settles. There's no change in his decision-making process from these events, although there really should be, there's no change in his essential character.

    And his essential character is one that has rejected curiosity. He's the practical antithesis to Dumbledore's contemplation. He's all heart, and doesn't struggle with things that his older brother might, and that's why you had to show four other characters to set up events before you'd allow us to meet our main character. Bathilda Bagshot would be better suited to this story, seriously. She satisfies the essential criteria, would be far more intellectually curious but also far more apprehensive. A good horror should involve the character making the decision against their grave misgivings for some deep, personal motivation. Aberforth literally leaps into this with a lightning bolt. We can see he's going to regret it, but he certainly doesn't.

    Furthermore, Aberforth is family. I just don't buy that Dumbledore would actively place a member of his family into harm's way. His great failing was to protect those he loved from things he felt he might spare them. He would make this journey himself, Aberforth would have to fight to get this out of Albus.

    But ultimately, that brings us back to the point. I think you wanted to write this about Dumbledore and Voldemort, but you couldn't.

    What I wanted to ask is, why not?

    Now, obviously, I get that it would be vastly different. Dumbledore at the height of his powers, facing off against an isolated teen-Voldemort is not going to go in Voldemort's favour. It would be a very different sequence of events to what we see in the above. In this story, I feel like you take a half a step into destroying canon but then at the last moment you take a step back to leave yourself some wiggle room - maybe this could be continued, maybe this could fit into the world in a way that would still lead to a canon we'd recognise.

    Halt discussed the Try-Fail cycle in some of his writing notes. I think your ending falls foul of it. You offer something that feels like it should be a success at a cost for Aberforth, and a failure but a raising of stakes with Voldemort. However, it comes off flat because it's not emphatic enough for this short story. You could've been bolder and made the ending more tragic and in-keeping to the horror you inserted through the majority of this story and it would've been stronger for it.

    Plot & Pacing - 4/5

    So generally speaking, I think this was very well done. There was a notable exception in the section outside the wall (which I forgot to mention in the above, but enembee expresses very well), and the time it took it for him to get any progress towards finding Tom.

    I think you structured what you did write very well, once Aberforth arrives. Again, not made clear in the above, Aberforth is a very good choice for the events that you write. He's the right level of ability and he has a way of pursuing the plot fairly organically. I didn't find the introduction of the bean a problem, only its application. The problem with choosing Aberforth and characterising him so well is that his personality and narration is in conflict to the horror you're trying to write. While events occur organically for them, I think it's the reason for your bloat.

    I think it's the reason you have three unnecessary scenes, and felt the need to describe that tunnel, and the wall, and the buildings so laboriously.

    Characters - 5/5

    Your characters are top notch. Dumbledore's dialogue is good, but most importantly Aberforth is spot on. He's realistic. He has his flaws, and his trauma regarding Ariana leads to his doom. I liked that, it was good.

    Prompt use - 5/5

    The vampires here are superb. They have a deep horror factor and seem to be a believable extension of canon. If I was ever to write a serious story in HP with some vampires, I'd consider giving them a similar treatment to this. Their culture is very well done, their faults and their mannerisms. I wanted to see more of them.

    Other - 3/5

    I think ultimately, I wasn't as in love as I should have been. I think it arose from the core conflict of what you wanted to write and how you choose to write. It didn't capture me like 4 and 5 did. Although yours is certainly closer to canon, it lacked some cohesive, hard-to-define flair that caught me as #4 and #5 did. That said, it may still be the strongest entry here on a structural level.
     
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2018
  12. Ched

    Ched Da Trek Moderator DLP Supporter ⭐⭐

    Joined:
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    Neat start.... I liked this mentality in particular:

    However, someone had also devised the Horcrux, someone had found out how to bind his soul to earth. He’d go further, further than anyone else had gone on the path towards immortality.

    In other words he knows that it's impossible to survive the killing curse, but hey... someone else already did the impossible with the horcrux concept. And if others can do the impossible then there's no reason that he can't also invent something that shouldn't be possible.

    Slughorn let his crossed arms sink. "It’s quite normal, isn’t it, quite normal for such a brilliant mind, to occupy himself with every branch there is? To take a look at everything magic has to offer?"

    And that, right there, is the best explanation I've ever seen for why Slughorn was able to brush off the fact that Tom had originally asked him about horcruxes.

    And very neat worldbuilding as well... by making the lore of your world entwine vampirism with souls you've made it feasible for Voldemort to merge that somehow with the horcrux concept he's already planning to pursue.

    Really enjoying the conversation between Albus and Aberforth. You're seamlessly working in characterization with both plot and lore. Brilliant scene from beginning to end, nailed every aspect of it imo.

    There’d been a time where he’d looked up to his brother, a time where he’d wanted to prove he could be brilliant as well, if he wanted to. He’d attempted the spells Albus learnt, took a look at the books he found in his room, and even tried to learn the languages Albus occupied himself with.

    The emphasis here was on tried, though. His brother had been perfect at pretty much everything, and he just couldn’t keep up with that. At some point, he’d accepted that and given up – and later, after the death of their mom, he’d slowly understood that being a genius didn’t stop you from being a stupid asshole, too.

    But some of the knowledge he’d acquired back then had stuck with him, even though he normally didn’t let anyone know that. He was fed up with being compared to Albus.

    I also like this concept of Aberforth being quite well above average himself, but 'above average' compared to Albus will always fall short. I can just see him trying to keep up and consistently failing, and that affecting his overall view of himself. He could, perhaps, have been amazing at one or two branches of magic or a very good generalist... but he tried to master everything like this brother and just fell short. Nice.

    Story began to drag for me slightly once Abe started (and kept) talking to the vampire and then entered their city. I can't pinpoint why, but that's the first time it started to feel arbitrarily 'slow' to me. I'm super interested in this city, by the way, and whether or not Riddle is in there hanging out too, it's just... The tension is there still, and I'm still interested, but suddenly the pacing feels glacial despite things like screaming.

    Once Riddle showed up though you had my attention again - great entrance by him.

    You couldn’t compare awaking from a Stupor to awaking from a non-magical unconsciousness. It was like you hadn’t even been gone, there was no sleepiness, no grasping for memories of what had happened. The first thing Abe thought of was the young girl, and he felt for his wand, ready to defend her, before he remembered that he’d just been cornered.

    Good description - I love little details like that, about how magic differs from the mundane. Like someone just hit 'pause' on his actions. Nice description of Tom's finger too, with the ring/stone. And again, really enjoying your characterization of Aberforth in this story.

    But he didn’t panic like Riddle had probably hoped he would. He didn’t even try to extinguish the cheeky flame that had encroached on his cloak.

    Something about the flame being 'cheeky' just made me grin.

    And yeah, again, the later conversation with Riddle, the vampires showing up, Riddle's fear, the little girl... it's good stuff. It's an interesting character story with a solid plot. Doesn't bog down but doesn't sprint forwards either. Still, something about it... I don't feel like I couldn't 'put it down.' I could get up to grab some tea or something rather than staying glued to the screen. But your story is plenty good enough that I have no idea what possible tweaks could be made.

    "Strawberry Ice Cream," he whispered, his voice shaky – when his brother joined him wherever he’d go, he’d make sure to thank him for these perfectly ridiculous last words.

    LMAO, love it. Perfect timing too, I'd forgotten about it until now.

    And then... Abe waking up? Fantastic pacing and description... the 'veil' that is separating from his feelings, his desire to be rid of it, his thoughts that he was alive (of course) but something was just wrong and it needed to go... then Albus coming in with that apology before I can really put it together... followed by Abe's intense awareness of blood.

    Damn well done.

    As was the conversation with Albus. Again. And the 'less than a ghost' comment, which harkened back to the start of this story. Kudos.

    Not much more to say here. I think it's been said. Very solid story. Could use some minor tweaks here and there, and as Abe said to Albus, perhaps fewer words in places... but overall I fucking loved it. But then I'm a sucker for old Abe, particularly this version of him.
     
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