Disclaimer: Standard stuff (I don't own anything, I won't be making profit, any resemblance to previously published content is purely coincidental, JK Rowling is the coolest, etc.). If I make any legal errors regarding copyrighted material, inform me and I will correct them immediately.
Harry Potter and the Lightning Scar
The portkey deposited Harry roughly onto hard, rocky dirt. Only the enhanced strength and reflexes granted by his animagus form and the Hunter ritual allowed him to keep his feet; however, he immediately hurled himself sideways, rolling away from the drop zone in case the enemy had prepared an ambush. His half-cast stunner had luckily fizzled to nothing—it would have been problematic if a brilliant flash of spellfire had announced his arrival.
Since Harry appeared to have been granted a bit of time, he whipped out his invisibility cloak and put it on. He hunkered down beside a headstone—apparently, he was in a graveyard—and took out his mirror.
"Sirius, answer now!" he whispered urgently. Harry was rewarded immediately, as Sirius's face came into focus on his mirror. Clearly, there was a lot of activity back at Hogwarts—Harry could hear Dumbledore and Amelia Bones threatening Moody, and Remus was cursing aloud about being betrayed again.
"Harry, thank god you're okay!" Sirius practically shouted. "Where are you? And why can't I see you?"
"I'm under the cloak, Sirius," Harry replied, and then took a look around to try to answer the other question. He was in an old, overgrown graveyard, with thick, steamy mist rising ominously off the ground. About a hundred yards away to Harry's right, a small chapel was dwarfed by a large yew tree. About a quarter of a mile away on Harry's left, an old manor house topped a large hill that began to rise just beyond the cemetery's gate. "Some old graveyard," Harry said lamely. "No clue, really. There's a little church here, and a big old house on a hill."
"Well, apparate home, or use the portkey to get back," Sirius said. "No telling what's waiting around for you there."
Harry looked down at the medallion, which he had dropped to hold the mirror. It no longer resembled a medallion; now, it was more like a pile of silvery sand.
"No can do on the portkey, it's broken apart," Harry whispered. "Let me try apparating."
Even as he focused his will to apparate, he knew it wouldn't work—there was the same feeling of being weighed down that Harry knew from Hogwarts; clearly, some ward or spell had been laid over the place, and the Dark Mark spelled into the medallion had gotten him inside. Thunderbird apparation might work...but then, it might not, and it would sure as hell draw attention. Harry briefly considered calling Winky to transport him back, but he dismissed the idea when it occurred to him that whatever ward was blocking him might very well kill an unauthorized house-elf.
"Sorry Sirius," Harry said. "Something's blocking me. What happened back at Hogwarts?"
"After Moody sent you away, Dumbledore, Bones, Remus, and I all stunned him. Right now he's being interrogated. Turns out it's not Moody at all, but Barty Crouch, Jr., who was supposed to have died a decade ago. He's been keeping Moody prisoner and using Polyjuice all year, and he killed his father in the Forbidden Forest."
Harry nodded, unsurprised. In the moments before he mirror-called Sirius, he had wondered about what could have made Moody attack him. It couldn't have been the Imperius Curse—Alastor Moody had literally written the book (or, at least, the Auror Field Manual) on resisting it—and he had no living family to threaten. Really, Harry couldn't think of anything that would cause the man to betray his sworn cause so deeply, and the only real possibility that had remained was that it wasn't Alastor Moody at all.
"Harry," Sirius's voice called, suddenly alarmed. "You're glowing! Someone's cast a revealing charm, and knows you're there!"
Harry dove to the side just in time to avoid a stunner. Shrugging off his cloak—now that he was visible, it could only trip him up anyway—he fired a reducto at a dark figure about fifty yards away, and then began to weave between the gravestones, leaving the mist curling apart in his wake. The figure dodged Harry's spell, and put down some sort of bundle before giving chase.
"Come on, Harry!" shouted a familiar voice. "You can't escape! Just come over and we can finish this!"
Harry knew that voice. A memory flashed through his mind, of Peter Pettigrew begging for his life in the Shrieking Shack...right before attacking at the first opportunity. Wormtail was out there!
Harry snarled savagely, and turned his flight into a guerrilla war. The two wizards hunted each other through the graveyard, taking pot shots at each other before hiding behind headstones. Neither managed to land any significant hits on the other, though not for lack of trying. Spells flashed, blasting chips off of headstones, and Harry quickly realized that Wormtail was trying to take him alive—Harry's lethal combat curses were only being answered by stunners, immobilizers, and other means of subduing an opponent.
Suddenly, Wormtail unleashed a fairly strong—and unexpected—explosion hex, not against Harry, but against a statue several feet to his left. Harry didn't manage to shield himself in time, and was blasted off his feet. He wasn't badly hurt, but he wasn't unscathed, either—a large, sharp piece of shrapnel had sliced across his left forearm, splattering a not insignificant amount of blood onto the headstone that had been his cover.
Cursing, Harry took off at a run, and threw himself behind a small mausoleum about fifty yards from where the explosion had been. Harry quickly drank a dose of healing potion and closed the wound with a spell before it tore open further, and then prepared to blast Wormtail's head off if it appeared nearby. However, Wormtail did not pursue him; when Harry poked his head past the edge of the stone mausoleum, he was able to watch Wormtail using his wand to siphon Harry's blood off of the headstone and into a small glass vial.
What the hell? What does Wormtail want with my blood?
Curious, Harry stealthily followed Wormtail at a distance, putting his cloak back on; the revealing charm had worn off, and there was no sense in not regaining the advantage of invisibility.
Wormtail led Harry back to where he had put down the bundle, next to a huge cauldron near the chapel and the yew tree that Harry had previously been too distracted to notice. Now, though, the cauldron was impossible to miss, as thick steam was rising from the top and the entire surface of the liquid within seemed to be blazing white with sparks. Nearby, a snake lay coiled up in the grass, though its head was poking up, allowing it to watch the proceedings.
"I have it, Master," Harry heard Wormtail say. "We can begin."
"Excellent," a high, cold voice hissed. "Begin."
Harry's breath froze in his chest at the sound of that voice. It could only be one thing: Voldemort. Voldemort was here, and he had a body, and now he had some of Harry's blood. This was not good.
"Sirius," Harry whispered, drawing out his mirror again. "You still there?"
"Harry?!" Sirius and Remus were crowded around the mirror. "What's going on? Were you attacked?"
"Wormtail attacked me, we fought for a bit," Harry began. "He managed to spill some of my blood, and then stopped attacking...I followed him back to this."
Harry pointed the mirror at the scene before him, just as Wormtail dumped whatever had been in the bundle—Voldemort's creepy little body—into the cauldron.
Drown drown drown drown.
Harry could hear Remus and Sirius muttering the same thing.
"Bone of the father, unknowingly given, you will renew your son!"
As Wormtail spoke the words of the spell, Harry could see dust swirl up from the grave nearest to the cauldron—next to a large marble headstone marked TOM RIDDLE—and sprinkle onto the potion's surface. The white potion and sparks transformed to an unnaturally bright blue. Harry heard Dumbledore say something about an "old ritual, old magic" before Amelia Bones's voice cut him off.
Wormtail's terrified chanting now turned to sobs, as he drew a long, silver dagger from somewhere within his cloak. Harry was struck by its resemblance to the dagger he had relied on in the Pine Barrens the previous summer, and in the third task earlier that very night.
"Flesh...of-of the ser-servant, w-willingly given, you will rev-vive your master!"
Wormtail held out his right arm, and raised the dagger in his left. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes...and swung the dagger down as hard as he could. Harry was almost surprised to see the blade strike true, considering the fact that Wormtail's eyes were closed; the dagger must have been enchanted, for it parted flesh and bone like water. Harry flinched as Wormtail's scream of agony pierced the night, and watched as Wormtail, panting and moaning in pain, bent down, picked up the severed hand, and threw it into the cauldron with a splash. The potion turned a sickening blood-red, and shone like a beacon.
As much pain as Wormtail was clearly in, and as much blood as he was losing, Wormtail looked almost relieved. The hard part must be over, Harry mused, and Wormtail resumed his chant.
"Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken...you will resurrect your foe!"
So that's why they needed the blood, Harry realized. He raised his wand, but it was too late; Wormtail had already poured the vial of blood into the cauldron. The potion immediately turned a blinding white, issuing a vast cloud of steam. Wormtail slumped to the ground, sobbing and clutching his bloody stump. The snake hissed wordlessly, but Harry could tell it was pleased.
Please let this have gone wrong. Please please please please...
Amid the bright white light and billowing steam, though, Harry could see the dark silhouette of a beast, abnormally tall, rising above the brim of the cauldron.
The creature stepped down from the cauldron, and Harry only barely contained his gasp, though the spectators on the other side of the mirror call could not. At least seven feet tall, the beast had pale, almost completely white scales covering its body. It had powerful arms with large hands; each finger ended in a long, sharp talon. Its legs were much the same, and its feet were similarly clawed. Its face was generally man-shaped, but there the human resemblance ended; its powerful triangular jaw, prominent brow ridge, and oddly-flattened nose were more reminiscent of a snake, and no true human had ever had the likes of those blazing scarlet eyes.
Wormtail hastened to cover his master with robes that he had apparently brought along for that purpose, and then fell back to the ground, moaning piteously. The creature threw its head back and laughed, a high, cold, chilling laugh that shot despair through Harry's heart.
Lord Voldemort had risen again.
Daphne paced anxiously around her dorm room. Tracey watched, not really sure what to say, while Pansy nattered at Millicent about how Harry was surely dead by now. Luckily Daphne was too deep in thought to notice, or else the room would have erupted into a very one-sided duel.
Everyone had seen Professor Moody throw a portkey to Harry, and then cast the Dark Mark. About a second later, he had been hit by half a dozen stunning hexes from Remus, Sirius, Director Bones, and a few of the nearby professors—then, the students had all been sent back to their dorms while the professors and the Aurors figured things out.
The question on everyone's mind bounced through hers as well. Where was Harry Potter, and would he be okay?
Voldemort held his wand, practically caressing it, and took no notice of the sobbing Wormtail, nor the large snake that was slithering around the cauldron. Suddenly, he whirled around and pointed the wand at Wormtail, who was thrown through the air. Wormtail hit Tom Riddle's headstone with a satisfying crunch, and he lay there, still sobbing.
Voldemort gave no sign that he even noticed—let alone cared about—Wormtail's pain, laughing mirthlessly.
"Oh Harry, I know you're out there somewhere," Voldemort called casually. "You can't escape this graveyard—the ward I've cast will prevent anyone going in or out that I don't approve of. Nobody can come to save you, Harry. There's nobody to die in your place, this time."
Harry's blood froze. He had been hoping that Sirius, Remus, Dumbledore, and the Aurors would be preparing to mount a rescue operation, but if that was impossible, then he was well and truly alone.
"My Lord..." Wormtail moaned, having gotten up and prostrated himself at Voldemort's feet. "My Lord...please..."
"Hold out your arm," Voldemort commanded.
Wormtail held out his bloody stump, no doubt thinking that his master would heal him.
One would think he'd have learned by now.
Voldemort laughed. "The other arm, Wormtail."
"Master, please," Wormtail sobbed. "Please."
Voldemort waved his wand, and Wormtail's left sleeve pulled back past his elbow. Harry could see the red brand of the Dark Mark upon Wormtail's skin. Voldemort peered closely at it, murmuring to himself.
"It is back," he mused, "and they will all have noticed it...we shall see...we shall know..."
Abruptly, he pressed a long, pale finger to Wormtail's tattoo, not caring that his sharp talon sliced painfully into his Death Eater's flesh. Wormtail howled in pain, and as Voldemort stepped back, Harry could see that the Dark Mark had turned jet black.
Voldemort turned his eyes up to the starry sky, and continued speaking aloud. "Who will be brave enough, loyal enough, to return, when they feel the burn? How many will be cowardly and foolish enough to run?"
Wormtail's weakening sobs were his only answer, as Harry desperately began coming up with a plan. If Voldemort had called his Death Eaters, then his situation was only going to get bleaker...unless...this was going to be risky...
"Behold, Harry!" Voldemort called out into the night, several minutes later. "The Death Eaters of Lord Voldemort return!"
A long series of pops—like popcorn in a microwave, Harry mused—nearly two dozen black-robed, white-masked figures apparated into the graveyard, milling about briefly before arranging themselves into a large circle with several gaps. Assigned seating, how cute...
Voldemort addressed his followers, but Harry wasn't paying any attention, though he briefly took notice when Voldemort conjured a new silver hand for Wormtail. His mind was whirring, ideas were being thought up and discarded just as quickly... There was nothing for it, Harry concluded. He needed a Death Eater.
"Igor has fled, Albus," Severus Snape reported, sweeping into the room with his cloak billowing imposingly behind him. "He fled the moment it burned black."
Dumbledore and Director Bones—who had both been watching the projection that had been set up using Sirius's mirror—turned to address the spy.
"Is it true, about the wards?" Bones asked.
Snape nodded curtly. "During the war, all of the inner circle meetings were heavily warded—only marked Death Eaters could enter at will, and none could leave without the Dark Lord manipulating the wards. To attempt to mount a rescue would be an exercise in suicidal futility."
"Fuck!" Sirius swore, kicking a chair across the room, where it hit the de-morphed (and heavily spelled) Barty Crouch, Jr. "We need to do something!"
"I do not believe that there is anything that we can do," Dumbledore sighed tiredly. "It seems that Mr. Potter is all alone."
Wearing his invisibility cloak, Harry moved quietly among the headstones. Voldemort was still near the cauldron, stroking his snake (literally) and talking to Lucius about something—probably schemes to bribe the ludicrously-corrupt Minister of Magic, Harry thought bitterly—but the rest of the Death Eaters had been commanded to find Harry and bring him before Voldemort. This was simultaneously good and bad for Harry.
On the plus side, it vastly simplified his plan to capture a Death Eater without the others noticing. On the other hand, it meant that nearly two dozen hardened murderers were stalking him.
Finally, Harry had a stroke of luck. Wormtail was shuffling about, trying to look as though he was actually looking for Harry, but he clearly did not intend to put himself at risk again tonight by actually finding the boy. Even better, Wormtail looked exhausted—he wasn't in very good shape to begin with, and their earlier running duel and the dark ritual to resurrect Voldemort had clearly taken a significant toll on him. Perfect.
A silent Full-Body Bind (petrificus totalus had been a handy spell ever since first year, Harry mused) froze Wormtail in place, his (albeit slight) forward momentum pitched him over, and a quick silencing charm kept anyone from hearing the meaty thump of Wormtail hitting the ground. Harry rapidly followed up with several other silencing and binding spells—Wormtail had a talent for wriggling his way out of things, and Harry intended to ensure that the rat could do nothing of the sort here.
Harry cast a Notice-Me-Not spell and over a dozen other stealth wards around his position. Daphne had actually been a great resource for that sort of spell; she already knew plenty, and had a knack for quickly learning more. Since they practiced together so often, it was only natural that Harry would pick up a thing or two.
Granted the three things he needed for his plan to work—time, space, and a captive Death Eater—Harry began examining Wormtail's Dark Mark more closely, casting diagnostic charm after diagnostic charm. As Harry had expected, the Dark Mark fulfilled several functions, but two were the most relevant for Harry's plan. First, the Dark Mark was a method of communication; a modified Protean charm (basically, a very limited, simplified version of thaumaturgy) connected each Death Eater's Dark Mark to every other Dark Mark; thus, Voldemort could use one (as he had used Wormtail's) to call the others. Second, the Dark Mark appeared to be the way Voldemort's spirit—or shade, ghost, wraith, soul, whatever—had managed to stay "alive" for over a decade. Only a wizard with a background in thaumaturgy would realize this, but to Harry, it was quite clear—there was some sort of one-way link between Voldemort and each of his Death Eaters. As long as a living creature had a Dark Mark, Voldemort would never truly die.
"Sirius, you still there?" Harry whispered, taking the mirror out of his pocket. "Look who I found."
"The rat," Sirius hissed, enraged by the very sight of his former friend. "Kill him, Harry. Whatever you do tonight, make sure Wormtail dies. In the name of James and Lily, kill that fucking traitor."
"Oh, don't worry, the traitor is going to die," Harry promised, and deep within his mind, the thunderbird screamed in harsh approval. "He's just going to die being useful. Is Dumbledore still there?"
"Yeah. There's me, Remus, Dumbledore, Bones, Flitwick, McGonagall, and Snape. Oh, and Barty Crouch is over there in the corner. The real Alastor Moody is in the hospital wing. He said to tell you that he's impressed so far, and also "Constant Vigilance!" That's a direct quote. He was in pretty bad shape, but Pomfrey says he'll be fine in a week or so."
"I'm glad he's okay," Harry replied with a grin. At least something good would come of tonight. "Tell Dumbledore that if he's got any Death Eaters he wants to keep alive, he'll have to chop off their left arm. He should use a blade, rather than magic, if he wants to be able to re-grow the limb."
"WHAT?!" Snape roared in the background. Sirius let out a harsh, bark-like laugh, almost immediately understanding where Harry was going with this.
Harry smiled grimly. "Or not. I never liked that greasy git anyway—either way, he's got about five minutes to decide, because after that he's going to die very painfully."
"You insolent, arrogant—" Snape was cut off by the sound of a fist striking a jaw. Harry couldn't hear the background conversation, but he assumed that Snape was not finding it pleasant.
"Good hit, Moony!" Sirius said happily. Aside from Harry being in terrible danger, this was really shaping up to be a great night, based solely on Snape's increasing misery and the traitor being captured.
"Ok Sirius," Harry said absently, not really paying attention to the conversation anymore—the job at hand was taking most of his concentration. "I'm going to get started. Tell Snape to cut off his arm or die, I don't care which."
"Where the bloody hell is that boy?" Walden Macnair muttered, looking around the graveyard and casting a wide, sweeping revealing charm...to no avail. As much as he had probably lost his edge in the thirteen years of peace, Macnair had always been a fairly good tracker—he had learned to hunt the most dangerous game, after all. Yes, he was rusty, but he should have found the Potter whelp by now. Where the hell was that boy?
As far as Harry was concerned, Voldemort had been extremely foolish to use his blood in the resurrection spell. Being able to bypass the blood wards at Privet Drive was worthless, since Harry would never set foot there again, and more importantly, Voldemort had to know by now that Harry was arguably the best (if not the only) serious thaumaturge in the British Isles. Using Harry's blood to construct his own body had basically given Harry a direct line right to his greatest enemy's heart...among other things. Connecting himself to Harry via blood also made it much easier to do what Harry was currently planning on doing to Wormtail. After all, the Dark Mark connected each Death Eater, and Voldemort could access it...and now Harry could, too.
"This is going to hurt, traitor," Harry whispered to Wormtail as he finger-painted his own blood onto Wormtail's arm, covering the Dark Mark entirely. "But don't worry, it won't hurt for very long. Your road ends here, tonight."
Wormtail said nothing—he couldn't, bound as he was—but Harry could practically smell the fear radiating off of the man. If he had more time to stop and appreciate the moment (or if he were a more vindictive person), he'd probably take more pleasure in Wormtail's terror, but it was only a matter of time before one of the Death Eaters managed to penetrate Harry's wards.
Harry closed his eyes, ignoring Snape's scream of pain from the mirror, and willed himself to connect to the link that already existed between the Death Eaters. Since the link to Voldemort was one-way (as Voldemort would never care to use his magic (or soul, or whatever) to keep his followers alive), he couldn't strike directly at Voldemort, but he could worry about that later. For now, he was dealing with the Death Eaters.
Harry felt something give, and he knew that he was in; it had been easier than he had expected. He technically hadn't strictly needed to use his own blood like that, but it made visualizing the connection between himself and Voldemort easier (apparently, much easier). Now, Harry had full access to the Dark Mark, and he planned to make it count.
As much as he didn't want to let more people know about his animagus form, Harry knew that he'd need the extra power, since anything he did would be spread out over the entire network. He resigned himself to explaining his form to Director Bones, and figured that he could probably blackmail or threaten Snape to keep quiet, while Flitwick probably wouldn't need any prompting. Best get to it, then. The Death Eaters were fools, but they were dangerous fools, and Harry couldn't stay hidden forever.
Snape's scream of pain was barely muted by the leather strap clenched between his jaws. An elf had provided a large meat cleaver from the kitchen (its size had raised some eyebrows, actually—how did the tiny elves manage to wield such a large ax?), and Remus—as the resident werewolf, he had the most upper-body strength, since Hagrid was still out in the maze, collecting the remaining creatures—had been elected to use it. The cleaver slammed down into the table with a thunk and a splash of blood, having met almost no resistance from Snape's pale, spindly arm, which flopped onto the floor, severed just below the elbow. Snape himself followed, slumping down onto the floor and shaking with pain and grabbing at his stump, which—while bloody—was pumping out a surprisingly small amount of blood due to the makeshift tourniquet cinched just above the cut. In that room, only Albus felt any pity for the man, and that extended only as far as casting a few spells to keep him from going into shock.
Privately, Remus wondered why they hadn't knocked Snape out first, but he didn't mind Snape having to deal with the pain. Despite his outwardly mild-mannered appearance, Remus was still quite bitter about Snape ensuring that Remus would lose his job at the end of the previous year—Remus had loved teaching at Hogwarts, and Snape had taken that from him in a fit of petty, childish revenge. Even more, Snape was owed a great deal of pain and suffering for his blatant mistreatment of Harry for the last few years, and Remus intended to make sure that Snape collected, with interest. Remus grinned savagely at Sirius, who wore a similar expression of feral pleasure at Snape's pain—chopping off Snape's arm had been even more satisfying than punching him in the face, only a few minutes before. Yes, the Marauders owed Snape for his treatment of their friend's son, and they would pay their debts, one way or the other.
Apparently, the amputation hadn't come a minute too soon. Dumbledore, McGonagall, Flitwick, and Bones gasped in surprise—and no small amount of impressed delight—as Harry transformed into a huge black bird. Without wasting another moment, Harry-the-bird gripped Wormtail's blood-coated Dark Mark with one of his clawed feet. The wickedly-curved talons bit deeply into Wormtail's flesh, and Sirius and Remus grinned at each other.
"Time for the fireworks," Sirius proclaimed, as though introducing the next act onto the stage. "Everyone pay close attention, because I think this is going to be a good show."
Harry felt his razor-sharp talons punch into Wormtail's left arm, and barely resisted the almost overwhelming urge to pluck out Wormtail's eyes with his beak. Instead, Harry satisfied the thunderbird's lust for violence by exploding.
It had occurred to Harry that it was likely that the effects of any spells he performed across the Dark Mark network of Death Eaters would be diluted by the sheer number of people bearing the Mark. Therefore, he'd need to pump a vast amount of energy into the spell, to ensure that every marked Death Eater was killed; otherwise, Voldemort would never truly die. The best way to do this—as far as Harry knew—was to turn into his thunderbird animagus form, and hit the Mark with everything he had.
As Harry transformed and gripped Wormtail's bloody arm, he allowed himself to remember who Wormtail truly was: Peter Pettigrew. Peter Pettigrew, who had stood by his father's side all throughout Hogwarts. Peter Pettigrew, who had held and played with Harry as an infant. Peter Pettigrew, who had been entrusted with the very lives of his greatest friends.
Peter Pettigrew, who had betrayed James and Lily Potter to Voldemort.
At that thought, Harry let the thunderbird's righteous fury rise to heights he had never before imagined. Harry's rage fueled a blast of lightning that made what he had done to the Horntail look like a Christmas cracker.
Macnair's eyes slid past a large headstone, and he immediately recognized the signs of stealth wards. He smiled grimly—his Lord would reward him greatly for bringing in Harry Potter—and raised his wand.
As he opened his mouth to begin casting counterspells, Macnair felt a sharp, blazing pain in his left arm. He looked at his Mark, surprised...was his Lord calling him?
The next shock of pain put him down on the ground as electricity coursed through his body. This was nearly as bad as the Dark Lord's Cruciatus Curse! Everything disappeared—Macnair couldn't think, couldn't see, couldn't even breathe. Unable to even scream in pain, Macnair convulsed violently as his body began to smoke. Within a few seconds, Macnair's arm had blackened...not that it mattered, because his internal organs, including his brain and heart, had ceased to function. Walden Macnair was dead.
Everyone watching on Sirius's mirror had their attention brought back a little closer to home when Barty Crouch, Jr.—sitting in a chair in the corner of the room—began to smoke, and then caught on fire. The flames dancing upon the twitching Death Eater were immediately extinguished by a blast of water from Flitwick, but that didn't stop the vast current from flowing through his body and cooking him from the inside. He was dead in moments.
Snape, already a pale man—and made even more so by blood loss—blanched even further as he watched his severed arm roast itself into a shriveled log of bloody charcoal. Apparently the brat had been telling the truth.
Sirius grinned triumphantly at Snape. Snape remembered that look from his school days. If possible, this day had gotten even worse...now he owed Harry Potter for saving his life.
Tom Riddle was not a man who could be easily surprised. Delving as deeply as he had into dark magic, he had seen and done things that would drive an average wizard to madness merely to contemplate. He reveled in all the things that would disgust or repulse ordinary wizards, because if there was one thing he was not (never ever ever), it was "ordinary." He was the Dark Lord Voldemort, and nothing surprised him anymore.
He was surprised, then, to find himself surprised as his old lieutenant Lucius Malfoy fell to the ground. He was surprised to find himself surprised by the convulsions of Malfoy's skeletal muscles, and by the smoke beginning to rise off of Malfoy's rapidly dying body. He was even more surprised to find himself surprised by the fact that none of the seventeen spells that he cast within the first three seconds of Malfoy's apparent seizure had any effect on the situation. He was treated to a final surprise when he tried to reach out to the Dark Mark network to summon someone to deal with Malfoy's blackened corpse...and found nothing. There were no Death Eaters to call. Avery, Nott, Mulciber, Macnair, Crabbe Goyle... He couldn't feel any of them, not the ones entombed in Azkaban, nor even Karkaroff and Snape, whom he had been certain had been traitors to his cause.
It must have been the Dark Mark, he realized, looking down at Nagini's corpse. Malfoy's death had drawn his attention, but now he had just noticed that Nagini had also perished, and in the same ghastly manner. He had taken to mind-controlling (rather than simply ordering around) the snake with compulsion charms (the Imperius Curse wasn't necessary for a mere animal), and had found that Marking it had made it easier to impose his will upon the creature. Somehow, he realized with shock, Potter must have managed to break into the Dark Mark network, and used it to kill all of its bearers.
No, Tom Riddle was not a man accustomed to being surprised. The last time he had been surprised had been when his Killing Curse failed against an infant Harry Potter and he had ended up spending thirteen years as a wraith. It did not surprise him, he concluded, to find that Harry Potter was at the root of this most recent unpleasant (and surprising) revelation:
Lord Voldemort was mortal again.
"POTTER!" Voldemort screamed, unable to keep the blinding rage out of his high, cold voice. "Come out and die like a man!"
In the blink of an eye, Harry-the-bird became Harry-the-boy. As he regained his equilibrium (the thunderbird form was so physically different from his own that it often took several seconds to refamiliarize himself with his own body), Harry took a brief moment to acknowledge Wormtail's roasted corpse. The effects of putting that much current through the Dark Mark were both obvious and messy; Wormtail had been burned to a crisp, and at some point—Harry found himself hoping it was postmortem, despite all of his hatred for the man—his eyes and all of his teeth had exploded, and his shiny, new silver hand had melted into Wormtail's flesh.
Harry shook his head and looked away, knowing that this image would stay with him for a long time. He had killed before, and thought little enough about it—Quirrell in his first year, Lockhart (effectively, as everything that had made the man who he was had been erased) in his second year, and (indirectly) a dragon handler this past year—but those occasions had all been either self-defense or sufficiently removed that he had not been very deeply affected. However, this probably crossed the line into premeditated murder, and it wasn't just Wormtail—through the link of the Dark Mark, he had felt as the lives of dozens of people ended, from the graveyard to Azkaban, and all of them had probably died as horribly as Wormtail had. It was a gruesome thought, and Harry had no doubt he'd be having nightmares about it.
Then again, Voldemort's followers had brought Harry to this graveyard, and forced him into this situation; thus, the war had never really ended—it wouldn't take much rationalizing to go from oh my god oh my god I just murdered dozens of people in cold blood to I was put on the defensive until I counterattacked and defeated my enemy. That was an interpretation of the night's events that he could probably live with...that is, if he survived long enough to do so.
At that thought, Harry ceased his introspection, just in time to hear Voldemort screaming for him to "come out and die like a man." Harry shrugged, and turned to face the mirror (which he had left propped against a nearby headstone, so that the group back at Hogwarts could see what was happening).
"Don't even think it, Harry," Sirius said urgently. He was almost pleading. "Wormtail's dead, the traitor's dead, we can still call tonight a win, just figure out how to come home."
Voldemort chose that moment to sonorous and call out to Harry that the only way past the wards would be through him.
Harry sighed, made a face, and pointed back over his shoulder with his thumb. "Sirius, I've clearly got to deal with this. Unless you guys have come up with a different way to get me out of here."
The stricken look on Sirius's face was more than enough to tell Harry that he was still all alone.
"Shit. Well, the charms and wards I put up aren't going to last much longer—he's steadily bringing them down just by throwing magic around the graveyard—so I'm going on the offensive again," Harry said, resigning himself to the coming fight. "He's probably still weak from the resurrection ritual...this might be the best shot I ever get."
"Harry, please..." Sirius begged, looking more and more like the haunted, hollowed-out shell that he had been when he had first broken out of Azkaban.
"Don't worry, Padfoot," Harry said, faking as much cheer as he could (though truly, he was already bone-tired and terrified), despite the fact that he could feel his wards and spells degrading. At this rate, Voldemort would find him within about a minute or so. "I'll be fine. Just...if I'm not, then you and Moony need to take care of each other. Thank you for being there this past year. I love you both. And tell Daphne the same."
"Your parents would be proud, Harry" Remus said, poking his face into view. Tears were rolling down his face. "We both love you too. Now go get that bastard."
Inwardly, Minerva McGonagall cursed—she owed Filius ten galleons. The Weasley twins had set up a complicated series of betting pools about...well, everything, and even the professors had gotten in on the action (purely for fun, of course). She and Filius had overheard some students chatting about the results of the second task and what it meant for the pool on Harry's dating life, and Filius had discreetly placed ten galleons on Daphne Greengrass, citing several "coincidences" when she and Potter had both been unaccounted for at the same time. Minerva had pinned her hopes on Tracey Davis, remembering Harry's fury during the second task and the lengths he had gone to punish Albus for dragging her into the tournament. Neither had really seen anything particularly surprising about Harry dating a Slytherin, especially in light of how damnably sneaky he had been this past year.
She caught the brief flicker of a smug grin on Filius's face before dismay set back in, as it became clear that a teenager was about to go wand-to-wand against a more-monstrous-than-ever Lord Voldemort. Remus was right, though, she reflected idly, turning her full attention back to the projection. Lily and James would be proud.
As Harry drew his oak and thunderbird feather wand and prepared for his charms to fall, he was suddenly reminded of why he had gone to so much expense in its manufacture. He had paid a vast sum to have runes for durability engraved on the inside of the wand shells, having been worried that a snapped wand would expose thunderbird feathers that could be used to attack him with thaumaturgy. An idea struck him, and he grinned—after all, Ollivander had been convinced that his holly and phoenix feather wand would be used for great things.
Harry quickly drew the holly wand, re-cut his forearm (having healed himself with an episkey after finger-painting with his blood on Wormtail's Dark Mark), and coated the wand in his blood. After all, the holly and phoenix feather wand was connected to Voldemort's yew and phoenix feather wand, in more ways than one. First, their cores were both from the same creature (Fawkes), and second, they had both been crafted by the same man, wielding the same magic. Those connections had power, and Harry knew that he could use them. Plus, Harry's blood strengthened the link between himself and Voldemort, and thus their wands—as Ollivander was annoyingly and overly fond of saying, "the wand chooses the wizard," so a link between two wizards would facilitate a link between their wands. And once that link was forged, whatever happened to one wand would happen to the other. It's a good thing phoenixes are immortal...Fawkes is definitely going to take some collateral damage.
It would have to be very quick, Harry decided—Voldemort was probably adept at wandless magic, and the element of surprise would be lost after only a few seconds. Hopefully, that would be all he would need.
Harry's preparations were barely complete when the charms and wards—which had kept him hidden from the Death Eaters and Voldemort for nearly thirty minutes now, and had given him the time he'd needed to kill all of Voldemort's followers—fell, finally overwhelmed by the wide-area detection and wardbreaking spells that Voldemort had been casting over the entire graveyard since Lucius Malfoy had died right in front of him.
About fifty yards separated the two wizards, but even in the darkness Harry could feel anger and hatred rolling off of Voldemort in waves as the creature (having recently seen Voldemort naked as he climbed from that huge cauldron, Harry couldn't really call him a man...or even a him, really) stalked closer. So he knows that he's mortal.
Voldemort stopped a mere twenty yards away, putting Harry in the mind of two Old West gunslingers meeting at high noon (he'd watched some westerns with Annie back in Wisconsin). The massive Dark Mark floating in the sky (which Harry was somehow just now noticing) cast eerie, sickly green light upon the whole scene.
"Are you prepared to die, Potter?" Voldemort hissed coldly.
Harry, still partly behind a headstone (mostly to keep Voldemort from noticing that he was holding two wands) shrugged casually. "I'm just as mortal now as I was ten minutes ago, Tom. Can you say the same?"
Voldemort's scarlet eyes blazed with rage and madness, reminding Harry of the Jersey Devil. Right before I ambushed it and put a knife through its heart. It wasn't an altogether different situation.
"I have underestimated you, Potter," Voldemort continued. "I thought the reports I received from my agents were merely the overblown results of propaganda...I can see now that you are worthy of the magic you wield, and I will not make that mistake again. A pity, then, that I will be killing you tonight."
"Not going to offer me a place by your side?" Harry asked, raising an eyebrow. As he spoke, he subtly pointed his oak and thunderbird feather wand (held in his right hand) at the holly and phoenix feather wand (held in his left hand). "I mean, as long as you're monologuing like a comic book villain, you might as well stick to the script."
"The world will know their new Lord has come, when I present them with the corpse of their beloved Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived," Voldemort continued. "Which means you have to die. I'd say it's nothing personal, but we both know that would be a lie—I'll enjoy watching the life drain from your eyes."
"You sound pretty confident," Harry said, preparing himself. Voldemort was raising his wand, he had to do it now, it was now or never... "But I don't think you've really considered what it would mean, trapping me here."
Confusion—and a bit of uncertainty—made a brief appearance on Voldemort's "face," before the expression was replaced by Voldemort's more typical fanged (fangs? When the hell did he grow fangs?!) sneer. "What the hell are you—"
Time seemed to freeze, and several things happened very quickly.
Voldemort was cut off when his wand, which was already pointing in Harry's general direction, suddenly burst into flames in his hand.
In the blink of an eye, Harry dropped the burning holly and phoenix feather wand—he had been fire-resistant ever since the Hunter ritual with the dragon's blood, but holding onto a flaming stick would probably be pretty distracting—and raised his oak wand, aiming carefully and already casting a spell before the burning remnants of his first wand even hit the ground.
Knowing that Voldemort had been resurrected with Harry's blood—which contained traces of basilisk venom, phoenix tears, and dragon blood—Harry assumed that Voldemort would be practically immune to poison and corrosive substances, would heal quickly, and would be effectively fireproof. However, Harry remembered what Morris had said when he had told Harry about the story of the thunderbird and the great horned serpent...as Morris had said, "lightning works great at killing pretty much anything, so if you find yourself running into any more basilisks, Death Eaters, or Dark Lords, just blast the crap out of them." Harry intended to do just that.
"BARAK!" Harry roared. Few wizards ever used lightning-generation spells, preferring the simpler and more controllable element of fire and the easier conjuration method; thus, incendio conjured flames that acted the way the caster believed they should act, rather than producing authentic fire that would act as real-world physics dictated, and spells like fulmin and fulminus would conjure plasma that looked like lightning, and acted the way the caster thought lightning worked, but didn't really have the power or speed of true lightning. In this particular case, generating true lightning was extremely difficult for most wizards because it took a great deal of activation energy to ionize the air between one's wand and one's target—in fact, the energy requirements increased exponentially, rather than linearly, with distance. Fortunately, Harry's extreme affinity for that particular element allowed him to skip that very wasteful catalyzing step, and go straight to the lightning.
Thus, when Harry cast an obscure true-lightning-generation spell that hadn't been used in combat since the late third century, Voldemort did not expect it to be particularly effective. Yes, the boy was powerful, but the activation energy for such a spell, particularly at this range (as most wizards would be hard-pressed to cast the spell at a target a few inches from their wand, let alone twenty yards), meant that it would almost certainly fizzle out immediately. Not for the first time that night, though, Voldemort was surprised. Ironically, he had just said that he would stop underestimating Harry Potter.
Less than a second after Harry screamed out the incantation, the night was lit up with a brilliant blue-white flash of lightning. Harry had narrowed his eyes to a squint as he cast the spell, so his vision was not whited-out, and he was able to discern the massive, thick bolt of lightning that briefly flared into existence between the tip of his wand and Voldemort's forehead. For an instant, some part of the back of his mind idly wondered if that was fitting, ironic, or both—and then all thought was wiped away as Harry was blown backwards by the shockwave of what was the most powerful thunderclap he had ever heard. The blast that had nearly knocked over the stands at the first task had nothing on this.
The thunder echoed off the nearby hill and rumbled on for several seconds before fading away. Harry blinked in the sudden darkness, still seeing the outline of that lightning bolt in his eyes, and realized that there was no longer that creepy green light everywhere—the Dark Mark was gone. Harry looked around for a moment, noticing that the dust from that thunderclap still hadn't settled, before he remembered what had just happened, and realized that he had just hit Voldemort, hard. Suddenly alert, Harry picked himself up off the ground, his wand at the ready.
Harry lit his wand with a silent lumos, and looked back to where Voldemort had been standing. At first, he thought that the ground was charred badly, but then he realized that the rocky ground had been turned to a patch of dirty glass. That spell had been powerful. He tracked his eyes up knowing that if he had been blown backwards, Voldemort must have been tossed like a ragdoll.
Harry's search led him to the large cauldron, from which Voldemort had climbed less than an hour before. The steam and mist still hadn't stopped flowing out of the huge vessel, but now it was also coming out of a large crack that ran from the lip all the way to the bottom. Nearby, the large yew tree—which had been stripped of most of its leaves by the shockwave—was smoldering, and Harry realized that Voldemort's wand (which was mostly just smoking ashes by now) must have come from this very tree. Somewhere out there, a holly tree was probably on fire, and Fawkes probably had an early burning day.
Finally, Harry found what was left of Voldemort's body. It had slammed into the headstone marked TOM RIDDLE, breaking the grave marker in half; again, Harry couldn't really decide whether that was fitting, ironic, or both. The impact alone would have killed a normal wizard, but Harry was fairly certain that Voldemort had already been dead from the lightning—his forehead was badly melted, and it appeared that all of his blood had burned its way out of a large hole in his chest where his heart had been. Harry sighed in relief, and sagged in exhaustion.
Lord Voldemort was no more.
Harry visits a graveyard! Harry meets some people! And then he kills them!
As of the end of Chapter 34, HPatLS is at 102,101 words.
So this chapter ended up taking much longer than anticipated, mostly because I've been pretty sick for this past week, and also the first draft I wrote was complete garbage and required a complete re-write. Honestly, even now I'm not sure about this chapter—I had to choose between about a dozen different possible ways for this confrontation to go, and I went with this one because it kind of followed the theme of Harry coming up with a plan and then overwhelming his enemy with a "cheap shot." This is also by far the longest chapter I've written, which is probably appropriate, considering the fact that it's the climax of the story. Finally, this is the first time I've had a lot of events being tracked by different people at the same time, so things like Snape's scream in the background can help you keep track of when things are being perceived by the different POV characters.
"Barak" comes from "baraq," which comes from "brq'", the approximate Aramaic pronunciation of the word for "lightning." I couldn't use Google Translator for Aramaic, so I had to figure it out via regular searches; you wouldn't believe the amount of obnoxious bullshit that comes up on Google if you search for pretty much any wording related to a language steeped in religion—especially with "lightning," since apparently every nutcase on the internet has decided that the coincidence of its pronunciation means that the current president of the US is either an angel or the devil or something else equally ridiculous. Anyway, I wanted to use the Menominee word, but unfortunately it is "pakahcekaewak," and no matter how many times I tried, I couldn't figure out the pronunciation guides, so I couldn't get work it into a decently phonetic spell. Aramaic is appropriate, though, considering that Riddle's signature spell, "Avada Kedavra" (apparently, according to JK Rowling) comes from that language; as long as it isn't Latin (which would be "fulmin" or "fulminus" or something)—Latin, of course, seems to be the language of choice for the typical British wizard, so it makes sense to have the newly-independent Harry set himself apart by using older, more obscure spells.
The cauldron developing a huge crack down the side from a really loud sound? Yeah, that may or may not be an allusion to the Liberty Bell. The TOM RIDDLE headstone and the yew tree? There's no such thing as too much symbolism.