Disclaimer: Nothing is mine; everything is J K Rowling's.
So I would imagine this is the chapter you've all been waiting for, although, since it is the next chapter, this is generally the case regardless of its content.
There may be some dark themes in this chapter, but, if you're still reading this by now, I suspect that won't bother you all that much!
The small bottle of golden liquid shone and spun as Harry carefully twisted the cork from the neck of the vial. He dropped the stopper onto Salazar's desk, something which would have no doubt incensed the painting had it been around to see.
'To the ouroboros,' Harry smiled wryly, raising the vial in the direction of the portrait's empty outline.
The felix felicis tasted like sparks bursting on his tongue, as if someone had simultaneously dipped his head into a pool of cool water, and pumped liquid fire into his veins.
He knew, without the faintest trace of doubt, that everything he wanted would be, and that everything he needed to be, was.
This will go perfectly, he realised, laughing softly to himself and leaving the study, wand in hand.
He would wait no longer; there was no reason to. His vengeance was meant to be taken now, he was giddy at the very prospect, elated by the emotion even as the fury, that pure point of pain and cold in his chest flared beyond feeling.
The pool beneath the bridge froze as he walked over it, ice spreading from his footsteps to trace across the walls and ceiling of the Chamber of Secrets, spines of hoarfrost forming in his wake.
The toilet was empty, as he had somehow known it would be.
The Marauders' Map was still in the chamber, but Harry didn't feel like retrieving it, in fact, now he truly thought about it, he quite wanted to go to the Great Hall.
Seems like a good idea, he decided.
He reined his magic in now he was in the school itself, everyone had seen what he had done to the Three Broomsticks, something he was told that the officials from the Ministry had been unable to fix, just as the healers at St Mungo's had been able to do nothing for Madam Rosmerta. Their finest mind healers had been unable to get her to recall anything more than the feeling of helplessness, and a vast, oppressive fury.
He ignored the twinge of guilt in his chest, and continued on his way past the gaggles of students, strolling gently up on to the dais, and sprawling casually across Dumbledore's golden chair to wait.
The other students seemed too absorbed in their lives to glance up and see him, so they slowly drained away, filtering out to whichever common room they belonged to while Harry watched patiently, twirling his wand over and over in his fingers, enjoying the rush of warmth from the wood.
Minutes slipped by, and with each long second that passed his anticipation swelled higher, rising towards a summit he could neither see nor imagine.
A thin, weary figure slunk in through the doors at the far end, slinking swiftly along the middle of the tables until, suddenly aware that the hall was not as empty as it believed, the figure stopped to look up at Harry.
Malfoy's horror was sweeter than anything Harry had ever tasted.
'Draco,' he smiled politely.
The doors gently swung shut.
Malfoy's wand was already in his hand, but he cast nothing, gazing around himself at the closed doors the to the hall, at the windows, and then back up at Harry.
'Potter,' he grimaced, taking a few steps closer, glancing to either side as the tables slid back against the walls, pushed aside by the air Harry had imbued with Grindelwald's spell.
'You're out past your curfew,' Harry stood up from the throne, tutting, 'and you a prefect.'
His wand brushed against the staff table, and it crumbled to dust, leaving his path forwards clear, and removing any trace of himself that might have lain upon it.
'What do you want?' Malfoy demanded, as if he didn't already know, and hadn't spent so long trying to poison Harry to avoid this moment once he had completed his mission.
'To return some lost property,' Harry answered with poisonous pleasantry. The pale-stoned necklace hovered in the air between them; a silent promise. 'Funny,' he continued evenly, 'how your misplaced property ended up around my friend's neck.'
'You don't scare me, Potter,' Malfoy sneered tiredly. 'I have stood before greater wizards than you.'
Harry regarded him intently, but there was no hint of fear in Malfoy's eyes anymore, only resolution.
'I should have killed you the moment I had the chance,' Harry decided softly. 'I was foolish to think that Snape was the only one of the two of you capable of causing me pain. I would have had to get rid of him eventually, even without that vow. He was an obstacle, spreading information about me to both sides, but you I deemed harmless. It was stupid of me to think so.'
Malfoy flinched, evidently he had not expected Harry to know about the vow. 'So what now, Potter?' He demanded, straightening himself, and his robes
Harry smiled coldly. 'Now, we duel.'
He dipped from the waist, but Draco, seizing the opportunity cast the first spell.
'A stunner,' Harry remarked disdainfully, deflecting it into the ground with a casual twist of his wrist. 'And you forgot to bow,' he reminded the boy disapprovingly, directing the air behind Malfoy to bend his spine almost horizontal with a gentle dip of the tip of his wand.
Malfoy glared at him furiously as he was released, bringing his wand up slowly, almost halfheartedly to point at Harry.
A handful of other spells flitted across the Great Hall at him, but he batted them away just as easily, knowing all the while that it would take but a twist of his wand to crush Malfoy like the orange. There was nothing the boy could throw at him that he could not throw back with far more force, but he wanted to play with him, to let him taste hope, before he tore it and everything else away.
'Avada Kedavra,' Malfoy tried, but the green beam wavered and faded before it even reached Harry.
'Your intent is as weak as your magic,' Harry noted contemptuously, and, on a whim, he destroyed the throne with shattering it into splinters with a simple flick. Grindelwald's air imbuing spell was horrendously tiring to use for most, though his altered magic allowed him greater freedom with it than most, but it was wonderfully useful against opponents who did not know how it worked.
'Tell me, Draco, do you hope to win, or escape?'
There was a loud clatter that echoed in the Great Hall as Malfoy threw his wand onto the floor, sending it skittering across the stone to rest at Harry's feet.
Neither then, Harry realised.
'Kill me then,' Malfoy said bitterly. 'I have been dead for days, for months, what does it matter, there is no pain you can show me I have not already known. I've felt his Cruciatus already, you cannot match it.'
The tip of Harry's wand twitched up in temptation.
'Would you like me to try?' He offered, stepping onto the surrendered wand with the heel of his right foot, and twisting it, grinding the wand into fragments beneath his weight without ever looking down.
'Go on then,' Malfoy invited, watching the loss of his wand with as much resignation as chagrin, 'do you think I care?'
'Katie would not want me to,' Harry said calmly, watching Malfoy's face for movement. A flicker of relief passed across his features, and through his thoughts, guarded though they were, and that was all the evidence of hope he needed.
'Crucio,' he said cruelly, sending Malfoy sprawling and writhing across the floor, flopping like a dying fish as Harry kept the crackling red beam upon him until his eyes rolled back in his head.
'Katie, however,' he hissed icily, as frost spread across the floor from his feet, 'no longer wants anything.'
'The Dark Lord's is worse,' Malfoy spat weakly through mouthful of blood. He'd bitten his own tongue, and globules of blood and saliva dribbled over his chin to the floor, but he hadn't screamed.
'You're lying,' Harry smirked, reading the reality from his mind, and Malfoy flinched, immediately averting his eyes.
'Legilimency,' he said hollowly, 'you really are his equal aren't you, Potter.'
'I will be his better,' Harry said walking slowly towards Katie's murderer, the fury rising to a cold crescendo, frosty air trailing from the tip of his wand.
'I doubt that,' Malfoy chuckled, 'but I do not care. I hope you all die, Potter, you, Dumbledore, who protects only those he deems pure, and Voldemort,' Harry was surprised to see him say the name so succinctly, 'who, for my father's failures, set me with a choice. Fail and I, Pansy, my father, and my mother would all die, so I could kill Dumbledore, an impossibility, or kill Katie Bell, and die when I succeed.' He shrugged, helpless and bitter. 'At least this way it is only me.'
'And Katie,' Harry reminded him, incensed that he had so callously dismissed the life of his friend.
'She was already dead,' Malfoy told him, 'Voldemort wanted her dead more than he wants Dumbledore gone.'
He wants to know how I will react, Harry surmised, sickened that his friend had died simply because Voldemort was curious. He wants to see if I am truly like him.
'You are wrong either way,' he said, speech distorted by parseltongue, 'it will not just be you.'
'There's nobody else here,' Malfoy told him. 'Take your revenge, Potter, and get it over with, I'll wait in the next world for you all.'
'Not here,' Harry's lips curled into a cruel smirk, 'but Pansy, your parents… It won't just be Dumbledore, Voldemort and myself who you'll be waiting for in the nothingness.'
'No!' Malfoy spat, desperately hurling himself across the last few feet, until Harry's magic caught, encasing his legs in ice. 'Don't touch them!'
'Why should I not?' Harry asked with cold curiosity. 'You took someone I cared about from me, so I will do the same, only I will not leave you alive to retaliate again.'
'Please,' Malfoy said weakly. 'I will beg if I have to.'
'Beg,' Harry ordered him, 'on your knees, Draco, as if I were your master.'
'Please,' Malfoy pleaded, sinking on to the frost covered stonework, 'not my parents, not Pansy, just me,' he said so quietly Harry could hardly, 'let it just be me.'
'Very well,' Harry said evenly, 'I will not harm them.'
'Thank you,' Malfoy said, slightly sarcastic, but still overwhelmingly grateful, 'thank you, Potter.'
The air tightened around him, at Harry's silent command, raising him up into the centre of the hall, and pinning him onto the Slytherin House banner so firmly Harry heard his ribs crack, and his spine crunch.
The boy groaned, but remained conscious.
Good, Harry thought venomously. I want him awake.
'I'm going to send your colleagues a message,' Harry smirked, 'one even the least intelligent of them will understand.'
His magic peeled away Draco's robes, leaving him almost naked, pale and thin. His ribs showed starkly, and his stomach was sunken into his hips beneath them. Harry charmed the familiar emblem of the skull onto the serpent adorned banner behind Malfoy.
'You are all blind,' he spat, the fury no longer contained at all.
A flick of his wand and he ripped Draco's eyes from their sockets, leaving them to dangle by the nerve down against his cheeks. The boy spasmed, but remained silent, sweat soaking his unkempt hair.
'You are all weak.'
Malfoy's arms and legs were splayed against the banner, wrenched from their sockets and bent into the crude points of a star.
'You are all lost. Cadent a latere mortem,' he read aloud, carving each word into the soft, pale skin of Malfoy's chest as if he were drawing runes on the walls. 'Consumed by death.'
This time Malfoy did scream, writhing against the flag, staining the green and silver with dark blood that slowly soaked its way through to drip to the floor.
'This,' Harry whispered ecstatically, levitating the necklace, 'belongs to you.'
The opals glittered in the night sky of the Great Hall, reflecting the false moon and stars as Harry held the necklace an inch above Malfoy's neck.
'Oh, and Draco,' he remarked nonchalantly. 'About not harming Pansy and your parents…'
He felt rather than heard Malfoy's intake of breath.
'I lied,' he finished maliciously, smiling in satisfaction at the perfect fear and outrage on Katie's murderer's ruined face before the necklace draped itself about his neck, coiling tight, and Malfoy's head slumped against his breast.
The boy lay still, swallowed by the emptiness he had condemned Katie to, but the fury did not abate with his demise.
It's not enough, Harry seethed.
The creeping, consuming emptiness of death, by far the worst thing Harry felt he could inflict, seemed insufficient revenge for the pain he suffered at losing Katie.
There are others to take revenge upon, Harry reminded himself, Dumbledore, and Voldemort.
He didn't really care about Malfoy's parents or Pansy Parkinson, they had played no part in Katie's death. He only needed Malfoy to believe it to exact some small measure of revenge.
Speaking of Dumbledore, he mused, driving the fury down within again.
Harry turned, removing the ice with a sweep of his wand, and openly smiling at the scene he had left.
Someone is going to have nightmares as bad as Hermione's, he laughed softly to himself.
Malfoy was left displayed against the flag, his twisted, mutilated form would send a macabre message to anyone who was brave enough to dare consider taking someone he thought precious from him.
They will not be able to condemn me.
The thought came with such utter certainly that he could not even seem to consider the alternative. There seemed little point thinking about such things when he knew exactly what he needed to do to get what he wanted.
'Acid pop,' he told the gargoyle benevolently.
His wrath, so all devouring and consuming just moments ago, seemed like it should be hidden now, and the gentle, yet inexplicable urge to conceal it was too much to ignore.
Felix Felicis, Harry suspected, aware, yet unable to fight or truly quantify its effect.
'You remembered the password, Harry,' Dumbledore beamed, as he stepped into the office.
Fawkes eyed him curiously, then trilled gently, and shifted on his perch, hopping gently to the deskwards side of his seat.
'I did,' Harry agreed evenly, carelessly re-holstering his wand.
'I hope you do not mind if we leave straight away?' Dumbledore asked, draping a horribly patterned green and purple travelling cloak about his shoulders.
'Of course not,' Harry nodded. He was eager to destroy this horcrux, and take one more step towards his goal. There were only a few more afterwards, daunting though they were, and he could almost feel the French sun filtering down through the leaves of willow tree onto his face.
'Would you care for a Sherbet Lemon before we go?' The headmaster offered, passing the bowl.
'Thanks, professor,' Harry selected one, then, gripped by the same odd desire, took a second, conjuring a thin cloth to wrap it in. 'One for later,' he smiled, 'if you don't mind, sir?'
'A splendid idea, my boy,' Dumbledore nodded, replacing the bowl.
Harry stepped around the desk to take the headmaster's proffered arm.
'Where are we going, professor?' He asked.
'The seaside,' Dumbledore said mildly, 'though it is not the best time of year for it.'
'Ah,' Harry nodded, as if that made perfect sense, and slightly leant his weight forwards in preparation for apparating.
There was an almost imperceptible snapping sound, and Harry found himself standing on sand, no more than a few feet from the water's edge, on a clear, crisp beach beneath white, limestone cliffs.
'There is a cave,' the headmaster began, striding swiftly along the scattered seaweed that marked the high tide line, 'that holds particular sentiment to Tom behind this bluff here.'
'Why?' Harry inquired curiously, avoiding the footsteps Dumbledore left upon the sand.
'It is here,' Dumbledore said sadly, 'that Tom took his first step onto a very dark path. I told you that I believed he was mistreated, loathed even, before he came to Hogwarts, and once, maybe, in the beginning, this behaviour was unwarranted, but Tom learnt to retaliate very quickly, and one day, when he and his fellow orphans were taken to this beach, he discovered this place.'
The headmaster stopped suddenly at the edge of a ravine that ran deep back into the limestone, and where the waves rushed violently between the two narrow bluffs.
'He lured two of his fellow orphans in here,' the old wizard continued sadly, 'and while they never spoke of what occurred, they were no longer the same from that day onwards.'
'How did he find it?' Harry asked, peering through the spray, but unable to make out anything that looked like a cave.
'It has grown only harder to reach as time has passed,' Dumbledore noted absently, 'without magic it may now be nearly impossible.'
The old wizard counted his steps from a distinctly misshapen spur of limestone back across the sand towards the crest of the bluff, stopping to stare across the thrashing waves when he reached seventeen.
How to cross?' He wondered aloud. 'I do not think it wise to apparate across to the doorway, for Tom will have created formidable defences to guard this horcrux.'
Harry bent down, and touched the tip of his wand to the water, smiling innocently, and watched as the waves froze, frosted froth flaking and falling onto the twisted mass of ice that now spanned the gap between the two bluffs.
'Professor?' He inquired, stepping carefully onto the ice.
'Not how I would have done it,' Dumbledore said, adjusting his glasses, 'at my age one starts to worry about falling a little more than is necessary, but effective.'
The ice creaked a little under their feet, but held, as Harry had known it would, until they reached the far side.
'Ah,' the headmaster murmured, running his wand over the apparently unmarked cliff face, 'how ingenious.'
A complex, twisting pattern of runes washed across the limestone, bathing them both in purple light.
Harry studied them intently while Dumbledore was preoccupied.
This place is guarded by blood magic, he deduced, and complex wards at that.
The wards were beyond him, Voldemort had clearly mastered this path of magic, but Harry knew more than enough to decipher their meaning. He had seen among Salazar's notes some of the clever traps concealed within the patterns of these runes.
'A sacrifice, I believe,' Dumbledore decided, removing his gloves and baring his palm. 'Crude, but, once again, Tom seeks to weaken any trespasser to make them easier to trap, rather than bar them from entering entirely.'
Harry opened his mouth to tell him that there was far more to the blood magic than a simple, small price for entry, but, once again, the strange urge that that would not be the right thing to do gripped him, and he remained silent.
Dumbledore will discover whatever magical contract he just agreed to for himself.
Harry hoped it would be nothing that would cheat him of his vengeance, or, infinitely more worrying, the resurrection stone upon his finger. If it was lost, he swallowed hard, unable to consider the concept with a clear head.
There is almost nothing that would be worse, he decided hollowly.
'Coming, Harry?' The headmaster asked.
'After you, professor,' Harry said dryly, stepping into the cave at the behest of his strange confidence despite not having made any sacrifice himself.
Perhaps my blood is similar enough to Voldemort's that the magic has not acted against me.
'You are underage,' the headmaster elucidated. 'The wards, blood magic of a level I can not produce myself, even if I am able to interpret the runes, do not affect those whose magic is still changing and developing. Hubris has always been a weakness of Tom's.'
An odd, eerie greenish glow permeated the air, reflected in the mist that hovered over the surface of a vast, black-watered lake, and throwing distorted shadows across the water's dark surface.
'That would appear to be our destination,' Dumbledore remarked, indicating a small island out in the midst of the lake.
'I hope you can swim, professor,' Harry commented amusedly, 'I don't think I will be able to freeze this water.'
Magic permeated the lake, saturating the water and the mist above it so thoroughly that Harry was quite tempted to cast the bubble-head charm. He decided to let Dumbledore go first instead.
'I think this will suffice,' the headmaster smiled gently, tapping the length of chain beside his foot with his wand.
Out of the mist a small, decidedly rotten looking dinghy approached, into which the headmaster cheerfully bounded belying both his age, and the curse that was slowly consuming him. Harry stepped in much more carefully, discreetly checking for enchantments, but, once again, it seemed only Dumbledore was recognised.
He stared into the water instead, running the tip of his wand along its surface.
'Fascinated by your reflection again, Harry?' Dumbledore asked curiously.
'It is not as interesting as some, but far less dangerous' Harry agreed. 'I am glad the mirror is back in the Department of Mysteries.'
'You found it again?' The headmaster peered at him carefully. 'Forgive an old man's curiosity, but did you see your parents again?'
'I saw a thick, woollen pair of socks, professor,' Harry smiled courteously, 'one can never be too careful about the cold,' he added, buoyed by sudden confidence.
'Ah,' Dumbledore looked slightly chastened. 'I do not, despite what I once told you, see myself with a new pair socks, Harry,' he ignored the flat glance that Harry sent his way at the idea that he might actually still believe that, 'I see the things that should have been instead.'
'Oh?' Harry raised an eyebrow.
'My sister, Ariana,' Dumbledore said softly, 'alive, well, restored,' he murmured in a way that made Harry think of the resurrection stone, 'my father, and mother too, with Aberforth, my brother.'
'Your family, sir?'
Did we once see the same thing? Harry wondered, unsure if Dumbledore was telling him the truth, even if the luck potion was pressing him to accept it as such.
'Not just them,' the headmaster admitted, 'I had such grand ambitions as a boy, and they have not completely faded. I still wish to see the world I dreamt of, but know now that there is a long, bloody gulf between realism and idealism.' Dumbledore ran his fingers through his beard, and peered down into the water concernedly. 'Gellert is there too, my partner in ambition, my dearest friend, but he is as he should have been, rather than as he became.'
'Grindelwald,' Harry mused, unsurprised. The books he had found had indicated a certain amount of friendship between the two when they had been young, more, certainly, than was commonly understood.
'You know, I see,' the headmaster sighed. 'We were very young, and believed we were the only ones able to change the world into what it should be. I,' he smiled sadly, 'well I grew up after Ariana was killed, 'but Gellert clung to our dream. He wished to make a perfect world.'
'Wishes like that don't come true,' Harry answered absently, dipping his wand into the water curiously.
'Indeed not,' the headmaster said sagely, 'not for a price worth paying. Some sacrifices, Harry, are too dear to be borne.'
Oh I know, Harry thought viciously, you don't need to tell me that.
'I see my family still' Harry admitted, 'but it is no longer the parents I will never know, but the family I might one day have.'
'You have a wise dream, Harry,' the old wizard smiled gently, 'covetable, but conceivable.'
A pale hand thrust upwards from within the murky depths to flail at his wand, interrupting their conversation and he flinched back into the boat.
'Best not to disturb the water, Harry,' Dumbledore admonished him gently, indicating down with a finger.
Harry looked beneath the keel, and shuddered. There were hundreds of them, rotting, swollen, putrefying and floating in the lake beneath. Bound, no doubt, to its waters, and given the properties Harry had seen of the water, likely immure to much of the magic any trespasser could cast.
'Voldemort doesn't want us to leave, does he?' Harry remarked archly, not at all looking forward to having to fend off the inferi if the lake was disturbed again.
'Tom prefers his treasures remain secret,' the headmaster agreed mildly, stepping onto the island.
It was little more than small circle of stone, and set at its centre, in a basin filled with clear liquid, Harry found the locket Voldemort should have treasured rather than defiled. It was identical to the one that Salazar's portrait had worn, silver, inscribed with a serpentine initial.
His anger flared up anew, but he suppressed it. Now was not the time for fury, not when he needed to be so careful to ensure the horcrux was destroyed.
'I believe,' Dumbledore said, poking the water within the basin with his wand, 'that it has to be drunk, truly intended to be drunk no less, else the liquid will remain in the basin.'
'In one go, professor?' Harry offered, conjuring a glass pitcher, as the old wizard slipped his wand back into his sleeve.
'That might be best,' the headmaster agreed. 'I do not believe it is meant to kill, for Tom might one day need to retrieve his horcrux himself.'
Dumbedlvore dipped the pitcher in, scooping all of the clear potion from the basin in one sweep, and Harry smiled to himself. Now the potion was out, taken by one intending to drink it, he could take the locket whenever he liked, and break the jug to stop the headmaster from actually having to drink whatever Voldemort had left behind.
Soft, glowing purple runes traced their way around the basin's edge, when his fingers brushed against it.
The contract, he realised. To enter is to pledge your magic to emptying the basin in some way.
It was still able to be bypassed by more than one person, Harry realised, shaking his head at Voldemort's mistake. His wards ensured that only a single adult wizard could make their way here in so many ways as to make the alternative impossible, but those under the age of seventeen, or even muggles, might have no trouble at all.
He raised his wand to break the pitcher as Dumbledore raised it to his lips, but the spell caught on the tip of his tongue, restrained by the sudden knowledge that it would be better if it was drunk by the headmaster.
Dumbledore drained the liquid in one smooth motion, then, after blinking once, collapsed to the floor gasping, sobbing, and muttering.
'Ariana,' he heard the wizard whisper, horrified, 'Gellert? Why?'
Not tasty, then, Harry smirked, quite enjoying watching the man indirectly responsible for taking Katie from him writhe around on the edge of the island.
'Water,' the headmaster gasped, flopping to the edge of the island. Then, before Harry could stop him, he ducked his whole head into the lake.
The floating, bloated figures froze, then surged towards the surface, scrambling over each other in their haste to assault those who were trespassing in the cave of their creator.
Harry dragged Dumbledore to his feet, swiftly checking how cognisant the old wizard was, only to find him coherent, but weak.
'Fire, Harry,' the headmaster wheezed, rolling away towards the basin. 'Use, fire.'
The first inferius, swollen, rotting, clad in tattered black robes, under long, lank, coal-black hair, and with half a tarnished, engraved, silver mask encased in the putrefied flesh of his face, was nearly upon them, so Harry cast two spells, just as Dumbledore had said Grindelwald liked to do, one to blast the inferius back, ripping the mask, and half the animated body's face away to reveal oddly familiar features beneath, and the other to clear a path for the boat, which he he pushed Dumbledore none too gently into.
Thrusting his wand towards the plinth he buried the locket in a torrent of white-hearted fiendfyre, watching the silver ornament melt and crack with no small satisfaction. Voldemort's corruption of Salazar's heirloom was at an end.
The blackened, twisted stump of the basin was bared only for a moment before the flames swirled and coalesced into the familiar form of the basilisk. Harry brought it around to encircle the the boat in a searing, steaming ring, incinerating any inferi in its path, cutting an ash-laced swathe through the horde, and destroying any that attempted to hurl themselves through it from the water as they returned towards the distant lake shore.
'Fiendfyre,' Dumbledore realised softly, 'and controlled too well to be your first time at casting.'
'The Triwizard Tournament,' Harry told him, knowing that the headmaster would only deduce it himself if he kept his quiet.
'For the hedges,' Dumbledore realised, relieved. 'It is also capable of destroying a horcrux as you must have hoped.'
As I know, Harry corrected silently.
Harry directed his basilisk into the water of the lake, evaporating fully of half of it, and destroying the remaining inferi before his fiendfyre was extinguished by the magically resistant waters.
'I hoped I would never have to see you cast such spells,' Dumbledore sighed tiredly, 'but we would be dead if you could not.'
I'm sure you didn't, Harry scowled. Martyrs need nothing but their faith.
The fiendfyre had taken a great deal out of him, controlling, directing and sustaining flames hot enough to destroy Voldemort's magic-saturated, water soaked inferi for so long had drained a great portion of his strength, and Dumbledore was looking like he was faring even worse.
Fortunately the door opened at the headmaster's touch, and they both exhaled in relief to leave the confines of the cave for the clear, if cold, winter weather outside.
'I suppose,' Dumbledore said with a touch of wry amusement, 'that this time went better than the last, all things considered. I have yet to touch a cursed artefact, after all.'
Whatever had been holding back Harry's wrath suddenly vanished, and he knew, with sudden, maleficent certainly, exactly what he should do.
Dipping his hand into this pocket he surreptitiously cast the Withering Curse upon the Sherbet Lemon he had saved.
Just another bitter pill from life, professor, he smirked subtly.
'Sherbet Lemon, sir?' Harry offered, extending the re-wrapped sweet in his hand.
'Very kind of you, Harry,' Dumbledore beamed, accepting the sweet gratefully.
He froze the moment the sweet touched his skin.
'Harry?' He asked, voice quavering, as the flesh of his already withered hand tightened, and blackened further, baring bone, and dry, taut sinew to the air. 'Why?' He exhaled, almost pleading.
'Why?' Harry demanded furiously, as the sand, the sky, and the sea froze around them. 'How could you ask that? How dare you ask that!'
He thrust out one hand, fingers half-curled, to summon Dumbledore's wand from his sleeve, and when its wood struck his palm he knew he had won, knew it from the thrill within, and the heady rush of cold, pure power that shivered over him.
'I am not your sacrifice, Dumbledore,' he hissed, 'but I would not have killed you unless I had to for trying to make a martyr of me.'
'Then why, Harry?' The old wizard gasped, flesh paling, as whatever potions he still had in his system fought the curse Harry had cast. His eyes strayed briefly to his wand Harry had taken from him, and he closed his eyes in sorrow.
'Because you let her die,' he retorted in a cold whisper. 'When I asked you about Malfoy you told me not to worry, and Katie died, just so I would have one fewer reasons to live when you needed me to choose to die.'
'Malfoy's target was me,' Dumbledore croaked, 'Katherine was never meant to be harmed, she was a mistake.'
'She was Voldemort's retribution for Bellatrix,' Harry told him cruelly ,'a follower for a follower, he told me when I clashed with him in Diagon Alley. Malfoy was never targeting you.'
'You killed Bellatrix,' the headmaster gasped, paling further.
'She deserved no less,' Harry said callously. 'Or are you going to tell me that we should have sent her to Azkaban again, so she might escape, and harm more, acting so noble all the time while very year, every single, sickening year you sought to destroy your unwanted, accidental horcrux however you could, until you decided you could use him better.'
Harry bent and ripped the ring from Dumbledore's finger, slipping it onto his own hand.
'But that's just the start,' he smiled, unable to sate his fury now he had finally stepped from the shadows. 'I wanted this,' he tapped the stone, 'so I can see them both again,' he explained wistfully.
'You knew,' Dumbledore realised, rolling over onto his stomach, as creeping, dark veins spread over his arms, and neck.
'About both horcruxes and hallows long before you told me anything,' Harry spat. 'You let Katie die, threw away the lives of those who follow you, and would have sent me blindly to my end, to the utter nothingness of death, to the emptiness… And I will not be that again,' he swore fervently, 'never!'
'You… don't understand,' the headmaster murmured, tears shining in his beard. 'You have to die, or else Tom never can, so I had to get you die, I arranged everything.'
'Oh I understand,' Harry hissed, thrusting the old wizard's wand into his own sleeve, ignoring the brilliant white sparks that leapt from its tip at his touch. 'You would have had me throw away my life for the meaningless existences of those who have never given anything for me.'
'Thirteen years of planning,' Dumbledore whispered hoarsely, shaking his head in despair, 'every time I set you against Tom to make him believe that you were his greatest enemy, hardened my heart and put in you in harm's way when I would have give anything not to, just so he would one day decide to take your blood for the ritual that would be his only chance at restoration once Nicholas' stone was gone.'
'My blood?' The confession had become confusing, and Harry's bemusement penetrated the cold haze of anger.
'By taking your blood, and the protection upon it, he has ensured that the both of you are shielded from the actions of the other,' the headmaster wheezed. The blackened veins had spread across his face and into his eyes, flecks of blood spattered at his lips as he strained against the spell to speak. 'Your sacrifice for others would have been enough to destroy him, just as your mother's would have done when no horcruxes remained, and because he took your blood you would have lived, Harry, but you could not know, because you had to truly intend to die to survive.'
Thirteen years of planning.
Harry's blood ran cold, and not with rage.
He always intended for everyone else to live, right until the very end.
'Now it is all lost,' Dumbledore muttered, soft, fat tears rolling into the sand. 'You are lost, treading the same dark path that Tom did, Severus is gone, so many of those I wished to save are gone.'
'Snape is alive,' Harry said quietly, able to offer only that slight comfort, for it seemed everything else he had said was true. 'I removed him because he was in my way, but I set him free from his oaths to either master by letting you all believe he was dead.'
Something desperate flickered in Dumbledore's eyes, something hopeful. He opened his mouth, wheezing, and breathing faster as the curse crept up his neck, and his shoulders withered back to the bone.
'That would have made your parents proud,' he croaked, his glasses slipping from his face, snapping from the bridge of his nose to fall in two separate pieces to the ground.
'My parents were naive,' Harry said softly, 'they would not understand me.'
'They died for the one who they loved most,' Dumbledore gasped, 'and for the one who loved them most, there can be no greater understanding than that.'
Perhaps, Harry conceded, as the curse wrapped itself around Dumbledore's throat, cutting off any attempt at speech.
'I am sorry,' he said helplessly, eyes burning, chest swirling with indecipherable emotion, the ice around him collapsed, crumbling and melting away.
Dumbledore's head moved slightly from side to side, his lips crooked in a gentle smile, forgiving, even at the end, and, without wand, or words, in brilliant white flames, he etched the Peverell's sigil into the air between them, splitting the symbol into three separate pieces.
The triangle that represented the cloak framed a slender, proud stag whose meaning was obvious, the stone, remained a simple circle, for they both knew where it resided, but the line for the wand had altered too, and there, in flickering flame upon the air, was a perfect representation of the wand Harry now had tucked within his sleeve.
He stared incredulously at Dumbledore, who could only gaze back at him with bright, electric blue eyes full of emotion, and in that instant of eye contact he felt something touch his thoughts, a faint, fleeting impression, too slight and subtle to last any longer, but Harry thought he understood all the same.
The old wizard still had hope for him.
Harry could see the the sentiment burning in those blue eyes, but it only lasted for a moment, for the fire faded all too swiftly, and with it went Albus Dumbledore.
AN: Please read and review, thanks to everyone who does! Hopefully this chapter wasn't overhyped either.
P.S. Note on Felix Felicis - Because I don't want it to be any more ridiculously overpowered than it already is, and then inexplicably never used at a more important plot point like in canon, I am limiting the effectiveness of the potion by making its objectives subjective. So, in this chapter, Harry wants his revenge on Malfoy, and the potion gives him a nudge in the right direction to achieve that, however, it would have the same effect regardless of whether Malfoy was innocent or not, because the 'optimal scenario' the potion is helping to create is based off of Harry's belief Malfoy is guilty. I am unsure whether this is canon compliant, given all the lucky things that happen to Harry already seem to fit the method I have chosen.