He appeared with a loud crack and the intent to commit a murder. A swirl of displaced snow, disturbed by his arrival, fluttered around him, bouncing across his thick coat and kissing painfully off the few patches of exposed flesh as they fell to the ground. The freezing wind immediately cut through the layers of robes and stung his skin, but he bore it calmly with single-minded stubbornness.
He made a quick check of a map before folding back into his thick robes, and started forward, each step a struggle against the thick snow drifts and driving winds. The elements beat back at him as he trudged, trying their best to keep him away, but slowly, inch by hard-won inch, a looming structure slid out of the gloom, its sharp steeple cutting up into the clouds. A thin wooden wand slipped into his hand, and he twirled it unconsciously in the same pattern he had a thousand times before. A ritual born from years of battle—and the only visible signs of nervousness.
The warm orange light shining from the approaching windows slowly filtered through the snowy wind and the sight of the lonely monastery revealed itself. Its glow crept out from the ornate window panes along the face of the monastery and bathed the entrance in a welcoming aura that he knew was deceiving. He would find no hospitality here tonight.
The entrance was barred by a large wooden door, hanging slightly crooked in its frame. A hand that shone oddly in the flickering light stretched out from beneath his thick robes and brushed along the door, where it was blackened in a starburst pattern. Cold metal pushed against wood. With a slight creak, the door swung forward on cracked hinges, bathing him in a wave of warmth. A sigh escaped as the chill seeped out of his body.
He shrugged his thick coat off, letting it drop into the small puddle that had formed under his feet on the stone tiles. The robes beneath were battered and dirty, the long chase leaving its marks all over them. Scars stitched their way across his face in twisting patterns, framing a pair of tired, green eyes, and disappeared up into his unevenly short hair—clearly a makeshift self-given trim.
He surveyed the hall cautiously, slowly massaging the blood back into his hands. It was empty besides him, no sign of occupants besides the candles burning merrily along the walls, and the lack of dust adorning the ground. The door on the far side of the hall swung open with a gentle creak and a man in the somber robes of priesthood entered. He was middle aged and balding, possessing the lean body and demure posture of the monastics, and he approached with a friendly smile, holding his hands out in greeting.
"Hello my friend, and welcome to this holy place. May I take your coat, or fetch some tea to warm you up?" He continued walking forward as he spoke, beatific smile fixed firmly on his face.
The visitor straightened his posture and turned to the priest with a bittersweet smile. "That would be lovely, thank you."
"Of course, of course. May I know the purpose of your visit, Mr—?"
"Harry; Harry Potter. I'm here for an old acquaintance of mine. I've been looking for him for a very long time."
"An old friend?"
Harry smiled at him, something cold in his expression.
"Perhaps you know him as Tom? Rather tall fellow, pale, bit of a temper, and a flair for theatrics? Sound familiar?" The priest's face went slack for a second before lighting back up in a smile. Up close Harry could see the glaze over his eyes.
"Yes, of course, of course, please, follow me," the priest muttered as he reached for the Harry's arm. His grip tightened around Harry's wrist and tugged him forwards. Harry rotated his body sharply to the side as a small knife, clearly pilfered from a kitchen, sliced through the air where his heart used to be. The priest's manic smile dimmed slightly as he rebalanced himself.
"Please sir, don't be difficult." A jet of red light caught him in the face in response. Harry grabbed the priest as he fell, and dropped him onto one of the benches lining the entry hall so that he slumped back against the wall. Cautiously, Harry bent over him, wand outstretched, and prodded his body with a muttered incantation. The man lay still, offering no response. Harry offered a quick bowing of the head in apology.
"Sorry my friend."
Harry's attention was pulled back to the door at the end of the hall—the priest had left it slightly ajar and the small gap flickered with an eerie green light from the room beyond.
It was a gruesome sight—the sort he was depressingly familiar with. The floor slats were hidden beneath a mound of robed bodies, sprawled unceremoniously on top of each other. He grimaced as a wave of decaying stench rushed into his nostrils, the sickly sweet smell making his stomach churn unpleasantly. A glowing skull floated menacingly above the room, illuminating the waxen faces of the corpses with its sinister light.
As he stepped forward a gaunt hand grasped at the hem of his robes, nearly unbalancing him. Bloodless, pallid skin, stretched tight over bone, leered up at him from the ground, as the cadaver tried to pull him down. He quickly jabbed his wand into the corpse's gaping mouth and fired a blasting spell. The skull burst with a dull pop, showering the ground with chunks of brain matter. The sound roused the other bodies in the room, prompting them to struggle to their feet in eerie synchronization.
He watched them patiently. Harry's fear had long ago been replaced by a sense of pity. Destruction was a mercy for these abominations.
He unleashed a silent bombarda at the ground in front of the tide of bodies. The wooden floor exploded in a shower of splintered planks, sending the front runners flying back, and trampled underfoot as their brethren surged forward. An inferi clambered over the boundary of the splintered floor, and a cutting curse slammed into its neck, severing its head completely in a bloody spray.
They were horrifying creations, abhorrent violations of the human soul. But hardly durable.
His next curse detonated and dowsed its targets in roiling flames, quickly catching on their desiccated skin and igniting. The room was filled with the acrid smell of burning flesh as the corpses writhed violently in the flames. The remaining horde stumbled back, flinging themselves back against the far wall, trying to hide from the heat as their brethren collapsed into smoldering heaps.
Heavy chains snaked out of the wall, mottled wood half-transfigured into steel, and wrapped around the insensate creatures, restraining them. Harry didn't hesitate a second, his wand flashing, over and over again, with streaks of venomous light.
He stalked through the scorched doorway into the main hall of the monastery and was greeted by a familiar figure.
"Hello Tom. I've come to kill you."
The distant figure responded with a streak of green light that splashed harmlessly against Harry's chest. The tendrils of power swirled against him for a second before dissipating harmlessly. Just as they always did. For the last 20 odd years.
"Potter." The word escaped as a sibilant whisper, echoing oddly throughout the open chamber, sounding more like a curse than a name. For Lord Voldemort, it likely was.
Harry's return spell leaped across the room with a piercing crackle, a twisting band of radiance. It hit the tip of Voldemort's wand and dissipated, the energy behind it blowing backwards in a rush of hot air, as it coalesced down into a gleaming bead poised delicately on the edge of the wand.
"Careful, Potter, that could've done something you'd regret," Voldemort said, indicating somewhere behind him.
Harry narrowed his eyes.
The sound of muted scraping caught Harry's ears. He stepped to the side, slowly edging around a pew to look past where Voldemort was blocking his sight. Two people, muggles judging by their clothing, lay bound behind the altar, painful looking wire tying them to a podium, upon which a mound of some white, dough-looking, substance laid. A man and woman; one of whom he recognized. A young fieldhand in a village he'd passed through while following Voldemort's trail. There had been posters with his face on it.
Anthony Vicars. Harry had hoped not to find him. But he wasn't surprised.
"You managed to escape Bella, then?" Voldemort said slowly.
"She went the way of the rest of your followers," Harry said. His face was set in a stoic mask as he stared back, unafraid, into the eyes of one of the most dangerous wizards to ever live. "You're the only one left."
The expected anger never came. Instead, Voldemort was uncharacteristically silent for a moment as he looked at Harry. The pair sized each other up from across the room. They had been in this same scenario countless times before, the setting always different, the allies around them varied, but the result always the same—neither could manage to kill the other. But now, in this remote little monastery, it felt like something was finally going to give.
Harry noticed with a start that the glowing remnant of his spell was still stuck to the tip of Voldemort's wand, like a drop of dew on a blade of grass. Voldemort saw his gaze and a gleeful smile twisted across his cruel features.
He shoved his wand, spell still attached, deep into the mass sitting on the podium. It sunk in with barely any resistance. The wand pulled back out, no longer lit, and flickered through the air in front of Voldemort, fast as lightning, deflecting a curse a foot from removing his head. It casually swatted another into the ceiling above. Harry snarled and unleashed a flurry of spells towards the podium. They all splashed ineffectually across an invisible barrier.
Harry watched as the 'dough' shifted, turning into a stream of clay sludge, that slowly slipped off the pew and coiled on the ground. The two muggles groaned as their bonds tugged at them. It rose and twisted in the air as if being shaped by the invisible hands of a giant, its slightly roiling texture spilling down on itself before surging back up into the pulsing mass.
It was already half-formed into a humanoid shape, and the clay continued swirling as its features become increasingly defined. Harry stared in mounting horror as the shape slowly revealed itself. Black hair sprouted out from the top of the clay figure and curled around a familiar green-eyed face. Skinny tendrils of clay slowly extended from around its eyes and hardened into shining metal, a lightning bolt pattern carving itself onto the homunculus's forehead.
"You've been a terrible thorn in my side your whole life, boy, and for a while I almost despaired that I would never be rid of you. But now, our little war is coming to an end."
Harry renewed his efforts with vicious ferocity, curses pouring from his wand in a deluge of multicolored lights, filling the air with the acrid smell of burning ozone as they pounded relentlessly into Voldemort's protections. He could see a small crack start to form, the invisible wall starting to waver, as spell after spell slammed into it, detonating in thunderclaps of magical backlash that washed over the room in a tide of coruscating motes.
Voldemort took a step back. The strain was visible on his face, with an uncharacteristic look of concern as he tried to fend off Harry's onslaught. He'd learned long ago that offense was pointless for him in their conflicts.
Harry gritted his teeth, and pushed even harder. His wand became a blur in front of him, flashes of every color light, charms, curses, transfigurations, whatever he could think of, tearing out of it. It burned red-hot in his hand, overheating from the sheer amount of magic he was pushing through it.
Voldemort took another step back. And then another.
A surge of exhilaration coursed through Harry's body. He could do this. He could win.
He met Voldemort's furious gaze; red eyes pulsed with madness. And then all Harry knew was pain, white-hot agony coursing through his mind, radiating outwards in vicious waves from the scar on his forehead. He could feel Voldemort's mind, a wounded titan, thrashing with all its might, rampaging though his mind with reckless abandon, desperate to cause whatever damage it could. The monastery interior turned into a blur, the pain too strong to maintain control of his senses.
It had been years since he'd felt something like this—back before Harry had learned to use the connection for his own advantage. He hadn't even felt Voldemort re-open it. His own mental attack slammed into Voldemort, tunneling through their shared connection, well inside Voldemort's defenses, and tore into it with single-minded determination. Memories floated through his mind, images, names, almost too fast to process.
An old book, its pages yellowed and stained, a diagram of a statue. Bowed robed figures were etched into the borders, scarlet red lines connecting them. An inscription. Herpo the Foul.
And then the images were gone, vanishing, as Voldemort retreated, the icy tendrils of his mind slinking back out of Harry's. Harry blinked, trying to return to his senses. Across the hall he could see the blurry form of Voldemort, leaning against the alter.
Harry tried to bring his wand to bear but his arm rebelled against his wishes, swinging sluggishly in the direction of Voldemort. He stared in horror as his hand moved slower and slower, before completely locking in place. He tried to stumble backwards but his legs proved just as unresponsive, leaving him trapped in place. Harry started thrashing in panic, desperate to free himself, but his body only responded by stiffening further.
Voldemort laughed; a croaking sound, abrasive to the ear.
"After so long I've finally done it. But of course, that is only inevitable, no wizard could oppose Lord Voldemort forever. Even one of your remarkable—persistence." Voldemort strode across the room, his face still twisted into a gruesome smile.
"H–how?" Harry squeezed out through gritted teeth.
"Your mother's protections are still in place of course, as much as it pains me to admit, my curses remain just as ineffectual as ever. Against this magic however—you're defenseless. I'm almost ashamed I didn't think of it before."
"Herpo," Harry growled.
"Why, yes," Voldemort leered as he drew close. "Not his own creation, mind you, but it was his writings that led me to it. His downfall. The wizards of that times' answer for an unkillable wizard. Quite elegant, really. And just sitting right here, amongst all these muggles."
He looked down at Harry. "All it took was a bit of blood, and your own magic. A small price to pay."
Harry had already seen. The slumped bodies of the two muggles, draped across the floor behind the clay golem.
Voldemort drew a serrated dagger from his robes. He slid the knife under Harry's chin, careful to avoid skin contact. His face leaned forward, mere inches away.
"How utterly satisfying it would be to slit your throat right now, like a filthy muggle, and watch as you drown in your own blood at my feet. Oh, how sweet that would taste," Voldemort hissed, "There are very few sights left in the world that would give me greater joy."
Harry screamed in his throat, a warbling cry of defiance that couldn't escape his body as Voldemort put his entire weight behind the dagger and shoved it into his neck. He tensed, waiting expectantly for the feeling of his life draining out through his ravaged throat. When nothing happened, he looked up to see Voldemort glaring in disgust at the melted dagger in his hand. Voldemort fixed his glare back on Harry, but the light of insanity had already fled, leaving them a dull burgundy.
"I despise your mudblood mother more every day," he spat. "Sometimes I think I hate her even more than you."
Harry felt one of his fingers twitch. He could feel it, beneath his skin; the burning power of his mother's sacrifice coursing through his veins, scouring any traces of Voldemort away. It was delayed, and weakened, but he could feel it: Voldemort's influence over the curse had been detected. And it was being eaten away.
As Voldemort turned around, stalking back to the alter, Harry felt another finger move, curling back up to his palm. Voldemort stopped suddenly, his back going straight. Harry followed his gaze and landed on the bizarre clay simulacrum. Harry's whole hand twitched this time, jerking out of its palsied state with a violent shake, and as he watched, a fleck of clay broke off the golem and dropped to the ground, joining a few other shavings.
"No," Voldemort hissed.
Harry flexed his hand, reveling in the feeling of the muscles responding promptly.
The other hand started moving now. More chips of clay broke off, the clay figure starting to sag as it broke apart.
"NO!" Riddle roared, whirling around towards Harry.
He stepped forward and pulled a familiar blood-red stone from his pockets. The tiny little thing that had started this whole last decade of fighting. Voldemort's eyes rolled in their sockets, gleaming with madness. "You will not escape this time," he snarled, "I cannot be denied again—I will not."
He brought his wand down on the Philosopher's stone with a sharp crack. The stone was enveloped in a ruby red flash, before shattering into thousands of tiny shards.
Voldemort swished his wand so fast the air screamed in its passing, carving complex patterns into the air. The shards of the stone lifted into the air and swirled around him, caught in a nonexistent current, as he layered enchantment after enchantment on them. Harry could only stare in horror as the swirling cloud swelled around Voldemort, pulsing in time with the rapid incantations spilling from his pale lips.
The room was slowly suffused in a blinding red glow as the cloud grew in luminescence, till it shone like a dying sun. Voldemort's face was thrown into sharp relief by the glowing shards, his already inhuman features twisted into something even more monstrous.
Harry struggled furiously at the enchantment holding him, the clay golem deteriorating rapidly, crumbling to the floor; but it wasn't fast enough. His legs were still rooted in place, the weight of his arms too much to raise his wand.
"At last," Voldemort crowed as he finished his manic orchestration. "It worked!"
The radiant storm stopped its cavorting dance around Voldemort and streamed forward towards Harry. The cascading shards washed over his body, burning deep into his skin wherever they touched. An agonized scream ripped its way out through his clenched jaw. It had gotten past his mother's sacrifice.
He writhed in pain as the shards slowly dug through his clothes and buried themselves into his chest, the nerves along each appendage screaming in one last anthem of trauma before they shut off completely. His screams slowly quieted as the pain receded and he glared at his enemy through teary eyes.
"Goodbye Harry Potter. I have won."
With one last wave of pain, and a flash of light, Harry was thrown out of existence.