Voldemort seems unhinged, pacing, his voice holding none of the smooth contained fury he usually has, instead he speaks in stops and starts, shouting and muttering in turns, a fire burning too quickly through fuel. The scariest thing about him was the malevolent intelligence in his gleaming eyes, even as a bodiless spirit speaking out of the back of another man's head, it was there, something calculating.
But he doesn't seem to be calculating right now. He doesn't seem capable of it.
Harry can't help but think of the terror he felt when his own killing curse blew up in face, the white light he didn't understand coating his world, and then nothing but pain and terror. He thinks of the panic and fear in his eyes as Harry killed off the last part of that bit of soul.
He knows. He knows he's mortal. He can feel the only remaining withered and bleeding stump of his own soul, and it calls and pleads for death, to follow the rest, as if one part of the soul leaves, the rest can only want to follow.
Voldemort is terrified, because he pleads for death, but fears it above all else.
Harry can't believe this man has done this to himself.
Everything has moved very fast. After Hermione destroyed three of the Horcruxes, the room rapidly filled with people; Dean, Fred and George, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, more and more keep pouring through. Remus comes, says that Tonks couldn't come because she's pregnant, and there was a brief moment of excitement, and clapping of backs, and congratulations. He was asked to be godfather, he wants to be. The whole world lays out before him, a life full of meaning. He has to win.
And Voldemort comes, his voice hissing painfully into their ears. He just wants Harry, there's no reason to bring everyone else into this. Come out to the Forbidden Forest.
Harry ignores this. He asks for help and readily receives it. Ron pauses for a second, asks the room for anything that might be of use. The room supplies them with potions for luck, healing potions, ruins they aren't sure the use of, and the Sorting Hat.
McGonagall subdues Snape in a brief duel. The other professors organise to keep the students safe, the older ones who want to fight are allowed.
And they move as a group out to the forest.
Voldemort monologues, it doesn't entirely make sense. It seems like he's trying to be persuasive, but there's something wrong, off, like watching a usually steady hand draw a disjointed and shaky line.
Nevilles suddenly gasps, pulls a sword out of the Hat that he's carried down. There's a pause, a brief silence, and then he walks forward, brings the sword down with a strange ease, as though he's always done this, and lobs Nagini's head clear off.
Voldemort strikes him down with some strange spell that leaves Neville screaming and screaming on the cold winter ground. It looks like his skin is slowly peeling off.
Chaos ensues. Hermione ducks down, pulls out one of the potions the room gave them, spells are benign shouted out, a tree lights on fire.
And here Harry stands, battle waging around them, spells going fast. And Voldemort knows that this is it.
It's all clear to him now. He doesn't need to do anything. He just watches with passive eyes as Voldemort screams and mutters, curses and scoffs. Eventually he stops, only a couple of meters away. He looks calmer now.
"I'm going to kill you, Harry Potter. Do you have any last words to say?"
Harry sighs. He knows it's pointless, but that feeling, that endless cold of nothing that Voldemort has subjected himself to pulls at him, a memory he can't quite shake. He wouldn't wish it on anyone.
"Try for some remorse, Tom Riddle. Just try. It doesn't need to be perfect, even the attempt is enough, you moron. You unending idiot. Just try, if there is anything in there that can, just pull for it. It's all you can do."
He expects Voldemort to scoff. But he doesn't. He blinks slowly at him. There's something like fear there, a moment of understanding. But then it's gone. Instead he smirks, and Harry knows it's too late, there is no more Tom Riddle, there is only Voldemort. "I will figure out a new way. But there is nothing left for you, Harry Potter. No more mother's to die for you. No more little tricks of better wizards to protect you. You will die, and I will live on."
Tom Riddle was a person. A twisted, vile person, but a person. Voldemort is not. He is a Horcrux now.
And so he raises his wand to Harry's forehead, and spits out the Killing Curse, the only thing he knows, seeking the familiar sense of power, because he is a Horcrux, and all Horcuxes can do is loop.
He doesn't have that power anymore. His own incompleteness is nothing in comparison to Harry's wholeness. His bleeding soul has nothing to even reach out to anymore, even just distant suffering of the other pieces of souls locked away in unnatural bodies. It longs for death.
And the killing curse washes over him, a cold light, a shiver in the night, but it curls back onto itself, a fog retreating back from the water's edge in the early dawn light.
And then it wraps around Voldemort, a strange emerald fog, a small storm with little green lighting shooting all through it.
Harry, not for the first time, watches as Voldemort's eyes fill with horror and pain. And there is nothing.
He's body drops to the forest floor, a marionette with its strings cut, his limbs at unnatural angles, he's bent over himself strangely. It's not very dignified. It is, in it's odd way, the most human Harry's ever seen him.
He waits, and the battle slows, then stops, around him. Soon there's nothing but silence and the crackling sound of the tree on fire.
It makes him think of the time he got in trouble for shoving another student off the climbing frame in primary. He was eight, maybe nine years old. The boy was named Ben, and at first he was really nice to Harry. He was new and just seemed very nervous to make friends. But he figured out pretty quickly that Harry was the wrong person to talk to for that aim. Dudley informed Ben of Harry's status as the smelly loser none of them talked to.
Ben quickly realised that he could much more easily make friends by being mean to Harry.
After Dudley, he soon became Harry's biggest bully. He would happily tell Dudley and his friends where Harry was hiding, as they were in the same class. Sometimes he was even allowed to join in on the privilege of Harry Hunting. Sometimes he would try to gain points by making it his own sport.
But the thing was, Ben had asthma and Harry was a very fast runner. Harry could see how Ben's chasing after him was affecting his health. He would wheeze and cough sometimes. Sometimes he looked faint. Harry just wanted to tell him to give it up. That Ben was never going to be accepted by Dudley and his gang no matter how much he tried to beat Harry up.
One chilly day, he was at it again. Harry stopped sprinting at some point, and was sort of going at a jog. He could hear Ben gasping some distance behind him. He yelled back at him to stop running after him and take a break.
Piers heard this and laughed, shouted at Ben to use the inhaler his mummy gave him.
This just made Ben run harder. Harry sighed, ran over the climbing frame, going right to the top. He looked down, watching as Ben caught up. His breathing did sound really bad. He looked very pale as he stared meanly up at Harry and started to try and climb up.
"I don't think you should be doing that. Just stay down there."
"Shut. Up. You-" He shakes his head, takes huge gulping breaths, "You. S-Smelly. Prig."
Harry watches as Ben climbs up, his breathing sounding worse and worse. He reaches out to grab his shoulder just as Ben's eyes roll and he goes limp.
Looking back on it, he only fell maybe a little more than a meter. But at the time it looked like he had been sent flying from a cliff. He could only stare as he landed with a firm thud, making terrible wheezing sounds. A teacher ran over, a crowd of children formed. They told them that Harry had pushed him off.
The school called the Dursleys. He didn't leave the cupboard or eat all weekend.
People had been angry that time, this time he thinks that the reaction will be rather more happy. But the fact remains, it certainly looks like he did something, but in fact had not.
Voldemort had killed himself in a way that only Voldemort could.
He hears shrieking. It's Bellatrix. She raises his wand to him. But Mrs. Weasley strikes her down at once. Then a lot happens, again, very quickly. Immediately the Death Eaters start apparating away in huge droves. Some stand confused, pulling off masks and blinking into the dying light of the day, having no idea how they got there. Others continue to fight, but are quickly brought down.
Everyone gathers around him, there's cheering and hugging, and people asking if everyone is alright. Hermione's there, and Ron, he pulls them both close and whispers, "What a long day, huh?"
They laugh, a light sound that seems to lift up above them, something good and easy, and for a second everything is perfect.
That feeling doesn't last. Everyone isn't alright. Neville, Lavender, Mr. Weasley, and Remus are all dead. The Ministry is in shambles. People are waking from the Imperius curse. There are still desperate displaced Muggleborn witches and wizards lining the streets of Diagon Alley.
Everything is a mess, new, terrible pain mixes with old hurts, and in the bright light of the following days the wounds that inflect the wizarding world are clear and brutal. There is much cleaning to do, healing to start, work to be done.
But Harry knows, in his bones, that the only thing to do is move forward, unflinching, and try.
Harry wakes up, the glare from the Order of Merlin bouncing off the light coming in through the gapes of the curtain and shining directly into his eyes. He stares at it, frowning. He stretches, gets up, and scratching at the back of his neck looks at it. It's mixed in with a lot of other junk that used to be in the bottom desk drawer, some empty potion vials, a dried out pot of ink, a perfectly good looking quill he forgot he had, some owl pellets.
"Oh good, you're up." Hermione's wearing jeans and one of his old t-shirts, her hair up in a very loose bun. "I thought you were going to sleep forever. I figure it was time to do a spot of spring cleaning. Would you help?"
Harry rubes at his eyes and blinks at her. He kind of grunts in agreement. She grins at him, comes in close and kisses the corner of his mouth. "You're very cute when you're just waking up."
He gives her a happy sounding sort of grunt and grins at her laugh as he goes downstairs to have some coffee, still just in his pants.
He's sipping it, just starting to feel like a thinking person again when the fire turns green and Ron pops out, takes one look at him and winces, closing his eyes. "C'mon mate, put some trousers on."
"I'm not the one just flooing into other people's houses. You'd think you'd have learned your lesson that one time you came in here and Hermione and I were-"
"Arg, shut up. I almost burnt that memory entirely from my brain and you had to bring it up again."
"Do a curtsy call first, then, you twit."
Ron shakes his head, then looks over at him, getting over Harry's lack of dress in light of more important things. "Tell me it's not true."
"What's not true?"
"What the newspapers are saying."
"You're going to need to be a little more straightforward than that mate. I mean, the other day a reporter said that I had soup and a sandwich for lunch at the new place where Fortescue's was. Which is true. It was alright, I'd eat there again, but probably not go out of my way or anything. But there was another article saying that I was working on a conspiracy to take over the Ministry with the Goblins, which isn't true, seeing as I'm pretty sure the Goblins still want to murder me for that whole flying a dragon through their ceiling thing."
"They're saying that you're going to quit Quidditch."
Harry frowns down into his coffee, takes a sip, and mutters. "How did they hear about that already?"
"What? So it's true? Why didn't you tell me? Why'd I have to learn from the newspaper, you prat?"
Harry sighs, looks over at Ron's indignant face. "I only decided yesterday, after the contract renewal meeting."
Ron sits down at the table, incredulous now. "Did they give you bad terms?"
Harry pours him a glass as well and sits too. "Of course not. But the schedule is more of the same, and, I don't know, I just want to be home more. I mean, part of why I left the Aurors is because they were just all commitment all the time."
"Why'd you want to be home more? I mean Hermione-"
"Oh. Hello Ron. No courtesy call again I see. At least this time we weren't-"
"Ahhhh, Ah, ah. Stop. Just stop. I just had to hear it for myself."
Hermione walks around the edge of the table, pours herself a glass of water and sits down next Harry. "Hear what?"
"If my best mate, my brother in all but blood, has betrayed me and the rest of this United Kingdom."
She pauses, looks over at Harry with raised eyebrows. "How do they already know that you've quit?"
Harry shrugs. "Must have leaked somehow. I hope someone at least got a nice pay off for it."
Ron makes a choking sound. "That's not what's important-"
"You're right, my private information being sold off to the highest bitter is very boring-"
"What's important is, how could you? They're the best team in the league because of you, what are they going to do now? Why have you forsaken us?"
Harry rolls his eyes to the ceiling. "As I was saying, the schedule is just too crazy, just like it was with the aurors. I hardly get to see Teddy, and Hermione's always so busy sometimes we don't get to say more than Good Morning or Goodnight on any given day."
Ron flops his head dramatically onto his arms. "What's that matter when victory in Quidditch is at stake."
Hermione reaches forward and flicks Ron on the head.
He grumbles, rubbing at the spot.
"Plus, I'm getting old."
Ron blinks at him. "What? You're not even thirty yet."
"Thirty might as well be a grandfather in Quidditch years."
"Not for seekers." He shrugs.
Harry slaps his hand on the table. "Why does everyone think that? Just because I'm not getting tackled off of my broom by other chaser all the time doesn't mean that it hasn't been a solid five years of being hit by bludgers every other day. I'm old now Ron. "
"There are plenty of older seekers-"
"My wrist made a cracking sound when I picked up a book the other day-"
"Barnaby is nearing forty, even-"
"It wasn't even a hardcover. And Barnaby isn't nearing forty! He's only twenty seven-"
"What? No way!"
"Yeah, poor fellow just gets really stressed out with pressure, it makes him look older-"
"Point is, you got lots of life left in you-"
"I groan when I stand up now, it's ridiculous. Besides, I'm ready to move on."
Ron stares at him for a long moment, then twirls his coffee while pouting. "Fine. Alright. Go ahead, live your life, be happy, whatever."
Harry grins at him. "Cheers."
"What are you going to do now, then?" Ron looks like he's getting over it, though the question comes out a touch snarky still.
Harry glances at Hermione, who gives him an encouraging smile. "I'm, I'm actually considering teaching Defense over at Hogwarts."
Ron's eyebrows raise in surprise, but then he starts nodding. "Makes sense, really."
"Really?" Harry felt like people were going to think that this was coming from out of nowhere.
"Yeah, I mean, you're obviously qualified, what with you being an auror for seven years, and the whole defeating Voldemort thing-
"Didn't defeat him-"
"Plus you were really good at teaching with the DA, really patient, kept things interesting. I mean, I'll never forgive you for betraying the sport of Quidditch like this, but it does seem like a really good move."
"Thank you for your blessing, it means a lot Ron."
"Shove off. I need to head off, I have to break the news to Fred and George. I'd watch yourself for a while around them, I have a feeling they'll not be pleased."
"I'll see you two for the family dinner Sunday, right?"
"Of course, are you bringing the dessert this time or are we supposed to?" Hermione puts her glass in the sink, talking to him over her shoulder.
Ron frowns, staring down at the pot of floo powder and thinking. "I think it's your turn."
Hermione grins, nodding, and they wave as he spins away.
She turns to look at him. "It's definitely his turn, but I figured I'd bring it up just to make him feel guilty for foisting it off on to us again, the lazy git."
Harry smiles at her, pulling her closer. "Do you think I'm making a mistake?"
Hermione kisses him on the lips, sweetly, briefly. Sometimes he's a little startled at how nice it is still, like he's still seventeen and understanding what kissing is all about for the first time.
He rests his head on her shoulder, and breaths deep.
Her voice is soft above him, her lips close to his ear. "Of course I don't think it's a mistake."
"But what if I miss Quidditch?"
"Then we'll see about getting you back into it. But I don't think you will. Maybe sometimes you'll miss it, the way you missed some parts about being an Auror, but were definitely happier playing Quidditch. I know I'm happier in Magical Law Enforcement now that I've worked on Elf's rights in the Magical Creatures department. Life is a journey."
Harry hums into her neck and closes his eyes. He thinks about things that have changed, the fame that's reached a different level, getting closer with Tonks and Teddy, the grief that lingers over the Weasley household, his careers, how his and Hermione's relationship has deepen and grew, how he walks around with it, that knowledge that he has a person on his side, really family, wherever he goes. Whatever shape his life is taking, however it changes, however dark moments get, he knows his life, every panel of it, is colored and shaded with love.
And that's enough.
A/N: Hey. You know, to anyone who has been, or is currently, stuck in any kind of loop with themselves, just know that I really do think it takes an incredible amount of courage to process, to have those conversations with yourself, to understand what's gotten you stuck to begin with. Facing that fear, whatever it is, however it's taking shape in you, is the bravest thing I can think of. None of us are Voldemort, no matter whatever things we have done, and we can walk through it, however long it takes, however slow the walk. And to anybody who gets what the hell I'm talking about, though I didn't know it when I started this, this fic is dedicated to you.
You'll feel so much lighter, once you do.