Title: The Essential Ingredient
Author name: Airiviel
Category: Slash, Romance
Keywords: Harry, Draco, Dumbledore, Cage
Pairings: Draco/Harry
Rating: R
Spoilers: All five books
Summary: When Voldemort is defeated, his powers linger within Dumbledore's tortured body. The Healers at St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries are unable to purge his mind and body of this evil magic, and as a result, it is slowly killing the famous headmaster. Harry, assisted by a reformed Draco, is determined to find a way to counter Voldemort's powers and save Dumbledore's life. But in assigning themselves this task, Harry and Draco find much more than they expect.
DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. Other citations shall be made where necessary.

Chapter 1: Recalling the Hyena's Trap

"He is dying," said Severus Snape in a tense and low voice, sitting at the desk in his office.

The boy said nothing, and merely stared at his worn shoes. There was a time when his feet knew only the most expensive shoes of the finest quality. But that time was gone. And now his eyes gazed at dull brown shoes, the left one of which had laces that had been broken and knotted back together in several places.

"Well?" Snape raised his voice slightly.

The young man looked up, and the silver-blond hair that begged for a trim fell out of his eyes, brushing his pale cheek. Still, he said nothing. There were no words that could be combined to procure a proper response to that statement. And Draco wasn't about to try, as eloquent as he might usually be.

The professor rose and moved to stand in front of his desk, where his student was sitting silently. Snape glared down at the boy. "Answer me!" His voice held a dangerously sharp edge.

Still, Draco said nothing. His silver eyes stared at his professor, dull, unfeeling.

"He is the man who pardoned you!" Snape shouted angrily when Draco gave no response. "What have you to say?"

"What would you have me say?" said Draco very softly.

"Mr. Malfoy—" Snape stopped. He sighed audibly and returned to his chair behind his desk.

There was silence again, and in the quiet Draco watched his professor's expressions carefully.

"You are dismissed, Mr. Malfoy." His voice sounded tired.

"I didn't know," Draco said, making no move to rise.

"I said you are dismissed! Get out!" Snape's eyes flared and he glowered at Draco.

The blond stood and pivoted on his heel, making his way to the door. He stopped when his hand touched the doorknob. "I swear I didn't know," he said quietly, his back to Snape.

"It happened at Malfoy Manor. Your father was the one in charge of the procedure. Your father helped Voldemort set it up. You had to have had some idea," seethed Snape in a dangerously low voice.

Draco turned around stiffly, his eyes black with defiant anger and his voice hardened with bitter coldness. "My father already began to suspect my betrayal a year ago. Surely you don't expect that he shared their plans with me."

"You knew about the Cage!" the professor snapped.

"So did you," retorted Draco quietly.

"I did not guess he would still use it!" Snape snarled.

"Don't hold me responsible for your incorrect assumptions." Draco glared back at his professor.

"Damn you, Malfoy! You knew he was going to use it! You knew he was probably going to use Potter for it! Why did you keep your silence?"

Draco looked away from Snape's piercing eyes and stared at the floor. He swallowed, and the dryness of his mouth caused his throat to feel a scratchy and rough scrape. "I—" he began in a hoarse voice. He turned away and twisted the doorknob to the left, thrusting the door open and leaving quickly without finishing what he was about to say.

Severus Snape watched him leave grimly. Then, after a moment of silence, the professor said in a soft voice, "You were afraid."

Harry sighed. He was in a bed in the infirmary, half-sitting and half-lying down, his back propped up by pillows. He turned his head slowly to the left. The curtains had been drawn around the bed there, where Dumbledore lay. Harry moved his head back to stare up at the ceiling very slowly to prevent himself from getting another throbbing headache. He closed his eyes, the anguish still raw in his heart. He wished he could forget. But Dumbledore, just before falling into his deep sleep, had told him in a weak voice that he must not try to forget, and had forbidden anyone else to help him forget. The traumatic events that had passed less than a week ago played themselves over and over again in his mind, like a Muggle movie that kept rewinding itself. As much as he tried not to think about them, Harry could not stop himself from reliving the terrible moments...

Harry awoke, breathing raggedly, and his eyes wide open. He had just dreamed that Voldemort had Dumbledore in a strange barred enclosure...a "Cage," the Death Eaters had called it, and with a tone that gave Harry the impression that the word was spelled with a capital "C." What was happening? Harry had successfully learned Occlumency...why did he have this dream? Harry was convinced the dream was true, and pulled his covers back, leaping out of bed and bolting through the door of the room that he and Ron shared in Sirius's house.

Sirius. Harry paused just as he shut the door to the room. What if this was just like what had happened with Sirius? Harry would only be falling into another trap...tripping into the same hole twice. But he had already mastered Occlumency...there wasn't any sort of logical explanation for the dream now...Voldemort had no way of getting to his mind. But he couldn't risk it...Dumbledore had gone off to Norway two weeks ago to do something secret...there was no way for Harry to find out whether or not Voldemort really had Dumbledore. Dumbledore had said that no one was to send him any owls...he couldn't risk that they might be intercepted and someone would find out where he was. Of course, Harry could send an owl against the headmaster's orders ...but if Voldemort did indeed have him captured, then by the time Harry realized that it would be too late.

He had no choice but to take the risk. He had known, since the moment he jumped out of his bed, that he could not possibly try to bring Ron and Hermione, or anyone else. They would only try to stop him. He could already hear Hermione's voice begging him, "Harry, please! What if this is just like what happened with—you know?" She wouldn't say his godfather's name, knowing how sensitive a subject it was for Harry to think about. But she would remind him of the mistake he had made last time, and Ron would surely agree with her. And he couldn't possibly bear risking the lives of his two best friends, or anyone else. Not after what happened to Sirius. No, Harry was alone this time. Completely alone.

Harry followed the path he had been shown by a Death Eater in his dream, going through the dark forest behind Grimmauld Place. He had heard the Death Eater say in his dream that this forest was unplottable, just like Hogwarts. Any Muggle would see it as a small, run-down building. Harry continued walking along the dirt path until he came to a deep black pit. He looked around for a good way to return once he jumped into the pit. At last he spied a long, thick vine hanging from a tall tree that could function as a rope. Harry tugged on the vine, and then jumped, catching a higher part of it and hanging there with his feet swinging for several moments. He was testing the strength vine. It held firm, and Harry, satisfied, jumped into the pit, bringing the end of the vine with him. Harry fell through air for several minutes before his feet touched the dirt ground. The vine was long enough to hang just two inches above the ground of the pit. Harry let out a breath of relief. He had been terribly afraid that the vine would not be long enough to work as an escape route.

"Lumos," he murmured. The light revealed that at the bottom, the walls had expanded and there were four tunnels branching out from the pit. But Harry ignored these tunnels, and went straight to the wall where the jagged edge of a large buried rock stuck out. The piece of stone was triangular with rounded edges, and the triangle pointed up. Harry tapped his wand against the rock six times in quick succession. At first he was afraid he had counted wrong the number of times he needed to tap the jagged edge. But then slowly the triangular rock rotated twice around and came to a stop when it pointed down. Harry inhaled deeply, the rhythm of his heartbeat pounding inside his ears. The rock was now loose, and Harry pulled it out of its spot in the wall. As the large stone came away from the wall, the hole where it had been began to widen, growing larger and larger and taller and taller until at last it was a tunnel itself.

Harry stepped gingerly into the dark hole, holding his wand out before him. As soon as he was completely through the opening, the mouth of the tunnel shrunk and the rock jumped back into place. A ripple of nervousness ran through his body. He inhaled deeply, the cold, musty air filling his lungs. He stretched out his wand arm as far as he could to try and see farther ahead of him, but the dusty air dimmed the wand's light. He sighed and began walking slowly forward. The urgency of his mission dropped into his heart like a heavy stone, and soon he was running rapidly down the seemingly-endless tunnel of black.

At last he reached a door, and before he even touched the handle, it swung open with a loud creak. Harry, not giving himself time to hesitate, flung himself through the doorway and down the steps behind it. He heard the door slam shut behind him, and felt his heart race. His feet touched the bottom of the steps and he turned sharply to the right, where there was another door. He yanked it open, already knowing what he would find. The room was completely black, and Harry could not even see his own hand when he held it up to his eyes. The darkness seemed to absorb all the light from his wand, and all he could see was a small, golden tip that did not serve to illuminate the room at all.

As soon as he closed the door behind him, the room lit up with enchanted candles, and Harry was momentarily blinded by the white lights dancing on the walls. In the center of the ceiling there hung a grand chandelier that was almost as bright as the sun itself. His eyes recovered, and he saw that the room was filled with twenty or so Death Eaters. Standing beneath the chandelier was the Dark Lord himself. Dumbledore was nowhere to be seen.

"We have been expecting you, Harry," he said with a cruel mirth in his eyes.

Harry did not reply. He glared at Voldemort and narrowed his eyes as the Death Eaters moved to form a circle around him. He knew that the door had been locked magically, and he was trapped.

"After all," said Voldemort lazily, "you would never miss a chance to play the hero. Especially when it involved your precious headmaster." He tilted his head to gaze at Harry in a fond way. "I've grown to like you, Potter. You're a unique enemy to have. And I knew you would never risk the possibility that I might really have Dumbledore."

Harry breathed in. "The dream—"

"Come now, Harry. Surely you knew better than to think you were invulnerable to me simply because of the Occlumency you have learned?" Voldemort leaned forward. "There are other ways, you know. But let's not worry about that. In a few moments, your dream will come true." And with those last five clichéd words, Voldemort threw his head back and laughed in a way that reminded Harry of a hyena's barbaric cackle.

Your dream will come true. The statement dropped a horrible feeling into the bottom of Harry's stomach. He looked shocked. "You didn't—Dumbledore isn't—"

"My dear boy," the Dark Lord drawled. "If you would only use that scarred head of yours for a moment. Dumbledore was the bait that brought you here. And now you will serve as the bait that brings Dumbledore here. Kill two unicorns with one arrow."

Voldemort's words hit Harry straight in the face, and he realized just how stupid he was to have come. He should have realized right away exactly what the scheme was. He cursed silently, holding his breath. Maybe there was a way...he casually raised his right hand, his wand hidden behind his wrist.

The Dark Lord chuckled. "Your wand won't work here, Harry. This room is barred against all magic produced by the phoenix feather that resides in your wand."

A small glimmer of hope lit in Harry's head. If his own wand wouldn't work because of his phoenix feather, then neither would Voldemort's. Their wands both contained a tail feather from Fawkes...

As if Harry had been thinking out loud, Voldemort began to speak. "Harry, Harry," he said in a mocking voice. "Don't you realize that I know our wands are brothers? Surely you must have guessed that I figured it out after our encounter following the Triwizard Tournament. I do have more than one wand, you know."

Harry's brief exultation disappeared, and he pocketed his wand. Just as his mind began to whirl in a search for a quick plan, he heard a loud crack and Dumbledore appeared at Harry's side, holding what seemed to be a sphere of light in his hand. His face was ominous and as he raised the sphere of light above his head, its rays reached farther and farther out, until the sphere had become a humongous bubble of light that completely surrounded Dumbledore and Harry. Through the thin mist of golden light, Harry could see the Death Eaters shielding their eyes with their hands, squinting.

Voldemort alone stood composed. He was smiling. He murmured something that was not audible to Harry's ears, and Dumbledore's protective bubble of light disappeared with a wink. Dumbledore's eyes flared.

"Welcome, Dumbledore," said the Dark Lord in a jeering voice. "We knew you would not disappoint us."

Dumbledore stepped away from Harry and spread his arms wide, palms facing up. From his left palm a beam of light began to form, stretching out in a thin line. It grew longer and longer, arcing above his head, until at last it began to fall again. The string of light slowly touched his right palm, and then the light wavered, but Dumbledore, his beard twitching only slightly as he regained his concentration, forced the light into his palm. Harry watched him with rapt fascination as Dumbledore's right hand became illuminated with the same incandescent light. The headmaster slowly lowered his hands, still holding the string of light that arced above him. Then suddenly he clasped his hands together and and directed the light at Voldemort. A blinding and fierce white bolt shot out of his palms, its aim true.

But it didn't have time to reach Voldemort before the Dark Lord raised his wand and froze the light in midair. Dumbledore began to construct a shield of energy, but before it could spread completely, Voldemort waved his wand and sent one of his Death Eaters flying against it. The shield broke, consuming the Death Eater in flames of white. The man wriggled and screamed, and Harry found that he had to look away. Voldemort did not wait for the Death Eater to die; he gestured at the bolt of light that was still suspended in the air and flicked his wand. The bolt rotated a hundred and eighty degrees and directed itself at Dumbledore. The headmaster jumped out of its path, but the bolt followed him. There was no way to dodge it, and Dumbledore was caught in the chest with the full force of the white magic.

He stumbled backwards, clutching his right arm to his chest and wincing.

"I suppose it is only fair for you to know that in this room, my magical energy is enhanced – nearly tripled – and nothing you do can surpass my powers." Voldmort turned to the Death Eaters. "Bind him!"

Immediately, four Death Eaters came forward to tie Dumbledore's hands behind his back with enchanted ropes. Harry found that he was too panicked to move, and did not have any idea of what to do. Quickly he fumbled for his wand, before he remembered it was useless, and he might as well be holding one of Fred and George's fake wands.

Harry tried to swallow, but his throat was too dry. What should he do? He watched as Voldemort strolled to a wall and said some sort of chant that must have been a password, for the wall disappeared, a line on the ground marking where it had been a moment ago, and Harry found himself facing what appeared to be the second half of the room. This part of the room had no lights illuminating it, but it was just as bright as the other half of the room; in the center stood a magnificent cage that was completely made of bars of light. And Harry knew immediately that this was the "Cage" the Death Eater had referred to in his dream. A terrible sense of dread washed over him, and his hands were sweaty.

"This, Dumbledore," said Voldemort with a strange smile on his face, "is my Cage, which I have no doubt that the traitor Snape has informed you about." He spat the name "Snape" with more hatred than Harry had ever known in his life. And peculiarly, although Voldemort's hatred was for Snape, the professor that Harry despised, he felt a strange, uncontrollable anger at the Dark Lord. "Dear Severus must have told you that I stopped using the Cage because it drained me of my magical energy too quickly. But I'm sure that by this time you have already realized what I mean to do."

Dumbledore said nothing; Harry swallowed at the grim look on his face.

"Harry," Dumbledore began. But he didn't get to finish, because at that moment, two Death Eaters came forward and seized Harry. Harry cried out and struggled against them.

"You would do well," said Voldemort to Harry, "to conserve your energy. After all, you won't be able to keep it for very long."

"What are you talking about?" Harry glared at Voldemort, the anger in his eyes as sharp as daggers.

"Harry, you know what the Cruciatus curse is, correct? Perhaps you'll recall your experience of it after the Triwizard Tournament. It is a commander of pain," Voldemort said softly, his eyes glittering. "Pain can teach. Pain can control. Pain can torment. So you see, Harry, pain is very strong weapon."

Harry clenched his teeth and tensed his arms, which were held by the two Death Eaters. They did not bind him, however, as they had done with Dumbledore.

"This Cage," the Dark Lord continued, an ugly smile on his face, "was built to contain a person that I felt the Cruciatus curse was not sufficient for. I have not used it in years, because such a Cage is completely made of magical energy. That magical energy must come from its creator...me. And because it drained me of my energy so quickly, it was decided that the Cage was an inefficient means of torture. However, it still remained my preference above all other ways to cause pain. And today, you shall help me use it again." He turned to the Death Eaters. "Bring them across," he commanded.

Harry suddenly found that he was being dragged across the straight line drawn on the floor. He twisted around to make sure Dumbledore was still with him. The headmaster was also being dragged across the line, but he did not struggle as Harry did. To Harry's great astonishment, as soon as everyone had crossed to this side of the room, the other half vanished...as did the walls that enclosed them. Now, Harry saw, they were in a large foyer, with a very high ceiling. The cage had not moved at all. Harry realized that crossing to the other half of the room must have worked sort of like a portkey. He wondered where they were now.

As in answer to his unasked question, Voldemort said, "Welcome to Malfoy Manor."

Harry turned back to Voldemort, and now he could see that an even larger group of Death Eaters had joined them. All of them were masked except one. Lucius Malfoy. Lucius stood at Voldemort's right, smiling just as maliciously.

"Get Potter a chair," Voldemort drawled. "It wouldn't do for him to collapse in the middle of it." Lucius hastened to obey, and quickly conjured an elegant wooden chair.

Harry wondered what "it" was. Perhaps it referred to the Cage. So then...they were going to put him in the Cage. Well, they would have to fight him before he'd let them put him in that thing.

"We have a very special connection, you and I," said Voldemort to Harry, who was now being forced into the wooden chair. As soon as he sat down, he found that he was unable to rise again. Voldemort continued speaking, "And I can use this special connection to my advantage. We are linked by what you might call an invisible string. And with this string, I can draw energy from you."

It suddenly dawned on Harry that Voldemort meant to use his energy for the cage. "You—but—it wouldn't work!"

"Oh, it will work. Have no fear, Harry. The energy will still come from me...but I will be supplied by you. Now, let me tell you about my genius creation." He gestured at the Cage. "If a person is inside the Cage, any magic that he does will simply bounce back at him. Like a rubber ball, if you will. This Cage is designed to torture, but it also kills. You see, Harry, as long as a person inside the Cage remains defiant and determined to live, all that the Cage will do is torment the person both mentally and physically. As soon as the person gives up, however, the Cage will begin to kill the person slowly and painfully."

Harry was horrified by what he heard. He glanced at Dumbledore. How could he just stand there and not do anything? Harry felt a slight twitch of resentment at Dumbledore.

"Put him in the Cage," commanded Voldemort. Harry tensed, but when no one moved toward him he realized that Voldemort had not meant him. Harry twisted around in the chair. Dumbledore. There were dragging Dumbledore into the Cage. Harry had completely not expected this, although he realized now that he should have automatically known that Dumbledore would be the first to go in the Cage when Voldemort told him the energy would come from him. His fear must have dulled his senses. And now a fresh wave of panic swept over him.

"No—I—" Harry began. But he stopped suddenly. What could he say? There was absolutely nothing he could say or do to stop Voldemort.

"Don't worry, Harry, you'll have your turn in the Cage after your dear headmaster." Voldemort smirked. "But first, I've just put a spell on you that will make you feel the echoes of what Dumbledore feels. You'll feel only one tenth of what he feels...just enough for you to have a taste of it." Voldemort turned back to face the Cage. "Inciperus," he murmured.

The incandescent light of the Cage began to grow, brighter and brighter, until at last it appeared that Dumbledore was surrounded by an illuminated fog of gold. Harry felt himself becoming a little drowsy. Very abruptly, the light of the Cage flared, and Dumbledore was thrown off his feet by an invisible force. Harry was suddenly intensely aware of Dumbledore's old age. The many lines in his face, his white hair and beard...and suddenly, the sound of Dumbledore crying out in pain filled Harry with a terrible grief.

Something spun Dumbledore around and threw him against the bars of energy. His body shuddered, and Harry could feel the horrible pricks of a millions of invisible needles against his skin. He had learned, in what Muggles called "elementary" school, that if you placed a balloon on a bed of evenly placed needles, it would not pop, because of the imitation surface created. But when you placed it on a bed of needles that were sticking up at different lengths, or when you dropped the balloon on a single needle, it popped very easily. Now, Harry knew that these painful pricks that had to be drawing blood were unevenly placed, and he winced as the pain surrounded his body. If he was only getting echoes of the Cage's effects, Harry hated to imagine what Dumbledore was feeling.

He decided that he did not have the stomach to watch the process, and kept his eyes tightly shut, all the while feeling his energy dissipate very quickly like evaporating steam. Then, very abruptly, the pain disappeared. Immense relief flooded over Harry. He found himself letting out a breath that he hadn't noticed he was holding, and he opened his eyes again. Dumbledore was lying on the floor of the cage, panting hard.

"Did that hurt, Headmaster?" said Voldemort softly. "Why don't we try a different approach?"

And then, without warning, Harry felt himself fall into a sea of depressing emotions, and suddenly he felt the most heart-wrenching pain he had ever felt in his life. Visions flashed through his head, and they reminded him of his Occlumency lessons with Snape. Behind his eyelids, he saw a man die, and although Harry did not recognize the man, he felt the most horrible sadness that seemed to bore a hole in his heart. Harry felt an unfamiliar despair pushing all other thoughts from his mind. He squeezed his eyes shut, tears leaking from them uncontrollably.

He heard someone sobbing. Was it himself? Harry forced his eyes open, a simple motion that took a surprisingly large amount of strength, and saw that Dumbledore was kneeling on the floor of the Cage, rocking back and forth, his head in his hands. His sobs were dry and hoarse, and they shook his frail body. Harry had never thought of Dumbledore as "frail" before this moment, nor had he ever seen Dumbledore crying in this way, and it felt very strange inside, like he shouldn't be here, shouldn't be watching this.

But it was my fault, Harry told himself sternly. He felt terribly exhausted, and wished that everything would go away and let him rest. Then he realized that the terrible memories had stopped running through his head, and he looked up. Voldemort was watching Dumbledore with a perverted satisfaction, a slight smile on his face. The headmaster was still kneeling on floor, and now he gasped for breath, the lines on his face contorted with the pain of the memories. Harry wondered how long Dumbledore would be able to last inside the Cage, and a renewed fear filled his heart.

"Shall we try again?" said Voldemort, wearing a wicked grin. "How about a new game?" Voldemort raised his wand and muttered a strange spell that Harry had never heard before. From his wand, a ball of fire shot out and flew through the bars of the Cage. When it reached the other side of the Cage, it did not, as Harry had expected, fly through the bars again. Instead, the Cage had somehow closed it in, and Harry, barely able to keep his eyes open, watched with horror as it bounced off the invisible wall and shot itself at Dumbledore. The headmaster flung himself away, and the ball of fire bounced off the floor and propelled itself up at the ceiling. For several suspenseful moments, Harry watched the sphere of fire bounce up and down, up and down in a zig-zagging path, while Dumbledore repeatedly dodged it and the Death Eaters roared with mocking laughter. It reached another invisible wall, and bounced against it, now shooting itself diagonally at the other side of the room. Dumbledore dropped to the floor, and not a moment too soon, for the ball went whooshing past his head.

Harry's heart pounded, and he felt the same stimulating fear that he knew Dumbledore must be feeling. The flaming sphere had picked up its pace, and it was plain that the headmaster was tiring quickly. Harry felt his own body slump against the back of the wooden chair, and he knew that his strength was almost gone. His eyes were mere slits now, through which he watched Dumbledore dodge and dodge again. Then at last the fireball stopped itself on the floor. Dumbledore collapsed on the ground, showing the fatigue and old age that Harry never saw. He closed his eyes, panting heavily. Then, Harry watched, unable to speak, as the glowing sphere raised itself and then plunged at Dumbledore.

At the sound of the orange ball whistling through the air, Dumbledore opened his eyes. He tried to roll away, but he was too late. The fire had hit his shoulder, and although only his shoulder showed signs of being burnt, a glow began to spread across every inch of the headmaster's body. He started shuddering involuntarily, and his body could not stop shaking. The glow of orange grew brighter, and Harry, in all his drowsiness, became suddenly aware of the irony of Voldemort using magic that produced white or golden energy.

Harry began to feel a tingle in his fingers and toes, and then the strange tickle moved up his arm, up his legs. The tingle continued to move to his center until it had wrapped itself around his body, and he began to shake, not quite as violently as Dumbledore was shuddering, but enough that the tingle began to feel painful. Harry couldn't even open his eyes now, and his head lolled over, hanging to the side, and putting a painful crick in his neck. He did not have the energy to change his uncomfortable position, and he tried to concentrate on conserving his energy.

And then he felt it. Inside his head, there was a tiny thought of defeat. It was not his own thought, he knew that for sure. It must have been inside Dumbledore's mind. The feeling of defeat grew stronger, and Harry could feel that Dumbledore was on the brink of giving in. No, Harry thought, with as much energy as he dared to spare. Please, hold on; he tried to direct the message at Dumbledore. The thought of defeat continued to spread inside his mind. Harry felt like he was going crazy. NO! his head screamed. And then he felt a slight resistance, growing and growing, until it began to push the defeat out of his mind. Harry must live, said a familiar voice in his mind. And Harry was only barely awake enough to register that Dumbledore was holding on only to keep him alive. Harry wanted to call out to Dumbledore. But he didn't know what to say, and he was too tired... He was so very tired.

He heard a loud boom, and recognized it as the sound of a door being broken down. But that's unusual, he thought fuzzily, struggling to open his eyes. Why would someone be trying to break down the door? Harry closed his eyes again. He heard several garbled words being spoken, and all he could make of it was that they were angry words. He didn't understand. What was going on?

Then, "Potter," a very familiar voice had said. Was it Voldemort? No, Voldemort didn't sound like that.

Then, more urgently, "Potter!" Still he could not bring himself to respond. Who was calling his name? Dumbledore?

Harry tried to say something, but his lips would not form the words. "Mmmph," was all he could force himself to murmur.

The voice called again, "Harry!" But who was it?


"Harry?" said a gentle voice. It was the not the same voice he had heard.

Harry opened his eyes, amazed that he had the strength to do so. Oh. So he had fallen asleeping dreaming and remembering. Hermione was peering down at him anxiously.

"Are you alright?" she asked kindly.
"I'm fine," he muttered, looking away.

"You're crying," she said, her face very concerned.

"I...had a bad dream." Harry reached up a hand to brush away the tears that he hadn't realized were there. He wished she would go away, wanting to be alone for a while.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Hermione sat down in the chair next to Harry's bed.

No, he thought bitterly. But he said instead, "Er, I don't really remember it anymore."

"Oh." There was an awkward silence for a moment. Then, Hermione said very brightly with a forced smile, "Look what Fred and George sent you! Skiving Snackboxes!" She gestured at the foot of his bed, where there was a square table covered with get-well cards and boxes of candies. He immediately spotted the large boxes with the words "Weasley's Wizard Wheezes" written on them in large, loopy letters.

"Great," he said, trying to smile. Hermione would never have usually encouraged him with Fred and George's candies. He knew she was trying to be nice. But he wasn't in the mood to properly appreciate it. Harry felt his smile fade, and mentally kicked himself for it.

"Er...well...I guess I ought to be going." She stood up. "I hope you feel better, Harry."

He nodded and waved goodbye, feeling very relieved. A part of him was filled with guilt at the thought of disappointing Hermione, but he desperately needed some alone time to think. And forget.

Harry had been told, when he had woken up from his three-day coma, exactly what had happened. While Harry was on his way to the room where the Death Eaters were, McGonagall had received an owl from Voldemort himself, saying that he was holding Harry captive. McGonagall had been afraid to believe the letter, but had also been afraid to disbelieve it. So she'd flooed to the House of Black to check on Harry, and sure enough, he wasn't in bed. She had then immediately gone to Dumbledore through a portkey that he himself had left her in case there was an emergency. She'd shown him the letter, which had self-destructed the moment the headmaster finished reading it, and then Dumbledore had taken the portkey supplied in the letter, which brought him directly to the room where Harry was.

Harry had passed out just after the moment that Severus Snape arrived at Malfoy Manor and broken down the door. Snape had been the one calling his name. Ron had told Harry that Snape had some strange thing that finally defeated Voldemort. Now, the Ministry was busy searching out the last of the Death Eaters. Lucius Malfoy, Ron had told Harry with a delightful grin, was in Azkaban, and should be receiving the Dementor's Kiss any day now.

Since Madame Pomfrey had ordered everyone to leave him be for a few days, to which he was grateful, Harry had had ample time to think about the current events. He had mixed feelings about...well, everything. It felt strange to have, for once, not been the one who defeated Voldemort. And it felt doubly strange to him that Snape was the person who had succeeded in ridding the Wizarding world of Voldemort for good, something Harry had always expected he would do himself. He had been even more convinced that he would be Voldemort's downfall after he'd heard about the prophecy...and he knew that it was only a prophecy...but – it made sense, didn't it? He had survived Avada Kedavra at Voldemort's hands...shouldn't he be the one who finally got rid of the cruel wizard? He felt slightly guilty for these thoughts, but he could not discern the reason why. He rebuked himself for thinking so highly of himself. It's no wonder Ron and Hermione rarely visit these days; I must be unbearable. But he knew that was not the real reason; he knew that they had stopped coming to see him as often as they used to because he kept pushing them away.

Harry forced these thoughts to the back of his mind, and thought about Lucius Malfoy. Poor Malfoy, he thought, and marveled at the idea that he was able to pity the horrible Slytherin. Draco Malfoy had reformed, and joined with Snape in spying for Dumbledore. Harry had not known this until after the ordeal, and had, like everyone else, thought that Malfoy had become a Death Eater like his father. Harry slowly turned his head to the right. In that bed was where the greasy-haired professor had lain for a few days. He had recovered the quickest; it had been a simple matter of restoring the energy he had used up in doing whatever it was that had killed Voldemort. Now, the bed was empty, and oddly, Harry felt comforted by it.

Harry winced as he twisted his head to look at Dumbledore. The old man had not stirred in days. Everything had been hushed and kept secret from Harry, but he had eavesdropped one night and heard them talking about the headmaster's condition. Harry knew he was dying, and knew that it was completely his fault. Just like Sirius. Because of me, Sirius died. And because of me, Dumbledore is going to die. Harry chewed on his lip, bitterly repeating these words over and over again in his head.

The headmaster was dying because he had refused to give in to Voldemort's Cage. It had already begun to consume his mind and his body when it sensed his defeat, but he had resisted it, and pushed the thoughts of defeat away, all for the sake of giving Harry any chance to slip away and escape. Because of his resistance, Voldemort's powers had lingered in his body, and no potion that Snape brewed, no spell that McGonagall or any other professor did would purge his mind and body of the terrible magic.

He knew I had no chance, but he wanted to give me one anyway, Harry thought to himself. A terrible sadness wrenched at his heart, and he shook his head violently to try to clear away the the feeling. As a result, he gained a throbbing headache. He reached for the tall vial on his nightstand, and allowed a mouthful of foul-tasting potion to trickle down his throat. It was a potion that relieved him of his headaches, and as much as its aroma made Harry want to vomit, it always immediately cleared away the pounding in his head.

Harry felt the painful pulse fade away, and he sank back down on the pillows, carefully returning the vial to its place on the nightstand. He closed his eyes and fell asleep, hating the dreams that he knew were going to come.