Title: To Cast These Spells

Author: DragonLight

Rating: PG-13

Pairing: HP/SS with a touch of HP/RL

Disclaimer: All characters and places belong to JKR.

Summary: Harry comes to terms with his destiny

Beta: Huge thanks go to my wonderful beta, Isis

Notes: TCTS is the 2nd in a three story arc, and is the sequel to To Dream These Dreams

---

The house faded from around Harry as the illusion took shape all around him. A thrill of pride went through him as he looked at what he created. A quiet cough broke his concentration and the illusion shattered into a shower of sparkles that floated down around his head. Harry turned to look at Snape sitting in a padded armchair by the fire. His gaze passed over the taut features and pale complexion. Snape looked a little better than the day before. Signs of the burnt flesh had disappeared last week, but Harry knew that the skin must still be tender; Snape kept wincing at small movements, or when he would brush up against something. The cuts were finally closing, much to his relief, but Snape's voice was still rough and didn't seem to be getting much better.

"Did you hear me, Mr Potter?"

Of course, if he paid more attention Snape wouldn't have to repeat everything twice.

"Cast the Illusion Charm again. It's weak because your wand motion is slightly off."

Harry nodded and turned away; he needed to concentrate if he wanted to get this down. After Charms was Defense Against the Dark Arts and Harry he'd need all his attention for that. The new spells he was learning in those lessons that in actuality were just an extension of the training he had been receiving. Concentrating on what properties he wanted in his illusion, he cast the charm, "*Illusio*!"

The wall in front of him disappeared and was replaced with a view of the night sky, tiny pinpricks of light and small shooting stars. Harry could get lost in it.

The door shutting after Snape shattered it once again. Harry stuck his wand into his front pocket and exited the room, shivering as he stepped out into the hallway. The walls were grey with age, the paint and wallpaper peeling. The banister was cracked from lack of care, and Harry made sure not to rest his hand on it to avoid splinters. He traveled down the stairs as quickly as he dared; the old lamps lining the stairwell didn't work and the shadows seemed to jump with every step. When they had first got there, they had tried to fix them, but the wiring was old and faulty and there was no way for them to repair it. He longed for the warm glow of the magical self-lighting lamps at the Weasleys and wished he dared to ask Snape why he didn't have such things at his house.

Harry stepped into one of the only two well-lit rooms. Snape was sitting at the kitchen table, a chilled mug held in his hands. Harry immediately went over to the old gas stove and stirred the stew he had started earlier. "It's not quite done, Professor."

No answer. Harry looked over his shoulder, Snape's eyes were closed and one hand had moved to rest over where the Dark Mark was on his left forearm. Voldemort was trying to find him.

"Professor?"

Snape shook his head.

"I'll just go for a walk then, shall I?" He couldn't stay in the room while this was happening. He'd done it once during the first day, but hearing that once smooth baritone voice shriek when the pain overcame him was too much. Harry could imagine his vocal cords ripping, shredding, stretching past their limits. It was horrible, and there wasn't anything he could do to help, and even if there was Snape wouldn't have let him.

"Your cloak."

Harry nodded and left the kitchen. In the small entrance hall he grabbed his Invisibility Cloak off of a hook. As long as he didn't stray too far from the house he'd be fine; it was unlikely that he'd see anyone up on the cliffs.

The closer he got to edge, the more the wind whipped at his cloak, pulling at the over-large jumper he had on underneath it. He was grateful for the cover of the hood, which kept his hair from being blown into his face. If it was a little shorter he wouldn't have to worry about that, but his hair never did what he wanted it to. Turning slightly, he looked back at the house; it had obviously never been nice. The shingles were falling off, and even if the sun was at its zenith it would be dark and gloomy. Now, at dusk, it was creepy, worse than the Shrieking Shack, and Harry didn't know how anyone could live there.

Not even Snape.

But they were there and they'd stay there until Dumbledore said it was safe for them to leave.

Harry spotted the rocky path that would take him down to a small outcropping of Beer Head and started down it. Snape would most likely skin him and then quarter him for use in his potions if he knew Harry was going down the cliff. But the view was spectacular. Especially at high tide, when the small beach disappeared and the waves lapped at the cliffs. He had never even realized that such places existed in England even though he had grown up in Surrey.

But as much as he liked the cliffs and the view, he didn't want to stay. He hated being alone in any room of the house other than the kitchen; it was the brightest of the rooms, and the walls didn't seem to drain the life out of it. Like it did in the others. A shiver went down his spine and he didn't know if it was the chill wind or his thoughts that had caused it.

Harry sighed as he turned away from the edge. He had to get back; he couldn't risk burning supper, because they didn't have enough supplies for mistakes and neither of them were allowed to go to the shops.

---

"Check the cupboard under the stair."

Harry looked up from the cabinet he was looking through. Snape was putting some dry goods that Dumbledore had sent by portkey into the pantry. He swallowed. "Why would a roast platter be there?"

Snape shrugged, and Harry stared as the material of his clothing bunched and pulled across his shoulders. "It was packed up along with other frivolous things after my mother died. Where did your family store things?"

Harry didn't answer, instead turning the information Snape had given him over in his head. It didn't quite make sense, but Snape rarely did. Harry wanted to ask when his mother had died, but didn't dare. Snape didn't yell anymore, but it didn't stop the man from being as daunting as he had ever been. He stood and headed out of the kitchen.

The small door of the cupboard was very similar to the one at the Dursleys' and Harry hesitated before opening it. He closed his eyes and was overcome with a snippet of memory he had seen during Legilimency lessons with Snape; a small boy, no more than five, with lank black hair and a large nose, was being shoved into the door, a meaty fist slamming into it next to his face. He snapped his eyes open and fumbled with the latch.

For a moment, he swore there was a boy sitting on a cot playing with an old toy horse that only had three legs. Damn memories. It wasn't even the Durleys' house and he was remembering his life in the cupboard. He pushed the image aside and kneeled down pulling out a box labeled 'Kitchen'. The roast platter was near the top, covered in dust. With a good cleaning it would be serviceable.

Returning to the kitchen he went straight to the sink to wash it. He didn't even realize he was shaking until Snape put a steadying hand on his arm. "Is something the matter?"

He shook his head. "I just don't like this house."

"Understandable." It was said in the whisper that had replaced Snape's day-to-day voice, and Harry found himself wishing for the deep richness that it used to have. "It has always been like this."

"Even when you were small?"

"Cleaner, and the paint wasn't peeling everywhere, but no nicer." Snape unwrapped the small roast that had been sent with their supplies. "I assume that you know how to cook this."

Harry nodded and took the package away from him. "This place is so different from the Weasleys'." Harry bit his lip; he was on dangerous ground with Snape. His professor didn't particularly want to answer questions about the house or what it was like. He knew he shouldn't be asking, that he should just be quiet and cook the roast, but his curiosity continually got the better of him. "I just mean that there isn't very much that's magic here." He glanced to the side and watched as Snape cut up some vegetables, the knife slicing through the carrots, cutting them into perfectly equal portions.

"My mother was a muggle."

He looked up from Snape's hands to his face; it was devoid of emotion, and Harry had no idea what he could be thinking.

"Then why would you side with Voldemort?"

Snape didn't say anything right away. The roast was on and Harry was putting on the kettle when he heard Snape's voice. "And why not? He was a half-blood who had the attention of the most important pureblood wizarding families. I couldn't even get the attention of the one wizard family member I had. And when I did it wasn't necessarily the type of attention one would want."

"Was your father pureblood?"

"Of course, and, as far as I'm aware of, he hated my mother and I--" It sounded like he was going to continue, but he didn't.

And Harry knew enough not to ask anymore questions. Little by little he was coming to understand Snape, but as in everything, it was a trade off. "They stored everything in the attic. I took up all the available room in the cupboard under the stair," Harry whispered.

---

Harry sank down onto the floor. He couldn't do it, he couldn't. The whole situation was an exercise in futility anyway. There was no feasible way for him to defeat Voldemort. He wrapped his arms around his legs, a shiver slowly crawling its way up his spine. That Thing couldn't be beaten, at least not by him and not at this point in time. Maybe when he was Dumbledore's age. That would be in another... what? 130 years or so.

He bit his lip. At this rate, he was going to lose everyone that meant anything to him.

The room was silent except for the snuffling and scratching from the rat in its cage. He was used to hearing the steady turning pages of Snape's book, or the quiet corrections, but Snape had left the room over an hour ago. It seemed that Harry wasn't the only one frustrated by his lack of progress. He sighed. Learning the omega level spells had been brutal, but the Unforgivables left his whole body cold. As if someone had turned off the heat, even when he'd been standing next to a fireplace.

It wasn't a total loss. He had succeeded in casting the Imperius. Making a rat somersault or a spider tap dance, he could care less about. When he had been told to cast it on Snape, it was harder. The key was desire. He didn't want to force Snape to do anything against his will enough to make it work. But Snape had made him cast it over and over again, until finally Harry wanted nothing more than for Snape to never ask him to cast it again. At first, when Snape had told him he could stop, Harry thought it was just luck, but then Snape hadn't ordered him to cast it for over a week. Finally, Harry took the spell off and had been back at where he started. But he could do it, and sustain it.

The Crutiatus was another story. He didn't want anyone to suffer that, even the goddamned rat that Snape had cast an illusion charm on to look like Wormtail. He'd been through it, and it was awful. It was only when Snape had cast a glamorie changing his face into that of Bellatrix Lestrange did Harry even succeed in causing a nosebleed. He couldn't bring himself to cast the spell on Snape; he didn't want to and he wouldn't. To prove it, he had locked himself in his room for two days refusing to come out no matter how much Snape berated him or ordered him to unlock it. Snape had even tried to make Shepherd's Pie one night to coax him out, but had burnt it horribly; the smell wafted under his door, and Harry couldn't help laughing at the muttered curses. His door would have remained closed indefinitely if he hadn't run out of candles which the bastard refused to give to him until he cast the Crutiatus on him. He shuddered as he remembered the scream. Snape hadn't made him cast it again after that one time.

The clicking of the tarantula's pincers on the glass of the jar brought Harry's mind to his latest failure. The Killing Curse. Which he attempted, knowing that while it might not work on Voldemort it would work on his wall of Death Eaters. But even after Snape had let the tarantula loose on his bed while he was sleeping he couldn't do it. Harry had never been scared of spiders the way Ron had, but there was something about multiple, small hairy legs crawling over his arms and chest and face that set his body to shuddering. For a moment, he'd thought he had succeeded as the spider rolled off the bed onto the floor, however, after a minute it had scurried under the bed and Harry had to spend the rest of the night coaxing it back into its jar; there was no way he could go back to sleep with a tarantula scurrying around his room. This failure had made him realize something about casting this spell. He didn't want it enough. He didn't want to kill anyone or anything, even the damn spider.

Harry buried his face in his knees.

"Supper."

He turned to look at Snape standing in the doorway and wondered how long he had been there watching him. Did he realize that this was slowly making him fall apart? Perhaps he did, if the dour look on his face was anything to go by.

"Don't tell me. You attempted to make Shepherd's Pie again."

"Don't be daft."

"I'm never going to be able to cast it." He turned his head to look at the spider in its jar. "And I don't want to."

He both heard and felt Snape approach him, and when he looked up, Snape had his hands out in a silent offer. He released the grip he had on his legs and allowed Snape to help him to his feet. Once standing he realized he had absolutely no desire to step away. The air seemed warmer, and he relaxed.

He breathed in deeply. Snape kept him grounded and Harry acknowledged that he needed that feeling; that the world was not falling down around him, that he was not breaking open at the seams, that there was still a reason to fight. Even if it was to save the arse of his temporary protector.

Because Harry would never call Snape his guardian. He associated that title with a parental figure, and Snape wasn't a parental figure in any sense.

He was a sarcastic, demanding, sadistic prick.

That kept him safe.

Harry let his head fall forward to rest against Snape's shoulder. He was doing that a lot lately, probably because he was failing a lot.

Not for any other reason. Not because Snape was emotionally everything he needed. Not because he was stable and Harry knew that he wouldn't disappear. Not because he cared about what happened to him. Not because they understood each other. Not because the more time Harry spent with him the more he was drawn toward him; wanted to be with him. Not for any of those reasons.

Snape tipped up his chin with one finger; it was a spot of fire on Harry's skin. "If I had wanted Shepherd's Pie, Potter, I would have had you make it. It's stew."

It was so far off from what he'd been thinking about that Harry smiled.

"Is something amusing, Mr Potter? I believe that your exact words were that it was 'edible'."

He nodded. He felt like a fool, smiling, but he couldn't stop it, and he couldn't come up with anything to say. So he kissed him.

He was still shorter than Snape, so he had to lift himself on his toes a bit in order to press his lips against his cheek. It was light and quick and he stepped back as soon as he could, but he did it.

Perhaps he should reconsider those other reasons. "Thank you." He only glanced at the shocked look on Snape's face a moment before darting out of the room and down the stairs to the kitchen.

On the table, two shallow bowls were already filled with the steaming stew; a jug of cider and a cut of bread were also laid out. Harry only debated with himself for a minute before deciding to forgo waiting for Snape.

When he did enter the kitchen, he took his place across from Harry and ate in silence. Harry glanced at him furtively before returning to his meal, but his expression gave nothing away.

Harry was almost done cleaning up after dinner when he felt Snape wrap his arms around him from behind.

"You really are a foolish boy, Potter, and I fear that your idiocy might be contagious."

The whispered words brushed his ear, sending a shiver down his spine. He drew in a deep breath before leaning back into the unexpected embrace and taking in every sensation. The clean smell of the plain lye soap that clung to them both, the coarse fibers of Snape's jumper scratching against his bare arm, the heat radiating off Snape enclosing him in a cushioning warmth, the feeling of security that wrapped its way around him like a blanket. This was what being in the arms of someone was supposed to feel like.

He threaded his fingers through Snape's, and they both just stood there. Eventually the tenseness in Snape's arms subsided. He didn't know how long they stayed that way, not moving, barely breathing.

Nor did he care.

---

Harry pressed himself into the corner. He was sitting on his bed, rubbing his arms, listening as the rain pelted against the window, wishing that he could see out. But it was a pitch black night. So many nights here were this dark. The candle by his bed flickered and he glared at it, demanding that it stay lit. The last thing he wanted to do during this storm was to try and relight it with a spell.

He could never sleep in this house without one candle lit. It didn't give much light during the night, but it helped. It felt like he was in a haunted house, mostly. Perhaps it was because of the number of negative memories he had of the house through Snape. The first scene that he ever saw was Snape huddled in a corner as his parents screamed at each other. There were many similar ones, and they kept him from wanting to be alone for a long period of time anywhere in this house.

At first, he had been surprised that Snape hadn't complained about the amount of candles that he went through. Lumos took energy, and keeping that going all night would have drained him for practice during the day. But perhaps he shouldn't be. After all, Snape went through just as many candles as he did.

A rapping at the window made him snap his head up. It was Just the shutter getting loose. He took a deep breath. Every night he was jumping at shadows, and tonight worse than the rest. It was the first bad spring storm that they had had. A strike of lighting illuminated the room and made even more shadows, each one more sinister. Harry berated himself for acting like the bloody fool. Nothing was going to happen. It was just the house.

It wasn't haunted, or creepy or anything. Just falling apart.

He was seventeen and above such childish fears.

The candle went out.

He grabbed his wand and tried to relight it, finally casting Lumos when nothing worked. The wick had burnt down and Harry hadn't brought another candle with him. He took a deep breath and unfolded himself from his position on the bed. He contemplated trying to just go to sleep, but decided against it and headed down to the kitchen where the spare candles were kept along with most everything else.

Harry stopped in the door when he saw Snape rummaging through a drawer. The same drawer the candles were in. Perhaps his went out too. Harry shifted, hoping to make just enough noise to alert the other man. Snape stiffened momentarily and then straightened, a plain beeswax candle in one hand when he turned.

"I'm afraid that it's the last one, Potter. The Headmaster should be sending more today."

Harry bit his lip and nodded.

"Come along."

Harry looked at him curiously, but followed him up the stairs nonetheless to the 'workroom'. Snape set the candle down on a side table next to the couch motioning Harry to sit with one hand. He left momentarily, and when he returned he had a throw in one hand, a book in the other. He handed the former to Harry and sat down closest to the candle. Harry drew his legs up under him and got comfortable on the small couch, pulling the small blanket over him.

Snape scanned down a page with his finger, tracing each line as he read; glancing up he watched as Snape mouthed the words slightly, and Harry tried to make them out, some seemed familiar, others didn't. He shifted slightly closer without realizing it, trying to see if perhaps Snape was whispering the words. Just something that would break the silence. Snape closed the book and then reopened it, turned the first few pages, eventually smoothing one out.

"Proemio. Umana cosa è aver compassione degli afflitti: e come che a ciascuna persona stea bene, a coloro è massimamente richiesto li quali già hanno di conforto avuto mestiere e hannol trovato in alcuni..." (1)

He couldn't tell what the language was. But the sound of that voice steadily reading calmed his nerves. He started to nod off, and vaguely felt Snape move closer, almost pressing against him, so he could rest his head on his shoulder before falling asleep.

---

Harry stared up at the ceiling. If he strained his ears he could hear Snape and Remus arguing downstairs. Not that he could make out what either of them was yelling, but he could hear the strain in Snape's voice and the pain in Remus'.

He'd have preferred to not hear either. It would have meant that he had never received the news that Remus had brought.

Hermione was never going to wake up.

Her magic was not returning to a normal level. And since wizards and witches were so tied to their magic, it would be impossible for her to live as a Squib. The lack of magic was killing her. He was killing her and he didn't even know how, or why.

He clasped his hand tight around the grip of his wand. A spider was crawling up the wall in the corner, moving toward the window. A picture flashed in his mind, Snape -- about the age he was now -- pointing a wand at a fly. He lifted his own.

"*Avada Kedavra!*"

He flicked the dead spider off the duvet and ignored the sound of voices wafting up the stair.

---

He pulled the hood down a little lower over his head; glancing down at his feet, he checked that his trainers weren't visible. He walked as quietly as possible on his toes, carefully avoiding every creaky board he knew in the house. He was almost to the door when Snape's voice stopped him.

"Don't go."

He shook his head, forgetting that Snape couldn't see him.

"Did you hear me, Potter? Don't do this. It's a fool's errand."

He was shaking, he knew that, but he couldn't stop. "I don't care."

"Why doesn't that surprise me?"

Harry turned around slowly. Snape was leaning against the doorjamb, arms crossed over his chest. "It shouldn't. You've always said I was a dunderhead."

Snape didn't say anything to that as he straightened and walked toward him. Harry stayed where he was. He wasn't going to back away; Snape would know. He didn't know how he knew that -- he just did.

Snape lifted one hand and pulled the hood of the cloak off. "Take it off. Now, Potter."

Harry did so, draping it over his arm. "I'm still going to go."

Snape closed his eyes and nodded slightly. "I know."

They stood watching each other for a minute before Snape reached out and closed his fingers around Harry's chin. "There isn't any way to stop you, is there?"

Harry shook his head. "He as good as killed her. I love her." Snape's grip tightened. "As a friend. And I lost her. I did this. And *I* have to fix it." Harry licked his lips. "Please. Let me go. I *need* to go."

Snape lowered his head and Harry didn't quite know what to expect. Certainly not the kiss that he received. Snape pressed his lips against his, hard, and Harry shut his eyes.

It wasn't a gentle kiss at all. He could feel the anger, the pain radiating off of Snape -- no, Severus. If he was kissing this man he was going to call him Severus, if only in his head. He tangled one hand in Severus' hair, pulling him a little closer. Teeth nipped at his lower lip and he opened his mouth, allowing Severus' tongue to sweep in, running over his teeth and his tongue, and Harry tasted the tea that he must have been drinking. He moaned, and Severus' arm tightened around him, pulling him against him, and Harry wished that he could just merge with him, disappear, but he couldn't.

He pulled away, his face lowered; if he tried to look Snape in the eye, he'd never be able to leave. Wrapping his cloak around him he vanished from view and exited the house. He felt Snape watching him through the window, even though he was invisible, even though the man had no way of knowing which way he had gone or when he disappeared.

---

Harry stumbled out of the Knight Bus, only staying on his feet by pure luck. He waved Stan off, saying once again that he was fine and that someone was meeting him. Turning away, he looked at the run-down town. The wooden sign swinging over the entrance to the pub was faded and he couldn't make out the name. The road was cobblestone and pushed up into the worn soles of his trainers with every step he took. Where in the hell was he?

He'd given Ernie directions for the Knight Bus based on a general sense from his scar.. He had known to get off at this point, and had told Stan as such. They had looked at him oddly, but he waved off their questions and got out.

He lifted his hand up to his scar and focused. If Voldemort could send him dreams, then he should be able to pinpoint that snake's location. He had been putting everything he learned about Legilimency to the test trying to locate Voldemort, and for a moment Harry wondered if Dumbledore had lied about his disbelief in Divination. If the old man had predicted something like this would happen, that Harry would go off to find him on his own.

He shook his head. He didn't have time for this; he had to find where Voldemort was hiding and do something. He'd figure out what exactly when he got there. He hadn't bothered to work out any sort of overall plan while at the house, as he was too preoccupied with getting out past Snape -- Severus.

Severus. He wouldn't think about him, shouldn't. He was here to do the one thing that everyone thought he was born to do -- and die in the process. Because there was no way that he'd get out of here alive. He knew that. There was barely a chance that he'd succeed. Severus was right; this was a fool's errand, indeed.

This was the only time he'd ever been happy that his scar connected him to Voldemort, happy that there hadn't been a way to close it. If he focused the spell right, then maybe he'd be able to pick out the knowledge around the memories, the feelings. It was something that he had learned. Everything was tied to emotions, every bit of information anyone ever came in contact with was tainted with memories and feelings. Nothing was just waiting to be plucked out of someone's head like a page in a book. Snape had been right; it wasn't mind reading at all. It seemed like ages ago.

He breathed in deeply; there was no need to actually cast the spell when it was right there, laid open through his scar. A tall muggle building, with many filthy windows covered in a layer of soot, rose up into the gray tinted sky. A tiny boy, his hand held by a large woman in a simple gray wool dress was being dragged toward the door.

"You aren't to run away again, Tom."

It was the first time that Harry had ever heard something with a flash of memory. He shook his head and the picture faded, replaced by another one. Tom was older, perhaps twelve, and looked more like the Tom Riddle he had met from the diary. He was standing next to a trunk in a rundown hallway, and Harry could feel the disgust, the hate he had for the place.

When he opened his eyes, cutting himself out of the memory, he found himself standing in front of that same building. Its windows were mostly boarded up, and it was even filthier than before. This was where he was hiding. Voldemort was brilliant in his own way. No one would ever expect to look for him in the closed, run-down orphanage that he had grown up in. Harry stepped up to the door and turned the knob. It opened awfully easily, maybe too easily.

A thick layer of dust covered everything, and not a single footstep disturbed it. Harry made his way forward down the hall. Phantoms of memories that weren't his own played like movies in front of his eyes. Two boys pushing a smaller one's head through the rungs of the main staircase, a beefy man chasing them off and yelling at the little boy, Tom. Harry felt him cringing even before he was yanked out and pushed up the stairs. He shivered and avoided the staircase; it didn't look safe to climb anyway.

The dining hall was filled with long tables that reminded him of the Great Hall in Hogwarts, but the rest of the room dispelled that image. Out of the corner of his eye he saw an older boy leaning over and stealing a roll as a -- Harry supposed it was a teacher -- stood by and did nothing. He swallowed and backed out of the room, trying to keep himself from remembering anything else. He had enough bad memories -- his own and Severus' -- he didn't need anymore.

He opened another door, a schoolroom. The desks were lined up in rather crooked rows; some slates were scattered about on the desks, some with pieces of chalk by them, and a pile of books was sitting on the corner of the large desk in front. He took in a deep breath and coughed as ages of dust filled his lungs.

"This was where they got their comeuppance. The schoolmaster was the only one that paid me heed. He didn't tolerate nonsense."

Harry whipped around. The face was hidden by the hood of a black cloak, but Harry knew who it was. Who else could it be but Voldemort?

"Reminds me of Severus, actually. Smart, but fools, both of them." Harry heard the sick smile in those words. "He thought to protect me, but why would I need his protection? I was a wizard, better than that foolish muggle. He died with the rest of them."

Harry bit his lip, backing up until he felt the large desk at the front pressing into his back. Now that he was here he didn't know what to do.

"My retribution was rather ingenious. There is a potion that can be injected into the air vents. It induces botulism type symptoms. Everyone in the building died, and the orphanage was shut down."

Harry swallowed down the bile in his throat. "Did it occur to you that those bullies you set out to punish were gone?"

Voldemort shrugged one shoulder. "The masters were still here. But what does it matter? They were Muggles. Useless, pathetic, disgusting Muggles."

How many times had Harry thought just that about the Dursleys? He breathed in heavily through his teeth. "Do you always solve your problems by killing people?"

"The only time it hasn't worked was with you." Voldemort pulled out his wand, lazily pointing it at Harry.

He didn't move; to do so would show that he was scared. Which he was. He could feel his heart pounding against his chest, his hands shaking at his sides. But he would not show that to Voldemort. His fear would give that snake power.

"That's your own fault."

The hood fell back, his reptilian eyelids only partially closed, those red eyes glistening. "Really, Potter. Care to explain?"

"It's simple. You completed the prophecy; you gave me the power to kill you. You chose *me* to be your executioner." Harry shoved his hand into his pocket, wrapping his fingers tightly around his wand.

"And how are you going to do that? Cast the Killing Curse on me? Do you really think that will work?"

Harry shook his head. He didn't know what would work, and he hoped that something would come to him. Voldemort's eyes flicked to the left, and Harry turned his head to look. An arm closed around his throat and squeezed.

Voldemort walked up to him and trailed one slimy, thin, long finger down his cheek. "You didn't really think I was unprotected, did you? Not even you are that stupid."

Harry couldn't say anything; he drew in a shaky breath, barely getting any air into his lungs. What little that did pass the constriction was his last as the arm tightened more.

"Poor little Harry." The edges of his vision were going cloudy, fading in and out, but he recognized the voice. Bellatrix Lestrange.

"You keep losing people," she continued. "There should be a warning sign on you. First you caused Sirius to die, and then your little mudblood girlfriend. Weasley, Snape and the werewolf will be next."

He struggled against her, and all it did was cause her grip around his neck to tighten.

"You can't get away, little one, I won't let you. Soon you'll be going to join my dear, departed cousin."

Harry coughed, but it came out more like a wheeze. Voldemort was still standing in front of him; he knew that much even though his sight faded to black for a minute.

"Did you ever learn the Crutiatus? Did you ever become angry enough?"

She let him go then, and he collapsed onto his hands and knees, breathing in the air, the dust, everything. He coughed, his lungs not able to filter enough of the air. Looking up he saw Bellatrix, a strange, mad half-smile on her face. "Go to Hell."

"I've been there, baby Potter. Perhaps I'll take you there sometime." She pushed the toe of her boot into his side, knocking him over so that he collapsed onto the floor.

Voldemort laid a hand on her arm. "That's enough, Bella"

She turned her head to look at Voldemort, and Harry pulled out his wand laying it along the side of his arm. "*Protego Tactus.*," he whispered. Moving slightly, he managed to point his wand at Bellatrix. "*Imperius.*"

She blinked, and Harry hoped that it was a sign she was under his influence. Just leave. Leave. Leave. Leave. She didn't move. You bitch, just go, anywhere!

She turned back him; he was still sprawled on the floor, trying to look like he was still intent on breathing and nothing more. "I don't trust him, My Lord. Perhaps I should go and bring someone else to help while he's still incapacitated."

"No, Bella. I think he's playing with you."

Harry breathed in sharply and then promptly coughed to cover up his shock. Voldemort hadn't figured out what he was doing. He couldn't have. If he had, there was no way he would even have a chance of succeeding.

"Potter might be more dangerous than he looks. Since it became evident that Severus has deserted me in favor of Dumbledore, I've been thinking that perhaps he's been teaching Potter." Voldemort leaned down and narrowed his eyes at him. "Has he? Of course if he has then it just means an even more painful death than I already had planned for him."

A fist clamped around his chest. He wasn't going to lose anyone else, he wasn't; he came here to make sure of that. He spit in Voldemort's face.

"YOU LITTLE BASTARD! DON'T YOU DARE!" Bellatrix stormed toward him, reaching for him, but the Protego he had cast kept anyone from actually touching him. She wrenched her hand back, rubbing her wrist, snarling.

If she was angry enough, maybe he could get past her mental defenses. What did he want? What did he *want*?

"The Imperius? Did you think it would work on *my* Bella, Potter?" Voldemort reached out and ran his fingers just above him far enough away to keep the shield from hurting him. "Did you think I couldn't tell?" He lowered his voice to barely a whisper. "She's mad. All that time in Azkaban with the Dementors she focused on me, made herself believe I would rescue her, and I did. She's mine. There isn't enough free will in her for you to influence."

"Send her away."

"And why would I do that?"

Harry swallowed. "Don't tell me that you can't kill a child all by yourself? Or have you forgotten how?"

"Bella, go and guard the main door. Stay there no matter what you hear."

"My Lord--"

"Go."

From Harry's position on the floor he could hear Bellatrix move across the floor, and through the door; the sound of it slamming the only sound in the room for minutes.

Harry closed his eyes and concentrated on clearing his mind.

When the Crutiatus hit him he curled into a fetal position and bit his lip.

But it was Voldemort who screamed.

The curse ended, and Harry relaxed the muscles in his body. It had worked.

"What did you do?"

"It's not what I did, it's what you did."

"*Crucio!*"

The screams started again.

He knew what he had to do. He had to save Severus, and Remus, and Ron and the rest of the Weasleys, and every other person. And he was willing to die to do it. Holding his wand against his chest, its tip pointing right below his chin, he cast the one spell that he'd never thought would work. "*Avada Kedavra!*"

Pain shot through his body, centering on his scar and traveling in pinpricks down his spine. His field of vision became smaller and smaller, and all Harry could think of was that he had always thought the Killing Curse would work much faster. And then everything went black.

So this was what it was like to die.

---

His head rolled back against something hard yet soft at the same time, something that scratched at his cheek and smelled like lye, something that was familiar but new. His fingers clenched around worn material, and he opened his eyes. It was dark and he couldn't see anything, but he could feel.

He was being carried somewhere. Everything seemed so detached, so unreal. Like he wasn't feeling anything, when he should be overcome with sensation.

His eyes closed and he heard a soft humming sound. And then he succumbed again to unconsciousness.

---

~Fin

---

Notes: (1) - From the Prologue of the Decameron by Boccaccio

Proemio. Umana cosa è aver compassione degli afflitti: e come che a ciascuna persona stea bene, a coloro è massimamente richiesto li quali già hanno di conforto avuto mestiere e hannol trovato in alcuni...

PROEM. 'Tis humane to have compassion on the afflicted; and as it shews well in all, so it is especially demanded of those who have had need of comfort and have found it in others: among whom, if any had ever need thereof or found it precious or delectable, I may be numbered...