A/N: Here we go again!

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Chapter 40: Taking a Stand

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Harry saw that their diversion was failing. His friends were being overrun with the dozens of death eaters half-way encircling them. They would not escape, unless he made his presence know now.

It was breaking the plan. It was too early. He would not be able to reach the castle before Tom caught up to him, and he would certainly not be able to get inside and behind the walls before Tom came.

But his friends…he could see them, struggling, all still conscious but only Luna, Ron, and Hermione still fighting back. Ginny was staggering, looking pale and clutching her side, and Neville was trying to help her stay upright, his own left hand covered in blood. They wouldn't last long.

He had to break from their plan to save them, he knew without a doubt. This would not end like it had the year before, when his Godfather had died. When Sirius had fallen, trying to help him.

And so he raised his wand, shooting out a bright stream of red and gold sparks. "I'M OVER HERE, TOM!" he shouted above the wind and rumbles of the gathering storm. "PERHAPS IT'S TIME TO FACE ME!" he added, knowing that would irk Tom greatly. "I'M WAITING, TOM!"

And he smiled humorlessly as the monster turned, turned away from the teenagers fighting for their lives. "POTTER!" Tom shouted back. Harry gave the half-dead wizard a jaunty wave, then turned and ran for the Fortress, knowing that Tom would have no choice but to follow him in order to prevent him from getting inside.

When he looked back again, Tom and the death eaters had all turned to chase after him, gaining ground as Harry kept his pace purposely slow. He could see his friends, struggling to get away, and for a moment locked eyes with Luna across the field. She raised a hand in a half-wave, and he smiled and sent up more sparks to attract the rest of the death eaters. He hoped she realized that he wanted her to get away, to escape with the others.

He could see that all five of them were going to make it, though, and his thoughts turned back to himself, and his own very grim predicament. It wasn't until he was within fifty yards of the Fortress that he felt the first spells shoot past his shoulders. He turned, raising a strong shield, and let several spells bounce off of his defense. He dropped it in an instant, launching his own attack.

"Rictus!" he shouted. "Serpentsortia infinitus!"

A death eater bowled over from his first spell, paralyzed perhaps permanently, and the second unleashed a twenty foot long viper that immediately doubled, then doubled again, and again, and again until fifty or more great vipers slithered over the grass, striking out at the death eaters…until Tom aimed and destroyed the original viper. The others disappeared in writhing black ash, and Harry turned towards the monster of a wizard. "Infernus!" he shouted. Flames roared from his wand…only to curl away from the invisible shield surrounding Tom. Death eaters to either side screamed and fell back as flames licked at their robes, but Tom just laughed.

"Is that the best that the famed Harry Potter can do?" he asked condescendingly. "Surely you have more…deadly…spells at your disposal?"

"Electricus!" Harry snapped in return, watching the lightening bolts flick from his wand and take down several death eaters. He stood straight and steady as two stunners were absorbed by his passive magic shield, then stepped back quickly to avoid the green of a Crucio that would have impacted his knees.

"Reducto!" he said next, aiming at another death eater. The man raised a shield, then returned fire with some sort of strange curse that disappeared into Harry's shield. "Silencio permanus!" he said quickly, and smiled as the death eater was instantly and permanently muted.

"Very good, Potter," Tom said, striding forward, "But it will not be good enough. There is no Portkey here. There is no grave to hide behind tonight. Tonight, you will face me without running."

"Last time I recall you running from an old man," Harry said back, forcing himself to smirk. He kept his eyes on the remaining twenty or so death eaters, who were all working to encircle him.

He watched those red eyes burn with fury, and forced his mind closed. "You won't get anything from me, Tom," he said.

"My name is Lord Voldemort, boy," Tom said. "You would do well to remember that."

"Embarrassed to carry your Muggle father's name?" Harry taunted.

"I will have you screaming for mercy by the end of tonight," Tom snarled, raising his wand.

"I doubt it," Harry said flatly, then quickly stunned two death eaters working their way behind him.

"Doesn't Hawwy want to pway?" he heard. He snapped around, focusing immediately on that voice.

The voice of Bellatrix Lestrange, the woman who had killed Sirius. The woman who had meant that he'd never had a home, and never would. The woman that had taken his great chance at happiness from him. The woman… "Bellatrix," he snarled. "I recall telling you that if we met again, it would be the last."

Lestrange pulled back her hood and threw off her mask, grinning at him maniacally. "I don't remember you saying who would be left standing, Hawwy," she said, almost cooing his name. Harry's knuckles whitened around his wand and he remembered again that moment when Sirius had fallen…

"Discarpe," he growled, and watched as Bellatrix attempted a shield, suddenly recognized the virtually unblockable spell, and dove out of the way. Harry was shaken from his focus as he heard laughter.

"Very good, boy," Voldemort said, clapping. "Dark Magic…very good."

Harry turned away, refusing to let the words shake him. It was the use of the spell that determined its label, not its function. Bellatrix was a murderer. "Rictus, Infernus!" he said, one spell right after the other. Bellatrix laughed, blocking both, and fired off her own string of curses even as Harry shouted again, letting his passive magic take care of the curses.

"You've learned much this year," he heard Tom say, sounding approving. "Bella, you'd better watch yourself."

The wizard's voice was mocking, and Harry realized that Tom knew that Bellatrix wouldn't win, that she was outmatched by Harry's anger and determination. She had been lucky, had beaten Sirius because the man's overconfidence had relaxed his guard. Harry had no illusions about his power…or lack thereof…and he was determined to see this end.

"Corneus Impactus!" he shouted, as Bellatrix let loose several more curses. She did not notice the curse headed her way until it hit…and then she laughed, as the weak-looking soft white light seeped into her. Harry smiled, then ducked and rolled to avoid the Crucio she sent his way…the last spell she cast before her vision was cut off by his curse. "Infernus!" he shouted again, and watched as the flames slammed into the crazed death eater's body, sending her to the ground in a flaming heap. She was dead without a sound, the others around her unable to stop the flames in time.

Harry half-smiled, his revenge completed.

And in that moment he realized that he felt no satisfaction, no sense of closure.

And a moment after that, he realized that revenge had indeed blinded him.

"Expelliarmus."

That simple spell was going to cost him his life.

His wand was ripped out of his hand and he was thrown violently through the air, landing with a thud ten feet away. He rolled, getting to his feet as quickly as he could, and faced the monster that now held his wand, examining it with narrowed eyes.

"Odd, how such a thing can still my own wand," Tom murmured. "Brother wands were not meant to fight each other."

"Well, if you'd just stay dead, we wouldn't have this problem," Harry snapped, knowing words were his only weapon now.

"Hmm," Voldemort commented, then nonchalantly pocketed the wand and turned to face Harry. "I think a better solution is your own death, boy."

"Knowing you'll never get into this place if you do?" Harry bluffed. Voldemort sneered.

"You don't really think I believe that, do you?" Tom laughed. "Severus was quite right in telling you that I managed to rip all information about this castle from his feeble mind."

Harry's hands clenched into fists at the madman's mention of what he'd done to Professor Snape. Snape, who was still recovering, still trying to regain himself. "Severus Snape is ten times the man you would ever have been, " Harry growled. "Seeing as you've already died."

"I have never died," Voldemort coldly informed him. "Nor will I."

Harry smiled suddenly. "Are you afraid?" he asked.

Voldemort smiled back, refusing the bait. "The question, my boy, is; are you afraid?"

There was the harsh crack of a sickly-yellow lightening bolt, and then the rain began to pour earthward, as if the very oceans were cascading down upon those standing on that sodden hill.

He thought he heard a few coughs and sneezes from those surrounding him. They sounded like they were getting soaked, as was he.

Harry wanted to smile at the bitter irony. It would be fitting, he thought, if Voldemort and his followers caught pneumonia this night from standing out in the freezing rain.

He would not live long enough to catch any sort of virus. He would not even live long enough to be properly chilled.

There would be no retreat from this. Of that, he had no doubt. Here, at the foot of the Fortress, at the gates of the giant castle that he had worked so long to keep from his enemy, he would die. He would make his last stand, of course, would try his best, but it was much too late for him to win.

Again and again, he had dreamed of this place. Over and over he had seen how this would happen, and every time he had dismissed it…until the very end, when suddenly he had realized just how crucial this place was. The last stronghold. The only stronghold. A place that not even Dumbledore himself could break into.

And he had ignored it, like a fool, until it was almost too late. He had told himself that Voldemort wouldn't be able to find it, not if Dumbledore couldn't, and he had convinced himself that there was no real hurry, no real need to actively search for the Fortress on his own. He hadn't seen the extreme urgency of the situation until much too late.

He'd been an idiot for much too long, and it was going to kill him. At least, he had to admit to himself, he was going to attempt to fix this. He was going to try to make this right in the end, but he didn't hold out much hope. Not much hope at all.

He was wandless and he was alone.

And yet he stood on his own two feet, encircled by drenched death eaters and staring at each in turn, trying to let them get a feel for just how much contempt he held for them. His eyes rested a moment on the blackened corpse of Bellatrix Lestrange, and he wondered again at his own sheer idiocy. But it was not the time for that anymore, he told himself sternly.

He turned his back on them all, and faced Voldemort with his arms folded. "So this is it," he said, loud enough to be heard over the rumbling thunder and pouring rain. With every ounce of his being he tried to convey the impression that fear was the last thing on his mind.

His shoes squelched in the muddy grass as he walked towards Voldemort, just a few steps, so that they could see each other, eye to eye. "It all ends tonight, Tom."

"You will regret ever mocking me," Voldemort finally hissed, voice menacing. Harry smirked.

"Will I?" he asked insolently. He looked around, as if bored with the other man's words. "I don't think I will."

A bolt of lightening split an old, dead tree down the middle in a blaze of sparks and fire, and for a moment Harry's eyes strayed again to his folly…the smoldering remains of Bellatrix Lestrange. His final mistake.

The one that would cost him his life.

"Give me the key, and I will let you go free," Voldemort said. Apparently, he didn't want to have to force his way into the fortress unless he had no other choice. But he didn't understand. Harry hadn't, either, until these past few minutes.

He shook his head slowly, looking down and a somehow un-forced smile on his face. Voldemort still did not understand what the key was. He still did not understand that while the Fortress could be forced open, as Voldemort was planning to do, it would never be the impenetrable stronghold that he desired. Even with the supposed key, it would not reach its potential. It had to want you to open it. It had to welcome you into it. And it would never welcome Voldemort.

Of course, even breaking into it, as Voldemort could, would be enough. No one had ever done that before, and Harry knew now that Voldemort certainly had the power and the spells to break through the Fortress's defenses. Their shared blood, in more ways than one, would allow Voldemort access like no other…and Harry could not allow that.

"You're never going to control it," Harry said aloud. "It won't let you."

"You lie, thinking it will spare your life," Voldemort said angrily. Harry shrugged.

"Believe what you will, Tom," he said calmly. The more he could anger and upset Voldemort, the better. "It will get you nowhere."

"Then I have no use for you, it seems," Voldemort said. Harry shrugged again.

"It seems you are right," he agreed. "So what…are you going to try to kill me, again?" he asked.

Now that the moment had come, now that he was standing there, in the rain, in the dark, it did not seem so bad. Death did not seem too alien and frightening as it once had. It was so close that he could almost feel the border. The curtain was fluttering just out of reach. He could almost imagine Sirius and his parents standing there, waiting for him.

Voldemort opened his snake-mouth to say something in return when there was a commotion. Harry froze as he heard a girl's voice, and his insides twisted into horrified knots as he saw two Death Eaters coming forward, someone stretched between them.

"We found her hiding in the brush," one of the death eaters said. They had not been in the circle, Harry realized. They'd been watching for 'rescuers.' Harry swallowed convulsively, afraid of who it could be.

"She is not one of us," Voldemort said, then raised his lighted wand in order to illuminate the girl's face.

And it was Luna. Batty, sweet, intelligent, cunning Luna Lovegood, big eyes not so dreamy but rather calm and sharp. "I supposed you would find me eventually," she said calmly. "Of course, it was the Snorklumps that gave me away…"

"Luna," Harry whispered, voice full of regret and apology. He had told her not to follow him up the hill. He had told her to leave him, that he would petrify her if she didn't let him go. He had told her that he had to do it alone…there was no other way.

He thought she had understood, when he had drawn the attention away from her and their friends. She had smiled in farewell, he had thought. Why had she come back for him? Why?

"Oh, Luna." The girl smiled at him.

"Dear Harry," she greeted him, as if they were not both going to die.

"I'm so sorry," he begged, feeling agony like nothing before. "You were supposed to go back with the others!" She couldn't be here. She had to be heading back to Hogwarts, back to safety. He could only hope the others had left…though it sent a twisting pang through him, to realize that the one that mattered most to him was here, dying beside him.

He wished he could send her to Hogwarts. He wished he could save her. But. But, there was no way…

Blue eyes locked with his, and as he had many times before he felt himself drowning in their azure depths. There were no words to convey what she was telling him. It was never your fault. "I love you, Harry," she said aloud.

Voldemort's mouth twisted into a sneer. "How sweet," he hissed, "Potter's found himself a girlfriend."

There were laughs all around, and Harry snarled, opening his mouth to retort.

"Love is something you shall never understand," Luna said, beating Harry to any response he could have made.

"Avada Kedavra!" Voldemort said in response, face passionless, and Luna slumped forward.

She was dead.

Harry blinked. The death eaters dropped her body, dropped her in the mud, dropped her, let her fall…she was dead, she was murdered, the spare, never coming back…

His panicked thoughts ran circles around themselves as he realized that another had died for him, another had been killed because they were not what was 'important' to Voldemort…

And this time it was not just a person that he sort of knew. This was Luna, who he had only really just begun to understand and…love…

And she had understood him. He knew he didn't trust very many people, that he tended to shut those out that didn't try to understand his situation. And she had, she'd been patient and attentive and understanding. And now…

She was gone. Just like that. Dead. Lying there, on the ground. And he would never see her again…until his own death…

Although, from the way things were going, he did not think that he had much time left himself. Hell, he thought wryly, he might catch up to her within a few minutes. He had finally outlived his usefulness…

And he turned back to face Voldemort with a renewed strength, because finally his own time had come, it was finally the moment where he would die for others, where he would make his last stand and make it count. He would not have to see another die. Because he would be the one to die this time…

And he smiled, even as Voldemort raised his wand. He tried to brace for the curse, calling forth every ounce of passive magic in his control and knowing that it couldn't stop an Unforgivable, but an impact from behind caught him unawares. Blinding pain roared across his back, but he did not make a sound.

Because even as he realized that he should have known, should have suspected, that Voldemort would not let him die quickly, he also realized that this was it. No more waiting, no more wondering when it would be.

He would face his end bravely, just as bravely as Luna Lovegood had so suddenly faced hers.

The rain had not slowed. Harry felt as if he could count every drop as it hit his raw and bleeding back, and the mud underneath his body sucked at his arms and legs, holding him fast. His mind told him that he did not think he could escape it. His heart disagreed.

And so he struggled to get up, pulling himself up to his knees inch by inch, fingers scrabbling in the mire as he tried to gain purchase. His body burned with angry fire, pain burning through every inch of his being.

And still he staggered to his feet, for perhaps the dozenth time. He knew Tom had to be staring down at him again, the half-sneer of disbelief and insult on his lips as he watched his defeated enemy rise yet again.

"Crucio," Tom said with a snarl. Harry had not even made it to his feet this time—Tom had only let him get to his knees, swaying with bloodloss, before he had cast the Unforgivable.

He fell in a heap of dignity-stripping agony, thrashing and convulsing though no screams passed his lips. He would not cry out, not now, not after so long. He had remained silent this long—he could stay silent until he was dead.

Only vaguely did he feel the curse lift, the pain barely abating with its end. As the tremors eased, he slowly slid his arms closer to his body, bracing, pushing, heaving himself up once more.

A shattering bolt of lightening split the sky, and Harry looked up at the passive walls of the castle, of the building that had for so long haunted his dreams. Was it worth it? Did it matter?

In the end, all that mattered to him was that he was not broken. Voldemort could not break him, would never break him. There was hope in the world still…

"Why do you continue to defy me?" Tom demanded, sounding frustrated. "Surely you can see that you are defeated!"

Harry smiled through bloody lips, trying to focus his eyes on the man—no, creature—in front of him. "You will not win, Tom," he rasped out. "And I am not defeated."

A blow from the monster's fist sent him sprawling on his side once more, laid out flat in the blood-tinted mud. Flashes of lightening lit up the other death eaters encircling this scene, their white-masked faces stark and cold.

And there was another body lying in the mud, another corpse to haunt his soul. Her hair had been muddied and matted by the falling rain, and the water had washed away the grime on her face, leaving Luna staring up at the dark and stormy sky with wide but unafraid eyes.

"You are a fool to resist, Potter," Tom said loudly. "Once you are dead, there will be no stopping me."

"Someone will stop you," he said, a dreamy quality to his voice. It was so hard to focus on the world any more…everything seemed unreal, detached… "Light will always stop dark…"

"Perhaps you did not understand me, Potter," Tom said, "But you are going to die!"

Harry did not answer at first—all of his energy went into pushing himself up just once more, just one more time before it ended. Tom let him get to his feet this time, struggling against his waning energy and the driving rain until he stood, facing his enemy, facing his death.

"Tom," he said softly. "Tom, we are all dying."

There was an expression of pure fear on Voldemort's face for just a moment, but it was replaced by hatred just a moment later. Harry watched the monster raised his wand, and knew that this was it. Tom had finished playing.

And for a moment he thought perhaps that Sirius would have been proud of him, standing up for all that he believed in. Would Dumbledore have been proud, as well?

And for a moment, he thought of his friends, together with him as far as they could go. Would they grieve for him?

And for a moment, just a moment, he felt a thrill of fear for the unknown he was facing. Would he see his parents?

"Avada Kedavra!"

There was a flash of green, sickly and violent, and Harry felt as if the whole world was breaking apart with the curse. Was this how it felt to die?

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And the dark and stormy skies slipped away.

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A/N: No, it's not over! No, Harry's probably not dead. I can't kill him, not in this! It's only his sixth year! One year more!! Hang in there, there's probably two chapters left…one's going to be a little different, cuz I gotta explain what Ron, Hermione, Neville, and Ginny have been up to this whole time, and then I gotta explain what the hell just happened. A lot of explaining, overall.

Anyway, thanx and tell me what you think!