Disclaimer: Canon characters and the HP universe are property of J. K. Rowlings. This is not an attempt at making money, merely my attempt to repay the debt of many evenings spent reading excellent fanfiction. Revised on the 1st of April, '08.
- - -
Rosemary for Remembrance
Part One—Something Wicked This Way Comes
A chill wind worried at the leaves before the old woman. She gingerly shifted her groceries, one bag on her hip, the other weighing down her arm, and smiled faintly at a particularly brilliant leaf. Her eyes lingered on the ground as she began to walk again. If she should fall...well, her bones would splinter, and there was no one at home, except for Caesar the cat, to worry and come looking. No neighbors close enough either, to watch out for her.
One slow foot after another. It didn't seem fair that she was left to spend her last few years alone; it wasn't fair that Charles, her son, her only son and real remainder of her dear husband, was dead. But he was. Life went on. The birds still chirped in the trees, the wind still blew and the leaves still fell. It would be the same when she closed her eyes for the final sleep.
She could still picture Charles, his long black hair tied up in a ponytail like some modern hoodlum, eyes twinkling; she could still hear the thunder of his eager footsteps as he ran to meet her... It took her a moment to realize that she was hearing real footsteps, and by then it was too late.
She fell with a terrible, disbelieving cry.
I never believed in miracles before, but I do now, the old woman thought shakily. She stayed where she was, on top of the pile of her groceries, trembling. If she moved, she might suddenly find herself back in that familiar nightmare of falling, and she never fell on top of relatively soft bags of dried beans, oats, and cheese then. The thought send a tremor through her.
"Oh god, no! Are you—ma'am—I'm sorry—I—there's—they're coming—the death eaters." Someone was talking to her; she forced herself to open her eyes, releasing her death-hold on the bags, and focused on the voice. That's right—someone knocked me over. Stirrings of anger lent her the strength to accept a sweaty, strong hand and compose her mind. Dignity and upright state regained, she looked straight into the young man's green eyes and said bitingly:
"Thank you." He winced. "Now, explain yourself, Mr. ..."
"Harry. Harry P-just Harry, ma'am." She humphed, but her treacherous face softened slightly. He looked a right sight, this young hoodlum or whatever he was. If Charles had come home looking like that, why she'd rush him into a bath and dress his scraps and bruises, and give him a good piece of her mind! And then sit by his bed while he slept, stroking his hair and releasing her relief at how close he'd come. As her eyes wandered over the young man now before her, his black eye lined with sleeplessness, dried blood on his forehead and various other gashes and bruises, she automatically listed what she'd do to heal each.
And what he was doing running around on an isolated road in such a state...
Only a second or two had passed. The boy—Harry—hesitated, then said, a bit too carefully "Ma'am, I'm sorry I knocked you over. It was not intentional. There are people-bad people- murderers coming after me, and they don't like mug- people who are different from them. They'd kill you as casually as saying hello. Please- you need to go home as quickly as possible, and don't come out until the sun rises."
This sounds like a warning straight out of a fairytale, she thought, amused, though of course magic doesn't exist, and the danger this young man is in does. "And what about you?" Eyebrows raised to just the right degree through years of practice should have made Harry quail, but instead he replied firmly:
"I'll keep running; they're chasing me, after all, and won't stop until they find me. I'm putting you in danger just by standing here." His eyes betrayed him; they were the eyes of a wild animal with nowhere left to run. Not while I'm alive, she impulsively decided, deliberately ignoring the clamor of her more sensible side. This inclination had gotten her into plenty of trouble in her earlier years.
"No." It was not a question. "You're exhausted, in no state to be playing the fugitive." And with that she firmly grabbed his arm and marched the boy off the road, over a crumbling stonewall, and into the placid sea of sun-gold grain on the left of the road.
"No buts-" never again "-and watch where you're putting your feet," she remarked practically, steering him around a rather gruesome half-eaten corpse of some small mammal. Though burrs hidden in the grain caught at her dress, she was more concerned with how much the boy stumbled, how heavily he leaned on her arm.
"Ma'am, please! Let me go. I don't want to hurt you."
She barked a laugh.
"I'm old, boy. What could you do, what could anyone do to me that Age has not already done or will not do? Indulge me; I have no nearby neighbors, or surviving family, and will die soon anyway. You-"
Remind me of my son, she almost said; where had that come from? But it wasn't as important as Harry's safety.
Moments later, a single streak marred the perfect blue of the sky. To any watcher, the crow's behavior would seem rather peculiar; it flew high above the road in a straight line until it reached that turn in the road where Harry had run into the old woman. Suddenly it broke off from its spate of furious flapping to circle down sharply, and any normal watcher would blanch and run at what happened next. But the man was no normal man, as illustrated by his sudden fluid morphing from crow into human.
Parts of the crow remained, in black hair, and unusually hooked nose, the glint in his dark eyes, the unconscious grace with which he walked lightly around, studying the tracks on the ground. The effect was heightened by his crow-black robes, which billowed out as the man pulled out a short twig, a seemly ridiculous thing for someone who could turn into a bird at will.
Twirling it in his long, pale fingers, he glanced briefly up and down the road and shook his head at his foolishness before beginning to whisper.
Moments later he was running down the road towards sanctuary—the woods—and his footprints were not his own.
Back at the meeting place, the gravel was smooth except for the mar of a single set of footprints; nothing moved except for a few leaves rustling forlornly in occasional sighs of wind.
The old woman was almost running in her haste, worry dogging her steps and stiffening her back and resolve. No sooner had her strange guest arrived at her quiet cottage that he'd collapsed, unconscious, on the floor. She felt a quiet pride at how well she'd coped; somehow getting him to Charles's old bed, getting some broth in him, giving him some medicine from her precious hoard. All the while the memories of Charles haunted her; she would bend over his restless form to find herself weeping uncontrollably. So many mysteries! What was he running from? Why? What troubled his sleep so, that he turned and tossed and cried out? Why the strange mixture of maturity and the childish way he clutched at that broken stick of his? It was beautiful, true, polished wood cleverly hollowed out, but clearly broken, useless. Like the boy himself.
No! He wasn't—she wouldn't let him be. Not this time. Filled with determination once more, the old woman bustled about, taking her determination out on the tasks at hand.
Memories. He was staring dully at the stones of his prison. It didn't matter anymore, nothing mattered. All those years of growing up fighting, hiding, all the death and sacrifice worthless. They'd caught him. Voldemort was going to kill him. It was almost a relief to not have to fight it anymore.
No one would miss him. Oh, the Ministry might miss their figurehead, but not him; he'd failed the Order; Dumbledore…
His throat tightened painfully. Dumbledore was dead and he'd failed him too. His friends would be better off without him. Everyone would be better off without him.
Feeling numb, it dimly crossed his mind that the cell was very small, cold, and damp. It was painfully familiar. Everything hurt.
Time passed; the old woman had worn many a metaphorical carpet through with her endless pacing. He was getting worse and worse, unconsciously refusing the broth, his fever still rising. He was so thin, so thin…she wanted to hug him, kiss him, tell him everything would turn out well, but it would be a lie, a lie, a lie; she couldn't let him die on her. Couldn't be left alone against the memories. Outside, the wind roared for attention with terrible force, but inside the all-too-quiet continued, broken only by her boy's harsh breathing and the tick…tick…tick of an antique clock.
Days passed within the cell, or so Harry thought. The small light that had once shone through implacable bars had been taken away, but a guard still walked by every hour. He'd counted with his pulse, like a famous muggle scientist he'd read about at his old school.
No food either, not today; he knew what game old Voldie was playing and refused to give; the game of wills was all he had left. That and the morbid guessing game of when the summons would finally come, and the Boy-Who-Lived would become the Boy-Who-Died.
Upon waking one morning? night? he thought he heard Snape's voice; that old bastard, he thought rather fondly, and decided he was going to accept his madness and move on. The phrase brought a slightly hysterical giggle; they'd used a variant of it often enough, in training. War training, and with Snape of all people! Dumbledore had always had a rather queer sense of humor.
Get up, Potter. Get up! Stop acting like a Gryffindor and think; what is your enemy doing? What is your enemy thinking and planning right at this very moment? I can assure you, it is far more important than that bit of wall you find so engrossing. And Your mind is your greatest weapon, and the way you've been using it leaves precious little hope for the wizarding world. Discipline is needed to use it successfully. When all else fails, do NOT lose hope, idiot boy! That's always been your strength, hasn't it? Stop your foolish, egotistical self-pity right now! Remember that the will to survive is half the battle. NEVER GIVE UP!
It seemed to echo through Harry's head. Never give up. But I did.
He thought, suddenly, of his parents--the least I can do is die with dignity.
A sudden shout had Caesar the cat leaping up, spitting and hissing, before his conscious mind identified his mistress's voice; reproachfully, the handsome tom settled back down in his snug, sunlight corner, letting the warmth soak into his very bones.
Elsewhere the old woman sang for the first time in years. She felt like dancing, like running outside and dancing with the leaves. His fever's broken, his fever's broken! Halleluiah. Halleluiah. Halleluiah.
A scream ripped him apart at the pain, the terrible pain in his eyes. So much light after all the dark. Hands grabbed him, dragged him to his feet, while agony occupied his eye sockets. Movement forward, derisive voices: "Not so big now, Potty." "The Dark Lord desires your presence. We'll be listening for your screams." The words were meaningless, but the harsh, masculine tones were hostile, mocking. He struggled to find his footing, blinking furiously like he'd been taught. It seemed important, for some reason, that his Enemy not see him like this, that they continue this farce. Grey blurs and dark patches sharpened slowly into the walls of the corridor, and turnoffs to other hallways. After some time, his masked, nameless captors jerked his bruised shoulders, forcing him out his stupor to a halt. In front of him, well-polished double doors gleamed darkly in the wavering lumos light; he noted absently that at least one of the death eaters had terrible magical control, making him a drone, an easy opponent. His cold fingers missed the comfort of smooth, familiar holly, but that could not be helped; at any rate, he was not in good enough physical condition to safely use wandless magic, nor would he be able to physically break free and get more than a few feet away. Nothing to be done, then, no last hope. I don't want to die, he thought, surprised, as the doors groaned open, and he was swallowed into the room beyond.
"Voldemort," he said. His enemy was there in all his hideous, red-eyed glory, seated at the end of the hall on a throne on a raised dais. Superior height to unnerve the underlings. But then again, old Voldie had always loved his dramatics.
But this time, Voldemort was not interested in following the set routine. "Crucio." Harry screamed. "That's better. Your proper position for addressing me in on your knees, Harry, and it's high time you started learning some respect for your betters."
"I don't think you deserve anyone's respect, sir." Harry ground out, voice as sarcastic as he could have hoped, though it shook just a little. As always, he was too weak, but at least in death he could do what he had not in life: be an inspiration, the hero everyone expected him to be. If it took being a martyr, than so be it. He shook off the echoes of Snape's biting tones, which said cuttingly that such a death would be useless. Pain again. Voldemort must have cast Crucio. Eons later, it stopped. He collapsed on the floor, a puppet whose strings had been abruptly cut.
When he managed to lever himself shakily off the floor, he looked up. Voldie—he forced himself to use this name, despite the fear coursing through his veins—Voldie was lounging still on that ridiculous excuse of a chair. The monster smiled as he met Harry's eyes, and lifted a familiar piece of wood from where it had been resting on his lap, hidden by royal purple robes. Harry's fingers spasmed, but he kept his face impassive. "Do you recognize this, Harry?" Voldemort's tones were mocking, high-pitched like an adult speaking to a very small child. Harry said nothing.
"Your wand, boy." More impatient, cutting, but Voldemort restrained himself, and returned to his act of speaking to an idiot, an inferior. "You are the same as this wand. I hold your life in the very palm of my hand. I will—" snap "—break you." The fine holly wood, in the end his most faithful companion, dangled limply from Voldemort's long, pale fingers. Despite himself, Harry could not help staring, mesmerized, as those long pale fingers gently, precisely drew out the halves of a brilliant, fiery feather, a sun in the dark, and gently, precisely crushed it until it trickled from those corpse-like fingers as glimmering dust. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The old muggle refrain circled endlessly through his head, and he could not shake the notion that he was no longer a wizard, could not use magic with the destruction of his wand. Voldemort's words "I will crush your spirit until you are nothing but a shell, completely obedient to my will" washed over him, and he was left alone. So terribly, terribly alone.
A skittering sound, wood on floor. Voldemort watched him scramble painfully to retrieve the ruins of his wand, and laughed, jeering at him. More noise, a further intrusion on his grief. He should not see me like this, he thought, and wondered why it mattered. Concentrate! Snape's voice snapped in the past, and Harry did, dully.
"For a long time I thought I'd kill you, Harry, when I caught you. Kill you slowly, so that you died in the most excruciating pain that my brilliant mind can devise for you. But then I realized that that would be a waste, make you a martyr, when what I really wanted to do was destroy you so utterly that there would be nothing left worth remembering, that your name would be spoken with hate rather than admiration. I want to destroy this world, boy, and remake it as I see fit, and you are going to help me. There are other ways of making someone follow a person's will other than Imperius—" Voldemort's face darkened briefly, then he smiled, and it was so terrible that Harry wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out again.
"Yes, other ways, more…satisfying ways. I have grown lazy, in these past few years, and it would be a pleasure to turn my mind back to one of my earliest, dearest hobbies. I will break you, and then show you to the wizarding world and let them cower in fear. Fudge is not a true leader, and with Dumbledore dead, the downfall of their darling hero will break the spine of those few, piteous fools who still oppose me. One day, boy, I will capture your friends, the traitor Snape, the leaders of the Order, and I will order you to kill them in front of the supposed leaders of the world, and you will do it, gladly, for the pleasure of an iota of my attention." Voldemort was no longer watching him, but looked through him, unseeing, to the stark, evil vision he built with his words. This was a nightmare. Why couldn't he wake up? Voldemort continued, ticking methods off on his fingers "Torture, isolation, rape, sleep deprivation, starvation, shock…" as if he were a housewife, crossing off items on a shopping list. The idea of Voldemort as a housewife was so funny that Harry could not help laughing aloud. It was not a happy laugh, but it was laughter, and Voldemort flinched as if he'd been struck. Voldemort shouted, "Stop it. Stop it!! I will not be laughed at!!" But Harry could not stop laughing. He laughed until he cried, laughed until Voldemort cast Crucio on him and his laughter turned to screams.
The old woman peered suspiciously out through her faded curtains. Something was coming, something bad. The boy's voice surfaced in her thoughts: There are people-bad people- murderers coming after me, and they don't like mug- people who are different from them. They'd kill you as casually as saying hello. You can't have him, she thought fiercely. He's mine, and has my protection. But she couldn't shake that feeling of fear. Her hip was acting up, as it always did before a bad storm, but outside the house not a cloud was to be seen, and warm sunlight fell through the curtains. Everything was too quiet, too still. The old woman suddenly closed the curtains decisively, and went off to check on her boy. Afterwards, she would take a few preparations; though she didn't believe in magic, it was better to be safe rather than sorry, and her old ma always said a line of salt across the doorway would keep out harm.
He woke to the sound of dripping. Everything was pain, but especially the drip-drip-drip of water that corresponded with the pounding in his head. How long had Voldemort held him under Crucio? Everything was pain.
When he woke again, someone had left bread on the cell floor, and the smell of it was enough to send him lurching clumsily into the dark. Frantic fingers found it, a small round loaf, and something hard-metal-that he'd half knocked over in his haste, spilling a shock of water on his cold knees. He saved it, realized it must be a container of some sort, and stopped. Deep breathes. My name is Harry Potter. I am not an animal. I am a human being, abet a starving, scrawny excuse for one. My wand-where is it? Then he remembered, with a sickened, dead feeling. Carefully, clutching his treasures to his chest, he moved blindly across the floor, defiantly not thinking about the possibility that they'd taken that away too.
There. He pricked his finger on the sharp splintered break, but grabbed it anyway. The relief he felt as he ran his fingers over the smooth part of the wood was frightening in its intensity. He wasn't a wizard any more, but at least he had his broken wand for comfort. In the dark, he ate hot, delicious bread, and wondered if this small kindness was another trick of Voldemort's. He decided he didn't care, and licked his hands for any uneaten crumbs.
Footsteps in the dark woke Harry from his stupor. Surely this was not the guard, who had quick, confident steps that rang in the silence. No, these steps were soft, hesitant, and barely audible. He forced down hope, that it would be one of his friends. This was the heart of Voldemort's stronghold, and no one had penetrated it since Snape had been caught spying by Voldemort. Though his teacher had managed to escape in crow-shape, a secret he'd apparently kept from both sides, Voldemort had since warded against animagi and purged his forces. Further attempts at spies resulted in mutilated corpses causally left on the Ministry steps.
Who was this, to walk so in a place where the weak were murdered? The sound of a key rattling in a lock, creaks, groans, as the door was inched open. Harry tensed.
"Lumos." The voice was startlingly familiar.
"Wormtail!" Harry hissed, lunging blind towards the person ultimately responsible for his godfather's death. A soft-spoken spell forced him back, away from the object of his maddened hate.
"Quiet," the traitor hissed back. "You fool, I'm trying to help you."
What? Snape's voice, sounding tired: Do attempt to find the peanut you call a brain now and then, Potter. I assure you, you'll stay alive much longer if you actually use it. Wormtail had come here in secret, supposedly to help him. "Why?"
"I owe you a life-debt," the thin, balding man said without a trace of a stutter, "and I finally have an opportunity to repay it, and put old friends to rest. No," he said, correctly interpreting the look on Harry's face. "There is no time for questions. Turn to your right, and follow this corridor past two turnoffs, and a supply closet. At the second door, say "James" and crawl through the tunnel that will appear in place of the door. It will lead to the outside, where it will be up to you to survive." He leaned forward, flinching slightly at Harry's instinctual motion back, and with his wand cut off a lock of Harry's hair. "I can delay the discovery of your escape, and thus pursuit, for a day or so. Now go!"
"But Voldemort—" Harry began, but Peter cut him off. "My life is worth nothing. Go!" And Harry went. Behind him he though he heard Peter whisper "Goodbye, James," but it may just have been his imagination.
Two days later, Harry was running down a dirt road, when he unexpected crashed into something—or rather, someone.
Inside her silent house, the old woman waited. For what, she was not sure. Her boy was sleeping peacefully, now, as if his fever had purged whatever troubled him from his mind. Caesar had regally allowed her to stroke him firmly, just as he liked it, and gone to sleep. Everything was in order, everything quiet, peaceful-like in the thick, muggy heat of midday. Yet something was not right.
When the door creaked unexpectedly, she shrieked, much to her disgust. No one was there. A water glass accidentally knocked off the table met with swears that would scorch a sailor's ears, while the discovery of a hairball in the kitchen prompted the forceful expulsion of Caesar from his comfortable perch and a lecture, after which he sulked, bewildered, under the sleeping Harry's bed. She couldn't bring herself to apologize. The old woman stormed around the house in tiptoe, as not to wake her guest, and finally subsided on the couch. You need to go home as quickly as possible, and don't come out until the sun rises. The boy's pursuers were a day gone, so why—
Caesar the cat streaked around the corner, hissing and spitting like a demon. She ran after him towards the hallway, where dust filled the air. A thing, a monster, stood on her doorstep, a piece of wood held languidly in its long, pale fingers. Red-eyed, clothed in velvet-black robes, and apparently having magically blown her front door off its hinges to lie pathetically at her feet, well, her first thought was that it was a demon. Her second thought was that magic did exist, after all, which even in this form made her heart sing. Her third thought was for her boy, and her poor front door. Suddenly she was furious, and flanked by a dangerous-looking Caesar she stepped into the sight of the monster.
"That was rude," she said calmly. "You may not come in, by salt and by holly, by love and all things holy, I will not let you into my home."
It laughed, horrible, high-pitched laugh, and stepped over the doorframe.
"Muggle superstition will not stop Lord Voldemort. You have been harboring someone of mine, a foolish boy with delusions of grandeur. I know he is here. For this, you will die." The thing raised its arm, the one clutching the stick, when suddenly a cool, masculine voice interrupted: "I think not," and Harry was there, there at the end of the hallway, pale, leaning on one of the walls and clothed in one of her old, flowery bathrobes, but still there. She found that she could breathe again.
The thing—Voldemort—seemed to forget her immediately, and she was left, wondering, on the sidelines. The tall, thin, demon and the scrawny teenager, replaying a conflict as old as time itself, as if out some fantasy but real, here in her hallway, and she knew that everything had changed.
"Mr. Potter," said Voldemort, "You are becoming rather tiresome. I'm being to wonder if it is worth the effort to keep you alive. You've corrupted one of my servants—I had to dispose of Wormtail—and cost me three days of searching. Quite irritating."
Harry took a deep breath, and pushed himself off the dusty wall. His heart was thumped loudly, yet at the same time he felt a strange calm. This was it. There would be no more running away. "Don't you ever get tired of all this, Voldemort?" He asked, quietly. "Is it really worth it to conquer the world, slaughter innocents day after day, and generally terrorize the wizarding and Muggle worlds alike? You could be great, you know. You were once a brilliant man. How can you be satisfied being surrounded by incompetents, reduced to trying for fear and terror rather than respect?" His benefactress was leaning on the wall to his right, still within Voldemort's immediate range of sight. He wished she would get out of the way.
"So dogged, Harry. You really think that you can redeem the great Voldemort, cause him to renounce his evil ways and become a model citizen? Ha! There is no turning back, not now. I'm no fool. What can you possibly hope to accomplish, Harry? You stand there, a ruined wizard clutching your broken wand like a child with a teddy bear—" Harry dropped his wand as if it had turned into a poisonous snake. Voldemort smiled.
"Stop it." The old woman said firmly. Voldemort did not even look at her, but continued to stare straight into Harry's eyes.
"Has Dumbledore's heir found himself another spare? So many have died to save your miserable hide, and for what? The boy in the graveyard, Sirius Black—" Harry flinched a second time. Each name stabbed him in the heart. "—those Aurors, Hagrid, Dumbledore, the fool…You really must be getting desperate. This one's not even a wizard, and old as well—"
The hateful words continued. Dumbledore's heir. The title brought back memories of a few weeks ago, when he'd been captured…
Voldemort had attacked a week ago, and nothing would ever be the same again. Dumbledore was dead, having been killed in a duel with Voldemort to allow Harry the time to escape, ending his latest misadventure. His Headmaster's words, his trust haunted Harry… "I make you my heir. I'm sorry, so sorry, my boy, to leave you like this, but it's for the best. Voldemort is too powerful now, and you are only one who can really defeat him. You must survive, Harry, so that you can do so. Goodbye, Harry. I'm so proud of you." How could he go on like this, how could he fill Dumbledore's shoes? Yet everyone looked to him to do so, and he could not disappoint them. Professor McGonagall tried to help, but there was too much to do, too much to learn, and time was running out.
The Death Eaters were coming.
Battle—confusion, noise, shouts. Harry could not let himself be distracted, grimly firing curses and hexes at Death Eaters and dark creatures. One by one his companions had fallen, or been lured away, until he was surrounded, but they had not gotten him yet, would not without a fight. In the background he could hear the Light trying to rally, shouts of people desperately trying to reach him, telling him to hold on. Where was the Ministry? The Order, the professors and the students—Voldemort was attacking Hogwarts itself—were not enough to hold back the Dark. Their plan had failed, spectacularly, and Harry had not yet managed to locate his nemesis.
Everything happened at once. A scream-Hermione! -he stopped, training forgotten-three of his attackers threw stupefies-his shield failed—
Harry shook off the memories, ignoring the sour taste of failure in his mouth. Voldemort was still speaking, the pompous old windbag. If he had been a student fifty years ago, that must mean that Voldemort was now in his seventies; Harry was only sixteen, and suddenly felt very young.
"…surely you realize by this point, Harry, that everything you touch is poisoned, everyone who befriends you dies."
"That's not me," Harry responded desperately. "You're the one who kills them."
"Harry, Harry, Harry, you merely choose my targets for me. It's so easy to manipulate you that everyone is doing it; I'm the only one who tells you the truth. The world is in shambles; the Ministry's a joke. Surely you must see that I will win. Why don't you stop your pathetic attempts at resistance and join me? You could be great, you know." The last phrase resonated in Harry's memory. The hat had told him the same thing once about Slytherin, and Dumbledore had said something…something about his choices defining who he was.
"No," he said finally, his voice shaking despite himself. "I would rather die."
"Then you will," Voldemort promised, "but she'll go first." And he swung in slow motion towards the old muggle woman, drawing a breath in painfully slow. NO! Harry screamed silently. This was wrong! She was going to die-because of him. Cedric, Sirius, Dumbledore, the Aurors—they had died because of who he was; maybe they'd liked him, or cared for him, but there was always in the end that damn prophecy that said that his life was more important to the war effort that theirs. This was wrong—this old woman was entirely innocent of this—she was the only one who'd ever done anything for him not because she had to, not because it was expected, or because of old promises or anything. She'd taken him in, cared for him when he was sick, and probably saved his life—he couldn't let her die. He was ready to die—he couldn't run away any more—but not at the price of this stranger's life.
In that moment, as Harry ran in between the old woman, and Voldemort broke off his curse in surprise, that single, earth-shaking moment, Harry cared for that gentle stranger more deeply than he had ever felt anything in his entire life. Voldemort had stripped almost everything away from him, even the very will to survive, but it only served to purify and strengthen the emotion flooding through Harry. In desperation he reached for anything, anything that could save her, no matter what the price.
He reached for his magic, a deep, calm pool, and pulled it into his physical self until his fingers tingled, and air shimmered around him, but it wasn't enough. Anything. His mind raced deeper, instinctively, down the hole from which the magic sprung. A voice from his subconscious, from the collective unconscious of the human race, eons of wisdom honed by the will to survive warned you could die. My life is worth nothing. I will do anything to save her. And he passed the first barrier, and went deeper down the hole.
Power drifted around him as he sped by, the way somewhat familiar. Whenever he'd been in true danger, he'd unconsciously tapped into this, giving him an extra boost of power beyond what a normal wizard could usually summon. But it was no longer enough. Deeper down the pain began, not as bad as the Cruciatius curse at first, but a pain of the mind as it was forcibly pulled apart. Everything began to burn away, except for his purpose, and the voice warned you may lose your self, your sense of I. Go back, go back, save yourself. Anything to save that Other. And the second barrier was passed in a flare of pain. And still he went down, blindly now. And other voices thrust themselves upon him, other senses he'd never possessed awoke and were overwhelmed. In the end, it was the sheer selflessness of his quest and utter desperation that saved him, for had he sought the power for himself, he would have been lost so completely that that his very essence would be swallowed by the power. The voice, a final whisper Go back. But the seeker struggled on.
The third barrier resisted, elastic-like, and then sprang back straight through the seeker like a curtain of lightning. Agony. Primordial absence of all, then a double convulsion pushed the finder back out into the world.
The old woman trembled, despite herself, as the inhuman monster swiftly turned on her. No, Voldemort. That's what her boy—Harry—had called him. Voldemort raised that terrible, harmless-looking stick. It's too soon—oh Harry! As if her very thought had summoned him, her slight, still-too-pale boy dashed towards her with unreal speed. Voldemort stopped-what had he been saying? Ava-something—he looked surprised, she thought. Then he abruptly threw his serpent-like head back and laughed madly. Harry stumbled, ground to a halt, his eyes meeting hers. Such beautiful, expressive emerald eyes, well-deep with pain, looking through her, beyond her. She shivered.
Verdant green eyes suddenly glowed, fixing straight on her. Love, protectiveness, anger, such power— the odd impression prickled her scalp, oozing down her back. Those eyes held hers so fiercely that she could not turn away. Everything so unreal—from the moment the monster from a fairytale broke down her front door—yet those eyes were suddenly more real than anything in the entire world; they were the world. I trust him, her mind gabbled, I must. Eternity passed, then the hypnotic attention of the eyes released her, and treacherous legs wobbled, threatening to give way. Slowly, relentlessly, the young man she thought she knew advanced on his enemy, and the very air around him glowed and crackled with power.
Everything was the same; no time had passed. But he was different. Still Harry, yes, but also more, suddenly connected to everything around him. The air was filled with golden dust, threaded with thin lines of sheer power. He could 'see' the sun-energy, more yellowish, sense the flickering white spirit of the old woman, notice the smallest of shadows, a speck on the far faded-white wall, feel the earth-power beneath his feet, wind beckoning, asking to be put to use. Yet the sheer beauty assailing his senses was marred by the ugly hole, the magical vacuum created by the mere presence of Voldemort.
Spirits crowded around him, the very elements trembling in outrage at the abomination in their midst. To his disbelief, Harry realized that the Dark Magic used to create Voldemort's new body was still in effect, so to speak; it sucked up the natural magic around it to maintain itself, blighting the very place on which the Dark Magic construction stood. No wonder Voldemort had murdered and tortured beyond the bounds of normal understanding, if he had to continuously supply energy, the darker the more potent, to feed his new form.
Harry walked, slowly, casually, towards Voldemort, the destroyer of his dreams. "No," he whispered, then more confidently "No. The only one who will die today shall be you."
"What-what's happening?" An expression of disbelief stole over Voldemort's face, almost comical. "Stop—Avada Kedavra!" Harry watched the pretty green light appear from Voldemort's wand in dull fascination. Suddenly his mind was simultaneously jolted and crammed with every random scrap of information he'd ever heard about the Killing Curse, and many he hadn't. In desperation the natural forces around him were force-feeding him both power and their collected impressions of information—anything to stop the infection of evil standing in front of him. Aha! Harry held up a hand, and the invisible spirit bearing down on him stopped, forced by his will and power into a ball of green light hovering right in front of him. Voldemort's red eyes widened, the green light reflected in them eerily like some mad Christmas decoration. Concentrate, Harry scolded himself, as the spirit-ball attempted to lurch towards him. Lines of green gathered inside of Voldemort, flowing up his adversary's throat to form another Killing Curse, but Harry absent-mindedly dissolved it. He was now literally a force of Nature, and would not be stopped.
Instead, he contemplated the new knowledge inundating his mind, information about binding and expelling, spirits and the very nature of magic itself. The tattered remains of his sanity would have to be repaired later. A solution clicked in his mind.
Harry abruptly thrust his right hand into glowing-green spirit-ball, grabbed it, and swiftly closed the distance between himself and Voldemort. Green eyes the same color as the Death clenched in his fist, air crackling madly, he had no idea how terrifying he looked as he shoved his fist-and the Curse-directly into Voldemort's chest, silently chanting. Voldemort's unnatural body writhed and convulsed, but Harry stood firm as new green lines of power shot out of the Curse, unbinding the captured magic and destroying the tendons of will connecting Voldemort's malevolent essence to his 'body'. Forgotten, the old muggle woman prayed quietly in her corner for the first time in years.
The light grew until the monster once known as Tom Riddle was consumed in green fire. Both it and Harry screamed, before an explosion of white light destroyed reality.
The senses returned slowly, very slowly. Harry rose back to consciousness reluctantly. Somehow he'd ended up lying on the floor. Groaning, he forced his aching body into a semblance of sitting, and leaned—carefully—on the nice, solid wall behind him. The overwhelming Sight he'd experienced a few moments ago had dimmed, somewhat, and most of the power returned to its original owners. But the link was still there. Somehow the loss of his wand no longer seemed so bad.
Wand—Voldemort! He glanced around, to find a shriveled semblance of Voldie's 'new' form on the ground. An explosive sigh escaped his parched lips, releasing tension so familiar that it seemed it had always been there. His eyes met those of the old woman, and she stared back unflinching. They were both survivors.
Her breathing was loud, but calm, steady, an anchor. He tried to speak, moistened his lips and tried again. "He's gone."
"Yes." It was true then. What had he done? Hazy memories…some clearer than others.
"I couldn't destroy the soul. It didn't seem right, somehow. So I stuck it in a newborn mouse instead, well-purged of all the evil and sorrow of his last life."
"Hmm." Then, "So that was magic, then?"
"So it does exist."
Pause. Then, quietly, she admitted: "I'm glad I was wrong."
"It's not usually so flashy," Harry explained, unwilling to let her get the wrong impression.
They sat together, exhausted, in companionable silence, heartbeats beating quietly in perfect synchronization.