Suburbia. A fitting place for the apocolyptic battle between good and evil.
It was a small house, nondescript. Pale cream siding, a brick chimney, even a child's bicycle in the front yard. It was ironic, Harry thought, and amusing, that it could have fit into the street in Little Whinging. This could have been Privet Drive, and inside could have been upright, priggish, morally superior Muggles who would have laughed at him and his world had they gotten any sign at all that they existed.
Instead the house was sheltering pure Evil.
Ironic, and Harry wondered if Voldemort had dug into his mind at all. Had he scouted Harry's nightmares back in the years when he could still read Harry's thoughts, and pulled out this image as one that still frightened Harry more than most of the magical world?
He smiled to himself as he tightened white knuckles around his wand. The air was thick. He could feel Ron beside him, his nervously tapping leg.
He didn't look at Ron, or Hermione at Ron's other side. He knew what they would be doing. Ron would be practising his wrist movements, mouthing curses as he flicked his wand. As if he were still in school and not an auror with well-deserved fame of his own. Hermione would be still, in direct contrast to her fiance. She would be gazing straight ahead, mentally running through...whatever it was she mentally ran through in times like this. Whatever brilliant people thought of. Harry wasn't sure.
Kingsley and Remus were talking quietly in the front seats, the low, grim tones of pre-battle. Remus wasn't going to fight - it was the day after the full moon and he was too weak. It bothered him, Harry knew, but Remus wasn't in any way selfish for more fighting. He had long ago grown disillusioned with the adrenaline and thrills that young aurors thought they'd find in battle.
Birds chirped outside the confines of the van. It was surreal how normal it all felt. An occasional car would drive by, dogs barked in the distance, and Harry was sure he heard the blare of a television from Number 15, their target.
Was it some sense of his past that brought Voldemort here? After all, he was raised Muggle before Hogwarts. Had he lived in a place like this himself?
"The Prophet," Ron said suddenly, "will be a bit disappointed by this location, you know. We're going to have to fancy it up, pretend it was a dark alley in Knockturn or a clearing in some dank woods in the north, otherwise they might not want to write about it."
Harry heard Hermione's puff of air, her usual disappointed noise when Ron didn't take things as seriously as he should. Harry grinned, glad that this sense of grim amusement wasn't his alone.
"The Prophet just may write about this no matter what," Remus answered, his low voice hoarse from the night before. "But if we're going to embellish let us know beforehand so we all tell the same story. "
"I think we're a little better off if we spend this time preparing, and not making up lies for the papers." The sharpness in Hermione's voice didn't affect Harry - she always got more snappish before something dangerous. But Ron's leg stopped shaking, and he didn't say anything else.
In the glass of the windshield their attention was caught by a small sedan pulling up across from them on the other side of the street.
Kingsley straightened. "It's about bloody time. Bet they had to stop for directions too."
Ron chuckled. "People laughed at my dad, but he would have known how to navigate Muggle streets at least. Most wizards are useless at it."
"Don't know what good it does when we can just apparate any sodding place we want to go," Kingsley muttered.
"Except the places you really need to be, of course. Like here." Ron's voice was innocent.
Kingsley muttered something unintelligible.
Ron snickered, nudging Harry's arm.
Harry glanced over with a smile. His stomach clenched. The fight was near.
"I'll have to figure out how he did that, warding the streets around him against apparation. It isn't the same sort of charm used at Hogwarts." Hermione's voice shook under her cool thoughtfulness.
"Harry? Alright?" Remus glanced back.
Harry nodded, tightening fingers around his wand. It was already slick with sweat.
"Right. Get ready."
The door to the sedan opened and Tonks appeared, bringing along Flint and Patrick. There would be more vehicles around the block, waiting, but they were the few. The first wave.
Doors opened. Harry led the way out of the van, circling around.
Time slowed. The street grew a mile long as they crossed. The chipped beige paint of the front door and shutters at Number 15 filled Harry's head as he looked from one window to the next witing for the sign that they had beeen spotted.
No words were exchanged as they met with Tonks and the others. They reached the manicured lawn and committed the ultimate sin of stepping on the grass. Harry almost expected Petunia Dursley to come out waving knitting needles, shouting at the hooligans to take their dirty feet to someone else's lawn and not the lawn of decent, taxpaying, hardworking, completely normal people.
But there was nothing. Not even the shift of a curtain.
The front door was locked, but Tonks walked right through with a charm uttered almost casually. The wards were all in place, just as Pettigrew had described, but Hermione and Kingsley muttered on either side, and moments later the wall of magical air dissolved and the group pressed inside two at a time.
The wide eyes of a Death Eater caught utterly off gaurd were the only things Harry noticed before Kingsley had the man prone on the floor. Harry looked around, his mind working on overdrive.
The small hallway leading towards the back of the house, the staircase leading up, the entry into a living room and whatever else awaited...they were all options. But Harry only hesitated for a moment before going up the stairs. A single pair of footsteps padded after him. Ron. Watching his back.
A door to the right opened, and Ron spoke a low curse. Harry kept going, led by his instincts and a little something more to another door, a door without a knob.
He felt another dark, shuddering bit of amusement as he knocked on the door.
It opened, and Pettigrew looked out. The thin, diminished face sagged and he spoke. "Thank you."
Harry raised his wand but hesitated, and simply grasped Pettigrew's arm and pushed him into the hall. He would let Pettigrew's fate be decided by someone else.
His job was just to go into that room, and that was battle enough for him.
Voldemort's voice. A pale form in the shadows. A red glint of eyes.
Harry's life stopped. Time didn't slow or speed; it didn't exist at all. There was just Harry and the man who had shaped too much of his life.
There was no smug talk this time, no exposition or tale-telling. The time for that was over.
He hissed curses and dodged curses. Words were shouted, whispered, growled, two voices merged and two wands emitted flame and death, green and red.
Harry's vision blurred, then flashed red.
Then everything stopped.
Anticlimactic, he would think later. Disappointing in a way that made no sense, since all he had wanted before the fight started was an easy end.
Was it the house on the green lawn, in the middle of a lovely middle-class neighborhood in Birmingham? Was it the lack of resisttance, the smoothness of their actions? Tonks was hurt, but he didn't know that yet. Hermione was knocked out, but healthy enough. Patrick was dead. Ron was in a state of shock, and for days after would at odd times break into marvels at the speed, the reflexes, the strangely synchronistic way Harry and Voldemort had dueled.
But at the moment he didn't think about any of that. He just stood there, not even breathing heavily, and stared at his fallen enemy.
Definitely anticlimactic. But then, suddenly, not.
Suddenly the body on the floor breathed, loudly enough to be heard, and shifted as if fighting the quicksand of sleep.
Voldemort wasn't dead. He was...knocked out.
Ron spoke first, words that encompassed what must have been his entire range of emotions from the day. "Bloody. Fucking. Hell."
Harry tilted his head, lowered his wand, and looked at Voldemort. "Well," he said.
He went to the limp form and prodded with his foot. Ron gasped, but Voldemort was still.
"Well," he said again. He couldn't decide how to feel. "What do we do now?"