The weather-worn tombstones were completely unremarkable. Two people, hardly more than children, sharing a death-day. The final resting place for a woman who in death had proven the most powerful witch of all (despite any claim giving the title to a vicious Dark Lord or a figurehead Headmaster). She'd done the impossible; she had literally turned death away (having surpassed those that cheated it).
They were entombed in the grounds of an abandoned mausoleum-like Castle. The oldest Potter property and what eventually became the Potter Cemetery. There where many plots about, more than those from recent times. Back from a time when the Potter Family hadn't been reduced to a single son.
Kneeling besides the graves Harry bowed his head to both plots, not entirely comfortable offering prayers he'd never been taught. Hesitantly he traced his father's headstone before abruptly turning toward his mother.
Lily Potter nee Evans.
The most powerful witch of them all, his mother. Her sacrifice imprinted in his body and soul.
She would save her son one more time.
"This isn't the time to be foolish." Mad-Eye Moody grunted, disgruntled figure decked in his familiar coat and one hand twitching toward his wand.
Hogwarts had a certain affect on him. It made him prone to…twitchiness…of the painful kind, at least to anyone that caught him unawares. It was something of a souvenir from his very disagreeable year as a Defense Professor, mostly because he spent it in a trunk.
Albus Dumbledore gazed out onto the grounds, the warming weather releasing restless students from the castle. "For all my power there is little I can offer those that leave these halls. But to deliberately make this the staging ground…to invite the Ministry…surely you can understand how ill-conceived that is."
Moody twitched, eying a terrified looking portrait of a former Headmaster. "And deliberately ignoring the very real threat is idiotic. I don't know for certain what plans you had but if you expected Voldemort to chase after the Potter boy for however long it took to kill each other then you miscalculated miserably. Voldemort's been careful to leave the boy's friends alone and the boy's likewise been careful to disappear."
"It is their destiny to meet." Albus disagreed. "Tom has always balked at any power held over him; he will not tolerate the weakness presented by young Harry. It is only a matter of time till he deliberately seeks out Harry."
"And despite how moon-addled all his unnatural rituals must have driven him even he is smart enough to recognize a war is badly done if fought on more than one front. The Ministry, the Order, and whatever tricks Morrigan's shrouded his people with leave too many directions from which to attack him with. Voldemort won't come after Potter till at least one of those is dealt with.
"The Ministry's in shambles but Fullbright managed to halt its deterioration completely and their strength was in numbers enough to stand the blows. Morrigan's disappeared into whatever hideaway he has and without Potter around we haven't a reliable route of communication to find the man. You remain the easiest and most visible target. It's dammed obvious half of those in the Order would disband without you."
"The fact remains that unless we can personally review every Auror it isn't worth the risk to invite unknown dangers into Hogwarts."
"It's not like some of those sniveling little brats you call students haven't already sworn themselves to their Master!"
"That is an entirely different situation—"
"It's the same! You just refuse to see it."
"—the fact remains, while they are students here I owe them my protection, even if it's from ill-thought choices."
"We haven't the luxury to save everyone."
"We have the responsibility to help those we can."
Moody snorted, more irritable than usual. "At what cost, Albus? This isn't a game and those students aren't pieces. Endanger the lot to save the strangling few? No one will thank you for that."
"This is a school; I will not have it turn into a battleground." Albus stated firmly.
"You haven't a choice now, do you old man? War wants what it wants and right now it wants you. He'll come for you, for this school; the most powerful Dark Lord in centuries. And while you battle for your ground, who will protect your precious students?"
"Hogwarts has and will remain one of the safest places in all of Britain. Trust in her."
Moody sighed tiredly; he'd been having entirely too many bad days. "Do as you will; I could never convince you once your mind was set. But I will advice you to call in some Aurors from Fullbright, even if you have to hand-pick them yourself. Gringotts and the Ministry have been successfully attacked, Hogwarts and the Alleys remains the only other Wizarding gatherings tempting enough in number."
Alastor Moody wished for the hundred time that the old Headmaster wasn't half as stubborn as he was. Harry Potter might be as addled as Voldemort himself but the boy held too much conviction to dismiss. If he felt old Hogwarts was going to take a blow she might not stand then there was a very good chance the school needed to be evacuated.
"Stop." Amos commanded,the light of the room glinting off his cool amber eyes.
Harsh breathing gasped their weariness. Sweat-soaked hands slid across the cool stone floor, trembling legs splayed on the ground. The naturally chilled floor was a blessed relief on Harry's flushed face.
"You are still holding back."
"Can't…help…it. Unless…I…want…to…visit…the Reaper…early."
The Elder Vampire scoffed, boots clicking softly as they made their way to the kneeling boy in the center of an otherwise empty Chamber. "There is a difference between being too afraid to go all the way and choosing to step away from the end. You are still afraid."
"Death usually has that reaction."
"And that remains your problem. There is no death, there is no life—there is only your will and magic. The sooner you understand that the faster you will reach Final Release."
Wild soaked black hair was tossed out of determined green eyes. "Then we'll try it again."
There was something oddly proud in the smirk Amos tossed Harry as the former retreated once more to stand against the wall.
Harry threw his body up once more, hands empty as they were flung as far away from each other.
Slowly diamond-bright green eyes flashed, vacillating wildly between obsidian darkness and milky whiteness. At first the scent and press of magic coiled around his figure before increasing exponentially.
One palm erupted in Black Flame—wild, dark, and searing in its power. The other flashed misty white—heavy and burning in unforgiving purity. Straining wrists inched closer together, conflicting powers repelling and attracting each other. Fingertips ghosted against each other for less than a second before a dull explosion sounded off, Harry skidding as he was literally pushed back. The magic continued churning around the original nexus, the force brining Harry to his knees.
Harry laughed weakly. "If I didn't think this was my best option…"
"One has a half-century of experience over you and the other three times as much. No training, no matter how dedicated, will bring you to their level. In the end sheer power is the only place where you can match them, that is all."
"Don't I know it." Harry muttered.
"That is enough for today, child."
The mortal boy rubbed his eyes, blinking to clear them. "No. Let me try one more time."
"If you break yourself while you have yet work to do you will be completely useless when the time comes, child."
"And if I don't learn this, I am completely useless having never given it my all. There is little reason to do something only half-way."
"Admirable." The Elder admitted, amber eyes considered the rumbled boy. "Very well then, child. One more time but that will be all for today."
Forcibly controlling panting breaths, Harry stood up once more in the center of the room, eyes ready for the next challenge.
Some would say Ron had been a part of some of the greatest deeds to come out of Hogwarts in recent years. He'd dealt in everything from illegal dragon eggs to the wandering spirit of the Dark Lord to the time honored Quidditch rally between the Four Houses.
But Ron would be the first to tell you he had never been the star of any of them. Just the unfortunate boy that had to fudge the truth about a dragon bite, always the one that had to stay behind as someone else was forged into a hero, and basically the Keeper that cheered alongside everyone else when the Seeker was hailed the star. It's not like he was completely unfamiliar with the feeling—he'd been intimately aware of the fact since he could toddle, always the unremarkable boy passed over by gushing aunts as they honed in on the first Weasley girl in generations.
The fact was that for the first time in his life Ron was stepping forward. And he was completely terrified it wouldn't be enough.
Finger drummed on the wooden desk, the only nervous reaction no amount of internal reprimands seemed capable of stifling. Biting back a sigh, Ron glanced at the room around him for what seemed like the hundredth time. Somehow, when first he'd scouted the area the room had seemed a whole lot more inviting.
It was proving to be something else entirely. Not when Theodore Nott repressed a twitch every time Ron tapped an off-key melody—rich brat probably heard the original melody from some extravagantly talented musician. Lisa Turpin, a calm stern brown-haired girl that looked even more like McGonagall than Hermione ever did didn't even look up from the novel she read.
The door slid open, causing the three students to look up.
Sheepishly framed against the door was Justin Finch-Fletchley. "Sorry! Sorry I'm late; got held up…err…Ron? What's everyone doing here?"
"Excellent question. Weasley, I would like to know as well."
From her corner Lisa asked him the same question with a tilt of her head.
"There's really no way of saying any of this gently. I asked someone from each House because what I have to say involves the whole of Hogwarts. I'm not betraying any deep secret when I tell you Hogwarts will be attacked very soon. Honestly? We've all been here for the last seven years and you should have heard at least half the rumors floating about."
"Is this really something you should be telling all of us?" Lisa asked, voicing the question Justin was too polite to ask even as he eyed Nott with a touch of distrust.
"I think what I have to say is above any rivalries we have among ourselves. I asked each of you here for a reason. You all have abilities that by themselves are incredibly useful and versatile but together…together we have the talent to save ourselves.
"Everyone that's deep in the war knows Hogwarts will be the next battlefield. But what few of them know is what the Seers are whispering, that this will be the final stage. Whoever wins, wins the war and our world."
"You're not honestly proposing some silly little defense alliance? Are we to fly over a battleground and drop smoke bombs on them? Wave our wands and hope Stupefy does the trick?" Nott snorted, lips twisting disdainfully.
Even Lisa and Justin looked dubious at the mere thought of the idea. They'd suffered the touches of war to believe they'd the skills to stand as a pillar of Hogwarts.
"No," Ron sighed. "Two years ago the D.A. was formed with the purpose of defending ourselves and that will continue to be our mission. What I'm talking about is what happens when this Final Battle begins. You think we'll be safe tucked in our little rooms? That we can close the bed curtains and pretend Hogwarts isn't being invaded?
"It comes back to what Seers have been whispering. They say there'll be a magical release the likes of what few living have seen. A battle that will take place inside Hogwarts. Frankly, that doesn't exactly inspire the biggest confidence in our continued safety.
"What I'm proposing—what Dumbledore's been advised to do—is make an evacuation plan. Figure a way to safely leave these grounds. I know you all might be reluctant—you all know people who will be fighting in both sides of the conflict. But that doesn't matter here. What matters is all the children in our Houses—eleven years old, twelve years olds, little midgets that haven't a clue what any of this means.
"We don't belong in this war." And Ron finally understood what Harry had never dared say. They weren't of the war, didn't have half the ideals it took to fight with everything they had. They were stupid children, blind to games played out before their very birth.
"What does Potter say?" Nott asked, confident as most everyone seemed to be that Ron had a clue of where the wizard had run off to.
Ron wasn't too ashamed to deny the usefulness of having Harry's name on his side. "That we leave when they fighting starts."
Justin looked troubled in a way that meant he wanted to protest but reluctant to voice his thoughts.
"How?" Lisa asked, calmly and practically. Ron sighed in relief; he hadn't believed Harry when he said this girl would be Ravenclaw's key. Admittedly he knew Luna the best out of Ravenclaw but he very much doubted she would have convinced anyone of their plan.
She continued, "If Hogwarts is to be invaded would it not be safer to remain in our Houses where access can be controlled and blocked."
Ron didn't even have to answer as Nott snorted. "Only if you have a fool proof lockdown. It can very well become your tomb if you are trapped."
"Doesn't seem a Slytherin would have very much to fear from that, would he?" Justin interjected, troubled face very much suspicious. "Are we to build a plan only to have it sold out a second later?"
Lisa shrugged when Ron looked at her. It was a valid point after all.
Nott sniffed disdainfully at the Hufflepuff. "You honestly believe the Dark Lord doesn't have his spies in every House? Not everyone has the support and resources to say no when He calls."
"And I suppose you do." Justin retorted defensively but with a trace of curiosity, asking something that could not be asked. He was a Hufflepuff and he would work with the others but faith alone would not be enough to bind them.
The Slytherin shrugged gracefully. "I am young, rich, and influential—much too valuable to have killed when I said no. The same can not be said of everyone."
"He's right." Ron interrupted before they lost focus entirely. "Not everyone we know will choose how we want them, or even have the chance. Nott—we all know your History. Justin, your best-friend Ernie's; his Uncle and Aunt on his mum's side are members of the Order of the Phoenix; Lisa you've two cousins Marked as well and a second-cousin Order member. But other than that, unless you're just plain wicked at keeping secrets no one else here has bowed to Him."
Two out of three listening stiffened as Ron just blabbed carefully kept family secrets.
"And it doesn't matter." He continued. "They won't be trapped inside this ruddy castle when the walls are shaking and things are burning. If we don't lose to the castle we'll lose the second we run into a full blown battlefield."
"There…there are passages that can lead you secretly." Lisa ventured hesitantly, more than content to ignore the fact that her companions now knew her respectable Cousin Gavin was Marked.
Justin bit his lip uncertainty before he slowly nodded. On the other hand Nott had never had much qualms about the forming of a plan to begin with. His survival was prime and Nott as much as he'd watched his fellows had never had a chance to seek out Hogwarts secrets. Not like some of his more mischievous classmates had.
"There'd have to be more than a couple. Our Houses are scattered everywhere and we can't all be clogging one route. It'd be an open death trap." Justin said.
"What about it Weasley?" Nott nettled. "Slytherin's always had rumors that some Gryffindors had a ways of seeing where everyone is."
Ron resisted the urge to sigh. It wasn't like he hadn't intended to bring out his secret weapon though it made a peevish side of him protest that little bit of knowledge reaching Slytherin ears.
"I've a…Map. It'll show you pretty much everyone inside Hogwarts. I'll warn you right now, the Map belongs to Harry and as busy as he is if we ruin it you'll be sure sanity is not something any of us will be meeting soon."
It was a testament of how much Harry's 'instability' had become a part of life if no one protested the very real pain they would face if they damaged the Map. It would have been more frightening if Harry wasn't half as nutters as Dumbledore and Voldemort judging by the way both had done their best to drive him there.
"So it is true, then." Nott smirked. "Used to drive some Slytherins mad how certain Gryffindors knew things they shouldn't have. We speculated we must have had a spy."
"Slytherins." Justin rolled his eyes.
"Well…I suppose." Ron grimaced. It was just a little painful to be the first of the Map-keepers to reveal the secret to a non-Gryffindor.
"Then each House will have its own route?" Lisa reminded them.
"Uh…it looks like it." Ron muttered as he unfurled the Map from his sleeve pocket. He'd taken the chance to activate it beforehand; while he might have to reveal the Map there was no reason to give away the password.
"Wicked." Justin breathed, hesitant fingers reaching for the parchment. Spinning lines shifted and formed, names and dots moved randomly.
"Very impressive." Nott admitted as Lisa shook her agreement.
Ron studied them closely, taking in every feature as if it would somehow assure their success. They couldn't afford to fail.
"I've been studying it…and remember the dock Hagrid led us in through first year? It should be empty of any battle." Ron began, fingers ghosting the map as the lines shifted to form the very room.
"We can't go on boats. We'd be open targets." Lisa immediately protested.
"..Eh...I though about that too. Anything on the water would be immediately noticeable, right? That's why we won't be on top of the water. The way I see it Gillyweed can temporarily give someone gills, right? Long enough for some of us to travel the bottom to the other edge of the lake or even take enough gillyweed to hide with the mermaids till this is over."
All three stared at Ron. Ron shifted as he rubbed the back of his head. "Just thought it might be a good idea…"
"Quite brilliant." Lisa corrected, eyes turning back to the Map. "But we can't all go through that route. Ravenclaw is no where near the dock."
"I know; Slytherin and Hufflepuff are." Ron pointed out. Looking up he shrugged at their surprised gazes before he explained why their Houses weren't as secret as lore said they were. "This Map is bloody useful, you know. It has all the Houses marked down."
"Really." Was Nott's dry comment.
"Ravenclaw could reach the dock if they used the west teacher's entrance and went through the Great Hall—" Lisa observed.
"No!" Ron nearly yelped. "Let's…let's just avoid the Great Hall. Trust me."
Three pairs of curious eyes eyed him before they shifted their attention back to the Map.
And Ron thought that maybe, just maybe, they'd be alright.
The forest groaned. Twisting trees and winding vines shifted in the shadows, alive with a strange intelligence and the knowledge that the night held dark secrets and darker promises. Beneath their shadowy cradle, men and beasts ghosted by intent on a distant target. Fear fed their nerves, born of the coming night and on the orders of the red-eyed wizard that pushed them forward.
Because he was He-Who-Denied-Death, ready to break the last pillar their world could refuge in. And he would not be cheated this time.
Lord Voldemort would finally bring forward a New World.
In the distance eternal stone gargoyles raised weathered and molded heads, blind eyes seeing an approaching enemy. Groaning limbs cried as an impossibly heavy, stone body took to the air. For the gargoyles had been part of Hogwarts battlements long enough to have met sieges before and they knew, even if many had forgotten, it was time to warn the Master of Hogwarts.
A Transfiguration Professor, who'd been patrolling the halls for careless students, just happened to be the first person to witness the strange sight that night.
A flying stone gargoyle.
But she knew what such a sign meant and even if distant windows only revealed a quiet forest, she knew the truth.
"Albus!" She slammed into his office, scattering paper with her sudden entrance.
And the Headmaster tilted his face to look at her, keeping his body still as he stared out into Hogwarts grounds. Absentmindedly he inquired, "My dear?"
"T-They're here!" Minerva McGonagall exclaimed, nerves jumping to the very ugly truth of the matter.
"Yes, my dear." The Headmaster answered unconcernedly.
"We must call the Ministry! The Order! He leads this army."
"Do not forget, Minerva. Hogwarts has withstood sieges before."
The woman glared fiercely, completely unamused by what she saw as a non-sequester. "I hardly think this is the time to bring up that."
"No," He corrected, finally turning to face her completely and face graver than she could remember. "This is the perfect time. Hogwarts security doesn't allow for portkeys or apparition. Tom's army will besiege us before help arrives and when they do they will arrive from behind the ward-lines."
"W-What will we do?" She'd rarely sounded more lost.
"Trust in Hogwarts."
Deep breath and calm; a cool head would save her faster than any Auror. "Ah…yes, of course, Headmaster."
"I would think any wandering students should be returned to their Houses. This is hardly the time to take a stroll."
"Of course," Minerva said more strongly. "Right away."
Alone in his office Albus bowed his head. Quietly he whispered, "I am…sorry it has come to this, Tom. For in the end not even you could escape Slytherin's Fate."
He kept his unflinching gaze locked to the outside of his window.
Fire flared in the distance, torches and light spells leading hulking trolls and giants as the first wave. They would batter Hogwarts protection, Albus knew, weakening it for those that would follow.
It wasn't time to worry. To wonder if things could have been different. If a Slytherin-blood child would have been any less destructive had he been given to purebloods instead of Muggles. If another Chosen child would have been any less angry if he'd been given to wizards.
And his World was fraying; falling and shattering on the wind of a child's rage. Because his two best hopes, the most powerful of their generation, had turned from him. Had denied him and the Order he had strived for.
He knew now that neither would ever be what he wanted from them. Powerful and driven they had become; the shinning beacon of their generation as he had been of his. And so very angry…
…they would see his World destroyed, willingly or unwillingly.
If neither could live while the other survived, well it was true as well neither could live while his World stood as it did, for neither had ever learned to love it as he did. Not even Harry for his wonder.
"And to you, young Harry, I am sorry."
For neither would be allowed to live to end his World.
Outside, the barrage began.
Blind hands reached for each other, animosities and grudges tossed, as they held each other. They were not so blind as to be ignorant of what was happening. Even the tiniest first-year knew the trembling walls were only the kindest sign of the war that was beginning in their very own home.
In his dorm Theodore Nott ghosted down to the Common Room, impenetrable eyes meeting the nervous gazes of his Housemates.
It was time.
Time to choose a Path and follow it through. Theodore knew little leniency would be found at the wrong end of the wand. From the opposite side of the room Daphne Greengrass moved to stand besides him. Her presence a comforting warmth at his back. He knew then more than ever that she would be his wife one day and he would learn to love her for it.
Theodore did not miss the occasional student clutching their left arm in phantom pain. Their Lord was Calling them, children Marked for a two pronged attack. Students huddled near one another, nervous eyes betraying just how frightened they were of promises that had always been too heavy for them.
Theodore could not waste time. He was not as foolish as to try to save everyone for even if they didn't belong to war they had been stupid enough to choose it.
"If you're going to leave, leave." Theodore called out bluntly, well aware of the wand Daphne kept ready in defense of him.
Many flinched, uncomfortable with the open acknowledgement of their allegiance. Because despite popular belief, even Slytherin was reluctant to leave their loyalties naked for all to see. Betrayal had always been all-together too common.
"Shut it Nott." A sixth-year boy snapped, pale skin betraying just how very much he was frightened.
"This is hardly the time to be indecisive." Nott murmured back smoothly. "Your loyalties are your own as are your oaths. You must all realize now is the time to honor them for few are known to forgive such matters."
"Planning to barricade yourself Nott?" Pansy Parkinson interrupted slyly. "You should. You should be very afraid because I know you denied the Dark Lord."
Nott glanced at her before dismissing her comment with a tilt of his head. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of the pale blond head of his roommate, Draco Malfoy. The poor boy looked decidedly sick.
"I don't see why it should be of any importance to you, Parkinson, nor should you worry overmuch. I have always been of higher blood than you, my dear."
A wordless snarl twisted pug features, only settling when Daphne moved openly to stand besides him and stare her down.
"Time is wasting and the battle is beginning. Choose your path and face it tonight!" Nott called out to every ear listening in his crowded Common Room. Time was wasting.
From every corner of the room figures stirred, boys and girls, disentangling themselves from the desperate arms of younger siblings and frightened friends.
And then one other proved smart enough to see what Theodore had not said. A seventh year girl, Tracy Davis stepped forward from her heated argument with a boy that looked like her brother or cousin. "Nott! What aren't you telling us? You've been remarkably chum with Potter this year, surely you know something else."
Theodore smirked coldly at his watching Housemates as they stiffened, bodies stilling to listen. "I've told you, choose your path, the Final Battle begins tonight."
"W-What do you mean the F-Final Battle?" Another asked.
"Just that." Theodore said. "Winner takes all."
Theodore watched as a good dozen students left amidst pleading faces that already knew nothing good would be found out there. He continued watching as they flinched when the door slammed close, Malfoy's burdened eyes the last glimpse many saw as he followed his foolish promises.
"They've gone." Some whispered incredulously.
"Sho-Should we go?" Another asked hesitantly.
"Don't be an idiot." They murmured in a silence they didn't want to break.
"If that is all?" He called out to break their whispers. "Good. Then its time I tell you what will follow. Very soon Hogwarts will be swallowed by a battle that can and probably will tear a great chunk of it into rubble. Plans have been made beforehand to evacuate—"
"Out there?" A shrill protest interrupted.
Theodore ignored it. "I for one will be leaving. If you wish to stay then get used to the fact this might very well be your tomb."
Mulish and uncertain faces starred at him. It wasn't his job to save them. They were Slytherins.
"I leave in 10 minutes, with or without you."
"I'll follow." Daphne said just as strongly, calm and confident despite this being the first time she'd heard of such a plan.
Yes, Theodore though, she would make a strong woman.
The walls trembled, echoed blasts howling through empty corridors.
In Gryffindor Tower, Ron stuck out his hand to steady himself. With one last glance at his dorm, he committed all he could to memory. It might very well be that he would see his room.
"Ron?" Neville asked curiously, the only other boy that hadn't yet gone down to the Common Room.
He didn't answer for a moment. Sighing he jerked his head toward the bed nearest the window, its pressed sheets a sign that no teenage boy had regularly slept there. The boy in question had already left Hogwarts.
"Its funny, you know?" Ron said without any real humor. "How things could be so different from when we're just snot-nosed brats."
"Are you alright?"
"As fine as I'm ever going to be. And Neville? I wouldn't leave behind anything I'll miss terribly much."
"Meet me downstairs, will you."
He took every step slowly, fully seeing and appreciating his surrounding. So by the time he got downstairs a great portion of their House was huddled together, arguing and frightened.
"—I say we go out there and help the Professors. They'll be outnumbered." A loud sixth year was insisting.
"And what can we do? We're hardly a match for Death Eaters never mind whatever creatures they've brought along." Another student was protesting just as fiercely.
"We're Gryffindors! We've the courage to make a difference. And besides, don't you remember two years ago when a group of five students caught some of You-Know-Who's Death Eaters."
"That cant be true! No student can face an adult wizard."
"Is too! Where's Weasley and Longbottom? I tell you, they were there."
"I would forget that plan right now." Ron chided, using every last inch of his height to tower over every eavesdropping head.
"But isn't it true, Weasley? Didn't you catch Death Eaters when you were a fifth year?"
"True." Ron shrugged, meeting Hermione's eyes from across the room. She frowned back in worry, obviously at a lost on what to do. Distantly Ron realized this time it hadn't been her who'd thought up of a plan. He had done it all by himself. "And we all nearly died for it. We were lucky when we faced Death Eaters that weren't serious about hurting us. It wouldn't do to have some dead children appear before anyone believed the Dark Lord was back. This isn't like that."
"Then are we supposed to hide in here while people die out there?" Someone bit out angrily.
"Then what are we supposed to do?" And really for all their talk of courage, they were still children.
"If you want to go, realistically I can't stop you. So I'll tell you right now what you can expect. Vo—Voldemort has brought his army, and you've all heard enough rumors to know it's made of monsters and men. But Hogwarts is strong so for the moment she'll keep them out. The thing is a moment is all we have right now. V-Voldemort is here to kill Dumbledore and to take Hogwarts, neither of which will happen quietly. For all purposes this is the Final Battle and there's a very real possibility Hogwarts will not stand to see its end. So we're evacuating."
Ron waited for the shouting to calm down.
"What does the Headmaster have to say?" Yelled one Gryffindor.
"The Headmaster…I don't know." Ron shrugged. "I know he's been advised to evacuate but I haven't an idea what that turned up and I asked the Head Boy and Girl already. Doesn't matter now, anyone that has any common sense will follow me. But I can't choose for you and you can't wait."
The room exploded into noise, some running up to their rooms to pick any last items and others argued red-faced and fiercely.
"Ron." A female voice hissed.
Resignedly he sighed as he met concerned brown eyes. "Hermione…"
"Did Harry put you up to this?" And after nearly seven years Ron had somehow or another found the maturity to read the hurt clear in those eyes. Didn't she know? They weren't the Gryffindor Trio anymore. Hadn't been for a while now.
"Does it really matter? The plan is done and there really isn't anything we can do about it anymore."
"I…I could have helped Ron. Haven't I always helped you before?"
Uncomfortably he rubbed the back of his neck. "Don't worry about it 'Mione. What needed to be done was done."
Both fell silent as they glanced at a particular argumetive Gryffindor that was all but crying as they pleaded with another not to join the Professors.
"Do you think everything will turn out alright?" Hermione asked quietly.
Ron couldn't help but think it such a strange thing for Hermione to look to him for reassurance.
"Uh…Ron?" Neville interrupted them with an apologetic look. "How exactly will we be leaving Hogwarts…I mean, I don't know for sure, but aren't we surrounded?"
Ron smiled tiredly as the noise level fell down to a murmur. "We are pretty much surrounded. But haven't you ever noticed? People rarely look up. All the schools brooms have been taken to the Owlrey. From there we'll use the cloud cover to fly into the countryside."
"But…but what about the other Houses?" Someone asked hesitantly , almost like it was a traitorous thought. After all not all families were like the Weasleys.
"I can't tell you right now but they are being evacuated as we speak. Anyone that's coming better be ready in five minuets. There's some pretty serious weather-magic that will be covering our retreat; it won't last forever."
Abruptly the room descended into chaos. Ron continued watching them, studying every face that had been a regular part of his life. Idly he noted Lavender Brown of all people arguing fiercely with Parvati Patil. Brown clutched her wand and made a motion toward a group of students gearing up in what seemed like every magic-resistant scarf they had.
He didn't know it then but it would be last time anyone would see silly, laughing Lavender Brown alive.
"Ron?" Hermione asked. "Shouldn't we join them?"
To fight, Ron knew. To get lost in a struggle and forget there were ever people waiting for something else.
"No." He said, eyeing her with a new thought. "But you know what 'Mione? I don't want to regret anything."
And he kissed her with every last adolescent cell that had at one time wondered what it would be like.
Beat-red Neville made a hasty retreat.
Five rings softly clicked against each other. Each was magnificent in its own right, a treasure immeasurable.
It was his duty, birth-given burden. Ill-luck, ill-sought destiny.
For all that it was one of the darker names in history it meant a love more free than any he had ever known. The love of a godfather who'd wanted nothing but to care for his godson. It was a happy dream.
May the Blacks burn in Hell and may Sirius laugh with the best of them.
A secret passed on in a bloodline. Power given of a cold legacy. A servant to his means, an end to his plots.
Such a tortured, tragic legacy. Cursed mad throughout the centuries and proof love and good-intentions could be broken so horribly.
The last part of the puzzle. Gryffindor had never known just when to keep their noses out of others' business. Shame he'd been one for so long…
The Elder looked up at the brooding boy.
"I'm going out. Mind keeping something for me till I return?"
Something flashed in the air. Instinctively the Elder caught it, palm opening to reveal the jeweled Potter ring, gleaming warmly under his hand. When he looked up Harry was gone.
"Fair Winds." Amos blessed quietly.
It was a Wizard's war. And he was a vampire.
He'd never wished to be otherwise till then.
Minerva McGonagall had lived through two different wars; Voldemort's First War and Grindelwald's War.
And that did nothing to settle her pounding heart now. But this was different, she realized. Never before had a Dark Lord moved so openly against Hogwarts. But to literally place the castle under siege. It was unsettling.
"Professor? This corridor is all clear."
She waited till her companion fell into step before moving on. Her companion was an Auror, a little older than generally seen on field-duty (most likely the reason he'd been assigned to an 'easy' post at Hogwarts).
"This way Auror Stewart."
The Headmaster had paired them up and sent them to physically sweep the outer walls for signs of weakening wards. Unfortunately for all of them they didn't take into account just how willing Hogwarts would be to aid her Heirs. One Heir asked her to hide fleeing children from prying eyes and she did. Another begged her to lower her wards and let him come Home, and she was. And finally one of her Heir's blood asked her to hold her wards and she tried.
So Minerva remained oblivious to the quickly emptying Common Rooms. Because although not everyone wanted to leave, no one was keen on staying once rooms emptied.
"The Great Hall." Minerva signaled toward the heavy wooden doors.
She would never quite know what happened. Auror Stewart on the other hand would never even get the chance to wonder. Mostly because it was a trick of luck; because the fact someone walked on the right or left wasn't a conscious decision, not in this case.
Only that she flinched; sickly green power flaring besides her and a second later the dull thump as Auror Stewart—who really was too old to be out on the field—fell with horrible permanence.
It was also when she realized their careful security measures had failed. Hogwarts had already been breached. She twisted to face her opponent and had less than a second to spy a dark figure before she was flying. Chest burning terribly as magic lashed her; and she also was far too old to be playing war games. But none of that was important as she crumpled toward the ground, body sinking in a pool of robes.
Boots clicked clearly as they moved toward her. Her desperate fingers reached for a wand that was banished away just as quickly. Shaking shoulders would not support her as she tried to get more than a glimpse of her attacker. So she stayed pooled on the ground, each breath painful as something inside her protested.
Cold, thin fingers twisted into her hair and with a harsh jerk she met cruel red eyes. Her body protesting the uncomfortable angle she'd been thrust into. She could not help but see her attacker clearly. Eyes she'd never seen manifested but ones she'd known about for years. A face pale and twisted with unnatural rituals.
Soundlessly Minerva moved her mouth, mute in the face of Dark Lord Voldemort.
"Well, well." He tilted her neck more cruelly, delighting in her involuntary cry of pain. "Look what we have here. Truth be told I was waiting for your fool of a Master but it seems I will have to do something to catch his attention. It was quite boring, my dear, how about you entertain me?"
With a careless toss he released her, chest stinging as it fell back to the ground. Boots clicked away but Minerva knew better than to be grateful. Tom had always preferred the magical way of things, even in torture.
A soundless flick had her suspended in the air. Hands bound by forces she could not see and so frightenly helpless.
"What shall we do, little Gryffindor? Shall we reminisce, my girl? You must remember, my dear, so many years ago. The Head Boy and Girl always share the first dance and you my dear could never quite compare even back then."
"No…" She choked out. She had admired Tom Riddle so very much, maybe even loved him. She did not want to remember those days.
"You were such a stupid girl for all that they said otherwise. Shall you ask for a kiss again?" Thin lips smirked, taunting the memory of an inexperienced girl that couldn't even fathom the darkness in her fellow Head Boy.
"No…" She cried, blind to the reason for her protest. "Myrtle…you."
Myrtle Willard. A Hufflepuff girl with the nasty habit of being at the wrong end of jokes. Such an easy girl to tease. And dead in a bathroom stall before her fifth-year. No one had ever figured out just what had killed her.
"Ah…" Voldemort reminisced with amused fondness. "Another stupid girl, so very pesky and so utterly alone. Don't try and tell me you actually cared when the silly child died? After all memory says you were more than fond of taunting the girl."
"No…I'm…sorry." She gasped. Sorry Myrtle for never caring, for never thinking, for never knowing. Sorry for wishing a kiss on the eve of their Farewell Feast from her murderer. For spending countless months sighing after the calm, suave Slytherin Head Boy and never knowing just how many lives he'd snuffed out.
After all Tom Riddle had always been exceptionally good at keeping his disdainful business in the shadows were it belonged.
"Foolish Minerva, share a last dance, wont you?"
And she bit her lip to keep from crying as he twirled his wand, sending her immovable body spinning and dipping in a parody of a night more than fifty years ago.
"You will release her!" A voice boomed.
Voldemort gave the Transfiguration Professor a fanged smirk as he turned to face their newest arrival.
"Albus Dumbledore, I've been waiting for you. Thankfully your professor here was kind enough to keep me entertained. But I'm afraid she isn't amusing anymore. Shall we say goodbye, Minerva?"
Helpless eyes remained locked on Albus as the green light swallowed her whole. Glazed orbs continued their blank stare as her body slid into the ground.
Just another silly girl.
"This has gone on far enough."
Albus strode further into the Great Hall. Above them the enchanted sky-light swirled and twisted, heavy gray clouds as Hogwarts bowed and trembled, an alien presence older than itself and far more malicious waiting in the darkness woke.
The Founder's blood had been cursed since the beginning.
Seamus, Dean, and Neville slid closer to Ron. He nodded at them before signaling a couple of older students with cool heads.
All around them owls squawked as they gazed down curiously at the assembled students. With a final head count he glanced to Neville who'd remained gazing out into one of the large windows.
"Weather-magic you say?" He nearly squeaked out, something like awe and nervousness making him sound as jumpy as he'd been as a first year.
Ron took his own look. Harry had said their flight would be protected. He'd just never bothered to wonder just what that would mean. Outside dense clouds drifted by, swallowing moon and starts whole. But still…there was something lurking in those clouds.
"What did you want us to do?" Dean reminded both boys.
"Uh…right, mate. I need you all to keep an eye on everyone. We'll be launching in groups and each of you will be spread about to help keep them calm. It might be bloody cold but we'll be keeping as high as possible. I think there's enough magic here that warming charms shouldn't be detected but once we leave the area you'll need to make sure all those charms are dispelled. The more magic we use the larger a beacon we become and I think all of us know we don't want anyone to know just who's leaving.
"You all got that? Right. Neville you'll be flying out first."
"Me?" The boy squeaked, glancing helplessly at the others.
"Sure. I know you Neville, you'll do fine. Everyone take a D.A. galleon. If you run into trouble this is how you'll call out. Just…just don't go low. There's some serious magic out there."
A while later Hermione drifted closer to Ron, both gazing at Neville as he launched the fourth-years. Young enough that they still needed someone to look after them but not so young as to be more trouble than Neville could handle.
"This plan…" Hermione awkwardly started. "What if we're betrayed? Like Pettigrew."
Ron continued looking out into the distance as Neville led his group into the clouds; each broom teetered to his own by some of the same spells commonly used on training brooms. He took a moment to thoughtfully appreciate just how mad Slytherin would be when they found out what spells were placed on their precious brooms.
"I know." And Ron did. They were vulnerable in the air. All the enemy needed was one traitorous student flying bellow cloud cover and launching a firecracker of all things. Ron could still try using another route devised to evacuate the other Houses but it would take time he simply did not have.
He shrugged uncomfortably at Hermione's look. Quietly he repeated, "I do know, 'Mione. Fourth-year Merric Peragon—his mum and dad are both Death Eaters."
For a moment Hermione moved a wordless mouth. She hissed, aware she couldn't risk panicking everyone else. "And you send the boy first?"
"Like I said, there's some serious weather magic…and it looks like we'll get to see first hand."
Startled gasps and whispered curses rose all around him as a figure broke cover. Peragon had Chosen and it wasn't them. The dismay around him turned to bewilderment as a particular fierce wind literally spun the fourth-year. While the fourth-year was competent on a broom he had no where near the skill a first-year Potter had shown and as such the poor boy could only clutch his broom as he steadied himself. Above him churning clouds lurked with something other.
Neville, who was closest, was smart enough to know whatever was happening wasn't going to end well. A clear space full of starts and open skies was twirling powerfully. As it was he'd once had to research a particular seed that only bloomed in something called twisters. He wasn't all that comforted to see that particular weather formation now. With a slash of his wand Neville cut the tether to Peragon's broom.
Ron had always known Neville would do what needed to be done, however much he didn't want to. He'd never noticed how alike Neville and Harry really were.
"It…it looks like a tornado." Hermione observed, not unexpectantly knowing that tidbit of information. "Wait…I don't think that's what it's going to do. Maybe an artificial eye?"
Unfortunately none of Hermione's musing would do anything to help Peragon even if he could have used the information. What happened next left everyone watching mystified and Peragon an eternity to regret. The artificial storm-eye opened and something howled, muffled and so very powerful. Frightened hands clutched his broom and in a second Peragon couldn't have moved if he wanted as his extremities literary froze. Ice ghosted along his skin till he resembled a carved statue more than a boy. And only Peragon would ever know if the ice or the fall killed him.
He descended quietly into a rocky portion of Hogwarts grounds. It had been Ron's ideal launching pad because of the likelihood it would be clear of Voldemort's army.
"Extremely cold air accio'd from the higher atmosphere." Hermione mumbled among the horrified gasps.
"There's serious weather-magic." He reminded everyone grimly, the true seriousness of his words finally evident. "Hermione, Dean, Ginny, and anyone in the Quidditch team go gather your group. You'll be taking the first-years. Seamus and Parvati, you've the second years. I'll be splitting the third and sixth into two groups and fifth will be led by O'Malley."
It wasn't surprising that no other group broke cloud cover. Grimly Ron continued watching as every subsequent group launched.
"Ron?" Seamus glanced at him, Parvati busy correcting every second-years grip. "What about you? Whose group are you going with?"
Ron was forever thankful that Hermione and Ginny weren't around to overhear that. "I've things to do yet Seamus."
The other boy grimaced. "I don't want to be near your sister when someone has to explain that to her."
"Seamus? Let's go." Pale but determined, Parvati moved to her place in the back of the group. Most everyone leading one of the groups had at one time been trained by the D.A. and frankly were the only ones Ron knew to be quick enough to catch any falling students.
"Fair Winds." Ron blessed.
"Bloody cold is what it'll be." Seamus muttered in return, before sprinting into the air.
The two opponents continued to circle each other, careless flicks of their hands sending the House Tables skidding into the wall and into each other. Albus for all that he held Minerva dear could not afford to properly care for her body. It was a necessity of war, he lamented, as he banished her body as gently as he could to one far wall.
Voldemort would require everyone last one of his wits sharp and ready. He could not help but remember a boy that had once upon a time looked up wonderedly for the first time and who now stood before him ready to darkly twist everything in sight.
"I am sorry Tom, for all that I have done you could not escape your destiny." Albus said, pained as if Voldemort was still Tom. Still young and angry with too much power and not enough humanity.
"You sing a song of innocence, old fool. I am your self-fulfilling prophecy. You meddled with my Family, tainted my line with Muggle blood, and when my mother died you refused my existence. A poor little orphan, better off with the primitive pieces of flesh that could not begin to understand a wizard.
"Once scorned, you continued your same tricks. Where is your Savior now, Albus? Your Golden Child that was supposed to fight me, shed blood in your name, held in by the pitiful strings that make up your world.
"Weak. You've wasted and decayed, and I…."
Searing magic lashed the air about him, dark and tainted with so much anger and hate. So much rage…
"…I have only grown STRONGER!"
"Be that is it may, you will not win Tom. The very fact none of your army has stepped inside these stone halls is proof enough there will always be someone to fight you and any of those that follow you. We have something you don't. Because all those that fight you have proven they will fight and die for someone else, and you, as driven as you have become, have proven you will fight for no one but yourself!"
Voldemort laughed, a chilling and creeping sound that echoed oddly in his vocal cords. In the forging of his body, a snake hissed too loudly. "They called him the Boy-Who-Lived. Placed a world's hope on a brat that didn't know enough to love any of you, because in the end not even love could save the woman—his mother. Your little caged Prince, Albus. …Tell me where is he now? Didn't you lock him up tight enough? Wrapped him so securely you couldn't even see how alike he and I are—"
"Harry is nothing like you." Albus stated firmly, his expression remaining even. Voldemort was oddly reminded of every time someone had been caught sleeping in class. "He cares about his friends, his family—and that is enough to separate the two of you."
Voldemort smirked coldly, dark amusement shinning in his red—glowing—eyes. "The boy is bathed in so much rage it is a wonder he hasn't killed you. That boy has never shed a tear for any of his blood that has died, much less those I've killed myself. He would have thanked you had you done even that for him. And so you abandoned another wizard, left him to be surrounded by weak, pitiful little humans that understood and hated what we were born to do.
"So Albus, where is he now? Fighting my army at the Gates? Starring me down by your side? Dare I say…he's abandoned you." Voldemort finished with a harsh whisper, every word aimed and filed to tear at the old Headmaster.
"No…" And for a moment uncertainty crept into eyes that had rarely ever faltered in their course. Because Harry it was true… He wasn't here; had quite possibly left...them.
And that's when a new voice interrupted them, sighing heavily, "Unfortunately for all of us I could not quite stay away. So very unlucky, don't you think?"
It was possibly the oddest gathering ever held in the Great Hall.
An aged, white-bearded old man dressed in sky-blue robes adorned with drifting stars and shy unicorns—personally tailored (there'd never been much demand for such things much to Albus' befuddlement). And despite that he glowed, blue eyes fierce in battle-readiness, and flesh flush with adrenaline. Skin hazy and vibrant with almost solid power, lashed tightly to his very soul.
A darkly-robed thin
figure of a man, his skin immediately noticeable for its paleness.
Unnatural red-eyes were cold and calculating, ruthlessness lurking in
the back of those orbs.
In the shifting torch-light, a pattern of scale-like iridescent skin gleamed along his cheekbones, only adding to his malicious figure.
And between two titans, was the oddest one of all. A young man, thin with too much growing and lanky as only youth could make one. His face was smooth, time having yet to mark it in the same manner his companions showed their years. Dressed in sturdy pants and shirt, an open battle robe worn to protect him somewhat from battle-damage—he was the picture of high-born rebellion. He could easily be dismissed as just another boy, save one thing. One thing he shared with the other two. He had the same eyes; the same look of power in his soul and the will to wield it for an end.
These were men who choose their places in the world, and what's more had the power to make it so.
"Bravo…" Voldemort clapped slowly. "And the Prince has indeed come."
"No more a prince than you." Harry shrugged, deceptively casual.
"Child, child…" Voldemort tsk'd like a disapproving parent, despite how frankly unsettling it was thinking about the Snake Lord reproducing. "And so ends our reprieve though it need not. We understand each other, child, more so than that old fool ever bothered to know either of us. This is not your war; leave this place and these people."
Both wizards couldn't help but be amused at Dumbledore's sharp intake of breath.
Harry rolled his eyes at his former Headmaster, petulant adolescence at its finest. "Like you couldn't guess that was coming? We're practically wired to each other; of course we're going to get some reception."
And Albus, old glorified wizard that he was, was looking at his most recent student with a terrible realization.
"You said it yourself," Voldemort further taunted. "He and I are so terribly alike."
"It matters not how alike, it is our choices that define us—and that is something no one but themselves can decide." Albus reminded them, aware of the wary distance the other two wizards maintained between them. Not such chum allies, were they?
A bolt of power laced the air and Albus spun his own power, howling as it countered. "Enough playing old man." Voldemort tossed his head arrogantly. With a tilt of his head he turned to look at Harry, who had so far not moved. " Its time for you to choose, Harry Potter. Whatever foolish idea inspired you to come this night cannot be unmade. You came and now you must choose."
And Albus, old glorified wizard that he was, was looking at his most recent student with a terrible realization.
"You said it yourself," Voldemort further taunted. "He and I are so terribly alike."
"It matters not how alike, it is our choices that define us—and that is something no one but yourselves can decide." Albus reminded them, aware of the wary distance the other two wizards maintained between them. Not such chum allies, were they?
A bolt of power lashed the air and Albus spun, his own power howling as it countered. "Enough playing old man." Voldemort tossed his head arrogantly. With a tilt of his head he turned to look at Harry, who had so far not moved. " Its time for you to choose, Harry Potter. Whatever foolish idea inspired you to come this night cannot be unmade. You came and now you must choose."
And really, that was the whole mess. Since when did anyone say there could only be two choices?"
"Why?" Harry mused as he glanced curiously at both wizards. "You both have gone through all the trouble of arranging this meeting. Shouldn't you settle this between yourselves first?"
Albus' lips tightened. Such a complicated game and such an unwilling boy.
Voldemort gave a hissing laugh. "No, child. Choose your path."
Harry tilted his head in innocent consideration, for all the world honestly looking as he was trying to decide between these two men. Finally he sighed, "If I must…"
They only had a warning of something silver flashing at the edge of his robe's sleeve before Voldemort hissed, fingers touching his cheek as dark blood trickled down his skin.
"So be it." And the Dark Lord had never known mercy to his enemies.
"You will lose, Tom." Albus reminded as he send a curse of angry purple tearing the ground between them.
Voldemort snarled and his wand glowed, bright as a sun and powerful the like which few living had ever seen. Hands rose as he called his own power against the Headmaster. Their magic met in a resounding thunder, momentarily deafening Harry as he instinctively ducked low. It was little protection as he still crashed into an overturned bench.
"For all that you have done in this damnable school, I'll grant you a favor Albus. Spend eternity with Hogwarts—it will be your tomb." Hissed Voldemort, sickly and serpentine. "YOU SHALL NOT LEAVE THIS TOMB!"
Blue eyes gleamed with indomitable challenge. This was the power hidden in a doddering old man that few had ever seen. Above them windows were bricked shut as Hogwarts vacillated between the need to protect her Heirs and an older malicious presence that was reaching for the Founder's Blood.
Again their magic flared glittering and cold, bright and unforgiving. Spinning and dancing in the air, transfigured lances and wicked swords shone in the haze between them before disappearing as they were torn and remade.
Harry coughed in the heavy press of magic. So far both wizards were content to ignore his presence, more concerned with the bigger threat. He would freely admit he could not hold his own for long against these two. As they fought they seemed to know the next step in their battle even before it came and had three counters ready in return. He just didn't have enough experience.
Silently he called back his bloody dagger.
Blood of the Enemy, forcibly taken.
Albus moved in front of Harry, no doubt protecting the younger wizard till he acted foolishly and actually engaged the Dark Lord. It had always been Harry's more impulsive trait.
His mistake, Harry reasoned as he brought the twin of the other dagger flashing over the open hand of his former mentor. Albus instinctively turned to face the newest danger but Harry was already dashing away, a bloody finger gripped tightly in his palm.
Flesh of the Servant, not quite willing.
Poor Albus who had served destiny every second he thought he played his own games. It wasn't like that. Destiny crowned Harry and Albus had done everything in his power to bring him here. Not all games were solitary and Harry would win this one.
The second of distraction was more than enough as a spinning cyclone of fire scorched a good portion of the Headmaster's beard. Voldemort was not so consumed he didn't notice his youngest rival had more planned than obvious.
"What are you up to, child?" He asked in a brief lull of the warring powers.
Coughing Harry looked up from his position, smiling grimly (and a tat mad if truth be told but then again his companions weren't in the position to complain).
"Haven't you ever wondered why things have gone so awful? Why everything meant to help you has turned into dust and everyone that could have loved you has gone away? Why in the end we are all alone? Didn't you ever think even with bad luck, this was all just a bit wrong?" Harry talked as Voldemort and Albus tried to control their bodies' exertion. All around them pieces of unfortunate furniture burned, introducing smoke into the already heavy air. "My mother's death fueled powerful magic; protection that prevented you from touching me. What do you think a whole people's death could have fueled?"
Warily the three wizards circled each other, no longer trusting any quarter.
"You're so proud of your heritage," Harry quietly said, feeling the suffocating buildup as they gathered their strength. "Slytherin and Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, and such a stupid legacy has withered to this. There are no more Heirs; this is all that is left for everyone that could have been here has died in the Founder's self-destruction. Their Blood was cursed powerfully with death-magic and its time it was paid in full."
Sharp blue eyes focused on Harry, reading what he hadn't been saying. They did not miss the ring in Harry's hand or what it meant.
"You…" And Voldemort was truly displeased now. Yew wand flashed in a wave of power but Albus stepped forward, his own skills shaping a silver shield to protect them both. A blast of hot air hissed as their battle began again.
In their wake he was a child compared to them.
"Your experience means you'd win, but I am more powerful than either of you." Harry muttered, his words lost as stones shook in protest each time magic collided and sometimes when it didn't. "So let's level the playing field."
Above them the enchanted sky spun in a furious cyclone, fractured arcs of white lightning born in their depth. There was deep magic in this place, made of never-resting hate and vengeance. And it wanted them, salivated at the thought of the Heir-Blood each one carried. It would drag them into death the second it could sink vengeful claws. For a millennia of nightmares, a curse that strangled every happiness they ever thought to hold. Because the History of Man didn't remember Rowsgath and the powerful curse placed on its conquerors.
But Harry would release it now.
White power raced along one arm and Black Flame sprung in the other. Warring powers nearing each other in a shadow cradle.
It hurt; hurt more than anything he'd ever felt. Unforgiving power tearing back into his body, a closed circuit so to speak. It seared and burned and left everything anew in its wake only to tear it apart again. Destruction and rebirth in the span of a second. But his was a mortal body and though his magic could sustain the onslaught his body could not.
There was no blood, only the heavy smell of magic as his mortal form was vaporized from one second to another.
He was magic at its most primal, something akin to the wandering wraith Voldemort had been a decade ago. And from the first death young Harry caused—stuttering, stupid Quirrell made him a murderer—he learned in the end the strongest entity would dominate. Time to prove his theory and choose his path.
Voldemort and Albus moved back as the air became saturated with something that set their nerves racing. Even they could not say they had ever seen something like the heavy cloud of churning power. It was dark and bright at its core, laced wildly with white and green and despite not knowing just what it was both wizards knew it was Harry. Angrily it began to spin in a wide circle, sending rubble into the air and pulling at their heavy robes.
"Harry!" Albus screamed, squinting as he tried to protect his eyes from the debris.
Above the ceiling crackled the darkest black, wisps of ebony drifting ever so slowly to where the wizards still battled.
Albus didn't have time to flinch as the cloud of power narrowed, his body fully surrounded by the raging storm.
"Clever boy," Voldemort muttered, hands raised defensively in front of him. "You've torn your magical core from your body. A sacrifice for death's door. But not good enough."
Searing green death cut through the cloud, yew wand raised aggressively. It didn't matter. The cloud howled in agony and anger, latching on to the taste of tainted magic. This battle was no longer about enchanted items and secret weapons, about backdoor deals and little tests.
If Harry could laugh he would have done so, I've found your magic now.
Albus blinked watering eyes as Voldemort disappeared into the depth of the hazy storm. The magic continued to swirl around angrily, tinted red and green now. It was feral and wild in a way that spoke little of thought and everything about base instincts. And it continued to narrow around him.
It was a sacrifice Albus had never thought to make. Harry and Tom. It had always been Harry and Tom. Such willful children as to form a funnel of magic and emotion, twisted half in the living world and half in the other realm.
With a tired sigh he closed his eyes and tilted his head back. "So this is it…"
Howling mage-winds swallowed him whole a second later, tearing his body apart. There was no Harry, there was no Tom, and there was no Albus. Their bodies were gone and their magic lashed every surface.
The curse of Rowsgath Hogwarts was made of deep magic…
"Magic is magic."
A decade ago, Tom wandered as a bodiless spirit, more instinct than human.
"Thus, will is a nexus of endless possibilities."
And nobody had ever accused Harry of not being willful.
They were one and they were three. They were fighting and twisting, flowing and merging. They were so near death, wisps of their essence crossed the threshold without even knowing. But What-Was-Harry was stronger than the Others. It was so very painful for What-Was-Harry to tear itself away. Death…death had never sung so sweetly, welcomed so readily and in any life that followed he would never manage to forget that song. But he felt something else call him, a yellowed bone beckoned with something soul jarring.
What-Was-Harry remembered; remembered his mother, fiery red-hair and green eyes. She'd left her mark on him, deeper than anyone ever could. Wove her magic and soul into his skin and spirit, marking him past life and past death.
Bone of the mother…
…You Will Renew Your Son!
Stone and mortar grinding against each other, runes and seals flaring in a final brilliant display of power. And despite all that, Hogwarts trembled as the very magic that had bound its foundation was now literally tearing it apart. It was all falling apart.
Outside battling wizards fell to the ground as the earth trembled. Masked figures cried out in pain as just like a decade before the Dark Mark disappeared. Aurors, Order Members and what students and teachers had so far managed to survive did not waste time. Their spells flared fiercely against their stunned opponents.
There was no honor in war. Only rage and fear and desperation; only shaky sobs as every once in a while the smoke would clear enough to see a familiar face slack, already gone.
All along now empty halls, portraits of squawking wizards and witches, hollowed suits of armor, and carved stone figures held up fruitless arms in the wake of unstoppable destruction.
And despite narrowly avoiding gargoyle-induced death just seconds before, Ron did not flee. Would not flee, not now.
Wand flaring in arcs of magic, Ron blasted the heavy door of the Great Hall. Its protective seals deteriorating with every hit.
Everyone else had done their part, fought their battle. Now it was Ron's turn, his chance to hold a burden worth more than he and prove himself equal to the task.
He would not run away, not now.
The door groaned one final time before a narrow patch of wood exploded. A disquieting silence being the only response to the intrusion. Still, he would prove himself equal to the task. Kicking and blasting the narrow opening, Ron thanked his lanky frame before squirming into the dark Hall.
It was unfortunate Ron would never remember the Great Hall as a joyful place, ringing with the sounds of Four Tables and hundreds of ignorant, petulant, brilliant, grinning children. Because what he saw now he would do his best to forget, even if it meant deliberately making the memories of earlier days dimmer in his mind.
Stone covered the great arched windows that had once upon a time introduced a herd of owls to anxious students. Black char darkened every surface, the Great Tables gone except for a few stay pieces of tinder. Parts of the floor were likewise turned to rubble, distant underground fires lighting a hidden expanse. Slytherin's Dark Hall, his mocking parody, Ron figured having run through the echoing silence in another time.
Warily he lit his wand, peering through the darkness. His steps echoed softly, muffled now only by the smoke that drifted up through the gashes on the ground. He didn't stop when he spotted a smoke-tinted blue robe, broken glasses carelessly discarded or even when he saw a rich dark cloak, its falling puddle reminiscent of another scene sixteen years prior. He shivered in the oppressive gloom, denying instincts that told him it was wrong of him to be there.
Ron had a goal, bound by his own promise. If friendship was worth anything then it would be now that such things were remembered.
And finally the oppressive silence was broken by a soft gurgle. Listening intently, Ron hesitantly made his way. Despite having been warned of the distinct possibility a very big part of Ron crumbled to the ground and…gaped.
Because lying before him, naked as a day he was born, was a small child—an infant really. Noting the distinct lack of auburn-gold hair, Ron pushed back baby-soft tufts of black hair and peeled back one eyelid. Petulant green gazed back at him reproaching. Baby appendages waved at him in disgruntlement, no doubt irritated by the hazy smoke in the air and his own nakedness.
"Merlin have mercy." Ron swore his disbelief. Harry had actually done it. Turned back Voldemort's ritual and sealed his own soul in a body made anew. Trembling Quidditch-calloused hands gently touched the child, remembering Harry's hasty words.
"Bone of the mother, flesh of the servant, blood of the enemy—you will renew." Ron repeated.
A distant explosion broke his musings. Hastily Ron bundled the infant in the nearest thing he could find—a tattered length of blue robes. Hogwarts was falling down around his ears; now was not the time to daydream.
Harry had fought and won his battle, turned back fate and remade destiny. Now it was Ron's turn to protect his hard-won victory.
So he turned to escape the falling castle, running as carefully as he could for all that he was worth. Abruptly Ron skidded, narrowly stopping his ugly crash into the rubbled mess that had once-upon a time been Hogwarts' main door.
Bad luck that, Ron cursed. Undaunted Ron glanced at both sides of the hall before determinedly making his way east. He had not spent some of his most memorable years running away from Filch and that damned cat of his without having come across other exits. Not to mention his recent exploration and evacuation plans.
Avoiding the way to the Quidditch fields (which no doubt resembled an ugly piece of burning battlefield) Ron made his way near Hufflepuff's exit point, which would lead him into a secluded courtyard and onto the opposite side of the lake from the Quidditch field. It was empty, Justin having already led his house into the Forbidden Forest were a herd of transfigured horses would carry them, guided as far as they needed to by Centaurs. (It was taken as a given Centaurs would never led a human ride them.)
It was unfortunate that Ron's plan did not go as smoothly as he liked.
Crumbled in the center of the courtyard, mask shattered before the kneeling figure, was a black-robed Draco Malfoy. Ron did not know it then but Hufflepuff and the Marked Slytherins narrowly avoided one another, the first as they fled and the second as they opened Hogwarts to Voldemort. Malfoy looked up; glassy pale eyes, shocked and too focused (in a way Ron did not like) on the baby held in his arms.
Malfoy moved his mouth soundlessly, pale and sweaty from the worst day of his life. Because Draco Malfoy wasn't as ruthless as his father and when the time came for it he did not have his mother's determination. Malfoy had fled the battlefield, ignoring his companions' recriminations and had just spent the last couple of hours feeling the ground tremble and shake. Knowing it was over for him if the Dark Lord won (Voldemort detested traitors, even harmless ones as Draco had proven to be)and yet the Ministry's leniency could not be expected, not when they would squeeze every last Knut out of him and turn his life into just another desperate beggar, an example of how such a family could fall.
Even as the wizard-made explosions became fewer and fewer, Draco Malfoy came to the distant realization that Lucius Malfoy had ruined the Malfoy legacy. He Choose wrongly.
And he resigned himself to his fate, just another doll broken by circumstance. That did not prepare him for the first person that stumbled over him.
A Weasley, his mind bitterly supplied. Just another Gryffindork that wasn't anything special but despite that would be a hero. A careless idiot that made all the right choices and never had to fall like Draco did.
Still it took him a moment to realize it was Ron Weasley that had discovered him. Ruining any image Draco held of the other boy following Potter around, protecting him like Draco had never been protected. It was a surprise to see a soot-covered Weasley instead of a bloody, battle-scarred boy.
No one had made Ron Weasley fight, Draco sullenly noticed. And still it wasn't over, not this nightmare of good addled-brained Headmasters, evil terrifying Dark Lords, and too powerful boys.
Not if that baby wiggling in Weasley's arms meant anything.
It wasn't over.
Ron for his part only had a second to think, to react decidedly faster than the boy in his path. He could walk away, leave the dejected boy. A danger when he didn't know if the Ministry won or lost. Either way it was a too-big risk, to leave a boy with the knowledge that Ron carried a defenseless child away from the site of ruin. Ron had no illusions that the boy in front of him wouldn't sell the information for what little leniency he could.
No. Ron's greatest protection had been in the fact no one had known, his plan, his intentions, and the result of the conflict of titans.
It meant Harry's life and safety that no one ever know what happened. And because of that Ron knew he could do what he had to do.
Draco didn't have time to think or even move, his last thought blankly reflecting how utterly unsurprising it had all been. With a whispered sigh the blond boy crumbled lifelessly next to his Mask.
His death when discovered would go entirely unnoticed, just another foolish boy brought down by hard-working Aurors despite the fact no one would ever be sure just exactly who dealt the death blow (in spite of several blubbering rookies claiming the credit).
Ron didn't have time to think on what it meant to have taken a life, even if it was a life he'd angrily sworn more than one time in his ignorant childhood to kill. Funny, that the whole of Hogwarts had at one time or another heard his bellowed death threat yet no one would ever suspect him of the final deed.
With that in mind he determinedly strode into the Forbidden Forest, banishing all thoughts of giant spiders—that were so big and fearsome, big enough to eat him without a worry.
They found each other, narrowly avoiding blasting each other in payment of the bad start.
Warily they eyed each other, the soot-covered human boy and the pale vampire girl, both woefully unprepared for the situation. Hesitantly the vampire girl (who despite legends had never spent any time with humans) held up a chain, the Potter Signet hanging at its end. Unconsciously Ron tightened his grip on his best-friend—who Merlin willing knew what he wanted when he asked Ron do to this.
It was then that the infant woke, sleepy green-eyes peering at the word around him before lightening when they spotted the dangling play-thing. Both adults (or near-adults) watched the child lift chubby arms toward the Potter Ring—almost like he knew what it meant, they both thought.
"He's my best-friend." Ron explained, breaking the uncertain silence.
The girl, gold-eyes solemn, nodded her understanding. "I will take care of him."
Ron eyed the vampire. "You'll be his guardian?"
"No." The girl eased his fears, unfounded though they may be. "It would be unwise repayment to grow in the darkness; he doesn't need that."
Ron held the baby close one last time, pressing his cheek against soft hair and murmured a parting. He would give the girl his friend, knowing the girl would spirit him away for a very long time. And he would send the child with his wish, that if his friend's second childhood could not be normal then let it at least be happy.
He watched the darkness long after the girl had left, completely unmindful of the shadowy forest that held giant, ugly spiders. The most powerful wizard in their world was a child; now hidden in secrecy and capable of changing the world without expectations hindering him. The war had ended that night. No one, he knew, had the power to hold the scattered army together.
It was over, he thought before contradicting himself entirely. It wasn't over. For a green-eyed baby, it was just beginning..
29 July 2007
AN: Let's all take a moment to realize I just wrote 'The End'. How funny…
Now for anyone that read Deadly Hallows there are some digs at the story (see if you spot them) and for those that haven't it doesn't matter. They're vague enough you won't recognize them for what they are.
If anyone's confused about why Harry managed to survive it's because when he was incorporeal some of him did cross over. In a way a part of Harry died, the part of him most connected to death (like his link to Tom and the Curse on his blood). Questions about the plot will be answered for those wondering. Just review and I'll return comment.
Having finished this I'll be turning my attention to my other story (Child of Mercy) and no, I haven't forgotten about it but there's only so much productivity you can expect from me and it was all temporarily directed at finishing this
Tell me what you think! And Thank You for every last review (2275)! Frankly in the beginning I never expected so many. It's made me smile whenever I see one.
Special thanks to Darksov and The-Hyphenated-One from Dark Lord Potter forum.