The End Of It All
Green eyes stared out at red ones, both hardened with resolve, as Harry faced down Lord Voldemort. The fate of the entire Wizarding World hung on the outcome of this duel, and by unspoken agreement all present paused to watch, and see which way the wind would blow. However, the field was not completely silent.
Here and there, a wounded wizard or witch moaned in pain, as medics swiftly and silently sent them to either St Mungo's or the Crouch Estate, depending on their allegiance. A young tiger, barely more than a cub, whimpered as it tried to stand and rejoin her master. And one man, a mere muggle, whispered a prayer to the wind that his beloved nephew would not just win the duel, but survive to see the light that victory would bring.
"So you knew of my Horcrux. No matter," sneered Voldemort. "There are other measures I have taken..."
"Like Slytherin's Locket?" interrupted Harry. "The Gaunt Ring? Hufflepuff's Cup? Your diary? And the Amulet of the Line? You must not have been paying attention, Moldy Wart. They're all long gone." He smiled. "You're as mortal as anyone else, now. Vulnerable."
For the first time, a glimmer of fear rose in the eyes of the Dark Lord, but he squashed it ruthlessly. "So what?" he snarled. "The only mage who could have possibly bested me is dead, and a mere schoolboy stands before me, as the best hope of the Wizarding World! Do you truly believe you can win?"
"Of course he can," snorted Ron from his position at Harry's flank. "If he couldn't, then why's the prophesy in doubt, eh? Why's it say it comes down to you two, an' not 'The Dork Lord whups up on a schoolboy', eh?"
"Silence!" barked Voldemort, tossing a wordless Cruciatus at Ron. Not expecting it, the Heir of Gryffindor cried out in agony, falling to the ground as spasms of agony wracked his body.
"NO!" Taking the opportunity, Harry launched one of the Auror spells he had learned from Sirius before his Godfather's death. Like Voldemort's spell, it was wordless, and a zig-zagging bolt of blue force ripped the air between the two.
This particular spell was remarkably hard to dodge, as its path could not be predicted on its way to its target, and could only be blocked. "Mare Lapis!" shouted Voldemort, as the water of the Hogwarts Lake flowed in front of him, hardening for a brief moment until it was as solid as stone, then flowed away again once the energy of the spell had dissipated.
The duel had begun. Spells of remarkable power and creativity flashed back and forth, and the combatants ranged across the battlefield. The watchers scattered, to avoid being a casualty of the immense firepower being bandied back and forth. But despite the experience and raw strength of the Dark Lord, the duel remained an inconclusive display of power.
For twenty minutes the battle raged, neither sorcerer giving an inch, and fighting with all they had. As it drew on and on, Voldemort felt his earlier fear begin to rise up, and he shook to know that a mere child could match him in battle - and possibly best him, if he could not end it any sooner. "How are you so strong, boy?" he demanded.
A memory of a ghostly voice erupted through the mind of Voldemort as they locked eyes. "And he shall have a power the Dark Lord knows not... And he shall have a power the Dark Lord knows not... And he shall have a power the Dark Lord knows not... " was repeated over, and over, and over in his thoughts.
"And let's just say I found my power. It's courage, Voldie. Courage and love." Harry tossed another spell, creating a spiderweb pattern of frost on the ground, that the Dark Lord knew would freeze him solid in an instant if he touched the icy strands before they faded. "I know I am loved, and I know those I loved in the past await me should I fall. So I do not fear this fight. I do not fear death." Another spell, this one a spray of flaming acid, doused one sleeve of Voldemort's robe.
"Bah! If you do not fear death, then you will die!" With his new wand, with a core of scales from Nagini herself, flashed three times, sending two lesser spells out, flanking a Killing Curse.
But the Killing Curse was avoided, and the others flicked aside. "You see? You don't understand it. Love, courage, these things are beyond you. You never read anything by Bruce Lee, did you?" A ball of flame erupted towards the Dark Lord, which was dissipated. But he was shocked to see a second spell behind it, a lance of pure force, which ripped through his robes between his feet, and planted itself into the ground.
"Stop this babble and fight, Potter" howled Voldemort, and he ripped his robe to get free of the lance, narrowly ducking a second one that passed through where his head would have been. He felt his heart rate increase, and the icy spike of fear rose even higher.
"Look at you, you're shaking," smirked Harry, firing off another set of spells as he easily evaded a hastily cast Killing Curse. "You're getting sloppy, your aim's off, and you're weakening. I'm right, aren't I? You'd tell me if I was right?"
"Aveunt Terram!" cried the Dark Lord, and the stones of the earth rose up, blocking the path between the two. This gave him time to take stock of his situation, and he quailed even more. He had given ground considerably, and was now being pressed to the very edge of the Forbidden Forest!
"Now, now, now, no fair hiding," chided Harry, who had somehow reached the top of the wall. "Why don't we play like good little boys, eh? Tarrantellegra! Immobilus! Expelliarmus!"
The trio of low-level jinxes annoyed Voldemort, but kept him on the defensive. He had little time to attack, and found his legs beginning to grow weary. And the fear rose even higher.
"Ooh, I didn't know snakes could run so fast, taunted Harry. He wouldn't let it show, but he was growing very tired. "Petrificus Totalis! Percussum! Resoundus!" he yelled.
The second spell was not aimed at Voldemort, but instead at the ground in front of him. In dodging the first and third spells, he stumbled, his foot losing purchase in the small divot placed in his way, and he hit the ground hard.
But any triumph Harry would have would be short-lived, as the wall the Dark Lord had summoned began to crumble. He slid awkwardly down as the rocks and clay tumbled into a small mound, and came to his feet just as his foe was reaching his. Both took half a moment to regain their breath, warily eying each other as they waited for the fighting to begin anew.
By this time, the wounded had left the field, and Ron had made his way back to his little cub. And for the first time since the battle began, silence reigned over the grounds of the mighty school.
Drawing himself to his full height, Voldemort glared down at the stripling who would dare challenge him so, but was met with an irritating smirk. "I must give credit where credit is due, boy. No other wizard... alive... could have fought me so. But... it is not enough!" He stepped closer, wand out to the side but ready just in case.
"And why do you say that?" asked harry, wand in a similar position.
"I am more than a mere wizard, harry," smirked the undead liche. "I am Lord Voldemort! And I am immortal!" His eyes were now crazed, as what little of him that remained snapped. He drew a wickedly curved dagger, and lunged at his nemesis.
With his Seeker's reflexes, Harry snatched at the weapon, grabbing it by the blade. Biting back a cry of pain, he clutched at Voldemort's wrist with his other hand, dropping his wand to the ground. "Resorting to muggle means?" he taunted through gritted teeth.
Harry may have been in excellent shape, and much younger, but the Dark Lord had the strength of the insane, and pushed the dagger closer and closer to Harry's chest. "Whatever works, Potter!" he cackled. "This is no ordinary dagger! Whatever wound it makes will continue to bleed, until you've been bled dry! You will grow weaker and weaker, until you die!"
The wound in his palm wasn't deep, but the power of suggestion was strong in the Dark Lord's words, and Harry fell back a step. "Magic dagger, eh?" he muttered. "Guess I'll have to trump that!" He suddenly stepped to the side, and let go of his enemy's wrist, which sent Voldemort tumbling to the ground. "Shame you didn't fall on it, eh?"
Springing back to his feet with remarkable alacrity, Voldemort snarled. "We are both without wands," he sneered, "yet I am armed and you are not!"
"Harry!" came Ron's voice, and a flashing glint caught his eye. His hand reached out, and a vaguely familiar leather-wrapped grip met his wounded palm with a meaty thunk. He knew what it was, because his friend had borne it onto the field as was his birthright. It was the Sword of Gryffindor, and the surprisingly light broadsword nearly glowed in the moonlight.
"Looks like I'm the one with the advantage now, Tom," he smirked, and dropped into one of the offensive stances Sirius had shown him a few years ago. It was intended for use along with a shield, but Harry figured that since his opponent only had a dagger, the need for a shield wasn't as great.
Three quick strikes, and Voldemort found himself hard pressed as he brought the dagger up to block them. The blade lay flat against his forearm, and every stroke jarred his shoulder with the magically augmented force of the ancient weapon. "Damn you, Potter! Damn you to Hell!" he hissed.
"No thank you, Tom," jeered Harry. "I wouldn't want to give you the company." He fought like a man possessed, the blade's own power more than matching the advantage Voldemort's madness gave him, and his reckless assault keeping the Dark Lord off-balance. "If I do leave this life today, it will be to rejoin those I love."
Another vicious swipe ripped Voldemort's robe, and he growled and stepped in close, inside the reach of the longer blade. Now Harry found himself hard pressed, using the crossguard and the first few inches of the mighty sword to try and deflect the vicious dagger that sought his life's blood. "Die, damn you, die!"
The light of the moon glistened off a sheen of sweat on Harry's brow, and he felt a sliver of his own fear begin to rise. He was weakening as it is, the power of the Sword of Gryffindor the only thing that possibly kept him upright. Its hilt seemed to absorb the blood from his wounded hand and thus not grow slick, but he was not sure how much longer he could last... and if he did last long enough to stop Voldemort, if he would last much longer beyond him.
A flash of red in the corner of his eye caught his attention, so he curved slightly to the left as he fell back before Voldemort's assault. Over the Dark Lord's shoulder, he saw the Weasley twins sneaking around behind the awestruck Death Eaters, and planting various things at their feet. Smiling at their antics, and knowing that whatever it was would likely go off when his own battle was done, he found himself actually growing stronger. Some of the strength came from the sword, but some actually came from deep within.
A twist of his wrist, and he locked the hilt of the sword with Voldemort's dagger. Shoving up close,and braving the Dark Lord's foetid breath, he grinned. "Had enough fun, Tommy boy? Because I think it's time I stopped playing around."
He thought of Mrs Weasley, and Bill, and Charlie, and Mr Weasley, and Percy. All of them fighting for the light and for what was right in their own way. A stroke fell from his shoulder to hook around and swing up at Voldemort from beneath, which was hastily dodged. He thought of Tonks and Remus, taking a chance at love during even the darkest times. His blade whistled through the air only to be met just in time by his enemy's blade. He thought of Headmistress McGonagall and Hagrid and Professor Flitwick, finding their life's joy in passing on what they knew to each new generation. Another stroke narrowly missed. Then he thought of his own Order, of Fleur and Cedric, Parvati, Gabrielle, Cho, and poor Viktor. Lashing out from the side, he suddenly dipped the blade and cut under Voldemort's dagger, turning into a thrust that scored across the dark wizard's opposite shoulder. "Ahah, you can bleed, after all," he crowed.
Voldemort's only reply was an inarticulate howl of rage as he lunged at Harry. But the younger man was ready, and sidestepped, narrowly missing with a slice of his own. "Getting even clumsier, are you?"
Harry then brought out the 'big guns'. He thought of Ron and Hermione, always bickering but thick as thieves, and the brother and sister he never had. A sudden down stroke bit into Voldemort's thigh, and nearly knocking him to the ground. He thought of Sirius, and his pranks and jokes, as well as the long talks they'd have late at night, both before and after he died. A thrust ripped through Voldemort's other thigh, dropping him to his knees. He thought of Ginny, and the love they shared that, though still young, was more than enough to last them the rest of their lives. A powerful blow slammed into the dagger the Dark Lord had feebly raised to defend himself with, and shattered the blade, the impact breaking the arm that had held it.
Wheezing with pain and eyes filled with terror, Voldemort pleaded, "M-mercy! I beg of you, mercy!"
Harry paused, and regarded Voldemort. His good arm steadied himself as he swayed, blood flowing freely from his legs, while his broken arm hung limply at his side. Curled up in pain and fear, he looked less like a dreaded Dark Lord, and more like a ragged beggar, pleading for coins on a shabby street corner. "You ask for mercy?" he asked incredulously.
"Y-yes! Mercy, please, please!"
Disgusted murmurs rapidly flowed through the Death Eaters and their allies, and many turned their backs in revulsion. But others saw what their fellows did not, as Voldemort used his good hand to slowly draw a back-up wand, scarcely four inches long, from the holster on his wounded calf, and they grinned evilly.
"I grant you mercy," admitted Harry, as he stretched to his full height. He thought of his mother and his father, and his aunt and his uncle. His heart swelled to bursting and the Sword of Gryffindor rose high. "I grant you the mercy the Ministry would not. Death, instead of the Dementor's Kiss!" A flash of silver caught the eye of all who watched,as the useless backup wand tumbled from nerveless fingers. A splash of red, and a muffled thump, and then all grew silent.
The wind whispered past the defenders of Hogwarts, as they stared at the standing form of their savior and champion, triumphant at last. Bill leaned over to his brothers, who had just walked up to him from wherever they had been, and whispered, "Be ready - even without Voldemort, the Death Eaters will not go down without a fight!"
"Death Eaters?" asked Fred with an evil grin. He then pulled out a small box with a big red button on it,and pushed the button.
Smoke bamfed through the battlefield, and rapidly blew away, as George added, "No Death Eaters, brother mine. Nobody here but us chickens!"
Harry stared at the befeathered dark wizards, and laughed and laughed. The Sword of Gryffindor slowly fell from his hand, and as he laughed, he toppled over into sweet oblivion.
"Mum, mum, his eyes are fluttering! I think he's waking up!"
"Jus' five more minutes, Aunt Petunia..." muttered Harry.
Slowly the room around Harry became visible, as he realized he was in a room, to begin with. And it was one he was intimately familiar with - the Hospital Wing at Hogwarts. The last thing he remembered was feathered Death Eaters, so he assumed he had passed out from blood loss. Looking around, and he saw the reason he had been able to win.
Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon, and Dudley were on one side of his bed, and it had been Dudley who had spoken. Behind hem were Remus and Tonks; the werewolf did not look as haggard as he normally did after a full moon, so Harry wondered how long he had been unconscious. On the other side of the bed were Ron, Ginny, and Hermione, with eyes that danced with pride, relief, and a hint of exhaustion; he also saw a black and orange form peer out from behind them as Flame looked to see what was going on. And beyond them, he saw several sleeping forms, including the rest of the Weasleys and the OGL. Only Percy was missing, but Harry assumed the middle son was very busy right now.
"Alright, you lot, clear the way, I must see my patient!" called out a strident voice. Seconds later, the Dursleys stepped to one side and Remus and Tonks to the other, as Madame Pomfrey stepped up close. "Good morning, Mr Potter," she said crisply as she passed her wand over him. "Gave us quite a scare, you did. Used up almost my entire supply of blood replenishment potions before we got that hand of yours closed up. You've been out for nearly three weeks, since then."
Ginny beamed at him. "You did it, Harry. You really did it."
"No, Ginny. We all did it," he said, before being told to open his mouth as the nurse stuck her wand there. After she hemmed and hawed and removed her wand, he grinned. "Whenever I thought of you guys, I started getting stronger and stronger."
"Just like you told him," said Ron. "Courage and love, eh?"
"That, and a nice helping of your family sword, you know," chuckled Harry back. "So what happened after I passed out?"
Ginny giggled. "Gred and Forge had put spellbombs at the feet of the Death Eaters, loaded with the potion they used in their Canary Cremes. Right after you sent snake-face to his just reward, POOF! They all turned into canaries!"
"Chickens, actually," came the slightly mumbled voice of one of the twins from the corner, as he sat up. "Just replaced the canary toenail shavings with shavings from the hens from our hen house."
"Whatever," said Ginny, as she rolled her eyes. "Anyway, this stunned them long enough that we were able to get them all tied up."
"What about the enthralled wizards? The ones who weren't there by choice? How did you tell the difference once they took them all away?"
Hermione bounced slightly. "Professor Flitwick found a really old charm that detects the Imperius, Harry. It doesn't work on someone awake and conscious, but it does on a sleeping subject. We merely put them all to sleep, and he started sorting them as to Dark and Enthralled." She looked slightly up and to the left, as she remembered it. "It had some rather complex wand-work, and the incant was no less than fifteen syllables. But it's been distributed to the Aurors and the MLE's, and they're using it to weed out any victims over at the Ministry."
Harry smiled, and felt his eyes droop. "That's wonderful." He then yawned.
"Alright, all you lot back off," barked Madame Pomfrey. "He needs his rest..." and the rest faded as Harry drifted off to sleep.
It took Harry five weeks to fully recover, two of them after he finally regained consciousness. By this time it was graduation, and nobody was surprised that Hermione was at the top of the class. However, they were surprised to find Ron graduating in the top ten percent. All those who fought in the final battle were given awards for 'Special Service to the School', and the plethora of House points put all four houses into four digits for the first time in four hundred and thirty-seven years.
During the battle, Neville had ended up facing his parents' nemesis, and actually managed to take out Bellatrix LeStrange by enchanting the grass to grab her feet so she could no longer dodge. The OGL had accounted for numerous captures and casualties on the Death Eaters, while the Order of the Phoenix had fought like heroes. Unfortunately there were losses, though not nearly as many as there would have been without the goblins or the elves. Almost the entire number of both groups earned the Order of Merlin Third Class, with Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Neville, along with McGonagall, Hagrid, and a few other members of the Order of the Phoenix earning Second Class.
Cornelius Fudge announced a day of celebration, and gave the leader of the Elves, as well as Ragnok, the Order of Merlin, First Class - the first tie an Order of Merlin had ever been awarded to anyone who was not at least part human. Harry, as well, received that prestigious award, though he didn't find out until after his eighteenth birthday.
It was a week after his eighteenth birthday that tragedy struck. The Dursleys, Harry, Remus, Tonks, Hermione, and the Weasleys were gathered in London for a big night on the town, celebrating the dual proposals of Harry to Ginny,and Ron to Hermione. They had no sooner walked out of King's Cross station, when a voice called out, "Death to he who sheltered the blood traitor!", and a sickly green beam struck Vernon Dursley square in the chest. The gathered witches and wizards quickly found and made short work of the wannabe Death Eater who had done the deed, turning his rather misshapen and unconscious form over to the Aurors.
The funeral was grand, though not quite so large as Dumbledore's. The Queen, herself, put in an appearance, and it was revealed that he would be laid to rest with other heroes of the Crown, in Westminster Abbey. This time Fudge did not balk, and awarded him a posthumous Order of Merlin for his part in teaching, protecting, and raising Harry, as well as his own deeds in the years that had passed. And in his eulogy, Harry proclaimed that he had never known a better man than Vernon Dursley.
No fear. No doubt. Joy, hope, peace, and love filled him, and he knew comfort beyond what he had ever known. Vernon Dursley looked around, and saw he was in a beautiful meadow dotted with trees, with men and women in their twenties and younger wandering around in pairs, groups, and more. "Is this..." he wondered.
"Indeed, Vernon," came a dry yet warm voice behind him. "You are exactly where you believe you are."
"Severus! Then are James and Lily..."
"And where else would we be?" James Potter came into view, one arm over the shoulders of his red-headed wife. "Vernon - you have absolutely no idea how proud of you we are... and how grateful."
Lily stepped over and hugged him fiercely. "Thank you," she said, tears of joy dripping onto his shoulder. "Without you, I shudder to think what would have happened to Harry."
"Yeah, good job, Vern," called a fourth voice. To his shock, the burly form of his Uncle Matthias ambled from around a copse of trees. "You really took what I tried to teach you all those years to heart, didn't you?"
"Indeed," came another voice, this one belonging to Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington. "A true nobleman you were, and a definite Gryffindor - had you been a wizard, of course."
A final form faded into view, this one of a tall young man with auburn hair and beard, wearing light summer robes of brilliant colors. "Welcome to Paradise, Vernon. The battle is done, and your charges are both fine young men of great courage and great character," said the legendary Albus Dumbledore.
And for more than a century and a half, they and others looked down as Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny lived their lives and brought many wondrous things into the world, not the least of which was their own children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on. After seventy of those years, they were joined by Arthur and Molly Weasley, with Remus following along ten years later, and surprisingly Tonks not a month after that. Their lives were not perfect,and not without pain, but they, and the rest of the Wizarding World, were at peace.
A/N: There it is- the final chapter of A Better Man. No,I don't plan on a sequel, but when my schedule lets up a bit I plan on re-writing the whole thing, to expand certain scenes, correct spelling and grammar mistakes, and the like. Enjoy!