NB: Well my faithful reviewers … this is it. This could have been a lot longer, but I cut some of it because, in the end, it really didn't need to be. I don't really have much else to say other than … enjoy.
"He loved me… and that's enough."
Voldemort smiled cruelly. "No, my child, it isn't."
THIRTY-EIGHT: The Seventh Piece
For a few seconds, the battle scene was frozen all around the castle. Duelling beasts amongst the grounds let go of each other and turned their gazes towards the lake; the centaurs, busy with their quivers and arrows, dropped them clumsily and whipped their heads around; giants were struck dumb, sensing something enormous had changed; even those battling inside the castle with no clear view of what was happening outside stopped and noticed something from others' reactions before them. Up on the battlements, those members of the Order who had been trying to stop the Death Eaters dropped their wand arms and stared in disbelief.
Voldemort's shout echoed out across the now still and eerie grounds, travelling through the whispering trees, swaying slightly in the night breeze. It was as though, for those few breathless seconds, that there was no battle, no war, and all that existed was the natural world: the ripple of the grass, the lapping of the water and the moon above, so bright, bathing a scene of utter devastation in such a clarity that it would have wrought a cry from the bravest of men.
And then it was over; the spell was broken.
Ginny sank to her knees amongst the debris, stunned. Ron and Hermione, who had fled to the tower upon seeing the disturbance up there, screamed and shouted, leaping on the back of Death Eaters and scratching at their eyes to try and get down to the lake … Order members on the battlements flung themselves at Voldemort out of grief, anger and god knew what else, completely unaware that, now, it could make a difference.
- - - -
The pain was short lived; before long the icy grip of the Inferi affected Harry very little. Everyone he loved could be saved by what he had just done; he had not done as Voldemort wanted him to do, and he could never have been 'kept' as Voldemort had so eloquently put it. He did not open his eyes; he did not wish to see what was happening. Instead, he accepted that his air would run out soon, and that he would probably pass out.
That's OK … there are worse ways to go, he thought to himself. And I'll see my family again … And soon he was not afraid.
There it was; the blackness on the edge of his vision, his lungs trying to expand but finding nothing. There was a strange ringing in his ears, and he knew that it was not the Inferi's triumphant screeching, but in his own head.
This is going to be an adventure, Harry said aloud to himself, but of course no sound came out, and he let the last of the air escape through his lips.
- - - - -
"Protect the Dark Lord!"
"Shield our master!"
Cries of the Death Eaters rang out and mingled with each other in the night air. Those who had been aware of the truth now threw themselves in front of Voldemort, taking hits that had been meant for him, crumpling in seconds. The Order were fighting harder than they ever had before; something in what Harry had done had awoken a new violence in them and Death Eaters were dying all over the place.
Voldemort was bent over, his face obscured by his dark cloak and the lack of light. In a sudden movement, he straightened upwards and flourished his wand like a sword. An orange fire erupted, hot and powerful, from the tip of his wand and engulfed at least three Aurors fighting Death Eaters metres away.
"I do not need your protection, fools," he said thinly in a horrible, high voice.
It was absolute mayhem. In places where the battle raged below, wands had been discarded and wizards were fighting hand to hand, rolling on the ground, kicking, punching and biting. Amidst it all, Remus Lupin detached himself from the fray, sweat and tears blurring his vision, and raged forwards. The doorway was blocked; there was no way down to the lake, no way down to where Harry was …
It had not happened … it could not have happened …
There was a violent terror tearing at Remus's heart … he had to get to Harry and he had to drag him out … Harry could not have died … not yet … not now.
"Lupin!" came a piercing cry from his left.
It was Ron, and he was signalling to something over the edge of the battlements.
Remus ran forward to where Ron was, leaping over the body of a decapitated Death Eater, who had clearly caught the wrong end of a spell. Ron was leaning over the edge, his face frantic, pointing to something below.
Part of the battlements had collapsed onto the balcony below; if they jumped in exactly the right place, they could get from tier to tier, and down to the bridge below where there was a staircase to the lake …
Ron went first, clambering down over the edge of the balcony and stumbled a little on landing, dust rising from where he was wobbling. Lupin followed suit, and the pair of them continued their dangerous climb down, over the crumbling edges of the turrets, scraping their arms, legs and elbows.
Before long the staircase was near enough to jump to. It had been badly hit by a few stray spells; big chunks of stone were missing from the top of it, but thankfully they only needed the bottom end. Ron swung himself slightly by holding onto the tier above, and made the jump. Lupin copied him, his heart beating a violent tattoo against his throat. As they both began to race down the steps, there was a cry from above and a jet of electric blue light started to race towards them. Whether it had been deliberately fired by a Death Eater or an accident from an Auror, they did not know, but as it hit the top of the staircase, they both began to wobble. Cracks were spreading rapidly through the structure with an awful cracking sound, and Ron and Lupin sped up as quickly as they could; just as the entire staircase swung to the right, about to crumble, both leapt from where they were, about twelve feet up, and landed with a bump onto the soft grass below.
Ron got to his feet first, ignoring all his aches and pains, and stumbled blindly towards the lake.
"Come on!" he said desperately. "If we can't get to him …"
Lupin did not answer or finish the end of Ron's sentence. Instead, they both sprinted as best they could towards the glittering lake, dodging giants, although there were considerably less of them standing now.
The lake looked as though it was playing host to a vortex of some sorts; there was a huge disturbance near the middle; water was spraying everywhere and the green liquid was frothing and flying up and down … Ron knew with a sudden jolt that it was no vortex; it was the Inferi having a feast.
- - - - -
Severus Snape plunged blindly on, drawn to the sound of screams, shouts and the blazing lights of fire. He had seen what had happened from where he had been surging through the forest, branches of which now tore at his face and his battered and beaten body.
Potter jumped … that could mean only one thing, and the very thought wrought a shudder from within his bones.
He emerged from those hateful trees, bleeding and disorientated, but then he saw a young boy with red hair and a tall man, both clearly in distress. The boy, who he now recognised as Ronald Weasley, was starting towards the lake, to where the Inferius were swarming …
Fools … they'll be killed, he thought, and trudged wearily towards them.
- - - - - -
"They … they hate the fire …" Ron whispered, staring at the spot where he believed Harry to be submerged. "You … you hold them off and I'll go in …"
"No, Ron, your Bubblehead charm will not hold for long enough, and a single Inferius could kill you in an instant!"
"But I can't hold off so many of them for long … you'll have to do it! And I'll try and get him …"
"Ron, you can't … you'll die … let me …"
"I DON'T CARE!" roared Ron. "I CAN'T LOSE HIM, HE'S MY BEST FRIEND! HE'S WAITING, AND I … I WON'T JUST LEAVE HIM THERE!"
Ron started towards the lake, throwing off his cloak, but he was knocked flying as a much taller man with greasy black hair barrelled into him and send him sprawling.
"You stupid child, " Snape muttered, righting himself as quickly as he could.
"YOU!" Lupin cried, his eyes suffused with a hatred that no one had ever seen before. He drew his wand and pointed it at Snape, ready to strike … to kill.
"Wait, Lupin, no! He's on our side …" Ron spluttered, rolling onto his knees and seeing the oncoming trouble … no one except Harry, Ron and Hermione had ever known about Snape … that was until Pettigrew had hastened to tell Voldemort what had been going on that night in the graveyard …
"Get out of the way, Ron," Lupin muttered, raising his wand.
There was a disturbance behind, and Ron saw Hermione sprinting towards them, her eyes wide and her face hysterical. There was blood on her face and on her shirt, but she seemed to not have noticed.
Meanwhile Snape did not say a word, but considered Lupin with an almost somnolent regard.
"No!" Ron cried, on his feet again. "Lupin, Harry's been working with him … Dumbledore told him to kill him … he's here to help!"
"It's true, Remus!" Hermione gasped, coming to a halt beside Snape, her eyes on the lake. "We have to trust him!"
"You think I'm just going to –"
"WE DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS!" Ron bellowed. "Harry's … he's …"
"You must all cast a powerful fire and direct it at the disturbance," Snape started, shaking off his torn robes. "It must be strong, or they will overcome it … I will go and get him out."
"What …" Lupin started, but Snape had already cast the Bubblehead charm. As he moved away, Lupin struggled against Ron and Hermione, who were each holding his arm.
"He's good, trust us!" Hermione pleaded. "Harry trusted him in the end, and so did Dumbledore … please Remus, this isn't the time!"
"He'll kill Harry," said Lupin darkly. "You'll see. Either that or he'll hand him over to Voldemort straight away …"
"We've got to cast the fire, come on!" said Ron distractedly, and raised his wand.
Perhaps it was the context of the situation, but none of them, not even Lupin, had ever cast such a powerful Fire Spell before in their entire lives. The white hot blaze erupted from their wand tips and spread over what appeared to be the entire lake. Before long, the red hot flames licked the limbs of the Inferi breaking the surface who recoiled, clearly in pain. As they held the fire, difficult and exhausting though it may have been, more and more of the soulless dead beings swam away from the centre of the lake where Harry had fallen and took refuge in the dark shallows on the opposite bank.
How long the three held the spell, they could not tell to this day. They ignored the pain in their arms and the screaming in their heads, but kept it up, hoping and praying to see Snape emerge … any minute now.
But he did not. Ron couldn't hold his arm up any more and let it drop, sobbing. Hermione too was weakening, and for a whole two minutes none of them said a word. Hermione raised her wand again when a dark figure materialized in the darkness and lumbered towards them, thinking it was a stray Inferius, but Lupin, who was the only one still holding the spell, finally let his arm drop and rushed forwards into the lake with a cry of thankfulness.
Snape was stumbling and choking, the Bubblehead charm having worn off, and slumped over his shoulder was the limp form of a boy.
Lupin took Harry in his arms, leaving Snape to fall into the wet reeds in exhaustion, and staggered up to the bank. Ron got to his feet and Hermione blundered towards where Lupin had lain Harry down.
"Oh, my God," she cried.
Hermione lit her wand so they could see, and gasped when they did.
Harry's face was white and he was cold.
"Harry … Harry …" Ron called over and over again, wringing his friend's hand and shaking him slightly.
"He's not breathing …" Lupin said as he bent over Harry with his wand.
"Rennervate!" But nothing happened. "RENNERVATE!"
Lupin cried the spell over and over, but Harry's eyelids did not even flicker.
Ron pushed Lupin slightly out of the way and bent over Harry's body to start CPR.
One … two … three … four … five … six … breathe … one … two … three …
"Come on, Harry!" Hermione pleaded, tears falling thick and fast from her eyes.
But Harry did not breathe. Hermione put her head on his chest, and after a moment's pause she gave a dry sob.
"I … I don't think his h-heart's beating anymore… it's stopped …"
"No, it can't have done … get out of the way, Ron …"
Lupin pushed Ron roughly and started to bang on Harry's chest, hard …
"Come on! Don't do this, Harry … come ON!"
"Remus, don't … you'll hurt him …"
But Lupin either could not hear Ron or would not listen to him. Again and again he pounded his fist relentlessly downward as though he were beating the devil to death …
Eventually, Hermione managed to stop him, or perhaps Remus simply gave into the incomprehensible truth. Either way, he stopped trying and gave into Hermione's light pressure on his trembling forearm.
"It's … it's too late … he's gone, Remus. He's gone."
Slowly, very slowly indeed, Lupin got shakily to his feet, his senses picking up the various sounds that he had blocked out before; the shouts, the screams, the blasts …
He was dreaming now. He must have been dreaming. Ron and Hermione were crying again, this time hysterically. They were kneeling down … and he could see what he wanted … Harry was opening his eyes, coughing up water … if only he had gotten to him a minute earlier …
"Lupin! Are you blind?"
Ron's voice jolted him from his fantasy. He looked down. But he was still dreaming, because Harry was alive …
Lupin blinked. He was not dreaming. Harry was still coughing, still gasping, but his eyes were open. Rushing to his side, Lupin cradled Harry's head with his hand.
"My God … he's … you're …"
There was a long pause, and then Harry spoke.
"You shouldn't … you shouldn't have done that," he said in a weak and hoarse voice … but it was Harry's voice alright.
"Oh, Harry … we thought …" Hermione began, kissing his face over and over again. "What were you thinking? Jumping like that? Why –"
"Because I had to …" Harry muttered, feeling as though his lungs had been wrung out in a steel vice. He felt numb, as though he was not really there.
"I'm the Horcrux …"
"But how …"
"It doesn't matter …" Harry mumbled and sat up slowly against their protests. He felt as though he had been to hell and back. "Someone else could have killed Him …"
For a second, Harry wondered why all three of them weren't recoiling in disgust at the knowledge that he had a part of Voldemort's soul inside him, but that didn't matter now.
Slowly, Ron opened his mouth.
"But …but your heart stopped … how could you think we wouldn't have tried to bring you back?" said Ron, dumbstruck.
Harry looked at him. "It did?"
"Stop? My heart stopped?"
Ron frowned, still holding Harry's hand tightly from when they had laid him down. "Well, yeah. You were dead mate, for a good few seconds there … you were as dead as a dodo."
Almost as though he had been reborn, thoughts began to race through Harry's brain, thoughts he had not had before, as though he were a new and different person.
My heart stopped … I died … for a whole couple of minutes, I died …
Could this mean what he thought it meant? As he sat up and shook his head, clearing his ears of lake water he felt something he had never really felt before, and had never had the experience of feeling. It was almost like a sudden lightness in his chest and, although it hurt, it felt like there was no burden anymore … like there was nothing expected of him. For all of his life, Harry had been a marked man, marked with a destiny, marked with a Horcrux that he hadn't truly been aware of … it was the reason he had lost almost everyone he had loved, and the reason he had been unable to stay with Ginny. And now … now it felt as though it was not there anymore.
"Harry …" Hermione whispered, unwillingly breaking his reverie. "Perhaps you should lie down …"
Ron snorted. "Not here … the battle's worse than ever … I think the Death Eaters are gaining on the Aurors and everyone …You Know Who'll be in power soon."
"What are you thinking, Harry?" asked Lupin suddenly.
Harry looked at him. "Voldemort only found out I was a Horcrux recently … he didn't do it intentionally … he was going to keep me asleep because he thought I was the most powerful Horcrux … then wake me up years later and turn me –"
"– wait a minute … how …" Ron began, but Hermione shushed him.
Harry let another hacking cough wrench his guts, and then continued his train of thought as the others looked at him with deep concern.
Harry repeated the mantra that had plagued his mind for what felt like forever aloud. "Something of Ravenclaw's, something of Hufflepuff's … something of Slytherin's … and something of Gryffindor's. He did get them all … it was –"
"– you?" Ron supplied, his eyes wider than Galleons.
Harry opened and closed his eyes; his head was throbbing and he could still feel the icy grip of the Inferi upon every limb …
"He wasn't worried up there because he thought … he thought I wouldn't do it … Dumbledore said he underestimated a whole soul … so he was just going to bide his time and wait until he could make more … but if you say that my heart stopped …?"
"Then maybe the Horcrux died?" Lupin finished for him.
"Yes," Harry replied. "But if Voldemort thinks that I'm dead, he's going to try and make another one as soon as possible, because he's vulnerable now … I doubt he'll be choosy this time, life and death and all that."
"It's worth a shot," Ron said seriously.
"There's no guarantee that your death … however temporary, would vanquish the Horcrux," Lupin said in a low voice, his eyes never leaving Harry's face.
"No … but everything we've done so far seemed to work that way," said Ron, his voice shaking slightly as the tree that was mere metres away erupted in a ball of orange flame as a spell hit it. Luckily, no one had noticed them yet.
"Yes," Harry concurred. "The diary … I just rammed a fang through it … the Cup, we broke it … Slytherin in the locket … I had to kill him … it does fit."
"But … Harry," Hermione began in a pacifying tone. "You're weak … your heart just stopped beating for over two minutes … you can't go up against him again!"
"No," Harry said. "I feel … I feel different. I feel stronger."
"Then perhaps we are all saved," Lupin said with a brief attempt at a smile. "Perhaps we have a chance at last …"
"Where's Snape?" said Ron suddenly.
"Snape?" Harry repeated. "Is he here? I thought he'd be dead."
"He saved your life, Harry," Hermione told him, her face grave. "He went into the lake and got you out … I don't know how, but he did. He was just over there … I wonder where he went …?"
Harry was speechless for a moment. What on earth could he make of that? Snape saving his life? Snape alive? Snape … gone?
"Come on," said Lupin briskly. "Voldemort's on the move ... if we don't attack soon, he'll have the whole damn castle."
- - - - -
They shuffled through the undergrowth around the edge of the grounds, trying to avoid being seen. If Harry was seen alive, every Death Eater and Dark creature would doubtlessly converge upon him and drag him to Voldemort where he would be put into an unwilling sleep for God knew how long …
But they could not hide for long. Voldemort had since come down to the grounds; he stood framed in the great doorway, the oak doors of which had long since been blasted off into the night. Giants lay in crumpled messes before them, children lay in innocent heaps next to Death Eaters and the Aurors, whose robes were so colourful and diverse that it looked as though a rainbow had fallen sadly from the sky, and was scattered across the grass.
"It looks like he's about to do something," said Hermione in a shaking voice.
It was true; Voldemort was being flanked by at least six Death Eaters on each side; some of the other beasts had stopped fighting and were looking at him expectantly. It seemed, as the four crouched there watching, that the Death Eaters and Voldemort had won: there was a group of about thirty people, Aurors and adults and students who were being held by a magical bond, unable to escape. There were some other instances nearby where Aurors and students were being physically restrained by Death Eaters, some who had them in half-nelsons or arm locks, or who were training their wands on a bunch of them. With a rush of fury, Ron grabbed Harry's arm and nodded to where he could see his father, Mr Weasley, in the clutches of two Death Eaters, both with broad grins upon their faces. Harry could just see through the doorway, and through some gaping holes in the walls of the castle, that many of the younger students and some teachers were held at wand-point on the floor, or up against the wall.
"Attention, those who chose to stand against me," Voldemort called suddenly out over the grounds. His voice was high and shrill, and many of the students and Aurors alike looked terrified, many of whom had refused to speak his name for years and years for sheer fright, now finding themselves being addressed by him.
"I do not believe there are any of you left fighting, or standing. This would present us all with the conclusion that you … are the losers."
He let this statement sink in. Some who were still fighting with the Death Eaters and the werewolves stopped struggling and sank to their knees. It had the desired effect.
"This means that you are now all in MY power."
Harry grit his teeth. How could he finish this now? With almost the entire army out on the grass in the midst of the devastation they had all caused, and with all of his people in submission?
"This may suit some of you," Voldemort continued, twirling his wand. "The some of you who are of good blood and good mind may benefit from this power change. You may even find yourselves in a better position then before. Those of you who are of poor blood and poor mind will have to consider your position very carefully … or else you may find yourselves … disposed of."
Voldemort surveyed his captives with relish, and a slight impatience. It was clear that, although he was enjoying this power play, there was something he wished to have done very quickly. And Harry knew what it was.
"But before we set the ground rules, there is a matter that must be addressed immediately.
Harry turned quickly to Ron, Lupin and Hermione behind him and whispered hoarsely.
"Listen … I'm going to make my move in a minute … I'll walk out and it'll shock him to see me at first. You need to take advantage of that. Ron, you free that group over there held by the binding spell. The counter-curse is Liberati. Hermione, you Stun those Death Eaters over there holding some of the Aurors. Remus … can you see the rest of the Order inside the castle?"
"Yes," Lupin replied, staring at the point where Harry was indicating.
"You need to run forwards and get them loose. I'll need as many fighters back in the fray when Voldemort realises what's happened … the Death Eaters will try and storm me, there'll be no pleasantries anymore … it's all about winning. Can you all do that?"
They nodded sternly.
As Harry steeled himself to make himself known for the last time, Voldemort was still speaking.
"Some of you may have seen the great Harry Potter plunging to his death moments ago …"
This was punctuated with a few dry sobs from various points of the grounds; some were from students, who clearly believed that all hope had been lost.
"And although seeing his life extinguished was something I have been longing for throughout the entirety of his sorry existence, it has left me with a slight predicament. It begs the question … do I have any volunteers?"
There was a rustle of fear which swept through the grass. No one knew what he meant, but it sounded threatening …
"No volunteers to help me resolve the problem that Potter so ungraciously left me with? No? That's a pity. I shall simply have to pick one at random."
And he strode forwards, as though he were taking a leisurely walk in the park, and held out his long, white fingered hand. A small boy was thrust forwards.
Harry felt sick … what if Voldemort killed the boy just as he made his move? Or worse held him at ransom?
"Now young man, feel gratified that you are taking the place of The Boy Who Lived … a murder is nothing compared to what shall be in store for many of you who do not conform … let this be a lesson to you all … and a reminder … that Harry Potter, the great saviour you all believed him to be, was – in the end – a coward and a failure …"
"THAT IS NOT TRUE!"
Voldemort turned his head sardonically to the source of the outburst. Harry too, in spite of the situation, looked to where it had come from.
"HE WAS NOT A FAILURE! HE DIED TO SAVE US! I KNOW YOUR SECRET! I KNOW HE WAS A HORCRUX! I HEARD YOU!"
It was Ginny.
"Oh, God, Gin, don't …" Harry muttered aloud. He was elated to see her alive, speechless that she was OK and proud that she still believed in him … but she was about to get herself killed.
At her outburst, there were some whose faces showed complete astonishment, and even though their uprising had been quashed by the Death Eaters, werewolves and giants, it was clear that they were shocked. Potter, a Horcrux?
Voldemort released the young boy he had hold of immediately, who scampered off as fast as he could towards an older student, who immediately comforted him.
"No volunteer needed," he said softly. "I was really hoping, my dear, that it would be you."
Hands seized Ginny from all angles. She was shunted forwards, kicking, screaming, biting and punching, to where Voldemort stood in the centre, his red eyes alight with a feverish excitement.
"Ginny … do not be scared … this act will be very quick … it should not hurt, as my only desire is to make another object, as you appear to know, you clever girl."
He sounded like an uncle indulging a favourite niece. Harry clenched his fists and readied himself.
"After all … isn't this what you want? You will see your love again, won't you? United in death … unless of course you are both sent to hell."
"You'll go to hell, Voldemort," Ginny whispered. "No one will ever love you … they're only afraid of you."
She was crying, but Harry could see that they were not tears of fear, they were tears of anger, and he saw quite clearly in that very moment, how much she was prepared to sacrifice for him. Harry could see Bill out of the corner of his eye wrestling with another Death Eater, desperate to get to his sister, but then he was borne to the ground by the solid arm of a giant.
"Let us get on with this unpleasant example, shall we? A murder to begin with, and then perhaps any others will think twice about their positions … any last words, my dear? Any dying sentiments to your deceased lover, who loved you so much that he chose to end his own pain rather than fight?"
"He loved me… and that's enough."
Voldemort smiled cruelly. "No, my child, it isn't."
"Yes, it is," said Harry.
Voldemort turned extremely sharply and his attention left Ginny completely. Harry could tell that the rest of his minions were simply not attacking him right there on the spot due to their complete astonishment at his presence.
In those breathless, haunting few seconds, Ron, Hermione and Lupin stormed forwards.
"LIBERATI!" Ron bellowed, pointing his wand at a group of Aurors metres behind Voldemort, whilst simultaneously Hermione shot no less than five Stunners at the Death Eaters congregating around members of the Order. Lupin took advantage of this and sprinted towards the blasted oak front doors to free those inside.
All of this happened in the space of about six seconds, and Voldemort was distracted not only by Harry standing miraculously in front of him, but also by the charging Order to his left, freed by Hermione, and by the upstart of the battle again. It seemed, though, that he was going to ignore the rest of the fray as he turned back to Harry, regaining his composure quickly.
"Well, well, well, Potter. I must give credit where credit is due. I know that many believe you to be special, but even I, who have some experience in the matter, wouldn't have believed you to cheat death."
Harry shrugged. "What can I say? I'm awkward like that."
And Harry raised his wand. You must destabilise him as much as possible before delivering the final blow, or he will block it …
Voldemort blocked the bone-breaking hex and shot something at Harry that looked like molten lava; Harry barely had time to duck, and felt the heat of it graze his head.
Before Harry could even regain his composure, he saw a jet of green light soaring towards him; Voldemort clearly wasn't going to waste any time; he knew he was vulnerable, and that the battle had started again, and he clearly wanted to kill Harry as quickly as possible … which could mean only one thing … that Voldemort too believed the Horcrux to be gone.
Harry flung himself behind the collapsed body of an enormous giant and felt the ground shake as the pockmarked corpse took the full whack. He hardly felt himself hit the ground; before, everything had hurt, everything had felt hard. But now, now he knew that he could win for sure, the adrenaline was stronger than ever.
As he rolled out from behind a pungent foot, Harry raised his wand again, ready for a new attack.
Gelidus! he thought hard in his head, aware of the advantage of a non-verbal spell, and Voldemort was deluged in an icy white mist, unable to see. He gave out a roar of frustration, and Harry took advantage of this immediately –
"Morsus!" he yelled, knowing the mist would prevent Voldemort from being able to tell what the spell was before it was too late … and the result was that a painful curse was fired and struck true, right in his chest.
The power of the curse was greater than any spell Harry had cast; seeing Ginny helpless and crying at Voldemort's feet had done more in the last five minutes than any other stimulant could have achieved, and he honestly didn't believe he could hate Voldemort any more than he did right at that moment.
The Dark wizard actually cried out; something Harry had never reduced him to before, and clutched his bony, exposed chest with long and white fingers. Harry gritted his teeth and believed that this was it; this was the moment in which he was going to kill Voldemort.
But the first letter of the curse had hardly escaped his lips when a heavy body from behind grabbed him and hurled him in the opposite direction; Harry landed hard and was momentarily disorientated before he was back on his feet again –
But another figure drew back a fist and, all magic forgotten, punched him in the face. Harry fell back, dazed, but angry. He had been so close!
As he tried to raise himself again, the figure that had hit him bore him to the ground again, and laid on their whole weight; it felt like another Death Eater had joined in too, and Harry found himself unable to move, pinned to the ground, unable to see anything under a pile of bodies.
He struggled and strained, but it was to no avail. A kick flew out of nowhere and landed itself in Harry's stomach, and so he stopped flailing his limbs quite as violently as what felt like ten pairs of hands hauled him upwards.
Voldemort was straightening up, his red eyes narrowed into slits, anger and fury etched into every line upon his gaunt face. His lips were twisted in pain: Harry's spell had had the desired effect, and if only had he not been stopped by the Death Eaters …
"That … that was impressive, young man," Voldemort uttered gutturally. "But you will not win this. Do you know why?"
"Because you're a coward?" Harry spat hoarsely, the last of his strength leaving him at the injustice of it all. "Because you know I can kill you, and you get your pals to give you a hand?"
"Because you are not that special," Voldemort spat in anger. "You may think you are, you might evade death once in a while … do you have any concept of how often I have done so?"
"I'll take a stab at six times."
The Death Eater directly behind Harry kneed him in the back.
Voldemort raised his eyebrows. "I am aware that war is about winning a battle; that it is about numbers, and never personal. But know this, Potter: killing you now, here in front of all your friends and followers, will give me the greatest satisfaction incomparable to anything else I have ever achieved. You will die because you, as I said, are not extraordinary."
Harry smiled truthfully, and looked at Ginny in the distance. "She thinks I am."
Suddenly, there was a loud bang and the hands holding Harry loosened. He wriggled out of their clutches and moved slightly out of the way to see – Snape.
Voldemort snarled and raised his wand, but Snape was too quick. He fired something from his wand at the speed of light at Voldemort, who yelled out and lost his balance slightly, trying to right himself. As Snape raised his wand again, Voldemort shot a spell at him from the ground; Snape fell …
Voldemort was casting another curse at Snape as the old Potions master yelled his last, and did not see Harry straighten up behind him.
It seemed to take an age. In that time, the fighting stopped again. The green light sped quite fast, but it felt like it was slow motion. Voldemort held up his arms fruitlessly against the Unblockable spell, knowing that there was no countering it, knowing that he had been beaten by a better man, and opened his mouth in surprise as the jet hit him squarely in the torso. His eyes flashed red, one last time, and then he fell, quite softly and unremarkably onto the wet grass behind.
Harry did not take his eyes off Voldemort's crumpled form, nor did he lower his wand arm. It couldn't be over, not really. Not after everything that had happened that night, that had happened throughout his life … Voldemort couldn't be dead, not like that.
His wand arm began to shake. A soft breeze ruffled his hair; he could hear a rustling of leaves, and still Voldemort had not moved.
"Harry," said a voice behind him. Harry turned and saw Lupin looking at him, his eyes wide, his face disbelieving.
And then, as though a switch had been flicked, some of the Death Eaters in the grounds, in the castle, up on the turrets and by the edge of the forest, threw their wands down in front of them. Others turned and ran, leaving dead comrades behind them, or else suffering victims, but run they did, and into the darkness they disappeared. No one tried to follow them. All other eyes were on the boy who stood metres away from the dead form of the most dangerous wizard of all time.
People were beginning to move; those that could still stand got to their feet and moved tentatively towards Harry.
A muttering broke out, like a hesitant hope that the battle was finally won.
"Is it over?"
"What just happened?"
Harry turned his head and finally lowered his wand arm. Snape was trying to speak from the ground where he had fallen moments before. Harry moved over to him and crouched down next to his pale form.
"Can you move?" Harry said shakily.
Snape closed his eyes and squinted in discomfort.
"Did you do it?" he whispered, his voice very faint and as though every word caused him pain.
Harry looked over his shoulder. "I – I think so …"
Snape opened his eyes again and looked at Harry, a faint urgency raking his tone.
"You must burn … burn the body – the soul will not come back … there is nothing left to – to return … but the body must be burnt, or magicks can be done … his followers …"
"OK, I'll do it … if you sit up, we can –"
"Don't bother, Potter … I do not need your assistance any more, thankfully. I am done."
Harry frowned. "Done? You're not done. The Healers are coming in now from the perimeter … if you just –"
"I … I will be dead in a few seconds … I invented the spell that the Dark Lord used upon me … I know how it works. How … h-how apt that the double agent should be killed by the one he double crossed …"
Harry considered the broken man before him, the man who had so often made his life a misery, who had caused him pain, taunted him, hated his father … and he did not want him to die.
"But you … you can't … you saved my life, I –"
"– oh, please Merlin, no rush of gratitude … at least when I am dead I will not have to endure your laudable needs …"
"Will you shut up? How can you lie there and be so sarcastic, I can help you if you just let me –"
"– and then what? Then I infiltrate myself back into a society that will forever hate me for the things that I have done? After everything you have achieved, Potter, the things you have done, you are still as ignorant as ever you were …"
Harry opened his mouth again, abashed, but Snape cut him off.
"I am aware that I did what I had to do … but they will not … they will not forgive me. And I cannot live like that. I have done what needed to be done … look … look how far you have come."
His voice was fading and his eyes were glazing over … Harry didn't know what to do. He could hear people behind him, moving towards the fallen body of Voldemort, crying his own name in jubilation.
"If it wasn't for you, this would have been the end," Harry said, "and I'll make sure that everyone knows that."
Snape snorted. "Perhaps you are not – not quite as like your father, then … at least I have repaid my debt to him … even though it has cost me my life … it will allow-allow me to hate him in peace …"
Harry said nothing. He still hated Snape for his attitude towards his father but in that moment, it did not matter.
"Thank you for what you did," Harry said.
Snape closed his eyes, shaken by a rattling breath, and a small trickle of blood escaped his mouth.
"You … you d-did very well."
And then Harry knew that he was dead.
Hermione hurled her arms around him as she raced towards the edge of the grounds where they were.
"You did it! It's over!"
Harry looked at her. He felt numb, like it had not really happened.
"It's over, I think … it's over now."
And he smiled with her, a true smile that he felt he would never do in all his life, marked with something he felt that he could never escape, and he had beaten it …
More people began to crowd around.
"I see that Severus Snape's dead, then? Just as well, the stinking traitor," said an American Auror from just behind them, looking at Snape.
"He was NOT a traitor," Harry said sharply.
The man frowned. "But I thought –"
"Everyone thought," Harry said sternly. "And everyone was wrong. He did what he had to do to save everyone's life, and mine, and I'm going to make sure that everyone knows that."
Ron caught up with them, Lupin at his side.
"Harry … mate …"
And they embraced. It felt as though none of this was real … Harry had had dreams about this moment every night for as long as he could remember … and now it was here, and he could tell that the others felt the same … hardly daring to believe it.
"Is the Dark wizard truly vanquished?" asked a nearby centaur with a chestnut coat, muddied and bloodied by the battle, but standing proud nevertheless. "Is there any possible way in which he can return, as he has done before?"
It seemed true enough, as the Death Eaters who could not stand very well had surrendered their wands; surely something they would not have done if they believed their Lord to still be alive. Any others who may have still fought against the Order and the Aurors had fled.
"We have to burn it," Harry muttered. "We have to burn the body … Snape said to …"
He turned … and there she was. Ginny, running towards him with all the fire in her eyes as she had had the first night they had realised their feelings, and she threw her arms around him in a similar fashion, holding him tight and screwing up her eyes and burying her face into his shoulder.
"Oh, my God … I thought you were dead! When I saw you walk forwards … I thought I as dreaming – I thought – I thought he'd already killed me! But I didn't care, I didn't care! I love you so much … and it's over, Harry! You did it."
"Shh … it's OK … I love you too."
He hugged her back tightly, his heart beating a violent drum and getting faster and faster as he realised the magnitude of this moment. The sun was coming up, and it was almost as though everyone had forgotten that nature continued … another day dawning, just as it did the day before … as though nothing had really changed, but everyone at Hogwarts knew that it had, forever.
Nearby, Ron held Hermione tight and kissed her too, never caring that people all around could see, not bothered that his father was grinning in the distance, nor his brothers smirking.
"There are Healers and a whole troop of Unspeakables coming in from the perimeter," said a voice from somewhere with a thick accent of some kind, Harry could not tell what. "They've sent the message that St Mungos is expecting us …"
More voices continued, telling each other of more plans, ways to get to the injured, how to Apparate in big groups … how many survivors … Harry let it wash over him.
"Harry … what about Voldemort? Did you say it had to be burned? Do you want to –"
Harry turned and took one final look at the corpse of the wizard who had blighted his life, and who had finally been stopped.
"Somebody else can do it," he muttered, and kissed Ginny instead.
- - - - -
The day in the aftermath of the battle was something that Harry remembered very little of. He heard facts and figures, that their side had suffered losses of 30, the worst of which had affected the French, and that 5 of all the casualties had been children. Harry took it in sombrely, but he had almost prepared himself for it. A great deal of Death Eaters had since gone on the run, but the majority had been manhandled to a secure location by the Aurors and members of the Order on standby, with very little fuss.
After the body of Voldemort had been burned, (by whom, Harry did not know and found that he cared very little) the survivors had made their way through Hogwarts to do an initial number count before any other reinforcements arrived. Harry had been overjoyed to find that Neville, Dean and Seamus were all alive; battered and bruised but nevertheless unscathed. This happiness was quickly quashed when Bill returned from the forest and told them that Luna Lovegood was one of those who had not survived the fire.
There were some more names of the dead relayed that Harry knew of; the centaur Firenze, Ewan Abercrombie, the Astronomy teacher Professor SInistra … but Hagrid was unscathed, as was Professor McGonagall, and this was some comfort. Draco Malfoy had been found on the seventh floor, lying dead next to his father, whom he had managed to stop. Harry felt oddly proud of Malfoy, coming through at the last minute to do something that Harry knew he would not have been able to live with himself for ignoring, even if he had survived. He was not sad at his death; but there was a definite pathos deep within his emotions that he knew Hermione and even Ron shared when he told them the news.
It seemed that, slowly, those who had been in charge before in the Ministry, were slowly regaining control. The fact that their side had effectively won and that Voldemort was officially dead had filtered through almost every channel possible, and it seemed like the whole world knew. It acted almost as a stimulant; as a catalyst … as a signal that they could take charge again, now that Harry had done what he had to do.
Harry heard all of this from a bed in St Mungos. He had protested at his being there, but the Healers that arrived shortly after the battle ended insisted that he needed a great deal of medical attention after having a little more than a 'near' death experience.
He lay there now, eyes closed, reliving the moment over and over again where he fired that final curse. Ginny was close by, her hand in his, her head lolling. As he opened his eyes slowly, her figure came hazily into view.
"What are you doing up? Shouldn't you be in the other ward?" he said.
Ginny had received some nasty burns from various spells and the like, but had not taken kindly to being wrapped in cotton wool and separated from Harry. Harry too did not enjoy being where he was, unable to help with the recovery of bodies and the clean up of Hogwarts, but after the Healers had told him that he had a fractured wrist, three broken ribs, temporary respiratory problems and severe bruising, he found himself loathe to argue with them.
"I didn't want to be far away from you," she said, squeezing his had.
Harry smiled. "It's OK … I'm right here. And I'm not going anywhere, not now."
"They've got someone heading the Ministry temporarily," Ginny said. "Apparently his name's Ginger Arkansas, and he's taken over from Scrimgeour. They're holding an official election next week."
"Well, life goes on I guess."
"It's weird though, seeing everything get back to normal."
Harry nodded. It was true, it was odd, but he found himself oddly uninterested in the politics of it all now he could finally detach himself from it. Ginny was looking at him with an odd expression on her face.
"What?" Harry asked.
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Of course you can," he replied. "You can ask me anything."
"When you were still asleep in here … Ron told me pretty much everything after when Snape got you out … I suppose I just wanted to know … are you glad that they saved you?"
Harry considered her. It was true, he had been expecting this. Indeed it was a question that he had been asking himself for some time, since he had been lying there.
"I … when I jumped, in that moment … everything was so – so clear. I knew that everyone I loved would be alright, because I had faith that someone else would be able to kill Voldemort … if I did what I did."
"But what if they couldn't? What if people tried, and couldn't and he took over?"
Harry closed his eyes. "I knew that the only thing that kept him as strong as he was … was the fact that he believed he had the power. If I was gone, he wouldn't have it anymore. He didn't have power over me, the one thing that he wanted to have. And so I jumped … and yes, I didn't think that Snape or Ron or Hermione or Lupin would be able to save me."
Ginny looked away. "I don't think I would have been able to carry on with my life, if you didn't come back. And I'm not sure if I still can … knowing that you'd rather be somewhere else."
Harry considered her. "Ginny … I don't really remember very much after I blacked out in that water … but I do remember feeling very safe. I remember knowing that people I'd lost, like Sirius and my parents, were very close to me. Time didn't really mean anything, but I was warm, and I was safe. And I was loved. And when I was dragged back to that place, yeah, OK … I was angry. I was angry that they'd taken that away from me. But … after everything happened … now Voldemort's gone … and you're here, I … I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
Ginny looked back at him.
"I love you. And nothing will ever change that. And I know that things are going to be odd, and I'll have to see how things go with everything … now everyone knows who I am and what I've done …"
"You never were one for celebrity status," she said with a twisted grin.
Ginny leant forwards slightly so that her nose was almost touching his. "I love you, too. And I'm glad that you came back, because it was for us too, wasn't it, and not just to kill Voldemort."
Harry nodded. "And now you're stuck with me."
"We could go away for a few weeks … just you and me … or maybe Ron and Hermione could come too, just until the hype dies down. What do you think?"
Harry grinned. "I think that's an excellent idea."
- - - - -
The next day, Harry was out of bed and on his feet. The Healers had told him that he was fit enough to go home, but then the realisation filtered through that he didn't really have a home to go to at the moment. Mrs Weasley, who was with him at the time, saw the look on his face and told him undoubtedly that his home was at The Burrow, and that he was to return with Ron as soon as he could. But there was one person that Harry did not want to leave behind.
He wandered into Remus Lupin's room in the far ward the next evening, things packed, but still unsure what to do.
At first, Harry thought that Lupin was asleep, still sore from his wounds, but his old Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher spoke from the shadows.
"You don't have to tiptoe, I know you're there."
Harry sat down in the chair next to his bed. "How're you feeling?"
"Oh … like someone played tennis with my brain. But I'll live. They had said already that I can return home within the next few days."
Harry nodded. "Me too."
"And how are you feeling, Harry?"
Harry shrugged. "Numb, I suppose. I don't know … it hasn't really sunk in yet, you know … that I can have a life now."
Lupin smiled gently. "It will. And then you'll have so much choice that you won't know what to do with yourself. You'll be like James no doubt … so indecisive with so many talents," he said with a small chuckle.
Harry lowered his head. "I was thinking of him," he said quietly. "In the lake, you know. When …"
"I thought that I might see him again. I … it's like he was so close … and mum. I knew they were there."
"Harry … I did what I felt I had to do. But I am truly sorry if –"
"– and I just wanted to say thank you."
There was a pause and Lupin looked at his best friend's son with tired grey eyes.
"Thank you for bringing me back. Because it would have been so easy to just … give up. And I was confused at the time … I didn't – I didn't know what I wanted. But now … now I know. I'm going to be with Ginny for the rest of my life … I'm going to buy a nice house and I'm going to see my friends right … and I'm going to do something with my life that's worthwhile that I want to do. So … thank you … and I should have said it before."
Lupin opened his mouth, closed it again, and then closed his eyes. "Thank you for saying that, Harry. I'm … I'm so proud of you."
"Who knows … maybe you'll move house and move a bit closer when I've sorted myself out. I'd like to have you around. It'd make me … I don't know … feel safe, like there's a parent around, or something."
Lupin laughed. "I think you've proved yourself quite grown up enough for the both of us, Harry. But … I appreciate it. And yes, I would relish the opportunity to get out of my shabby little apartment and live closer to the people I love."
"Good. That's settled then."
"Talking of change," Lupin continued. "I have heard the most interesting rumours from within the Ministry."
"Oh, yeah?" Harry said.
"Yes. The word is … that the soon to be Minister for Magic, young Ginger Arkansas, is to make a personal request to employ the youngest ever Head of the Auror Department in the Ministry."
Harry raised his eyebrows. " … Not me?"
"Yes, you. They believe that they'll have some problems in the future with the Death Eaters who went on the run shortly after Voldemort fell … and who better to lead them than the one who vanquished their leader himself?"
Harry blinked. "But … but I'm not even eighteen yet."
Lupin cocked his head. "No … and perhaps the offer will not come until then. As I said … it is only a rumour. But I believe that it is an accurate one. Then again, perhaps you will wish to do something completely different."
Harry considered. "Maybe … I don't know. Whatever happens, I'm going on holiday with Ginny first. Then maybe I'll think about it."
"Good man. Now go on, you don't want to keep a red head waiting, or you may lose another limb."
Harry smiled at Lupin and rose from his chair. As he left the room, he saw a familiar person walking towards him from the opposite end of the corridor, carrying a mug of steaming coffee.
It was Cassie.
"Oh, hi Cassie," he said a little awkwardly. "Who're you visiting?"
"Hello, Harry … I'm just taking this in for Remus."
A small bubble of comprehension grew in Harry's chest as he noticed that she reddened slightly as she said it.
"Well I won't let it get cold," Harry said with a quick smile. "I'll see you later."
"Yes, OK … oh, and Harry?" she called after him.
"You did amazingly. Everyone's so grateful and I … I just wanted to say, good luck with … whatever."
Harry smiled. "You too," and then he turned and walked away.
- - - - -
Two days later, Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny stood outside the hospital grounds in London, the spring sun warm on their faces.
"Phew … I'm glad to be out of there," said Ron. "What a waste of sun. I didn't even need to be in there in the first place."
"You had seven bones to mend!" Hermione reprimanded affectionately.
"Yeah, well … strong as an ox, me."
"Where are we going, then?" Ginny asked, hoisting her luggage bag higher upon her shoulder. "I don't care as long as it's … you know. Remote."
"How about Fiji?" said Harry offhandedly.
"Fiji?" Hermione repeated, and even Ron seemed surprised. "You surely don't expect us to be able to Apparate to Fiji?" she added with a pointed look at Ron, whose Apparition skills everyone knew were slightly below par on the best of days.
"Well … no. But it'd be funny. And who knows where we'll end up? We can go wherever we like."
Ginny took his arm and squeezed it. "Sounds like fun."
"I'm not sure I want to go on holiday with those two," muttered Ron looking to his sister and his best friend. "They're barmy."
"Yep. But that's why you love us," Ginny said brightly.
Ron looked at them uncharacteristically sombrely. "I do, you know. Really."
There was a pause, as they all looked at each other with deep affection and serious faces … and then burst into an uncontrollable laughter that had nothing to do with Ron's comment, and everything to do with the fact that they were all freer than they had ever been in their lives, and could not wait for the rest of it to begin.
"Right. So … Fiji it is, then. Or near about," Ron stated.
Hermione grinned. "Or possibly … Wales."
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A/N: A HUGE thank you to everyone who has ever left me a lovely review, or just taken the time to read. I assure you I have had more pleasure writing this than any of you can have had reading it. I hope to start another story soon … ready to write like crazy during the summer. Thanks again, and I hope you enjoyed Marked.