Author's Note: Hi gang! I know I said I would update An Aunt's Love, but this idea has been kicking around in my head and I just couldn't write without setting it down, and I thought "Why not post it?" If I get a good reaction, this will be my second independent story, and if I don't, oh well. I hope you all like. Look for An Aunt's Love update soon!
Harry ignored everything around him in an effort to detach his current feelings. He wondered exactly how things had deteriorated so fast. He, Ron, and Hermione had searched for the Horcruxes and found all but one. The Death Eaters were down in numbers and Voldemort had taken to hiding away from even his own followers. Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy were a part of the Order of the Phoenix after Dumbledore's journal had been discovered and studied. Harry actually tolerated the two Slytherins, though interactions between the three of them had been strained at best.
Now, though. They lost. That was the only true comment Harry could make on their current situation. A spy of Voldemort's had managed to enchant Remus Lupin shortly after the last full moon and had used the werewolf to locate Grimmauld Place. He had stormed it and almost everyone in residence had been taken unawares, lulled into a false sense of security by the "unbreakable" wards. Even Mad-Eye Moody. Harry attempted to shift into a more comfortable position only to gasp in pain as something shifted inside of him that he knew was not supposed to move like that. He panted a bit and sighed as the relief came slowly to his shoulders. He was bound with magical ropes and Harry knew that the Death Eaters responsible enjoyed tying Harry into a new position every time Harry was moved from his "room", as Voldemort liked to call it.
The door opened and admitted a flood of light. Harry blinked for a few seconds before a rather large hand (Crabbe or Goyle, the senior version) grabbed him and forced Harry to stand. The older wizard did not have much luck in succeeding, as Harry was convinced that one of his legs had broken somehow and was too tender for Harry to do more than balance on it. The man ended up supporting Harry as the teenager walked, holding back his cries of pain as a matter of pride. He had learned one thing from bullies and his uncle: if you do not respond, they grow tired of toying with you. He locked his pain away until later and took a little more weight on his leg with each step. He figured that he would end up with a limp at best, and lose the leg at worst (Voldemort did not offer much medical attention to his "guests", only enough to keep them alive). It would be worth it if Voldemort were destroyed.
Harry's scar came to life as they neared the room Voldemort used for audiences with his followers. Harry had dubbed it the "torture chamber" after his second visit to this room and had laughed about it in his own mind more than once. The sitting room had once been very comfortable, before Voldemort had removed all the furniture and torn the drapes from the windows. The room held a strange sinister appeal to it for Harry. He always studied it when he was brought for his "lessons", as Voldemort liked to call their daily interactions... He had only seen it through visions and some of the books contained in the shelves interested him in spite of his promises to himself otherwise. Voldemort had offered Harry a chance to look at the books and Harry had declined each time, but the man kept offering them, laughing to himself as it took Harry longer and longer to refuse.
Harry didn't know what to make of Voldemort half the time. Sometimes the Dark Lord went straight to torture, as long as he thought Harry could take without too much permanent damage. Other times, to avoid too much harm to his favorite toy, Voldemort would talk with Harry, trying to show him things he wanted Harry to know. Harry smirked to himself. He was damaged, all right, but it was only a minor twitch in his right hand and something he was sure Madame Pomfrey could take…he had forgotten. Madame Pomfrey had been one of the ones taken from Grimmauld Place in the raid. She had been killed their second day here, when she refused to treat Death Eaters and the Dark Lord. Brave, Harry knew. Stupid in terms of survival, but brave. He would miss the feisty little school nurse who had stitched him up more times than he cared to remember. Harry tried to remember how long he had been here, but found that the exact number of days escaped him. He could not remember half of what had happened to him in this house, or who was left if he didn't see them die in front of his own eyes. He had believed that Tonks was dead until he saw Voldemort kill her, as a "lesson" to Harry, when Harry had insulted the Dark Lord. Harry had not insulted the man since. He already had too much blood on his hands; Harry did not want Voldemort to add more.
"Harry, do not hover in the doorway." Voldemort said from his chair in front of the fireplace. It was to be one of their "chats" then. Harry felt his arms released from their bonds and sucked in air as his arm shifted in a way that was not natural at all. "Sit down." A chair appeared across from Voldemort's and Harry made his slow way over to it. He studied Voldemort out of the corner of his eye as he lowered himself into the chair with deliberate care to avoid too much pain from his protesting body. "Still injured, I see?" Voldemort commented.
"Yes, sir." Harry had learned that passive resistance was best. He would show cursory respect to Voldemort to ensure his survival. After Harry escaped, he would be ready to remove Voldemort once and for all, without the worry of the man coming back.
"My Death Eaters tell me that you are refusing to eat again, as well as any medicinal potions offered." Uh-oh. Harry knew what that tone of voice meant and he had a feeling that he was not going to like the results of his actions.
"I've not had much of an appetite, sir." Harry told the wizard across from him as he tried to keep his emotions clamped down and his panic reigned in.
"Yes, well, eating is very important to continued good health (Harry wanted to laugh, but knocked the impending hysteria away) and I must insist that you eat every meal and potion given to you." He motioned to the Death Eater by the door and Harry watched with a feeling of dread deep within his stomach as the man nodded and left the room. He reappeared moments later and Harry realized that the Dark Lord had this planned, not as a "lesson" to Harry, but because he felt the need to kill someone. A struggling form was brought in, clawing at the Death Eater who carried her. It was a little girl, someone Harry did not know, but the ache that settled into his chest (he knew it was not from his injuries) was not any less than it had been for McGonagall.
Harry watched as Voldemort tortured the girl with the Cruciatus Curse for an almost full five minutes. Harry's ache in his chest deepened and it hurt to breathe. He wanted to look away, but previous "lessons" told him that it would only make the torture worse for the girl in the end. Voldemort had ways of inflicting worse pain than the Cruciatus Curse. He had been on the receiving end more than once and did not wish it, even on Voldemort himself. The ache eased a little as green light left Voldemort's wand and hit the trembling child. Her body relaxed at once into peaceful repose, her face returning to her previous innocence. Voldemort motioned for the Death Eater to take her away and sat back down across from Harry. A tray appeared on the table next to Harry and Voldemort looked at it pointedly. Harry hesitated for less than a second before picking up the bowl and spoon. Voldemort sat back in satisfaction as Harry took his first sip of the broth.
Harry kept his face neutral as he ate. The broth used to be chicken, but it was so heavily laced with nutrient and pain potions that its flavor no longer resembled anything normal. Voldemort was not feeding him, per se, but keeping him nourished to sustain life. He drank as much as he could before he placed the bowl back on the tray, feeling slightly nauseous as his stomach became used to having something in it again. He hadn't eaten in three days and wondered why Voldemort was so upset about it. He had endured longer periods of time without food at the Dursleys. Three days was nothing for Harry, even as battered and sore as he was. He doubled over as his stomach cramped. He couldn't really feel it, as the pain potions had dulled everything to just aches, but the muscle contractions were enough to get an involuntary response from Harry. Voldemort merely handed Harry a vial of some kind of potion, which Harry took after receiving a hard look from Voldemort. He downed it and took a deep breath once the cramps left. "Why don't you just get it over with, sir?" Harry asked the man with a slight tinge of anger. "We both know you plan on killing me."
Voldemort eyed Harry with a sly look. "Yes, I do plan on killing you." Voldemort admitted to Harry. "You do make a wonderful toy, and I would hate to lose you too soon." The Dark Lord reached out and patted Harry on the head. Harry allowed the gesture, as Voldemort turned violent if Harry pulled away from him. "There are still many things you have to learn."
"How many friends do I have left?" Harry asked quietly. Voldemort took a perverse joy in informing Harry how many Order members survived from day to day and Harry questioned him as to his friends each time they met. Harry had watched most of them die. Voldemort used his friends as a sick method of control. Harry was ordered to do certain things (mostly eating, sleeping and potions these days) and if Harry disobeyed too much, Voldemort would pull one of his friends out and kill them in front of Harry, as a promise of what would happen to the rest of them if Harry continued in such "atrocious disobedience". Each one had told Harry to resist and not give in, but each one had died, regardless of what Harry did. The Weasley twins were gone, as were Moody, Lupin, Pomfrey, McGonagall, and Tonks. He had no idea how many had been captured originally, so he had no estimation of how many were left. Only what the Dark Lord said.
"Just two, I'm afraid." Harry's head snapped up to stare at the Dark Lord. He regretted the action, as the something that shifted before shifted again, without the same amount of pain, thanks to the potion. Something shifting inside him was just disconcerting. "Yes, my boy," Voldemort oozed a strange imitation of Dumbledore when he was inordinately pleased with himself, "most of your friends tried to make an escape attempt. I am sorry to report that ten of them died." Voldemort gestured to the man at the door again. He nodded and disappeared. "Just two left, and I think that they want to see you." Voldemort told Harry with a grim little smile.
Harry's guard went up at the words. Voldemort never let him see his friends unless Voldemort planned on killing them. He did not want to watch any more deaths today. The little girl had been bad enough. The man returned with two huddled figures. Voldemort stepped into the shadows as the two were pushed into the light. Ron and Hermione. No. "Harry!" Hermione screeched. She rushed to him and threw her arms around his rail thin shoulders. "Harry, we thought you were dead!" She sobbed, pulling back to smooth his hair and look over his face.
Ron simply stared at him, unable to take his eyes off his changed best friend. "Blimey, mate." The two words convinced Harry that these were, in fact, his friends. The dread came back to his stomach. His last two friends were going to die. Harry reached out a hand to each of his friends, a resigned feeling creeping over him as he did so. If they were going to die today, he would die along with them. He could not stop Voldemort, but he should be able to weaken him enough so that he would not be a bother to the wizarding world much longer. Ron and Hermione helped Harry to his feet so that the trio could have a group hug again. Harry felt, rather than saw, the Killing Curse leave Voldemort's wand. He pulled his friends closer and closed his eyes in preparation for the end. Voldemort was saying something, but Harry did not hear him. He hugged Hermione and Ron tighter. I would give everything to change this. Everything I have. The green light engulfed the trio. Harry felt every bone break in his body as the curse hit. He groaned and fell to the floor, his arms still wrapped around Ron and Hermione. He was dying. An unbidden image came to his head of an eleven year old Hermione lecturing him about hairbrained schemes that could get them all killed, or worse, expelled. He smiled as he felt his life leave him. Harry Potter died with a smile on his face, wrapped in the arms of his two best friends.
A pulse of magic left Harry's body and Voldemort screamed as felt the change. His last Horcrux was gone, and splitting his soul any further would only guarantee his death. He would have to pace carefully from now on. The Order of the Phoenix was no more, Potter was dead by his own decision, and there was only the Ministry. Victory was still there, just waiting for Voldemort to seize it. He could still win!
"You have a choice." Harry sat up at the voice, amazed that he was conscious of his surroundings. Wait a moment. He was not with Voldemort. This was somewhere new. He had died! He wasn't supposed to be alive.
"Aren't I dead?" he asked.
"You have a choice." The voice repeated. "You sacrificed yourself so that others may live. You said that you would give everything you have to change the outcome. You meant what you said."
Harry nodded at the non-question. "Yes, I did."
"You have a choice." Harry wondered if the voice knew he sounded like a Babbling Beverage. "You have three, actually, from which you must choose." The voice paused. "Your first choice is that you move on past the veil and join your predecessors." Oh, the afterlife. Harry felt hope swell up within him. Mum, Dad, Sirius. All of his friends. "Your second choice is that you are born again as a Muggle, a sort of second chance for a peaceful life." Harry definitely did not want that. "Your third choice is that you change your life." Harry looked up and then felt foolish for doing so. There was no one to look at!
"What do you mean, change my life?" Harry asked.
"You go back to where everything first started and do what you can to change it." The voice explained. "A second chance to get it right." It elaborated. "So, which is your choice?"
Harry deliberated. The veil thing was tempting. Let someone else deal with Lord Snake! He checked his thoughts. If he went back as himself…perhaps he could save a few people. Maybe even himself. "What is the point in going back? I won't know what decisions I should make. I might end up doing the same thing over again." Harry said.
"You would be able to retain your memories, if you think that your mortal brain could handle that." The voice said, clearly bored with Harry at this point. "It is up to you."
Harry debated with himself for several minutes. He wanted to rest with his parents, family and friends. He didn't want to have to worry about Voldemort or people he loved dying. A voice from his past came back to haunt him. We must choose between doing what is right, and doing what is easy. Harry sincerely hoped that Dumbledore would choke on his after life lemon drops. "I will return as Harry Potter, with all of my memories attached."
"Very well." Harry felt himself thrust away, only to open his eyes in the cupboard under the stairs. He held up his hands and sighed in resignation. He was ten bloody years old again and he now he to grow up all over again. Lovely.
Author's Note: Let me know what you think.