Disclaimer: The world that I'm mutilating belongs to Ms. Rowling. While most of the characters are hers, the plot is mine. I do not attempt to make any profit from this consuming hobby of mine.
I'd like to dedicate this chapter to Apocalypso-33, without whom these words that now appear on your screen would not exist.
– CHAPTER TWENTY –
What Lies Beneath
In my surprise, my wand and Ravenclaw's Wand flew out of my hands and into the grasp of a man. He looked familiar - an exceptionally unexceptional man, tall black with cropped hair, cold dark eyes and a smattering of stubble covering his chin. He wore a sleeveless black shirt and a pair of faded jeans. My attention, however, was drawn towards one of his only distinctive features – the Mark on his muscled bicep. There was the faintest trace of a smile playing at his lips.
"Harry Potter," he said quietly, almost to himself, "the Boy Who Lived."
I glanced around, looking for a way out, a weakness of some form. The room, no bigger than my dorm, was domed and silver, the walls themselves emanating a faint light. There was no escape. No doors, no windows, no fireplace, no objects to turn into Portkeys. There was no escape.
"You look very much like your father, Harry Potter–"
"But I have my mother's eyes," I said, betraying no emotion. I could not let him know I did not anticipate this. Who had given him the Mark?
"And her temperament, it seems; James would have been cursing by now. I wonder if you remember me..." He pointed to a scar that ran from his temple to his chin. It was though someone had tried to cleave his face in half. "So my Memory Charm did work. Curious..."
I tried to remember. There was no way his Memory Charm would have been anywhere near effective enough to hide from me. I flitted through memory after memory, searching for the right one.
"You were due to start your Third Year, I believe."
He twirled Ravenclaw's Wand lazily between his fingers gazed at me almost encouragingly. I concentrated on remembering. I came across a memory that was hazy, the sign of a poorly cast Memory Charm. I focussed my Occlumency on clearing the blocked memory. After encouragement from a tendril of magic, the memory became as clear as the others.
"Special Agent Arnold Smith," I muttered. "Which makes your real name...?"
"Very good, I would have expected no worse from James' son."
"You killed my godfather." My headache worsened, it threatened to completely cloud my vision. Perhaps it was the anger that began to course through me. I cupped my forehead and bit my bottom lip. Smith, or whatever his name was, was saying something, but I could not make it out. All I could hear was the pounding of my ears and the sharp, all-encompassing pain in my head.
I wanted to collapse to my knees but my body refused to comply. I wanted to keep my hand on my forehead, but it moved itself away.
No! Not again!
I tried with all my might to regain control but it was no use. All I could see was a pair of lidless red eyes piercing through the darkness.
"Do not kill the boy," I said, my voice higher and colder than usual.
"Your attempts to emulate my Lord are pitiful, Potter."
"I am your Lord, you blithering fool. I order you to return the boy's wand to me. What are you doing? Lower your wand!"
I screamed. It was as though my bones were on fire and my organs were being torn in two. I could taste blood in my mouth. The red eyes were fading into the darkness. This was it. I was dying. I had failed. I was so close...so close to winning.
And with that, the red eyes were gone.
I could feel some light on my face. Was I in heaven? I opened my eyes a fraction. I was in the same room...the centre of the Labyrinth. The last Death Eater was looming over me, possibly checking whether I was dead or not. His head was turned away from me. His right bicep was within arm's reach. All I had to do was reach out and touch the Mark, and Tracey and Dean would arrive. They'd distract him while I got my wand.
As I lifted my hand, he turned around. But he was too late. Before he could react, my finger was on his cold arm. The grey turned to charcoal. His eyes met mine. I smiled.
I compose myself then rolled to my right. My body complied. I felt like laughing. I was in charge of my body. Me. No other. I spotted my wand from the corner of my eye and leaped towards it. As my hand wrapped around it, a warm sensation ran up my arm and through my body.
I jumped to my feet and looked around. My heart sunk. The Death Eater held Tracey, Ravenclaw's Wand trained at her temple.
"Silencio!You may be immune to the killing curse," he breathed, eyes bulging madly, "but I bet she isn't."
I glanced at Tracey, who was thrashing around so wildly that the Death Eater was forced to put her into a body bind. I could feel my teeth clenching with anger.
"If you touch her, then I kill you." I trained my own wand at him.
"You're not a killer, Potter."
I stared at him grimly. "Haven't you read the Prophet?"
"You didn't kill Noble and you didn't kill Davis. I killed them. Just like I killed Moody and Sirius."
It was as though the room had faded and all I could see was this man on a backdrop of blood red. I raised my wand above me, the two fatal words ready.
"Crucio!" he hissed. While stock still, I could see the pain in Tracey's watering eyes. I flinched and lowered my wand. What else could I do?
"Good boy, Potter. If you want your girlfriend to live, then you will follow my instructions exactly. Deviate and I will not hesitate to end her–"
He was cut off as Dean tumbled out of mid-air and landed, hands first, beside me. "Sorry I'm late, Harry," he said, "Snape was holding me up after my little distraction and he wouldn't–"
He stopped mid-sentence, taking in the scene. His eyes moved from me to Tracey and then rested on the Death Eater. He looked as though he had seen a ghost for the first time. To my surprise, the Death Eater's expression was almost identical to Dean's. As I looked between the two, I realised that their expressions were not the only thing that was identical. They shared the same nose, the same mouth, the same wide shoulders, the same hairline. Could it be?
"Dad?" whispered Dean.
That was all the evidence I needed. I grabbed Dean and held my wand to his temple, disarming and body-binding him in the process. I made sure he could talk, however. Dean's father flinched as I did so.
The far wall began to flicker. I ignored it, however, and eyed Dean's father triumphantly.
"Dean...my dear boy..."
"I'm not going to hurt you," I whispered, so only Dean could hear.
Either he hadn't heard me or he chose to ignore me, staring instead, at his father. "This is impossible...you're dead..."
"I'm sorry, Dean, I had to...I had no choice..."
The far wall flickered again.
"Tell him," I said, "tell him what you are."
Dean's father shot me a murderous look, but it melted away as his gaze moved back to Dean. I contemplated how I would extract Tracey, who was watching the exchange wide-eyed. If I moved, there was no doubt that Dean's father would snap out of his reverie and kill her. If I tried to move her, he'd kill her. But then again, he thought I'd kill Dean if he made any wrong moves. I tried to rack my brain for a solution, and expected to find one, but it was as though my mind was blank. It was a stalemate, then.
"Where were you?" said Dean. "Why did you abandon us?"
Dean's father seemed unable to speak. "Go on," I said, "tell him what you've been doing."
"You wouldn't understand, Dean," said his father, "it was the First War..."
"You were meant to have been killed by Rabastan Lestrange! Do you know how mum reacts whenever your name is brought up? Why? Why have you been hiding from us?"
"Circumstances...I had no choice...I had to protect you..."
The flickering of the wall grew faster.
"And you!" He rounded on me furiously. "You lied to me! You said he died!"
"I thought he was dead, too," I said. "I only told you what I'd been told. The first I saw of him, he was standing right there on Voldemort's orders."
Dean flinched, and began muttering, "No...no..."
"Don't listen to him!" cried his father. "I can explain, Dean! I swear I can explain!"
"Are you a Death Eater?" cried Dean.
"Please, let me explain..."
"Just answer the fucking question! Are you a Death Eater?"
"I'm sorry, Dean, I'm so sorry..."
"Kill him, Harry." There was such finality and venom in his voice that I was taken aback.
"I can't," I said, "not yet." And it was true. Even with the distraction of Dean, if I tried to kill his father, he would kill Tracey.
"Then let me do it!" Dean cried.
"Will you let me explain?" yelled his father, panicking now.
"There's nothing to explain! I've always wanted to hunt Death Eaters, and if you're one of them, that means you, too. Do you know what you did to mum? You've never seen her cry at night, holding a photo of you, have you?"
"I DID IT TO KEEP YOU SAFE!"
Dean fell silent and stared at his father, who was breathing heavily, a vein bulging at his temple. He continued, "it was 1980 and the Dark Lord was winning. The Ministry was falling apart, top officials kept disappearing, Muggleborns were being killed left, right and centre. I watched as one by one my friends were killed for resisting him. Dumbledore couldn't keep up with the Dark Lord for much longer – nobody could. What would happen when Dumbledore died or the Dark Lord ran out of Muggleborns? Either one was inevitable. If Dumbledore died, Voldemort would meet no resistance; if he ran out of Muggleborns, then the Half-bloods were next, and that meant us. I was already a target because I married your mother and aligned myself with the Potters. The Prewetts, the McKinnons, the Bones'...he destroyed all of them. What chance did we have when he tore apart some of the most powerful witches and wizards of the age?
"I tried to warn your mother, but she never really understood how bad the war was getting. I begged her to move away with you and assume a new identity in another country, but she refused. After all, she had a great job and we lived in our dream home. There was no way I could uproot her, and I refused to turn my wand against her.
"I tried to get help from Dumbledore, but he was always busy. Just as I had decided to find your mother a better job and better house in America, he found me." Dean's father shuddered. "I remember it well since it was about two weeks before he fell. He tortured me...God, he tortured me but I refused to give in. He wanted to know where the Potters were and I didn't know. You don't understand, son...you'll never know the full power of the Dark Lord. I would have accepted death with open arms had it not been for you and your mother. He has demonic powers...he knew that I would do anything for you.
"He said he would kill you and your mother unless I...unless I joined him. He got Lestrange to kill a Muggle whom he made look like me. I became his secret Death Eater, charged to do what nobody else could.
"Under his command, I fashioned myself a new guise – a new Auror recruit named Kingsley Shacklebolt. When the Dark Lord fell, I knew he was alive still, biding his time, waiting for the right moment to return to power. So I, too, remained in the shadows. Continuing my orders from before he fell, I used some magic he taught me to detect when the Knights of Walpurgis are being mentioned and kept Potter in the hands of the Muggles, weak and ready for when the Dark Lord rose again." He turned to me now.
"Haven't you ever wondered," he said, "why none of your parents' many friends took you in? I convinced Black to go after Pettigrew under the guise of Shacklebolt. I made sure the Minister passed the decree that prevented Lupin from becoming your legal guardian. Once I had cemented my position as his bodyguard, it was not difficult to place him under the Imperius Curse. I convinced Lupin not to break the decree and run off with you, as he was planning. I neutralised every witch or wizard that felt they had some right over you. Whose idea do you think it was to incarcerate Davis? Surely you do not think that Fudge has the guile to force the girl to send you a note of pleading?"
My vision was clouding with anger. This was the man who was responsible for my miserable childhood. He was why I was with the Dursleys. If it weren't for him, I would be living with Sirius Black, not worrying about Voldemort or his stupid Horcruxes. He had robbed me of my childhood. But I couldn't hex him...not yet, not while he was still held Tracey.
"When Black escaped," he continued, "I knew he would try and find you so I stationed myself across the road from your Aunt's house. I neutralised the threat he posed to the Dark Lord's plans. I neutralised Moody as soon as I could manage after he became a liability. I killed Davis in the hope that you would be incarcerated, Noble because he was beginning to fight against the Imperius I had over him.
"All I'm trying to do is protect my family. How can I be sure that the Dark Lord does not have one of his servants tailing me? How can I be sure that my family won't be killed as soon as I stop trying to fulfil the goals set out to me by the Dark Lord?" He turned to Dean now, almost pleading. "I'm not a bad man. Family's important and all I've tried to do is protect mine."
Dean's lip quivered. "Free my arms," he whispered to me. With the barest flick of my wand, I released his arms from the body bind. Almost as soon as I had done so, he rolled up his sleeve to reveal the tattoo I had given him. Dean's father stared at the tattoo quizzically, as an art collector would an intriguing piece.
"No," he muttered.
"Yes," I said, "you made the wrong decisions, your son made the right ones. Now release Tracey."
He kept his wand at her head defiantly. "You don't know what you're doing, do you, boy? Did you brand him?" Perhaps it was just my eyes, but it seemed like a mist was growing behind Dean's father.
"I chose to join him," said Dean.
Dean's father did something then that startled me to silence. He threw his head back and roared with laughter. When it looked like he wouldn't subdue his manic laughter, I said, "Release Tracey or I swear to God I'll kill him."
My outburst only served to fuel fresh waves of laughter. The mist behind him was darkening. Using his weakness, I went to stun him. In a flash, a pale red bubble surrounded both he and Tracey. He was no longer laughing. "It was funny," he said, "but not that funny. Dean, stop this madness, you're trapped in a web made for Potter."
"What are you talking about?" I snapped.
"You really don't know?" said Dean's father, truly astonished now. "I thought you would have worked it out alone..."
"Don't listen to him, Harry," said Dean coldly, "he's not to be trusted. He's a Death Eater."
Dean's father's eyes flashed with anger. "I explained myself, didn't I? One day, you'll be a father and then you'll truly understand my sacrifice. Until then, stop speaking about that which you don't understand, you stupid boy."
When the last syllable died, several things happened at once. Dean wrenched my wand from my hand and sent a Bludgeoning Hex at his father, Dean's father banished Tracey and the black mist rushed at Dean's father.
I snapped into action and retrieved my wand as Dean's father, his eyes now red, sent the Bludgeoning Curse back at Dean. I sprinted towards Tracey, who lay slumped at the base of the far wall. I looked over my shoulder and saw Dean collapse, his weak shield shattered by the impact of his own curse. His father was on his knees clutching his head screaming. I made out the words, "Master...forgive me! The boy! Possess the boy!"
I lifted Tracey's head and brushed aside her matted black curls. Blood was slowly seeping from a wound on her forehead and was rolling down her cheeks like tears. I could feel her hot breath against my face.
"Harry," she whispered, "the wand."
In her hand was Ravenclaw's Wand, black and wrangled, as if it had rotted. I looked back up at Tracey, my mouth ajar.
"You did it, Tracey!" I said, hardly daring to believe it. "How?"
"I used the vial of Phoenix tears f-father gave to me last year." She pointed at her neck where her golden necklace was missing the crystal vial.
Could it be? Surely that was the last of the Horcruxes? I refused to believe it. But Voldemort had run out of soul fragments.
"You did it, Harry!" breathed Tracey, her eyes shining with tears. She wrapped her arms around me and rested her head on my shoulder, shaking with silent sobs as she did so.
The cold, high voice went through me like a brisk wind. No...It couldn't be... I prised Tracey off me and slowly turned my head. I was met with a wand trained between my eyes. I traced the wand to its owner – Dean's father. Instead of its usual dark hue, his eyes were red. Voldemort was possessing him.
"Harry, Harry, Harry," he said condescendingly. "You did not think you would rid of me so easily, did you? I, who have swum in oceans unknown to any wizard before me. Surely you did not think that you, a mere fifteen year-old boy, had defeated the greatest wizard in history?"
I swallowed my surprise and fear, and forced myself to smile. The effort of it hurt my cheeks. "Looks like you've won," I said quietly. I had to keep him talking. I had to distract him somehow. I shuffled slightly to my right, blocking Tracey from his line of fire. "But I don't understand how you did it. Do you have a Horcrux I'm unaware of?"
Voldemort, in his guise as Dean's father, laughed. "Yes...and no. Truly, I'm disappointed, Harry. I had expected you to solve this riddle alone. You have worked out, have you not, that I sought to make a Horcrux out of that very wand the night I tried to kill you?" I nodded slowly. "What you seem not to realise is I made two mistakes that night – mistakes I thought would be my undoing.
"You see, Harry, I did create a Horcrux that night...the Horcrux was you."
I froze. "No...that's impossible. Horcruxes have to be objects."
"You are ill-informed; it is advised that a Horcrux is an object, but it is not a requisite. Part of my soul entered you that night, resulting in your ability to speak with snakes. To your credit, I did not know the Wand was not a Horcrux of mine until very recently myself."
"Is that why you got Ginny Weasley to move the wand?" I said quietly.
"Very good, Harry. I knew that Godric's Hollow was not an ideal location for one of my Horcruxes – I thus used the Weasley girl to transport it to a far more secure location."
"How did you make it a Portkey, then?" I felt utterly useless – there was absolutely nothing I could do that wouldn't provoke Voldemort's wrath.
"The heir of Slytherin cannot be kept from what is rightfully his. Thomas was kind enough to transport me to Slytherin's study. It was he who created the Portkey to this construct."
"How long did it take you to make the Labyrinth?" I said, running out of places to take the conversation.
To my surprise Voldemort laughed again. "Labyrinth? This is no Labyrinth, Harry. Surely you do not still think..." He titled his head to the right as if considering me. The cold smile returned to his face. He rolled up his sleeve to reveal the Knight tattoo and tapped it with his wand. The spears withdrew from the skull and merged into one, coiling as they did so – they had become a snake. The snake slithered through the skull's open mouth. It was the Dark Mark.
"Nice transfiguration," I said derisively.
"How woefully ignorant you are, Harry. There is no such thing as the Knights of Walpurgis."
I felt myself recoil. What was he talking about? "That's impossible," I said, "I saw the memories."
"You need to learn the difference between dreams and reality. I felt it when you destroyed my diary and thus made my slow and painful journey back to these shores. It took a year to return to England and my reluctant servant Thomas. When I found him, he relayed some curious information to me – he found memories of boy named Tom Riddle in your mind the night he killed Sirius Black. Coupled with your knowledge of Parseltongue, I realised that you were my Horcrux. Because of this, you possessed the ability to absorb pieces of my soul."
"What do you mean?"
"When you destroyed the diary, you did not destroy the piece of my soul – you released it. Once released, the shred of soul seeks others similar to it, but eventually fades away without an object to sustain it. However, you had some of my soul in you meaning the shred of soul in the diary joined the shred inside you. In effect, my influence on you grew, enough that I could now transfer memories between us. I am surprised you did not research this – surprised, and a little saddened. Your ignorance is your downfall.
"Thomas discovered that Alastor had divulged the name of our little group, for we were allies at one time, Alastor, Maximus and I. Outcast by our peers, we swore to exact revenge upon them, and cleverly named our alliance the Knights of Walpurgis, after Walpurgis Night. The friendship did not last, however. By the end of our third year, our ideas began to clash and I chose power while they chose weakness.
"When Thomas informed me that you were only told the name of the group, I formed the plan that led here, to this very room. I began sending you false memories of our alliance lasting beyond our school years. As you destroyed more Horcruxes, your soul grew weaker and mine stronger. I was able to send you memories more frequently. I admit there were mistakes involving the power of the memories – I did not foresee your destruction of my Death Eaters, for example. Meanwhile, Thomas murdered all those who could possibly reveal the truth to you, starting with Moody.
"Noble was a friend of your grandfather's and was able to forge that letter you cling so dearly to under the Imperius Curse. Thomas planted those memories into the mind of the Head Guard of Azkaban. He even went to the trouble of planting false information in your Mudblood friend's copy of Wizarding Movements of the Twentieth Century. But why, Harry, why did I want you to believe this lie? There are two reasons. Firstly, I had hoped that it would lead you here where there was no escape. You see, this 'labyrinth' is simply my father's house under glamour. The wards alerted Thomas of your presence here, and he was able to Apparate directly here, to my father's study."
Voldemort flicked his wand upwards. A crack appeared up the walls and across the ceiling. The two halves of the dome dissipated from the crack outwards, like a fissure in the earth's crust. Very soon, the dome had completely disappeared, leaving in its stead an ordinary study. To my right was a sweeping mahogany table positioned just under an arched window. To my left was the door, made of a light wood, possibly Beech.
My heart sank. So it was true. He had tricked me. All those memories, all those dreams...they were fake. My head felt light – that letter...it was fake. Dumbledore was right – Maximus gave up on Tom.
"In the wake of the Knights of Walpurgis memories, you were more willing to accept my advice and direction. Thomas' forged note of Dumbledore's told you to go to Godric's Hollow and you obeyed without question. I revealed the memory of the Weasley girl moving the Wand and you went straight to the Chamber, as I had expected. You solved the riddles, as I had expected. You destroyed the Cup when you stumbled across the Basilisk, as I had expected – they were only the result of a hobby of mine, after all; hardly a defence mechanism. I showed you the memory of my correspondence with Slytherin and it weakened you, as I had expected. You see the ingenuity of my plan, Harry? You see why I am so feared and respected? The Knights of Walpurgis is a myth.
"The other reason for spinning this lie is far more straightforward. Since your head was turned, it meant that my true motives for allowing, even encouraging, you to destroy Horcruxes was kept under wraps. You see, Harry, you now have five-sixths of my soul in you – Thomas was foolish enough to destroy one part when he cast the killing curse at you and expelled me. Essentially, I have slowly turned you into myself at fifteen. You are weak and vulnerable, but with the final jigsaw in place, you will complete your transformation from Harry Potter to Tom Riddle. Lord Voldemort will rise again, more powerful than ever. I will use Dumbledore's blind love for you to kill him when he least expects it. I shall retrace my steps towards immortality and learn from my mistakes. This is the end for you and the second rise of the greatest Dark Lord this world has ever seen. Goodbye, Harry Potter."
Voldemort, in his form as a foul mist, emerged from Dean's father, who immediately collapsed like a ragdoll. I braced myself. I would not let him take me over. Not this time.
Voldemort launched himself at me and I stood my ground. As soon as he entered me, I felt intense heat that centred around my scar.
You will lose.
This time I was ready for him. I conjured the memory of Sirius dying, of the bullet impaling between his eyes. He could have been a father to me. We could have lived together if it weren't for Voldemort. But he would never understand how I felt – he never had anyone like Sirius.
Your efforts are futile.
I thought of Hermione next. Of her vulnerability and compassion. She who above all others was there when I needed her most. She stayed with me when the entire wizarding world had turned against me. If I had ever experienced true friendship, it was through Hermione. But Voldemort had never been with a true friend. He hated everyone at the orphanage and never let anyone close, even at Hogwarts.
You cannot win.
Was I imagining things or was my scar less painful now? I conjured all the memories I could of Tracey: my infatuation of her, the joy I had felt when she let me take her out, the comfort I had felt lying next to her, the pain I had felt when she thought I had killed her father. I could feel a tugging at my mind – Voldemort was trying to encourage the bitterness I had felt towards her but I would not let him. She had come back to me, had she not? She came with me to Godric's Hollow and supported me in my moment of weakness and she lay next to me, now, waiting to embrace me when I defeated Voldemort.
His grip on my mind was weakening. Was it not true that my whole, untainted soul was more powerful than his incomplete, fractured one? This fact gave me strength and I continued to unravel memories of love and pain and happiness – memories Voldemort could not comprehend. His resistance against these memories was faltering.
Finally, my thoughts rested on my parents, Lily and James. They had lived in Godric's Hollow once; a young, happy family, but Voldemort had taken them away from me. All I had left of them was their fucking facial features. But Voldemort did not understand how it felt – how I felt at Godric's Hollow. That's why he was silent. He hated his mother who could not bring him up, despite her managing to get to an orphanage while in labour. He hated the orphanage even though the staff tried their best to raise him. He hated Dumbledore, even though he tried to save Voldemort from the darkness. Voldemort never gave trust a try and as a result, he was now a dying wisp of smoke.
I felt something, as strong and bitter as bile, rise up from deep inside me. As it rose, it grew stronger and I began retching, hoping it was vomit that would soon plunge out of me. My legs felt weak and I fell to my knees. I put my hands on the floor and heaved so violently that I began to feel light-headed. I could feel it...whatever it was...coming closer to the surface.
My head suddenly grew hotter than ever and with one last retch, the smoke that was Voldemort, now black as the night sky, escaped me. When I breathed the final puff, I collapsed onto my side.
As the smoke floated out of the window, Voldemort's words came to me:
Once released, the shred of soul seeks others similar to it, but eventually fades away without an object to sustain it.
I smiled. "Goodbye, Tom Riddle," I whispered, before I allowed the exhaustion to sink in and the darkness to take me.
I was free.
The dying rays of the October sun cast a crimson radiance across the Yorkshire countryside. I climbed the steep, grassy hill that cowered in the wake of Davis Manor. I took, as I did my first visit, a side-long glance at the dark river, its murky water glimmering under the failing light as it whistled past.
As I approached the brow of the hill, I noticed that Terry, Tracey and Hermione were sitting around one of the picnic tables, deep in conversation. They did not notice me approaching. I smiled as I approached. They alone were truly faithful, they alone never doubted me.
It was not until my shadow was cast across the wooden table that any of them looked up. Hermione was the first to react. She broke into a smile, jumped to her feet and embraced me.
"Oh, Harry," she said, "I can't believe you did it!" I smiled reluctantly. "Tracey was telling us all about it! I mean, it wasn't like I expected You-Know-Who to beat you but, gosh, it must have been so difficult-"
"Let the man breathe, Hermione," said Terry. I shot Terry an appreciative look, which he returned with a wink. As Hermione returned to her seat, a little flustered, he rose and clapped me on the shoulder. "I knew you would...my Lord."
I smiled and patted him on the shoulder in return. Finally, I sat next to Tracey and wrapped my arm around her waist, and in return she rested her head on my shoulder. There were no words that would do the moment justice, and I knew it as well as she.
"How was your meeting with Dumbledore?" asked Hermione finally.
"Fine," I said quietly. "He didn't approve of my means but the ends have been reached."
"And Thomas?" asked Tracey.
"Dean is in the Hospital Wing," I said. "He's still enthusiastic about the Knights despite everything that's happened. His father's in St. Mungo's – there's little hope he'll recover from such an aggressive possession."
"And the Ministry?" said Terry.
"The Ministry?" I said, barely above a whisper, staring at Terry's Mark, which was clear as ever. "The Ministry will fall."
I don't generally explain myself outside of the chapters but I feel I owe it to those of you who were hoping for a H/Hr ending. My original plan had Tracey die in this chapter. In that plan, Hermione fulfilled the role Tracey has in these past few chapters. Because I gave Tracey a reprieve some weeks ago now, it meant that the final pairing significantly changed. I did not say earlier as it would have ruined the ending.
Thank you all for your contributions, I appreciated them greatly. I hope you have enjoyed my story as much as I did writing it.
Just a quick plug: I've got a new fic out called 'Through the Grapevine'. It's very different to this one in that Harry is sane and completely Light-sided throughout. Having said that, the fact that it will be based in the middle of the First War will make it a little darker than your average post-DH fic. If you're worried about it being H/G – don't be. I'm planning to turn Ginny into a likeable, useful character who deserves to be with Harry. Also, if you like Sirius, then you'll be happy to know that he's involved, too.
Oh, and I'd like to take this opportunity to shamelessly promote a brand new website for Harry Potter fanfiction that myself and a few friends of mine have developed. Its focus is primarily on writing, but there's plenty of fun for readers, too, including story recommendations, interviews with fanfic authors, articles on magical theory and articles on the various aspects of writing. It's set as my homepage so you can access it there (I've at least got the humility not to post a direct link here, heh). Check it out!
- Master Slytherin