"You know quite well, deep within you, that there is only a single magic, a single power, a single salvation…and that is love."
Author's Notes: This is a novel-length fic that was inspired by my shipmates at the S.S. Sssssss, Fiction Alley Park's forum for discussing the Harry Potter/Tom Riddle-Lord Voldemort ship. I began writing it several months ago, and put down because I knew it would be very time-consuming to finish and I have a few more pressing obligations to honour. In the meantime, I wrote a fic called Full House from what had originally been Chapter Two (now Chapter Three).
Because of the encouragement of people like Saint Bananianiown, I'm going to start posting it, but please don't expect frequent updates. Althoughit is true that the *ahem* proper sort of inspiration will undoubtedly motivat me to write faster!
This story is basically canon compliant through Order of the Phoenix.
Thanks to my beta hobtheknife.
As the moon rose above the Riddle manor, black smoke drifted lazily in the stillness of the night. The front door had been blown open, and the splintered remnant gaped wide on broken hinges. Smouldering fires had broken out, caused by spells that had missed their targets, and a smoky haze wafted through the house. Broken furniture, shards of glass, and gouges in the plastered walls indicated the path the conflict had taken as it surged through the once-elegant mansion. Bodies of the dead and wounded sprawled in the hallways and rooms, bypassed as the fight moved onward. The battle still continued in isolated pockets, but there were fewer combatants now. Fatigue had set in, and the wizards on both sides had become more wary, taking advantage of cover and concealment as they pursued each other through the house in the final, murderous clash of the Order of the Phoenix and the Death Eaters.
Upstairs, in Lord Voldemort's library, the situation was much the same. The ornate mirror above the mantle had been shattered, but the delicate crystal chandelier remained untouched, above the line of fire. The draperies at one window were in flames, the glass in the other window had been broken, and Harry stood on the balcony just outside the French doors, doubled over in pain.
The Dark Lord had finally succumbed to a barrage of spells cast with wandless magic, and had collapsed to the floor. Harry was certain that his enemy was dying; as he had cast the last spell, he felt as if something inside him had been ripped apart, and the pain from his scar was blinding. Through the psychic connection that he shared with the other wizard, he knew that Voldemort was in horrible agony.
Harry was unable to maintain the concentration to Occlude his mind from Voldemort's suffering, but he also knew that if he didn't manage to focus his thoughts, everything that had been accomplished here tonight would be undone. He was certain that Voldemort still had existing Horcruxes, magic of a high order that would restore his life. Dumbledore had suspected that there had been six of the charms; the diary, the ring and the cup had been destroyed, but that meant there were still three left.
Covering his mouth with his sleeve, Harry forced himself to return to the library and Extinguished the flames. He glanced at the motionless wizard on the floor with a pang of conscience; although he had felt it his duty to utterly destroy the threat that the Dark Lord had posed to the Wizarding world, he wondered, not for the first time, why the Killing curse, which brought instantaneous death, was considered Unforgivable, while other curses that killed more painfully and slowly were legally justifiable.
Averting his eyes from the body, he tried to calmly examine in turn each object on the desk and shelves, looking for antiques, family heirlooms, anything that might be connected with the Founders of Hogwarts. As he paused in deliberation, a voice behind him hissed, "You are wrong." A huge snake slithered into the room and coiled, tongue flickering, beside the fallen wizard.
"What do you mean?" Harry recognized Nagini, Voldemort's pet, and warily readied a defensive spell. Nagini was no ordinary creature, and whether she possessed magical powers or not, Harry respected her physical strength and deadly fangs, and knew she would protect her master.
"There isss only one left."
Dumbledore had suspected that Nagini might herself be a Horcrux, and Harry quickly spoke the charm that revealed hidden magic. But the snake was, after all, merely a sentient creature, one who now reared protectively over her master's still form.
"Only one?" Harry repeated. They were speaking in Parsel, the speech of snakes, a language that was incapable of expressing deception, and he guessed there was much she might tell him if he could somehow manage to ask the right questions.
"Did you think he made five Horcruxesss, or ten? In number, there were more than all the hatchlingsss in my clutch!* He lived to the utmossst, and never ssshirked from danger. He usssed them all, except the very firssst."
The first. Harry guessed at once that she must mean the relic of Slytherin, the locket Voldemort's mother had pawned to provide food and shelter for herself and her unborn child. "Where is it?" he demanded.
Nagini's fangs glistened in the flickering light. "My Master cannot ussse it. He isss too clossse to death," she hissed.
Voldemort was silently convulsing on the floor, and Harry once again felt a shadow of compassion for his enemy. The Dark wizard had cheated death many times before, through the knowledge he had laboriously gleaned over decades. He had amassed a fortune, gathered an army of loyal followers, and relentlessly pursued forgotten magics. His personal courage was legendary; he had killed countless wizards in single combat. Harry and the Order had fought him relentlessly, inexorably destroyed his accomplishments, drained his financial resources, and annihilated his forces. Now, at the hour of his death, all his accomplishments had been brought to nothing.
But even if Voldemort was incapable of using the final Horcrux, Harry needed to find and destroy it. As long as it existed, a portion of the Dark Lord's soul remained, imprisoned and dormant, a talisman for any of his followers who might desire to take his place. Voldemort had challenged him here, in the library, for a reason. Harry's eyes roamed the book-lined shelves, the tables, the mantle. And then, the pain from his scar was abruptly gone, and the impressions he had been receiving from Voldemort's consciousness ceased. He turned to Nagini.
The cobra hovered above her Master, silently watching his still form. "He isss dead," she announced.
Harry suddenly cried out in pain as whatever it was inside him that had been torn earlier was completely severed with a sharp wrench. Collapsing to his knees, his vision clouded with tears and he remembered Professor Slughorn's words to Tom Riddle: killing rips apart the soul. In taking Voldemort's life, he had a destroyed a part of himself. Someone else, Harry thought, might see the tragedy in a destiny that had led two orphans, so similar in appearance and temperament, to become linked by murder and driven by vengeance to kill each other.
But Harry had no time to feel sorry for himself and couldn't afford to waste more sympathy on the man he had killed. He managed to get to his feet, and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. The locket…Harry struggled to recall why he needed to find it.
His mind had been linked to Voldemort's for so long, the silence in his head left him with an intense feeling of desolation, and his thoughts were more confused than before.
He raised his eyes to the serpent. "Where is the locket, Nagini?" he hissed.
The serpent shook her head. "You ssshall not have it!"
"He's beyond harm," Harry told her gently. "It belonged to his mother. She would have wanted him to have it."
Nagini studied him unblinking, and then finally nodded toward a bust of Salazar Slytherin that stood on a pedestal. Harry felt around the ornate carving at the top of the stand, pressing his fingers along the raised designs until he heard a click and a small drawer popped open. Inside was tucked a velvet pouch. He untied the silk cord and poured a fine chain, tarnished by age, into his hand; an oval locket bearing the Slytherin crest was attached to the links. Harry was overwhelmed with sadness as he thought of the young Merope, abandoned in disgust by her Muggle husband upon learning that she was a witch, selling her most prized possession in order to continue living for her unborn child. The life she had bequeathed her son had been his only worldly possession, and Harry had succeeded in tearing it from his grip, not through superior magic or strength or even cunning, but because Voldemort had been distracted for a moment. Harry could take no pride in his victory.
"Why are you sssad?" the snake asked. "It isss good to dessstroy the one who hasss tried to kill you."
"My entire life centred on him," Harry answered, after a moment. "Now he's dead, and I'm finally free to live my life. I know that people are going to say that I'm a hero, but I don't feel very heroic. There's an empty space inside me, and I don't know what to do."
Tears splattered across his hand as he looked at the locket. Harry knelt by the corpse that had been his hated foe, the most powerful Dark Wizard who had ever lived. He pressed the lifeless fingers closed around the locket, and held the cold hand in his.
After a time, he felt the serpent stir at his side. "Look!" Nagini hissed.
Light was streaming from beneath Harry's hand, growing brighter with every passing moment. Harry tried to let go, and realized with horror that he could not. The snake drew back from the intensity of the light, but Harry could only turn away and shield his eyes. He tried frantically to think what was happening; he could only guess that the Horcrux had somehow been activated, but could not imagine why he was unable to let go of the body, or what effect the Horcrux might have upon a corpse.
Minutes passed, while Harry was unable to uncover his eyes to see what was happening. Finally, the light subsided and he heard Nagini slither forward. Harry was finally able to pull his hand free, and turned uneasily to see what magic had been wrought by the locket.
It lay, bright and untarnished, in the Dark Lord's outstretched hand. Voldemort's appearance had changed, his youth restored by death. The features which Harry had always found handsome were composed, his hair was thick and black, his skin pale and smooth. Harry felt another wave of regret. The wizard who had been the Dark Lord deserved a proper burial, Harry thought, but doubted that the Ministry of Magic would allow it. His wet tears fell on Voldemort's face. He could smell smoke from the fires below and knew it was time to leave. Wiping his eyes, Harry decided that he would help rescue the injured, and then finish burning the house. It would be his enemy's funeral pyre.
He turned to tell Nagini his intentions, but his wrist was seized in a strong grip.
"Weeping for me?" Voldemort asked. "How very touching, Harry."
*I have chosen to depict Nagini as an Egyptian cobra, and individuals of that species lay as many as twenty eggs per clutch. In other words, Voldemort had made - and used - more than twenty Horcruxes.