A/N: Well, as I said in my profile - busy RL is busy, but so far I have no plans to abandon any of my stories, and I am writing. So here is proof :P
That said, I was seriously considering leaving FF. net. Here's what almost made me. If you're writing yourself, you might know that FF. net has had a weird policy regarding certain symbols in the past - they got filtered out of a document, namely those that are commonly used for scene breaks, like a tilde or asterisks. That isn't new, and I had to change my scene breaks a few times already. (I don't want to use the bars, they are ugly within the story.)
What is a new level of idiocy, however, is that they DID allow asterisks for quite a while now, and consequently I used it then - and today, I checked my stories and found that they not only changed the filter to remove it from NEW uploaded documents (which I could have accepted), but also stripped all OLD ones. Everything that was posted. All stories. I now am the proud owner of roughly 230k words worth of stories WITHOUT ANY SCENE BREAKS. None. Whatsoever. Nichts. Nada.
I'm currently alternating between wanting to kill someone and feeling like drinking large quantities of ethanol-based fluids. Perhaps I'll do both.
If you feel like it, send a few mails to the FF. net staff. Perhaps it will change something (ah, who am I kidding). But feel free to do it anyway.
Well ... regarding this chapter, thanks go to Mindless and Vlad over from the Dark Lord Potter Forums for helping me and looking it over. I hope you enjoy, despite all this fail-tism :s
By That Last Candle's Light
Chapter Two: From the Ashes
An example of such a fringe-case, highlighting the problems arising with this approach, would be the Unbreakable Vow, where, as death is the penalty, the very life is staked on reliability and predictability. Clearly, the question if the penalty is carried out can be agreed to with the same certainty as laid out above; however, the question of when it will be carried out, that is to say, when the action meets the condition of the vow, can be wildly uncertain.
Words are naturally ambiguous, leaving even with the most careful wording a certain leeway to magic to decide when an action has failed to adhere to what was sworn; and in situations like this, where quasi-sentience is demanded, the Theorem of Predictability breaks down …
Adalbert Waffling, Advanced Magical Theory
That was the general state of the neighbourhood, and everyone liked it that way. Quiet and peaceful. After sundown, the people sat in their backyards, perhaps under a willow, reading a book or a paper, talking about the Prime Minister's Parliament speech and the latest faux-pas of the Queen's grandson and doing a hundred of other things, perfectly ordinary, perfectly usual and normal.
And so it was tragic, perhaps, that one little girl was not quite as ordinary, not quite as content to sit with the adults, not quite like them at all. She didn't fit in, it wasn't her place, even though she didn't know it; she had always been a quiet child – quiet, like the neighbourhood – and so, no one ever noticed anything odd.
But when the wind started to ruffle her beautiful white dress, and she looked up to see the air shimmer, slightly, strangely; but most of all, fascinatingly, she silently slipped away from the adults who never noticed a thing – because indeed, they could not – and skipped down the path, following the strange green glow that was racing over the sky. It led her across the garden, to the fence, where she stood and watched as something like a green tidal wave rushed down the street. It was faint, but she thought it the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
It passed her, passed through her, and she shivered – it was such an intense feel, and somehow, she began to realise that a tiny spark of it had been within all her life.
That very moment, two persons appeared, apparently from nowhere. She tilted her head, watching the scene curiously … and while her bare left foot was idly ripping out a few blades of grass with her toes, she wondered if she would ever learn to do that. It struck her as a nice thing to have.
It was a strange looking man, tall, and white, and a woman, dark haired and beautiful, only not. She had appeared directly in the green wall, and fell to her knees as it washed over her, her violet eyes alive with a burning intensity.
That made her pause.
The woman had obviously felt whatever it was. Not like the other adults who never noticed a thing. And her nature drove her onwards, and that was the reason that what would happen never could have been prevented; it was the way of things, and fate always balanced things out. The little boy that accidentally stumbled on the side-walk, just as he wanted to jump on the road to follow his red ball, many miles away, then survived the car that was speeding around the corner much too fast.
Decisions led to actions, and actions had consequences; it had always been so. That was not to say that men were unfree, everyone could do as they wished, as long as they were willing to accept the consequences of their doing. Even defy fate – although only children and fools or madmen ever did; the former two because they couldn't see the disastrous results of their actions, and the latter because they didn't care.
All that was well beyond the scope of the little girl, though, as she climbed over the fence, and walked the short way down the road, over to the beautiful-but-not woman kneeling there and the tall man standing next to her.
The woman was rocking back and forth on her knees, still with that fiery glow in her eyes which now snapped towards her, making her pause in her steps, suddenly feeling somewhat shy and bashful. Those eyes fixating her gave the impression that they saw more than she did, and even though she couldn't tell how, she was certain that they were looking past the exterior, through her, inside her.
"You … see?" she asked timidly, and took another small step towards the woman.
"Oh – yes, I see – need …"
Her hand jumped forwards, pointing at her small body. "Cruor Aestuato," the woman gasped out, still panting harshly.
The yellow light surrounded her. First it was warm, like a nice bath, but soon it became unpleasantly hot, sweatingly hot, and it still grew more intense; it burned, burned her from the inside, oh god it burned. She crashed to the ground; tears obscured her vision as she started to claw at her skin, leaving long scratches that turned from white to red; anything to make it stop, please, please make it stop.
But the curse was unrelenting, the feel of molten lava running through her veins as her blood boiled. And so, it was a relief when something burst in her chest, lessening the pressure and burning heat; and she didn't even realise that the virginal white of her gown, as pristine and pure as snow, was turning ruby red, in a stain directly above her heart. She only felt the relief, and saw the woman giving a last, heavy shudder and slumping to the ground.
As in dreams, she heard the two speak.
"Calm yourself, Bellatrix," ordered the man coldly, who hadn't moved a single muscle until now. He had lifted his hand, and laid his long, white fingers on top of the woman's hand, pressing it down. "We came to get work done. There is time enough yet, so we needn't hurry, but neither should we linger and play."
The rising woman nodded demurely. "Yes, Master. I apologise."
He never acknowledged her apology, instead started to move around, waving his hands in the air in strange patterns while muttering things.
"How curious," he murmured eventually. The woman looked questioningly; he turned towards her and adapted a lecturing tone. "There should have been wards here, preventing you from going any further."
He pointed towards her. She blinked, trying to make sense of it all.
"Exactly there. Now, as you can see, we're already past that point."
"The shockwave could have brought them down," suggested the woman, but the man shook his head.
"Not those. Any other, and perhaps I would agree, but they were of a special kind. Still, I very much believe that the person we're going to pay a visit to is the source of that magical release. If for no other reason that he is the only one here … well, apart from her."
He took a step further down the road.
"In any case, we can Apparate." And with that, he vanished, as suddenly as he had come. His companion lingered.
"Now what to do with you?" the woman murmured softly, so softly that she had to strain her ears to pick up the words; through the comfy warmth that was cloaking her like her thick blanket at night, more and more. What had just happened? Everything was so fuzzy …
The woman stepped closer. She looked like a dark angel to her. The angel bent over her, and softly stroked her flushed face.
"Are you an angel?" she asked, sleepily. "You look like one."
The hint of a smile crossed her face, but she never answered.
"Poor pretty," the angel murmured. "Such a pretty little Mudblood … a shame you have to die. It's not your fault that you were curious when you oughtn't to, and neither is your birth … what we are is defined by what we are born, is it not? Blood always tells. You can't help what you are … but neither can I."
She laughed softly, and ruffled her hair.
"In ways, I was like you, once. So just this one time, I promise it won't hurt. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and before you know it, it's over. You'll see. Goodbye, pretty one." She lifted her hand, then seemed to think of one additional thing to say.
"And no, I'm not the angel, little witch. You are."
She nodded, that made sense.
She felt so tired. There was a flash of green, and then nothing.
– – – – – – – – –
The night was alive in colours.
In front of my eyes, everything was bright, blindingly so, yet excessively clear in razor-sharpness. Trees, grass, cars – they all were there and not. They flickered, strangely and different, a swirling vortex of pinkish tints, interwoven with hues in green and silver, blue and yellow and more colours that had no name; spiralling slowly up into the sky. And I was the centre of it all, the centre of the world; around me a dome of light, slowly fading. I saw it all – I saw …
The dome blocked any further view. I turned my head, my arms stretched wide. A cool, liquid-feeling-coloured band climbed up my hand, from a shape some way off that vaguely resembled a house. When my fingers touched it, they passed through it. It was nothing more than a shade of something that had-been.
The Had-Been colour tickled my skin. It was a nice colour, tasting like honey on my fingers, while I saw its poison crawling through my veins slowly underneath.
I smiled. It was lovely. Honey and poison. A wonderful, a terrifying combination.
I had taken Had-Been from within me and painted it all over the house, over the lumpy form a few yards away and also the one next to me, and now they all were fading, fading away into the darkness, fading away, all away …
Everything was perfect. I was one with the world, with myself, in euphoric bliss.
My eyes came to rest on a last form.
Dark, oh yes, but beautiful, in velvety blackness. It captivated me. It was perfection. The brilliant light of its inky darkness, its divine shape … it was shaped liked wildness, possessing so much Had-Been, and the longer I stared, the more I fell in –
Everything was quiet.
"Potter? What on earth –"
And my wonderful world collapsed in a heartbeat.
– – – – – – – – –
I screamed in rage.
Who had dared to come and rip me from my dream? They would pay. They all would fucking pay.
I looked around me. I was sitting on the ground leaning against the fragment of a wall, on top of some rubble; stones, something squishy. Laughter started to sound through the darkness. I squinted ahead; in the milky starlight I saw –
"Bellatrix!" I roared. I knew that voice, indeed, I was certain I would have recognised her in midst of a crowd with my eyes tightly shut anytime. It was this odd combination of insanity and velvety …
Finally. That was the only thought left in my mind. The time had come. I knew what I was and what I had to do. The wand in my hand again, my trusty aid in all of my plans, warm and eager just like me; she, tall, in dark burgundy robes, the wand in her left hand; her black hair not open but tied back into a tight bun, giving her severe look.
The two of us alone, just us, under the pale starlight, both smiling, she somehow amused, I in anticipation …
Her pale face turned lovely red, a red no glamour or make up could imitate, making her all the more beautiful – because, yes, she was beautiful, a dark, vicious beauty, and now I preserved that beauty for all eternity. Her death was my revenge …
I blinked, and pulled myself together. Mustn't get carried away … the revenge was near, and the revenge was mine. One step, one heartbeat, one flick of my wand … and in one blink of an eye … an eye for an eye … Crucio-
The amused quirk of her lips turned into a full-blown laughter. "Didn't we go through that already, Potter? I told you you needed more than righteous –"
Her eyes widened as the red light hit her square in her chest. A scream tore from her lips, low first, then louder, as she crashed to the ground, a groan mixed with an almost animalistic cry of agony; sweet, so very sweet to my ears.
She wasn't laughing now.
Bellatrix was moving on the ground, writhing under my curse, what a wonderful invention: one spell to express the sum of my hatred and inflict it upon her, that she might feel what I felt, and the stronger my hatred, the better it worked. It worked … For what seemed like hours, I kept it going, let these feeling wash through me, making me shiver due to the sheer intensity, and still leaving me restless in strange excitement, fading to a state of blissful euphoria, once I finally let up; one with myself and the world, just like before.
And again, her voice ripped me from it.
"That was … not bad … Potter."
My eyes snapped open again. Had I ended the Cruciatus Curse? Why had I ended it? I wasn't done with her, I reminded myself. She was lying on the ground. I should have kept going … She had almost bitten through her lower lip. She shivered a little when she rose, slowly, carefully, brushing off her robes, but her voice strangely breathless.
"You made me bleed."
The tip of her tongue darted out of her mouth, catching the dark red droplet as it fell from her lip like a sprinkle of wine, before she performed a quick charm with her wand, and all traces of blood vanished.
The crazy bitch actually liked her own blood. Well, I guessed I had always known that, but …
Figures she would be the one to take it literally.
She shot me a lazy smile.
"So, I am to understand that little Harry is still angry I killed his pet-dog?"
The anger rushed through me. She did dare mock him – still? Seemingly the Cruciatus hadn't been enough. I clenched my wand.
"I will fucking kill you!"
She burst into a fit giggles.
"Not in the mood, Potter."
It made me angry. Oh yes, I was angry. I felt cold hatred, in me, around me, and it was all I was, and all I ever wanted to be. It fuelled my spells, and perhaps it consumed me.
But then, it also kept me alive.
She Apparated out of the way of the blasting curse. It ripped away the entire upper half of what remained of the outer wall of the living room. Chunks of stone pelted a shield that had snapped up around Bellatrix. I fired more blasting curses, sprinting after her, but it was useless; I couldn't land a spell on her, and was rapidly moving from angry to completely pissed off.
I needed her to stay in one place.
The standard fire charm, but with a twist. Yes, the fight in the Ministry had given me more to think about than just Bellatrix's lesson in using the Cruciatus Curse. I had watched when Dumbledore duelled Voldemort. The fire whip he had used …
I tried it now.
It worked spectacularly. Well, it wasn't exactly a whip, more a flamethrower with a twenty feet fire-jet, but that suited me just fine. With a dark smile, I simply pointed my wand to wherever Bellatrix was. She would burn.
She reappeared some three feet to my right and vanished in an inferno of flames. For a second time that night, she screamed, and I found then I had a new favourite sound. Nothing was better, nothing was more fulfilling, than hearing her velvety voice scream. Knowing that I made her scream. The smell of burnt flesh reached my nose. She burned.
Then, suddenly, she was gone. I registered the obvious implication a split second too late. I tried to whirl around, but already my arms were yanked behind my back. Her hand clamped down on my wrists with surprising strength, keeping them with a painful twist from moving. She was standing directly behind me, pressed against me, while her black wand brushed softly over my neck. I felt her breath on my skin, as she bent her neck over my shoulder.
"I could kill you now … so easily."
Her voice was a low murmur in my ears. The tip of the wand pressed harder against my neck, and suddenly there was a constricting feeling around my throat.
I couldn't breath.
I was choking, desperately trying to get air; and the world dulled around me. I struggled in her grasp, to no avail, hearing my heartbeat – and hers, her harsh panting in my ears …
Her voice quivered slightly, her grip on my hands slacked just a little. It was enough to move my index finger, to press it down, using my middle finger as a bearing and so prompt my wand, between the two fingers, to execute a sharp downwards slashing motion.
Truly, let no one say I did not learn anything that day in the Ministry. It had been a well of knowledge, in more than one sense, as I had eventually come to realise. Now, taking a leaf out of Dolohov's book, I used his favourite curse without saying the incantation aloud, like he did the time when he used in on Hermione.
Costae strinxi, I thought. Bellatrix screamed and stumbled backwards. I feel to my knees, clutching my throat and gasping for air, while I watched her performing a quick counter spell on herself, stopping the ribcage from collapsing and crushing her lungs. I hadn't known there was one.
She scowled in my direction.
"That was not nice, Potter."
No, it wasn't nice. I wasn't nice. I wanted to see her dead, the light gone from her eyes, her breathing stopped. Dead, dead. I felt the power within me, flowing through me, felt it pushing, shoving, just like it had back in my little clearing, and suddenly I was sure I could do it. My wand shuddered a little, and it felt so right –
And the sensation washed trough me, warmly, soothing; a wonderful, great feeling, somewhat like a relaxing bath; just as a narrow green beam raced across what was once the living room. Bellatrix didn't move, but quickly summoned a panel of the broken cupboard. It shattered to splinters when the curse impacted.
A slow smile spread across her face. "Look at that. Little Harry isn't quite so little anymore. You really want to kill me and are willingly employing the Dark Arts as the means. And to think that it was I who pushed you beyond the borders, reduced you to that state. I feel a little proud."
Then she narrowed her eyes.
"Now calm down or I'll make you. I have better things to do."
"What is the matter with you, Lestrange?" I yelled back over to her. "Too cowardly to fight?"
Her faux-playful demeanour vanished.
"What was that, Potter?"
Oh yes, just a little more baiting – I remembered how proudly she had walked into prison, in that memory in Dumbledore's Pensive. That would work. That would work splendidly.
"I saw Dumbledore's memory of your trial, you know. You looked so proud then, but perhaps you aren't really a Dark Witch and Death Eater, after all. Did he get you with the Imperius-curse too, like he did Malfoy? So now that he returned, you hesitate? Avoid fights?"
She stilled completely. "Stop it, Potter. I'm warning you."
I paused too, breathing heavily, then smirked.
"What, Bellatrix? Am I right? Were you simply forced to execute another person's orders? You didn't want it? You, a poor, helpless victim … Trixie?"
She let out an incoherent scream of rage and flung nasty looking yellow curses at me that I was barely able to dodge. They hit the ground to my right and my left, and wherever they struck, bursts of fires exploded into the sky.
The world blurred, as I responded in kind. I sprinted towards her, through columns of fire, with green flashes brightening the night. She was casting silently, and so I could only guess what half the spells she fired at me did; but soon, the ground was burning, like the rest of the house, and we were fighting in flames.
In a furious exchange of curses, most of which on my part were limited due to my lack of knowledge, but made up for through sheer power, we executed deadly dance. Yes, it was deadly, it was glorious. I realised this, surprised. Fighting her was wonderful. It was a fulfilling experience, giving all I had, fighting against someone who did the same. This was life. At its most basic, life was fighting, clawing, biting, struggling for existence, risky and deadly, and I felt alive.
"I am the Dark Lord's most trusted, Potter!" she shouted. "Because I am loyal to his cause like no one else is. Because I am one of the most powerful witches in Britain. Because I'm proud to purge the earth from those that are not worthy."
Her violet eyes glittered fanatically.
"And I will use any of my power and more to achieve this vision of perfection, and it will be by my own free will. No one will use me. You hear me, Potter? No one!"
A curse streaked past my head and a tree exploded in a roaring explosion of flames. Her face was a mask of blank hatred. I revelled in the look in her eyes. This, this was Bellatrix. The glimpses of raw insanity, the thrilling feel of knowing that it was right there, hidden just below the surface … so very feral, animalistic – like a wild animal, caged and starved, which now relentlessly threw itself against the bars of iron will and loyalty beyond believes keeping it in check …
That was the woman who had murdered Sirius and regretted nothing. And that was whom I was going to kill. I almost felt a lingering regret, just for a second.
I stormed ahead, trying to get closer towards her, flinging a cutting charm in her direction.
She drew a small circle with her wand, and my spell splashed against a bluish shield she had conjured non-verbally.
"There's power enough behind your spells, Potter, but whatever did they teach you at Hogwarts? Attacking with cutting charms used for sewing?"
I remembered that it hadn't worked already at Marge. Well, fuck.
A thoughtful look came over her, as she ducked the killing curse. By now I had gotten the hang of it. It got easier, the more I used it.
"Sectum!" she suddenly snapped, loudly.
A bright yellow curse slipped past my defences and sliced up my left thigh. Without hesitating, I used the same words and fire back. It ripped through her midriff, creating a gash from her pelvis up to her chest, which gushed a stream of red.
The grey beam passed me, crashing into a tree, which exploded in a wet shower of sap. It made me curious what it would have done to a human. The same?
Another curse nearly broke my shield, and then I returned the fire.
It hit the shield she created and was not repelled but deflected, passing her without hitting her, again and again, and I pushed her backwards. The power was a steady hum, it was in my wand and brushed over my skin, and I remembered well how Dumbledore's spells had felt in the duel with Voldemort at the Atrium, the sheer power of it making my hairs stand on end. I was reaching the same level, but still Bellatrix managed to nudge them away.
The third time it wasn't enough. It was deviated only slightly and caught her right, non-wand hand, ripping the skin off in layers. Left behind was a bloody mess. It didn't even make her pause, and she retaliated at once.
I was unprepared and the curse pulverised my left shoulder joint. It downright exploded. Agonising pain ripped through my body, and she laughed.
"Tell me, do you miss your godfather?" Her voice turned into a low hiss. "Because I … killed him?"
As if these words were a trigger the world blurred. The hate was a deep well, bottomless and dark, and it filled me to the brim. Pain was no longer an issue, nothing was. The steady hum of power sounded in my ears, born and fuelled by my hatred for her, and that was all there was, and all there needed to be. It made me strong and gave me purpose, to do what I needed to …
I squashed her like the bugs back in my little clearing, battered away at her until she was lying there on the ground, bleeding … her intestines curled around her, a bloody squashed heap, and then the body thrown to rot … and the bones to bleach in the sun …
I enjoyed killing him … He sullied the name of Black when he ran away. He was a Blood-Traitor of the highest order. He consorted with Muggleborn-scum – your bitch of a mother. He was a shame for the family, and should have been put down like the rapid dog that he was a long time ago. I'm proud that I could do it. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
Of course you would, Bella … I expected nothing less of you.
The rage was within me, dark and burning, channelled into my magic; my tool – no, more, a part of myself, in perfect unity, knowing that was what I wanted, what I needed, who I was.
The fire flickered behind her, reminding me of something, like a half-forgotten dream … Pillars of Fire …
I ran towards her, firing curse after curse. She was unable to dodge, unable to shield them all – unable to shield the unforgivable curses …
Crucio! I shouted and she screamed again, but then she wrenched herself free. I responded to that with the cutting curse, ripping a chunk of flesh right out of her left arm. I cut more chunks of flesh out of her – I would –
Her laughter sounded throughout the haze. The ground exploded all around me, creating a ten feet crater, and throwing me backwards. Something hit lower body, my legs broke with an ugly cracking sound, and then I was caught by an invisible force and pressed down onto the ground, in the middle of the crater. Within seconds, I was disarmed and defeated. I struggled against whatever magic rendered me immobile and could not move an inch.
Bellatrix was stalking towards me. She stopped at my feet, looking down at me. I saw the cruel glee at my helplessness in her eyes.
"Better, but not nearly good enough. Lesson two, Potter: Turning righteous anger into rage and blind hatred works, but makes you easily vulnerable."
"So sad you won't have time to take that to heart as well. Good-bye, Potter."
Her wand rose, the tip pointed at my stomach.
Suddenly, Bellatrix was rendered mute, and an uncanny force pushed us both from one another. My wand was ripped out of her grasp, and soared towards another person. Her own did the same. I squinted at him. Who –
Voldemort rose from an old-fashioned Fauteuil armchair, clapping slowly. The sound his white hands made echoed eerily over the still burning wreckage with us in the centre. The shine of the flames flickered over his ghostly pale appearance. Most of his face was shrouded in darkness, however; only the eyes stood out, burning red.
"I am impressed, Harry. You almost cost Bellatrix one hand. Not her wand-hand, certainly, but it remains an accomplishment. You display talent and power. A pity that it is going to waste."
Bellatrix looked up at him, slightly petulantly, her left hand stretched out.
"May I not kill him, Master?"
Voldemort made a sound that could have passed for a chuckle.
"Now, now, Bellatrix. You know that his death is mine. But I thank you for a most entertaining evening, so far. You might just have redeemed yourself a little."
On her face, the emotions at Voldemort's words played out. The disappointment that she wouldn't be the one to kill me was substituted with pride. Her face was aglow in happiness at her Master's praise.
"Thank you, my Lord."
Voldemort nodded shortly before he turned again to me.
"The same goes for you, naturally. It needs two persons to make a good duel."
His long, spidery fingers traced the length of my holly wand idly.
"It really is almost sad that you will have to die, now … but then again, we always part with the one thing we like most, do we not? Because that is the only way to not become lazy and complacent. Yes, Harry, I finally came to kill you. You have disrupted my plans one to many times, I'm afraid."
"I will grant you a reward, though. You shall not die by my wand, like I planned it to. I will use yours to kill you; rendering me unable to truly claim your death. Lord Voldemort always respects power, and those who wield it."
I had barely been listening to his explanations. I was beaten, defeated. I had fought her, and lost. Failed.
My wand in Voldemort's hand rose.
And again, the words.
So this was it. This was the end?
No! Suddenly, everything in me rebelled at that thought. My eyes found Bellatrix, who was standing there, watching the happenings semi-interested. I wouldn't fucking die before I got the chance to pay her back. I would fucking make her interested. I needed a second chance – I needed –
The solution. The possible way – the only way, it appeared in front of my eyes, in that perfect clarity I'd come to taken for granted; a next stone I stepped upon, directly in front of the last. A straight, direct path, where each step behind me was the reason of every one that would follow, and each step before me the logical consequence, the sum of every step already taken.
I knew what I needed to do. There was one more bargaining chip left.
"Stop," I said, my voice so calm, it even surprised myself.
Voldemort looked down at me, pausing for a second.
"The time is up, Harry."
I knew what I had to do, and didn't hesitate a second. I tilted my head, and looked at the white, half-snake-half-human face.
"Wouldn't you," I said, "wouldn't you want to know the full prophecy, if I'm going to die anyway?"
I guess, then, that I should have felt hesitation in giving up the one secret Dumbledore had spent years of his life protecting, but the truth was, just as my little feud with Voldemort, it was completely unimportant compared to her.
I guess I would've sold my soul to get my chance at her, and perhaps, in a way I did – or had, already, who knew.
And who cared.
I used the prophecy to save my life now, and it worked, one final time; and that was all I needed. When all was said and done, my role in this war would be over.
Voldemort lowered his wand.
"So Dumbledore told you, at last. But of course … you know that I care about the prophecy no more. Me being here proves this. So why tell me now?"
Well, I suspected he had finally decided to say fuck it and kill me. Couldn't rely on him dithering over it forever, after all. Whatever Voldemort was now, he had had shown a brilliant mind, once, that had to be there, still. Somewhere. But are you certain, my friend? Really certain? Because those who make a mistake once …
As if he had read my thoughts, he confirmed them. Perhaps he had. I needed to learn Occlumency.
"Don't hold me for a fool, Potter," he said quietly. "All caring about the prophecy brought me were problems, from the very start. I would've been better off without ever acting on it at all, I see this now. I would have won the war unchallenged, and you and I would never have met. First and foremost, you are my enemy because I made you so."
I am what you made me.
I snarled and wanted to fly into rage, except my injuries kept me rooted down. All I was left to do was to feel the anger swirling inside me, and staring at him from burning emerald eyes. Dumbledore, Voldemort, the world … all staking their claim on me, all telling me what and who I was. Voldemort wanted an enemy, Dumbledore a saviour, the world a hero.
No. I was nothing of all that, and at the same time more. Much, much more.
"Yet as I did so, I now have to finish what I started. My plans have been delayed enough, more than enough."
It was enough. I had been shaped for far too long. Now I was the one to do the shaping, and fuck the consequences. I would not die for the sins of the world. Let it burn, then; I would to carve out my own destiny, with the blood and bones of everyone who stood in my way, follow only myself and let the world suffer for it.
Time to reap what you sowed. And would that it were different, but it's too late, too late … For they have planted the wind, and shall harvest a storm.
– – – – – – – – –
The wand rose again.
I leant back against the brown, charred earth, staring up into the sky full of twinkling stars, beautiful, uncaring and cold.
And people believed their destiny to be written there. And perhaps it even was so, because destiny cared not for any one human's plights, not the wife, who had her beloved torn away, not the young family that was destroyed in a single night, and not the bright-eyed child, who was cruelly burdened with the task to vanquish all evil, be a saviour, and have no salvation granted himself.
The words left my mouth effortless, and I felt not a twinge of guilt.
"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches … Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies."
I chanced a look at him, at Voldemort, who paused again. He wasn't as certain as he'd like to have me think. No, no, never certain. Too heavy the weight of some words spoken in ill-fated night, half of which you heard and made come true by your own acts … so certainly, the next part must be coming true also?
"You knew that part. Voldemort."
His red eyes stared at me, transfixed.
"But you never knew the second half, did you? And the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…"
The wand faltered.
"Power? What kind of power?"
I ignored him.
"And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives …"
My voice was only a whisper.
"Yes, Voldemort. It means what you think it does. So long as I do not kill you, no one can. If only I stopped trying, you were invincible. But you believe in the prophecy no longer, you said. A pity …"
The wind whispered in the trees that stood in the gardens surrounding Number 4, whispered to me. They told me I was on the right path, I knew; I felt it, as surely I felt the lazy throb of all my various injuries. It was in the sighing wind and the twinkling stars … and perhaps it was only in my mind, after all.
What was guiding me? A question I could not answer. Did I truly believe in what I said? It did not matter.
I guessed I knew Voldemort better than anyone. Linked by death, by blood and magic, bound more tightly than family and kinship, dealing with him had become instinctive. Somehow, somewhere down the line, I had started to listen to these subtle feelings and learned to trust them. And I was certain I knew the right words now.
He abruptly turned away, cloak swishing in the night. Doubt.
He would not dare attack me now, not unless he had pondered the words of the prophecy, and what kind of power it might mean. I had that advantage over him. Pity that I didn't know what that power was either.
The black figure stood unmoving in the night. Silence, only the two of us. Bella had wandered off some time ago.
"Why have you come, Voldemort?"
And that was the heart of the matter, wasn't it? An easy question, yet the answer suddenly so complicated, far less obvious than one would think. United by fate, our paths entwined, to ultimately lead us here, tonight, and what I had planned would finally cut that knot, and at the same time link us tightly all the more.
The wind stirred in the trees. Restlessness.
"You are not my enemy, Voldemort."
Slowly, he turned around. If he was surprised, he didn't show it.
"I notice your choice of words, Harry. But does my answer even matter? The prophecy you just told me would have me believe otherwise."
Thunder rumbled low, distantly. Anger.
The prophecy … the words of a crazy bat who couldn't keep her mouth shut when it mattered. Four sentences and a life was planned away, just like that. And who ever did ask me? Who ever fucking did? Screw all crazy seers, too old headmasters and blind Dark Lords. Screw them all. Enough with plans, prophecies and expectations. Enough!
"Fuck the prophecy!" I snarled. "Why the fuck do you care? This is how you got into this mess in the first place! Have you learned nothing at all? It came true because you made it. You are just about to repeat that mistake, now, with your wand in hand, standing over me just like you did fifteen years ago.
"You say you see it now? You've understood nothing! For all your claims to be the greatest wizard ever, and your will to rule, you still allow yourself to be trapped by the ramblings of a half-crazy woman on a stormy night. You are ruled, instead of ruling yourself, you accept something greater than you with no thoughts at all. What are you? A helpless Muggle?"
Voldemort had become very still. The calm.
"You will cease speaking to me like this."
I laughed in his face. "You, you denied death when it came to claim you. You strove to master it all, show the superiority of magic, and yet now you obediently bow to something as simple as fate. You would kill me because the prophecy says it must be so, accept it as inevitable –"
"Silencio!" he shouted "You know nothing, boy! What magic means! What power means. I have gone further than any one before me, pushed the boundaries of what was even thought possible to the utmost shores and achieved things no one ever dreamed of! Do you not think I would not have considered this before? Lord Voldemort is not hold down by mere notions of what is possible –"
A sudden gale whipped across the lawn, cold, surprisingly cold for this time of the year. It churned the treetops and my hair, ripping apart the flames. The storm.
And I found I could speak. The last piece falling into place.
"So prove it, then!" I snapped. "Prove to me that you are strong enough to master something as easy as your own fate. Here, now, and we will swear that neither will die at the hand of the other, and both can live. This is your final chance to break the cycle and correct the mistake that began in that pub on a rainy night. 'Either must die at the hands …' No! We shake our hands. We walk away. We live, both of us. We are the most powerful wizards of our generations. If not us, then who?"
The whipping wind was so cold, and it cloaked me like the warmest blanket. It whistled around us, tearing at Voldemort's cloak. My voice rose.
"And the prophecy as a rule? For us? We long since gave up on complying with anything. Rules are only there to be broken. We swear not to kill each other, and force the world to change its course, force our will onto the outcome that is set. We prove once and for all that nothing is greater than magic. This will truly mark our power."
Green into red, we stared at each other, his face oddly twisted, a strange, hungry look upon it; suddenly reminiscent of another expression I had seen, three years ago, on a boy named Tom Riddle, then as old as I was now. The hints of that boy were still there, breaking through the surface now, for a single, timeless moment.
"So be it then," he hissed. "I am Lord Voldemort … and so we do swear –"
And for a third time, the voice shattered it.
Voldemort's head jerked around, staring at Bellatrix, then once again at me. Something cleared in his eyes and for a second a look of raw fury burned behind them.
His hand snapped up, bidding Bellatrix to cease speaking and she fell silent. She scowled at me, having returned just then – only catching our final exchange, I wagered, but it had been enough to destroy all my chances.
So close. So fucking close, before she disrupted us.
Another mark in chalk.
"Fix his legs, Bella."
Voldemort's voice betrayed nothing. It was smooth, almost pleasant. He stood still, with only the hem of his robes flapping in the wind, looking at me in what seemed like pure curiosity, no trace of the murderous rage that had occupied his features mere moments ago.
Only an idiot would find that reassuring. Somewhere inside, I felt black despair starting to crawl through me. Was everything lost?
It couldn't be – it couldn't –
Bellatrix jabbed her wand at me and something shifted in my broken leg. It hurt as hell and I was sure there was a reason Madam Pomfrey relied on potions and not only spells. I could move again, though. Somewhat.
I crawled out of the crater, while Voldemort regarded me pensively. For a long time, there was only silence.
"Clever child," he murmured finally. "You know me well by now. What I fear and desire … for you, it is all there."
I could all but see the reassessment taking place in his head. His voice turned hard, cold.
"You used it for your advantage, against me. You won't be able to repeat this feat, be assured."
And that I believed. He was looking at me with different eyes, something between us had shifted. I felt as though he regarded me as bigger a threat than he ever had before.
"Will you not kill him, Master?"
I stared at him, desperately trying not to feel fear – not so much of whatever he might do to me or a final killing curse, but for what it meant. That I had lost. Failed. In my fight with Bellatrix.
He abruptly turned his head towards her, as if only then remembering that she was there, too, his look roaming over the rubble, lingering just for a moment on the remains of Vernon's body.
A strange smile curled his lips, giving his pale white features a cruel edge.
"We will see."
He conjured a second chair next to his own that had suddenly reappeared. It was quite a bit plainer than his Louis XVI-fauteuil.
"Sit down, Harry. No need to stand."
He lifted his hand invitingly, but it was more a command than a cordial suggestion. I wasn't fooled at all, and I don't think he expected me to. He still had a wand while I did not.
And yet, as I slowly took the offered seat, doubt and desperation turned into triumph. All my fears bled away, vanishing in the certainty of a near victory. He would hear me out. I knew I had him.
"So you would join me, as I once offered you?"
There was something furtive in his expression. I shook my head.
"I want simply to be left alone. I have enough of people and their attempts to use me for this or that. No, I would stay out of it all altogether. Just as I was not your enemy before you made me, this will not be my war unless you force me. I want nothing to do with it and the world. Keep it; it is yours for the taking."
He could sense if I lied, I was sure; just as I was almost certain I would be able to if he did. We were too closely linked to deceive each other anymore after he possessing me at the Ministry; any attempts of a lie just as possible as it was to lie to yourself, not more and not less. It made things a little more easy, now.
He looked at me and for a moment sounded almost regretful.
"That isn't for wizards like us, Harry. It is a luxury we are not granted in times such as these, for we are powerful, too powerful to remain neutral. People will always seek us, as they are weak, and the weak cling to the powerful. You would always be hunted, sought after, for as long as there was someone left to fight. If not me, then Dumbledore and his order. If not him, then the Ministry."
Voldemort laughed. It was a sound void of any mirth.
"You see now? It seems rather ironic that I would well be the party to grant you the most leniency. Once they truly see what you are, they will start to fear you. And what they fear, they will either seek to control or destroy. Look around you. It has already begun."
Sentences in ambiguity. Would they forgive what I had done, here, today, if they ever knew? Would they forgive what I was about to do?
But it wasn't hard to let those thoughts pass by. I didn't care.
"They will have to learn to accept it, Voldemort."
"You are deluding yourself if you think everyone else but me would accept it just like that and let you simply walk away. Either you are one of them, or part of the enemy. Those who enjoy claiming the moral high ground are in truth more radical than me in their views. For them, there are only absolutes."
He paused and studied me.
"Even if I agree now, you will have to decide where you stand eventually, because no one will accept anything else. They will force the decision upon you, sooner or later. There is no third way in this war, now. For you, there never was."
I looked at him coldly.
"Let that be my concern, Voldemort. I will destroy anyone that dares to try."
"Then you would destroy the world, until nothing and no one is left."
I looked at him in silence, my green eyes meeting his red.
Finally, he shook his head in quiet laughter.
"And people call me insane, child."
He rose abruptly.
"Very well. The future will bring what it brings; perhaps we will fight eventually, and perhaps we will not. I shall grant you the respite you asked for, for now, as much as that is within my power – in return for you vow to not stand in my way, wherever that may be. It does fit with my plans, and I admit, I cannot wait to see their reactions once news of this becomes public. This little struggle for power has become quite a bit more interesting than I ever hoped."
I had a feeling he meant more than just our agreement. And although perhaps I should have been surprised that everything worked out as I intended, I only felt the satisfaction of a plan coming to fruition. Would he try go back on his word and screw me over? Well, of course. If he wanted me out of the way, he would find a way to try, but that was alright with me. I needed to live now.
And who the fuck cared what happened tomorrow, or to the rest of the world.
"Of course, there is the small problem of trust."
But for that, I had an answer ready. I hadn't wasted my last days in Hogwarts losing in wizards chess and playing exploding snap.
"An Unbreakable Vow."
Bellatrix glanced at me sharply. Suddenly, she seemed completely lucid. Her violet eyes seemed to look right through me.
"An Unbreakable Vow, Potter? Do you know the consequences of invoking that magic?"
"He does, or he would not have suggested it."
Suddenly, Voldemort seemed in a hurry. He glanced into the sky and over to the edge of the property, where no Muggles at all were gathering to watch the devastation and the slowly dying fire. Had to be a Muggle repelling charm to keep everyone from noticing. Most likely Voldemort had cast it.
"Bella, you will be our Bonder," he commanded. "We need to be quick. Dumbledore and his Order will be here soon enough. Did you find what you were looking for?"
"Yes, my Lord, everything is ready. I need but another few minutes to carry out the ritual."
He gave a short nod with his head.
"Good. Now, Harry, your hand, if you would …"
And between ashes and fire, my old world burning, under a new-moon sky that was slowly obscured by gathering wisps of black clouds, I slowly extended my arm, and my hand closed around Voldemort's; they who were supposed to be sworn enemies locked in a handshake that would see the world fall. The air prickled on my skin, herald of the arriving storm, soon to break loose over 4, Privet Drive … over the magical world. And they should have seen it coming, they should; but they never did, because they all were blind, blind to their crimes, blind to the consequences.
In the end, Voldemort himself was only a consequence of their society and the war nothing but the manifestation of its state. The magical world was slowly devouring itself, and I refused to be a part that.
– – – – – – – – –
"Will you consent to not intentionally attack me in any way, and keep out of my way to the best your ability?"
The tip of Bellatrix's wand rested on our linked hands
"I will," I said.
A brilliant red flame from the wand snaked around our wrists, once, twice, sinking into the flesh, burning a little, but not too much, and I felt something settle deep inside me. Then it was my turn to ask.
"And will you agree to neither kill me nor order my death?"
His hand twitched a little, but it did not pull away.
A second flame shot from the wand, twisted around the first, joining it, like a fine glowing chain, linking us together, strengthening the connection that was already there. My scar burned fiercely. I was bound.
And, finally, I was free.
– – – – – – – – –
The thunderstorm still rumbled in the distance. By now, the starry sky was almost completely obscured by the clouds. The air smelled like rain. The fire had died down.
I was staring at a perimeter that was spattered in dark stains, appearing black in the night. There was a small cauldron and oddly enough, Vernon's crowbar.
My wand, returned by Voldemort, flared in brilliant light, and from within its shine, she rose in the circle with a nearly sensual grace.
And I saw what kind of ritual she had been talking about.
She looked like Azkaban never happened. Gone where the last remnants of malnourishment and neglect, the slightly hollow and gaunt face, the thinning hair. In its place was the body of a woman who was gifted with a stunning beauty and took care of her appearance. My eyes tracked her movements. Everything she did. Every little gesture. I had been defeated, but it was only for now. I would return to her. And it would be all mine.
Around her, the earth was drenched in red. Her lips were stained crimson, and the colour resembled nothing so much like blood.
A quiet chuckle sounded to my right.
Voldemort. How unimportant.
I soaked up her appearance, and saw what made her one of the most entrancing beauties of her time. She looked much like a dark mirror of Narcissa. I remembered the short meeting at the World Cup two years ago; you could see the likeness. She looked once more tall and aristocratic in her posture, with an oval-shaped face and perfectly chiselled features; just like her sister. Her pale skin and red mouth stood in a delicious contrast to the luscious waves of midnight black hair that framed her face and ran down her back.
The only thing that remained was the glittering insanity that lurked just beneath the surface of her unique violet eyes like a feral beast. But she had been mad before she went to Azkaban, I knew.
All in all, she looked a little bit older than I remembered from Dumbledore's Pensieve, but certainly no less attractive. Added to that was a fact the Pensieve-memory hadn't or couldn't convey – each step seemed ooze the feeling of danger.
A worthy opponent, indeed.
She took a few steps, twirling her wand lazily; apparently satisfied with the outcome of her potion.
"Oh yes," she purred. "That is so much better indeed." Her violet eyes focussed on me. "I thank you very much for your gift, not-so-little-Harry."
I frowned at her, until I spotted the shell of Petunia's body next to her, ribcage crudely torn open with a tool of some kind, leaving behind a bloody mess of broken bones and chunks of flesh.
"You didn't ask me if you could have her," I said.
She scowled at me.
"Didn't I? Oh well. It's not like you had any need for a half-dead Muggle. I almost feared it was too dead to be useful, but the heart was still beating, so I could use it in my potion."
So there was the catch. Admittedly, I did wonder why not all witches and wizards used something like this to achieve eternal youth. I critically eyed the body of my aunt. Shrivelled, wrinkled, a missing heart. Oh, and she was dead, of course. Yes, I could see where that might be a problem for, say, McGonagall, if she was trying to become less wrinkly.
Well, no loss no harm, and Bellatrix looked better for it. So Petunia had been useful for once in her life.
"You're quite welcome," I told her. "Do I get a favour in return?"
Her lips curved into a small, wicked grin.
"Oh, I like the sound of this. What would you … want?"
Her tone suggested everything and nothing. She moved a little closer, and I tore myself away from her gaze.
"I'm sure I can think of something … until we meet again."
It was a promise. I would find her. And then kill her.
"I will offer you something," Voldemort said. It sounded too casual. I narrowed my eyes. He only smiled.
"I'm feeling generous tonight. Aside from yourself, you may pick one person and their closest family you wish to not be attacked either. I then will swear no harm will befall them from my side."
I looked at him strangely until I finally realised. The razor-thin smile showed me what I already knew.
One person, one family, and two best friends.
"And in return, just as I promise reprieve to one, I promise deadly retribution to anyone else following Dumbledore and standing in my way."
Two best friends, and both forwardmost in the war. I felt a surge of anger.
"You bastard!" I hissed
A small chuckle escape him, but his eyes shone in cruel glee, promising to carry out exactly what he said. How do you choose between your two best friends, in the certain knowledge that the one you didn't pick would eventually die? That wasn't a favour, it was a punishment. I knew that, and he knew that I knew.
"As I said, you know me well."
And the stare met me from cold eyes, powerful and without mercy.
"Never forget that everything between us works both ways."
I clenched my wand, suddenly wanting to strike him down where he stood, cut off his head and arms and legs, and was barred from that. For the shortest of moments, I felt the magic hum inside of me as in warning. I had sworn … and almost regretted.
"So which one will it be? The Muggleborn and her family, or the Weasley clan?"
How do you choose one best friend over the other? Stupid, loyal, Ron, first friend ever, and despite his many shortcomings, in the end the least of those that sought to shape me. Hermione, smart, kind, and yet sometimes so blind to realise what was right in front of her, always in danger of not seeing what was, but fitting her view and the people around to what she thought she knew. Memories of five years rushed through me, and I was utterly torn.
And while I stared at the dark lawn and the bushes lining the fence, mere shadows in the night, remembering the day, the answer came to me in a stroke of brilliance.
Isn't it strange how sometimes we see things more clearly when the night is at its darkest?
How do you choose?
"Neither," I said. "I could never pick one over the other, and you can't make me. I'll choose Tonks instead, and her family."
Voldemort stared at me, perplexed.
Didn't count on that one, did you?
I felt actually proud of myself for thinking of it. It was a fair decision for both of them. Ingenious.
Then he shrugged.
"It's your choice. The Tonks' it will be. I'm sure, Narcissa and Bellatrix will be most thankful."
Quite in contrary to his statement, Bellatrix looked like someone just taken away her favourite toy.
Oh, this made it all the better. I smirked at her and she glared back.
One sharp glance and she fell silent. I frowned at her. Her obedience to Voldemort annoyed me, for some reason. She shouldn't be so demure. But with a final twist, she was gone, Disapparated, leaving me alone with Voldemort, before I could think on that some more.
I considered him for a second.
"What have you planned now, Voldemort?"
A thin smile.
"I like a good surprise, I think. Don't linger here for too long, Harry. The wards protecting you and keeping harm out do no longer exist. Once I've left, you'll be on your own."
And then he was gone too, and I was alone.
– – – – – – – – –
I sprawled on the dewy lawn, lying on my back, feeling weary and exhausted. The adrenaline that had surged through my body, keeping me from noticing all my injures had faded. I hurt all over.
I was waiting for Dumbledore to arrive. I wondered why Voldemort hadn't feared meeting him. He had seemed quite certain that the Order wouldn't arrive while he was here. He wouldn't take any chances if he could help it. He wouldn't have stayed if he hadn't been certain. I wondered how he knew.
Another spy in the order? Well, it wasn't my concern, not anymore.
Not caring felt great.
There was only one traitor I had a score to settle with, and he wasn't of any consequence for the Order, having been discovered. Kreacher had played a pivotal role in Sirius' death, and for that, he would die.
I stared into the sky. Shreds of black clouds shot past overhead, driven by the storm, covering this star and that.
A family given names of constellations, and I searched for one of the brightest stars in the night sky. I stared at the blinking dot, so very far away, until it seemed to grow bigger and brighter, and suddenly fell out of the sky –
I blinked and it was obviously no star but something else. The small dot grew in size rapidly, until I made out the shape of a large Horned Owl. In its talons, it carried a small package. Seconds later, it had reached me; it screeched once, sounding annoyed, and dropped off the parcel, already taking flight again with a another disgruntled hoot.
I knelt on the ground, inspecting the box. It was wooden, a dark kind of wood, perhaps cherry, and embellished with a crest on the lid. I recognised the crest at once, despite having seen it only once before.
Sable, a chevron between two mullets in chief and a sword in base, argent.
It was on an old tapestry in a drawing room of a rundown townhouse, depicting a family tree of a line that was almost dead. My mind flashed back to a day almost a year ago. I am the last of Blacks, Harry.
How could he send me something? Had he arranged for it? Why now?
Hoping for some kind of explanation, I opened the box, and was disappointed. The only thing inside, resting on a cushion of black velvet, was a ring. It certainly was a beautiful ring, exquisite craftsmanship the likes of which was hardly found today anymore. It looked old, but still shining and unblemished, undoubtedly imbued with spells that kept the metal from tarnishing. Black and silver were the dominating colours, the centre made up by a single, oval-shaped black stone, cut and polished translucent. Was there something as a black diamond?
Besides the setting, silver was in fine lines interwoven in the stone, forming the family crest, very thin silver strands that possibly made it a signet ring. Small white opals framed the centre stone, and silver was braided in-between. Inscribed on the inside of the ring were runes I had no clue of.
I turned it between my fingers, slowly, back and forth and back once more. The metal was cool to the touch. It looked perfectly harmless, and yet I knew it was more than a simple ring. I opened my fingers and the ring dropped to the ground, rolling a few inches and finally coming to rest at my feet.
I stared down. I shouldn't even be in possession of this ring. It should be Sirius wearing it, but he could not, not anymore, denied the position that was rightfully his.
I had suspected he would leave me his stuff. I had no idea what it all entailed, but clearly, the ring was part of it. He wanted me to have it … and yet, dared I picking up what became mine only due to the death of my godfather?
Even so, I felt this was about more than just accepting it as a gift. It was about accepting a heritage, becoming the last heir to a line that was thought to have died when the last scion was shipped to Azkaban.
Was I ready for that kind of change?
Who are you? I whispered
The night was silent.
There is always something more than what people see, isn't it?
I am … more.
The entirety of the last days flashed past me for a final time, the doubts, the realisation, culminating in a second chance granted because I gave up what until then had defined me, leading me to a final decision now.
Harry Potter would not have made that choice.
Sirius was dead, and Harry Potter had died with him. It was time to let go. Sirius was the life I had been denied. He was the crossroads on which I had stood, and which I had passed, for good or ill. He was gone, now.
And here, in the dying embers of 4, Privet Drive, I finally laid him to rest.
I picked a place in the very centre of the home that I had destroyed because I could bear it no longer, a gauged hole in the earth, created by my wand. There had been no body to bury, no ceremony to hold, and I wouldn't have wanted any. It was just me and him, just like no one but me had understood how he felt, stuck in the place he hated.
It was fitting.
The earth fell, piling up on the wood of the box and soon it was hidden from view, the earth smooth, the hollow gone. I stared at the patch of earth. A last twinge of sadness for everything that could have been, and all that would not be, and then the sorrow was gone. It rested here, together with Sirius, between the ruins of 4, Privet Drive, within my world turned to grey ashes.
And from it rose my new life, forged with the heat of a world burning, a second chance, a rediscovering of everything I thought I knew. Was I ready?
Did I care if I was?
Not really. And which question does that answer? No looking back, only ahead. Harry Potter wouldn't have made the bargain. Perhaps it was time to leave another thing behind.
I smiled and finally, slowly but without hesitating, picked up the silver-shimmering ring, from between the ashes, and pushed it over my finger.
Who are you? I whispered.
And the answer, suddenly simple, a single word to sum up all that I now felt.
I am Black.
Black as the night, Black as Bellatrix and her blood.
And as a couple of rapid cracks sounded throughout the night, the ring flared in dark fire, a sudden burning raced through my body and then there was only darkness.