Dear Readers, First of all, let me apologise for this belated update! I was recently in a work-related accident (explosion - thank the British jobcenter) and decided to take a few weeks away from everything to run off with my best friend (totally worth it). Now that I'm healed, in good spirits and - best of all - totally out of work, you can hopefully expect an update sooner. If you want to keep an eye on what I'm up to, to hear about my life as a starving teenaged artist and to understand why I'm slow, feel free to ask me any questions or stalk my two Tumblrs: 'Angstier' & 'SpellFire'.
This is not the last chapter of TVoV, but we are, of course, approaching an end. x
78 - Run
In the dry, humid air that stood hushed between the pine trees, not a single creature made a sound. Treetops twisted and arched up towards what had to be the heavens and sun during the day, but illuminated in the light of the Elder Wand, they appeared nothing more than ghostly arches of some abandoned church. A natural religion, decided long before mankind. There was no heaven here, in Harry's eyes. Not on this dark night. Not during this dark war.
Night had fallen heavily over the riverbank where Harry stood. He could no longer see anything past the knotted trunks of ancient trees in the colourless light of his wand, their branches high. The surface of the river, too, bore no sign of a bank opposite the one he stood upon. Hours ago, when he had set up his camp here, he had seen a clear view of a meadow downhill and a bend in the river further upstream. All he could see now were spots of ice and frost on the water, shining trough the unnatural darkness, reaching out in the equally as unnatural cold.
It became apparent to him, slowly, that there were Dementors around, lurking just beyond the trees. He could sense their cold presence pressing up against the protective enchantments and spells that surrounded his camp, the magic he had spent hours reciting like an old song. Dementors were, of course, a minor threat compared to many Harry had faced these last few weeks, but he worried about them drawing the attention of roaming Death Eaters. Assuming they knew he was here at all. It was a paranoid thought. He couldn't help it under the prickling of his scar.
Sightlessly, Harry began walking, heading back to the entrance of his tent. He hated standing in the darkness, listening to nothingness, waiting for signs of those dreaded creatures. He tried to remain calm and convince himself that he was safe when he entered the warm tent, but no amount of trying to remember which protective spells he had used helped settle his nerves. He glanced at the magical rooms around him, which reminded him of being seventeen. Only, there was no Hermione here. His lips, also, were sealed, his voice unused in weeks. He had been alone for a long time.
The main room had a stove in the centre, for food and warmth, with a single chair positioned by it. Harry headed for it, feeling grave and wanting nothing more than to rest. A radio played softly from a table nearby, distracting him from the silent terror of war.
"...speculate that this uprising has many early connections to the rise and fall of Gellert Grindelwald," an old man was saying, speaking slowly, thoughtfully. "We witnessed these Dark Wizards emerge approximately three decades ago – approximately when Grindelwald fell. Who among us honestly doubts whether a connection between them is likely?"
Harry had many memories of Grindelwald's downfall and didn't quite appreciate the reminder. He began, tiredly, to wonder just what made Voldemort's fight for the Dark Arts any different. It was the same roots, ultimately. Muggle hatred. Magical supremacy. For power, success, admiration. Voldemort may not have taken over Grindelwald's power, but he had certainly used it to his advantage, telling Harry all the while that it wasn't the same.
Harry shook his head, banishing the thought, and glanced at the stove. He wouldn't think about it now. With a burning scar, he began to make himself tea in an attempt to settle his nerves.
"These Witches and Wizards – these 'Death Eaters' – take sadistic enjoyment in the torture and humiliation of Wizards and Muggles alike. There is no reasoning with these people..."
Although Harry used the radio as a distraction from his own thoughts, it rarely gave him a relief from news and updates on the war. He had been running for weeks, unable to stop, unable to take a moment to process what had happened upon Tom's discovery of his true identity, the discovery of his significance in the war. Physically and mentally exhausted, Harry kept listening to the radio numbly, waiting for a reason to make a change or a reason to stop running. A new voice spoke, a witch who sounded clear and serious.
"Millicent Bagnold, still in her first year in office as the Minister of Magic, says she wants higher security to be placed on the safety of our world and on the safety and protection of all our Muggle neighbours. She says she will not stand down in her attempts to secure the country from attacks until we have fully resisted the uprising of anti-Muggle enthusiasts, who of course began this terror at the assassination of Bobby Leach and the resignation of his father, Minister Nobby Leach..."
Harry filled the kettle and placed it on the stove. The movement shook the sleeve on his left arm, revealing the edge of a crimson mark that Tom had left upon his skin. The Dark Mark. It shone red on his flesh, visible in the light of a nearby lantern. Slowly, feeling nauseous, Harry made his way back to his seat, pushing his sleeve back further. He knew that as long as he had this mark, he would have to keep running. It reminded him of Tom's anger. It reminded him, too, that he wasn't free.
He believed the mark was a sort of seal, a way of tracking him, but couldn't work out what other long-term affects it might have. He didn't know whether it might possess him, torment him, or even kill him with time. All he knew was that it was dark magic, a curse. Closing his eyes, Harry sat back in his chair, feeling hopeless. He wouldn't be able to break the curse without risks. Not until he identified exactly what magic was involved. By that point in time, it might be too late; he was making no progress and could find no way to get rid of the mark besides to cut it off, which he was unwilling to do. So he convinced himself, anyway.
It was a few weeks back when Harry first began to notice the affects of the Dark Mark. He had stayed in the same location for a few days, believing himself safe there, but had found that after a certain point in time, cloaked figures faded in and out of sight behind trees in the forest. No matter where he went, the same thing happened, except the Death Eaters grew more determined with time. He kept an eye out for them nervously wherever he went and timed their arrival when he dared, finding that they were making great progress. These days, he had about sixteen hours until they found his trail. It was exhausting him fast.
A screaming kettle woke Harry from his thoughts. He got up and let the sleeve of his robes fall back over his arm. He reached the stove, turning the kettle off. When he made tea, the heat warmed him up and calmed him down, but it couldn't stop his mind from wandering over darker thoughts. His movements felt mechanical, the radio dull. He supposed it was a blessing that being constantly chased by Death Eaters meant he was commonly engulfed by a natural instinct to survive. To keep moving. To sleep. To eat. There was nothing left to do but keep fighting.
Although Harry only slept for about three hours that night, he awoke feeling wide awake. It was daybreak, so he got up, giving himself no time to think. By the time he headed out, packed up, and walked to the edge of the forest, he could sense figures moving behind the trees, just out of sight and earshot. The Death Eaters had grown strong. Harry was thankful of his inability to sleep. Thankful, too, of the Dementors, who had only just moved on for better prey in other towns and cities. They had worked as an extra deterrent from Death Eaters during the night.
In an attempt to discourage witches and wizards from fleeing to forests when they became known enemies of the Death Eaters, Voldemort had released a variety of dark creatures into many of the main magical woods in Britain. Harry, of course, tried his best to avoid the harmful beings, but found that even when he moved to Muggle forests, the Death Eaters found him. It was this, initially, which lead him to believe the Dark Mark drew their attention. Today, after seeing the Death Eaters in the misty morning light, Harry decided to try something new. He headed for a Muggle village, far from his regular hideouts.
If he trusted that the Ministry were at all secure, he would have travelled to a safer location in another part of the country by now, but the Ministry, as well as the Order, was falling. If he trusted that Voldemort's name, too, was not tabooed by Tom himself, then he would have cursed it to himself in burning anger, in broken desperation. It had been months since he escaped Voldemort in the headquarters. There was no place for him to go, nobody for him to turn to. No matter where he was, he couldn't shake the sense of foreboding that following him with the prickling of his scar.
The Muggle village Harry choose to take shelter in was small and full of nothing but families. He arrived on the outskirts of it, taking a winding dirt path past a few quiet houses, seeing no one. The Death Eaters would have a hard time believing he was here, because this didn't look like the kind of place where magic would ever be accepted. The small, cramped houses had almost unhealthily neat little gardens, with tiny windows for each neighbour to peek out of in curiosity. Harry headed for the inn, noticing a large amount of villagers already heading in for the pub.
The building itself was cramped, with a strange, angular corridor leading in. On yellowed walls, paintings hung forward awkwardly, leaning in and seemingly staring down at him. It distracted him momentarily from the main room up ahead. A surly-faced young woman stood behind a large bar, serving drinks and speaking loudly whilst glancing at what all the other workers were doing. Harry headed for the bar, asked for a room, and got the keys without being asked his name. When he handed over the money, the woman gestured towards the stairs.
"You'll find the room on your right, once you hit the landing," she said.
When he arrived in the room, he didn't hesitate to began using protective enchantments around it, knowing it would last him at least the night. That would give him a few more hours to research in peace; he was still on a hunt to find out what magic Tom had used and why. He levitated a rucksack of books onto a desk, letting them spread out and organising themselves accordingly. With it, he produced a quill and parchment, glancing towards the nearest window to be sure no Muggle neighbours noticed. It was going to be another long day of silent reading. Harry slid into a seat, determined.
It had been weeks since Harry last stayed in a building, and probably as long since he spoke to anyone. He had fallen out of contact with the Order almost as soon as he fled Voldemort's hideout, hearing only scraps of information from events happening behind the main news. The Death Eaters were, of course, watching over every known member of the Order of the Phoenix with avid enthusiasm, waiting a sign of contact from Harry so they could summon Voldemort and start a fully-fledged war. Harry wouldn't allow it to happen. The Order was safer without him and he couldn't bring himself to see those people anymore.
It was after hours hunched over notes, flicking through old books and pulling up research papers on certain areas of magic when Harry finally decided to give himself a break. He couldn't work out what Tom had marked him with yet. It was sunset already and he was starving, so he dropped his quill, locked the room, and headed downstairs with the Elder Wand up his sleeve. He planned to make his visit into the pub as short as possible. When he reached the loud ground floor, however, he found the place was packed with merry drinkers. He headed for the only available seat; besides a red-nosed, sour-faced old man sitting at the bar.
"What would you like to drink?" the same woman from earlier asked from behind the bar.
"Mead," Harry answered hoarsely, knowing they'd have no wizarding drinks, "and something to eat. Anything."
She nodded, pouring him a glass with her eyes fixed on the other customers before she turned towards the kitchen, repeating his order. It would be a while before the food was ready, she said. Harry nodded, gladly accepting the mead she place before him. It was after the first sip that he became aware he was being watched. The old man sat staring at him. He didn't greet him in any way, but something in his movements told the old man he was listening.
"Long day, eh?"
Harry glanced at him then. The man's beady eyes were fixated on him, dazed from alcohol.
"No more than usual," Harry answered.
The man laughed. It was almost as gruff and frog-like as his speaking voice. "Where did you come in from?"
Harry tried to think of an answer, but for the life of him, he couldn't remember the name of a single Muggle village nearby. Not in any direction. He sipped his mead slowly. "I'm just passing through."
The old man watched him. He hadn't fallen for the answer. "Do you have family here?" he asked. "Business?"
He was accusatory, evaluating whether or not Harry belonged here. It was then that Harry knew the villagers had spoken of him, asking curious questions due to a general dislike of strangers. Especially quiet, oddly-dressed strangers. The fact didn't bother him.
"I don't have family here," Harry answered, "nor any particular business."
"Ah," the man said, his frog-like voice drawn out in cold awe, "I've seen a few like you. A few strangers."
"Recently?" Harry asked. He was interested, suddenly, so he paused.
The old man didn't answer soon. He grimaced slowly, thinking.
Thinking it over, Harry nodded once. It wouldn't have been Death Eaters, surely. Maybe other wizards passing through. This man was certainly old enough to have seen enough wandering wizards in his days to recognise more. Harry sipped his mead.
"Now," the man began slowly, his slurring voice strong, "what could bring a person like you to a place like this?"
"I'm just passing through," Harry answered again calmly. He told himself again it can't have been Death Eaters. "I told you that."
"You told me it, yes," the man agreed, "but you're telling a lie."
Harry gave no response; he didn't care too. He did, however, stare back into the man's beady eyes. He saw a look he was familiar with; the man was too drunk to really know what he was saying. Even if, in spite of that, his instincts were sharp.
"You see that mother and child over there?" the old man asked, gesturing over his shoulder.
Reluctantly, Harry tore his eyes away and glanced at a toddler, who was running up and down the pub floor, away from his mother. The child threw his hands out in determination to keep his balance, grinning widely and laughing all the way.
"What about them?" Harry muttered.
"Do you know what that child will grow up to be?"
Harry shook his head gently, eyes still fixed on the toddler.
"That boy will grow up to be a fine, smart young man," the old man said, "rightfully wary of strangers like you. Not trusting them, see. Not giving them the chance. Now, what kind of person would you be to encourage strangers into our parts, knowing that?"
"There are others here?" Harry asked again, looking up this time.
"There will be," the man said. "There always is."
Harry knew this man was not a wizard, nor even a wizard under cover, but somehow, he still believed his words. Perhaps the Muggle had good intuition, or perhaps this place was cursed. All Harry knew was that his scar seemed to be prickling more than ever and it can't have been from paranoia alone. Letting go of his mead, he reached up a hand to feel his forehead.
"What's that you got there?" the old man asked.
"Nothing," Harry murmured. "An injury. A scar. I should really get going..."
The old man's eyes narrowed. Then he nodded, as if he understood. "You watch yourself, now."
Harry was barely listening. The pain in his scar was definitely getting worse; it began burning more deeply, stinging more than ever. By the time he stood up and turned away from the bar, ignoring the old man and the food he had ordered, his head was pounding in repetitive stabs of pain. Blind to what he was doing, he made his way upstairs and just about closed and locked the door of his room in time, clutching at his head. He tried to assure himself the timing of this was fully random, but he shook in uncertainty and had to sit down.
He perched on the edge of his bed, head in his hands, clutching his skull and breathing slowly, heavily. How might he escape death now, he wondered? How might he avoid the upcoming war? He was convinced there was no way out of it. Voldemort was hunting him as surely as Death Eaters hunted the Order. There would be no way to stop him, no way to hold him back, so why should Harry keep running, he wondered? The only answer he had was that the rush of adrenaline he constantly got from running made him believe, perhaps ignorantly, that he had a chance of escape.
Deluded, tired, and unable to form any sensible thoughts, Harry couldn't stand the pain of his scar any longer. He lay back in the bed, his head spinning so fast that the ghostly movements made him feel sick. He knew what was coming, because even as he lay with his palms pressed to his eyes, he could see Tom's face in a memory. The moment he left the headquarters. When he had seen wrath overtake eyes that had looked upon him so lovingly for so many years. The memory burned into his already aching skull. Through the pain, he began to drift off to sleep.
Instead of a dream, Harry was met with a terrible vision. He was standing in a cold, dark room, his breath visible before his slightly parted lips, strong and heavy. He was irritated. The feeling of anger travelled from his chest down into his arms, threatening to take hold of his mind and cause him to curse each and every Death Eater who dared to bring him news of failure. Only, the Death Eater who stood before him, cloaked in flowing robes of black, was calm. Lestrange showed no sign of fear, but stood before his Lord bravely. Voldemort preferred it this way.
"Have you any news?" he asked Lestrange delicately, staring into his eyes. Lestrange did not look away.
"Yes, my Lord."
"Of the Potters, Black mentioned?"
"Of both the Potters and the Longbottoms."
For the first time, Harry smiled, cruelly, madly, as if sharing a private joke.
"It is the Potters alone who interest me, Lestrange..."
The Death Eaters surrounding the room, pressed to the shadows, visibly stirred. Harry glanced over at them, growing annoyed again. His eyes scanning their masked faces. Who among them dared to question his choice once more, he wondered? Who, moreover, was so ignorant as to overlook the importance of the Potters?
"My Lord, it is my belief that Dumbledore has warned the Potters and the Longbottoms of our interest in them. That is why I am here."
Harry turned to face Lestrange, his eyes wide. Wonder found him, holding him still.
"Dumbledore has warned them?"
"Yes, my Lord," Lestrange confirmed. Harry could see hungry hope in his eyes, a desire to bring him invaluable information. "Which leads me to believe that he is fearful."
Harry smiled in wonder, understanding what this meant. They could now begin their attempts to find the Potters, because they would be kept in a single location. The news was a confirmation that Dumbledore knew the Potters bore an important child, which was a great triumph, one that filled him with ecstasy. He would send the Death Eaters out immediately to begin gaining information and –
A great wave of terror caught Harry, pulling him out of Voldemort's mind. He stirred where he lay, his heart hammering, his mind racing to thoughts of the Death Eaters finding him. He wasn't meant to chase the Potters. He had to leave the inn, now, before they found him. His head pounded worse than his heart, dizzying him where he sat. He tried to get up, but –
"Is something wrong, my Lord?"
He was still standing before Lestrange in the cold, dark room. Paused, frozen, staring into space. The smile had slipped from his face. He couldn't remember what they had spoken about. The scene he had just witnessed in his own mind distracted him. A vision. He had caught visions similar to this in the past, but never one this strong. Never one so directly about Harry's thoughts. Although he did not believe in divination, he did believe in his own power. Intuitive feelings as vivid as this could not be ignored, after all. Not even by a Dark Lord as powerful as himself. He thought it over slowly...
Under the shield of a moment of calm contemplation from Voldemort, Harry fell back into his own mind. Sickness and terror greeted him cruelly and he stumbled to his feet. He found his balance, knowing immediately what he must do. If he had seen into Voldemort's mind, as he didn't doubt he had, it would only be a matter of minutes, seconds, before Voldemort saw into his mind too. It sent Harry into an immediate panic, likely worsening the strength of their connection. Shaking, close to vomiting, he began to pack up his trunk. If he didn't leave the inn now –
An unnatural burst of jubilance shot through him, cutting off the thought, causing his eyes to widen and a grin to break across the faces of both Lord Voldemort and himself. He knows exactly what is happening now. Shakily, terrified, he turned around a few times and started packing. The books, the quills, his research notes. Moments passed and Harry could see wonder in the eyes of the Death Eaters. He had let Voldemort into his mind through paranoia alone and had informed him where the inn resided.
The trunk was ready and Harry's natural instincts kicked in; he had to run. He cursed the trunk to leave his sight and threw the Invisibility Cloak over his shoulders, drawing it in close. Out of the room, down the stairs; the main room was packed with people. It can't have been ten minutes since he hurried upstairs – the old man was still sitting at the bar and his meal was only just being brought out. Terror and adrenaline motivated Harry and kept him strong through the headache that pounded on and on. Past oblivious Muggles, headed straight for the exit. Until something blocked his way.
Three Death Eaters, brutal-faced and resolute, wove their way into the pub. They were stalled by a sea of Muggles, but searched for him nonetheless, their eyes scanning every face in the tavern. They had wands up their sleeves, under robes neither three had bothered to change out of. Travers, Lestrange, and Mulciber had been sent by Voldemort in haste. Harry edged towards them until he was less than eight feet away, waiting for an overweight father and daughter to clear the exit of the pub. He did everything he could to not curse the man out of the way. His heartbeat grew painful in his chest.
Inches away from him, Mulciber skulked by. Harry could hear every breath that escaped his lips and could see his bloodshot eyes shift from one point to the next.
"I reckon he's here, you know," Mulciber rasped, addressing the other Death Eaters. "I really do."
"It's not wise to summon the Dark Lord so soon," Lestrange snarled, "don't get ahead of yourself."
The plump Muggle in front of Harry was waiting for his daughter to leave first, wary of the three wizards in black. They seemed almost reluctant to enter the room ahead. Reluctant, moreover, to let the Muggle go. Just leave, Harry thought. Just leave now...
"You don't sense it, though?" Mulciber asked. "You don't feel like he's watching us?"
Lestrange didn't answer. He crept forwards, his eyes fixed on the bar up ahead.
The Muggle father was heading for the door, which Travers now blocked.
"Excuse me," he murmured.
Travers acted like he hadn't heard the Muggle, but blinked slowly.
"I'm trying to get out," the man said, louder this time. "Just me and my daughter."
"No one leaves," Travers spat.
Travers quit glaring ahead and let his eyes bore directly into the plump Muggle's face.
"No one," he breathed, "leaves tonight."
It was in that moment, staring at Travers' cruel, familiar face that Harry realised just how terrifying these men were as his enemies. He realised, too, what Voldemort's plan was. There could be no exception to the rule that any trace of Harry's presence would be found out and documented. There would be no limit to the extent Voldemort would go to to hunt Harry down personally and track him until he was captured. Numbed with the realisation, Harry knew what he had to do. He gripped the Elder Wand tightly, moving forwards.
As if driven by the force of Harry's movements, the Muggle man grew nervous, impatient. He held his daughter closer.
"You can't keep us here," he said. "Move out of the way!"
Irritation caught Travers. His glare worsened. "I'm warning you, filth. Stay where you are."
"Filth?" the man repeated. "You dare to call me filth in my town?"
Mulciber glanced back at the conversation dumbly, a thick smile creeping onto his face. Travers took a step forward. "I'm warning you, Muggle..."
The little girl hugged her father closer. "Daddy!"
"Move out of the way!" the Muggle man shouted at Travers, who withdrew his wand. "Move out of my way, or I'll –!"
Harry hexed the Muggle with a shot like a gun. He flew back from Travers' curse with his daughter in his hands, but didn't crash; they cowered in a corner, screaming. The pub joined in, Muggles ran, and the Death Eaters' eyes widened over their withdrawn wands. Harry had seconds before they'd hunt him, but in a whirl of inspiration brought on by the fight, he pulled off the Invisibility Cloak. The Death Eaters turned. They could not believe their eyes.
"Why don't you start a fair fight?" Harry dared them in a cold, quiet voice. "It's me you're looking for, isn't it?"
That was the end.
Lestrange and Travers didn't fight; they knew what was coming as surely as Harry did. He reached for the Elder Wand, watching time slow, and threw a curse a the door – not out of fear, but because they had reached for their Dark Marks. Shadows clouded their vision as the Dark Lord was summoned and Mulciber let out an almighty yell of: "HE'S HERE!"
Harry didn't remember leaving the pub, but in the next instant, fresh air greeted him and he was immersed in darkness. As well as pain. He felt as if his head was going to explode, or at least keep him immobile, but his feet kept on hitting against the ground and his body kept him running, thrilled by terror. The Death Eaters we at his heels, but they didn't pick a fight, for Voldemort was already on his way. In wonder and determination, he tracked Harry's movements. He was moving ever closer. They could all sense it. They could hear him.
Streets and streets with no sign of escape – that's all Harry saw as the village flashed by. Lights, windows, roads, Muggles screaming – all he knew was that he had to keep running to draw the Death Eaters from this village. He didn't mind running, he almost liked it, if it weren't for his head, which burned as if it had caught fire. There were lights flashing by his heels and ahead of him, which he at first didn't understand. Until he realised they were trying to stun him. He laughed.
His head only grew worse. He only saw more of Voldemort's mind, a whirl of colour, another side of the village. A vision of the same Death Eaters and Harry. Moving ever closer, gliding dream-like through the houses, flanked by ten loyal men and women who might one day wish to call themselves Knights. Only, one Death Eater was growing impatient. Harry saw him with his own eyes. Smile alight on his face, wand held up.
Harry span on his heels and was gone. Spinning a thousand miles an hour, trying to make it through a tiny space to escape Voldemort and his Death Eaters. When he arrived on a hard, rock surface, hundreds of miles away from terror, he was still blind with pain and fear. He could still see Voldemort staring into the faces of the Death Eaters, hearing wildly of what they'd seen. Only, he wasn't angry. He grinned unstoppably and spoke quickly, telling them what they must do, ordering them to begin a new stage in their plan. He sent them charging around the village, sending up spells, laughing madly until –
"No," Harry whispered to himself. He stood up on the rock, shaking madly, blind to the sea that crashed and churned tens of feet below the cliff. "Not them..."
As much as he tried, he couldn't pull himself out of Voldemort's mind, not fully. He could see the Death Eaters' movements and feel the pleasure Voldemort took from hateful vengeance. Tom considered tonight an accomplishment, because although the Death Eaters hadn't succeeded in capturing Harry, they had gained something invaluable in the process of chasing him. Within the minds of hundreds of Muggles were memories. Preserved in skulls that Tom would soon gut out for information, these Muggles had unknowingly witnessed Harry's movements...
Panicked and sick with pain, Harry started walking in a ring with the Elder Wand in hand, hoping to protect himself. He knew he had made it in time, but only because the Death Eaters were too busy raiding the village to hope finding him anywhere else. Having made a sort of routine in the months since fleeing Voldemort's headquarters, Harry set up camp quickly and with minimal effort. He crashed on the nearest chair the moment he was safe and inside, breathing heavily and clutching his skull between his hands.
As much as he tried, Harry couldn't to make sense of what had happened tonight. It didn't make sense to him that fear alone had opened up the connection between Voldemort's mind and his own, but it seemed the only explanation – at least for why Voldemort found out where he was. Voldemort had worked out precisely where he was and what he feared: that the Death Eaters would discover him, like the Muggle man predicted. The only thing Harry could make sense of, as he sat cramped and nauseous on a chair by the wood stove, was that Voldemort wasn't the only one who gained invaluable information tonight.
Lestrange had mentioned that the Potters and the Longbottoms being placed into hiding. This meant only one thing: that Dumbledore had finally heeded Harry's advice. He was protecting the Chosen One, Potter or Longbottom, from Voldemort's furious grasp. It was a massive relief for Harry, because he hadn't been to the Order headquarters in weeks – not since he initially fled – and he needed to know that they were defending themselves from the upcoming conclusion to this war. Especially as he couldn't go back them and warn them himself.
It was difficult for Harry to assure himself that he was safe now. Although he could no longer see into Voldemort's mind, he had thought himself safe at that inn, so who could say Voldemort wasn't spying on his mind right now, tracking his every move? Harry's heart pulsed painfully at the thought and he sat up straight in his chair, opening his eyes slowly. His scar had stopped burning, but he felt ill with worry and fright. Even silence, even peace, was not enough to convince him that the Death Eaters weren't lurking beyond the canvas walls of the magic tent and that Tom was not connected to every single thought that crossed his paranoid mind.
With all that had happened tonight, what was Tom thinking, Harry wondered? What made him believe that the vision he had caught of the inn, that moment of pure divination, was nothing more than luck, coincidence, or his own power? A few months ago, Harry would have mocked Tom for his vanity, because this was his most dangerous flaw: he believed himself so great that he forgot magic, too, could be a strange and powerful art that few understood. The connection between Tom and Harry's mind was not coincidence, but a new discovery in magic yet to be fully understood...
Thoughts were cramming and clouding Harry's head, which had finally stopped hurting as much as it did upon Voldemort's arrival. So, with all the remaining will and energy he could muster, he got up and headed for his bed. In moments, he drifted off to sleep, but he was haunted by thoughts of the Death Eaters tracking him down and finding him before dawn, as well as memories of the night's events. Terrified faces, Muggles screaming, and Voldemort's euphoria. It's all your fault, he thought to himself. It's all your fault...
Harry awoke that morning in a burst of terror. It was still dark around him, but he felt suddenly wide awake, sweating where he lay. Memories of his dreams crossed his mind on and off, always just out of reach, and filled him with a sense of dread. He became aware, then, of voices. The ratio was on. Harry could see the pulsing, magical light that swirled in its dials.
"... reports that no one has been arrested for the crimes," a witch was saying seriously, speaking in a quick, low voice. "The Minister speculates that the attack was run by a powerful anti-Muggle association, perhaps in connection with the reign of You-Know-Who..."
Harry became very still, listening. It was at least five in the morning, because he programmed the radio to switch on at that hour, to wake him up long before dawn. He thought the witch's grave voice may have influenced the nightmares he had had. What she spoke about kept him paralysed.
"...evidence suggests that the seventeen Muggles killed were tortured under the use of advanced dark magic. The news has so far outraged the majority of Ministry officials interviewed in the late hours of last night and continues to shock the general wizarding public..."
Harry sat up with a jolt, looking around for the radio, which was the only source of light. Transfixed, he got out of bed at once, gripping the Elder Wand close. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. He edged towards the radio, listening.
"Aurors entered the scene late last night and struck with open spellfire on the wizards initiating brutal attacks on Muggles, but captured none responsible. Alongside them,Obliviators took control of the village, cutting off contact to Muggle officials in an attempt to contain the hysteria evoked by the anti-Muggle activists. The Muggle Minister has been fully informed of the attack, but understands this is an issue of magical importance..."
The Death Eaters had done this. Harry knew it the moment he awoke, because the dreams that haunted him told him so, but hearing this solemn witch explain everything confirmed it and made it feel more real than anything. He had seen their faces. He had heard their screams. He had suspected Voldemort might raid that village, scouring it for information on where he was, but killing those Muggles wasn't a necessity. It wasn't needed. It was nothing but a warning for Harry personally.
"... Obliviators are attempting to erase all trace of the attack amongst the Muggle residents of the village, but are struggling to explain the seventeen deaths that arose in the course of the evening. In what can only be described as a mass-murder brought on by Muggle hatred, the wizards responsible have shocked our world at large, striking fear in the hearts of many..."
As Harry stood alone in the cold, dark tent, his eyes transfixed to the swirling dials of the radio, he knew it was his fault. Even if he had predicted Voldemort's brutality, however, he could not have stopped the Death Eaters from killing. The fate of that village had been decided the moment Tom saw into Harry's mind. All those Muggles, the old man, the mother, the bartender, were dead because they had seen him. Their blood, all their suffering, was on his hands and there was nothing he could have done. Harry couldn't believe it as he stood alone, letting the witch's voice on the radio wash over him.
Numbed with the realisation that Voldemort's threats would only get worse, Harry knew there was no way to run. He couldn't go back to the Order. He couldn't visit any town or city, Muggle or Wizard, because his assumption that this war was not as brutal as the Second Wizarding War was wrong. Voldemort would stop as nothing to drag and flush him out of anywhere he dared to hide. With this Dark Mark, with these visions, anyone Harry so much as passed by in an attempt to hide was going to be slain and tortured for information. It wouldn't end until Harry gave himself in. Tom could chase him for all of eternity, if he had to.
The radio was still on, but Harry was too pained to listen. He began pacing around the tent, collecting what he needed, packing things away. It was six in the morning and he had to move once more. There was no time to eat, no time to let exhaustion get the better of him. He switched off the ratio and ran, setting up camp halfway across the country just so he could rest. All the while, he wished he could get one good night of sleep, but he was haunted by the faces of the Muggles who had unknowingly become involved in something bigger than them. Something far beyond their control.
For a long time, Harry felt as if he was in shock by what had happened. He couldn't decide what this meant for him and what he should do now, but every day he thought about the Muggles that were murdered and wondered what thoughts were going on in Tom's mind now. He listened to the radio closely, holding onto every story spoken of, waiting for a sign that there were movements in other parts of the war. No news he heard was ever welcome, however. It angered him that the Order of the Phoenix wasted so many souls by sending them into battle and angered him, too, that Tom had killed so many innocent people in his name.
Harry found himself searching for news of Death Eater movements on the radio. At first, it was just to get a general idea of which areas of the country to avoid in hope of stalling another chase, but soon, slowly, he began listening onto unrelated stories. News of strange attacks, of wizards captured, of Death Eaters escaping the Aurors' grasp. Although Harry was powerless when it came to helping the Order or willingly contributing to either side of this war, he was interested in what the Death Eaters were doing, and knew precisely who had committed which crimes and why. He felt, eventually, that it was his duty to keep track of them. So he listened.
As further weeks passed and still Harry was unable to overcome the horror of having lead seventeen Muggles to their deaths, just listening to Death Eater movements whilst staying hidden and moving every day wasn't enough. That was why it interested him when, sitting alone one night, glued to the radio, news of a nearby Death Eater sighting caught his attention. Without truly knowing why, Harry decided he should investigate what was happening. So he grabbed his Cloak, grabbed the Wand, and headed from his tent.
The Death Eater was said to have been spotted by a wizarding village directly by where Harry had set up camp. It was too perfect an opportunity for him to miss; he wandered the cobble-stone streets beneath the Invisibility Cloak, cautious all the while. It was dusk, late summertime. It appeared, at first glance, that all was still and calm – or at least that the witches and wizards living here had heard the news and stuck to their locked houses. It wasn't until wandering the same street three or four times that Harry found what he was looking for. A common, miserable little pub where two people were causing a scene.
"I'm warning you!" a witch was shouting, brandishing a broom and glaring at a cloaked wizard. "We don't need trouble, you understand? Get out of here!"
She was speaking to a young wizard, the known Death Eater mentioned on the radio. Harry crept towards them, staring from across the street until he was close enough to see the grin on the young man's face, who was stunned with disbelief that this short, portly witch could be throwing him out. He threatened her by reaching for the wand in his robe pockets, but they both knew it was childish play. The witch wasn't remotely amused by it. Her grimace worsened.
"Stay out of my pub!" she said again. "Or next time, it won't be a warning!"
"Suit yourself, Muggle-lover," the Death Eater breathed, "but there will be more of us."
She backed away after this, slamming the door of the pub. Harry saw heads turn within, but the portly witch headed straight behind the bar, wand and broom in hand. The next thing he knew, the young Death Eater darted down the street, head low, cloak drawn. Harry followed him.
What happened next was slow and dull, but Harry followed the Death Eater for a long time, taking each winding path he took, making sure all the while that he wasn't detected. He thought the young man might have sensed his presence as they trudged through the marshy outskirts of the wizarding village, but it soon became apparent that this wasn't the case. This Death Eater was patrolling the entire area nearby, keeping an eye out for signs of Harry's presence, not yet knowing whether he was here at all.
This could mean only one thing. Harry thought it over as he walked with the Elder Wand drawn, his breath pressing against the Cloak and his eyes fixed on the back of the young man's head. The Death Eaters knew that Harry was around, so Voldemort had sent young recruits to patrol all nearby towns and cities, lest he should miss another vision with details on Harry's whereabouts. The reason why this wizard's name was mentioned in the radio in particular was simply because he was a rather poor, rather obvious young Death Eater. Causing havoc where he should be discreet.
Harry decided, after a long time stalking the young Death Eater, that he should really head back. Any sign of Death Eater activity in a nearby town was a strong enough sign to motivate him into leaving. From where he was, he could walk back to his hidden camp, so he did so without hesitation, wondering all the while whether the Curse that Tom had placed on his arm, his Dark Mark, was growing stronger. Compared to Voldemort reading into his mind, this was again a minor threat, but was still one that he thought was best not to ignore.
Harry became so absorbed in thought and was so unfazed about the young Death Eaters' search for him that it came as a shock when, upon reaching the outskirts of his magically concealed camp, he sensed someone watching him. The feeling started as nothing more than a fleeting thought, a passing feeling, but the more he walked, the more he sensed it. So he froze. He listened.
Had his boots made a noise on the damp, muddy field, he wondered? Or had he underestimated the young Death Eater's ability? There was definitely someone watching him, someone waiting in the shadows, and who would be foolish enough to follow him without yet summoning the Dark Lord in fear and awe?
Instinctively, Harry kept walking, but curved around the camp and walked in the other direction, as if lost. He made a point to let his footsteps make noise, but not too obviously. Once he walked for around ten minutes, leading whoever was watching him into a nearby wood, he let his footsteps fade and stepped to the side of his previous path. From there, he caught a clear view of the young Death Eater creeping through the woods, his wand drawn. Harry's scar still wasn't burning.
It occurred to him that this young man wasn't an official Death Eater, but a recruit bearing no Dark Mark, too reluctant to report back to his superiors. He might not even have known who Harry was, nor why everyone was searching for him. Regardless, Harry knew he wasn't an innocent man. He knew how witches and wizards were initiated into the Death Eaters' ranks. So when the young man passed him by and when he began following him. Silently, undetected. He felt no reluctance.
Harry's thoughts seemed to slot into place mathematically, leading him to a conclusion about this situation that made him grip the Elder Wand more tightly. He was gaining on the young man, who's eyes and ears were still alert to sights and sounds around the forest. He had lost track of Harry. He slowed, glancing around nervously, and it became clear what was on his mind. The only option he had left was to contact a higher-ranking Death Eater, telling them of what he had witnessed. Except, Harry had other plans. This young man would not be returning home to the Death Eaters tonight.
Carelessly, calmly, Harry removed the Cloak. The young man heard the movement.
There was a shot of green light, a muffled gasp. The young man's eyes widened, the air in his ribcage making a notable 'thump' when he hit the floor. Then silence.
Harry stared at the corpse, wondering what sort of life the boy had lived moments ago. His heart was strangely calm. It seemed, to him, that all of this was perfectly right and far beyond any point of remorse or pain. This is how things were meant to be. Death Eaters verses him. Muggle tortured, Muggle killed, Death Eater sacrificed. It was only fair.
Harry didn't bother to send out any taunting signal that he had murdered this young man. Nor did he drag the body into any sort of hiding place or bless it with any greetings for Death. Soon enough, Voldemort's followers would figure out this young man was gone. Someone wandering these woods would easily find the body. By that point, Harry hoped to be long gone, so he simply walked away.
Back at his camp, he packed up all of his things, removed the many enchantments protecting the surrounding area, and Disapparated. Across the country, he felt no safer than he did before, but no more in danger either. He spent the night alone, contemplating the deaths of that Muggle village, wondering numbly whether killing Death Eaters might wash the blood of the innocent from his hands. It didn't make him happy to kill that boy tonight, nor did it make him feel secure, but it was fair. That's all Harry knew. It was fair...
He went to bed calmly that night, but supposed it was no surprise at all when he awoke feeling as if someone had taken an axe to his head.
Voldemort was enraged to hear about the murder. He knew that Harry was the one responsible for it; the young man's corpse had been found in the woods half a mile out from where he should have been. Who else could have lead a Death Eater to their death in that precise location? Who else, moreover, would be smart enough to take advantage of an ignorant, young recruit... Harry could feel every thought and feeling that passed through Voldemort's mind that morning. He could feel every irritated reflection and could tell exactly what scared him the most, because in his anger, their connection grew stronger. It fascinated him for hours...
If this is how Tom reacted to a single murder, how might he feel if Harry took revenge for all seventeen deaths he had caused, he wondered? Harry relished in the thrilling idea, realising this was the first thing that made him feel genuinely moved in days. If Voldemort dared to kill innocent men and women in his name, to threaten him, then he would respond to that merciless cruelty with his own perfectly reasonable revenge. He would defend himself with all the knowledge he had gained on the Death Eaters over the years.
Sitting in his isolated tent, obsessing over the thought, Harry decided it's what had to be done. He was calm, safe, preoccupied...
For every death that Lord Voldemort caused in his name, Harry was going to kill a Death Eater.
When the decision was made, Harry couldn't decide where to start. This wasn't because of fear – in contrast, he had never felt so calm about such a major endeavour. What he struggled with, above all else, was deciding which Death Eaters to kill off to cause the most damage. There were, of course, many people he would have liked to see dead, but many of them were obtainable, protected under the protection of Voldemort and the Death Eaters, or even the Ministry itself. No, Harry knew he had to find an open target, someone who would hit deep. Someone Voldemort would truly miss.
Since he had stood by Tom's side for so many years, making observations and helping devise plans involving almost all of the Death Eaters, Harry still knew which followers circulated certain areas of the country or around certain people on their missions for the Dark Lord. So it wasn't hard, once he made his decision to hunt the Death Eaters, to know exactly where certain individuals might be. Tom may have taken this into consideration, of course, changing the Death Eaters' tactics in caution, but there were certain wizards whose jobs could not be changed, no matter how valuable they were to all other operations. Harry, moreover, knew them by name...
Amongst these most important wizards was, of course, the leader of the Werewolf movement, Gavin McDarline. Mass murderer, Ministry foe, and prideful supporter of the Wizarding Supremacy movement – assuming that enough Muggles, Mudbloods, and blood-traitors were thrown to the dogs as a reward for this loyalty. Harry had known McDarline for years, had worked alongside him, so there was not a flicker of doubt in his mind that this man deserved an inevitable fate. With the least amount of restraint imaginable, Harry travelled to London early one full moon, intent upon chasing the Werewolf's trail.
He found Gavin McDarline with a pack of Wolves outside the same pub they always visited before sundown. They were shouting and leering into dark alleyways and up towards the so-far moonless sky, sounding cheerful despite the fact that they had already gotten themselves chucked out of their favourite place to meet. They often enjoyed having a drink in the pub to calm their nerves in preparation for the night up ahead of them. Bartenders in every dingy, cheap wizarding pub across London knew about it and knew what to expect; many of them decided to reject the pack before they even came in. The Wolves got too excited at the idea of fresh blood, flesh, and bones to break.
Voldemort made sure to assign them fresh victims to punish under each full moon; enemies, moreover, who could not afford the risk of the Ministry's protection. Scams amongst traders, betrayals amongst his own followers, a change of heart or refusal amongst vital associates; all of these treacheries were met with a punishment. Muggles, too, were hunted down and killed in times of peace, but this was easy game. It had become a known fact amongst Londoners involved in the magical world that if you heard the cry a Werewolf during the dead night at the full moon, there was no saving your poor soul.
Gavin McDarline was surrounded a pack of five wizards, some of them young, some of them old and hungry with years' worth of bloodlust. Without reason, Harry thought about Nott as he stared at the Werewolves from a shadowed corner, waiting, but he brushed the thought out of his mind, drawing the Cloak in closer to his body. Nott's black hair and shining eyes were nowhere to be seen. Although Harry couldn't hear, at first, what the Wolves were saying, it became clear to him that they were moving. So he followed.
Down the winding streets of Muggle London, heading for the outskirts of the city, the Werewolves grew restless and excited for the night to fall. Harry followed them from a good distance, glad of their movements, because it would weaken the magic of his Dark Mark. His heart began beating more quickly as he walked, his wand drawn, but it wasn't in fear of the Werewolves' power. The sun was setting fast over this dismal city; the moon would soon raise fresh Hell.
Laughing and cackling in daunting, sick pleasure, the Werewolves began to howl. None of them were yet transforming, but they had caused such an uproar amongst themselves that they couldn't seem to help it. Even the Death Eaters who joined them minutes later, wands withdrawn, did not look comfortable nor pleased to witness their joy. It only made the Werewolves more wild.
"Tonight, London will be in the power of the Death Eaters, lads," someone shouted in hoarse excitement, "and we are hungry!"
Soon after this, they began their case, quickening their pace towards their destination. The movement confused a few and split up the group. Harry took his chance.
He walked towards the Death Eaters from the shadows at twice his normal speed. Adrenaline coursed through his veins, but his face remained calm, as did his composure. Gently, elegantly, he removed the Cloak, placing it in his pocket. The Death Eaters' heads turned when they heard his soft footsteps, but something in the way he presented himself stopped them from fighting. He was their Second Lord, after all, and no amount of Voldemort's hatred could make them forget it on instinct.
Harry lifted the Elder Wand calmly, cleanly, with admirable precision. When Gavin McDarline turned to look at him, he slit the Werewolf's throat.
The Death Eaters were stunned. Not by magic. Not by power. Gavin McDarline was falling to his knees, gaping up at Harry with blood clogging his throat, but all else was still. By the time the Death Eaters and Werewolves inhaled a single unanimous breath, Harry reached into the other side of his robes and produced his Mask. His Horcrux. His greatest chance of escape.
He was given a farewell of a hundred flashing lights and the crackling of lightning as the Death Eaters threw spells his way, but he had already spun on the spot, Disapparating from the heart of London. Spinning through space at a thousand miles an hour. This is when time sped up.
The moment Harry landed on solid earth, his scar burst with unimaginable pain. He shook from the rush of murder and in fear of Voldemort's wrath, knowing perfectly well that the agony encapsulating his skull could only get worse. Since the Death Eaters had used their Dark Marks to summon Lord Voldemort to London, Harry had only moments before he would arrive. There, he would find the corpse of Gavin McDarline and understand at once what had happened.
Staggering blindly, Harry felt his way through the magical protection that surrounding his camp. Once he entered the tent, he knew he was safe, but he made a point nonetheless to shut off all the lights, determined to conceal his location. He stumbled towards his bed, clutching at his aching head, which felt as if it might burst open. What he saw next was not a sight from his own eyes, but a vision into Voldemort's furious mind. Tall buildings around him, their windows all masked, a circle of followers surrounding a corpse...
"Who amongst you here saw him?" Harry asked in a hiss, eyes boring into the skulls of those nearest him. Only, it wasn't his own eyes glaring. Nor his own mouth speaking. "Who among you saw his face?"
"We all did, my Lord," came an answer from one, a Death Eater who cowered and shivered from the shadows.
"Pray, do tell me," Harry breathed, his anger growing wilder than ever. "Who did you see?"
"I... I don't know who it was, my Lord."
Harry was disappointed. His eyes swept those gathered around him, searching for a liar. A rat, perhaps, or traitor, or imposter amongst them. The Werewolves were crying out in pained, crazed anguish. He took a step further towards the cloaked Death Eater, his reddened eyes reverted to slits.
"Who did you see?" he asked again, his voice now more deadly than ever. "You may doubt your own eyes, Crabbe, but you know, truly..."
Crabbe shifted uncomfortably.
Before he could answer, a Werewolf cried out, "It was one of your own!"
Slowly, Harry tore his eyes from the Death Eater.
"I saw him," the Werewolf explained hoarsely. "It was your closest follower, before he put on that Mask. He walked right up and slit Gavin's throat! Now you're surprised? It's betrayal!"
"Is that so?" Harry hissed.
"You set us up!" the Werewolf shouted, kneeling down by the corpse of his leader. "You should have known the only thing keeping the Werewolves happy was McDarline's faith in you!"
The Werewolf was hysterical, standing up to the Dark Lord with progressive bravery. It intrigued Harry, who turned his full attention to him, doing all that he could to not dare him into battle.
"My Lord," began Lestrange nervously, "the moon, it's–"
"Now he's gone, who do you have to command, eh?" the Werewolf demanded, actually daring to threat the Dark Lord. "How will you control us, seeing as we know your game now?"
Harry could have laughed. He allowed himself a slow, hateful baring of his teeth to taunt the frantic Wolf further. "Is that how you see it?"
"My Lord," Lestrange tried again, "I –"
Harry held up a delicate hand to silence him, his eyes fixed on the circle of Wolves.
"Our allegiance never belonged to you," the Werewolf spat, glaring at Lord Voldemort with no fear. "Our allegiance was with him. No amount of foul wizarding supremacy could change that. No amount of leading alongside treacherous scum –"
There was a flash of green light. Someone cried out in fury, but no one moved, no one dared do more. The Wolf crumpled to his knees beside his leader. The others became frantic and Lestrange demanded his Lord's attention, but Voldemort was merciless. One Werewolf, he noticed, had closed his eyes in loyalty, but did not look behind him.
"Fenrir," he greeted, delicately lowering his wand, "have you nothing to say in response to your fallen brothers?"
The Werewolf shook his head once, but moved no further. "No, m'Lord..."
Slowly, creating an illusion of calmness, Harry relaxed his muscles, straightening up. The four Wolves who remained alive and standing were frozen. He realised, irately, that he must explain himself. He prepared a speech, ignoring Lestrange, who was visibly uncomfortable.
"You have lost a valuable leader tonight," he said, "but that was not our doing. You see, we had a traitor amongst our own, as I am sure some of you are aware."
Fenrir nodded slowly in the silence that fell, this time opening his eyes, as if curious, fearful. "I may have heard a rumour..."
Harry bowed his head in agreement, fury worsening his glare. He tried to hide it, to remain strong, but he knew what consequence the death of their leader might do to the Werewolves. The murderer must have known it too, he mused. Harry... He clenched his wand more tightly, his nostrils flaring.
"It would appear," he carried on delicately, "that a change in leadership is required amongst your kind, Fenrir. Wouldn't you agree?"
"Yeah," said Fenrir slowly. "Yeah, I reckoned so, m'Lord..."
"Let us not waste time before the moon rises," Tom breathed, sure of only one thing. "We have business to attend to tonight, but you needn't worry; you have Lord Voldemort watching over you tonight..."
Lestrange breathed a sigh of relief that didn't seem far from the lips of other Death Eaters. In a whisper, he said, "Thank you, my Lord..."
Fenrir glanced back at Gavin McDarline, who lay by his heels. A look of understanding crossed his face. Tom may have missed it, if Harry were not stuck in his mind, watching, thinking. It was this fact which, in a moment of understanding, shook Voldemort out of his usual composure. He felt, for a moment, the aching of Harry's skull. Felt, too, a feeling beyond anger. A feeling, quite simply, of triumph.
Tom glanced up, responding at once to his Death Eaters' panicked voices. Moonlight was breaking out across the sky, illuminating the white walls of tall buildings, causing disturbance amongst the beasts before him. Making them howl, making them shake...
Something in the instinct to fight broke the connection into Voldemort's mind. Harry jolted awake, gasping for breath, and found himself lying on the ground beside his chair. He cowered and tensed, bringing his knees up to his head, which he was clutching in an attempt to endure the stabbing pain that tormented him with every beat of his racing heart. It was impossible to make out what was real or not in the darkness. Harry reached around for the Elder Wand, trying to defend himself from imagined horrors.
"Nox!" he breathed.
The magical light burned his eyes. He blinked furiously, breathing hard, and tried to make sense of what had just happened. He had never had such a strong vision into Voldemort's mind. It had felt as if he really was Tom, which was an oddly frightening feeling, because he couldn't control anything that had happened. Numbed by pain and feeling strange to be in his own head again, Harry forced himself to stumble to his feet. His scar kept burning all the while.
He could still feel Tom. That was the first thing Harry noticed as he tried to find his balance. Any strong emotion Tom felt, every particularly harsh stab of anger and significant sight before his eyes flashed across Harry's mind in the minutes it took him to stagger towards his bed. It lead him to the conclusion that the more he angered Tom, the more he opened up the bridge between their minds and souls. What this meant to him, he was so far unsure.
He became aware, slowly, of how much time passed since he was last conscious and how very tired he had become. His limbs ached as if he had been running a great distance and he was drenched in sweat. The vision into Voldemort's mind was still so fresh and so daunting that it made him feel weary and weak. Any thoughts he had now, any strong emotions he may feel, were at high risk of making their way to Tom's mind. Harry collapsed onto his bed, trying to shut it all out.
Tom was still there, but the visions faded. Harry almost felt comforted by the feeling of someone else present. It was almost like not being alone. Darkness pressed in on him, holding him close. Before he knew it, he drifted off to sleep.
– X –
When he awoke, Harry's head still ached. That was the first thing he noticed, before realising in a moment of confusion that he was also alone. He got up quickly, giving himself no time for sober contemplation. The kettle was on, tea ready, and he checked the time. It was early morning still, seven O'clock. He began moving things around, packing his bags, putting his notes in place. There was no time for him to lose before moving, because his scar was still prickling strongly, warning him of Voldemort's anger. He drank his tea quickly, burning his mouth, before leaving the tent. There was no one in sight outside, even as he took down his surrounding enchantments and left.
In a new part of the country, by the White Cliffs of Dover, Harry settled. He secured the location, hid his own presence, and set up camp again. It had become a mundane routine, but one he had to keep. There was no time for rest. Inside the tent, he piled his notes back onto his desk, flicking through them hastily. He felt calm, but some sense of nagging urgency ate away at him nonetheless, driven by the strength of his vision from last night. He tried to brush away the thought. It could take weeks, even months, to track down his next target, so he didn't have a moment to lose.
By this point in time, the Werewolves would be in an uproar about the death of their leader and stuck in a state of confusion about Voldemort killing another one of their brothers. Harry wanted to take advantage of their anguish and do everything he could to weaken the foundations upon which the Death Eaters stood strong. With Gavin McDarline freshly killed, he felt determined. He felt like this was what he was here to do: to use his knowledge of the future as an advantage. To strike with revenge against Voldemort. It was to make his life worthwhile.
Harry sat on the edge of an old leather chair and flicked through his notes, seeing lists of names he had written down as well as scribbled descriptions on what what he remembered about the Death Eaters' movements. In red ink, he wrote about Voldemort's most important followers and how their jobs and beating hearts contributed to the safety and strength of the others. Voldemort, surely, would try to hide and shield his most valuable Death Eaters now, but Harry was determined to find a mistake in his security. To study old material and find a perfect place to strike.
His head was killing him. Time seemed slow and sluggish, his own motivation fading, but it was Voldemort's anger from hundreds of miles away that distracted him most. Harry tried all he could to ignore it, to use it as a reason to work harder, but it scared him. If he had caught a vision into Tom's head last night, who was to say that the connection ever stopped? He pressed his fingertips to his forehead, thinking hard. He needed to find out who to strike next and needed it quickly.
A few hours into his work, Harry was working on a profile on Raphael Lestrange, who he noticed had become one of Voldemort's closest followers. He had seen Lestrange in almost all of his recent visions, leading him to suspect that he had taken a higher status than Nott as one of two remaining Knights, but only because he was not a Werewolf. The problem Harry had, the last nagging issue, was simply that he feared hunting Lestrange would lead Voldemort to suspect he had seen into his mind. Lestrange, moreover, might not have much of an affect as he needed. Harry felt dizzy. He put a kettle on. He thought the issue over slowly, considering the immediate affects of such a murder...
The kettle was screaming again. Harry placed his quill on the table, got up, and headed towards the stove. Mundane routine. He was stuck on Voldemort's new favouritism of Lestrange with a kettle in hand, when he suddenly froze. A strange idea struck him.
There was one way he could figure out who to strike next... The connection between his mind and Voldemort's was growing stronger, so who was to say, after all that had happened, that he shouldn't take advantage of it? It was why he had thought Lestrange was the best target. There was nothing he wanted more than to find the most important Death Eater and track them down in hope of scaring Lord Voldemort. Where was a better place to discover the most vital, most protected followers except through Voldemort's own mind? Through a long period of time, Harry could find someone far more valuable than Raphael Lestrange...
The idea washed over him slowly. He forgot about the tea he was making and set the kettle back down on the stove. It was an overwhelming concept, one that he knew could go horribly wrong, but the only thing that had ever held him back from venturing into Voldemort's mind in the past was Ron and Hermione and his own fear. None of that applied to him anymore. He was alone and no longer a scared teenager; for the first time in his life, he realised this advantage over Voldemort could be the one thing that saved him.
Harry was stunned, dazed. He headed back to his desk, searching for a blank scrap of parchment. With no Ron and Hermione to hold him back this time, he could begin gathering information on Voldemort's thoughts from the inside, working out exactly how to take him down. He couldn't stop his quill from shaking as he wrote. Spying into Voldemort's mind meant he would have to find a way to strengthen their connection and he thought he knew how to. It became stronger with every powerful emotion. If Harry could just latch onto that and find a way to concentrate...
He wrote down everything he knew about practising concentrated thought, then stopped. He realised, swiftly, what sort of magic he would need. It was the one branch of magic Tom didn't believe in, the one form of magic that even Harry doubted most of. Divination. Harry dropped his quill and strode to the nearest bookshelf, tearing up the tent for any books on divination and prophetical studies he owned. As much as he doubted Divination, there was one thing he did know. Entering a meditative state was going to lead him directly into Voldemort's mind.
The process wasn't quick. Since Harry had avoided Divination for almost all of his life in general disrespect for it, he had to start with staggeringly basic information and work his way up. The only thing that kept him focused was the fact that he had almost nothing else to do. Between moving and disappearing from every location day in and out, avoiding the Order, hearing stories on news that he was utterly disconnected to, he focused all of his energy on practising Divination, promising himself that breaking into Voldemort's mind would be far more rewarding than it was risky. He was waiting for any excuse to begin hunting Death Eaters again.
"...have reported disappearances in the southern region... speculations have lead many to believe that these Dark Arts fanatics, these Death Eaters, are standing against Muggle equality with utter determination... the recent death of a Muggle-born child has distraught the public this morning..."
Harry listened to the radio almost every day, wondering often why he tortured himself over news he could not influence. News of attacks and disappearances worsened every day and from the dark, secluded tent where he hid, he couldn't do a thing to stop it. He read Divination books for hours every day, stopping off at wizarding villages whenever he could to collect more, but as much as he tried, he couldn't force himself into any meditative sate. He couldn't clear his head from anguish.
"...a group of over seven Death Eaters raided and took over the house of a wizarding family in the early hours of this morning... shocking news of the movements of several anti-Muggle enthusiasts has made the front page of wizarding news today... Aurors are undertaking a full-scale search in hope of finding the location of two young witches, who disappeared in Diagon Alley this morning..."
It took over a month before Harry forced any kind of vision from Voldemort's mind. He was sure, however, that it was more to do with coincidence than his attempt at mediation; Voldemort was particularly vulnerable that night, weakened by his own paranoia. It was the first thing Harry felt as he sat alone in his tent, his eyes closed, breathing slowly: Voldemort's head was full of paranoid thoughts, accompanied by constant, pulsating feelings of dread. Tonight, his followers were hunting something truly valuable...
As much as Harry tried, he couldn't figure out what was bothering him. He knew that Voldemort was scared and he tried to focus in on it the best he could, but the feeling was faded. He was left with an understanding of Tom's state of mind, but nothing else to work on. His hammering heart and a sense of desperation pulled him immediately out of a peaceful state of mind. He was alone.
Harry cursed his own luck, feeling suddenly obsessed by what Voldemort could be dreading and why. It was almost sunset and Harry found himself growing hungry by the time he forced himself to stop his failing meditation. His scar had begun prickling, leading him to believe that Voldemort was also angry. But why? Harry moved towards the stove, throwing the flame on with a flick of the Elder Wand. He began making food. He flicked on the radio. It was there that he heard the news.
"Aurors have secured the outskirts of Azkaban Prison, where Erwin Dorn, a convicted Death Eater, is being moved to Nurmengard Prison later this evening. Minister Millicent Bagnold has initiated changes in the location of several of Azkaban's inmates in hope of limiting Death Eater communication within Ministry custody, a response of the recent conspiracy involving an attempted escape..."
Harry froze. He had heard a story like this before... Years ago, he had crafted a plan alongside Tom to fake a Death Eater escape within Azkaban prison for this very reason: to scare the Ministry into thinking that the prison was too open for communication. The plan was to force the Ministry into sectioning off individual cells for prisoners so that if they ever wanted a Death Eater out, they could break them out before any Dementor or Ministry worker suspected a thing. It was a disappearing act, an attempt to create a back door out of Azkaban.
Somewhere along the line, the plan had clearly changed, but Erwin Dorn wasn't being moved just because he was a German Death Eater. If the Minister was concerned about communication within Azkaban's walls, it meant that for whatever reason, the old plan had become useful to Voldemort. The only thing on Harry's mind, however, was that he was sure the Death Eaters would attempt to capture Erin Dorn before he arrived at Nurmengard prison. It was why Voldemort was so nervous now – because all of this was part of a plan that Harry himself had created.
Harry dropped what he was doing and began pacing the tent, his ears focused on the radio, which had stopped reporting the story. A desire to stalk the Aurors moving Erwin Dorn captivated Harry, forcing him into a state of agitated urgency. He decided that Dorn was going to be his next kill. It was a smooth decision, one he felt immediately thrilled about. So he moved his location, bringing the tent to a fresh area and securing it from Death Eaters. Feeling strangely calm again, he then Disapparated from safety, intent on chasing the Aurors.
The coast of England was dark and cold. Harry noted it when he arrived at the sea shore, glancing around. Up ahead, there would be an Auror base, where wizards always went before entering or exiting Azkaban prison, miles off the coast. It was a sort of checking point, completely invisible to all Muggles and Wizards who stood upon this land. Harry stepped over clumps of thick, wet sand, holding the Elder Wand close to him and drawing up his hood. Tom had spoken him through this part of the plans years ago. In a moment, there would be a flashing light. That was all. A light and the Aurors would land...
He was conscious, fully, of the Dark Mark burnt into his left arm, but he did not fret. If the Death Eaters sensed his presence, he hoped they would attack him so he could take them down first. If they, however, grew scared and summoned their Lord, he hoped it would create a fight not only to alarm the Aurors, but to disrupt the Death Eaters' attempts to save Dorn from the hands of the Ministry. Harry thought the matter over slowly, calmly. He didn't know why none of this affected him at all. He thought he felt and saw shadows moving on the shore up ahead. There were muffled voices, a speculation.
"... taken these along with us," someone was saying, a Death Eater. It was Avery. "It's a bit of a huge commitment to just get one wizard free, don't you think? Unless he plans to get more of us out of there."
"We can't be sure. Don't question it, anyway."
"I can't help it, can I? He sends us all the way out here... Not much else you can think, really."
Silence fell. Harry moved across the field calmly, forgetting the Invisibility Cloak. He had the Mask, too, in his possession. No dangers here could make him in the least bit worried.
"He's angry, anyway," the second voice told Avery. "With Dorn, I mean."
Harry assumed the Death Eater nodded. A dark hesitation drew on.
"Our Lord hasn't said much, but... Dorn knew things. Strange things."
Harry could see the faint light of wands now, from where the two Death Eaters stood a good distance from the sea, waiting. They were looking further up the beach, in the opposite direction of Harry, towards where the Auror station was supposed to be.
"I reckon he found out about a spy," the second Death Eater continued. "Someone really valuable."
The Death Eater was nervous, clearly. He thought over how wise it might be to confide in Avery.
"You know why our Lord is angry. You know how he was betrayed... Some of the others think Dorn knew something about our Second Lord."
"Don't call him that," came a third voice sharply, making Harry stop. "Whatever he is, don't call him that."
There were more Death Eaters concealed in shadows, their wands unlit. Harry walked slowly, watching the second Death Eater shift where he stood, uncomfortable with the conversation he had begun. Harry became aware of just how vulnerable these wizards were. They didn't suspect that anyone was watching them.
"Well, whatever you want to call him, what could Dorn know about him?" asked Avery. "No one's seen any sign of him since that Werewolf bloke was killed."
"Dorn was there, they say."
Harry drew up the Elder Wand. He was going to murder these men.
"So they say. They say Dorn saw something that –"
A flash of light interrupted his words. Harry would have thought it came from a spell, only there was no noise, no sign of destruction. It had come from somewhere else.
"What was that?" someone asked hurriedly.
"It's the sign," said Avery excitedly. "Come on!"
"No – not that!"
The Death Eater was panicked. Harry drew to a complete stop.
"Over there," the wizard continued. "I saw someone. I can't see, this light –"
From direct exposure to the light, the Death Eaters were confounded. Harry reached into his pocket and took out the Invisibility Cloak. He threw it over his shoulders, heading in the direction of the station.
"I tell you, I saw someone!"
"There's no one out here. Don't be so stupid."
"I know what I saw!"
"Go look, then."
Harry continued walking. The Death Eaters' voices were fading and they were falling behind, so distracted by seeing his silhouette that they forgot about the mission ahead of them. Harry took full advantage of their fear and confusion. He could see new signs of wandlight, this time much further up ahead of him. At lest six wizards were walking in a line, guarding a figure with no wand who had to be Edwin Dorn. Harry's pulse quickened and he headed forwards.
The Death Eaters were following him, but far behind in fear. They were all waiting for the Aurors to walk just a little bit further from the station to ensure that reinforcements didn't attack from the stout tower. Harry had other plans. It did not matter to him where he attacked Dorn, merely that he got to him in clear sight of both the Aurors and Death Eaters. Up ahead, he heard a voice.
Dorn was singing. Not in any pretty way, but in a maddened, stressed holler, perhaps in mere celebration for the escape he hoped to be a part of in a few short minutes. The closer Harry got to him, the more clearly he heard words of indistinguishable German. He was so close now that he could see the grey, serious faces of all six Aurors. They didn't make eye-contact with the prisoner. They didn't so much as show any sign that they could hear him.
"Get ready," came a faint voice from behind Harry. Avery was taking the lead of this mission. "We have about a minute before we're clear..."
Harry had other plans. He quickened his pace, heading straight for the Aurors. They turned at an angle and he began following them from directly behind. It was almost too easy. Dorn was right in front of him. With no fear, not a single hesitation, Harry raised the Elder Wand once more.
There was a flash of green light that seemed to make the whole world halt.
Aurors flinched, cowering away, but they were too late to react. Dorn had already been hit, his body immobilized. By the time his corpse slumped forwards, his body limp, Harry was stepping back to the stunned, panicking Death Eaters who were hidden in the darkness. The Aurors began to panic with cracking spells and flashes of constant, blinding light.
To Harry's astonishment, the Dark Mark shot into the sky. It burst into sight in an explosion of emerald stars, blinding all who looked at it and immediately illuminating the ground beneath.
"What are you doing?" someone screamed, a Death Eater.
"This ain't our kill, but it's sure as hell our mission!"
"They weren't meant to know that!"
Spells hit the earth and exploded where they landed, sending dirt and magic flying in all directions. The Aurors and Death Eaters could see each other perfectly and this initiated what would soon become a fully-fledged battle. Harry ducked and dived away from it, but refused to leave. The Dark Mark alarmed him.
"What's our Lord meant to think now?" roared Avery.
"I don't – "
"He'll think it's us!"
"I didn't fucking kill him!"
"But – "
"Summon him, for Merlin's sake!"
Harry straightened up. The Death Eaters made to reach for their marks. He span on the spot, Disapparating from the scene with a 'crack!' that was masked in spellfire.
Harry's heart hammered fast when he ran for the entrance of his tent. A curious, alarmed feeling that was not his own took over his mind, influencing every move he took. Voldemort had been informed. He didn't yet know what had happened. Quickly, desperately, Harry began assembling a place to lay down, to stay safe. His head was beginning to pulsate in nauseating pain. He crouched on the floor, cowering and clutching at his head, until –
Unbearable pain, far beyond anything he could prepare himself for, found Harry and took over everything. He tried to shout in agony but found he couldn't hear his own voice, couldn't feel the fingers that clutched and clawed at his own skull. Voldemort was very, very angry. Somewhere between Harry shattering his own soul more and committing a crime that sent the Dark Lord into furious panic, Harry had opened up the connection between their minds more than ever. When he opened his eyes, it was to see a room full of Death Eaters who flinched and stared in terror.
"M-my Lord," said a voice, "it may not be what you think –"
"Who amongst you has betrayed me?" Tom demanded in a rage. "Who amongst you was cowardly enough to warn the Order, or worse people still, of the delicate plan I had set for Dorn's escape?"
The Death Eaters seemed intent upon getting far away or else standing perfectly still, as if doing this and avoiding Tom's eyes might save them from punishment. Only Rabastan Lestrange was brave enough to speak.
"My Lord... everyone you sent upon this mission has returned unharmed and w–"
"Regardless, Edwin Dorn remands dead," said Tom scathingly, itching to punish all those who spoke. "Whoever dared to pass on information as a rat without my knowing, I shall punish with no mercy..."
The Death Eaters grew tense. None of them dared to say more.
Hours passed before Harry left Voldemort's mind that night. He saw everything that happened, from the Death Eaters' descriptions of who they had seen to the reports that came in on Harry's whereabouts now, which were full of very little information except that he was still untraceable. Tom, throughout all of this, remained enraged. His anger was so strong that when Harry eventually regained consciousness, his head was in too much pain for him to bear. He just about made it to his own bed, where he crashed down and fell asleep, escaping the connection between their minds.
Harry didn't see into Voldemort's mind as clearly that night as he did upon McDarline's death, but it nonetheless took over his entire mind, to the point where he was sure he was Tom. When he awoke, it was hazy, but one thing became clear to him: the more he killed, the more it opened up the connection between their minds. Whether this was because Tom was angry or because his own soul was battered and shattered the more he murdered people, Harry couldn't be sure, but he knew this was his best way into Voldemort's mind. To become a threat, a constant leak of information Tom couldn't fix. To become an unstoppable nightmare...
It was decided, from that night on, that he would have to kill off more Death Eaters to test his own theory. Harry was not against the idea, nor did he feel a moment of hesitation before gathering his thoughts and his notes. A group of common Death Eaters had been spotted lurking in the streets of Diagon Alley, across from a pub, in a house that a wizarding family had abandoned in fear of the war. Harry found them with ease, noting the flickering of a small fire behind the house's windows the moment he arrived in the street. It was going to be a series of very easy kills.
He snuck into the house underneath the Cloak. The Elder Wand in hand, moving slowly. When he listened to their conversations, he gathered no valuable information, except that they had grown brutal, as always. By the time Harry made a noise to scare them, initiating a chase, it was already too late for the three young men; he killed them with ease, three flashes of light, and with no sense of regret in the slightest. Some of them, he killed from afar, others he was close to, so he saw the way their eyes widened and their skulls cracked against the wall. All three of their corpses, however, slipped to the floor exactly the same.
Harry left in no hurry. It could be hours before these men were found dead and by that point, he might be prepared for Voldemort's shock, fear, and fury. He decided to put himself in a meditative state in preparation.
Due to the insignificance and confusion surrounding his kill, he saw into Voldemort's mind with no interruptions that night. A clear, strong line of thought that didn't leave him blind in pain. His skull ached, but he was able to forget about it for minutes at a time, concentrating hard on Tom's state of mind. He was angry and that was all Harry saw for hours as the Death Eaters attempted to make up for the three wizards they had lost, but it was what happened throughout the following week that interested him.
He appeared to have strengthened the bridge between their minds, or else had mastered the art of mediation. Every time he lulled himself into a deeper momentum of concentration, he saw into Tom's mind more clearly than ever and with minimal pain. It started off with simple, flickering thoughts that he knew he may have imagined. Paranoid thoughts, accompanied by constant, pulsating feelings of dread. Tom was worried. He was genuinely scared and the feelings lasted for what appeared to be the majority of his waking hours.
Harry thought, at first, that his recent kills had merely shaken Voldemort, but the more time that passed, the more apparent it became that he was constantly terrified and furious about the idea of a rat. This surely had to be because of losing Harry; Tom was convinced, solidly, that there were more spies amongst his followers, more dangerous threats than he ever knew. Harry had expected this to happen, but what he didn't suspect was that Voldemort already considered Nott to be a suspect.
For hours each day, Voldemort's thoughts flickered through lists of his followers faces, names, histories, and rank amongst Death Eaters. He was always wondering who would betray him next, always considering who had a motive and who may, in any way, have reason to begrudge their Lord. What alarmed and unnerved Harry most of all wasn't that Nott was simply in danger, it was that Nott's involvement with the Werewolves is what made Tom suspect his disloyalty. The other Wolves were still stuck in turmoil from the death of their old leader, Gavin McDarline.
As soon as he discovered this, guilt washed over Harry and convinced him wholly that it was his own fault if Nott was now in danger. He knew Nott had quit the Order of the Phoenix, because they had discussed the matter in the past and Nott had promised him that if things went wrong, he would walk away and keep his family protected. The more Harry saw Tom's obsession with his own security, however, the more he became convinced that if he didn't send Nott a warning, he might slip up and reveal old information to Voldemort that was better kept a secret.
The only problem was, there was no way for Harry to warn Nott without putting him significantly more at risk of arousing suspicion. For weeks, he worried, hoping that Voldemort's distrust might fade, but it never did. So in desperation, he decided to do something that he hadn't done in months: he contacted the Order of the Phoenix in hope of catching Dumbledore.
The Order had changed since Harry last saw them. He knew this not through having visited them, but through watching their movements from afar and realising, in his attempt to contact Dumbledore, that they had changed locations. When he arrived at a country inn run by a wizarding family in Kent, he was allowed in only when someone from the Order recognised who he was.
"He's clear, Rogers," Dorcas Meadows said from a shadowed table, looking calm. She stood up, her eyes fixed on Harry. The bartender, Rogers, was unsure. "He's one of us. An associate of Dumbledore's."
"You're – you're sure?"
Meadows eyed Rogers fixedly. "I'm sure."
Rogers glanced at Harry a few times, trying to nod. He backed up, towards the bar, and tried to act normal, but he was clearly nervous, grabbing the nearest glass and rubbing it with a grubby cloth.
"This way," said Meadows in a low voice.
She lead Harry into a back room of the pub, where a kitchen, bathroom, and staircase resided. On the way there, she remained perfectly calm, almost as if she expected Harry's arrival. There was something grey and somber about her expression, a look Harry had become used to through years of fighting wars alongside the Death Eaters; this war was changing her, giving her a new strength. It wasn't a positive change.
"We're just down here."
Harry nodded, saying nothing. There was a second staircase underneath the first, this time leading downstairs. They marched along the steps, until Harry was greeted with the sight of a new hideout. It was a dimly-lit basement with boxes and crates stacked up on every wall. Only two other wizards were stationed down here: Rubeus Hagrid and Elphias Dodge.
"Jonathan," Dodge greeted, sounding pleasantly surprised. "I haven't seen you in a long while!"
Harry nodded stiffly, clearing his throat. "The same goes for you."
The old man smiled, his hat lop-sided and his eyes showing the same grey sorrow.
"What brings you here today?" Meadows asked him, making her way to a chair on the large table.
Harry wasn't sure where to start. His eyes swept the room once more, searching for other people in vain. "I came to speak to Dumbledore. Is he around?"
"Not today, I'm afraid," Meadows answered. "He'll be here over the weekend, if –"
Harry shook his head at once, interrupting her. "It would be too dangerous. I shouldn't even be here now; I'm risking an invasion."
He saw Dodge wet his own lips nervously. Even Hagrid, who was seated, set his beady black eyes on Harry and shifted nervously.
"You must have something important to report, then?" suggested Meadows, her eyebrows knitted together seriously.
Harry hesitated for only a moment. He supposed this might be his best shot at sending any kind of warning to Nott without catching Voldemort's attention, so he inclined his head once. "Yes. I have a message... When you next see Dumbledore, any of you, tell him that Christopher Nott is in danger because of the work he did with us months ago."
Meadows nodded reassuringly. "I'll tell Dumbledore. Or Nott himself, if he shows up first."
Harry trailed off, realising slowly what Meadows meant.
"Is Nott still working with you?"
She nodded in agreement, looking confused. "Yes. You thought he left?"
Harry didn't answer. A feeling of dread filled him, making him realise just how dangerous the situation was. Nott was still here. He was so much a part of the Order of the Phoenix, in fact, that Meadows suspected she'd see him even before seeing Dumbledore. With Voldemort already on his trail, Nott was at a huge risk of being found out now. Harry felt sick at the very idea.
He looked up slowly, wordlessly. Meadows had seen his worry. He decided to leave, before any Death Eaters tracked his location. He tried to nod at all three Order members.
"Thank you for your time," he murmured. "I wish you good luck in your fight..."
With that, he left. None of them said much of a goodbye, perhaps because they felt the same sense of looming fear that he himself was wrapped up in.
When the weekend passed, Harry hoped Nott had been given his warning with no complications, but there was, of course, no way of him knowing. He kept his mind focused on maintaining his own safety and trying all he could to break into Voldemort's mind. The plan was to keep an eye on Death Eater activity whilst taking time off from his kills, to ensure that he knew Nott was safe before he made his next move, but he was beginning to catch visions into Voldemort's mind several times a week now, often with extremely valuable information...
One night, barely a fortnight since sending Nott a warning, Harry caught a vision. He was lead into it by a feeling of growing anxiety and excitement that was not his own: Voldemort was nervous. Tonight, a group of selected Death Eaters were going to gather in a small hideout near the centre of London, intent upon waiting for dawn to catch sight of a Ministry official who would be crossing the city. Harry caught glimpses of the Death Eaters before Voldemort, who spoke of their plan to capture and kill the witch in question. It was an extremely delicate, important operation. What Tom feared most of all was that a rat may leak information.
What Voldemort didn't know was that the moment he understood the situation, Harry began moving. He packed his things, went through his regular routine and eagerly awaited the hour in which these Death Eaters would gather. He would waste no time before taking them out, even if it left Voldemort hours to regain his followers' strength and send new witches and wizards after the Ministry official in London. That didn't matter to Harry, who knew that barely anyone from the Ministry was innocent these days. He would chase the Death Eaters down just the same, assuming he was well enough and they were foolish enough to try.
That night, Harry broke into the small Death Eater hideout beneath the Invisibility Cloak with as much ease as ever. The only difference with tonight was that upon chasing the three Death Eaters who were stationed here, one of them locked themselves within a room. Harry was busy killing the first two and was oblivious to the problem initially. When he remembered, however, where the last Death Eater had gone, he stepped over the slumped corpses of the first two and headed for the door, wondering idly why this wizard had not summoned his Lord.
Within the room, Harry found a most curious sight. The Death Eater hidden here, cowering in a corner, attempted to defend himself, but with a wave of the Elder Wand, Harry disarmed him. He had become too used to these easy fights, too bored of the weakness of Voldemort's youngest recruits. Upon turning to leave, however, Harry spotted a note. On a scrap or parchment, besides a quill that had shaken heavily upon its use. Harry edged towards the note, his curiosity growing. There, in trembling writing, was a message:
The Omen of Fair Verdict has found me, my Lord.
None shall be spared.
Harry didn't burn the note, nor even take it away. This was a man's dying words, after all. So he left it. He walked out of the hideout, aware that in a few short hours, Voldemort would realise his followers' silence meant more than just no news.
It had become so routine, so simple for Harry to commit these murders that when he returned to his camp that night, he felt nothing. No change in his heartbeat, no dread for Voldemort's inevitable fury. He felt empty. It wasn't until he saw Voldemort's thought process in hours that followed that he felt any sort of emotion. He realised that because he had taken advantage of Voldemort's fear and had sent him into a frenzy of wrath, Voldemort was convinced now more than ever that someone amongst him was leaking information. He began punishing those closest to him, initiating a full-scale search on everyone who had been involved in this mission.
Tom believed someone was leaking information because he couldn't believe that Harry had worked all of this out on his own. He was driven into an abrupt hysteria of paranoia, worried that if Harry was making such insane progress, things might only get worse from this point on. So he was trying to stop whoever weakened his security. He couldn't possibly know that it was his own fury, his own fear, that gave Harry the information he so willingly took advantage of. Harry couldn't imagine how dangerous it was to provoke Voldemort so much. He couldn't imagine, either, what consequences his powerful attacks might have.
To no surprise, Voldemort continued to obsess over Harry's whereabouts, but he was making very little progress. Harry changed location with each new sunrise and the only pattern the Death Eaters could find in his movements was that before every single murder he had committed, he appeared to disappear completely for hours. This was because Harry was totally mobile in those hours, moving from place to place to ensure no one followed him and no one saw him coming in the time he spent outside his own magical protection. Harry thought the power of his Dark Mark might have been growing stronger, but the fact didn't bother him. He felt utterly invincible.
As time passed, he gained confidence in his abilities and in the safety of those he cared about most, but he knew he was beginning to push his own luck. Voldemort was still searching for a spy amongst his group, while Harry could do nothing but hope that Nott heeded his warning. All Harry could know for sure was that Voldemort kept thinking back to his situation. He obsessed over Nott's loyalty almost as much as Harry's whereabouts, convinced that he, amongst many, was at a high risk of betraying him.
As the next full moon approached, Voldemort grew so agitated that Harry suspected he was about to do something very irrational; he knew it because of the constant, endless burning of his scar. To ensure that Nott was safe, Harry decided to make a detour in the in-between time of his next move to watch over the Knight, dedicating a few hours to it. He packed up all of his things, set out for a different part of the country and headed straight for Nott. The only reason why he knew where Nott resided was because Voldemort had been thinking about it almost nonstop.
With the Elder Wand, Cloak, and Mask in hand, Harry felt again invincible. The only thing that unsettled him was that there were Death Eaters surrounding the empty warehouse in which Nott would transform tonight. He was scared of Voldemort attempting to kill or capture the Knight. He kept his mind open as much as possible, but even when he arrived on the scene hours before moonrise, he felt nervous, scared, and above all else, guilty.
The hideout Nott was stationed in rested by the docks of a ghostly town. Several Death Eaters paced around the place, looking calm but wrinkling their noses to the smell of fish and murky water. The docks creaked and whined beneath their feet as they paced, their wands drawn idly, their eyes shifting to nearby houses and hills across the lake. When Harry arrived, he remained on ground beside the house for a long time, keeping his mind clear, glancing up at the boarded up windows, which showed only faint signs of flickering light hidden behind them.
It was a great honour for Voldemort to support any Werewolf by supplying them with a safe place to transform, but Harry couldn't shake the feeling that some part of this was a trap. He hoped Nott might feel the same about the situation, but he couldn't know for sure. His scar prickled and burned more as the hours passed, but still there was no sign of the nearby Death Eaters receiving messages or warnings from their Lord. Harry continued to pace around the landlocked side of the empty house beneath the Cloak, the Elder Wand drawn. Any moment now, he could need it...
Hours passed. Harry began to hear footsteps moving across the docks often, leading him to suspect that the Death Eaters were growing nervous about the approaching full moon, but within the house, all was still. Harry kept his ears locked on the Death Eaters, his eyes closed, waiting for a sign from Voldemort.
"I don't reckon our Lord wants him with the other Wolves," one Death Eater was explaining to another, sounding sure of himself and starting bleak conversation out of boredom. "He's not like the rest of them."
"Why's that, then?"
"He's been around our Lord a long time. Some say as long as our Lord's been into the Dark Arts. They went to Hogwarts together. The only reason why he's a Werewolf now is because something went wrong – one of them Wolves bit him instead of an Auror. Can you believe that? The Dark Lord was furious. The moment it happened, he promised Nott he wouldn't treat him like the rest of them Wolves, not after a situation like that."
"I know. Really mental stuff. Just proves our Lord cares though, don't it? It's madness. We shouldn't even have them Wolves around – not if they're contaminating good men like him."
"Didn't he kill one, recently?" a third man asked. "Our Lord, I mean. After that Werewolf Leader went and got himself killed, our Lord found out one of his Wolves didn't even support Wizarding Supremacy – imagine that! So, he went and killed him all the same."
"I heard that, as well."
"You reckon it's true?"
"I don't doubt it. I hope so. Scum like that, contaminating good men, questioning the Dark Lord... They deserve that sort of thing."
This most enlightening conversation fell short soon after that. Harry was barely paying attention, though he found the Death Eaters lack of understanding truly fascinating. No matter the situation, they seemed to turn it around in favour and awe of their Lord. He was about to edge around the house, to start walking along the docks with them, when he became aware of the clouds thinning above them. The moon was directly above them, staring down intensely. The Death Eaters had noticed it too.
"Watch it –"
In unison, they stopped leaning against the house lazily and straightened up, holding out their wands. Wizards within the hut had scrambled up and away, some of them filing out of the old, crumbling house. There were hurried voices, worried but not panicking. The rustle and bang of movement within the house. Then Harry heard it: the familiar, ear-shattering sound of a Werewolf's howl.
For the first time in his life, Harry felt relieved to hear it. It meant Nott was safe an undisturbed in a safe location, while the Death Eaters fidgeted and paced the docks outside, glancing at the houses across the lake, wetting their lips and gripping onto their wands protectively. None of them dared to go back inside with Nott, who had begun howling and crashing within the hut in anguish and bloodlust. None of these wizards, moreover, seemed capable of taking down a fully-grown Werewolf. The only thing on Harry's mind, keeping him on edge, was his pulsing, burning scar.
"That's about it, I reckon," a Death Eater's muffled voice said heavily. He turned to the others, his silhouette visible in the stark moonlight, which beat down on them with harsh shadows. "Now all we have to do is wait."
None of the others said much more than this. Some of them had taken seats at a rickety table, soon taking out a deck of cards. Harry became aware that these men had no intention of doing anything to Nott except protecting him from the Ministry. So why, after all of this, was Harry's scar growing worse?
He could feel a sense of anticipation from Voldemort. That was the only thing that kept him rooted to the muddy ground, his eyes fixed on the four or five Death Eaters. These men may have been calm, but Voldemort was waiting for something. Not only in anger, but in pleasure too, in fascination. Something very, very important was going to happen tonight, but Harry became aware, slowly, that it wasn't about Christopher Nott.
He could feel what Voldemort felt, could positively taste the thoughts on his mind, but he couldn't understand what was happening. He closed his eyes, breathing slowly, concentrating on the growing connection. Eventually, he caught sight of a room. Lestrange stood before him. It was all usual business.
"My Lord –"
"I have found my rat tonight, Lestrange. You needn't be so worried."
Harry spoke these words through a cruel smile, lead by Tom's movements. From within his head, he could feel Tom bask in pleasure at having outsmarted an extremely smart snitch. The feeling was wrapped up in anger and contempt that he could not avoid. He had won...
"My Lord," Lestrange began again slowly, "the Notts are of the purest bloodline. Purer, perhaps, than almost all other wizarding families who have dedicated themselves to our cause."
His voice sounded strange. It was not snide, for the first time in a very long time. He was not angry, either. He stared into the Dark Lord's eyes with steady, growing urgency.
Voldemort considered his words and – perhaps because of Harry – noted the look in his eyes. Lestrange clearly meant what he was saying. He was wholehearted in his attempt to bring mercy to the decision Tom had made, but that made him angry. He decided, only after struggling effort, to respect Lestrange and bless him with calm reasoning.
"Do you know what Christopher Nott's greatest secret is, Lestrange?" he asked delicately.
Lestrange hesitated. "That his blood has been tainted, my Lord?"
Voldemort inclined his head, his burning gaze steady.
"A wise answer. Yes... For a number of years now, our dear Nott has been hiding a most terrible secret. That he was attacked by a rogue Werewolf of ours and that he healed himself in secrecy..."
Lestrange nodded a few times, but tensed where he stood, trying to find a good approach to the point he was trying to make. "My Lord, how does this mean that the Notts are a suspect? Nott has been one of our most loyal, most dedicated men. What makes you think that he is betraying us?"
Voldemort smiled cruelly, quickly. Harry felt the muscles in his face contort and felt the mirth and wrath that rose in his chest. "You appear to have misunderstood me, Lestrange... It is not Christopher Nott who I suspect is betraying me."
For a long moment, Lestrange tried to understand. Voldemort did not let him wallow in fear of asking questions for too long.
"No," he carried on in low, deadly tone, "Nott proved himself to be a most loyal follower in the years he spent training under my supervision, Lestrange, then again when he attempted to hide his dark condition from us. Hiding his Lycanthropy proved, above all else, that he is ashamed of what he has become... but it proves too that his wife is not..."
Lestrange became very still, his brow furrowed, his mouth agape. "You mean –... My Lord, you think Evadne Nott is a spy?"
The words only enriched the Dark Lord's fury. He smiled despite this, glad that he had worked out this great secret, this flaw in his system. Harry felt himself shaken within Voldemort's mind, a small wave of terror and panic reminding him that he was not Lord Voldemort. Someone was speaking, explaining everything. It was a moment before he realised he was mouthing every word, speaking alongside the Dark Lord.
"Who else would marry a man they knew had contracted Lycanthropy?" Voldemort asked aloud, bathing in the shock Lestrange showed. "Who, moreover, could support such a condition, even choosing to breed with a man at high risk of passing on such a savage disease? Evadne Nott could not have been unaware of her husband's condition... It is my belief wholly, Lestrange, that she is not a supporter of Wizarding Supremacy, but rather works against us without her husband's knowing..."
Harry knew exactly what was happening. He knew what Tom was saying, but the words only echoed and rang in his head in his attempt to break out of the trance. In his own body, he opened his eyes, where the scene remained the same and he struggled to work out if any of that had been real. His heart hammered fast in his chest, his mind set on only one thing: Voldemort was sending out a pack of Death Eaters to murder Evadne Nott tonight.
Before he knew it, he was running. His burning scar and the freshness of his last vision played heavily in his mind, but he had to get away from the Death Eaters and Disapparate without detection as soon as possible. He knew from Lestrange's urgency and Voldemort's growing mirth that the Death Eaters had already been given their orders and would be heading for Nott's home. The timing of this attack, under the full moon, was a plan Voldemort had set out to ensure that Christopher Nott didn't get confused and couldn't interfere with the capture and murder of his wife.
Harry Apparated outside of Nott's home and made no attempt to shield the sound, but he found no one was guarding the house. In desperate hope, he tried to convince himself that the Death Eaters hadn't yet arrived, but he felt a sense of foreboding so powerful that it killed all of his wishful thinking. Moonlight fell heavily over the large wizarding house, giving it sharp shadows and illuminating the pale stone. He could see lights on inside and figures moving past the windows. It was then than the noticed that the front door had been blasted open. The Death Eaters were here.
Harry rushed towards the house, the Elder Wand drawn, his heart in his throat.
At the landing of the first floor, he heard screaming. There were voices laughing, Death Eaters yelling out to each other, and a baby crying in need of his mother. Harry raced up the stairs, wand drawn. A Death Eater on an upper landing heard his movements.
"Hey, there's someone h–!"
A flash of green light hit the Death Eater and he fell. Rolling forward, down the stairs. Harry cursed hm out of the way.
"What the –?"
"CRUCIO!" someone cried from upstairs, a man. "CRUCIO!"
Evadne's screams pierced through Harry's skull, alarming him and forcing him to fire spells at every Death Eater that got in his way, but they too responded to his presence.
Harry ducked from their spells, cursing them, fighting them.
"Who's here?" one demanded. "Who is it?"
Again, Evadne screamed at the hands of Rabastan Lestrange.
She cried, her words indistinguishable. Harry could see the room up ahead where she resided, but he couldn't get there. He couldn't make it. It was then that the Death Eaters did their last defence.
They summoned the Dark Lord...
"He's coming here!"
... and he was very, very angry...
"Do what we came here for!" someone demanded. "Kill her off; she's a spy!"
Harry's head burst open in that moment. He fell to his knees, crouched and curled up against the closest wall beneath the Cloak. Death Eaters passed him, unaware of his presence. He tried all he could to remain himself, to stay out of Voldemort's head, but he had never felt Tom so angry.
The light of Rabastan's Killing Curse flashed before Harry's eyes. Death Eaters were trampling through the house around him, trying to get outside to find the intruder and greet their Lord, but all Harry could see was Voldemort scanning the face of the house outside. He knew what resided within Nott's home. He knew who had intruded on his mission...
Harry found himself staggering and running down the hall, clutching the Cloak as if Voldemort weren't aware of exactly where he was. Rabastan Lestrange bolted out of Nott's bedroom, but Harry slipped in after him, seeing where Evadne's corpse lay. Theodore Nott was screaming from his cot, staring at his dead mother.
Harry wanted to save Theodore, to protect him, but Voldemort was making his way up the stairs, gliding over every step with astonishment for what he was about to see. Death Eaters shouted, Theodore sobbed and screamed and in pure desperation, Harry picked him up and did the only thing he could think of doing. He Disapparated from the scene.
Spinning a thousand miles an hour and holding Theodore tightly to his chest, Harry felt his body compress and contort. He couldn't hear the screaming toddler and couldn't feel anything beyond the burning anger of the Dark Lord, yet an instinct to protect the child kept him grounded to his own self. He landed with a crash in a windy, open scene, hugging the child who thrashed and screamed near his ears. He had never been so happy to hear such anguish and loss. Theodore Nott was alive. He was here, breathing well and clutching at Harry's arms.
The only problem was, Theodore had witnessed the gruesome death of his mother. Harry's heart hammered and his ears rang loudly in his aching skull, so he sank to his knees, holding the child. He had been unable to stop Evadne's death and had been – so he felt – the reason why she was dead. Terror and guilt pushed him towards further anguish that he ever expected to feel from his shattered, broken soul. It was done. Voldemort got what he wanted...
Harsh winds howled in harmony with Theodore. It travelling from the mountains of heather and hard rock set out in the distance, which was visible only because of the bright moonlight. Harry cowered beneath the starry sky, trying to muster up the power he needed to produce a Patronus Charm. Before he attempted to, however, he saw a distant light flicker beyond the gates he stood before. Someone was making their way down from Hogwarts castle. It assured him that Voldemort had no chance of finding them now. They were safe...
– X –
"Pass the child here. It's alright now."
Harry's eyes were closed. He had taken a seat opposite Dumbledore, at the desk in his warmly-lit office, and for the first time in months he felt safe. Theodore's continuous cries were all he could hear, which unsettled him and made him wish that Madam Pomfrey didn't have to take him away. He opened his eyes to watch Theodore go, as if to assure himself that he was alive and well.
"Be careful with him," Harry managed weakly, speaking to Madam Pomfrey. "He's been through a lot tonight."
She nodded vigorously, pursing her lips into a comforting shushing motion to Theodore, who wept continuously, only adding to the painful feelings tonight invoked. Harry had never seen Madam Pomfrey so young and felt like none of this was real. It had been minutes since he entered the castle, but it felt like hours. Except that the moon was still shining.
"I want to make sure Teddy is alright," Harry carried on dizzily. "Children aren't supposed to Apparate, are they? I forgot about it. I was desperate to get away, I... I figured you should have a look at him."
She nodded again, smilingly weakly this time, in spite of her tired eyes. "He's in good hands."
Harry nodded shortly. Although he trusted her, he felt pained to see her turn and walk away. Theodore's voice echoed around the office and stayed with him even when Madam Pomfrey closed the office door and headed down the flight of stairs. Harry realised he was alone with Dumbledore. A long silence drew on, in which time Harry refused his thoughts to wander to what had happened. He had informed Dumbledore about Evadne's death. There was nothing left for him to think about.
Dumbledore was staring at him. This was the first thing Harry noticed in silence. When he looked up, Dumbledore's piercing blue eyes were fixed on him, almost as if he expected something of him. It made him feel nervous. As if to eradicate confusion, Dumbledore decided to speak.
He began by straightening up in his seat, blinking a few times. "What happened tonight, Jonathan?"
Harry's heart sank. He turned away slightly, staring at the desk. "I told you already..."
"You told me of the tragic news concerning Evadne Nott, yes," Dumbledore agreed, "but what brought you to Nott's house tonight of all nights? What involved you in this tragedy?"
Harry couldn't say the truth. He realised it with a stab of subtle anger, a flicker of emotion compared to the wrath that tormented and possessed Lord Voldemort. He had to twist his honest answer.
"It was a hunch... For months, I've known how much danger Nott was in. Especially when I heard he was still a part of the Order. I was keeping an eye on his transformation tonight, until I realised he was safe... By the time I worked out who the Death Eaters were really going after, it was too late. Evadne, she... she didn't make it, obviously."
"What happened after this?" asked Dumbledore calmly.
"Once Rabastan murdered her, Death Eaters summoned Voldemort. There was no way to fight, no way to hide, so I grabbed Teddy and we –"
"Teddy?" Dumbledore repeated gently.
Harry was about to nod, looking at Dumbledore with a look of confusion, but he stopped himself. His expression turned blank. "I mean, Theodore..."
Dumbledore was watching closely. It was this, clearly, which had caught his curiosity. Harry didn't know what to say and didn't know how Dumbledore had even seen his mistake – in all that had happened, this surely wasn't the most important detail. There was a sorrowful, knowing look in his eyes, however. As if he understood the ghost that lurked beyond the name 'Teddy Lupin'.
Harry straightened up in his chair, taking in a deep breath as he wished, with another stab of anger, that Dumbledore would stop watching him. He couldn't gather his thoughts together and couldn't concentrate properly with Voldemort's wrath taking over his mind.
"What happens to Theodore now?"
He asked the question in a low voice, pressing his hands over his eyes. It felt like the first human action he had made since arriving at Dumbledore's office.
"We shall return Theodore to his father when the night is over and when Madam Pomfrey is sure he's in good health," Dumbledore answered pleasantly, as if the grave news had no impact on it. "He will be safe with Christopher."
"Won't Voldemort be suspicious?"
"Not if we return Theodore with supposedly no contact. The boy is not ours to keep. Nott will have to feign confusion in Voldemort's presence. He can then take back his son and continue his work as a spy, undisturbed."
Harry blinked a few times, glancing up.
"Is there a problem?" asked Dumbledore.
"You're – you're keeping Nott as a spy?"
"Assuming he agrees to remain a Death Eaters, yes."
"What makes you think he'll want to do that?" Harry asked. "What makes you think he'll want to be a part of the Order after all of this?"
Dumbledore's brow furrowed. "Nott has no reason to not remain one of us."
Harry didn't agree. He couldn't imagine Nott ever trusting a link to the Order of the Phoenix, not when Evadne was dead and when his son had very nearly been captured by Lord Voldemort along the way. The idea made Harry flinch. He kept his gaze from Dumbledore, breathing in deeply.
"Nott is surely in the company of the Death Eaters as we speak, unaware of the news you have bought me tonight," Dumbledore carried on. "By morning –"
"He won't know..."
Harry had interrupted Dumbledore, making his words fall short. He didn't explain himself further, but he thought might have Dumbledore understood. It pained Harry to think about.
"By morning, he will have his son," Dumbledore told him gently. "That is what matters."
Harry couldn't say he agreed that things would be so simple. How was Nott supposed to bring up his son alone, knowing what had happened tonight? How was he meant to hide all contact from the Order and deal with Evadne's death alone without arousing suspicion from Voldemort? It seemed impossible to him. It was way too much.
"On another note, I rather think you should remain here, Jonathan."
Harry asked it before taking in nor particularly caring about the weight of Dumbledore's words.
"Voldemort will surely be searching for you, as he has done for the past few months."
"So?" muttered Harry, his eyes still fixed on the desk between them. "No matter where I go, Death Eaters will chase me. It isn't safe. I'm being tracked..."
"Yes, I noticed the mark that Tom left upon you," Dumbledore mentioned placidly.
He was curious. Harry could tell. His eyes were fixed on him.
"I am rather surprised you did not remove it sooner."
Harry had expected him to say this, but that didn't make it any easier to react to. He tried to nod, but ended up shrugging uncomfortably instead. When he glanced up, he saw a serious look in Dumbledore's eyes, as if he theorized or knew exactly why he was reluctant to remove the Dark Mark. If he was desperate enough for freedom, he could have at least cut off the area of contamination. Vanity would not have held him back.
"Should I leave?" Harry asked suddenly, changing the conversation. "Do you think Voldemort will find me here?"
Dumbledore shook his head gently.
"No, I should think not. Hogwarts is, after all, amongst the safest locations in Britain. Voldemort may know that you are here, but it will hardly come as a surprise to him. You are safe within these walls."
It seemed to be decided. Harry had no objections, at the very least; he even found it somewhat of a relief that he could rest for a few days or weeks before carrying on. Evadne Nott's death weighed heavily on him. He wasn't sure what to think, especially as the witch had been innocent and not at all involved personally with either the Death Eaters or the Order of the Phoenix.
He didn't say much more to Dumbledore that night. It was a relief to him that Dumbledore neither asked where he had been nor questioned what had gone wrong with Lord Voldemort; he surely assumed incorrectly that Harry had slipped up somewhere along the line, revealing himself as nothing more than an associate of the Order. It was best to keep it that way.
Harry didn't see it when Theodore Nott was returned to his father, but he could imagine well enough what it might have been like for Christopher. Selfishly, and with a lot of guilt, he preferred being kept in the dark about it. He stayed within Hogwarts castle, which was eerily empty due to the summer holidays. It was June, 1981. The war was almost over...
It was only a week after Evadne Nott's death when Harry was informed that Christopher had left the Order of the Phoenix. This came as no surprise to him and he didn't even feel the need to gloat about it to Dumbledore, who remained calm and contemplative. What he didn't expect, however, was the immediate consequence that the action had on everyone involved in the Order.
He had thought, at first, that his own escape from the Death Eaters as well as the supposed betrayal of Evadne Nott had driven Voldemort towards hunting the Order with fresh vengeance, but people were dying faster than ever and without any reason or rhyme. The only pattern Harry could see was that the Death Eaters had become extremely lucky; they captured and killed people in the Order due to nothing more than simple mistakes. It became clear to him, slowly, just how vital Nott had been to Dumbledore.
Without Nott's foresight onto Voldemort's plans and the Death Eaters' movements, the Order of the Phoenix was struggling. It was as if a blindfold had been cast over their eyes; they couldn't see where tacks were coming from and couldn't predict what might happen next. Dumbledore had been subtle about putting Nott's warnings to use in the past, ensuring that Voldemort would not suspect an obvious rat leaking information, but now that Nott was gone, there were huge gaps in the Order's security.
It didn't help that Peter Pettigrew's spying grew worse with each passing week. Harry didn't know, initially, that Pettigrew was already passing on information, except that sometimes he caught visions of the wizard's round, terrified face before Tom. In complete solitude, always, Peter confided in the Dark Lord, spilling huge amounts of information if fear of displeasing the Death Eaters. By a miracle, he never got around to telling Lord Voldemort who was in the Order recently. Harry could only hope and suspect that he had no idea Christopher Nott was even a Death Eater.
The death reports that came in upon Nott's resignation started off few and seldom, but nevertheless gave Harry an idea of what to expect next. It started off with the McKinnon family. Their deaths weren't kills that were taken in the heat of battle, which was perhaps what shook the Order most. Death Eaters hunted the McKinnons down and killed them all in a single night, having discovered where they lived and having devised a plan to murder them at a time when they stood together. It was a merciless, brutal attack intended to warn the Order of their wrath.
Mad-Eye Moody had told Harry once, when he was only a teenager, that Marlene McKinnon had been murdered two weeks after a photograph of the Order had been taken. He had always expected her death to arrive soon enough, but he hadn't expected it to be so harsh and hadn't predicted what affect it may have on the Order. Fighters grew angry and impatient to seek revenge – which was perhaps a reason for the deaths that followed Lord Voldemort's initial bait.
During a particularly brutal fight against Death Eaters, Benjy Fenwick was the next to be killed. He was unfortunate enough to land himself in the path of a Curse so powerful and dark that only pieces of him could be found on the battlefield. He was utterly indistinguishable and would have been supposed missing rather than dead had others not witnessed the fight. Harry knew this death weighed heavily on the hearts of every fighter in the Oder, but he wondered, above all else, what it did to Nott.
Two months after Evadne's death, Harry decided that he wanted to speak with Nott. The decision came with quite a strong argument from Dumbledore, who warned him about the risks that such a meeting could involve, but Harry wouldn't have it any other way. It was a day of the next full moon and Nott had declined Voldemort's offer of Death Eater protection around his transformation. It gave Harry a perfect excuse to wait at the location, unannounced, in order for Nott to find him.
Nott greeted him warmly and with genuine happiness when he arrived, but something had gone from his eyes, a true happiness that Harry suspected he might never see again. This war had affected him more than Lycanthropy ever did, but the death of Evadne positively killed him. He seemed slowed and tired when he sat down across from Harry, closing his eyes and speaking in a low voice about his son. He was struggling to look after Theodore alone. Between his own broken heart, work as a Death Eater, and his transformations, he was giving everything for the safety of Theodore.
"I tried to warn them", Nott told Harry eventually, leaning forwards in the chair he had conjured. His head was in his hands, his breathing slow, his voice faint. "The Order. I tried to explain my views to them when I left, but I don't think they could understand. That wars aren't meant to be fought, that there are stronger arguments than murder and destruction..."
"What did they say to you?" Harry asked. Nott's silhouette was tense and thin in the shadows.
Nott only shook his head. He seemed too tired to speak, too broken to explain himself. "They want to fight this war with as much brutality as the Death Eaters, but they don't understand how that changes people. How if we were to continue with the Order the way we are, we'll end up as twisted and damaged as any souls who joined Voldemort in the first place."
He shifted where he sat, discomforted by the approaching moon. Harry let him gain his thoughts, supporting him with no argument and no doubts. Nott couldn't seem to bear the thoughts that now haunted him.
"They haven't seen Death like I have. They don't understand that to defend ourselves and pursue a peaceful argument would be stronger. Death upon anyone could not possibly be the answer... I think Dumbledore wants to keep me away. I refuse to be a spy, anymore, and refuse to be a part of this war like he wants... and they just keep on dying..."
Harry couldn't say a thing. Nott would know what his silence meant. He watched him for a long time, seeing the way he crashed in anguish and understanding, wholly, what he was going though. No words could convey how they shared this guilt and nothing would be able to soften the affect of war and loss. There was only one thing that remained true to him.
"I'll stay with you tonight..."
In preparation, Harry masked them in a shower of enchantments. He secured the house, kept his mind on Voldemort's movements, and stuck by Nott's side. It was a long and painful night. He heard every howl and cry of anguish that the Werewolf spoke and even when he returned to Hogwarts in the early hours of the next morning, he worried about Nott. Hogwarts seemed a long way away and it felt dangerous to leave Nott and his son under the eye of the ever-hungry Death Eaters.
At Hogwarts, Dumbledore left Harry mostly at piece, which was a relief to say the least, but Harry rather felt as if it might have had a consequence. He felt like Dumbledore expected him to speak, an silent indication that eventually, he would have to explain what happened. Harry had no intention of ever enlightening Dumbledore to the last few months' events – nor, for that matter, to what might happen next. For a long time, Harry couldn't work out why he was so reluctant.
It was only when the Bones family were hunted down and murdered that he was shaken out of his state of comfortable silence. The mass-murder of the Bones began because of one small slip from someone in the Order of the Phoenix; the Death Eaters heard the name spoken once and maliciously found out exactly who was connected to the Order and why. It reminded Harry wholly of Evadne's death. First went Edgar, then his parents, wife, and children. Simple, clean, cold murder.
Harry felt himself affected by the news. Not because of how it related to Evadne's death, nor how it proved the Death Eaters insanity, but how he didn't do a thing to stop it. The thought replayed itself in his mind often, keeping him awake every single night. He knew what was going to happen next. He knew that in October, Lily and James were going to be murdered and before that time, Peter might leak information that got tens or hundreds more people killed. So why, he often asked, couldn't he bring himself to stop any of it?
For a long, stunned period of time, he couldn't find an answer, except that some part of him knew that it would be wrong to change the course of time. He hated the way things were now and hated himself for allowing it to happen a second time, but he knew, quietly, that all of these events, all of these murders, deaths, and crimes, made him who he was now. Still, despite everything, the only human being on earth who stood a chance of stopping Lord Voldemort.
Without any recollection of when the realisation came to him, Harry knew somehow that this – all of this – was his fate. He could not bring himself to stop Peter Pettigrew's spying or the tragedies heading the Order's way, because that was not his purpose. The more he thought about it, the more he felt like his purpose had been right before his eyes this whole time. Nott, above all else, knew it too. So eventually, with no fear, no hesitation, Harry decided to follow fate.
In what felt like a dream, Harry got up in the middle of the night. He had no concept of time, no idea of what was truly motivating him, but before he knew it, he packed up his possessions, took the Cloak, the Mask, and the Wand, and headed for Dumbledore's office. The castle was cold. Empty. He knew he might never see the place again when he wandered down its halls, but he was blind to its beauty, focused only on his destination. A strange sense of rightness followed him on his way to Dumbledore's office. He knocked. It came as no surprise to him when Dumbledore, too, was awake.
Harry pushed the office doors open, stepping inside. He had the Cloak and Mask in his pockets, the Elder Wand up the sleeve of his robes. Dumbledore watched him tranquilly as he approached, lowing a quill.
"To what do I owe the pleasure at so late an hour, Jonathan?"
Harry didn't answer at once. The room was quiet and peaceful, with strange ornaments twisting and swirling on silver bases, glinting in the light of dripping, flickering candles. He no longer feared a thing and no longer felt anything beyond overwhelming understanding of fate's course, but he was still unsure where to begin. He decided to be blunt.
"I've decided I should leave the castle. Tonight."
Dumbledore was curious. He turned his head a little more towards Harry.
"What has changed?"
Harry hesitated, but felt no moment of conflict. He knew where this was going.
"There's a lot you don't know, Dumbledore..."
Something in his voice warned the old Professor that this, at last, was his confession. Dumbledore brushed aside the piece of parchment he had been writing on, understanding the severity of this conversation. Gently, he spoke to Harry, indicating the chair in front of him.
"By all means, sit."
Harry felt no desire to refuse. His heart was beating faster and he felt all of this was right. This was what everything was leading up to.
When he sat across from Dumbledore, he knew there would be no confusion for the words he was about to speak. Somewhere between waking up and entering the office tonight, he had decided he would tell Dumbledore everything he knew. So he did.
He described what he knew about the upcoming war. Everything from his involvement as the Chosen One to Lily and Jame's fate, to the course of time and the reason why he was here tonight. When he was done, Dumbledore's eyes were large, but he asked no questions. The outside world beyond the tall, stone windows was dark and moonless, candlelight glowing silently and shining on their eyes. All was still.
"I think this was always my fate," Harry explained quietly. "Some part of you always seemed to know it too. No matter what we did, I had to end up dead at Voldemort's hands at the age of seventeen. You told Snape about it and he warned me. Except, I never died when Voldemort went after me. I went back to a year I wasn't even born in, to be with him. To train alongside him."
"To become his equal," spoke Dumbledore softly. He was stunned.
Harry nodded. They let the idea sink in. It held powerful presence in the office between them.
"If the idea was for me to change the course of time," Harry carried on slowly, "I didn't manage it. All I know for sure now is that I was supposed to end up here. I'm the only one who stands a chance against Tom. Tonight, I'll leave Hogwarts to face him alone."
"So you will attempt to kill him now?"
At this, Harry hesitated. He hadn't thought this far ahead and hadn't realised before just how little Dumbledore knew. He didn't know about their Horcruxes. He didn't know that things weren't as easy as a simple murder. It was only upon realising how little Dumbledore knew that it hit Harry.
There was a reason why Dumbledore would know, upon Voldemort's downfall, that he wasn't truly dead. There was a reason why he knew so much about Horcruxes upon Voldemort's return that he taught Harry about them in his sixth year. Overwhelmed by the realisation, Harry closed his eyes.
"There's one last thing you should know..."
He explained the situation. It wasn't easy, nor a light piece of information to admit, but he managed it with minimal hesitance. Dumbledore was terrified. He stood up before Harry had even finished speaking and began to pace the room, showing signs of distress that Harry had never seen on him before. This changed the course of their war. It marked the Order of the Phoenix as futile.
"The situation is more grave than I could imagine," he murmured quietly. He didn't sound calm, nor happy to foresee all of this information. Harry had thrust a huge burden onto him. He looked scared and weak, suddenly. Harry was transfixed.
"In the end, we'll use all of this against him," he explained in a low voice, hoping to make his old Professor understand. "There's no telling what happens between then and now... but the first war is almost over."
Dumbledore turned to him, then. There was a wise, sorrowful look upon his face. Something in Harry's words brought him worry.
"Yes," he agreed placidly, "but it is at a terrible cost."
Harry couldn't argue with that. He was beginning to feel nervous seeing Dumbledore stand while he remained seated and he felt as if his time was running out. There was not much else to say. He stood up.
"I should leave now... but I want you to have this, Professor."
From his sleeve, he withdrew the Elder Wand. He placed it in both of his hands, holding it out to Dumbledore as a sign of peace, respect, and closure. Dumbledore hesitated. When he reached for the wand, his eyes locked to Harry's.
An idea occurred to Harry then. A subtle realisation that with one Deathly Hallow freshly in hand, Dumbledore might try to seek another at about the time of James and Lily's death. The Cloak.
Once in his hands, Dumbledore examined at the Elder Wand, twisting it between his fingertips. For the first time in his life, Harry felt older and wiser than his Professor. He then glanced up, and they shared a look of understanding, both knowing what all of this signified and what they might expect from the course of the war. Dumbledore inclined his head, as if accepting everything.
"Thank you, Harry," he said, "and good luck."
– X –
Time felt as it it was speeding up. The world outside was black and cold and it seemed to Harry that nothing else existed but the smell of pine trees and the heat of bravery that, for the first time in years, burned in his heart. The moment he stepped out of Hogwarts' grounds, he began walking in the direction of the forest on foot. With no wand and no one else to keep him safe, he would lose any fight that Death Eaters swarming the outskirts of the castle may attempt, but he felt no fear. This was meant to happen.
The Dark Mark burned red on his arm, beneath his robed, beneath his cloak. In a matter of mere minutes, the Death Eaters would begin to sense it. Harry kept his mind focused on that forest. He enjoyed the cool, fresh air that greeted him alongside the trees and the deadly silent world that surrounded him, disrupted only by his own footsteps. Tonight's sacrifice could only end in peace and in closure. It would, perhaps, also end this war.
Beneath the Cloak, Harry had begun to see movements beyond distant trees. It was from Death Eaters, cloaked and alarmed, who were reluctant to believe what they sensed to be true. Harry withdrew the Mask and placed it on his face. His scar was beginning to prickle. He felt that he wasn't himself and that all of this was nothing more than a particularly vivid dream.
The first spell struck close to the heel of his boot. He brushed it off as nothing more than an casual inconvenience, brought on by the Death Eaters' fear. His scar continued to sting, burning now.
Dirt and rocks exploded at the brunt of this spell. Harry continued. The Dark Lord had now been summoned, so he would be on his way.
Again, Harry gave no reaction. He did not run, nor even feel the need to Apparate. The Death Eaters ran in large numbers now and he could hear crackling not only of wild, desperate spells, but of witches and wizards Apparating to him. Shouting to one another, panicked, determined to hunt him. Harry removed the Cloak.
Their spells missed. Not because of luck, but because the Mask was scaring them, throwing off the aim of their strong, panicked spells. Harry knew the Dark Lord had arrived. He could sense it past the dark figures who ran past the trees, trying to target him, trying to be the Death Eater strong enough to capture him.
Harry placed the Cloak in his pocket calmly, looking out across the forest. A tall, dark figure was emerging from the mist that curled and billowed between the foot of the trees. He knew this was Voldemort even before his thin, handsome face became illuminated in his followers' spellfire. Voldemort, moreover, appeared to know who he was too. The Mask confused and panicked all Death Eaters who lay eyes on it, but he remained calm, staring at Harry with nothing more than a look of reverence.
There were figures gathered around him, but the forest had fallen silent. The Death Eaters had been called off. They were moving slowly through the trees, their eyes fixed on Harry. He brought up a hand to remove the Mask, revealing that he had no wand, no desire to fight. He remained in the centre of the Death Eaters, who became shocked and full of awe upon realising who he was. His attention, however, was focused on Voldemort alone.
The Death Eaters were in shock. Many of them looked towards their Lord, waiting for instructions and a sign that this wasn't a trick, but Voldemort was still. He, too, was unable to believe what he was seeing. He stood tall, his shadowed, reddened eyes transfixed on Harry's own. This was the great conclusion of their chase, the final move.
Harry supposed it was no surprise at all when darkness obscured his vision.
– X –
Harry awoke not in a prison cell, nor in the arms of Death, but in a room. Formal, large, and with a certain uncanny warmth about it, the room was empty. He was lying in a bed. He did not recognise anything around him, but became instantly aware that he was back in a Death Eater hideout. The room smelt like home to him. It was night time and he stepped immediately out of this unknown bed, glancing at the windows, wardrobe, desk, mirror, and two doors that surrounded him. The only indication he had that he was truly himself was that he remained in the same robes he had left Hogwarts in. It felt strange to realise this.
The first thing Harry noticed, besides his robes, was that he still had no wand. Having been clearly captured and imprisoned by the Death Eaters, it made him feel suddenly quite vulnerable. He was not being kept in any sort of dungeon, cell, or cellar, but he hardly considered this a sign of respect or care; he had seen this done before. Higher-ranking prisoners weren't kept in poor conditions. They were treated normally in the most disconnected rooms available, under the highest security that the Dark Lord, or perhaps all of Britain, could manage. There would be no escape.
At first, Harry was unsure what he should do. He paced the room slowly, finding his boots by the foot of his bed. He was unnerved by the large mirror that took up the wall between two windows. He paced back and forth in the centre of the room, ignoring and mirror and investigating where the two doors lead. One, which seemed to lead to the main hall, was locked and remained deadly still when he shook it. The second was a door into a bathroom. There was nothing else. Even the windows, which were glossy black and showed nothing but his own reflection, went nowhere.
The place was deadly quiet. Harry thought this might have contributed to the strong, overpowering feeling of foreboding that followed him. It was so quiet that he could hear his own heartbeat and – he was sure – the quiet sound of his own stomach. It felt like a long, long time before he got even a sign of other life. He heard footsteps past the main door. By this time, he was sitting on his bed, which he had made neat again in boredom, somewhat put off by the Muggle action. The footsteps did not pause outside his door, however. He have the passer-by no sign of his existence.
As hours passed, he became so used to hearing people pass along the hallway outside that it was a surprise to him when a pair of footsteps stopped at his door. He would have assumed that a Death Eater had arrived to pay him a visit, perhaps to bring him food, if it weren't that these particular footsteps were all too familiar to him. They were the footsteps of a man who was in no rush, but who nevertheless held great power in his formal, composed movements. They were footsteps that he had spent years of his life responding too, greeting kindly, waiting for. The handle of the door shook.
Lord Voldemort stepped into the room. Harry heart leapt in terror and stood up at once. He had hoped, vainly, that it would not be Tom, but there was no mistaking his identity as he pushed the door open wide, his attention at first diverted. Harry couldn't stop his heart from hammering in his chest and couldn't take his eyes off the strange form of the tall man he had once fallen in love with. Never in his life had he ever been so terrified of Tom.
With a wave of his wand, Voldemort closed the door behind himself, looking up. His crimson eyes ignored the room and focused in on Harry. For a long time, neither of them said a word, but Voldemort stepped forwards. Slowly. He did not put away his wand. Harry became aware, wholly, of just how much he had changed. His eyes held a new strength, not only of fury, but of weary intelligence gained through time. A new wisdom. Cold, strong mercilessness.
Harry wanted to step back the closer Tom got to him. It was this, above all else, that made him realise he was scared. He couldn't bring himself to look away, yet the reddened eyes before him terrified him like nothing else had. Voldemort, ignoring the signs of fear, spoke to him.
"Nine months," he hissed softly. "For nine months, I have searched for you, scouring England for a sign of your lasting existence. For nine months, I hunted you, intent upon capturing you in order to obtain the vital information that I needed in order to understand, precisely, how you relate to what the Prophecy foretold. Now that I have you in my possession... I admit myself unsure how to react."
There was nothing outwardly aggressive about the way he spoke, but Harry had heard this tone a thousand times before. He had seen that focused, unblinking look in his eyes. It brought a silence upon him. Tom, it appeared, decided to carry on. He tilted his head, stepping forwards.
"Why is it that after all this time, you have surrendered yourself to the Death Eaters so simply?"
Harry could have lied, but he decided against it in an instant. He clenched his jaw shut for a moment, not daring to look away. "It was my fate to."
Tom's eyes narrowed. He remained burning for an answer, unconvinced. Although he had stopped walking, Harry felt no more intimidated by him than he had been the moment he walked in. Even if, all in all, Voldemort was not as angry as he expected. His scar prickled only lightly.
"Your relation to the Prophecy remains a great mystery," Tom admitted, sounding almost impressed. Still he didn't drop his gaze and Harry noticed a certain curiosity about his stare. "You have ended up very much entangled in my own life and the affairs of Death Eaters, but now that you have been singled out as both an Order spy and the core of a plot set out in Prophecies to initiate my supposed downfall... I find that you are, wholly, no more familiar to me than I am to the Minister. A mere name. A mere idea..."
Still, Harry said nothing. Tom was treating him as a stranger, which warped his perception of reality and convinced him, momentarily, that he was not himself. Voldemort then bared his teeth in a familiar gesture of threatening mirth.
"Is this why I cannot see into your mind?" he asked sharply. "Is this why I cannot read thoughts from you, despite having trained myself to become perhaps the best Legilimens our world has ever seen? You are not a better Occlumens than I am Legilimens. No, it is the Time-Traveller's Defence. Old laws of magic."
He was indeed annoyed now. Harry felt it. This had been a problem that irked him for years and now, painfully, he knew exactly why. Somehow, this encouraged Harry to muster up the will to speak.
"I'm surprised you never realised it before, Tom."
Voldemort attempted to bare his teeth again, but there was no humour left in him this time. He brought a hand up to his own dark hair, pushing it back, and straightened up.
"I'm going to keep you here for a very long time..."
With this scathing threat, he turned away. Harry let him go without a word. He didn't want to see Tom anymore. Not when he was so changed, warped by hatred. Closer now than he had ever been to the Voldemort that Harry knew from his childhood.
Harry didn't know how much time passed before he saw Tom again. Death Eaters did indeed visit him every few hours, bringing him food, some of them leaving with a few nasty comments, but after a few attempts to fall asleep in his new bed, Harry began to realise that within this cell, it was perpetually night. Occasional stars and sometimes the moon was displayed behind thick curtains, but there was no indication of the passing of time. Slowly, it wore on him.
Visits from the Death Eaters went from being a change in his state of mind to a dull, common routine faster than he could have expected. Everything was silent in the hours between their visits and this, too, was maddening. Occasionally, Harry would write with the ink and parchment that had been supplied, but he knew the parchment was cursed and that he would be monitored, so he wrote nothing more than notes on unrelated research, just to keep his mind entertained. When, eventually, he grew bored and tired of it, he sat in silence, waiting.
Voldemort's second visit arrived no more pleasantly than the first, except that the growing anxiety Harry felt was almost a relief compared to endless silence. He stood up, again, upon Tom's arrival, but didn't greet him in any way. A cruel, maddened smile broke across Tom's face the moment he closed the door behind him.
"The Order of the Phoenix is failing," he said delicately. "It's numbers are falling fast, due not only to determination from my Death Eaters, but likely due, in part, to your departure... I thought you may wish to know."
Harry was glad Voldemort didn't move any closer. He couldn't tell whether he was lying or not, but knew that it didn't matter. Only one thing was on his mind. "How long do you expect to keep me here, Tom?"
Voldemort examined his face hatefully from where he stood, sneering.
"Forever," he hissed, "if that is what it takes."
Harry didn't want to believe him, but that look in his eyes convinced him of Voldemort sincerity. For a moment, he stood still, struggling to find something to say. Tom already turned away.
Voldemort did not listen and in the next instant, Harry was alone.
For hours, not a single sound reached his ears from outside. He began to realise, from that moment on, that Tom intended to drive him insane with prolonged solitude and silence. As much as Harry hated to admit it, it was working very quickly.
Various Death Eaters came in and out of Harry's cell during whatever hours they were set to bring him food, but rarely did he see the same witches or wizards twice. With no concept of time, Harry had no idea when it happened, but one day, it was Nott who visited him.
Harry was amazed to see him and would have been happy, except Nott was accompanied by Mulciber. None of them said a word to each other when they met. Harry soon understood that seeing Nott was nothing more than a random occurrence and routine fell back into place. He may as well have hallucinated him by this point: it was the first thing that made him feel truly in pain, seeing the grey, lost look in Nott's eyes. He depended on Harry to put an end to Lord Voldemort's reign. Yet here he was, imprisoned.
On Voldemort's third visit, Harry felt tortured enough to plead the Dark Lord to see reason, but before he could say a word, Tom spoke.
"I came here today to discuss a very important matter with you, today..."
His words were low and cruel, his eyes burning in anger. Harry tried to act brave and found that in his progressively more deluded, disconnected state of mind, he managed it.
Tom stepped closer, holding his wand in one hand, considering the matter slowly.
"I have the Mask within my grip," he said gently, "and I intent to hunt the Sword of Gryffindor relatively soon, for I noticed you moved it... but where is the Pocketwatch I once so lovingly gave you? I know a faux Horcrux when I see one. I admit, it was a great disappointment..."
Harry grew tense, defensive. "Why are you hunting my Horcruxes?"
Tom smiled manically, crimson eyes narrowing. "Can you not guess?"
It was difficult for Harry to believe what he was trying to say. He shook his head, wondering whether he was indeed hallucinating. "You're – you're trying to kill me?"
Tom tilted his head, as if surprised, and watched him closely.
"What use have I for a liar?" he asked softly. "What use have I, moreover, for a wizard who is destined to be my rival? It would be a dreadfully needless hazard in my journal for power to keep such a danger alive and active, would it not?"
Harry stared at him, frozen, stunned. The whole room seemed to be crashing in on him and he couldn't believe, for a single instant, that Tom was real now. Only, he could see, sense, and hear him all too clearly. More clearly than he had seen, sensed, or heard anything in hours.
"I'll escape you..."
He meant it as a threat, as a promise, but it only amused Lord Voldemort, who smiled again in a maddened fashion and took a slow step towards him. In a whisper, he spoke:
"Do you dare to even try?"
Harry's hands were shaking and in that instant he became aware of just how much torture all of this was. Any amount of pain, any physical punishment and scarring would be nothing compared to seeing Tom's face full of mirth, speaking quiet threats and gloating about his helplessness.
"You made me immortal," Harry stated shakily, convinced that this held some importance. "I'll find a way out of this. It doesn't matter how long it takes – you made me immortal!"
Again, Tom did nothing more than grin. In a cruel, patronizing gesture of mirth. "So, I will have to make you mortal once more..."
Harry was transfixed, terrified to move. All the while Voldemort took in the anguish and terror on his face, enjoying every moment to it.
"Now," he whispered, in a voice Harry had responded so loving months ago, "tell me where your two hidden Horcruxes reside, so I can destroy you myself..."
Harry shook his head stiffly. "I'm not going to tell you."
Tom glared at him closely, but after a moment, his expression grew blank. Harry was convinced he was going to curse him when he straightened up, but he didn't. Instead, he did nothing at all.
"Then I suppose you will have to wait here a little longer..."
With that, Tom turned to go. Nothingness grabbed onto Harry the moment he left. It held onto him, torturing him. The only difference was, he was nervous now. Convinced, wholly, that Voldemort was going to succeed in hunting down his Horcruxes. There would be no way of him knowing...
Harry remained standing where he was for what felt like forever. He waited, not knowing what he was even expecting. Voldemort's footsteps had faded. The only information he had gained from that conversation was that Tom wanted him dead, but didn't know the Pocketwatch Horcrux was gone and for some reason couldn't find the Sword of Gryffindor. Had the Sword returned itself to Hogwarts, he wondered? Had he, in some act of bravery, hidden it? It was his last hope that the Sword might stay hidden. Feeling sick, he was stuck in the dark.
From that moment on – and moments in this room, of course, lasted forever – Harry obsessed over the idea of Voldemort looking for his Horcruxes. Had he already destroyed the Mask Horcrux, he wondered? If so, was the Sword of Gryffindor safe? For how long? The only thing that Harry knew for sure was that Tom was deadly serious. He was going to kill him. Any moment, out of these walls, his fate could be decided for him. Tom must have known how overwhelmingly terrifying that was to comprehend.
Harry regretted his decision to allow the Death Eaters to capture him. This came as no surprise, but hit him hard nonetheless; he had been convinced that fate would save him. He, in a state of desperate loss, had thought that if he spoke with Voldemort again, if he followed fate and faced him, he may have had a shot at freedom. The more time he spend in total solitude, however, the more he realised what fresh Hell met him here. Any moment, he could be mortal and Tom could return with a reason to kill him. This room could be the last place on earth he ever saw.
The next time Voldemort visited him, he was more angry. Harry felt it in his scar first of all, a sign that foretold him of Voldemort's approach before he even heard his footsteps. Tom told him, this time, that the Order of the Phoenix was fighting harder, but that with the information he had gained on them through a spy of his own, they truly stood no chance against him. Harry believed him. Not only because he spoke about it with cold satisfaction, but because he stepped closer to Harry with madness clear in his dark eyes.
"If there's one last thing I must bring myself to promise you," he whispered in a terrifying hiss, "it is that I will hunt down each and every Horcrux you may have made and hid from me, and will kill each and every witch or wizard who tries to hide them from me in your name. It is I who taught you how to live forever, my treacherous love, and I who will banish you to Death if you are so keen to pose a threat against me..."
Harry stared back at him with all the bravery he could manage, but these words were daggers to his already shattered heart. "I never wanted to be a part of this Prophecy..."
Voldemort straightened up, his eyes narrowing, and backed away.
"Tom," Harry tried again, his voice desperate this time, "this is never what I wanted. This isn't how it was supposed to be, I –"
Voldemort turned away swiftly, irritably. Before Harry could do more than call after him, he left again, intent on punishing him with more prolonged solitude.
Harry felt as if he really was going mental. He began to obsess over the concept of mortality and the words the Prophecy had spoken. It drove him mad to replay those same few lines in his head over and over again, trapped in this cell, in his mind, without a single relief.
He realised, eventually, that Voldemort would seek the Prophecy's end. In sixteen year's time, he would send his Death Eaters to fight in the Hall of Prophecies for the last few lines spoken by Sybill Trelawney, only to find that they spoke of a most gruesome fate.
'...and either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives...'
When Voldemort heard this, he would not assume that Dumbledore or a young Harry Potter knew about Horcruxes. He would know, at once, that it spoke of Harry now. He may have even sensed it. Where would he be in those sixteen years, Harry wondered? Would he still be alive, here, or would Tom have murdered him by them? Would the Death Eaters keep him here in secret, even after Voldemort downfall, not knowing where his Horcrux was?
These were the thoughts that haunted Harry most of all. He couldn't work out how much time had passed since Voldemort's last visit, but he wouldn't know what to say if he showed up again. He saw Death Eaters come in and out, some of them leaving food, others leaving messages from their Lord, but for a very long time, there was no sign of Tom. He may have been too busy hunting Horcruxes. That idea got to Harry and tormented him for hours on end. He may be killing him slowly.
Harry rarely slept anymore. Every moment, although prolonged, seemed precious upon the advent of Death. He felt that sleep was too human, too wasteful, to dedicate any time to at all. After all that he had done, it was a blessing. Harry saw no pattern in the Death Eaters arrivals, but knew and hoped that one day soon, Nott would show up again. He did. It was a relief. Harry barely knew how to react when it happened.
Nott remained as solemn as he had been upon his first visit, except that he was alone this time. Harry was started by how real he seemed, how sane he was due to contact from the outside world. Nott brought him food and levitated the tray to a table nearby, before turning his full attention on Harry. He watched him for a long time, his bright eyes heavy with anguish, but curious. Harry had to speak. He realised that. He said the only thing that was on his mind.
"I'm – I'm going to be here a long while, I think..."
"Yes," Nott agreed quietly.
Harry wished he wouldn't speak so delicately. A part of him even wished Nott would be loud and cause a scene just to cause some variation in this environment. No, Nott was calm. His eyes were fixed on Harry's, almost as if he felt he needed to take in the sight of him to understand what he was feeling.
"I won't get out of this," Harry whispered.
Nott didn't seem so sure. That was the first thing Harry noticed. He wasn't convinced. Looking directly at him, Nott spoke a few faint words that changed everything for him.
"But of course," he said stiffly, "you did, once, admit to me that there was another way."
For a moment, Harry didn't know what he meant and that terrified him. His vision flickered between Nott's bright eyes, which seemed too full of sorrow to be real. Harry thought he was going mad from lack of sound in this prison, but he knew for sure that Nott had meant something. He could read his mind. He could see flickering thoughts, fleeting things, telling him that Nott, too, knew about Voldemort's attempts to kill him. The Mask hadn't yet been destroyed and an idea swam before Nott's brain. Harry stared at him, overwhelmed.
Before he could express what this meant to him, Nott turned away. He seemed to know Harry was in too bad a shape to instinctively be discreet. Harry was left alone with a huge idea that seemed almost too much for him to take.
For hours, he remained too shaken to move. Death Eaters brought him food, time passed by, and Voldemort miraculously didn't show up to greet him that evening. He didn't even try to sleep from that point on, because feelings of anxiety and disorientation kept him alert in a long, drawn out stab of adrenaline. He waited as long as he could bear before heeding Nott's advice. All the while, his eyes flickered around the room towards possible implements. Every idea was a new stab of growing anxiety. Harry was going to kill himself tonight.
It was after hours of pacing his room, back and forth, that he made his final decision of what to use. Admittedly, it wasn't altogether planned. He was tormented by the guilt of what he had done to Nott and so many others and during his pacing, he grew progressively more and more annoyed by the sight of his reflection. So, in a moment of uncontrolled anger, he smashed the tall, looming mirror in his room. His own face shattered into a hundred pieces and as the mirror broke and fell, it seemed to rain down upon him beautifully.
The only problem was, someone heard him.
Harry had already picked up a piece of the mirror and was looking at his own clear reflection, when the door rattled and opened behind him. A Death Eater had arrived.
"What do you think you're doing?" a wizard demanded.
Harry did not at once answer. He considered the idea of killing the Death Eater instead of himself, but there were more of them outside and even if he stole this man's wand, it may not work for him. Harry's mind was set. Instead of fighting, he slipped the shard of glass up his sleeve, turning to the people who stood at his door.
"What did you do that for?" the Death Eater demanded again, glancing towards the mirror.
"It was an accident."
"Some accident that is! You're covered in cuts."
Harry saw no reason to comment on it. He hadn't even considered the scratches on his hands.
"I reckon we should call our Lord for this," someone said from behind the first Death Eater.
They clearly had an uneasy feeling about Harry. Mulciber's eyes narrowed. "Do it, then."
The second Death Eater reached for his mark.
Harry closed his eyes, tensing, concentrating on the present. It was so much easier to stay focused with the three Death Eaters around, who spoke to him heavily.
"The Dark Lord will set you right," one of them swore.
In less than a minute, Harry heard new footsteps. He could see Tom walking closer. He opened his eyes.
"What appears to be the problem?" Voldemort inquired.
"I reckon he broke that mirror on purpose," explained Mulciber thickly. "Something ain't right."
Tom's eyes scanned the shattered mirror, then the cuts on Harry's hands. He stepped into the room slowly. In no rush, he indicated to the Death Eaters that they should leave.
"Carry on with your duties..."
They closed the door when they were gone, leaving Harry alone with Tom. Tom stepped forward wordlessly, his eyes fixed on the broken mirror. Harry stepped back, feeling like a child, the glass pressed against his palm.
Without paying Harry the least bit of attention, Tom began to mend the mirror. Piece by piece, the pile at his feet picked itself up and went back into its past arrangement. It seemed almost calming to him. Harry watched his growing reflection, noting the lack of anger on his face, but the moment Tom was finished replacing glass, he paused. His eyes were fixed on the missing piece.
Voldemort got annoyed then. Not because he felt threatened, but because couldn't believe Harry would actually use a mirror as a weapon. He rose a hand to push his dark hair back, closing his eyes.
"You cannot kill me with glass..."
Harry said nothing. He didn't care to correct Tom's wrong assumption.
"Give me the final piece," Voldemort asked of him.
Seeing no reason to object by this point, Harry stepped forward. He reached the piece out to Tom, whose back was turned to him, but he didn't turn to take it. The moment Harry held out the shard, it floated up. It didn't replace itself on the mirror. Tom summoned it into his own hand.
In the silence that followed, Tom examined the shard of mirror. He did not appear as angry as before. He was thinking.
"Even if you tried to murder me," he began softly, twisting the mirror between his hands, "how would you escape? You cannot kill me with glass. I have a wand."
Again, Harry said nothing. Tom had no way of forcing any information out of him; this was his only advantage. Harry was waiting for him to leave. The moment he did, he would smash that mirror all the same and do what he should have done before. Tom didn't leave yet, however. His shadowy eyes looked up at Harry over the shoulder of his own reflection. For a long time, he watched him, thinking, before his gaze dropped to Harry's hands. He turned around.
First, Tom wiped Harry's blood from the shard of mirror in his hand. He seemed fascinated by the fact that it could have been used to kill him, so he held onto it. Then he looked up again, his face unreadable. He stepped towards Harry until they were feet apart. Tom pocketed the shard of mirror.
"Hold out your hands."
Hesitantly, Harry did what he was asked. He didn't know what had changed, except that Tom appeared emotionless. When he held out his hands, Tom took one without a word. He rose his wand. He healed Harry's wounds. About a minute passed before his touch and the silence because too curious for Harry to take.
"Why are you doing this?" he asked.
Tom didn't answer, but turned Harry's hand gently, healing his palms.
"It doesn't have to be this way, you now," Harry muttered.
At this, Tom met his gaze, annoyed. He returned to healing Harry without anger, however. Harry thought he might stay silent from this point on, but eventually he did speak. By which time he appeared unfazed. "You lied to me."
Harry shook his head. "I didn't want to."
Voldemort seemed to doubt it. His expression grew dark again. Harry was healed now, so he let go of his hands and stepped away. He was going to leave in a moment. Harry couldn't stand the idea and found his heart escalate in fright, so he spoke. His voice was shaking.
"What do you expect to happen next?" he asked. "If you kill the Order and kill me, what will you have left?"
Tom made no response. He reached into his pocket for the shard of glass again, as if eerily drawn to it. Harry felt as if Tom was a long way away, unobtainable, slipping through his fingers.
"It wasn't meant to be this way," Harry said again, desperate to make him understand. "It never had to be this way!"
"We are rivals," said Voldemort simply. "The Prophecy foretold it."
"This is Dumbledore's prophecy," Harry reasoned in a desperate whisper, the idea only striking him when he said it. "Prophecies can be misread!"
"Fate has it that you alone have the power to defeat me," Voldemort reminded him, seeming calm, but avoiding his eyes. "It is no surprise, but if you are Dumbledore's weapon, if this is as the Prophecy warned... I cannot keep you."
He said it so calmly that Harry had a hard time believing he didn't mean it. Between his fingertips, Voldemort twirled the shard of glass.
"Who says I'll go through with what the Prophecy says?" asked Harry weakly. "Who says I ever wanted to be a part of this?"
"You were Dumbledore's spy... I do not overlook such things."
"So you have to kill me? You have to get rid of me forever?"
Voldemort did not answer. He was growing cold and angry. He took a step away.
"I've seen into your mind, Tom!" Harry exclaimed in desperation. "I know it kills you too. It doesn't have to be this way, you know this!"
Voldemort stopped. For a moment, Harry was unsure what he was doing, but he turned around slowly, his eyed burning red in anger.
"Don't call me 'Tom'," was his only response.
Harry felt dizzy with anxiety, stunned by Voldemort's sincerity. He had never seen so much hatred turned upon him from Tom and had never seen such a desire to kill. It broke his heart and terrified him more than anything else had, but at the prospect of being stuck in this room again, alone, in silence, he spoke what was really in his mind. In a desperate whisper, he tried to reason with Lord Voldemort.
"I love you," he whispered. "I still love you, Tom..."
It was then that Voldemort broke.
In whirling, thunderous impulse, Tom made a mistake. He lurched forwards, his feelings drowned in wrath, and stabbed Harry. Just like that.
A stunned moment passed, in which neither of them moved. At first, Harry didn't feel it. He couldn't believe it had happened. Tom had let anger take hold of him and all Harry thought was: not like this...
The pain started in his abdomen. Too irrelevant to him, at first, to matter. It was Tom's expression, inches away, that he cared about, the hundreds of thoughts that flickered through his head all at once, the sea that thrashed against the edges of hid mind, carrying forth a thousand new emotions. His eyes showed a madness that he had never felt for Harry before.
Cold anxiety found Harry when he began to feel his own blood soaking up his robes. He was in denial about the whole event, sure that it can't have been truly happening, because Voldemort was frozen, staring at him. Why didn't he do something, Harry wondered? If he regretted it, why didn't he fix this? If he wanted him to die, why didn't he kill Harry faster? He was in shock. He could see what Tom knew to be the truth: how easy it was to do nothing, to let him die.
Harry was the first to move. With shaking fingers, he reached for Tom's hand, urging him to pull the glass away. Together, they did. Tom let the weapon drop with a clatter, his crimson eyes flickering between Harry's own, shining more now than they regularly did. He wasn't even angry. Harry didn't let go of his hand. His fingers, wet with blood, slid around Tom's own to hold them.
In the next moment, Tom leant in towards him. Harry didn't know what he was doing, but the next thing he knew, Tom's lips were close to his ear and his hand held the back of his head. Harry rested against his shoulder, his eyes closed, breathing in the familiar smell of his neck. Tom might have been unable to face seeing him. He may have closed his eyes too. Harry never found out. All he knew was that thick, warm blood soaked through both of their robes now, seeping out of Harry's body. He didn't stir.
He was not scared of death. It must have shown on his face before, alongside a stunned, pained look of disbelief. He was not scared of knowing what came next, because although he knew his Horcruxes would keep him in a state of unimaginable pain, he felt that it might be better than the pain of this world and the pain of facing loved ones in the afterlife. Near-death might even be a blessing. So as he held Tom close with his remaining strength, breathing quickly, his heart rate fast, he felt no fear. Only acceptance.
Darkness had begun to obscure his vision for the final time. He felt cold and unsure of what came next, but despite himself, he almost felt safe in Tom's grasp. This was the end for him. The end, perhaps, of this war too, because Harry Potter was dead.