A/N: I am so sorry this has taken so long. I recently just moved, started school again, and just got internet working last week. In the move I managed to misplace the thumb drive containing this entire story. While trying to remember where I was taking this story I realized I really wasn't happy with where this was heading. I have fixed the minor errors in the prologue, rewrote some of chapter one and am currently working on chapter two. I can't guarantee how much will or won't change from now on, but everything is an attempt to make this story the best it can possibly be.
Disclaimer: So, it should be fairly obvious I am not the great JK Rowling, but for the sake of legality, I own nothing. I am merely borrowing the characters I like best and playing make believe.
Prologue: The End of the End
'This is it,' the young man thought, his heart pounding in his ears. 'I'm to die.' He was on his way to the Forbiden Forest where Death was waiting. Calmly he kept his head held high, daring himself not to think. Where was his Gryffindor bravery? He was at the edge of the forest now, chaos of battle surrounding him. Harry Potter would not fail. He would make sure that Voldemort stayed dead.
'Nagini,' was the only thought the Potions Master had in his head. He was lying in a pool of blood, most of which was his own. He had taken the anti-venom he created himself before coming to the Dark Lord's side. 'That bloody Elder Wand.' Once the bite had occurred and Harry bloody Potter had his memories, he prepared himself for the welcoming arms of Death. Though it was true that he had been expecting to die, there was still so much left that he had wished to accomplish that the fucking war had stolen from him. In a few seconds, Severus would finally have complete peace, submitting himself to the darkness that enveloped him.
Harry was facedown, silence surrounding him. That was, until a noise startled him. He sat up, almost immediately spotting the source. A small, naked child was under a seat, unwanted, stuffed out of sight, and struggling to breathe. He slowly drew near, a feeling of repulsion overwhelming him. Feeling like a coward he inched closer; he ought to at least comfort it, despite his repulsion.
"You cannot help."
He spun to see Albus Dumbledore walking toward him, wearing sweeping robes of midnight blue. "You wonderful boy! You brave, brave man. Let us walk."
Stunned, Harry followed Dumbledore's receding form. They took a seat on two chairs that Harry had not noticed before.
"But you're dead," said Harry.
"Oh yes," Dumbledore stated matter-of-factly.
"Then… I'm dead too?"
"Ah," said Dumbledore, his smile broadening. "That is the question, isn't it? On the whole, dear boy, I think not."
"Not?" repeated Harry.
"Not," said Dumbledore with the smile still plastered to his face.
"But…" Harry began, instinctively feeling for his scar, which wasn't there. "I should have died – I didn't defend myself! I meant to let him kill me!"
"And that will have made all the difference!"
Harry could only manage the word, "Explain."
The twinkle was evident in Dumbledore's eye. "But you already know."
"I let him kill me, so the part of his soul that was in me… has it gone?"
Dumbledore nodded enthusiastically. "Oh yes! He destroyed it. Your soul is whole, and completely your own, Harry."
"But if Voldemort used the Killing Curse and nobody died for me this time – how can I be alive?"
"I think you know," said Dumbledore. "Think back. Remember what he did in his ignorance, in his greed and his cruelty."
Harry thought; the answer rose to his lips easily, without effort. "He took my blood."
"Precisely!" said Dumbledore. "He took your blood and rebuilt his living body with it! Your blood in his veins, Harry, Lily's protection inside both of you! He tethered you to life while he lives!"
a"I live… while he lives? But I thought it was the other way round! I thought we both had to die? Or is it the same thing?"
"You were the seventh Horcrux, Harry, the Horcrux he never meant to make. He had rendered his soul so unstable that it broke apart when he committed those acts of unspeakable evil, the murder of your parents, the attempted killing of a child. But what escaped him from that room was even less than he knew. He left more than his body behind. He left part of himself latched to you, the would-be victim who had survived.
"And his knowledge remained woefully incomplete, Harry! That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children's tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing! That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.
"He took your blood believing it would strengthen him. He took into his body a tiny part of the enchantment your mother laid upon you when she died for you. His body keeps her sacrifice alive, and while that enchantment survives, so do you and so does Voldemort's one last hope for himself." Dumbledore smiled at Harry, and Harry stared at him.
"And you knew this? You knew all along?"
"I guessed. But my guesses have usually been right," said Dumbledore happily.
"There's more," said Harry. "There's more to it. Why did my wand break the wand he borrowed?"
"As to that, I can't be sure."
"Have a guess then," Harry said attempting to understand, and Dumbledore laughed.
"What you must understand, Harry, is that you and Lord Voldemort have journeyed together into realms of magic hither to unknown and untested. But here is what I think happened, and it is unprecedented, and no wandmaker could, I think, ever have predicted it or explained it to Voldemort.
"Without meaning to, as you know, Lord Voldemort doubled the bond between you and he when he returned to a human form. A part of his soul was still attached to yours, and, thinking to strengthen himself, he took part of your mother's sacrifice into himself. If he could have understood the precise and terrible power of that sacrifice, he would not, perhaps, dared to touch your blood… But then, if he had been able to understand, he could not be Lord Voldemort, and might never have murdered at all.
"Having ensured this two-fold connection, having wrapped your destinies together more securely than ever two wizards were joined in history, Voldemort proceeded to attack you with a wand that shared a core with yours. And now something very strange happened, as we know. The cores reacted in a way that Lord Voldemort, who never knew that your wand was twin of his, had never expected.
"He was more afraid than you were that night, Harry. You had accepted, even embraced, the possibility of death, something Lord Voldemort has never been able to do. Your courage won, your wand overpowered his. And in doing so, something happened between those wands, something that echoed the relationship between their masters.
"I believe that your wand imbibed some of the power and qualities of Voldemort's wand that night, which is to say that it contained a little of Voldemort himself. So your wand recognized him when he pursued you, recognized a man who was both kin and enemy, and it regurgitated some of his own magic against him, magic much more powerful than anything Lucius's wand had ever performed. Your wand now contained the power of your enormous courage and of Voldemort's own deadly skill: what chance did that poor stick of Lucius Malfoy's stand?"
"But if my wand was so powerful. How come Hermione was able to break it?" asked Harry.
"My dear boy, its remarkable effects were only directed at Voldemort, who had tampered so ill-advisedly with the deepest laws of magic. Only toward him was that wand abnormally powerful. Otherwise, it was a wand like any other… though a good one, I am sure," Dumbledore finished kindly.
Harry sat in thought for a long time. Everything he had been told made sense, but Harry was still struggling with it. "He killed me with your wand."
"He failed to kill you with my wand," Dumbledore corrected Harry. "I think we can agree that you are not dead – though I'm sure you suffered severely."
"I feel great at the moment, though," said Harry, looking down at his clean, unblemished hands. "Where are we, exactly?"
"Well, I was going to ask you that," said Dumbledore, looking around. "Where would you say that we are?"
Until Dumbledore had asked, Harry had not known. Now, however, he found that he had an answer ready to give. "It looks," he said slowly, "like King's Cross station. Except a lot cleaner and empty, and there are no trains as far as I can see."
"King's Cross station!" Dumbledore was chuckling immoderately. "Good gracious, really?"
"Well, where do you think we are?" asked Harry, a little defensively.
"My dear boy, I have no idea. This is, as they say, your party."
Extreme pain seethed through Severus, causing him to cry out. This felt worse than anything he had experienced at the hand of the Dark Lord. 'So this is hell,' he thought bitterly, grimacing at the pain. He noticed the bustling sounds that were growing louder all around. Muffled voices had him confused, until he heard his name.
"Severus! Severus! You need to wake up and take this potion. You lost a lot of blood; we need to replenish what you lost."
'Was that Poppy?' he thought, struggling to open his eyes. He felt the cool edge of a vial part his dry lips, the cold liquid flow down his throat. How he just wanted to sleep, give into the exhaustion that surrounded him, but too many thoughts filled his mind. 'How did I survive? Nagini bit me, I had almost bled out. I was supposed to die.'
As if Poppy had read his mind she began to speak. "Miss Granger watched as you were bitten, watched you give your memories to the young Mister Potter. She fled to find help and lucky the venom had been neutralized or you would have already been dead. Rest now; you are safe."
Severus was angry; angry that he had not been left for dead. Instead he was now forced to live with the guilt of his many mistakes. All of the people he had had a part in killing haunting his memories. He had chosen death, given everything wholly to letting himself go. Now he was forced to walk among the living. Would he be expected to resume his post at Hogwarts or would he be forced into hiding, atonement for everything he's done? His thoughts and frustrations worked as a lullaby and ushered the old, tired soul of the man to sleep.
Dumbledore had continued to explain what happened and that the child was the dying form of the piece of Voldemort's soul. They sat silently, Harry processing everything the Headmaster told him. He finally understood the full story, felt slightly manipulated, but still he had the upmost respect for the man. The realization of what would happen next settled gradually over Harry in the long minutes, like softly falling snow.
"I've got to go back, haven't I?"
"That is up to you."
"I've got a choice?"
"Oh yes," Dumbledore smiled at him. "We are in King's Cross, you say? I think that if you decided not to go back, you would be able to… let's say… board a train."
"And where would it take me?"
"On," said Dumbledore simply.
"Voldemort's got the Elder Wand."
"True. Voldemort has the Elder Wand."
"But you want me to go back?"
"I think," said Dumbledore, "that if you choose to return, there is a chance that he may be finished for good. I cannot promise it. But I know this, Harry, that you have less to fear from returning here than he does."
Harry glanced again at the raw-looking thing that trembling and choked in the shadow beneath the distant chair.
"Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love. By returning, you may ensure that fewer souls are maimed, fewer families are torn apart. If that seems to you a worthy goal, then we say good-bye for the present."
Harry nodded and sighed. Leaving this place would not be nearly as hard as walking into the forest had been, but it was warm and light and peaceful here, and he knew he was heading back to pain and the fear of more loss. He stood up, and Dumbledore did the same, and they looked for a long moment into each other's faces.
"Tell me one last thing," said Harry. "Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?"
Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry's ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.
"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"
He was lying face down on the ground again. The smell of the forest filled his nostrils. He could feel the cold hard ground beneath his cheek, and the hinge of his glasses, which had been knocked sideways by the fall, cutting into his temple. Every inch of him ached, and the place where the Killing Curse had hit him felt like the bruise of an iron-clad punch. He did not stir, but remained exactly where he had fallen, with his left arm bent out at an awkward angle and his mouth gaping.
He had expected to hear cheers of triumph and jubilation at his death, but instead hurried footsteps, whispers, and solicitous murmurs filled the air.
"My Lord… my Lord…"
It was Bellatrix's voice, and she spoke as if to a lover. Harry did not dare open his eyes, but allowed his other senses to explore his predicament. He knew that his wand was still stowed beneath his robes because he could feel it pressed between his chest and the ground. A slight crushing effect in the area of his stomach told him that the Invisibility Cloak was also there, stuffed out of sight.
"That will do," said Voldemort's voice.
Harry chanced a glance to see Voldemort standing up. He closed his eyes again to process what he had seen. Both of them had briefly fallen unconscious and both of them had now returned…
"My Lord, let me – "
"I do not require assistance," said Voldemort coldly, and though he could not see it, Harry pictured Bellatrix withdrawing a helpful hand. "The boy… is he dead?"
There was complete silence in the clearing. Nobody approached Harry, but he felt their concentrated gaze; it seemed to press him harder into the ground, and he was terrified a finger or an eyelid might twitch.
"You," said Voldemort, and there was a bang and a small shriek of pain. "Examine him. Tell me whether he is dead."
Harry did not know who had been sent to verify. He could only lie there, with his heart thumping traitorously, and wait to be examined, but at the same time, noting, small comfort though it was, that Voldemort was wary of approaching him, that Voldemort suspected that all had not gone to plan…
Hands, softer than he expected, began to check for signs of life. He knew that she could feel the steady pounding of life against his ribs.
"Is Draco alive? Is he in the castle?"
The whisper was barely audible; her lips were an inch from his ear, her head bent so low that her long hair shielded his face from the onlookers.
"Yes," he breathed back.
He felt the hand on his chest contract then it was gone. He held his breath, praying he could be quick enough.
"He is dead!" Narcissa Malfoy called to the watchers, causing the celebration to start and Harry to relax some.
"You see?" screeched Voldemort over the tumult. "Harry Potter is dead by my hand, and no man alive can threaten me now! Watch! Crucio!"
Harry had been expecting it, knowing that he must be subjected to humiliation to prove Voldemort's victory. He forced himself to remain limp as he was lifted into the air without pain. His glasses flew off and his wand slipped but he did not move.
"Now," said Voldemort, "we go to the castle, and show them what has become of their hero. Who shall drag the body? No – wait –"
There was a fresh outbreak of laughter, and after a few moments Harry felt the ground trembling beneath him.
"You carry him," Voldemort said. "He will be nice and visible in your arms, will he not? Pick up your little friend, Hagrid. And the glasses – put on the glasses – he must be recognizable – "
Someone slammed Harry's glasses onto his face with deliberate force, but enormous hands lifted him exceedingly gently. Harry could feel Hagrid's arms trembling with the force of his heaving sobs; great tears splashed down upon him as Hagrid cradled Harry in his arms, and Harry did not dare, by movement or word, to intimate to Hagrid that all was not, yet, lost.
"Move," said Voldemort, and Hagrid stumbled forward, forcing his way through the close-growing trees, back through the forest. Branches caught at Harry's hair and robes, but he lay quiescent, his mouth lolling open, his eyes shut, and in the darkness, while the Death Eaters crowed all around them, and while Hagrid sobbed blindly, nobody looked to see whether a pulse beat in the exposed neck of Harry Potter.
Harry thought Hagrid was forced to obey because he lurched a little. A chill settled over them where they stood, and Harry heard the rasping breath of the dementors that patrolled the outer trees. Someone passed close by Harry, and he knew it was Voldemort because moments later he began to speak, his voice magically louder.
"Harry Potter is dead. He was killed as he ran away, trying to save himself while you lay down your lives for him. We bring you his body as proof that your hero is gone.
"The battle is won. You have lost half of your fighters. My Death Eaters outnumber you, and the Boy Who Lived is finished. There must be no more war. Anyone who continues to resist, man, woman, or child, will be slaughtered as will every member of their family. Come out of the castle now, kneel before me, and you shall be spared. Your parents and children, your brothers and sisters will live and be forgiven, and you will join me in the new world we shall build together."
There was silence. Voldemort was so close that Harry did not dare open his eyes.
"Come," said Voldemort, and Harry heard him move ahead, and Hagrid was forced to follow. Harry opened his eyes a fraction, and saw Voldemort striding in front of them, wearing the great snake Nagini around his shoulders.
The Death Eaters came to a halt: Harry heard them spreading out in a line facing the open front doors of the school. He waited. Any moment, the people for whom he had tried to die would see him, lying apparently dead, in Hagrid's arms.
The scream was terrible because he had never expected or dreamed that Professor McGonagall could make such a sound. Bellatrix cackled.
Ron's, Hermione's, and Ginny's voices were worse than McGonagall's; Harry forced himself to remain still.
A commotion began until Voldemort screamed, "Silence!" and forced it upon them. "It is over! Set him down, Hagrid, at my feet, where he belongs!"
Harry felt himself lowered onto the grass.
"You see?" said Voldemort, and Harry felt him striding backward and forward right beside the place where he lay. "Harry Potter is dead! Do you understand now, deluded ones? He was nothing, ever, but a boy who relied on others to sacrifice themselves for him!"
"He beat you!" yelled Ron, and the charm broke, and the defenders of Hogwarts were shouting and screaming again until a second, more powerful bang extinguished their voices once more.
"He was killed while trying to sneak out of the castle grounds," said Voldemort, and there was relish in his voice for the lie, "killed while trying to save himself-"
But Voldemort broke off: Harry heard a scuffle and a shout, then another bang, a flash of light, and a grunt of pain; he opened his eyes an infinitesimal amount. Someone had broken free of the crowd and charged at Voldemort.
"And who is this?" he said in his soft snake's hiss. "Who has volunteered to demonstrate what happens to those who continue to fight when the battle is lost?"
Bellatrix gave a delighted laugh.
"It is Neville Longbottom, my Lord! The boy who has been giving the Carrows so much trouble! The son of the Aurors, remember?"
"Ah, yes, I remember," said Voldemort, looking down at Neville, who was struggling back to his feet, unarmed and unprotected, standing in the no-man's-land between the survivors and the Death Eaters. "But you are a pureblood, aren't you, my brave boy?" Voldemort asked Neville, who stood facing him, his empty hands clenched in fists.
"So what if I am?" said Neville loudly.
"You show spirit and bravery, and you come of noble stock. You will make a very valuable Death Eater. We need you're kind, Neville Longbottom."
"I'll join you when hell freezes over," said Neville. "Dumbledore's Army!" he shouted, and there was an answering cheer that the spell couldn't suppress.
All of a sudden the Sorting Hat flew out of the shattered window of the school and headed straight into Voldemort's hand.
"There will be no more Sorting at Hogwarts School," said Voldemort. "There will be no more Houses. The emblem, shield, and colors of my noble ancestor, Salazar Slytherin, will suffice for everyone. Won't they, Neville Longbottom?"
He pointed his wand at Neville, who grew rigid and still, then forced the hat onto Neville's head, so that it slipped below his eyes. There were movements from the watching crowd in front of the castle, and as one, the Death Eaters raised their wands, holding the fighters of Hogwarts at bay.
"Neville here is now going to demonstrate what happens to anyone foolish enough to continue to oppose me," said Voldemort, and with a flick of his wand, he caused the Sorting Hat to burst into flames.
Screams split the dawn, and Neville was aflame, rooted to the spot, unable to move, and Harry could not bear it: He must act –
And then many things happened at the same moment.
An uproar came from the school as the fighters came running. Grawp came running from the forest, followed by the Centaurs. Harry pulled the Invisibility Cloak from inside his robes, swung it over himself and sprang to his feet, as Neville moved too.
In one swift, fluid motion, Neville broke free of the Body-Bind Curse upon him; the flaming hat fell off him and he drew from its depths something silver, with a glittering, rubied handle –
The slash of the silver blade could not be heard over the roar of the oncoming crowd or the sounds of the clashing giants or of the stampeding centaurs, and yet it seemed to draw every eye. With a single stroke Neville sliced off the great snake's head, which spun high into the air, gleaming in the light of the flooding from the entrance hall, and Voldemort's mouth was open in a scream of fury that nobody could hear, and the snake's body thudded to the ground at his feet –
Hidden beneath the Invisibility Cloak, Harry cast a Shield Charm between Neville and Voldemort before the latter could raise his wand. Then, over the screams and the roars and the thunderous stamps of the battling giants, Hagrid's yell came loudest of all.
"HARRY!" Hagrid shouted. "HARRY – WHERE'S HARRY?"
Chaos reigned. The battle continued as beast fought the Death Eaters and Voldemort himself. Harry was shooting jinxes and curses at any Death Eater he could see, and they crumpled, not knowing what or who had hit them, and their bodies were trampled by the retreating crowd.
Still hidden beneath the Invisibility Cloak, Harry was buffeted into the entrance hall: He was searching for Voldemort and saw him across the room, firing spells from his wand as he backed into the Great Hall, still screaming instructions to his followers as he sent curses flying left and right; Harry cast more Shield Charms, and Voldemort's would-be victims, Seamus Finnigan and Hannah Abbott, darted past him into the Great Hall, where they joined the fight already flourishing inside it.
Voldemort was in the center of the battle, and he was striking and smiting all within reach. Harry could not get a clear shot, but fought his way nearer, still invisible, and the Great Hall became more and more crowded as everyone who could walk forced their way inside.
Harry saw Yaxley slammed to the floor by George and Lee Jordan, saw Dolohov fall with a scream at Flitwick's hands, saw Walden McNair thrown across the room by Hagrid, hit the stone wall opposite, and slide unconscious to the ground. He saw Ron and Neville bringing down Fenrir Greyback, Aberfoth Stunning Rookwood, Arthur and Percy flooring Thicknesse, and Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy running through the crowd, not even attempting to fight, screaming for their son.
Voldemort was now dueling McGonagall, Slughorn, and Kinglsey all at once, and there was cold hatred in his face as they wove and ducked around him, unable to finish him –
Bellatrix was still fighting too, fifty yards away from Voldemort, and like her master she dueled three at once: Hermione, Ginny, and Luna, all battling their hardest, but Bellatrix was equal to them, and Harry's attention was diverted as a Killing Curse shot so close to Ginny that she missed death by an inch –
He changed course, running at Bellatrix rather than Voldemort, but before he had gone a few steps he was knocked sideways.
"NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!"
Mrs. Weasley threw off her cloak as she ran, freeing her arms. Bellatrix spun on the spot, roaring with laughter at the sight of her new challenger.
"OUT OF MY WAY!" shouted Mrs. Weasley to the three girls, and with a swipe of her wand she began to duel. Harry watched with Bellatrix Lestrange's smile faltered and became a snarl. Jets of light flew from both wands, the floor around the witches' feet became hot and cracked; both women were fighting to kill.
"No!" Mrs. Weasley cried as a few students ran forward, trying to come to her aid. "Get back! GET BACK! She is mine!"
Hundreds of people now lined the walls, watching the two fights, Voldemort and his three opponents, Bellatrix and Molly, and Harry stood, invisible, torn between both, wanting to attack and yet to protect, unable to be sure that he would not hit the innocent.
"What will happen to your children when I've killed you?" taunted Bellatrix, as mad as her master, capering as Molly's curses danced around her. "When Mummy's gone the same way as Freddie?"
"You – will – never – touch – our – children – again!" screamed Mrs. Weasley.
Bellatrix laughed, the same exhilarated laugh her cousin Sirius had given as he toppled backward through the veil, and suddenly Harry knew what was going to happen before it did.
Molly's curse soared beneath Bellatrix's outstretched arm and hit her squarely in the chest, directly over her heart. Bellatrix's gloating smile froze, her eyes seemed to bulge: For the tiniest space of time she knew what had happened, and then she toppled, and the watching crowd roared, and Voldemort screamed.
Harry felt as though he turned in slow motion; he saw McGonagall, Kingsley, and Slughorn blasted backward, flailing and writhing through the air, as Voldemort's fury at the fall of his last, best lieutenant exploded with the force of a bomb. Voldemort raised his wand and directed it at Molly Weasley.
"PROTEGO!" roared Harry, and the Shield Charm expanded in the middle of the Hall, and Voldemort stared around for the source as Harry pulled off the Invisibility Cloak at last.
The yell of shock, the cheers, the screams on every side of "Harry!" "HE'S ALIVE!" were stifled at once. The crowd was afraid, and silence fell abruptly and completely as Voldemort and Harry looked at each other, and began, at the same moment, to circle each other.
"I don't want anyone else to try to help," Harry said loudly, and in the total silence his voice carried like a trumpet. "It's got to be like this. It's got to be me."
"Potter doesn't mean that," he said, his red eyes wide. "That isn't how he works, is it? Who are you going to use as a shield today, Potter?"
"Nobody," said Harry simply. "There are no more Horcruxes. It's just you and me. Neither can live while the other survives, and one of us is about to leave for good…"
"One of us?" jeered Voldemort, and his whole body was taut and his red eyes stared, a snake that was about to strike. "You think it will be you, do you, the boy who has survived by accident, and because Dumbeldore was pulling the strings?"
"Accident, was it, when my mother died to save me?" asked Harry. They were still moving sideways, both of them, in that perfect circle, maintaining the same distance from each other, and for Harry no face existed but Voldemort's. "Accident, when I decided to fight in that graveyard? Accident, that I didn't defend myself tonight, and still survived, and returned to fight again?"
"ACCIDENTS!" screamed Voldemort, but still he did not strike, and the watching crowd was frozen as if Petrified, and of the hundreds in the Hall, nobody seemed to breathe but they two. "Accident and chance and the fact that you crouched and sniveled behind the skirts of greater men and women, and permitted me to kill them for you!"
"You won't be killing anyone else tonight," said Harry as they circled, and stared into each other's eyes, green into red. "You won't be able to kill any of them ever again. Don't you get it? I was ready to die to stop you from hurting these people –"
"But you did not!"
"- I meant to, and that's what did it. I've done what my mother did. They're protected from you. Haven't you noticed how none of the spells you put on them are binding? You can't torture them. You can't touch them. You don't learn from your mistakes, Riddle, do you?"
"YOU DARE –"
"Yes, I dare," said Harry. "I know things you don't know, Tom Riddle. I know lots of important things that you don't. Want to hear some, before you make another big mistake?"
Voldemort did not speak, but prowled in a circle, and Harry knew that he kept him temporarily mesmerized and at bay, held back by the faintest possibility that Harry might indeed know a final secret…
"Is it love again?" said Voldemort, his snake's face jeering. "Dumbledore's favorite solution, love, which he claimed conquered death, though love did not stop him from falling from the tower and breaking like an old waxwork? Love, which did not prevent me stamping out your Mudblood mother like a cockroach, Potter – and nobody seems to love you enough to run forward this time and take my curse. So what will stop you dying now when I strike?"
"Just one thing," said Harry, and still they circled each other, wrapped in each other, held apart by nothing but the last secret.
"If it is not love that will save you this time," said Voldemort, "you must believe that you have magic that I do not, or else a weapon more powerful than mine?"
"I believe both," said Harry, and he saw shock flit across the snakelike face, though it was instantly dispelled; Voldemort began to laugh, and the sound was more frightening than his screams; humorless and insane, it echoed around the silent Hall.
"You think you know more magic than I do?" he said. "Than I, than Lord Voldemort, who had performed magic that Dumbledore himself never dreamed of?"
"Oh, he dreamed of it," said Harry, "but he knew more than you, knew enough not to do what you've done."
"You mean he was weak!" screamed Voldemort. "Too weak to dare, too weak to take what might have been his, what will be mine!"
"No, he was cleverer than you," said Harry, "a better wizard, a better man."
"I brought about the death of Albus Dumbledore!"
"You thought you did, but you were wrong. Yes, Dumbledore's dead," said Harry calmly, "but you didn't have him killed. He chose his own manner of dying, chose it months before he died, arranged the whole thing with the man you thought was your servant."
Severus was standing at the entrance of the Great Hall, the commotion too great to miss. Voldemort was screaming, it echoed off the walls and through the cold hallways of the castle. Severus was in pain, but he had to see the end of the man he had pretended was his master. He watched the pair circle, watched the confused expression briefly cross the Dark Lord's face.
"What childish dream is this?" said Voldemort, but still he did not strike, his red eyes did not leave the boy's.
"Severus Snape wasn't yours," said Harry, causing Severus to cringe. "Snape was Dumbledore's, Dumbledore's from the moment you started hunting down my mother. And you never realized it, because of the thing you can't understand. You never saw Snape cast a Patronus, did you, Riddle?"
Voldemort did not answer and Snape knew it was because he hadn't. He had been extremely careful to not cast one around him for fear of being killed. They continued to circle and Severus could not advert his eyes. Any minute the snake would strike; he hoped that Potter would be prepared.
"Snape's Patronus was a doe," said Harry, "the same as my mother's, because he loved her for nearly all of his life, from the time when they were children. You should have realized," he said as he saw Voldemort, "he asked you to spare her life, didn't he?"
"He desired her, that was all," sneered Voldemort, "but when she had gone, he agreed that there were other women, and of purer blood, worthier of him –"
"Of course he told you that," said Harry, "but he was Dumbledore's spy from the moment you threatened her, and he's been working against you ever since! Dumbledore was already dying when Snape finished him!"
"It matters not!" shrieked Voldemort and Snape couldn't disagree more. In an odd way, that back and forth would have just cleared his name, if he truly did survive this.
"Dumbledore was trying to keep the Elder Wand from me! He intended that Snape should be the true master of the wand! But I got there ahead of you, little boy – I reached the wand before you could get your little hands on it. I understood the truth before you caught up. I killed Severus Snape three hours ago, and the Elder Wand, the Deathstick, the Wand of Destiny is truly mine! Dumbledore's last plan went wrong, Harry Potter!"
"Yeah, it did," said Harry. "You're right. But before you try to kill me, I'd advise you to think about what you've done… Think, and try for some remorse, Riddle…"
Severus watched from the shadow as Voldemort grew angrier and angrier. "What is this?" the snake questioned.
"It's your one last chance," said Harry, "it's all you've got left… I've seen what you'll be otherwise… Be a man… try… Try for some remorse…"
"You dare -?" said Voldemort again. Severus could see a glint in Harry's eyes. He had something up his sleeve and the Hall knew it.
"Yes, I dare," said Harry, "because Dumbledore's last plan hasn't backfired on me at all. It's backfired on you, Riddle!"
Voldemort's hand was trembling on the Elder Wand, and Harry gripped Draco's very tightly. The moment when all would be decided was drawing close.
"The wand still isn't working properly for you because you murdered the wrong person. Severus Snape was never the true master of the Elder Wand. He never defeated Dumbledore."
"He killed –"
"Aren't you listening? Snape never beat Dumbledore! Dumbledore's death was planned between them! Dumbledore intended to die undefeated, the wand's last true master! If all had gone as planned, the wand's power would have died with him, because it had never been won from him!"
"But then, Potter, Dumbledore as good as gave me the wand!" Voldemort's voice shook with malicious pleasure. "I stole the wand from its master's tomb! I removed it against its last master's wishes! Its power is mine!"
"You still don't get it, Riddle, do you? Possessing the wand isn't enough! Holding it, using it, doesn't make it really yours. Didn't you listen to Ollivander? The wand chooses the wizard… The Elder Wand recognized a new master before Dumbledore died, someone who never even laid a hand on it. The new master removed the wand from Dumbledore against his will, never realizing exactly what he had done, or that the world's most dangerous wand has given him its allegiance…"
Voldemort's chest rose and fell rapidly, and the Great Hall knew what was coming.
"The true master of the Elder Wand was Draco Malfoy."
Blank shock showed in Voldemort's face for a moment, but then was gone.
"But what does it matter?" he said softly. "Even if you are right, Potter, it makes no difference to you and me. You no longer have the phoenix wand: We duel on skill alone… and after I have killed you, I can attend to Draco Malfoy…"
"You're too late," said Harry. "You've missed your chance. I got there first. I overpowered Draco weeks ago. I took this wand from him."
Harry twitched the hawthorn wand, and every eye fell upon him, including the man's in the shadows.
"So it all comes down to this, doesn't it?" whispered Harry. "Does the wand in your hand know its last master was Disarmed? Because if it does… I am the true master of the Elder Wand."
A red-gold glow burst suddenly across the enchanted sky above them as an edge of dazzling sun appeared over the sill of the nearest window. If Severus did not move soon he would be discovered. The high pitched voice shriek as the boy too yelled his best hope to the heavens, pointing Draco's wand:
The bang was like a cannon blast, and the golden flames that erupted between them, at the dead center of the circle they had been treading, marked the point where the spells collided.
Harry saw Voldemort's green jet meet his own spell, saw the Elder Wand fly high, dark against the sunrise, spinning across the enchanted ceiling like the head of Nagini, spinning through the air toward the master it would not kill, who had come to take full possession of it at last. And Harry, with the unerring skill of the Seeker, caught the wand in his free hand as Voldemort fell backward, arms splayed, the slit pupils of the scarlet eyes rolling upward. Tom Riddle hit the floor with a mundane finality, his body feeble and shrunken, the white hands empty, the snakelike face vacant and unknowing. Voldemort was dead, killed by his own rebounding curse, and Harry stood with two wands in his hand, staring down at his enemy's shell.
Severus watched the three brave Gryffindors sneak out of the Great Hall while the celebration was just starting. He followed them up to the Headmaster's Office which he had occupied for the past year. Potter looked exhausted, but then again, he had just fought and beaten one of the most powerful wizards of all time. He pulled back the sleeve of his left arm, pleased that Mark that once held a place there had vanished, leaving a small scar in its stead. The scar was gone from Potter's forehead as well. Listening to the conversation that took place between the Golden Trio he let himself smile briefly as he heard Potter utter the words, "I've had enough trouble for a lifetime."
Turning on his heel, the man made his way back to the infirmary before his absence was noticed, a feeling of incredible exhaustion coming over him. The war was one and, though not his choice, he was still alive to see it.