Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling
A/N Once again, thanks to everyone for your patience. We are still without internet, our living situation went a little nuts as the place we live is undergoing a change in ownership and as our internet is included in our lease, it is making the change over a pain in the ass since they are remodeling and moving everything around. We should have internet again by March 1 so hopefully I will be more regular again soon. I am busy working on the next couple of chapters in the mean time and they promise to be exiting as this story is getting close to it's climatic conclusion!
I was deeply saddened to learn yesterday of the death of Whitney Houston, I was a huge fan from the time she broke onto the music scene in the late 80's and so many happy memories from my life have her music as a soundtrack. Therefore, I would like to dedicate this chapter of Rise of the Phoenix to her memory.
He had always been thrilled by the the sight of blood. Blood meant victory, another weak being fallen to his great power. Blood meant death - the thing that didn't discriminate. It was promised for all…except for him. He, who had reached deeper into the dark magic than any other before, had found the way to conquer his own mortality. Or so he'd thought.
They had fallen one by one.
The Diary - thrust carelessly into Harry Potter's hands by that fool Lucius Malfoy.
The Ring - somehow unearthed in the ruins of his mother's childhood home by Albus Dumbledore.
The Locket, The Cup, The Diadem - somehow found by Harry Potter and destroyed.
Was there nothing that could stop Harry Potter? After six years, he had yet to find a way. At first, he had convinced himself it was because Potter hid behind Dumbledore. That excuse was shattered now, Dumbledore was five years dead - he hadn't spent three years imprisoned with Potter, hadn't blocked the Avada Kedavra. Nothing had - and yet, Potter still lived. It was enough to make him wonder if Potter had his own Horcruxes lying around somewhere.
No. Not Potter, not Dumbledore's golden boy. Not the Chosen One. He couldn't, for if he did…
With an ugly hiss, he kicked out at the body, causing it to slide down the wall. Her face came to rest on the rocky floor, very close to the pool of blood. Her eyes were wide open, staring up at him through the thick lenses, though they were unable to see. Her sight - the inner and the outer - was blinded forever. The secrets he so desperately needed locked inside.
He had been outwitted. Yes, he would admit that to himself but no other. Once again, he had made a mistake. Keeping her above keeping Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy was going to cost him - perhaps it would cost him everything. He wasn't ready to believe that yet, not when he still had her. Nagini hated him, wished desperately for her own death, yet he would do all in his power to prevent her wish from being granted.
No, he would not allow it to be granted. He was Lord Voldemort, the greatest wizard in history. Tomorrow an announcement would be made that he would replace Dolores Umbridge as Minister of Magic. He would have the entire department of Aurors at his disposal to protect her; he would keep her with him from then on.
He gave the blood a last disdainful glare before turning away from her body- once again shaken by the slight tremor of …fear. It was stupid. He had nothing to fear. If the time came - if it became absolutely necessary - he would do it again. How much more difference could there be between seven and eight after all? He pushed aside the reminder of the footnote at the end of his reading, the part about how each tearing weakened the magic of the originator.
He looked up once again to see the man in the doorway, the one he had yet to deal with. He stared at him for a brief moment, his red, snake-like eyes glaring in the semi-darkness. A look sharper than the stone she had used to slice her wrists.
"I don't know how she did it…" he stammered, desperate to make him believe - his life depended on it. "I swear, I didn't turn my back for a minute."
He gave the man a final glare before raising his wand.
The body fell at his feet, taking the number of Voldemorts inner circle down to three now that two of the five were dead. He stood over him, his eyes glowing like the bright embers of fire.
"Failure comes with a price."
He looked up at the assembled group at the end of the entrance to the cave.
"The next of you who fails brings this end for all." His eyes fixed on the oldest of the three. The one who looked the most upset by what he had just witnessed. "You have served me well Rudolphus, because of this I will allow you to deal with your brother as you see fit."
"Yes my Lord," Rudolphus bowed his head as Voldemort began past, then he turned. "And the professor's body?"
Voldemort turned back, his eyes had taken on that angry glow again, so angry he thought he might be the next to die.
His eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared for the briefest of seconds. His tongue darted across dry lips as he considered the most undignified end. She had mocked him, had laughed at him, and in the end escaped him - she deserved no dignity in death. Let the wild creatures come and feast upon her flesh, let the flies swarm in her blood, the maggots, and every other foul vermin that feasted upon the dead.
"Leave her to rot."
He brushed past the three, leaving them in stunned silence.
The three LeStrange's - Rudolphus, Bellatrix and Rebastian- had been Voldemort's most loyal and dedicated servants - and now two were dead. One in battle, and now one murdered by Voldemort himself - like the Malfoys, for no reason. Rebastian Le Strange had stayed on Voldemorts side, even during the years when Voldemort appeared to be dead, when others had hidden behind their names and claimed to have been imperioused. He had remained faithful, had gone to Azkaban rather than grovel at the ministry's feet like others. He deserved better.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to face the man who had been his friend since they were eleven years old.
"We should go." He nodded to the cave entrance "He deserves a proper burial and The Dark Lord will …" he hesitated, Voldemort had become so unstable recently. It was nearly impossible to guess how he might react to any given scenario. "If we are gone too long, he won't like it."
Rudolphus nodded, and then looked down at his brothers still body. Even with two days worth of beard growth, he could see the little brother who had followed him around mercilessly when they were kids, who had idolized him - who had followed him into the darkness.
"His wand's gone." Rudolphus looked around, the wand was nowhere in sight. "It must have rolled away when he fell."
"I'll find it." The man nodded towards the entrance to the cave, at the other man. "You go and help him - I'll be right behind you."
Rudolphus nodded, and then lifted his brother in his arms to carry him from the cave. He waited until he heard the loud cracks that assured that they were gone, then he moved the leg that he had used to hide the wand from the others view. He picked it up and stashed it in his pocket before rising to his feet to stand over the professor.
Did he dare? He had already taken risks - he had told the Dark Lord that he saw Goyle killed when really he had seen him disappear into the fire with Draco Malfoy. He had told him that the Rebels had gotten in through Umbridge's fire to protect the two snatchers who had foolishly let them in right under their noses. He knew that one of them had turned and joined the rebellion and wore the phoenix tattoo - and yet he kept it to himself.
He had watched the inner circle shrink from forty down to three. Any of them could be next. He could be next.
What was one more risk? Every day - hour - minute - second in the Dark Lords service was risk. At least this way, it was on his own terms. It was an odd concept - for the first time in his nearly forty-four years - he embraced the idea of doing the right thing. Even if that meant dying for it.
He raised his wand and pointed it at the professor. He would not leave her to rot; he would leave her with dignity.
Rise of the Phoenix
Chapter Twenty - One
The Day Before
He hated waking alone. After three years of lonely darkness, there was nothing he loved more than waking to find her next to him. Her flaming red hair spread over their pillows, her body pressed close to him, the sweet scent of her in the air around him - he loved - he cherished it all. But he woke alone so rarely that he couldn't be selfish about it, disappointed maybe, but not selfish. He knew where to find her at any rate; the separation would only last minutes.
He rose from the bed and pulled on a pair of jeans, noting as he did that they weren't baggy anymore. He had put on a fair amount of weight now that he was getting three decent meals a day. Long gone was the skinny, knobbly-kneed kid he had been at eleven. He had filled out; he was far from bulky, but all rangy muscle, only about a head shorter than Ron who would always be taller than pretty much everyone. Ginny said he had a strong face, clear and expressive. He wasn't sure what that meant exactly, but she was smiling when she said it, so it had to be good.
He pulled a t-shirt over his head, then pushed the curtain aside to cross the still quiet outer portion of the tent, noting as he did that Ron and Hermione were still sleeping. When he walked out into the bright, early-morning sunshine, he saw that covered most of the camp as well. It would be a quiet day in a camp that was usually loud. It was a camp still mourning.
He found her where he knew he would, sitting in the meadow, her back resting against her mother's tree. Ginny always said it was her favorite place and he could understand why. There was an undeniable connection here with the past, though it was a graveyard, it was an oddly happy place. It was more magical than Diagon Alley, or Hogsmeade, even Hogwarts. So many of the ones they loved rested here that it had a feel like that of coming home after a long journey.
Ginny heard his feet rustling the long grass as he approached and she opened her eyes, happy to see him. It had been weeks now since he was freed, but she was still happy to see him. After every separation, no matter how short, even when they opened their eyes after the night of sleep - to her heart it was a reunion - reason to celebrate.
She smiled up at him as he approached, brushing his hand over a flower and tree as he passed. Always, he made a point of visiting McGonagall, Slughorn and Flitwick - then Narcissa Malfoy. He owed them all so much. He always ended in the same place, and there was nothing in the world that could stop the tears that came when he touched Molly Weasley's tree. He brushed his cheek over the rough bark. She had been the only mother he had ever known, as dear to him as his own mother, miles and miles more dear than the woman who had grudgingly raised him.
He brushed a hand over Ginny's hair, and then sat next to her in the grass, brushing his hand over Fred's tree to savor his cheeky grin. Happiness, regret - sadness.
"I knew I would find you here." Harry said, leaning over to kiss her.
She smiled, leaning her head back to look at her mother. "It's so peaceful here."
But sad too.
"You come here when you need to be alone to think." He took her hand in his, kissing her fingers before letting it rest on his knee. "So, tell me what you're thinking about. If you are ready to that is."
"I am ready, I think." She smiled again, more nervous this time. "It's big Harry. Huge and scary and…almost too much, but it's time to talk about it."
"I think I know." He turned his head and gave her a shaky smile. It wasn't an idea he was pleased with, he hated it in fact, but promises had been made. "You think it's time."
She nodded, the breeze wisped her hair around her face and she brushed it back behind her ears, twisted it into a ponytail then pulled it over her shoulder to lie against her chest. "You were with him a long time last night, you, Draco and Neville. If Neville was with you, it has to be the snake- you're going after it soon - can you tell me when?"
He looked at her sadly, wishing with everything inside him that he could lie, but he couldn't, not to her. "Tomorrow."
Ginny nodded and smiled "I thought so. You've never been one to leave the grass grow under your feet."
"We have a very small window of opportunity." He explained, "If we don't do it tomorrow, we may not get a chance again where Voldemort will be completely separated from it."
"Once you kill it, there will be nothing standing in the way." She sighed and leaned against him. He put his arm around her, gathering her in close. "You'll go back to Hogwarts to fight, and you'll go as quickly as possible to try to catch him off guard."
"Yes," He couldn't deny it; already rumors were floating around the camp. "Soon."
"I need to be there Harry." Her voice was strong, fierce and determined. "For Fred, for Mum and Dad."
He sighed, knowing the moment had come. He wanted so badly to tell her she needed to stay behind -to tell her she was too weak to fight. He, Ron and George had talked about it and they had come up with many reasons why she should be left behind. She was still weak, still heartbroken, she hadn't used a wand in over three years and her magic was weak. But for every reason why she should be left, there was a reason why she should go.
She had been held prisoner - both physically and in her own mind. Like Luna, she had been searched and degraded and she still wore the D on her hand - D for derided. She'd been considered mad, spent six months in St. Mungo's - lost in the darkness - thinking her brother was a Dementor who wanted to hurt her. But above all of that was the reason that she and Harry shared - that so many shared -the thing that trumped any reason they could come up with for her to stay behind.
Voldemort had murdered her parents.
She turned his face so he had no choice but to look into her eyes - they were as fierce as her voice. Strong and defiant, a reminder of the way they had looked while she, Hermione and Luna battled Bellatrix Le Strange. He tried not to remember the Avada Kedavra that barely missed her just before Molly Weasley broke into their battle - it was a lost cause.
"I need to be there Harry; I need to see him die."
"I know." He nodded miserably, looking away from her. It was a right that many shared. A right that no one could be denied. All he could do was see to it she was properly prepared - make sure they took the time for everyone to be properly prepared. Three years ago, they jumped into a battle no one was ready to fight; he wouldn't make that mistake again. "You can start tomorrow."
She smiled and kissed his cheek "Thank you."
"Don't thank me yet." He grumbled, "I'm going to do everything in my power to keep you to the back of the battle as much as possible."
Ginny sighed and leaned against him. She'd figured he'd try something like that. She would cooperate for now; let him believe what he needed to. Three years ago, she had managed to get herself out of the room of requirement, when the time came, she would get herself to front lines where she belonged.
Her place was at Harry's side - whether he liked it or not, she would be there.
She was pacing and they didn't like it. In all the time they had known her, pacing had meant she was deep in thought. Her being deep in thought meant something was wrong.
The Philosophers Stone, The heir of Slytherin, A murderer at Hogwarts, The Goblet of Fire, Umbridge, The Half-Blood Prince, Horcruxes ….all things that had made her pace - all things that had gone wrong. But none as wrong as the Horcruxes. Now, she was pacing over the final one once again - the barrier around the final one.
"There has to be a way," She spoke, but not to anyone in particular. Sometimes, Ron thought she might be suffering from the fact that she wasn't able to run to the library to look something up.
"I don't understand the problem Hermione." Harry said, starting to get a little frustrated. "Isn't there something in a book or something?"
She turned to him and gave him the old familiar look of unintentional condensation. "Well of course there is, the problem is, there are about thirty charms that can be used to create barriers like the one he is using. Even if I could examine it, I wouldn't be able to figure out which one it is - they all look the same."
"That's a bit redundant." Pansy leaned over, her elbows on her knees. "Don't you think?"
"No, not really." Draco shook his head and leaned back, resting against her legs. "Most of our spells have counterparts, older, weaker ones. Just because they create new ones, it doesn't mean the old ones go anywhere."
"Exactly," Hermione nodded "We're talking about over a millennia of charm creation. Imagine if we were talking about making an antidote for a potion without a sample, there would be no way."
"Did any of you actually try to break through the charm three years ago?" Pansy asked,
"No," Harry shook his head "He dropped the charm when he thought I was dead.
"Just before I screwed up." Neville spoke up from the corner where he had been sitting quietly listening.
"Neville," Hermione gave him a pained look. Even after all this time, it made her ache to see the way he blamed himself. Nothing they had ever said had been able to convince him of the truth. It hadn't been his fault; he should realize that, particularly now that they knew the truth about what had happened that day. Voldemort had faked Harry's death; it had all been one big lie. Even if he had killed the snake, it wouldn't have changed anything. "Please…"
"Neville, you need to get over this." Harry said, his voice somewhat angry and frustrated. "What happened three years ago doesn't matter, that's all over and done with. What we need to concern ourselves with is now, and right now, our problem is getting through that charm."
Neville nodded and went back to listening, the conversation went on around him, but he tuned it out. It didn't matter to him; he would have nothing to do with breaking the charm. He waited until they were occupied, embroiled in a debate about how to go about testing a new theory, then he quietly slipped out.
Even after all this time, after all that had happened and knowing that they were allies now, hearing the voice behind him made him jump. In the past, the voice meant he was about to be bullied, insulted, degraded, made to feel as if he were a worthless lump. Neville took a deep breath and recovered quickly, forcing himself to remember that those days were past, and Draco Malfoy was no longer his enemy.
"Caught me," He attempted to smile, but it froze when he realized that the sick feeling in his stomach remained. "Are you here to drag me back in?"
"Not at all." Draco looked at him sympathetically; the words Fawkes had spoken still ringing in his ears. Killing the snake was Neville's responsibility, his right, and he needed them to have faith in his ability to do so. Who better to impart confidence than the person who had once striven to take his confidence away? "I know you're struggling, I thought maybe we could talk."
Neville stared at him blankly for a moment, and then he shrugged "Alright, if you want."
They walked quietly for a moment, until they came to a grouping of rocks. They climbed, finding a place to sit with the hot August sun heating their backs.
"You're not the only one you know," Draco began "I think everyone here has some sort of guilt they are carrying about."
It was true, and Neville couldn't deny it. Parents felt guilty for children they couldn't save, children felt guilty for parents and friends. They all felt guilty for believing for so long that Harry was dead and even more so that Ron, Hermione and Neville had been cowards who ran away. Every single person in the camp carried wounds, wounds that were steeped in guilt. It was everywhere, almost as if it were a mascot for the rebellion. But how many of them had his level of culpability? None. Not even Harry who had been put under a spell.
"None of them are to blame for the fact that Voldemort is still alive, I am." He said on a frustrated sigh "I am."
"Neville, even if you had killed the snake, it wouldn't have stopped what happened. The only person who can defeat Voldemort..."
"Everyone keeps saying that!" He burst out angrily "But can you honestly say it? Honestly, when no one knows what might have happened if I'd killed it? Maybe he wouldn't have been as strong; maybe things wouldn't have been as bad. Maybe he would have been too weak to kill McGonagall, Slughorn and Flitwick, maybe…"
"No," Draco shook his head. "That's not how it works. This is all being controlled by something bigger than you, bigger than Harry and me and all of the rebellion put together, it's even bigger than Voldemort. It's…"
He stopped for a minute, trying to figure out how to go on. They were sworn to secrecy and could only tell the others so much, he had to be careful.
"Fate," He decided, a partial truth would do, he would skirt around the edges. "What's happening now has been decided for ages, maybe since the beginning of our world. My mother was supposed to betray Voldemort, Harry was supposed to get caught coming out of the cloak, you were supposed to miss - it all had a purpose."
"What purpose?" Neville asked angrily "What could possibly justify all of this?"
'The reunification of the wizarding world' Draco thought 'For the first time ever, peace between purebloods and Muggleborns.'
He wished he could tell him, wanted Neville to know that all of this had a reason, a good reason. That in the end the struggle and suffering would all be worth it. He couldn't, for now; the secret had to be kept. Until the time was right, only three people on earth could know.
"You were right you know" He turned to Neville, deciding ignoring the question was the best route. Better to work on giving him esteem. "In our first year, when you said you were worth twelve of me."
Neville grinned a little, a wonderful memory of a fantastic brawl during a Quidditch match coming to him. He and Ron had lost spectacularly.
"You won house points for bravery that year, enough to put Gryffindor ahead of Slytherin for the house cup." Draco sighed, a deep sadness coming over him. "You were so much braver than I. You weren't afraid to stand up to people, while I hid behind Crabbe and Goyle. When you were facing down Voldemort that morning, I was hiding under a desk in a classroom, far away from the battle. You may have missed the snake, but I missed the whole thing."
Neville looked up at him, his eyes wide with surprise. "You were afraid."
Draco nodded without looking up. "I knew I wasn't cut out for that life from the moment he told me to kill Dumbledore. I tried to change, to make myself tough, someone I thought my father would be proud of. In the end, the only thing that mattered to him was that I stay alive. He died to assure it and I didn't understand why he had to, not for a long, long time. Until it suited Voldemort to tell me why.
"Things were tense at first, between Harry and me. How could they not be considering the history? We ignored each other at first, a month passed, two, then a year. In that time, we became allies, acquaintances, and then friends. It was amazing how much we found we had in common once we started talking. Then the day came when Voldemort realized what was happening and sought to drive a wedge between us. He told me what my mother had done; that she had died because she had told him Harry was dead."
Emotion flashed across his face. Pain, anger, outrage - an intense sadness that had no proper name.
"I was angry at first, I wanted to rage at Harry, to hit him and tear him apart…and then I realized why my mother would have done it. Not for him, but for me, to get to the castle to find out if I was okay. She must have been so worried, not knowing. It hit me then just how brave she was, standing up to him like that, unafraid for herself - and I was proud of her, proud of what she had done."
"You should be proud," Neville smiled "What she did was brave; it took a lot of courage to do what she did."
"What you did was no less brave Neville." Draco looked at him earnestly "You are the sort of person who learns from their mistakes and never makes the same one twice. You will succeed this time, I know it. I have faith in you Neville Longbottom."
Neville looked up and grinned, perhaps it was because the words were coming from a person who he had never thought would say them, but for the first time, he was able to visualize it. He saw the sword glinting in the dim light of their wands, saw the blade slicing the air, could almost hear the soft whoosh of his exertion. He felt the resistance as it found purchase against the sinewy neck and saw its eyes as they opened, seconds before the head flew away from the body. He could hear the thump as it landed on the ground. His heart thudded loudly in his chest - victory, he had just witnessed his victory. Was it a vision, or just his imagination?
Whatever it was, it was lovely to behold.
He sat at the table, a glass of firewhiskey in one hand, a quill shaking in the other while he attempted to move it over the parchment. It had to be perfect; this was his final message to the world, the final words of a man who had already said too much. He had done great things in his life - rather, he had ridden on the coat tails of a man who had done great things. Really, what had he ever done that was so great? His only mark in the world had already been taken out of it.
Taken out of it by his own hand.
He had taken many lives, muggle and wizard alike, and he had never felt an ounce of guilt. Not one single iota. That had been his undoing, what had foolishly lead him to think that his murder would be no different from the others. In hindsight, he wondered now how he could have ever been so foolish. How could he ever think that it wouldn't matter to him at all - that it would be no big deal?
He was stupid. A fool who belonged in hell.
He lay down the quill, then picked up the parchment and blew on it until he was sure the ink had dried. Then, with a sigh, he forced himself to read the words.
To you who finds me, forgive me treating you to this sight, though it occurs to me that you likely will rejoice in it. I know what I am and that my face when alive is an unfavorable sight.
I am a betrayer. I've betrayed my master to his enemies, and worse, betrayed my own son - the price of betrayal is death - both master and son must have their reward. I give it freely now, know that the greater of the price belongs to my son whose blood I spilled.
Forgive me Gregory. For taking your life, for taking your trust, for thinking you would be no different from the others.
He downed the last of the glass of firewhiskey, pulled a safety pin from his shirt pocket, and then pinned the note to his breast before lifting his wand from the table and raising it to his heart. He took a deep breath, taking a last glance around him as he did, and then uttered his final words.
He fell backwards in his chair, the note fluttered lazily in the breeze as the wand dropped from his fingers and fell to the floor.
The man stood over the corpse in darkness, reading the note that had been left behind. He looked up at the spirit, perplexed.
"I don't know this man, what has this to do with me?"
"Nothing," She smiled, turning to the fire "But this…this is the way to the ones you love."
He stared at her for a moment, and then turned to the fire, "What am I supposed to say; when do I know to get out?"
She moved into the fire "Do not worry, I will guide you."
He took a pinch of floo powder, tossed it into the fire, and then stepped into the flame as she whispered into his ear.
Chapter Twenty - Two Preview
The time has come to go after the snake, will Neville be successful this time, and will all get out alive?
A great sacrifice is made to assure their victory.