Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Chapter 6: To Live
Monday, the first day of Easter Break saw Harry rising early. There was a rather high chance that his friends would force him to spend the day with them and he didn't want to risk skipping feeding Sanguini. Not that he thought the vampire was especially hungry, but it was a little like keeping a pet. You didn't starve a pet even if it didn't (know how to) ask to be fed.
It was perhaps the first time Harry saw Sanguini in a state that could only be called ruffled. He was always so perfect in appearance, not a hair out of place and clothes completely wrinkle-free. If waking the vampire up earlier than usual allowed Harry to see him in such a cute state, then he would have to do it more often.
Ron was already stuffing his face when Harry arrived in Great Hall. Hermione gave him a questioning look to which Harry briefly explained he had wanted to ask Nigel about something. She didn't look completely convinced, but as she often did nowadays, she dropped the subject.
Knowing Ron would use the start of the Easter Break as an excuse to force him to take part in an unofficial Quidditch match that morning, Harry made sure to eat his fill. Keeping in mind the fact that he had that very morning donated some blood and was so in a slightly weakened state despite the potion he had downed.
Alive. He felt so very alive when he was flying on his beloved Firebolt. It had been a long time since he had flown. He was playing Seeker, naturally, and while the Seeking brought him less pleasure than he remembered, flying... It was Heaven.
Rushing through a quick shower after the match to make it to lunch in time, he nicked his knee on a sharp bench corner. It bled sluggishly.
Red... It was the color of human life, he idly mused.
Episkey and Tergeo and the wound and the blood were gone.
Night was approaching fast, faster than he was ready to admit. He wasn't ready. He wasn't ready yet.
Vigorously rubbing his face to shake the numb feeling he got up from the dinner table. Afternoon had passed without him noticing. It was time, he knew. It hadn't been voiced but he had seen it in Sanguini's eyes that morning that it would be tonight.
Yes... Tonight he would die to live.
O O O
Harry and the two professors were in the Room of Requirement which had provided them a room that was empty except for a higher than normal bed and a nightstand. The night stand was littered with vials of potions, of which hopefully only one would be needed.
"When I'm dead, Nagini's the only Horcrux left, right?" Harry needed to talk to calm his nerves. He sat down on the bed. It had pristine white sheets. Like a hospital bed, he thought.
"Yes", Sanguini said and gently took off Harry's glasses. They might get in the way and he wouldn't be needing them.
"He doesn't know about the Horcrux in me, I think", Harry was talking more to himself than the two others in the room, "If he knew, he wouldn't be so dead set on killing me. It's a good thing I've been learning Occlumency. He shouldn't be able to notice the connection between the two of us missing since I've been blocking him for a long while now..."
"You know Occlumency?" Snape's voice was incredulous. He had tried (kind of) to teach the boy and it had been a disaster. The boy had no talent when it came to Mind Magic.
"Sure. It hasn't been easy to learn though, but I was suddenly highly motivated after – " Sirius died.
"I want to see you in my office tomorrow after breakfast."
"It's the Easter Break!" Harry protested. He wouldn't ever admit it, but the seemingly cruel demand was very assuring in a way. It was basically a 'don't worry because you will be alive tomorrow' said in Snape-style.
"I want to see for myself if there's any truth in your highly questionable claims of having learned Occlumency", Snape snarled and handed Harry a potion to put him to sleep. It was the kind that knocked the drinker out efficiently but wore off quickly. Harry downed it knowing the dose was barely enough to keep him asleep for a quarter of an hour. And then he was out.
Sanguini settled the boy straighter on the bed and hesitated.
"Do you want me to do it?" Snape offered. He could see that it was hard for the vampire. It would be hard for him too, but it wouldn't be the first time he had to do something against his moral code to end this war. To keep his cover he had to be a Death Eater and there were many sins weighing on his soul.
The vampire shook his head without taking his eyes off the sleeping boy's face. Slowly he moved his hand to cover both the nose and mouth. It was painful. Not to the sleeping boy, no. Sanguini was hurting. When the boy's heart began to slow down and stopped, he placed his other hand on the scar. Please, please, please, he repeated in his head until he finally felt the darkness vanish. Yes! He removed the hand covering Harry's nose and mouth and immediately Snape cast Rennervate. Hearing Harry gasp and cough was music to their ears. They hadn't shown any of their doubts to Harry not wanting to panic the boy, but they had both been quite aware that there was risk involved, no matter how they went about it. There had been no guarantee the unwelcome shard of soul would leave without Harry's soul passing on as well.
"Should we give him something?" Sanguini asked referring to the potions.
"No, he wasn't without oxygen long enough to cause any damage. Let's wait until he wakes up and can tell us himself how he's feeling."
"Alright", Sanguini sighed and sat on the edge of the bed.
It was perhaps the longest ten minutes in the vampires very long existence but finally Harry opened his eyes. "Ow..." The boy whined and weakly rubbed his head.
"How are you feeling?" Sanguini asked, careful not to raise his voice. It was rather obvious Harry had at least a Hell of a headache.
"Like a roadkill", Harry moaned miserably.
A potion vial was thrust into his face with a strict order: "Drink."
He didn't even bother checking what it was before downing it, "Oh... That's much better", he mumbled when all the aches, especially the pounding one in his head, vanished.
"Sleep", Sanguini softly said, "I'll wake you up in the morning and we'll think of an excuse for you to tell your friends." He stroked the boys ridiculously messy black hair until and a while after the boy fell asleep. He paid no attention to the Potions Master exiting the room.
O O O
The following morning Sanguini gently shook Harry awake. He hadn't slept a wink, but it was fine. He didn't require much sleep, vampire as he was. To him sleeping was mostly a method of conserving energy.
"Good morning", he said as soon as he deemed Harry awake enough to register what was said to him, "We need to go eat breakfast."
"Ugh." Harry rubbed his bleary eyes. Sanguini handed him his glasses and he put them on.
"Your friends must be worried."
"What should I tell them?" Harry mumbled and sat up. Sanguini couldn't help but smile at the adorable mess his hair was. His clothes were crumbled as well, but those Sanguini straightened out with a quick charm.
"Tell them you were visiting me and you fell asleep. I couldn't bear to wake you."
"Sounds good", Harry agreed.
"And don't forget to go see Severus after you've eaten", Sanguini reminded.
"How dead do you think he'd kill me if I were to go take a quick shower before meeting him?" Harry tentatively asked.
"Your funeral", came the amused reply.
"I was afraid you'd say that..."
O O O
He felt dirty and he really needed to brush his teeth. He'd already died once in the past 24 hours and he'd gotten better so he decided to risk it. Needless to say when he finally knocked on the Potions Master's door the reception he got was less than pleasant.
"You're late, Potter. I was expecting you an hour ago", Snape growled.
"I felt icky", Harry shrugged.
"You felt icky?" Came the incredulous reply. Harry nodded. The professor sighed and then said: "Wand out."
"I don't think I'll be needing it", Harry said.
A raised eyebrow and, "Have it your way. Legilimens."
Harry felt the intrusion slam against his mental wall. He had strengthened his defenses right before the meeting.
Snape stopped the attack and said: "Interesting. Has the Headmaster seen this?"
"If you mean have I told him I've learned Occlumency then the answer is no", Harry replied, "If you mean whether he has tried to use Legilimency on me and found out he's unable to, the answer is a 'probably not'."
"You think the Headmaster hasn't used Legilimency on you? Don't be an arrogant idiot, Potter. He uses it on everyone on a daily basis", Snape huffed.
"Oh I'm sure he has used it on me. I just never keep my mind closed off when I'm in his company. I've simply made sure there's nothing... incriminating for him to see", Harry chuckled.
"That's awfully advanced Occlumency for you, Potter", Snape said sceptically.
"As I said last night, I was highly motivated", Harry smirked victoriously. It was more than just a little victory to get a compliment out of the surly Gryffindor-hating, and especially Potter-hating, professor. Even if the compliment was disguised as an insult. It was all a matter of perspective and he was determined to take it as praise.
"Perhaps you're not a total lost cause as I had previously thought", Snape muttered.
"Careful now, or I'll have to start checking for Imperius and Polyjuice Potion!"
"You're Potions work has been steadily improving this school year", he added with a thoughtful expression.
"Okay okay! Merlin, if you wanted me gone you could have just asked!" Harry huffed and walked out of the office. Had he looked back, he would have seen a tiny little smile tugging at the professor's lips.
O O O
"We have a dagger. Now we need a plan", Harry began the meeting of minds. He and the two professors were sitting in Sanguini's office.
"I can get us past the wards of the Dark Lord's residence", Snape supplied.
"We need to kill the snake before Riddle", Sanguini said.
"Nagini hardly ever leaves His side."
"I was easy to kill but I'd be willing to bet my right arm Riddle has cast every protective spell he knows on that snake", Harry said with a frown, "We'll need something a little more extreme to kill her."
"I could Fiendfyre her", the vampire suggested.
Harry shook his head and said: "I doubt Riddle will just sit and watch while his Horcrux is burning. I'd prefer something quicker and less attention grabbing."
Snape was looking quite happy talking about the demise of the snake. He had nothing against snakes in general, but that particular one gave him the creeps. "Like beheading?"
"If we can find a weapon that can cut through all the layers of magic on Nagini then yeah", Harry shrugged.
"Like the Sword of Gryffindor?"
"See, that's why I like you!" Harry announced with a happy clap of hands and then in a more subdued manner added: "Well that's why I would like you if I did like you. In theory." He ignored the slightly annoyed look Snape was giving him. "Now we just need to borrow the Sword – "
"From the Headmaster's office where it's under the watchful eye of Dumbledore, Fawkes and the paintings of past Headmasters?"
"Now you're just being difficult on purpose", Harry huffed.
"You believe you can steal from the Headmaster's office without getting caught?" Snape wasn't buying that at all.
"Oh please! I'm like the master sneak! I'll wait until the old coot is away, go under my Cloak and if Fawkes is there, I'll say 'please'" Two sets of skeptical eyes stared at him. "I'll bet you fifty galleons I can do it."
O O O
Snape provided Harry with the password to the Headmaster's office and as soon as Harry entered under his Cloak, he cast a silencing charm around the portraits so that they couldn't hear anything that was said in the office. Naturally the portraits had seen the door open and knew something was wrong, but they had no way of knowing who had entered. Harry saw a few of them leave their portraits. To warn the Headmaster, Harry figured. But he knew the Headmaster was eating lunch in the Great Hall and it was a portrait-free zone which left Harry a little more time.
Fawkes of course knew he was there, judging by the bird eyes that locked on to him despite his invisibility, the bird could see him as well. "Hi Fawkes. You'll let me borrow the Sword, won't you? It was kind of given to me by the Hat, after all. I'll return it afterwards, I promise." Fawkes chirped his approval.
"Thanks", Harry gave the bird a grateful smile and hurried to the Sword on display. He cast a general detection charm to check what relatively recent spells had been cast on the Sword and its surroundings. He was happy to find the Sword had nothing on it (well, nothing new, as the charm wasn't capable of detecting the old enchantments on it). The black satin pillow it was resting on, on the other hand, did. It was charmed so that if the Sword left it, Dumbledore would know. "How very irritating."
He stared at the Sword and lightly bit the tip of his thumb in thought. In the end he muttered "Let's keep things simple" and simply grabbed the Sword without even trying to work around the notification charm. He covered the Sword as well with his Cloak and ran out of the office while breaking the silencing charm around the portraits. He hurried down the revolving staircase and slipped in to the first unused room down down the hall. It was a good thing he did, because ten seconds later he could hear through the door Dumbledore running past. He knew his Invisibility Cloak wouldn't have stopped Dumbledore from detecting him.
He waited until he was sure Dumbledore was up in his office and then ran to Sanguini's. He had told both Snape and Sanguini about his plans and they had offered to give him an alibi. It was still Easter Break so it wasn't all that strange for professors to eat away from the Great Hall. Their story was that the three of them had eaten lunch together in Sanguini's office discussing the DADA classes and they had indeed ordered lunch from a house-elf with Harry present before he left to do some borrowing.
"Pay up!" Harry announced as he entered the office and set the Sword on the desk. He took his seat and began wolfing down his lunch (still blissfully warm thanks to a Stasis charm).
"I better put that away", Sanguini muttered and left to hide the Sword in his private rooms.
"You had no problems then?" Snape asked wondering how many times the boy had succeeded in sneaking around the castle without getting caught if sneaking in and out of the Headmaster's office was within his abilities. He decided he didn't want to know.
"Fawkes could see me, but he gave me permission so he won't be telling. The portraits knew there was an intruder and probably saw the Sword vanish, but that's all. Lifting the Sword off the pillow it was resting on set off a notification charm so Dumbledore came running but he didn't see me", Harry reported.
"He can probably see through your Cloak", Snape pointed out.
"Which is why I made sure to be out of his line of sight", Harry smirked, "I know what I'm doing." Snape handed over a pouch of Galleons. "Pleasure doing business with you", Harry chirped.
"I'm sure", Snape dryly replied.
"So when are we going snake hunting?" Harry asked when Sanguini returned to the room.
"Anyone have any plans for tomorrow?" The vampire asked.
O O O
"We're going through the front gates, right?"
"Yes. This time we want the Headmaster to be aware of us leaving and returning." It would be one less thing to explain when they returned if they didn't have to explain how they left without anyone noticing.
The three of them were walking across the Hogwarts grounds. Harry had his Cloak and the Dagger, Sanguini had the Sword and Snape had his wand ready.
"Dumbledore will be panicking as soon as he feels me leave the grounds", Harry chuckled, "I'd love to be a fly on that wall."
"He'll call the Order but I doubt he'll alert the Ministry", Snape mused.
"Do you think we should bring them Riddle's head?" Harry asked.
O O O
Snape Side-Along Apparated all three of them into the entrance hall of Riddle's Headquarters as only those who had the Mark could locate the place. It was a variant of the Fidelius. They had chosen the time carefully. It was a little after midday, a time they knew Riddle would be awake and working but when there wouldn't be too many Death Eaters around. When they appeared, there was one guarding the entrance hall but he was swiftly stunned.
"This way", Snape showed them and they hurried on. It was dead silent in the house. They didn't stop to hesitate when they reached the ornate door of Riddle's study. Nagini would have already felt them from the vibrations of the floor no matter how quiet they were. They burst into the study, Sanguini first and Snape right behind him, Harry coming last and hidden under his Cloak.
Several things happened quite simultaneously. Snape began to cast quick temporary wards around the room, to prevent Riddle from calling reinforcements and Apparating or Portkeying away. Sanguini ran straight to the twelve feet long snake and thrust the Sword vertically through the furiously hissing snake's head. The sword sank through the head like butter and embed itself five inches deep into the floor. Riddle rose from his seat behind his desk and yelled: "No!"
"Your sixth Horcrux, wasn't she?" Sanguini asked. Really, one might think a dark lord would know how to reign in their reactions because the angry growl he gave was very telling. "Yes, I thought so. We've destroyed all the others as well. There's none left now."
"Severus, you disgusting traitor!" The snake-like man hissed.
"No, by 'we' I didn't mean Severus and I, though he was the one to figure out that Nagini was one. I meant Harry and I", Sanguini corrected the false assumption. "We're going to kill you now."
Riddle laughed an insane little laugh and said: "Potter isn't even – !"
He never got further than that as a dagger sank into his back. The reaction was immediate, the light vanished from the man's eyes and he began dissolving into pure white flakes, like snow, that vanished before hitting the floor.
When there was nothing left – even Riddle's clothes, wand and the Dagger vanished – Sanguini said: "Beautiful end for such a wicked man."
A silence fell into the room.
"There's no head for the Headmaster!" Harry whined.
Sanguini burst into laughter and Snape sighed resignedly.
O O O
Two minutes after they entered through the front gates of Hogwarts, half of the Order ran out of the castle and to them. McGonagall was at the front of the mob shrieking, "Severus! Nigel! How dare you take one of my lions out of the castle grounds without permission!"
At this point even the Headmaster (a noticeably slower runner than his Deputy) had arrived. "Please explain yourselves", Dumbledore said while trying to catch his breath.
"You can't just take a child out of the protections of Hogwarts on a whim!" Molly Weasley practically screamed.
"Excuse me!" Harry yelled to have the crowds attention and then cleared his throat before saying, "First of all, no one took me anywhere. I'm perfectly capable of taking myself wherever I wish to go. I have two perfectly functional legs, thank you very much. Secondly, let's try to keep in my mind that I'm hardly a child anymore. I would also like to point out nothing was done on a whim. There was some heavy planning involved, after all."
"So where did you go?" Remus Lupin gently inquired.
"I'm so sorry Professor!" Harry suddenly said to Dumbledore, his face the very picture of apologetic and crushed. "I was going to bring it to you as a gift but there was nothing left! Not even a nose!"
"What – ?" came from several members of the crowd.
"The head!" Harry wailed.
Snape decided it was enough, though even he could see the entertainment value in the confused and worried faces of the Order, "That's enough, Potter."
Harry's face went through an instant transformation from sadness and despair to outright chipper. "Okay!" he chirped and then said to the crowd: "We killed Voldemort."
A mass flinch at the name and then: "WHAT!"
"He's all dead now. Deader than dead. D-E-A-D dead", Harry said and hummed happily.
After a moment or two of gaping, Dumbledore turned to his pet Death Eater, "Severus?"
Snape unbuttoned his sleeve and showed everyone how his Mark had faded to a mere scar. "He's truly gone this time."
"But – ", the Headmaster begun.
"There's no piece of him left anywhere", Harry said knowing Dumbledore would understand he meant the Horcruxes. "Of course there are still the Death Eaters", Harry said in a casual kind of tone, "We didn't kill any of those, but they aren't my problem, right? I don't want anyone else's blood on my hands." He then walked through the crowd and toward the castle.
"Harry – !" Molly tried to call after him.
"Leave him alone for now", Sanguini advised, "I can answer any questions you may have. There's no need to bother him. He wants peace and quiet, I'm sure."
"If you'll come with me to my office..."
"Of course, Headmaster."
O O O
Sanguini returned the Sword to its pillow and spent a good hour telling Dumbledore about the Horcruxes and the end of Tom Marvolo Riddle before the Headmaster was satisfied. Sanguini wrote down the coordinates of Riddle's base. Anyone could enter as the wards had fallen with Riddle. "I trust you'll take care of alerting the Ministry." The Headmaster nodded and before leaving the room, Sanguini added: "Oh and we took care of the curse on the DADA post."
As he returned to his own office, he found Harry slumped on his usual chair. "Took you long enough."
"The Headmaster was very thorough in his questioning. He wanted every little detail", Sanguini replied, an amused smile spreading on his face, "It seemed hard for him to comprehend that Voldemort had been defeated with so little input from him. Obviously he had always fancied himself a huge part in the murder of Tom Riddle." He came to lean against the desk about a foot away from where Harry was sitting.
"He made him so he thought he'd have to end him as well", Harry sighed.
"You think Dumbledore was responsible for the way Riddle turned out?" the vampire asked surprised.
"No. Yes... Maybe? I think maybe it was more like Dumbledore could have prevented it", Harry stared into space, his face completely blank, "He could have found little Tom some other place to stay besides the orphanage. Such a loveless place can't be good for anyone and Dumbledore could see Tom's potential from the very first time they met. It seems to be a mistake he keeps repeating. He's lucky he didn't accidentally create another dark lord."
"He shouldn't have left you with those Muggles, but I doubt you could have turned twisted like Riddle no matter your upbringing."
"I killed a man today, Sanguini", Harry quietly said turning his eyes to meet those of the vampire, "I killed a man."
Sanguini shook his head. "That doesn't make you evil. Not even dark. Not in these circumstances. You killed out of necessity. You killed so that you and hundreds of others could live."
"I don't feel guilty", Harry admitted.
"You saved lives today, Harry. Remember that", Sanguini said, "In all likelihood you won't ever have to take a life again."
Harry leaned forward in his seat and hugged the vampire around the middle pressing his face against the man's chest. "They'll celebrate a murder", he mumbled, "They'll paint me a hero because of the murder I committed."
"Let's think positive, hmm?" Sanguini softly said and thread his fingers through the boy's hair, "I'm here and so when they get too much for you to handle, you can always come here."
"Thank Merlin for that", Harry softly laughed.
"And the Headmaster won't be able to force you to stay at the Dursleys' using the protection against Voldemort as an excuse anymore. If you want, you can stay the summer with me and we can go wherever you want."
"Really?" Harry practically jumped out of his seat in excitement, "Alright! No Dursleys! Freedom, here I come!" Then he settled down a little and said: "I doubt the old coot will be all that agreeable, though. He's going to say I have to stay locked up somewhere to keep me safe from the Death Eaters and whatnot."
Sanguini smiled widely and said: "If it comes to that then we'll make a run for it. I won't let him imprison you."
"Well, there's still a couple of months until the end of school year so let's not worry about the summer yet", Harry decided, "There are more urgent problems, after all."
"Like how am I going to tell Ron and Hermione I went after Riddle without the two of them? They'll eat me alive! I'm serious! Stop laughing! You haven't seen Hermione angry, she's scary, alright! Oh, she's going to skin me alive, I just know it. You'll attend my funeral, right? Sanguini – ?"
- End of Dead Helpful -
AN: Thank you for reading! All the positive reviews have been most encouraging and they are most appreciated. At the moment I have no plans for a sequel but I'm not saying anything definite either way.