~~~~~ Prologue: The Death of a Dark Lord ~~~~~
The adults in the house flinched as their enemy's powerful magic battered at the wards they had erected to protect their home. The father faced the fell presence, "Will he be safe?"
The mother sighed in frustration. "I haven't had enough time. I still need to finish the array and apply a healing charm." She bit her lip, green eyes shining in concern. She turned to her husband, biting the inside of her cheek. "And … I don't want to hurt Harry. I know this will. What if he hates me for this?"
The man smiled at his wife, "It will be all right, Lily." He was a fairly tall man, with unruly black hair that always looked like he'd just been flying. "Harry is a very smart kid." He brushed a lock of his wife's hair back from her face, kissing her forehead. "And I'll buy you the time you need."
Lily swallowed her tears as her husband left the nursery to confront the scourge of Britain at the door. She turned back to her son, selecting a brush and inkpot from the table, and returned to work. She babbled at her child, "Your father is a truly great man, Harry. We've never been able to take Him on, but he's always been right there. I've always been right there with him, you know? This one time, we were partnered with the Longbottoms when He attacked Diagon and—"The final ward breaking stopped her hand and her mouth.
She finished painting the runes and equations the spell would require in grim silence, and then set aside inkpot and brush. Picking up her child, she soothed, "This will hurt, my most precious, but it will keep you safe. I hope you understand." She picked up a knife that she had bought weeks before. It was plain, made of a silver alloy, and completely devoid of magic. Lily Potter, once Evans, placed the tip of the blade to her child's forehead and made three straight cuts.
"Solid stone, borne of the mountain, carried by the dragon."
"Seal the mind, body, and heart together, feel the rush of life."
"The bargain seals the world; a mortal's honor, a god's bind."
The lines and diagrams she had spent hours meticulously painting and double-checking collapsed. The pulled together to center on her baby's forehead, wrapping inside the broken skin and sitting there, placid until activated. Her wand leapt to her hand, and Lily Potter healed her son's wound, leaving only a scar. She returned her son to his cradle, marveling that he did not cry. He only looked up at her with eyes that matched her own.
She leaned forward and kissed her son's forehead, cooing, "What a brave boy you are, Harry." She then pinned her own tongue between her fingers and held it in place. While she carved her own tongue with the knife, a simple lightning-bolt shape to mirror her son's, Harry whined at her. She placed the knife to one side and turned to face the monster that was sure to be coming.
The sounds of battle downstairs had ceased. For a moment, she had hope; her hopes failed when He walked through the door of the nursery. He was wreathed in an aura of power, his skin nearly glowing, his wand vibrating with the force of his magic. For a moment, the plan was in danger; for a moment, Lily Potter found herself quite unable to speak. Then he spoke, a hissing, malicious tone that every witch and wizard alive feared.
"Step aside, woman, and I will allow you to live. I am only here for your child."
Finding her courage, she spoke. The desperation and fear in her voice did not have to be feigned. The man was simply too powerful for anything but terror to permeate her mind. She screamed, desperately stepping between her son and the darkest wizard in a century, "Not Harry, please! Take me instead, let Harry live!" Now, if only he would act like they predicted. This was it, the hinge around which her plans were built. Her only chance.
"Very well, I accept," Voldemort chuckled, "Now stand still so that I may murder you."
Lily didn't bother to dodge the blast of green light. She didn't scream as she fell, despite the pain that came with the curse. As her soul separated from her body, her magic core destabilized, pouring through the rune carved into her tongue and into the most complex spell anyone had cast in three generations. Her last thoughts were smug; her most precious baby boy would never be harmed by Voldemort's hand.
A green-eyed baby with a lightning-bolt scar and a pale man wrapped in dark robes stared impassively into each other's eyes over the corpse of the most brilliant witch of her generation. Voldemort saw no thoughts in the child's eyes, nor any emotions in its mind. The Dark Lord shifted his grip on his yew wand, raising it so that the tip aimed just above the boy's head. His emotions whorled about behind the barriers he had erected to organize and protect his mind. Each was kept separate from the others, and all were walled off from his sense of self. He kept them from touching each other, and when they formed, he funneled them immediately into their proper chamber. He only touched them when he decided they would further his goals, and thought himself wiser than any of his peers. With a flick of intent, he accessed the most potent; the one he had charged with motes of Dark Magic through hundreds of rituals intended to enhance his power.
Hatred flooded Voldemort's mind; his face twisted to reveal his revulsion and disgust. Voldemort whispered the one spell that had always come easier to him than any other. With a flash of brilliant, shining green, his world ended. Voldemort floated in darkness, bewildered and unable to see. The only thing he could hear was his own voice, echoing the words of a mistake he did not understand.
~~~~~ Chapter One: The Death of a Hero ~~~~~
Harry's mouth felt dry as he stood before a massive set of doors, alone. His friends had been torn from him, Hermione by the basilisk and the monster in the chamber now, and Ron by the rockslide and the monster using his wand. Harry knew all about monsters, having been raised by some, and was starting to hate them. He wondered, idly, if he was a monster, too.
It didn't matter, so he put it from his mind and hissed at the door. The words felt odd on his tongue. In primary, the teachers had attempted to teach him German, but the words had felt thick and clipped. They were impossible to pronounce, and he'd never really put much effort into anyway. He'd never learned a word. Parseltongue felt entirely different. Before he'd been made aware of it, it felt much like English had, natural. Now, it felt like every syllable was a polished stone from a river, smooth and easy. Just the right size to fit on his tongue and slide between his teeth like it was the most natural thing. English felt dull in comparison; though he had no troubles with it, it didn't taste like anything.
The doors opened smoothly, and Harry hurried into the Chamber. The ceiling lay so far above him that it was lost in shadows; in fact, no part of the place wasn't lost in darkness. The corners of the room seemed eaten away so thoroughly that they might as well not have existed. At the far end of the Chamber stood the stern, stone visage of Salazar Slytherin. At his carven feet lay Ginny Weasley, her hair spread out like a halo, her skin pale, and her body still. Fear gripped his heart, and Harry rushed forward to save her, heedless of his wand falling from his nerveless fingers.
Harry reached her quickly, and feared for a moment that she wasn't breathing. He saw a slight shiver of her chest, and carefully placed a hand over her mouth; she still drew breath. There was a sound of footsteps behind him, and Harry whirled to meet the threat, only to try brandishing a wand he no longer held.
Things didn't really go well, from that point. A tall boy, fair of skin and countenance, dark of hair, introduced himself as Tom Marvolo Riddle, and revealed that "I am Lord Voldemort." Harry remembered seeing the memories Tom had shown him through an enchanted diary, and some lingering sentiment about the way Tom had seemed so nice kept intruding in Harry's mind. Harry's thoughts kept stuttering and skipping, and he felt dull and stupid.
When Tom lashed out at him, snarling the killing curse, Harry barely scrambled out of the way. The pale green light of the curse splashed harmlessly against the stone bricks of the Chamber floor, and Tom called out to the Basilisk hidden in the Chamber. With a slow grating noise, its hidden compartment in the statue of Salazar Slytherin opened, and the great beast poured from its mouth, landing with a massive thump on the base of the Chamber. While Harry took refuge behind one of the handy pillars, Tom instructed, "You smell the boy, kill him. Do not eat the body, I have use of it," and taunted, "I don't know what fluke spared you before, but you'll never see another day, boy! I'll kill you, I'll take every last drop of life from this fool girl, and I'll make Britain tremble at my coming once more!"
A small spark of defiance flared in Harry's chest, and he called back, as he dodged away from the basilisk and behind another pillar, careful to keep his eyes down, "I don't care, Tom! I defy you, Dumbledore defies you, and the other you is nothing but a wretched shade fleeing from the sunlight! It doesn't matter what you try, or what threats you make; there will always be someone who stands against you!" In that moment, a fanfare sounded. It seemed to come from a hundred unseen trumpets, and a great blaze roared into being in the cavernous ceiling of the Chamber. From it poured an immense light, which banished every shadow in the chamber. Harry had to close his eyes and turn his head away, lest he be blinded.
The light faded after only a moment, but the fanfare did not. Its source swooped down on crimson wings, effortlessly dodging the hexes and curses flung at it by an enraged Riddle. Harry heard the basilisk hiss at it as the phoenix swooped past the snake's head, the wordless fury clear in Harry's ears. Its feathers shone in every shade of red Harry could imagine, and his heart lifted in hope at its song. A quiet sound like an enchanted hat several centuries old hitting the floor drew Harry's attention to where the phoenix had dropped the several centuries old, enchanted, Sorting Hat.
"Fawkes," Harry tried to cry out in joy, or entreaty, or something, but nothing emerged save a croak. It swooped away, its song changing from joyous fanfare to a righteous war song. Harry peered around the pillar to see Fawkes the Phoenix swooping about the basilisk's head, dodging blasts of light from Riddle as well as lunges from the basilisk. He turned his attention back to the Hat, and recalled the last words he had heard Dumbledore speak. Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.
With no wand, against Voldemort and a basilisk, Harry felt he had no choice but to grasp this moment of inspiration with both hands. He jammed the tattered hat on his head and cried out with all his mind, HELP! A solid object smacked against his head with enough force to make his eyes water, his knees shake, and his grip on consciousness waver. Harry pulled the hat from his head and reached in to grasp the offending object.
The object was too long to have fit in the Hat, and too heavy for Harry to hold comfortably. As Harry gripped the cold, hard, metal cylinder and pulled, the Hat fell away to the floor. The blade shone brilliantly, despite the dismal lighting. The sounds of the basilisk and phoenix slowly drew Harry's attention from the sword that was nearly as long as his leg, and sharper than anything he had ever seen before.
Harry turned to the battle in the same moment as the great snake turned to face him. He didn't have even a second to try and close his eyes, but the gaping wounds where once had been the dreaded gaze of the king of serpents rendered the need moot. Harry stepped out from behind the pillars, Riddle's form hidden by the snake's coils. Riddle's hissed instructions made Harry gulp, but he lifted the great blade before him with trembling arms even has he heard the older boy order his death, "Forget the bird, you foolish serpent, I'll drive it off! You can still smell the boy! Kill him! Kill him!"
The serpent lunged forward, and Harry shoved the blade forward with all his might. The basilisk's strike drove the blade deep into the roof of its own mouth, and it reared back in agony, and began thrashing about. The sword wrenched from Harry's grip as the basilisk pulled away. One of the flailing coils blindsided him, and flung him into the stone pillar nearest Riddle.
The ache spreading across Harry's back was nothing compared to the searing pain in his arm. He looked down and saw the end of a basilisk fang poking out of his arm. The chamber began to blur around him, and he desperately fumbled at the fang with steadily numbing fingers. He couldn't move his right arm at all, and his left lacked the strength to remove the fang. The pain was immense, and it only got worse as the entire world faded to a hazy grey. He was too far gone to notice the flash of pale green light that impacted his body moments after his sense of where he was got washed away by the grey creeping into his vision.
That consuming grey receded as his agony did, slowly, leaving Harry floating in a dark void. His school clothes were gone, replaced by some of the worst of Dudley's castoffs; those dangling fabrics had been shredded at some point, leaving Harry in little more than dirty rags. Worried, Harry cast about for some sign of where to go, only to discover that there were no landmarks. There wasn't even any land.
The only thing he saw was that one side of the void was slightly less dark than the other, so he headed in that direction. It felt like hours passed, but he eventually came upon a massive wall. Since he was floating in endless nothingness, Harry attempted to float over the wall, only to find that he could not. Whether the wall matched his pace perfectly or he lacked the ability to move up or down, Harry couldn't decide.
To his left, Harry saw a shape jutting from the wall. There being nothing to his right, Harry went for it. Harry arrived to find a massive gate blocked by doors of solid wood and barred by shining grey metal. The shape he had seen from afar were two columns bordering the gate. Chained to each was a human Harry recognized; whoever they were, they looked just like Harry, though with slightly different features.
Chained to the left pillar was a Harry with slightly darker skin, anger burning in his killing curse green eyes, protruding tusks, and a horned bone ridge for a brow. Chained to the right pillar was a Harry with pale gold skin and glowing blue tracks following the course of tears down his cheeks. Each was gagged by the silver chains that bound them. Harry immediately floated over to the one on the right pillar. "Don't worry, I'll get you out," Harry asserted confidently, already struggling with the binding chains.
The instant the chain had cleared the teeth of the golden Harry, it spoke, "You'll never get us free that way; we're bound here by a spell. The spell will exist for as long as you depend in any way on the Dursleys." Harry blinked, opened his mouth, closed it, and blinked again.
"So I can leave them, and free you from this at the same time?" Harry blurted, excited.
The golden him nodded solemnly, "Yes, but do not think it would be wonderful. The spell that keeps the two of us bound here also keeps a multitude of dangers away from you. If you reject the Dursleys formally and utterly, and leave them never to return, the spell will break. We will be free, but there are those that wish you harm. They would also be freed of the restrictions that keep them from you."
The chains began to reform, growing piece by piece across the golden him's mouth once more, as he tried to explain fully, "If, knowing this, you still move to free us, you must know that the break must be total. If you go back before the chains have broken wholly, they will reform at full strength. I feel compelled to note that my counterpart," here, the being jerked his head at the other pillar, "would suggest that you kill the Dursleys, to prevent that from happening."
Harry gaped at the figure in front of him, then glanced at the one chained on the other side of the gate. He began to protest the need for killing, only to be distracted by the sound of music swelling around him. He cocked his head to one side, listening. The golden him tried to say something, but was muffled by the chains that had fully grown back to gag him once again. Harry turned away from the wall, trying to find the source of the music.
The void receded, the wall behind him resolving into a pillar against which his body rested. The cavernous chamber resonated with Tom's maniacal laughter. Tom stood over Ginny's body, gloating to the giant statue of Salazar Slytherin that he had triumphed, and would soon re-conquer Britain.
Trying to move only his eyes, Harry glanced over at his wound. The basilisk fang stuck out of his arm and Fawkes, that beautiful red bird, was crying on it. Recalling Dumbledore's words earlier that year, Harry understood why he had survived. He reached up and grasped the fang with trembling, numb fingers. With a definitive yank, Harry pulled the fang from his arm. The wound quickly closed up, soaked as it was in the healing phoenix tears.
Harry ignored Tom's crazed laughter, focusing on the diary lying between him and Ginny. It had housed the memory of Tom Riddle that now gloated in a chamber with a giant dead snake, it poisoned Ginny's mind, and it seemed to be at the center of this mess. The sword might be lodged in the mouth of a giant snake, but he had a pointy, poisonous fang in his hand right now.
Harry did the only thing he could think of. Harry lunged, startling Tom from his soliloquy about how great he was, and Harry drove the fang through the cursed thing as hard as he could. Ink welled up like blood and a shrill scream filled the air, coming from both Tom and the Diary at once. The screams faded into silence and Tom vanished. The sound of Harry's wand clattering to the floor echoed in the vast chamber, but Harry lay there, panting, hoping that he hadn't been too late, or acted too rashly.
Fawkes landed on Harry's shoulder and crooned at him. The aches and the exhaustion faded a little, and Harry levered himself up, swaying slightly, and turned to the basilisk. It was massive, older than Harry could comprehend, and bound to the will of Tom Riddle. Harry felt a pang of sadness for its death, but repressed it as best he could. It had done its best to kill one of his best friends and one of the people who were the closest thing to family he had, after all.
Stepping around the massive bulk to the thing's mouth, Harry gripped the hilt of the sword and tried to remove it from the snake's gaping maw. It didn't budge, and Harry hardly felt like trying to force the matter while in the mouth of one of the most potently venomous snakes in existence. It just seemed like a bad idea. Instead, he retrieved his wand, tore off a piece of his robe to wrap up the diary and fang, and stumbled over to Ginny.
She seemed smaller than he remembered, even with her hair fanned out behind her head like a great halo. She was pale, so much so that he imagined for a moment he could see straight through her. Harry placed a hand on her shoulder, trying to gently rouse her, but she did not respond. Harry placed a hand against her cheek. She wasn't as cold as he'd feared, but still seemed only lukewarm.
~~~~~ o.0.o ~~~~~
One of Ginny's earliest memories was sitting by the hearth on Christmas day as the whole Weasley family buzzed in its busy, happy brand of chaos, all talking over each other and exclaiming in joy over their presents and generally showing each other that they all cared.
That warmth seemed to settle into her now, flowing from a gentle touch on her cheek to banish the terrible creeping emptiness that filled her. Her eyes fluttered open, hoping to answer the confusion in her heart. Surely, she didn't deserve such warmth? It felt like a gift from heaven, and she had unleashed a basilisk upon the school and Tom upon the world. She could not imagine ever deserving that warmth and comfort again.
Her gaze was first drawn, as it always was, to his eyes. Harry had the most brilliant eyes she'd ever seen. They were the color and hardness of emeralds, but they always seemed to glow with muted warmth, like the sun behind a bank of clouds. "Harry?" the gasp escaped her lips before she could stop it. He crouched over her in the Chamber, where Tom had told her she would die and rot.
A phoenix rode on his shoulder, glowing brightly in the darkness of the Chamber. His normally unruly hair was matted and flat, his whole upper body smeared with blood. The sleeves of his robes had ripped, and she could see a large angry red mark on his arm. He beamed at her, his happiness washing over her like a balm, and removed his hand. For a moment, the world seemed dark and cold again.
"I'm glad you're all right, I was worried that I hadn't come in time," the sound of his voice banished the cold. His concern was evident, and it warmed her heart. He had come to save her. She sat up, slowly, and looked around. His hands were stained black with what appeared to be ink, but she couldn't see the diary anywhere. Seeing her look, he explained, "It's here. I destroyed it, and, with it, Tom." He held up his left hand, displaying something wrapped in cloth and vaguely book-shaped.
She saw past him. The basilisk lay still, blood slowly pooling beneath its mouth. Now she knew where the blood on his head and arms had come from. Tears began welling in her eyes. Had he risked so much, just to save her? Why would he do that, when she was the one who had done all those horrible things? Her voice skipped and jump and broke as she babbled the truth of the matter to him, apologizing for everything.
He just stood there. His words seemed fair and reassuring; he told her he didn't blame her. She could see better, though. He couldn't even bring himself to touch her or look her in the eye. She had never felt so wretched. If only she had remembered her father's advice; if only she hadn't trusted the diary when she could not see where it kept its brain.
Then maybe Harry wouldn't be so disgusted with her. Maybe he wouldn't, even now, be shying away from her and looking away. She fixed her eyes on the ground, where they belonged. Disgust pooled in her stomach. She was a vile, foolish creature, and she didn't deserve even the false warmth Harry turned her way. Ginny's resolve hardened. She would become worthy of him. Whatever it took, she would be absolutely faithful to the Boy-Who-Lived, and she would make herself worthy of him; she would remake herself utterly if that was what it took.
~~~~~ o.0.o ~~~~~
Harry felt helpless. She was clearly miserable, but there was little he could do, even though he knew she wasn't responsible at all for this tragedy. Maybe Ron could help her. As it was, his whole body cried out for relief. Even if he could bring himself to hug her or otherwise give her the comfort she clearly required, he hurt so much he doubted he could keep from sobbing if she touched him. He coaxed her to follow him, despite the handicap of not wanting to touch anything, leading her past the snake and down the tunnels to the cave-in. Fawkes pecked him in the head, making sure he didn't forget the Hat.
Harry was exhausted, he'd never been so tired before, but he made sure not to stumble or falter. Even with people as nice as the Weasleys seemed, he knew that to show weakness would damn him. It was a lesson the Dursleys had taught early. Show weakness, and the world would hammer at it until he broke. The only place it was at all safe to show any pain was in the care of Madam Pomfrey, and that only because she was oath-bound to keep his secrets. She'd given the oath right in front of him, that very first night, when he refused to tell her whether or not he hurt. He'd seen the glow, and Hermione had helped him look up magical oaths and contracts.
They arrived at the cave-in to find that Ron had cleared out a hole large enough for them to crawl through. Lockhart smiled vacantly and waved at them, but they ignored him.
"How are we gettin' out, Harry?" Ron wanted to know, glancing nervously at the slime-covered chute.
Harry shrugged, "I don't know. If we had a broom, I could ferry us out one at a time, but while I might be able to crawl up and go fetch it, I don't really want to leave you lot alone with him." Harry nodded at Lockhart.
Fawkes trilled at them, falling off Harry's shoulder to glide around them, herding them closer together. He cried out, and the world dissolved into flame, surrounding them and covering them. When the fires cleared, they found themselves standing before the gargoyles that guarded Dumbledore's office. "Could you tell them that we've found Ginny, please?" Harry requested politely, and the gargoyle tilted its head as though thinking.
After a moment, the gargoyle stepped aside, revealing the staircase to the Headmaster's office. Harry led the others up, then stepped through the door opening smoothly before them. Mrs. Weasley hurried forward and wrapped him, Ron, and Ginny up in a swooping embrace that had Harry flinching and trying to escape. Professor McGonagall stood in front of the Headmaster's desk and Headmaster Dumbledore sat behind it. His face pale but relieved, Mr. Weasley sat by the fire.
Before too long, the children had been released and ushered inside by adults very curious as to how, exactly, they had come to find Ginny and be so covered in muck. Fawkes soared across the room to his perch while Mrs. Weasley surreptitiously cast a few cleaning charms on herself. Harry told the story, starting with them visiting Hermione in the Hospital Wing. Harry threw a grateful glance to Professor McGonagall for her part in that visit.
He told the adults how they'd found the note in her hand, then heard about the new attack, and how they had overheard the professors tell Professor Lockhart to go searching, explaining that since time was of the essence, they'd gone right to him with that information. He told them of their intuition that the entrance was in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, and how they'd opened the entrance. Professor Lockhart looked shocked when he heard that he'd tried to obliviate his students and take credit for killing the basilisk.
Ron broke in and explained about the backfiring wand and the cave-in. He told his mom how he'd asked Harry to push on alone while he tried to clear a path. Mrs. Weasley looked torn between being upset that Harry had been alone and proud that both boys had done so well in such a bad situation.
Harry stopped talking when he reached the entrance of the chamber, looking supremely uncomfortable. Luckily (for him), the Headmaster's fire turned bright green and Lucius Malfoy strode through, clothes disheveled and covered in ash. His shoes were half-shined and his hair was slightly less immaculate than usual. Dobby the house-elf bobbed around him, desperately trying to finish fixing his master's appearance while simultaneously avoiding getting in the man's way. Lucius's words were cold and hard, "Dumbledore. What are you doing back here? The board kicked you out. Unanimously."
Dobby caught Harry's eyes while Dumbledore reassured the Governor that he had the board's full support in returning. The house-elf pointed to the diary in Harry's hands, then at Malfoy, then hit himself in the head. The third repition of this, Harry's eyes widened, then he turned to narrow them at Malfoy, a plan slowly forming from the frothing rage in his mind.