Note: And with this chapter, I break 100,000 words. God help us all.
But mostly me.
CHAPTER FIFTEEN, SHOWDOWN
It was funny, really; how utterly terrifying a cliché can be in the right circumstances. Marginally concussed, surrounded by enemies, and face to face with the most feared wizard of the last half a century? These would be called the right circumstances by most people. Staring Voldemort in the face, Harry firmly counted himself among them. That being said, there was a piece of him egging him on, whispering come on, you can take him. Look at what you did to the basilisk, to the Dementors, to the wraith! What is Voldemort compared to those things?
Harry was beginning to think that little voice may have a point when Voldemort lifted his wand and said, "Crucio.", and his world dissolved into infernos of pain. He didn't know how long he scrabbled in the dirt, screaming his throat raw, only that when it stopped all he could do was pray for death- because dying would be better than experiencing that again.
"Curious." Voldemort mused, "Very curious." He paused as if expecting Harry to be capable of anything other than gasping for breath. The madman almost looked disappointed when he couldn't. "I was expecting more from you, even isolated as I was I heard the tales of your exploits. I must admit to entertaining the idea that perhaps, just perhaps, you might be worthy of dying at my wand." Another flick, and Harry found himself lifting into the air, floating cruciform in the air. "And now I am disappointed in you, Harry. So very disappointed."
His foggy brain noticed a few things then. First, that the masked men had backed off, forming a large circle in the center of which Voldemort stood. Second, the storm seemed to only be getting worse. With his head rolled back the way it was he had a great view of the roiling clouds. That is, until, a tendril of magic rolled his head back to face Voldemort's amused, utterly mad dark eyes.
"What am I going to do with you?" Voldemort wondered, tapping his chin with long, tapered fingers. "I can't let you live, obviously, and I can't really kill you either."
Harry's eyes blurred for a moment and his world spun, but he was coherent enough to latch onto that. I can use that; strike first, strike hard.
"I think I will show my followers, my faithful friends, once and for all that you are nothing but a child, an idiot boy with more luck than skill."
He must have heard the wrong stories, that little voice piped up. He drew strength from it, remembering enough about himself to whisper healing magics to his battered brain. He felt his other injuries when the flared as he was dumped unceremoniously on the still hot earth.
"Stand, Harry Potter." Voldemort commanded. "Stand and face your executioner."
Legs shaking, heart pounding, Harry stood. And he showed no fear.
The culmination of fourteen years of life had led him inexorably to this moment, and it was only now that he knew. It was only now, looking his parents' murderer in the face, that he realized every moment had been so that he could face Voldemort now, and survive.
He was eleven years old when he fought Voldemort for the first time. Eleven years old. His hand traced the scars the wraith left on his chest. As a mere boy of eleven he'd managed to meet one of the darkest creatures known to man and, face-to-face, beat it to the ground. When he was twelve he solved a centuries old riddle and destroyed Slytherin's chamber- and the monsters within- forever. The place where his toe used to be ached sometimes on cold days. At thirteen he stood back to back with his godfather and fought a dozen escaped madmen, and won.
Then there was the Tournament. Entered against his will, three years too young, and here he stood. The basilisk, with all its primal power, couldn't hurt him. The riddles and mind games of the centaurs couldn't muddle his brains.
Now here he stood at the top of Braeriach, looking Lord Voldemort reborn in the eye. He felt the power of the earth beneath him; a bass drum of incredible vitality. The storm's fiery power lanced the skies above him, and the howling winds brought him their own untamed strength. He drew in the power of the world around him and let it spread through him, saturating every pore. Then he spoke, and the world stood still to listen.
"My entire life, I've wondered why I exist. For a long time, a long time, Voldemort, I thought I would never know. I thought I would spend the rest of my life with the unanswered question of my existence- like a scar on my soul."
Voldemort's eyes narrowed. Harry's lips twitched into what would have been a smile under any other circumstances.
"Then I had an interesting talk the other day with a centaur. You know, the ones who live in the forest? Turns out they hear the voices of the stars; it's like music to them. The stars sang to them on the day I was born. Did you know that? I didn't. I had no idea that there was a prophecy about us until I talked to the old centaur seer. He helped me answer the question."
"Enough of this!" Voldemort snapped, eyes blazing with manic light. "I care not for the mad ravings of a filthy horse! The only that matters that matters to me, Potter, is that YOU! WILL! DIE!"
Magic boiled around the enraged man as he leveled his wand. With a cry the formless spell launched across the distance between them, tearing a furrow in the ground with its ragged power. Harry thrust his hands forward, golden eyes igniting, and sent his own blast forward. The two hit with a thunderclap and a wave of force that knocked the encircled followers to the ground. He ground his teeth together and reached out to the storm, borrowing its fire to tinge his magic with amber flames.
"Do nothing!" Voldemort screamed. "He is mine!"
Your mistake, Harry thought. Where the two spells collided an orb of light had bloomed. He felt the strength of his magic racing through him- stronger and faster than any rush of adrenaline- up his arms and out through his palms to slam into Voldemort's wordless rage. "Shall I tell you?" he shouted over the rushing wind of their dueling spells. "Do you want me to tell you why I exist? It's you, Voldemort! I exist to STOP! YOU!"
Harry's arms bent. Lightning lashed the ground around him. He pulled its fiery strength in and coupled it with the steady drumbeat of the earth and twined it with his own power. Then he howled and punched forward. Voldemort screamed in rage. The rush of power flooded down the line of the spell, reached the light, and detonated.
It took the summit with it.
This had never happened before. A quick look to either side and down confirmed that yes, he was floating. His power hummed in his veins, racing through him and down. He could feel it eddying through the air under his feet. He could feel the light coming through his eyes and the heat of the runes carving their way through his skin. The uniquely unpleasant smell of burning hair came to his nose. Besides all that?
He could fly.
Below him the mountain had gotten a good bit shorter; its new summit was broken and craggy and in some places still glowing with the tremendous residual heat of his spell's backlash. The bare rock was scattered with charred pieces of things- people- he didn't want to think about right now.
Because above all else, Voldemort stood tall below him. His wand was held high and shield of shimmering, gossamer threads surrounded him in a dome. "Impressive," the man said, and Harry could actually hear it in his voice. But then red eyes found his and they damn near shone with madness. "but you'll have to try harder than that to kill me."
Harry found himself lowering. He didn't know how he was doing it, but he knew that he would soon be on the ground- face-to-face with Voldemort. His feet touched the ground, his full weight settling onto Braeriach's new summit. He looked into a murderous man's red eyes and said, "Okay."
Then he wove blades of golden light from thin air and launched them at Voldemort, who countered by conjuring blocks of granite to intercept before vanishing and reappearing a dozen feet away. A wave of his wand sent streamers of ugly orange light in Harry's direction. He used the scattered rocks to form a wall in front of himself. The wall shuddered under the impact of Voldemort's spells- whatever they were, before he waved his hand and blasted them forward. They burst into flame halfway there and froze, halting in the air before exploding in a barrage of jagged icicles.
Harry knew it would only be a matter of time before Voldemort's decades of experience and skill beat him, so he hit the self-styled Dark Lord with everything he had. He harnessed the storm above's lightning to sear furrows into the ground and try to penetrate his enemy's shields. He froze the rain and blasted it through the air. He tore up the mountain they stood on, using fragments the size of lorries as bludgeons to batter Voldemort into oblivion. Every ounce of power he could summon, he used.
And it wasn't enough.
Oh, sure, he was scoring hits. Voldemort's left arm was broken, and a cut over those red eyes wept blood. Whenever he moved, it was with a limp. So no, it wasn't a hopeless fight, but he was still sure he was going to lose because no matter what he did, Voldemort just kept fighting.
With a flick of his wand Voldemort set the air on fire and twisted it into a massive snake that reared thirty feet into the air, fangs of smoke and ash swirling into being. With a cry of rage he directed the burning snake at Harry. He stood transfixed. The snake drew closer and closer. He felt its heat on his skin and its burning maw filled his vision before he remembered himself and thrust his hand at it, palm up.
The sound of the two forces meeting was the tolling of some massive bell and it shook the ground with its force. Harry was forced to his knees under the immense pressure. Over the roaring flames he could hear Voldemort shouting and he howled back, a wordless cry of defiance and rage. The fire drove him further down, he would have fallen into the ground if he hadn't stopped his descent with a trembling arm.
This was it. He was going to lose. He was going to die.
Oh, no you aren't, boyo. Get. The fuck. Up. Finish this son of a bitch, once and for all!
If only it were that easy.
Harry felt his shield giving way- something that the combined might of Slytherin house couldn't accomplish, and felt in that moment an overriding sense of helplessness. There was nothing more he could do. Voldemort had him dead to rights.
Didn't he? Harry remembered the Dementors and the Quidditch pitch. He looked at his hand, planted firmly on the ground and keeping himself upright. His fingers curled around a handful of gravel, earth, and peat. Would the same thing work twice? Did he even have enough power to pull it off? He ground his teeth together. Only one way to find out. He punched up with the shield, forcing the fire back and buying himself a few seconds of breathing room. A few seconds was all he needed.
Harry lifted his hand, slammed it palm down into the earth, and broke it asunder beneath him. Last time, it was a wild blast; completely out of his control and as dangerous to him as to everyone around him. This time, his control was refined. The devastation lanced forward in a straight line- from him to Voldemort the earth cracked and when it reached the triumphant madman spikes of stone, thick around as tree trunks, erupted from the earth. At the same time the ground beneath Voldemort fell away, and what was left of Braeriach acquired a crevasse.
The fire ceased, and Harry forced himself to his feet. He ached, he was completely drained, and he was pretty sure his ankle was broken. He knew his wrist was. The spell he'd forced through his hand had taken its toll on him as well. But he could move well enough, and could see. That was all he needed. The rain was slowing, the clouds breaking apart, and a bare hint of rosy sunset poked through the clouds.
The crevasse grumbled, tufts of stone falling into its shadowed depths. At one end stood its creator; the young, tired boy with strange markings around his eyes. At the other, impaled on a crucifix of stone, was a destroyer. Harry limped over to the gasping, choking figure held transfixed by the stone spears.
He watched the light, the life, fade from the eyes of the most feared wizard in the last hundred years and felt absolutely nothing. It wasn't a lack of emotion, it was the absence of something that had plagued his entire life up until that moment. A variety of wounds made themselves known, the added tax leading him to sit down quite suddenly. Cradling his broken wrist to his chest he laid back and looked up.
The clouds were quite beautiful, really. Especially when they weren't a magical storm. Right then, at sunset, with them streaked a variety of soft, warm colors against a background of steadily darkening blue...
Harry closed his eyes and heard the sounds of the approaching horde of people as if from far away. He knew that not five feet away from him was a dead body- a man he'd killed, in fact. But he didn't really care. Whether it was shock or the final removal of Voldemort from his life, he didn't feel much of anything at all.
In a way, he was free.
They wanted to give him a medal. Professor Dumbledore had shown him his; a great, lumpy gold thing with emeralds and rubies and quite honestly Harry couldn't think of a single reason he wanted one. So he said no thank you to the bewildered Minister for Magic and went back to his room in Gryffindor tower, where he sat in his favorite chair by the window and looked out at the lake. And it was there that Dumbledore found him.
"I must say," the old wizard leaned on the wall opposite him and looked out. "you've done wonders to improve our grounds. I especially like how you moved that mountain to give us a better view of the sunset."
Harry snorted. "Thank you, sir. Maybe I'll take up landscaping now that I'm done vanquishing evil wizards."
Dumbledore hummed in agreement. "It would be a terrible thing to use a gift as miraculous as yours for something as banal as warfare. Destruction is always easier than creation, after all, but hardly as worthwhile."
"Was their something you wanted?" He asked, wanting to bring the conversation towards something he was more comfortable talking about. "Or are you hiding from the Minister, too?"
"Me? No." the old wizard's eyes twinkled for the first time in days. "I came here to talk to you."
"Oh?" Harry felt that maybe changing the subject hadn't been the best idea. "About what?"
"You." said Dumbledore. "You've spent your entire under Voldemort's shadow, and now that you're free from it, I wonder if you know what to feel."
He frowned. That had been a little too close to truth for someone who couldn't relate or understand. Which meant... "You sound like you've been where I have." He heard a sigh and felt a brush of silken magic on his senses. He looked and saw that Dumbledore had conjured himself a garishly colored armchair and sank gratefully into its overstuffed cushions.
"In a way, you're right, Harry. Most of my life I spent in some way trying to stop a dark wizard not dissimilar to Voldemort. Once I finally stopped him, I had no idea what to do with myself or with my life. It was... a void. For many years I convinced myself that this dark wizard might return somehow, and so that was what I dedicated myself to. Two decades I spent watching the shadows." Dumbledore shrugged. "In the end, it was meaningless. No man, no matter how strong or powerful, can cheat death."
"But what if he did?" Harry asked suddenly, the idea wrapping icy talons around his heart. "What if there's some- some forgotten way and Voldemort found it-"
"It. Is. Impossible." Dumbledore's voice was gentle, irrefutable truth. "He is gone, and you are free. Your life is yours. It always was, and while I cannot promise that it will be free of struggle or worry, I can promise you that no matter what happens, your life is the best thing that creation has given you. Use it, Harry Potter. Show us who you are."
Harry took a deep, long breath, and on the exhale purged every lingering fear about Voldemort that he had. He failed, but it was a start. He would never truly forget what it was like, to live under the madman's shadow, but he suspected- and Dumbledore's words were beginning to prove- that sooner rather than later, he would live truly and free. "Thank you, sir." he said, and meant every word.
Dumbledore smiled. His electric blue eyes, instead of twinkling, shone with pride. "You are welcome, Harry." Then, just as suddenly as it appeared, the shine was gone and the mischievous twinkle was back in place. "Now, about your medal..."
I guess I should call you Harry, now, shouldn't I? You saved the world again, after all.
You know, I was sitting with my mother last night, my smiling, happy mother, and I was trying to remember why I hated you. Why I wanted so very much to make you hurt. Can you imagine my surprise when I couldn't remember? I will never forget that you killed Lucius. It hurt, so very, very much. I can admit that. What I didn't see at the time, and am now only beginning to understand was how much pain he was creating just by existing. You, me, my mother, those girls he killed, everyone he hurt as a servant of Voldemort.
He was my father. Now he's just the man who married my mother.
I don't know if you're feeling guilty about killing Voldemort or any of the people with him. If you are I have only one thing to say to you: stop. I can tell you that those were some of the most despicable, violent, psychotic people on this planet and everyone is better off without them.
That must be weird, eh? Hearing from a former arch-enemy and having him tell you that you did the right thing?
You did, and never doubt that we are grateful.
Harry kept that letter, and the few dozen others he received from people genuinely thanking him in a steamer trunk he bought for that very purpose. He hid it under his bed and sometimes, when it was late(or early) and he couldn't sleep, he would pull the trunk out and let their gratitude wash over him until he couldn't remember what was keeping him awake in the first place. As the months passed and he began to move on he found himself reaching for the trunk less and less. When he moved out of Privet Drive two weeks after his nineteenth birthday, he left the trunk behind.
But for now, he kept it close, and he kept his friends closer still.
Hermione was furious that she had been right about the Tournament, and even more so that no one could figure out just how he was entered in the first place. She had spent the week after he left the hospital wing digging into every scrap of information she could find before Harry finally had enough.
"It's done," he said. "I don't care why I was entered anymore. Really, I don't. Past is past, and all that."
All she did was give him a look and say, "You can't expect me to believe you aren't the slightest bit curious?"
"I am," he conceded, "a little. Honestly, the only thing that really matters to me now is that it's over. Done. Forever. Hermione, I am free of him. Voldemort is gone and he's never coming back and that's all I can think about. It's all I really want to think about."
Hermione's eyes still held shadows; doubts, worries and fears and he hated that he couldn't take them away. Lessen them, yes. Eliminating them was something he couldn't do. "But what if they try again?" she asked. "What if they try to hurt you again?"
Harry shrugged. "What's the point? No matter what whoever they are does, their master isn't coming back."
"I know that," she pressed, "and you know that, but they may not. And they might come after you again, and that scares me."
Harry rose and came around the table, pulling her to her feet and into a hug. "It doesn't scare me." he murmured. "I beat their boss. Twice. What can they do that he couldn't?"
Hermione punctuated each word with a punch to his shoulder. "Don't. Tempt. Fate."
He laughed and held her tighter, trying to put all the affection he felt for her into the gesture. Then he understood why her hugs were always so tight. She was trying to show him how much he meant to her. How much she valued him, as a friend or a person or the savior of the world. The tighter Hermione held on, the stronger she felt.
It's a wonder Neville has an unbroken bone in his body, he mused. Oddly enough, she did her best to break more than one of his when he innocently brought it up not a few minutes later. She did throw a book at him when he told her she was only confirming his suspicions.
To say that his family didn't know what to make of what had happened would not do justice to the bewildering variety of emotions they expressed after everything had been explained. Pride, relief, joy, fear, anger, worry, confusion(mostly Dudley), and love were only some of them. Harry was completely shameless in basking in their attentions over him. For a while, anyway. Then it started getting annoying.
For instance, it took him about two weeks- post annoyed- to get Petunia to let him leave the house after 3 pm. Vernon wanted to buy him a gun and teach him how to use it before coming to the conclusion that Harry himself was a weapon. After seeing the look on Petunia's face when he explained his reasoning to her, Harry decided that right then was a good time to go for takeout.
Dudley joined him half a block later. "They're really going at it."
His mind, being the traitorous thing that it was, immediately went somewhere he would rather die than let it go to again. "Please tell me you mean they're arguing."
"Yeah." Dudley frowned. "What did you think-? Oh my God, I need bleach for my brain!"
Harry fervently agreed, and no more was spoken on that subject. His family seemed eager to put Voldemort behind them and he was no less eager to help them.
There was one part of Harry's life that he had no idea what to do with. One part that refused to react to the change. He shouldn't have been surprised, though. Luna never had been one to let anything affect her more than she wanted it to. "If I didn't let the fact that you were an abominable dancer come between us, what makes you think some stupid dark wizard has a chance?" she asked him.
Harry blinked. "Was I really a bad dancer?" Luna laughed.
"You were the worst. At the beginning, anyway. You improved quickly."
"What can I say?" he grinned. "I'm a quick learner."
"Oh, you most certainly are," she agreed, turning the huskiness of her voice into a weapon that should be outlawed and making him want to find a broom cupboard or somewhere equally private right now. "In fact, I think you should show me."
He bent his head and kissed the space where her throat met her neck, a place he had learned she enjoyed him paying attention to. Luna made a little mew of pleasure and wrapped her hands around his neck. "If you insist," he murmured into her skin.
"Oh, believe me," she moaned, "I do."
Luckily, they found an empty classroom before someone found them. Or maybe it was just Hogwarts looking out for them. Either way, they weren't going to complain.
Harry's life wasn't perfect. He knew that. From the moment he was born he was different. The power that carved runes into his skin had set him apart from the beginning. His parents had been murdered when he was a year old, and when he was eleven he had fought a wraith of their murderer. When he was twelve he had nearly died again fighting to stop a plot that would cause the halls of Hogwarts to run red with blood. It was also the first time he willingly took a life.
When he was thirteen he met a girl. At the time he hadn't known how much she would come to mean to him, but he'd known from the beginning she was special. He fought Dementors, demons of old magic, and did battle standing back-to-back with the last link to his forgotten parents.
At fourteen years old he ended a war. It took four dozen lives and a mountain to do it, but he ended the war before it could begin.
No, his life wasn't perfect. But now, as he looks at the future with his friends, family, and the woman he loves, he starts to see that it might be. That there's a chance.
And honestly? That's more than enough for him.
Note: It's been fun, hasn't it? I know I enjoyed writing this, and I truly, truly hope you enjoyed reading and reviewing it. So thank you, you wild group of crazy people. Every time I look at this and see that it's gotten another two or three reviews it makes me want to write. And let me tell you, sometimes I needed that push.
So this is me, saying goodbye for now. I'm chewing on the idea of another fic, but there's nothing concrete. Not yet. It'll rock up when it's ready, I suspect. But in the meantime, enjoy what I have done, and if you don't like it, do better.
I dare you.
Graphed Vulgarity out.