A/N: Had some additional free time today so ended up writing two chapters. Chapter 24 was purposefully vague, just as the story in general has been. I attempt to leave a lot of the story open for the readers to interpret.


Chapter 25: Need

Inhale. Exhale. Harry Potter could hear them talking around him, Snape and Voldemort himself discussing him. Hundreds of different emotions bombarded him from all sides. Fear and apprehension over being here. He could feel the incredibly powerful wards surrounding the property, Voldemort had clearly taken no chances about this place. There would be no leaving this place without destroying the ward stone. But he had already known that, Rabastan's memories had been very useful. Inhale. Exhale. He needed to keep his mind clear, keep his breathing even and his magic under control. Someone like Voldemort only needed to glance at someone to sense their magic and their mood. Rage, anger and recklessness fueled him, urging him to snap up and fight the man right now. No. Breathe in. Breathe out. Had to keep up the image of being unconscious. Had to keep his mind at ease.

Snape was talking again. That man had always been a question mark to him. Not even his stolen memories allowed him to fully discern his character. He had helped Voldemort, but he was also held close by Dumbledore. He had needed to know which side the man was on. But Harry also knew about the man's talent in the mind arts. Peeking into the mind of an established Occlumens was nigh impossible. Nigh impossible, but not completely unfeasible. There were times when even practitioners of the mind arts were weakened, usually when they experienced strong emotions or when they attacked themselves.

He had arrived at Hogwarts with the plan to provoke the man, anger him and give him his chance. Harry had expected it to take months, perhaps the entire year to succeed, but he had underestimated the sheer hatred the man held for his father. He had not angered Snape without reason during the first month, it had been intended from the start. In the end the word scoured from his father's journal, Snivellus, was all the ammunition he had ended up needing. Enraged the Potions Master had struck, anger clouding his mind while his blunt simple attack attempted to harm him. Harry couldn't have asked for a better opportunity, crushing the probe, causing the already emotional man incredible pain. In that second he had struck, his own probe sifting through everything he could lay his eyes on.

The man's allegiance had been surprising, he had expected loyalty to either Dumbledore or Voldemort, but the man only held it to a dead woman. Harry's own mother. Digging into that memory had exposed a hatred for Voldemort so vast it could fill an entire ocean. The man hated the Dark Lord for killing the only woman he had ever loved. Despised him with his entire soul. But was far more surprising, and infinitely more rewarding was the knowledge of the life-debt the man owed James Potter. And with his father's demise, owed him. The sheer possibilities that offered was mind-boggling, but he would not blow such an opening on folly. He had held on to the knowledge, saved it for the opportune time. Saved it for today.

Confunding Draco Malfoy had given it to him. He knew Snape had a soft spot for the child because of his mother. It was a weakness, and Harry knew how to exploit those. Malfoy's failure would have no doubt put his life in jeopardy, driving an already conflicted man into deeper desperation. He had erased all evidence from the Room of Requirement, leaving his enemies grasping at emptiness. Snape would want to protect Malfoy while also attempting to cover his own neck. That was when he struck, outlining his plan to him. The man had opposed him at first, thought his idea of infiltrating the Dark Lord's own manor was madness. Yet the debt was strong and unyielding, and Snape's lack of options left him open to the manipulation. A plan to poison him and remove him from the castle was made. No poison was drunk though. Snape had become his unwilling Trojan horse. His tool for infiltrating wards he could never have bypassed himself. The Dark Lord had let him in.

Tom's actions had driven Voldemort away from his army, left him secluded in this small manor with only the remains of his Inner Circle to protect him. The Horcruxes were gone. This was his best chance. Possibly his only chance before the man caught on to what was going on.

He could sense two other people in the room, but neither was Lucius Malfoy. Had to be Barty Crouch Jr and Bellatrix then. It was good that Lucius wasn't there, it might have hindered Snape's resolve, might have hindered his commitment to the debt. He could hear Voldemort's satisfied voice.

"Unfortunate, but commendable regardless. It is time to end what I started now, too much time has already been wasted."

Inhale. Exhale. This was it. He could feel the magic building in the tall pale man, it needed to happen now!

"Confringo!"

A shout of surprise followed by a wet exploding sound, like someone dropping a warm pie on the floor met his ears. A splash of warm liquid splattered his face, tasting faintly like copper. Blood. Knowing they were distracted he carefully opened his eyes, seeing both Voldemort and Bellatrix turn around and stare in shock at Snape who had just destroyed Barty completely, leaving only a wet trail of blood and entrails spreading across the floor. His unwilling ally had come through, just as the life-debt forced him to. Now!

"Traitor!" Bellatrix hissed at Snape, drawing out her own wand.

Neither of them noticed him stand up behind them, his wand already aimed for the back of her head while he dug out the Black ancestral dagger with his other hand. His non-verbal spell was instantly sensed by Voldemort who moved to dodge, but Harry had expected this, instead sending the Crushing hex into the exposed back of Bellatrix. Her head made a grotesque squelching sound as it cracked like a coconut dropped from a high altitude. The wicked witch crumpled to the floor, dead without even realizing it. Voldemort turned in surprise only to find the dagger already flying towards his chest. At this distance he would not miss. Finally it would end.

But it did not.

Voldemort was a veteran of countless fights, his body trained to react instinctively to any combat situation. A fraction of a second before the dagger could land his left hand came up, catching the blade in the flesh of his arm. The Withering Curse instantly took hold, but for a man like him it was not as deadly as Harry might have hoped. His magic rose furiously, blanketing the entire room in a dark oppressive feeling as the very blackness of his soul fought against the curse. Halted it in its tracks. Harry followed it up with a spell-chain, one already flying Voldemort's way courtesy of Snape, both of them hoping to end this now. But the man had not gone through countless rituals to hone his body for naught, like a snake covered in oil he moved between their spells, his own wand flashing as it blocked both of their attacks at the same time.

His response was furious, sheer hatred and rage fueling the spells as they rippled through the air. Insanity. No man should have so much sheer power. Harry focused his entire being on this very fight, evading and blocking as he could. His shield barely held back the furious power of his curses, his wand arm buckling like an ancient shield being hit by mallets. His Potter blood boiled for revenge, for vengeance, for his redemption against this demon. Every scrap of talent he had inherited and learned from his parents journals he put to use, transfiguring the room around them with speed that would leave most Aurors quiet, while abusing the charms in ways they were never intended. A simple Banishing Charm turned transfigured spikes into a shotgun of deadly steel, a Confunding Charm slipped past Voldemort's shield, the blocking aspects of the shield never intended for repulsing mental attacks. Cutters, Exploding Curses and Banishing Charms rained from his wand in between the unorthodox spell usage. Every shred of cunning and ingenuity went into his attack, hoping to overcome his enemy.

Yet it was all for naught.

Voldemort's magic ripped through his transfiguration like a hurricane, his mental attacks were like droplets of water trying to influence a speeding tsunami. Harry switched to the Dark Arts in desperation, but his talent in the area was nowhere near the man's expertise. His dark cutters were blown to pieces by dark Bludgeoning Curses, his Blood-boiling Curses were smashed aside by a sheer wall of black hatred. Harry shivered when he realized the man wasn't even at his full power now, the dagger in his arm was impairing him. He had to end it now, he needed to end it. This was nothing like he had imagined it, he expected Voldemort to be far weaker from his recent resurrection, yet the man seemed as indomitable as ever. Voldemort had clearly not wasted time in completing his rituals, retaining his former terrifying self in record time. He had thought his memories and skills would be enough to challenge the man with the help of Snape, but his own arrogance, the one thing Snape always complained about, was threatening to ruin everything. Harry's clever infiltration was turning into nothing more than an elaborate suicide.

Snape moved around the side, trying to attack him from the flank or simply get behind his back, but Voldemort's fury would not allow it, forcing them to dodge and move out of the way of curses that withered, boiled and simply corroded the manor around them. Acid burned holes through the floor while walls of fire erupted where the man pointed his wand. All men were supposed to have weaknesses, some habit they fell back on, some favorite spell they used. Not this demon. Not Voldemort. He was a perfection of warfare, moving through the rubble like he was dancing on polished parquet flooring while his wand dealt guaranteed death if not blocked or avoided. Walls made out of brick and stone buckled and tore before his spells, his wand movements perfect, his spell-chains without flaw, the unrelenting attack and defense leaving no openings.

He felt a massive surge of power build in the man and desperately conjured a wall before backing it with the strongest shield he knew. Yet the room clearing Banishing Charm Voldemort released tore chairs, shelves and tables from the floor, crushing them against the walls lining the wide oval room. Snape was sent flying like a leaf caught in the exhaust of an airplane, smashing against the unyielding brick walls with a harsh thump. Harry's own wall fared no better, rock and flooring ripping through his shield, cutting his face as it flew through his magical shield. A chunk of flooring smacked him in the head, sending him dazed to the floor. He shook his head, glad that his training had allowed him to keep hold of his wand. If he had to resort to his backup wand the fight was already over.

Blood drained from his face when he looked up, Voldemort had not sat idle during the opening the attack gave him. With no hesitation, no question whatsoever, he cleanly cut off his own arm at the elbow, removing the cursed dagger from his body. Of course. It was a weakness. The man had no inhibitions for utterly destroying anything that weakened him, even if it was a part of himself. Ruthless. Cold. Terribly efficient. A slick coating of silver slid down his wand before forming a new artificial arm where the old one had been cut off, stopping the bleeding.

Harry scrambled for Snape's body, pulling at the invisibility cloak hidden in his pocket. He had barely pulled the cloak out before a terrible feeling of dread spread over the room. He looked across the room at the pale skinned man sending waves of cold power coursing through the air.

He straightened to his full height and Harry could feel the magic that had been dedicated to stifling the curse now fueling his entire being. It was dark and suffocating, terrifying in its power. Every instinct in his body urged him to throw down his wand and kneel, or simply run away as fast as he could. Burning eyes the color of blood met his, victory and triumph glinting in them as a cold smirk grew on his lips. The man knew just as well as he did that this was the end. Trinkets and weapons that might work on normal humans would have little effect on him, his body was an instrument of war, every single weakness shaved away through the sacrifice of countless innocent lives.

No. Harry refused to snivel and cry, refused to sit there like so many of the man's victims had. His blood boiled in anger and for once he let it out, let his anger, rage and cold hatred fuel his magic. His Occlumency crumbled like dust as fury took over. If he died he would do it standing. Not bothering to waste his breath on useless talk he once more attacked, drawing from the deepest recesses of his soul for any and all power he could muster, anything to kill the man. If it cost him his own life then so be it, he would sacrifice everything to kill this beast.

There was no finesse or subtlety in his casting now, he funneled every single drop of what he had into his spells, colliding explosively with Voldemort's casting. Spell after spell rocketed out of his wand, but none of them could reach his target. There was power and determination, but those were not enough to overcome him. Fragmented memories were no match for seventy years of practice and muscle memory, even if a part of that had been spent as a shade. His body, while nearing the peak of where a young man might be, was still light-years away from the ritually honed body of his adversary. Voldemort moved like a reptile, lightning-quick graceful steps that moved him out of the way of dangerous spells while his casting was perfection in every form. Harry swore loudly, dredging his memory for anything that he might use against him, but found only dead ends.

The inevitable occurred soon enough, he was a tad slow evading a hissing red Cutting Curse, feeling it dig deeply into his side, nicking his ribs as it tore the skin to shreds. He groaned in pain, he wanted to bandage it before the blood loss became a factor, not for a second thinking a simple Episkey would heal anything sent by that man, but Voldemort did not allow for such things. Sensing his weakness he attacked even faster, sacrificing defense for more attack, bombarding him with one spell after another. Harry was panting loudly now, the exertion and pain slowing him down. His magical shields rang like a church bell being pummeled by hammers as he clawed for a way to escape the barrage. He had no idea how long it had been, a minute? Twenty? He blocked and moved as the room around him shattered underneath the Dark Lord's fury, dust and debris scattering through the air.

His next spell caught Harry off guard, an Explosive Hex smashing into the ground in front of his face, sending dirt into his eyes while he desperately shielded against the rubble. He realized his foe's strategy a second too late, as a purple buzz flew through the cloud of dust, ripping through his shield like it was paper before crushing his shoulder as it threw him against the already weakened wall. Pain engulfed him as he crashed and tumbled around from the force of the brutal spell. He blinked blurry eyes, looking around in a daze. He was leaning against the wall in a hallway outside of the room, apparently having flown cleanly through the plastered wall. The broken plaster had raised a cloud of dust, temporarily hiding him from Voldemort. Glancing at the invisibility cloak he miraculously still held in his left hand he entertained the idea of hiding, but even the slightest movement sent shock waves of pain through his now ruined shoulder. Looking down at his waist he could see blood drenching his robes, the cut in his side softly bleeding out his life. He was broken. Shattered.

A soft chuckle echoed through the dust. Even through the blood rushing in his ears he could hear the graceful clicks of Voldemort's heels as he approached the hole he had flown through, laughing in victory.

Harry would die here.

No. There was still one option. One last ditch effort. Taking that option this close to him was incredibly dangerous though. The risks were unmeasurable. Unimaginable. What he was planning was banned by the ICW itself and every single magical country in the world condemned it. If the Ministry of Magic found out what he had done, they would throw him directly into Azkaban. Might even throw him through the veil in fear of what his actions might have caused. His political power would not help him one whit and not even his money could buy his way out of any possible fallout. Provided he even survived this encounter. Provided his existence didn't simply shatter like a dropped mirror.

The soft clacking of the heels came closer. He had no options left, death itself was walking towards him. A nightmare. A cold ruthless execution. He had to do it. With his mind made up he prepared himself. He needed help.

He needed Tom.