Title: The Last Horcrux
Disclaimer: We do not own Harry Potter, nor are we making any money by doing this.
Authors: ladyoflilacs and What-Ansketil-Did-Next
Summary: In the battle of Hogwarts, Harry makes a fatal error. Now Lord Voldemort rules Wizarding Britain and Harry's fate is sealed…
Warnings: Angst, graphic violence, scenes of a sexual nature
Authors' Notes: Hello everyone, us again, we're still on track with Yew and Holly, but we realised we had a lot of stuff that has never seen the light of day. This is a brand new thing, and has nothing to do with In Somno Veritas – except that it stars our favourite two wizards, of course. We hope you enjoy.
He turned away; there was no sadness in him, no remorse. The time had come to leave this pitiful shack and take charge with a wand that would now do his full bidding. He pointed it at the protective sphere encasing his precious Horcrux, lifting it away from his servant - who crumpled to the floor, blood gushing from his neck - as Lord Voldemort swept from the room.
The Dark Lord stalked up the long corridor, his mind roiling with purpose, Nagini trailing behind him. The question of the Elder Wand's allegiance, which had so troubled him, had finally been resolved. The Deathstick had no brother - its core of Thestral hair was no kin to Potter's. It seemed to hum under his fingers as Voldemort contemplated his final encounter with the boy; eager, perhaps, to cast that most finite of curses. It would not shatter, as Lucius' wand had, upon meeting Potter's weapon. He trailed it through the air and the time lit up the darkness in a trail of fire: eleven fifty-one. The deadline he had set was about to expire.
He emerged into the chaos of battle. The once-pristine lawns of the school were scarred by combat. Far more than Severus' sacrifice, Voldemort regretted the destruction of this, his first kingdom. A Giant was gouging holes in the second floor of the castle and, from all directions, came the rapid flash and fire of duelling sorcerers, the brilliance of their curses lighting the mist of drifting umbra bending to drink the souls of Lord Voldemort's enemies.
Pale feet lifted from the earth as he took to the sky, Nagini's glittering sphere arcing after him through the air. The night was burning: alive with smoke and furious magic. He breathed in the anarchy over which he flew, exalting in his absolute primacy. He cannot have found the diadem, Voldemort reassured himself, only I ever plumbed such secrets... It was tempting to divert from his original plan, to rush to secure his treasure, but Voldemort would keep his word to those who defended Hogwarts so very bravely and to such little purpose. He was, after all, their lord.
"You have fought," he spoke softly into the spring night, his powerful magic carrying his cold voice to the ears of every creature struggling far below, "valiantly. Lord Voldemort knows how to value bravery."
It was, he realised, almost seven years since he had said such words to the Potter child. How strange. Fate was aligning - this time the Dark Lord would not fail. "Yet you have sustained heavy losses." It stiffened his resolve and rage flumed behind his eyes to think of that boy who had cost him more than he could ever hope to regain. "If you continue to resist me, you will all die, one by one. I do not wish for this to happen. Every drop of magical blood spilled is a loss and a waste."
He took a breath of cool air, "Lord Voldemort is merciful. I command my forces to retreat immediately. You have one hour. Dispose of your dead with dignity. Treat your injured." All of it light as he, each silken word imbued with icy grace. He permitted them this reprieve in order to regroup his own scattered forces and to let Potter gaze upon the corpses of his schoolmates and professors. The boy who had run so far so fast to save a mere godfather would not, Voldemort was certain, be able resist the ultimatum the Dark Lord was about to offer.
"I speak now, Harry Potter, directly to you. You have permitted your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself. I shall wait for one hour in the Forbidden Forest. If, at the end of that hour, you have not come to me, have not given yourself up, then battle recommences. This time, I shall enter the fray myself, Harry Potter, and I shall find you, and I shall punish every man, woman and child who has tried to conceal you from me. One hour."
And, true to his word, Voldemort swiftly descended to a clearing in the forest that had once held a nest of great spiders, striking up a bonfire with a roar of power, pacing in the shadow of its billowing flames, staring into its golden heat and striving to curb his impatience. Harry Potter would be watching them levitate the fallen into neat lines, his greatest weakness warring with his fierce, Gryffindor heart.
His Death Eaters arrived in small groups. Some were injured and others had questions, he knew, but he made no move to assist or direct them. They had heard the choice he had given the boy, as everyone had, and their only conversation was the occasional muted, muttered whisper. None of them dared to disturb his vigil.
Voldemort closed his eyes - the Deathstick pressed between his palms - and awaited Harry Potter.
Finally, the truth.
Harry lay still on the floor. He could see perfectly each strand of carpet, the dust and fuzz which enveloped each one like a halo. He felt somehow both removed from his body and excruciatingly aware of it; he was numb, separate, unable to completely process what was about to happen to him - and yet he felt the softness of the rug against his cheek, the cool rush of air filling up his lungs and leaving them again. Little details that he had never taken the time to appreciate. The small, wonderful things, the minutiae of life, which he would never get to experience again.
It was all finally beginning to make sense. He felt nauseous with the awful, dizzying finality of it. Part of Lord Voldemort lives inside Harry, Dumbledore's voice echoed in his mind, as though from the end of a very long tunnel. All this time, Harry had been hunting Horcruxes, destroying the pieces of Voldemort's soul - when, in the end, this meant he would need to destroy himself.
But Dumbledore had overestimated him. Harry hadn't been able to kill the snake. As long as Nagini still lived, Voldemort would as well - even if Harry sacrificed himself, even if Voldemort's body was still somehow destroyed. Perhaps this wouldn't matter if there had been anyone else to take on the responsibility of killing Nagini. But no one else knew what she was except for Harry, now that Ron and Hermione were gone.
It was suddenly very difficult for him to breathe. Harry pushed himself up, throat tightening. He ran a hand over his pale face - he needed to be rational; this was no time to get emotional. But some fierce, irrepressible flame of anger raged within him at the thought of his two best friends, lying cold and blank-eyed on the ground. He would not let them die in vain.
But they would have - it would have all been in vain - if Nagini was allowed to live. And there would be no one left to kill her, no one alive who understood the necessity of her death, if Harry were to sacrifice himself now. Perhaps he could tell one of the others, explain what the Horcruxes were and what needed to be done to them, before he went to Voldemort? But no... they would never allow him to turn himself over, even if they knew what Harry did about his scar. Dumbledore was strong enough to accept what needed to be done, no matter how painful - but could Harry say the same for everyone else? Would McGonagall, Mrs Weasley, or Ginny feel the same way?
Harry knew the answer before the question had even fully formed in his mind. They loved him too deeply; they would never let Harry go through with this, even if it meant he was saving their lives. And, in the end, that was just as bad as allowing Nagini to live as well.
No. It had to be him. Besides which, the window of opportunity Voldemort had given him to hand himself in was rapidly closing. There was no time for explanations or arguments.
It was up to Harry to finish this, just as Dumbledore intended.
Harry made his way, invisible, through the empty castle. He was still perceiving the world around him as though through a thick veil, or through ears stuffed with cotton. His feet seemed to carry him on their own accord, independent of the rest of his body, through these corridors which had held his most precious memories. All he seemed to be able to focus on was the mad beating of his heart, pounding furiously against the cage of his ribs. It seemed to be trying to escape the prison of this body, which did not have very much longer left to live.
He stopped only, on a whim, to tell Neville about Nagini as well - just in case, Harry told himself. Just in case something went wrong, and Voldemort killed him straightaway. There would be one last person. The secret would not die with him.
"All right, Harry," Neville said, nodding, and he felt some of the awful weight lift from his shoulders. "You're okay, are you?"
"I'm fine," he said, through a very dry mouth. "Thanks, Neville."
"We're all going to keep fighting, Harry. You know that?"
Harry's chest grew tight. "Yeah, I -" But he couldn't finish; an even heavier weight seemed to have settled over his lungs, preventing him from continuing. Neville simply patted his shoulder, nodding, and left him.
There wouldn't be any more fighting, Harry had wanted to say. No one else would have to die on his account. Harry was going to finish it all, right now - he would kill Nagini, and then Voldemort would kill him, leaving Tom Riddle vulnerable at last to death, when it came for him.
And it would come.
Harry took a deep, steadying breath, touched the wand inside his shirt, and walked out the huge doors of the Entrance Hall for the very last time.
"No sign of him, my Lord," one of his Death Eaters voiced from the edge of those who had gathered around the warmth of the bonfire. Voldemort paid him no attention. It was almost time. Everything was prepared. But perhaps he would have to hunt Potter down and slay his protectors himself... The Dark Lord rolled the Elder Wand between his fingers, tired of this long night and more than ready to mete out much deserved death to those who defied Lord Voldemort.
Still, it irritated him to have misjudged the boy.
"My Lord -" Bella interrupted his musing, but he immediately held up a hand to silence her, having no desire to hear her cloying, obsequious opinions at such a time as this, and returned his gaze to the leaping flames.
"I thought he would come," Voldemort murmured, suddenly unsure. He had been so certain of the boy's weakness. "I was, it seems... mistaken." He could sense his servants drawing away in fear of his displeasure, yet his crimson eyes did not leave the fire. What did it matter? He was not angry. This path would bring him more satisfaction, in the end. All of those who resisted would meet the same fate as the boy's parents.
There was complete silence. The only sound was the spit and crackle of the flames. Harry let the Resurrection Stone roll from his fingers to the ground, disappearing among the leaves and taking the ghosts of his loved ones with it. With every ounce of courage he possessed, Harry pulled off his father's cloak and stepped forward.
And there he was, at the edge of the clearing, walking toward the Dark Lord. Voldemort turned, rooted to where he stood, unable to think now that the moment he had been anticipating for so very long was stretching out in front of him through the curtain of fire. Voices screamed, roared, jeered, and laughed but all Voldemort heard was his own quickening heartbeat. At last.
The boy did not draw his wand. Voldemort tilted his head a little to the side, curious at this uncharacteristically meek surrender. Could it really be so easy, after all this time? "Harry Potter," he acknowledged softly, his lipless mouth curling upward with that cold, cruel sense of purpose that he always experienced at moments such as this. "The boy who lived."
Another heartbeat, and there was no rage now, only relief that he was about to put an end to prophecy and any doubt as to Lord Voldemort's power. And, if he was honest, a little disappointment that Potter appeared so resigned to death. But it would work this time, he knew. Nothing had been left to chance. Every variable had been calculated. Voldemort raised the Elder Wand, drawing in a slow breath. He would not prevaricate, nor make the boy scream. The time for such things was long past. It would be enough to see Potter fall.
The strange, benumbing mist that had been hanging over Harry's world suddenly lifted, cut through by the sound of Voldemort's voice. Harry was thrown abruptly back into his own body. He felt suddenly sick with terror; it took all of his strength to keep his hands from trembling; but still he could not move, could not make his mouth form words.
Something moved in the corner of his vision, and his eyes flicked to Nagini, floating behind Voldemort in a cloud of enchantments. His wand seemed to burn in his pocket, but he knew that to draw it now, among all these Death Eaters, would mean certain death before he'd had a chance to finish this final responsibility. Besides, the snake was clearly smothered in protective spells. Harry wouldn't even know how to begin cutting through those. He would need to reach her another way.
And then Lord Voldemort pointed the Elder Wand at him. His heart lurched with fear - not yet, he thought frantically - not yet, it isn't time -
"I wouldn't do that if I were you, Riddle," he heard himself say, and his voice sounded loud and calm, not at all how he felt.
Voldemort narrowed his crimson eyes. His whole body was taut with fury, yet he could do nothing but stare at the boy, mesmerised by the possibility of some final trick of fortune that would thwart his curse. He hissed, gliding forward, crossing the bonfire in a plume of darkness to coalesce mere metres from Potter, the Deathstick ready to strike. "Oh?" he exhaled softly. "What do you imagine will save you this time?" The forest was utterly silent as it waited for Potter's answer; it was as if only they two breathed.
Harry's heart was beating very fast. His fingers jerked with the urge to draw his wand; it was maddening to simply stand here, utterly defenceless, with Lord Voldemort standing a mere arm's length away from him. But he forced himself to remain calm, anchored by his purpose. "You will."
"I?" he asked, incredulously. He began to laugh, humourless and insane, "I, Lord Voldemort, shall save Harry Potter." The Dark Lord paused as the crowd began to titter and jeer. Behind him, he could hear Bellatrix giggling. "And why should I grant you mercy when all you have done, ever since your Mudblood mother whelped you, is stand in my way?"
The thought of his mother might have infuriated him if he hadn't just finished speaking to her for the first time in his life. Instead, Harry felt fortified by the reminder of her faith and pride in him. You've been so brave, she'd said, smiling, and she was right. He'd made it this far. He could do this. "Because killing me right now would be a big mistake," said Harry calmly, over the taunts of the watching Death Eaters. "Even bigger than the one you made when you tried to kill me sixteen years ago."
"I do not see anyone here willing to run forwards and take my curse for you," Voldemort scoffed, yet fear began to eat at his confidence. What if Potter had one last secret? Surely, surely now the Dark Lord understood every mystery, every trick of happenstance that had protected the boy in the past? The half-giant raged against his bonds. "Well, it seems there is one," he sneered, "perhaps I will be magnanimous and allow him to bear your body back to the school. He was ever fit for such menial tasks." Voldemort stopped talking, abruptly aware that insulting Hagrid had more to do with nerves than with any real malice. He could not afford to lose focus. Not now.
An odd thing was happening within him. He seemed to have crossed beyond fear; he felt high with adrenaline and purpose. Because Voldemort was scared. Harry had only seen it briefly, flashing across those terrifying red eyes in the space of a heartbeat - but it was there, he'd seen it, and he, Harry, had put it there. He'd never felt more daring.
"You still don't get it, Riddle, do you? No one else has to take any more curses for me. The damage has already been done. You did it yourself, in fact - that night in Gordric's Hollow." Harry smiled, an unpleasant, spiteful smile that couldn't have been any further from the ones he gave his friends. "You thought you could split your soul however many times you wanted, and nothing bad would come of it, did you? Well, when your curse backfired, it simply couldn't hold itself together anymore. A piece of it got blasted apart from the rest. And it attached itself to the only other person who was still alive there that night." Harry's voice was low and very soft now; he stared into those horrible crimson eyes. "To me."
Everything faltered. The forest blurred around him. Voldemort blinked and realised, as though from a great distance - as though it were not part of him at all - his hand was shaking. He could not seem to hold it still. A vast and terrible silence engulfed him, amplifying every shuddering breath he eked in and out. The Elder Wand buzzed with static and he almost dropped it. It was impossible, it... it...
There was no lie in Potter's voice. Every word blazed truth. Voldemort cried out as though struck.
"It's true," Harry said maliciously, revelling in Voldemort's distress. He wished that it really had been just the two of them - that he could have taken advantage of Riddle's shock to strike the snake. But the circle of Death Eaters was still there, looking on in stunned, confused silence. "It's true," he repeated. "Didn't you ever wonder why I can speak Parseltongue? Why we can read each other's thoughts? There's a piece of your soul living in my scar. Of course Dumbledore would figure it out before you would. So go on, Riddle... kill me. But only if you want to destroy one of the last Horcruxes you still have left alive."
He shook his head as he keened, desperately trying to form words adequate to the avalanche of fear and fury that buried every thought in its wake. Lord Voldemort had never told a single person of his Horcruxes, and this - this child had - was - revealing his secret all of his assembled servants. The ring, the cup, the diary, the locket... so many of his Horcruxes, most important and precious, stolen and desecrated. And now... undeserving... impertinent... why was his throat so very dry? Voldemort gripped the Deathstick so tightly that his trembling fingers were beginning to go numb. Gasping, his lungs refusing to take in enough air, he barely managed to hiss: "You... you lie!" And, even as he spoke, he knew that such a meagre offering would not convince a single one of those present.
"Kill me, then, if you're so sure," Harry said softly. He felt a sort of wild, reckless freedom. Standing before Death, facing the other end of the most powerful wand in the world, Harry found that he had accepted it - he knew it was coming for him, that it was necessary to rid the world of Voldemort forever, just as surely as he knew that Voldemort would not, could not kill him right now. Not before Harry had a chance to get to the snake. He felt giddy with a heady mixture of fear and power. "I'm here, just as you asked - wandless and ready to die. What are you waiting for?"
Ready to die. How could the boy be so cavalier with his - their - lives? Potter's willing, wandless bravado terrified Voldemort. He needed to end this, and quickly. Retake control. What are you waiting for? The Dark Lord shrieked murder at the top of his lungs and his curse hit Potter square in the chest.
Harry dreamt of a bright train station that didn't go anywhere and Albus Dumbledore, all in white, and full of deep disappointment…