(Author's Note: Thanks, as ever, to Pooca, who deserves a happy ending. If you haven't read my take on Harry's sixth year, 'The Knights Of Walpurgis', you may wish to do so. This story starts at the end of Harry's seventh year following on from that story, and builds on events that took place in it. For everyone who hoped to read about Harry's seventh year - this is it. As it's a whole year later, there are also events referred to that did not take place in the story, but I've tried to make it as un-confusing as possible. And now I'm ready for new canon to make it all redundant!)
Had Harry Potter ever imagined how his climactic confrontation with Voldemort would begin, he wouldn't have guessed that he would be finalising his preparations aboard a tube train on the London Underground. And yet this was where fate had led him, flanked on by two men with the Dark Mark irrevocably burned into their arms. To his right sat Percy Weasley, his hair dyed a non-descript brown and a neatly-trimmed goatee beard obscuring his features somewhat. His horn-rimmed glasses were gone, and instead he was wearing Muggle contact lenses. Above all else, the twenty-two year old was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, normal Muggle attire for a man his age perhaps, but not for Percy Weasley, who never looked at home in anything other than the smartest of formal robes.
But the last year has seen a few changes, Harry thought. Who would have guessed that Percy would have been the one to help me master Occlumency? Or that Theodore would have fought toe-to-toe with his father to prove that he was worthy of entrance into the Death Eaters? I dreamed it, and I still have trouble believing that someone my own age could so easily kill his own father...
Harry shivered slightly. His link to Voldemort, reinforced by the Dark Lord's total shredding of his mental defences the year before, had meant that Harry was easy prey for any visions and images that Voldemort wished him to see. Theodore Nott's initiation into the Death Eaters had been one of these, but Harry had been forced to watch as Voldemort and his followers tortured and killed many innocent people, as well as those among the Death Eaters who had failed Voldemort in some way. Voldemort's demolition of Harry's defences had been so complete that no-one had been able to think of a way for him to repair the damage, at least until Percy had Portkeyed into the middle of an Order meeting one evening with Peter Pettigrew securely bound and a serious leg injury that had placed him on the injured list for several weeks.
With Percy's help, Harry had slowly reconstructed his mental shields, reinforcing them with techniques that Percy, with his blend of Weasley stubbornness and finely-honed self-control, had mastered.
In this, his relationship with Ginny Weasley had proven vital. Where once Harry had had no focus for his emotions, she was now at the heart of everything he did. Knowing that she was able to achieve calmness and happiness after her encounter with Voldemort in her first year, he had begun to find the way to control his emotions as Percy did, as Ginny did on an instinctive level. Eventually, when Professor Snape had instinctively lashed out at him mentally during a practise duel, Harry had replied in kind and shattered Snape's defences as easily as he might have shattered a pane of glass by dropping a mountain on it.
And now, a week after that incident, here he was, with Percy on one side and Theodore on the other. They made an odd team, at least to Harry's mind, and yet no others had the necessary mental strength to walk into Voldemort's trap and hope to withstand the mental attacks that surely awaited them.
Harry had always imagined that he would go to face Voldemort with Hermione and Ron at his side, as they had been so often. If pressed, he might even have admitted that he wanted Ginny there, as dangerous as it would no doubt be. But he knew that he could protect her, if it were needed, and he knew that he wouldn't give up so long as she was there.
But Voldemort had apparently learned about Harry and what he cared about while he trespassed in his mind, and when Hermione, Ron and Ginny had gone into Hogsmeade that morning to go shopping, he had struck. Azkaban's entire complement of Dementors had swept through the village, feeding at random on residents, shoppers and students alike. The list of those who had lost their souls had been as long as Hagrid's arm. Among the fallen had been Mandy Brocklehurst, Anthony Goldstein and Jack Sloper. Harry had learned this only moments before the call had come to announce that Ron, Hermione and Ginny were among the missing. This had been followed in turn by the sacrifice into custody of Rabastan Lestrange, who had gleefully informed Order interrogators that Voldemort held the three of them in the Department of Mysteries, and that he was waiting for Harry to face him for the final time.
Thus it was that Harry had Flooed to Grimmauld Place with Dumbledore. They had found Percy and Theodore there, hiding from the angry Death Eaters who had made it publicly known that their deaths were only slightly less desirable than that of Harry himself. The four of them had been about to leave for the Ministry when word had come through that the Death Eaters had launched a series of attacks, their largest ever offensive by a vast distance, and that reinforcements were desperately required. Harry and Dumbledore had exchanged a long, silent look, before Dumbledore left to support his friends and colleagues.
Harry, Theodore and Percy got off at the nearest stop to the Ministry and walked through the Saturday evening crowds, looking for all the world like three young men on their way to the pub. Harry had a canvas bag slung over his shoulder, containing Gryffindor’s sword. He hadn’t dared to carry it freely on the underground. As they approached the battered looking phonebox that served as the public entrance to the Ministry of Magic, Harry could almost feel the tension crackling in the air around his companions.
"You don't have to do this," he said. "This is my fight."
"And Ron and Ginny are my family," Percy said quietly.
"Potter, I gave up my life for what I believe. I can't make a new one with these people around. I may as well make myself useful and watch your back."
Harry smiled grimly. The three of them piled into the phonebox - it seemed to be an even tighter fit than it had been with six of them in Harry's fifth year - and Harry watched as Percy picked up the handset and dialled in 6-2-4-4-2.
"Welcome to the Ministry of Magic," a cool female voice announced. "Please state your name and business."
"Harry Potter, Percy Weasley and Theodore Nott, here to see Lucius Malfoy," Harry said. He had a feeling that it would be the last light moment for a while.
Three small, rectangular badges clattered into the coin tray as Percy hung up the phone. Theodore passed Harry the one with his name on it. Harry Potter, it read. Member of the Order of the Phoenix.
"Malfoy's upgraded security," Percy muttered, as the lift began to descend beneath them. "Last time I was here I managed to fool the box into thinking I had an interview."
"For which job?" Theodore asked.
"Deputy Minister," Percy said, grinning a way that looked rather alien on his normally implacable features. "Ever since Umbridge had her soul sucked, no-one's been very interested in the post."
Harry felt a small shiver run down his spine. Order spies had learned that Umbridge had been controlled by the Imperius curse almost since she'd left Hogwarts two years ago. Voldemort had learned all about the Dementors from her, and used her to give Lucius Malfoy political respectability for a short time after his election to the post of Minister of Magic. But Umbridge had outlived her usefulness when her vindictiveness broke through the controls on her mind, and she sent a whole group of Death Eaters on a failed attack on Harry and Dumbledore that had seen over a dozen of the Death Eaters captured and jailed. Professor Snape had reported shortly after that Umbridge had been given to the Dementors. While Harry hadn't liked Umbridge by any stretch of the imagination, he had to admit that he wouldn't have wished that fate on her.
Far better for her to live the rest of her days in Azkaban, Harry thought. No human contact. Just enough food to survive on...
Harry brought himself back to the present, aware suddenly of an alien consciousness on the edge of his mind.
"You feel him as well?" Percy asked.
"Yes," Harry said.
"You know, that's really creepy," Theodore said. "Do you have to do it?"
"Voldemort knows that we're here," Percy said briskly.
"And he's not happy," Harry said, smirking. "Something's happened."
"Don't know," Harry said. "Without getting close enough to make eye contact, I can't say for sure. And if I'm that close..."
"Got it," Theodore said.
"If I had to guess," Percy said. "I suspect that it has something to do with Ron, Ginny and Hermione."
"They've upset him in some way?" Theodore asked.
"Yeah," Harry said. "I think Percy's right. Tom should be delighted. Not only am I here, but the two biggest traitors are with me, too."
Theodore smiled slightly at this.
"How did you survive without learning Occlumency?" Percy asked, curiously.
"By making sure no-one noticed me," Theodore said, with disarming honesty. "I was hoping that the whole thing would come and go and I'd never have to get involved. Unfortunately, it didn't happen that way."
Harry smiled grimly. He unzipped the canvas bag and let it fall to the floor, holding Gryffindor’s sword by the hilt. With a little help from the others - it was extremely difficult to move freely in the narrow confines of the lift - he managed to get it strapped to his back underneath his robes.
“Not much of a surprise, but it might help,” Harry said, making sure that he could reach the handle of the sword if he had to use it.
The lift rattled to a halt in the deserted atrium. They filed out one-by-one, letting their eyes adjust to the gloom. A few embers still glowed in the fireplaces that lined the walls, providing scant light in the darkness that filled the room. Harry could hear the trickle of water from the fountain that stood in one corner, and wondered what had been done with it after the damage wrought on it by the battle that had taken place in the room two years before.
"Where to?" he asked, looking at the patch of darkness that he judged most likely to be Percy.
"They know that we're coming, and they want us to come to them. A frontal approach seems wisest, then," Percy said. "We could get very lost in the secret passageways, and I don't think that we want to waste time in any case."
Harry nodded. Every second that they waited was another second where Voldemort held his friends. Harry couldn't stand the thought, and he shuddered.
"We'll get them back, Harry," Percy muttered, drawing his wand.
"And if we don't, we'll make someone very sorry," Theodore added, drawing his wand as well.
"Lead on," Harry said, drawing his own wand and feeling slightly surprised at how dry his hands were.
"Down here," Theodore said, indicating a narrow corridor which led off the atrium. Harry had never noticed it before. "This is a quick way."
"Are you sure?" Percy asked. He looked as though he had not seen it before, either.
"Positive. My dad is..." he paused, and Harry looked away. "Was an Unspeakable. This way we won't have to take the lift and we don't risk getting caught in it."
"Very well," Percy said, eying Theodore speculatively. Harry had a feeling that he didn't entirely trust the Slytherin boy.
"How do we get downstairs, then?" Harry asked, as they made their way along the poorly lit corridor.
"We don't," Theodore said, his teeth glinting a little disconcertingly in the poor light.
"What do you mean?"
"Hogwarts isn't the only place where nothing is quite as it seems," he said. "With enough magic at your disposal, it's easy enough to make your office bigger, or make the walk from the canteen to the toilet shorter. Over the years, it all adds up. This door here," he paused, and pointed at a nondescript door marked 'Centaur Liaison Office'. "It leads to the corridor by the Department of Mysteries."
Percy stepped forward.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. Father would bring me through here when he was showing me where he worked. A terrible breach of security, of course," Theodore said, in a laconic tone of voice. "But he wanted to show me off to his colleagues, and show his work off to me. I believe they added the shortcut about twenty years ago or so. Before that, it was just a secret passage that opened into the fireplace."
Harry shook his head, remembering Mr. Weasley once saying that wizards loved to show off around each other. Even the outwardly sober Unspeakables apparently felt the need to flaunt their powers from time to time.
He reached for the door handle but just as he gripped it, he paused. There were noises coming from within the office.
Harry glanced at Theodore and Percy, each of whom had levelled their wands at the door.
"No-one should be here at this time of night," Theodore said. "No-one should be here at all, really."
"Stunners, then," Harry said. "On three. One... two... THREE!"
Harry threw the door open as Theodore and Percy cast their Stunners. The red bolts slashed through the darkness of the room beyond, and were almost immediately answered by twin bolts of light that Harry, standing in the middle of the doorway, had to throw himself backwards to avoid.
Harry rubbed the back of his head, where he had hit in on the corridor wall. He looked up in disbelief as, standing in the doorway to the office and looking rather grubby and the worse for wear, were Hermione and Ginny.
"Ron," Hermione said simply.
Ron came forward, stepping between his girlfriend and his sister and stuck out a hand, helping Harry up.
"There's a passage," he began, as Ginny came forward and threw her arms around Harry. Harry returned the embrace whole-heartedly. Ron waited patiently until the two of them had finished their reunion. Eventually, Hermione said, "Harry? Ginny?"
They released each other, slowly, reluctantly.
"Sorry," Harry said. He didn't really look it. "A passage, you were saying?"
Ginny giggled. She had Harry's hand clasped tightly in hers, and didn't look as though she considered letting go to be an option.
"Yeah," Ron said, rolling his eyes. "George Fredericks? The brain?"
"Well, he was working in the Centaur Liaison Office when they put it in."
"Really?" Theodore asked. He had been told about the effects of Ron's encounter with one of the Ministry's disembodied brains by Percy. "I thought that the CLO was a dead-end posting? Don't you only end up there--"
"--as a punishment. Yeah. He got sent there for putting a Fillibuster's firework in the Minister's soup at some big function or another. But he figured that as he was a joker, and the department was a joke that they were well suited. He turned into the biggest expert on centaurs this side of Newt Scamander, plus he used all his free time to find all the secret passages in the Ministry."
"Indeed," Theodore said. "But not the, ah, highly secret corridor that leads directly to the Department of Mysteries?"
Ron frowned. "What are you talking about?"
Theodore walked into the office and knocked three times on the frame of an incongruously large painting that swung back from the wall and revealed the holding room from which there lead several doors to different study areas of the Department of Mysteries.
"That..." he managed to say, before sighing. "Bloody hell," he muttered.
He followed Theodore into the office with a scowl on his face. Percy and Hermione followed.
"The passageway was a bit of a tight squeeze," Ginny said, as she and Harry bought up the rear. "I think Ron's been regretting all those large dinners he's eaten over the years."
Harry smirked, but schooled his features into neutrality as they joined the others in the room of many choices.
Ron was busy trying to clean the soot from the fireplace from his torn robes as the door closed behind them. Hermione had the presence of mind to mark it with a flaming cross before the walls of the room began to spin around them.
"So, how'd you get away?" Harry asked.
"Malfoy," Ron smirked. "Voldemort had us dragged into the room with the veil in it, and he ranted at us a bit. Then he sent us off with the ferret and a couple of others. I managed to get Malfoy to free me so that we could have a proper fight for once. Then after I beat the snot out of him, I took his wand and we got going."
"Hang on, you've only got one wand?" Harry said.
"No, we've all got ours back," Ginny said, drawing her wand. "We bumped into the guard who took them. Guess who it was?"
"Lucius. Apparently he didn't trust his own son to watch us properly. Imagine that."
Ginny grinned in a very satisfied manner.
"After we stunned Mr. Malfoy, Ron found the secret passageway," Hermione said, rubbing Ron's shoulder in a conciliatory manner. "And he led us to you."
Ron blushed, and Harry could tell that he thought that Hermione was rather overdoing it with her pride in him, but he decided not to say anything. Ron had done well to beat Draco Malfoy in a duel, something that Harry had never really managed to do, although he had accidentally put the arrogant Slytherin in the hospital wing for a time the year before.
"Well, I think Voldemort knows that you're free," he said. "He's certainly not pleased about something."
The spinning began to slow down until it came to a gradual halt. The door that Hermione had marked was directly ahead of them. Harry felt his gaze drawn to a door on the right hand side of the room, but to his surprise Theodore pointed left.
"This way," he said. "This is the veil room."
Harry peered curiously at the door to his right. As the others grouped around the left-side door, he marked his door with a fiery line.
"Just in case," he said to Ginny, as she peered inquisitively at him. "That room just... feels important."
"Okay," she said, and that was that. She had encouraged him to put his faith in his emotions, and had never questioned him when he followed them, although that had made for a rather tumultuous year.
"Ready?" Theodore asked. Harry made his way to the front of his group of friends and pointed his wand at the door.
"Alohomora," he said. The door swung open before him.
He stepped cautiously through the doorway and into the veil room once again. Almost nothing had changed in the two years since he had been there. The room was still as gloomy as ever. It was almost impossible to see more than a few feet in any one direction. The veil still hung from the archway, and there was still the sensation of someone whispering, almost beyond the edge of his hearing. Beside him, he felt Ginny stiffen. She heard it as well.
But one thing was different. There was now a throne in the room, raised on the dais beside the veil, and highlighted by a single torch that stood between the two objects. On that throne sat the tall, skeletally thin figure of the wizard once known as Tom Marvolo Riddle.
Voldemort watched them dispassionately as they stood in the doorway.
"You may enter," he said. His cold voice carried across the room and Harry shivered slightly. It had felt as thought the Dark wizard had been standing right behind him, whispering in his ear.
"Come to me, Potter. It is time that we end this, isn’t it? A fitting end, I feel. You have completed your schooling, and now we will see how much you have learnt."
"You don't sound confident," Theodore said, speaking before Harry had any chance to reply. "I thought that you'd boast about how much you were going to enjoy killing Harry - but instead you make it sound like you're not sure you can win."
"Because I am not," Voldemort said, rising from his chair. "Potter, you have extraordinary luck, and it is possible that you may kill me, I concede that. In the past, I have been overconfident. I have placed my faith in my Death Eaters, or the giants. No more. I shall face you, one-on-one, and we shall see who the greater wizard is."
"Are you blind, Tom? There's six of us here," Ginny said. Harry glanced at her. She had gone quite red in the face, and was shaking, her hand clasped tightly around her wand. Harry blinked. He had never seen her like this. Ron hesitantly slipped one hand through the crook of her arm, but she shook him off as though a dragon swatting away a troublesome scavenger.
"Not for much longer," Voldemort hissed. "You see, child, while I alone must face Potter, there is nothing said in any prophecy about his companions. You will find that those Death Eaters who remain loyal and who I have kept close this night will not be easily defeated with the childish tricks that Potter has shared with you."
Suddenly there came the sound of movement in the gloom that enshrouded the great majority of the room. All around the amphitheatre-like seating that ringed the room, points of lights erupted at the ends of dozens of wands. Harry watched in horror as Death Eaters emerged from the seclusion of Invisibility Cloaks and cancelled Disillusionment Charms. Harry and his friends were outnumbered by fully ten-to-one, if not more.
"You never knew, did you Potter? My army has gathered in secrecy, quite unknown even to Dumbledore and the feeble spies that he believes feed him information on my efforts. Oh, my Death Eaters have their missions today, but they are not attacking. They are ambushing. Dumbledore and his beloved Order will walk into a trap, and no-one will be able to warn them, for they will all die so swiftly that they will not even realise how completely they have been betrayed. But I am not incapable of kindness, Potter. Face me now, and your friends will remain unharmed. If they try and save you, they will die. If I defeat you, they will be allowed to go unharmed as well."
"And if I win?"
"Then my Death Eaters will follow my orders and kill them all. Slowly, painfully, and with no mercy at all."
"Harry," Ginny began, but he turned and placed a finger to her lips.
“I have to go,” he said, quietly enough so that only she and the others could hear. “I wouldn’t trust Voldemort as far as I can throw him. Don’t worry – I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve.”
“I know,” he said. “Me too. But not now. When we’re finished, okay?”
Ginny nodded. The others shifted uncomfortably, not wanting to be privy to this moment. Ginny’s eyes glinted slightly in the dim light, and Harry took a great, shuddering breath.
“I think, after this, I want ice-cream,” he said, his voice threatening to catch in his throat. I'll buy. We’ll all go to Diagon Alley, alright?”
“Harry--“ Hermione began.
But Harry was gone.
He reappeared behind Voldemort and grabbed a handful of the Dark wizard’s robes.
“Hello, Tom,” he hissed in Voldemort’s ear.
And then they were both gone.
Harry stumbled backwards as he reappeared. He released Voldemort’s robes as he staggered away, feeling utterly drained from the dual Apparation he had just carried out. The walls seemed to be spinning around him as he slumped to one knee.
Voldemort seemed stunned, whether by the Apparation itself or by the fact that Harry had managed to transport them away from the chamber in which they had been standing.
“You shouldn’t have let Malfoy change the wards around here, Tom,” Harry grinned. He felt the trickle of blood over his lips and tasted its tinny tang on his tongue. “I couldn’t have done that two months ago, but now I can go anywhere in the Ministry I want, all because you’re too lazy to walk around here like a normal person.”
“I am far from normal, though,” Voldemort said, rearing up to his full height and drawing his wand. He stopped, and raised a hand to the slits that were his nostrils. “What have you done to me, Potter?” he hissed. His hand came away covered in the black blood that now flowed through his veins.
“Dual Apparation, Tom. It takes it out of you. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t manage another spell right now.”
Voldemort brought his wand around with a flourish. A few feeble sparks spat from its end.
“Curse you,” he said.
“You’re welcome to try,” Harry grinned. He smiled a feral smile, the blood dripping from his nose staining his chin now.
“I will simply kill you with my bare hands, Potter,” Voldemort snapped, sheathing his wand and advancing towards Harry with his hands outstretched.
“Stop,” Harry barked. In one swift movement, he drew Gryffindor’s sword from behind his back and levelled the point of it at Voldemort’s throat. Voldemort snarled, and then stepped back.
“If that is how it has to be,” he said. Reaching inside his own robes, he drew his wand.
“Gladius,” he hissed, and a short sword took form around his wand. Looking like smoke made solid, the sword still looked positively lethal to Harry.
“Your last desperate gamble, Potter, and it has failed. I am immortal, and with that comes certain benefits. My magic cannot be quelled for long.”
Harry swallowed, and slowly pushed himself to his feet. Voldemort was right. He hadn’t thought that the Dark wizard would be able to cast spells so quickly. Insofar as Dumbledore and Madam Marchbanks had devised a plan for Voldemort’s defeat, his inability to cast spells had been high on the list of requirements.
“I must admit, Potter, I shall enjoy putting a sword through your heart,” Voldemort said. Harry shook his head slightly. The room was still spinning about him, although it at least seemed to be slowing down now. “It’s a much more personal way of killing someone than just cursing them.”
They crossed blades. Harry wished desperately for a few more minutes to clear his head, but it seemed that it wasn’t to be. At least he had drawn Voldemort away from his followers.
“Don’t you want to kill me where there are witnesses?” he asked.
“Do you want to die where people can see you, Potter?” Voldemort replied. “Do you want your friends to see you beg for mercy?”
Harry’s gaze was drawn to Voldemort’s sword, which seemed to be glowing from within.
“You will be just as dead, witnesses or no,” Voldemort said. “And I shall cut off your head to show to everyone to prove it.”
Harry swallowed with difficulty. Voldemort’s sword was glowing very brightly now, and the light was starting to hurt Harry’s eyes. On the plus side, the room was spinning a lot slower now. With a start, Harry realised where they were. They hadn’t Apparated anywhere near as far as he thought. In fact, they had only made it as far as the room of choices.
The walls came to a halt just as Harry realised what the glow from Voldemort’s sword meant. He dived to one side as Voldemort brought the sword around in a sweeping blow and yelled “Avada Kedavra!”
There was a rushing sound, and a green flash as the spell erupted from the tip of the sword. The light from the sword dimmed to a faint glow, although as Harry watched it began to increase in brightness again almost immediately.
“Your sword,” Voldemort hissed, “cannot do this, Potter.”
Voldemort brought the smoky sword around again, and Harry ducked as another spell blasted from the tip. But Voldemort followed the spell with a lunging attack that drove the point of the blade into the flesh of Harry’s shoulder. Harry cried out, and staggered backward, pulling himself free from the blade. Voldemort laughed.
“Was this your plan, Potter? Did you think that I would be less dangerous if I was separated from my followers?”
“No,” Harry managed to say, as he clutched at the wound on his shoulder. It wasn’t deep, but it was very painful. “But you can’t call them to you, can you? You never put the Dark Mark on yourself.”
“I--“ Voldemort paused. “No. You are correct. It matters little, Potter. I would as soon kill you myself as with help from others.”
“How did you get yourself a new hand?” Harry asked, eager to prolong the conversation and give himself a moment longer to regain his spell-casting ability.
“By magic,” Voldemort sneered. “I obtained a new wand from Grigorovitch, who has long been a loyal follower. I shall have no problem killing you, Potter. No brother wand to save you this time.”
As if to prove his point, Voldemort lunged suddenly at him, his new, silvery right hand outstretched. Harry dived out of the way, but felt the grasping hand close on his hair. He winced as several hairs were torn from his scalp, and brought Gryffindor’s sword up in a sweeping blow.
Voldemort moved faster than Harry could have imagined possible. The silvery hand snapped up and grabbed the blade of Harry’s sword. Harry was jerked almost off his feet as his arms attempted to continue the swing while the sword was held as immovably as if it had been entombed in solid rock.
Voldemort pulled, and easily tore the sword free from Harry's hand. He cast it aside, and with his left hand pointed his wand at Harry.
"And now, alone and unloved as you have been all your life, you die. How does it feel, Potter?"
"I'm not unloved," Harry said, desperately casting about for something to help him. He couldn't go for his wand - Voldemort would kill him instantly, but surely there was something he could do, something that Voldemort wouldn't expect.
His eyes were drawn to the fiery line that he had marked on one of the doors. The line now hung in mid-air, the door behind it smashed open by Voldemort's Killing Curse. Behind it lay only blackness although, for some reason Harry couldn't say, it also felt as though the room beyond was brightly lit.
"And who loves you, Potter? Your dead parents? Your godfather, who joined them here two years ago? Or the blood traitors who took pity on you?"
"No-one ever cared for you, did they Tom?" Harry snapped, tearing his eyes away from the open doorway, and meeting Voldemort's ferocious gaze. "I'm sure they pitied you, but I bet you never had any real friends, no-one who loved you."
"You will not succeed if you are trying to anger me, Potter. Friendship, love, they are nothing but fictions, tales spun by those unable to face the harsh truth of life. What's yours is what you take in this world, Potter, and soon everything will be mine."
"No," Harry said, beginning to edge along the wall to the open door. "It won't. I'll stop you, and if I don't, then someone else will."
"No-one can stop me when you are dead, Potter."
"Anyone can stop you," Harry snapped. He plunged a hand into his pocket and pulled out a golden Galleon coin. "You never did hear all of the prophecy, did you? When you marked me, you gave me some of your powers, and in doing that you made me the one who would fight you, the one with the power to vanquish you. I have a power that you don't know, Tom."
He clenched his fist around the coin and felt it grow warm as he concentrated on that day, that place, that time. "Every member of the Hogwarts Alliance, every member of the Order of the Phoenix, every member of the Hogwarts staff... They all know where I am now, Tom. They'll know you tricked them, they know where to find me. It won't be long before they arrive, and if you kill me? Well, then they'll take it in turns to rip you to shreds. Once I'm dead, you're as vulnerable as anyone else. Didn't you know?"
"I am immortal," Voldemort said, as calmly as if he were discussing the weather with Harry.
"So you say," Harry replied, suddenly grinning. He stood up straight, seemingly feeling no pain from his wounded shoulder. He held up the Galleon, and tossed it at Voldemort's face. "In that case, you've got a whole eternity of getting your arse kicked by my friends to look forward to."
Distracted by the coin, Voldemort reacted slowly, the sword swinging in a neck-high arc behind Harry as he sprinted across the room.
I hope this works, Harry thought desperately. I think it will.
He imagined that he could hear Ginny talking to him. He had a shrewd idea of what she would say to him.
Harry, I've spent the last year teaching you to trust your emotions. Now is not the time to stop trusting them! Get through the bloody door!
With Ginny on his mind, he plunged through the doorway--
Harry stood atop a tall hill, the highest point as far as the eye could see. A rolling landscape surrounded him in all directions, and a rich, dark, pre-dawn sky spread out above his head from horizon to horizon.
"Well, I've been here before," he said.
Harry turned, and felt his jaw drop. He swiped quickly at the blood that had begun to dry over his mouth, and was rewarded with a sharp pain in his nose and laughter from the two men.
"Hello, Harry," James Potter said, stepping forward.
"Dad?" Harry breathed. A pained expression came over James' face. It was Lily who answered for him.
"We're not really your parents, Harry," she said, and saying this seemed to cause her tremendous pain. "Nothing can bring them back. We are shadows, memories."
Sirius came forward and stood with his two friends.
"We are the people who you have loved, and who you have lost. This room... You couldn't get here two years ago, Harry. You didn't know how. It's the most terrible force, the most amazing thing..."
"Love," Harry breathed. James smiled, and nodded.
"That's it," he said. "You've always been loved, Harry. Your mother and I loved you. Sirius loved you. Hermione, and the Weasleys as well. One in particular..."
Lily swatted him on the arm.
"That's not your place, James Potter," she said. James mock-scowled at his wife.
"Harry, the power that the Dark Lord knows not, this is it. This is all it ever was. Voldemort can't cope with love. He was never given any, by anyone. He can't understand it. He can't control it. He can't stand it."
"So I... What do I do?" Harry asked.
"Show him love, Harry," Sirius said. "He's here as well, you know."
"I know," Harry whispered. "I can feel him."
"He's lost, Harry. He can't comprehend his place, not like you can. Oh, this isn't real," James said. With a wave of his hand, the hilltop on which the founders had been split asunder a thousand years before became the playground in the park in Little Whinging. Harry stared at the swings, one of which was hanging brokenly from only one chain. Sirius whooped and jumped onto the roundabout, making it spin around faster and faster. Lily laughed at his clowning around. "It's just a way for you to understand this, for you to understand what you have to do."
"You're not real?"
"Everyone who comes in here sees something, it's the way that the magic here works," Sirius said, sadly. "I wish it were different, but all we are is what you know of us, Harry. We are the part that you carry with you, always."
"We're always with you, Harry," Lily said, pulling her only son into a warm embrace. They were joined by Sirius and James, and for a moment Harry felt as safe as he ever had. Slowly, reluctantly, he broke free.
"I have to go," he said. "I have to finish this."
"We're always with you, son," James said, his arm around Lily, who appeared to be on the verge of tears. Sirius appeared to be scowling, but Harry rather thought that he was preventing himself from crying as well.
"I know," Harry said. "I've got your eyes," he said to Lily. "And you're my Patronus," he told his father. "And as for you," he said, rounding on Sirius. "I'm not sure if I want anything of yours..."
Sirius laughed, a great heaving bark.
"Take care of yourself, Harry," he said. "You remember how you forced him from your mind two years ago, don't you?"
Harry nodded. "See you," he said.
They disappeared, and with them the playground faded. Harry found himself on a small village lane, a single house standing before him. On the doorstep stood a pumpkin, a carved face illuminated from within by a candle.
It was Halloween. It was Godric's Hollow.
"I tried to tell him," came a voice from behind him. Harry turned around. It was a young woman, not much older than he was. She was dressed in rather old-fashioned robes and had curly black hair. She was quite pretty, although this was not easy to see as she seemed so sad.
"He wouldn't listen to me," she said. "I tried to tell him..."
She fell silent. The door behind Harry opened with a click, and he turned around again.
Lord Voldemort stood in the doorway, but it was not Voldemort as Harry had known him. This figure did not exude a cold sense of menace. He did not inspire fear. He did not appear to be on the verge, at any moment, of drawing his wand and casting an Unforgivable Curse on anyone.
He seemed lost, confused, even - although Harry was prepared to admit that he may have been mistaken in this - a little sad.
"I came back, and you weren't here," he said, in an almost childlike state. "But you're here now. And my mother too, or so she tells me. She left me, you know..."
It hit Harry what Voldemort reminded him of. This was Tom Riddle speaking, not the Dark Lord Voldemort he would become, but the young boy who had lost his mother and his father before he ever knew them. This was Tom Riddle as he had been in the Chamber - still dangerous, Harry knew, but disoriented by what had happened to him.
"I didn't want to leave you," the woman cried. "But I had no choice."
Voldemort looked at her blankly.
"No choice?" he said, the words hissing from between his thin lips. Harry could almost feel the air around them crackle, and it was as though Voldemort was pulling himself back together. Something of the older Voldemort seemed to come through.
"No choice? You were a witch!" he yelled, drawing his wand. "I have conquered death! I have been to the very edge and laughed! You brought me into this world, but you are nothing to me. Avada--"
Harry was already moving, throwing himself towards the woman and in front of the spell even as she screamed and fell backwards. For a second, Harry was confused, for the spell hadn't even gone near her, but she faded away, as though the force of her son's hatred had been enough to kill her.
And then Harry felt the Killing Curse strike him, and he thought no more.
His body crashed to the ground and lay still.
For several long seconds, nothing happened. Then Harry began to stir, pushing himself upright. Voldemort, he saw, hadn't moved, apparently frozen to the spot.
"You destroy everything you touch," Harry spat, blood flecked saliva stringing from the ground to his mouth as he stood up. "You killed your father. You tried to kill your mother just now. You killed my parents! And for what? Power?"
"Power is everything, Potter," Voldemort said, and it was truly Voldemort who stood before him once more. Whatever effect the room had had on him was past.
"And what will you do with it? Will being ruler of the country be enough? Or do you want all of Europe? What about the rest of the world?" Harry yelled. "Why stop there? There's a whole universe, and you're immortal, isn't that right?"
Voldemort drew his wand again and pointed it at Harry. "Avada--"
"Look into my mind," Harry yelled, sweeping Voldemort's arm aside as he reached arms-length distance from him. "Look into my mind, Tom. At this time, in this place, look into my mind. You want power? The prophecy said it: The power you know not. Don't you want to know what that is?"
Voldemort's wide, red eyes narrowed.
"Whatever power you have, Potter, it is not enough to defeat me. But I shall humour you. And as the Killing Curse seems not to stop you, then when I am in your mind I shall simply tear you apart."
"You're welcome to try," Harry smirked.
Voldemort brought his wand back around again. "Legilimens," he said.
Harry could feel him, inside his mind. He revelled in the chaos he had wrought, the struggles that Harry had gone through in defiance of him. The pain he had suffered as a result of Voldemort's actions.
But then Voldemort encountered something he was unprepared for, a power that he knew not.
Then Harry showed Voldemort something that the Dark wizard had never experienced: Love.
Harry had worked with a Pensieve for long hours in anticipation of this moment. He had found memories of his childhood, before his parents' death. He had selected moments with Ron and Hermione, and later with Sirius. He had even chosen moments with Ginny, although he had worried at length that this would forever taint them.
Voldemort, overconfident, unprotected, unprepared, was submerged in Harry's feelings of love for those he held close to him, and the love he felt from them.
To Harry, it was approximately equivalent to dropping an ocean on a forest fire. Voldemort vanished from his mind and he reared up before Harry, staggering backwards until he tripped on the doorstep behind him. He stumbled and fell backwards, crashing to the ground. He raised one arm to shield his eyes, for it had suddenly become very bright and the light was almost blinding. He shuffled backwards, into the house as Harry came forwards, his eyes fixed unblinkingly on Voldemort.
"St-stay back," Voldemort cried, his voice high-pitched and reedy. "Potter, don't come near me. I'll-- I'll kill you."
"No, you won't," Harry said. He continued walking slowly forward, moving at the same pace as Voldemort as the Dark wizard scuttled backwards. His arms hung at his sides. His wand was nowhere to be seen. The sword of Gryffindor lay forgotten in the room of choices.
"Potter," Voldemort hissed, as he backed himself against a wall. He held his wand up, still shielding his eyes. "Stop! I'm warning you!"
Harry continued forward at the same, deliberate pace.
The spell hung in mid-air between Harry and Voldemort.
"You have no idea, do you?" Harry asked. "You're in my home, Tom. Here, more than anywhere else, I am protected. My parents' sacrifice protects me. Sirius, who gave his life for me. My friends, who would die for me. Ginny, who is my life... You truly have no conception of what it is to love and be loved.
"I won't kill you, Tom. I can't do that. I won't become a murderer, because that's what it would be. You have no chance to defend yourself. Not here, not now. Nothing can stand against love, certainly not hate."
"Then, then, I win," Voldemort said.
"No," Harry said. "You don't. You said yourself that you're immortal, Tom. You can't be killed. But..."
"This," Harry said. He brought his wand up and touched the tip of it to the Killing Curse that hung between them. It shot away for Harry and slammed into Voldemort's chest.
"Hatred, pure hatred. You hate me enough to take my life away, Tom," Harry said, as Voldemort clutched at his chest, doubling over and falling onto his side. The light around Harry now burnt painfully white, so much so that the house around them was barely visible. But the black blood pooling under Voldemort's body was clear for both of them to see.
"I came so close..." Voldemort hissed. He had lost so much blood that he looked as though he were withering from within. "So close..."
"No, Tom, you never did," Harry said, crouching down. "So long as one person would risk loving another, you could never win."
Voldemort's skin began to crack and peel as his body shrivelled. With a great scream, his body collapsed, turning to dust. Harry turned away as the dust exploded and something rose from the remains of the body.
"Potter..." It was Voldemort's voice. It came from a rolling, formless mass, almost invisible. Harry looked at it dispassionately. It was Voldemort's spirit, he knew.
"You haven't won, Potter," the voice hissed. "I will regain my power. I have done so before. The Killing Curse cannot kill me. Lord Voldemort is immortal."
"So you say," Harry said.
"And I will return, and I will hunt you again. You and the friends whom you profess to love so much. I broke Ginny Weasley's mind once before, Harry. I will do so again."
Harry smiled, but there was no humour in his expression. He raised his wand, and plunged the tip into the centre of Voldemort's spirit.
"It turns out that I can kill, after all," Harry said. "Deletrius!"
Voldemort screamed, once, briefly, but the erasing spell was especially good at removing clouds and smoke. Harry sighed, knowing that every molecule of Voldemort's spirit was now flying apart from every other molecule at tremendous speed. It would take an eternity to gather it together again, even assuming that someone wanted to make the effort. That, he decided, would have to be good enough for the prophecy's purposes.
Harry sunk onto his haunches. It was done--
Harry was standing in the room of many choices, but he wasn't alone. He was pressed back against the wall by the crush of dozens of bodies, all trying to cram into the small space. He leaned against the wall, taking a moment to release all the tension before he went looking for Ginny and the others.
Neville was watching Bellatrix Lestrange being led away in chains. The dark-haired woman was screaming loudly, spittle flying from her mouth as she jerked wildly against the manacles holding her.
"Young Theodore Nott, managed to convince--"
Susan Bones had her wand trained on an unmasked Death Eater.
"Percy Weasley, you know, the spy--"
A grim-faced Dean, who had watched his girlfriend Mandy Brocklehurst fall victim to the Dementor's Kiss, held the tip of his wand against a prisoner's throat. Seamus was watching him closely, ready to step in if his friend lost control.
"--children! Nothing but children!"
Hannah and Ernie stood together, hand in hand, haranguing a rather browbeaten Auror.
"Harry summoned us--"
Theodore was being treated by a Healer. He was clutching his arm to his stomach, and there was a nasty looking bend in it between the elbow and the wrist. Apart from that, he almost looked unharmed.
"Hundreds of them--"
Bill Weasley, grim-faced but triumphant, held Quentin Blatherwood at wandpoint.
Dumbledore stood in the middle of it all, almost motionless, taking it all in.
Professor McGonagall and Tonks were searching the crowd.
"--where is he?"
Hermione was straining against a Healer, who was trying to check her for injuries. On either side of her, Percy and Ron looked equally mutinous.
"--You Know Who--"
"Voldemort!" Harry snapped. The name echoed through the room as everyone fell silent at its sound.
"I killed him!" Harry snapped at the man, who he recognised as some sort of junior Minister. "I'll bloody well say his name if I want!"
Sound flooded back into the room, more loudly and more manic than before.
Harry looked up into the faintly smiling face of Remus Lupin.
"Hey, Remus," he said, a great wave of tiredness suddenly washing over him. "Is it over?"
"You killed Voldemort?"
"Yeah," Harry said. Details, he decided, could wait.
"Then it's over," Remus said, and it was as though in one breath a dozen years had been stripped away from him. He looked younger than Harry could ever remember him looking.
"What about Ginny, and--"
"Ah, yes," Remus said. He turned slightly, moving aside. "Ginny?"
She turned, and a breath that Harry felt as though he had been holding since he last saw her escaped his lungs.
"Harry," she breathed, and before he knew it, she was in his arms, and all his worries, all his injuries, mattered for nothing.
"The others?" he asked, as she pulled away just enough to look at him.
"They're okay," she replied. "Between the five of us we got away. Ron led us into the passages. Hermione set traps, Percy duelled with Lucius Malfoy and then Theodore negotiated with the ones who were left and convinced them to wait until we knew what had happened to you and Tom. And then help arrived," she said, simply. "Everyone will be fine, but they're being checked over. Did you-?"
"He's gone," Harry replied. And then it was time.
"Ginny, I--" he paused. The words seemed so small. He wondered why such a fuss was made about them, why they had so much power.
And then he looked into her eyes, and he saw what was held there, and he allowed himself to let go. He didn't need to guard every emotion. He'd proven that. It was when he let go that he was at his strongest. And for these three words, as hard as they were to say, he needed that strength to say them.
"I love you," he said.
She smiled, and laughed, and her eyes glinted, and she took in a deep, shuddering breath.
"I love you," she said.
Neither can live while the other survives, Harry thought, as he clasped Ginny to him. This seems like a good time to start living.
(Author's note: As I write this, it's 11.45 pm on Friday the 15th July, 2005. This is how I imagine the final duel between Harry and Voldemort playing out, with love being the deciding factor - the power hat Voldemort knows not. In the next twenty-four hours I may well discover that bazookas, M-16 assault rifles or really long games of Trivial Pursuit are the key to defeating Voldemort, but right now? I reckon it's love. Enjoy Half-Blood Prince, everyone.)