The pain was radiating in waves from his right leg. It was a sharp, insistent stabbing sensation, as if his entire leg was burning to ashes in an open flame. The left side of his chest felt no better, perhaps even worse. The blood trickling in his eyes was an almost minor irritant compared to the overwhelming sensation of loss, pain, and humility throbbing through Harry.
Glancing around, he was saddened to see what his life had become after seven months of hell, beginning the day after Harry's birthday. They had actually thought they were ready – that they finally had the chance to actually win.
Finding and destroying the other Horcruxes had been an extended nightmare brought to life, but they had eventually succeeded, until the only Horcrux standing between them and Tom Riddle himself was Nagini. That vile reptile was vindictive and very dangerous due to a level of sentience created as a side-effect of housing part of Voldemort's soul inside her lethal form for so long. Hermione had finally surmised that there was only one way to immobilize Nagini long enough for Harry to eradicate the traces of the Horcrux. Without discussing or telling anyone of her plan, Hermione had simply stopped evading the giant snake and allowed herself to be bitten. It had been a bold yet effective tactic, but now Harry’s bushy-haired best friend was in another room, blood seeping relentlessly and probably fatally from the gaping holes that Nagini’s fangs had gouged into her.
Perhaps that was why Ron had been so reckless in challenging Voldemort directly. Ron, now shy a left arm after a nasty Horcrux incident, was out cold. Given the massive damage that had been inflicted upon him, unconsciousness was a blessing in disguise. At least Harry’s best friend and virtual brother would not suffer as the life slowly trickled out of him, sparing him the pain of watching their defeat. Small favours to be thankful for, though it seemed like nothing would ever be right again.
Snape's taunts about the inability to close his mind as the coward ran from the murder of Dumbledore flickered through Harry’s thoughts. While the former Potions master had tried to play himself off as a spy, he was, in truth, a double-agent with no true loyalty to any cause but his own. That had been proved repeatedly, and while Harry did not regret the man's death when Voldemort finally decided he could no longer ascertain where the Death Eater’s loyalties lay, Harry was glad not to have been the one who had to punch his ticket.
Indeed, being the one to send Draco Malfoy to hell during a frenzied battle over the Slytherin Locket in Grimmauld Place had been more than enough to turn Harry’s stomach for weeks. While the little ponce had been more than guilty of attempted murder on hundreds of students and adults, Harry had only wanted to hand him over to the authorities. Malfoy’s “Wanted” posters had announced that he was to have his magic collapsed and be sentenced to a lifetime of hard labour upon capture, but Harry wanted no blood on his hands other than that of Tom Riddle. Draco had been the first of many Death Eaters or sympathizers that Harry had killed indirectly, and it still gave him nightmares. While he never struck with the intent to kill, even non-lethal spells could kill without medical aid, and exploding objects or burning fires were just as dangerous to the unconscious wizard as to the everyday Muggle. He would be suffering enough with the knowledge that the members of the Order were outside, rushing to follow the "children" as Molly was still wont to call them, fighting in a do-or-die situation with the Death Eaters and their allied creatures of Darkness.
Ginny had come. It seemed wrong on some fundamental level that her birthday, her day of magical adulthood had come and gone just two days past. Sure, they had been ready to take on Voldemort months ago, but it took them this long to find the bastard. He was always on the move… coercing, terrorizing, murdering, living up to his reputation from the First War. Harry had begged Ginny not to follow them, begged her with reminders of how much they meant to each other and how quickly old man Riddle would exploit the situation if he could get to her. She had stayed behind, making it clear to Harry that while she was very displeased to be cut out of their plans, she understood why he asked this of her. The quiet strength that radiated from her was enough to give Harry hope.
When Ginny became aware that the day of final conflict had at last come, however, she had patted his cheek and then told him that while she would be happy to do whatever sensible thing her husband might ask of her, she was still unmarried, and that she was an of-age adult technically not even dating anyone, so she was free to ignore everyone.
She had then turned around smartly and made for the door, having the audacity to win their impromptu race. It had been Harry following Ginny to Little Hangleton when they found out that Voldemort had returned, and not the other way around. Ron and Hermione had been a split second behind him, the mass of the Order Apparating in a mad dash to catch them, but it was too late.
With Voldemort, it was always too late.
Harry’s heart bled to see Ginny on the floor, looking like a rag doll thrown carelessly out the window of a speeding lorry. He suspected that she was still alive, as her eyes were looking at him, but they were glassy and unfocused, indicating some rather serious trauma. Barring a minor miracle, Harry rather doubted that any of them would need to worry about getting to St. Mungo’s, as the reduction of their bodies to Inferi was almost a foregone conclusion. Inferi had no need of Healers. They only needed gravediggers and a bit of heat.
Dumbledore and that moronic prophecy had told him that he had “a power that the Dark Lord knew not.” The portrait had sat on the wall behind Professor McGonagall’s desk and prattled on for days about how it all came down to Harry finding that mysterious power within himself. The former Headmaster was certain it was there – Harry just had to have faith in himself. Maybe leaving Ginny behind had been a mistake, as Dumbledore warned him it might be, but in the end, she was here, and it had made no difference at all. No sudden bursts of power when she was in danger, no undying-love super-weapon to vanquish a man with over half a century’s worth of knowledge in the Dark Arts. A man who had been the brightest student Hogwarts had seen in decades, who had known far more than Hermione at the same age, and one who had continued to amass dark knowledge and power at an ever-increasing rate after graduating. A riddle within a Riddle, a man of power, depth, subtlety and knowledge that no mere teenager could ever hope to surpass in a one-on-one duel. What was even worse was that it had been a three-on-one duel, and the three were all one very short step away from being zero.
The only sound in the living room of the Riddle Manor was Harry's rasping, gurgling breaths. The battle outside was inaudible inside the old home, charmed by Riddle himself to allow his plans to come to fruition without any interference. And now, Harry realised, they would die without distraction.
Voldemort was slowly surveying the room with an air of smug satisfaction and sick pleasure, apparently content with the knowledge he had triumphed once and for all. The world was his oyster, and he would soon give it one hell of a dose of salt. It was a disturbing sight, the last rays of sunlight streaking into the room, tinting Voldemort's normally pallid skin in lurid shades of orange and red, his lank hair hanging limply from his head. His robes, slightly damaged from the battle, billowed behind him. It was an image eerily similar to watching a hated ex-Professor of Potions stalk about Hogwarts, bullying and intimidating because he was a right sorry bastard who felt the world owed him everything even though he had never done anything to earn it.
Harry knew his life was at an end, and it felt strange to be so calm and accepting of it. His friends, the family he had always longed for but never knew, Bill and Fleur… they would all be there to welcome him. They might be a bit disappointed he had not won in the end, but they would understand. Harry had tried his best. Lots of people tried their best, gave it their all, and still failed in the end.
Harry thought of Neville. Bellatrix Lestrange had tortured him into insanity like his parents and then pitilessly murdered him. Harry would get to see Neville again when he died.
It was odd, Harry mused, how the little things would leap out at you when you were at last confronted with your own fragile mortality. Disjointed memories that were making mad connections as his life flashed before his eyes.
Neville and the Boggart in the Staff Room during Third Year.
Snape in that horrid dress and atrocious stuffed vulture hat.
Voldemort standing over him with a sneer, looking like what Snape had aspired to become… the penultimate of half-blood-princely ambition.
It was a fleeting moment, but somehow Harry was unable to stop himself from envisioning Voldemort in that same hideous dress, the same grand and ludicrous hat that Neville's gran wore everyday until she was finally interred in it. Harry was dying – it made no sense, but there it was. A barely audible chuckle escaped his lips as he thought of Voldemort in that dreadful hat.
Voldemort recoiled as if slapped. "You dare to mock me, Potter?" It amazed many how Voldemort could hiss yet still be understood. Hermione once complained that his lisp was so bad that she could barely understand his threats or commands. She speculated that it was Harry's Parseltongue ability that let him understand Voldemort's speech impediment so easily.
The voice of Hermione pointing out such trivialities rang through his head, causing him to chuckle again. "Why not, Tom?" asked Harry, painfully enunciating each word. "You may be powerful, you may be evil, but you're really not all that scary."
If anything, this seemed to enrage Voldemort like nothing they had done since arriving. Until now, Voldemort had been calm, cool, collected, and above all, supremely indifferent to them. Now he was showing all the emotion of Vernon Dursley when Harry had told him he was done with chores and the fat sod could ruddy well make his own damn breakfast for a change. Calmly walking out the front door to meet Ron and Hermione and begin their quest five minutes later had been the icing on the cake, as Harry never had to go back there. Of course, after today, it was quite clear that Harry was never going anywhere again.
"You will fear me!" Voldemort's rage was almost palpable. "Crucio!"
While his world exploded in universal pain once again, his broken bones grating and his nerves searing in fire and heat, Harry knew this was probably the last little chat between old friends before it was all over. His body had too little left in reserve, and everything was far too broken to continue the fight. It was contemptible how predictable Voldemort had become.
When the pain at last subsided, Harry was incapable of stopping his moan of relief. "Now you understand fear, Potter!"
Harry had to laugh weakly again, before slowly wheezing out his disgust at the man before him. "Fear? You? Hardly. Contempt? Most surely. But fear? No. As Dumbledore always said, ‘Fear of the Name only increases Fear of the Thing Itself’." Feeling how much more damage the Cruciatus Curse had done, Harry was amazed he was able to even articulate anything. The look on Voldemort's face, however, was worth every breath of agony.
"You must fear me! I can do anything to you, to your friends, and you cannot stop me!" Harry had the passing thought that Voldemort was almost demanding that Harry fear him, rather than making a statement of fact.
"Nope," Harry spit out some blood. "Sorry, I can't fear you." Laughing again at the look of fury combined with something indefinable on Voldemort's face, Harry could swear that the Dark Lord deflated slightly. "My only fear is fear itself. Didn't your spy tell you that?"
It was clear that Voldemort was experiencing something new and unpleasant. Harry was unable to stop himself. He began laughing out loud at how this most powerful and feared-by-everyone-but-Harry wizard appeared to be wounded so deeply by such a simple concept. Visions of Rita Skeeter flashed through his head, and while Voldemort stared in confusion at him, Harry pictured Voldemort in her hideous makeup and dubiously fashionable clothing. The concept was so ludicrous, he laughed even louder in delight at the image, his contempt for Voldemort reaching new heights as the Dark Lord literally stumbled backward into the wall and fell down on his bony arse.
"Look at you, Tom, all mighty and powerful, and yet you seem to be afraid of a little laughter,” taunted Harry, even as he fought to fill his battered lungs with air. Harry abruptly stopped laughing, coughing up blood as his body made it perfectly clear that this was clearly not supposed to be a humorous situation.
Laughter was the best medicine. Well, that and kisses from Ginny. Harry knew he was sometimes slow on the uptake, but that had been one lesson she had delighted in repeatedly drilling into him during their short time together. Hot chocolate too, Harry thought wistfully, hot chocolate could cure many ills.... Remus taught him that one. Poor Remus, he gave his life to defend Tonks, but Tonks had followed him onto the next great adventure seconds later when the Horcrux took her with it. Remus would have no more lessons to offer about Dementors, Grindylows, or Boggarts. Come to think of it, Voldemort cowering in puzzlement and confusion looked a lot like Boggart Snape in that stupid dress and hat, and Remus had made it clear that laughing at a Boggart was what defeated it. You had to actually laugh at the image the Boggart projected, laugh at the Boggart's attempt to overpower you, and laugh like you meant it. Harry grimaced. It was hard to laugh at your biggest fear. There was little to laugh about when confronted with a Dementor.
Harry took advantage of the small respite he was granted as Voldemort struggled to overcome whatever had set him back. Harry was barely able to get to his hands and knees, slowly picking up his wand as he did so. The confusion on the Dark Lord’s face was passing, his expression becoming determined once again, regaining focus. However, as Harry watched, Riddle's face suddenly shifted subtly. Where before there had been a thin mouth and slits for a nose, the mouth seemed larger, rounder, and slightly agape. It was an uncomfortable step closer to what a Dementor looked like under its hood, a chilling echo of other memories. There was once again an understated flicker of facial features, almost like a Metamorphmagus changing, and then the old Voldemort was back. And he was looking at Harry with complete rage.
Something finally clicked in Harry’s mind as he gazed at the hate-filled visage of Voldemort. Realization. Pain. Anger. Rage. Humility. Contempt. And above all, a feeling that Fred and George would laugh themselves sick when they learned the truth. Glaring at Voldemort, Harry raised his wand for one last spell. Firmly concentrating on seeing Voldemort in a large pink bunny outfit with floppy ears and a huge puffy tail, singing silly love songs, Harry focused all of his remaining magic on the only spell that made any sense at all.
Voldemort recoiled and slammed into the wall, his clothing becoming bright pink.
Keeping the image of a gigantic, fluffy rabbit in mind, Harry tried again, gaining strength as his enemy faltered.
Voldemort had giant bunny slippers on his feet.
His robes changed to a soft-looking plush thickness, as the Dark Lord became the Pink Lord, falling to his knees in horrified dismay.
The transformation was complete, and Voldemort was staring at Harry in horror. Harry knew Dumbledore never could have laughed at Tom Riddle, for he had too much pity, too much belief in the sanctity of human life, in the innate goodness he believed that everyone possessed, and in second chances. Everyone else cowered in fear of Voldemort, feeding the Boggart exactly what it needed. Harry felt no fear, only contempt and rage. And he had no problem laughing sharply at Voldemort, who, in a giant flash of smoke, was suddenly transformed into an old man, his body deformed from Dark rituals, lying on the floor of his father’s mansion, a look of utter confusion on his beaten face.
Harry dragged himself over to him, wheezing and coughing as his body reminded him once again that his health was no laughing matter.
"Where am I?" the old man asked.
"Er…." Harry was baffled at how to answer the question. "What's the last thing you remember?"
"Dumbledore," the old man said. "I opened the wardrobe in the orphanage, and Dumbledore came striding out of it and grabbed me, and… and… and then I was here…."
Harry watched the old man feebly try to sit up, only to collapse back again. As Harry had no idea how to explain anything, he just lay there and hoped someone would find them soon. He was still watching when the old man eventually let out a long, loud sigh and stopped breathing. The door into the room burst open and Charlie Weasley ran inside, blood all over his face and hands, and his eyes wide with disbelief as he took in the incredible scene before him.
This properly classified Dark Creature is a mystery to many. The Boggart is known to be attracted to areas of high magical energy, feeding off the residue to sustain a minimal life. Sufficiently large objects that have enchantments or other magic performed upon them, or those that house powerful artefacts, naturally draw Boggarts to them.
While the Boggart can survive under such conditions, its true desire is to feed off the greatest fear of witches and wizards, whatever this may be It accomplishes this in a manner of selective physical adaptation, assuming the visual image that is the greatest fear of the beholder. In a high state of stress induced by the fear, the magical energy of the beholder leaks out, giving a large boost in power to the Dark Creature. While crowds will confuse a Boggart, it is clear that should the crowd and Boggart remain in proximity long enough, one overwhelming group-conscious fear will dominate, and the Boggart will assume this shape.
Many Boggarts actually take on a form in motion – a feared monster, a dreaded bully or professor, or some other shape with ambulant capabilities. These Boggarts invariably move toward the person beholding their greatest fear. While it is unknown exactly what happens when such a Boggart makes contact with the beholder, it is widely speculated and a firm belief on the part of the author that the Boggart will actually kill, possess, or otherwise harm their victim. For this reason, they are quite dangerous and should only be handled by fully-trained adults or under carefully controlled situations. It is quite likely that such a Boggart, in complete control of a magical person, would have an unlimited supply of food and would use the magical abilities of the host to further its own goals in life: fear and power.
Laughter directed at a Boggart is the only means of true defence. Various spells can be used to alter the false image presented by the Boggart to facilitate finding something funny to laugh about, but the key to success lies in the nature of the laughter. It is insufficient to merely laugh in the presence of the Boggart. In the exact manner that a Boggart extracts the worst fear from someone, it can detect whether laughter is aimed at itself or at some other concept. For reasons unknown, and perhaps unknowable, true laughter at the deepest fears destroys the Boggart’s ability to feed off of magical energy, eventually destroying the creature if performed successfully, and if necessary, repeatedly. It has also been demonstrated that a highly skilled Occlumens will not trigger the Boggart to assume a shape, rather, it will attempt to flee the area through shadows.
The typical method of dealing with . . .
Excerpt from “A Modern Study of Dark Arts: History, Creatures, and Skills, First Edition”, written by H. J. Potter
by Mandy Brocklehurst, Daily Prophet Special Correspondent
Wizards and Witches all over the United Kingdom are celebrating the complete defeat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named by none other than the Chosen One, Harry Potter. This reporter learned that late yesterday afternoon, Harry Potter led a group of fighters to the ancestral home of everyone's worst fear, and defeated him in single combat. While he was accompanied by long-time friends Hermione Granger, Ronald Weasley, and Ginevra Weasley, only Potter was able to see the battle through to the end. These young heroes are all expected to make a full recovery.
Potter fought through the forces allied with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named to take on the worst Dark Lord in the past . . .
. . . winding down the press conference as the Healers were demanding that their patients needed to rest and recuperate. Luna Lovegood of The Quibbler managed to get out one last question before she was escorted from the floor, asking what the status was of The Chosen One and his girlfriend, Ginevra Weasley, whose hand Potter held throughout the entire conference.
"No, we aren't married,” replied Potter as he glanced at his watch. “Yet."
This reporter took the chance and asked what many people wanted to know. "What spell did you use to finally win?"
Potter smiled in a most disconcerting manner before looking out the window. His final reply: "I doubt anyone else will find it useful against the next Dark Lord. It was simply ridiculous."
Thanks, as always, to my genius betas who have valiantly strived to make this story better. Immeasurable thanks to Chreechree and cwarbeck. Thanks also to Reg for his Brit-picking/grammar-policing, Sovran for a sanity check plus tweaks, and Sherylyn for her polishing touches before it gets uploaded.