If you're reading this, it's all over. I'm almost certainly dead, and Voldemort I hope Voldemort will be, too. I hope you're all free at last. I hope you can get on with the life you deserve. Especially you, Ginny. You are the single most fantastic person I've ever known. The time we had together last year—even those few minutes at Christmas this year—made my life worth living. I couldn't have done what I have this year if I couldn't look back and remember how much you gave me. I don't want to die, but I guess I'm sort of OK about not surviving this, because you've already made me as happy as anyone has any right to be. I'd like to survive, Ginny. I'd like to come back and try again, but if you're reading this, it won't happen. I'm sorry. Please don't forget me, but don't waste your life either. Live the best you can while you can. If Voldemort's still alive...
Please live, Ginny. Just stay alive and live.
Don't blame Ron if I don't come back either. He and Hermione have been great. They won't be with me at the end, though. I've sneaked them both Sleeping Draughts—they should be up and about again in another day. But I don't want them to come with me now. It's bad enough that they've come this far. Your family doesn't need any more losses, and Ron would never survive losing Hermione, either. So I'm going alone now.
Goodbye, Ginny. Thank you for everything.
P.S. I want you to have my stuff—the gold in my Gringotts vault and Sirius' house (at least it won't have Kreacher attached to it anymore, that nose-rag), and my Firebolt. I checked with Bill, and he reckons that this will be legal even without witnesses if I sign with my blood—and write your name, too. So:
Harry Potter to Ginevra Weasley
Never thought I'd find a good use for that quill I sneaked out of Umbridge's office. The Healing Charm's failing though, so I don't think I'll use it again. Kind of cool, though, having your name and mine together on the back of my hand. Almost want to mix some ink in it and make it permanent—a tattoo. Remember when you pretended I had a Horntail one?
I'm stalling. I just don't want to stop writing to you. I'm going now.
I love you, Ginny.
With an abrupt movement, Harry rolled the scrap of parchment, addressed and sealed it with a tap of his wand, then laid it down on the dusty table. Lifting his hand to his face, he surveyed the fine, glistening lines of blood on the back of his hand, then brought it to his mouth, pressing the cut to his lips. With the other hand, he lifted another piece of parchment from the table and read it through once more.
I know you'll show this to Hermione, and that's fine, but it's really you I'm writing to. I've gone after the last two bits of Voldemort left: Nagini and thenot-human that he's made himself into. You've not heard me going because I slipped you both some Draught of Living Death. That way, you won't stop me. And if some Death Eater comes across you before you wake he'll hopefully think you're already dead. I've Disillusioned you, too, and charmed the outside of the hut, so you're as safe as I can think to make you. I've taken that tracer that Hermione planted on me out of my socks—very clever, Hermione—and taken off the alarm jinx from the door. It'll be back in place after I'm gone.
Ron, please don't be mad at me. I just can't bear the thought of losing any more friends to this madman. I couldn't do this anymore if I thought it likely you were going to be killed. And it is likely. At this point there's nothing likelier. So I'm going alone. I couldn't have got here without you, mate. I couldn't have got anywhere in the magical world without you—you've stood with me since that first day on the Hogwarts Express. But I don't want you to stand with me now. I want you to live.
There's a note here for Ginny. If I don't come back, please take it to her. Please. Don't just send it—take it. You'll need to be there.
Hermione's going to need you, too, Ron. I know she's sort of scary with her brains and all, but she needs what you've got; she needs you to help her laugh, and she needs your loyalty. And she knows it. Give it your best shot.
Give my love to all your family for me, Ron. I didn't know what families were until yours adopted me. It's been good.
Hermione, I know you're going to want to try to find me as soon as you read this, so no clues. I can't stop you looking for me, but I don't want you to. Look after Ron, and—if I fail—make sure the Order knows everything. Your knowledge will be vital for carrying on and protecting whatever's left to protect. You've got to do that.
Thank you for being a best friend to both Ron and me. We've needed you far more often than we'll ever admit. He's going to need you now. Look after each other.
Laying both notes together, Harry shouldered his battered bag, pulling the silvery folds of the Invisibility Cloak from a pocket and throwing it over himself. Without looking at the spot where he knew his two best friends lay, invisible with Disillusionment and the gloom of the windowless interior, he moved in a crouch to the little light coming through the broken door. At the doorway he waved his wand once, illuminating the magical traces of the alarm jinx Hermione had surreptitiously set the previous evening. After a few moments of close inspection, he grunted quietly in satisfaction and, carefully inserting his wand tip at a particular point in the lines of the spell, muttered an incantation. The lines glowed brightly, then faded. Another muttered incantation confirmed the way was clear, and Harry stooped through the low doorway of the abandoned hut into the clear light of the new day. Once upright,he quickly scanned the area, then turning back, reset the doorway's alarm jinx and, waving his wand over the dugout building, added to its already considerably disguised state with a glamour charm that made it look like just another hillock. To that, he added several confusion charmsand, finally, a magical barrier that should prevent any seeker of magical traces from recognizing that it was there.
After one more quick look around, Harry closed his eyes, gripped his wand tightly, and imagined his destination; bringing it to mind as quickly and clearly as three years of nightmares had made it. With a step and a turn, he passed into, then through, the uncomfortable compression of Apparation and emerged soundlessly in the shadow of Tom Riddle's headstone.
Ahead of him the old manor stood against the clean blue sky, its lines blurred and the little of its stonework that was visible through the ivy painted a soft, warm hue by the rising sun. The windows looked out at him blankly, however, and Harry shrank back into the shadow for a second, before chancing a run into a line of disordered shrubs. Here he paused for a second, checking for movement, before quietly making his way through the dewy grass up the slope.
As he neared the house he paused again, surveying the scene. There was nothing visible, no rubbish at the back door or curtains moving in the windows to show whether anyone was within, but Harry was certain he was right. Before Kreacher had so gorily disposed of himself, in his attempt to both escape Harry's mastership and to continue the traditions of the Black family, he had revealed that he had actually gone so far against orders as to find Bellatrix. Andshe had taken him "before the Dark Lord himself," Kreacher had exulted, "and the Dark Lord knew...." What Voldemort knew Harry was left to guess, as Kreacher had then delightedly inflicted his own punishment on himself. But in his maddened mutterings he had mentioned a 'house'. Apparently a 'worthy' house—or at least, that had been Harry's conclusions from what the deranged elf had said about the Burrow, where this scene had taken place, cutting the trio's Christmas visit sickeningly short. This house, of all those Harry was familiar with, was most likely to be considered by Kreacher to be 'worthy'.
There! An owl was just visible as it fluttered towards a broken garret window. It might have been just an ordinary owl, returning after a night's hunting, only Harry had seen the familiar creamy yellow of a parchment roll in the bird's talons. There were wizards here. There was one wizard here in particular whom Harry ached to meet again;whom he was desperately anxious to see one more time. He wanted to finish it. And now he could. At last, he could....
"Mine!"came a voice from the bushes. Flinging himself to the ground, Harry swept his wand around in a great arc, his mind shouting the Slashing Curse that he had prepared for this moment. The great snake that had reared up behind him fell twitching to the ground, the eyes that had pierced the Invisibility Cloak already beginning to glaze as the head toppled to one side, neatly severed a foot below the gaping jaw.
Even as the body gave a final writhe and fell still, a noxious green vapour was collecting above it. From deadly experience, Harry knew that he couldn't afford to let the vapour coalesce into the curse it was designed to be—but nor could he afford to miss any of it. He needed to wait until it was completely present, but not wait so long that it had a chance to strike. He needed split-second timing—and that second was now!
"Arceo," he intoned, expertly forming the magical container that now enclosed the curse with the snake's head—the Horcrux: the final external fragment of the murderer's soul.
And now he had to move fast. Grabbing up the casket, ignoring the dripping ice that had instantly begun to form on the black surface, he ran back down the slope, dragging his Cloak around him as he went. At the churchyard gate he hardly hesitated, but turned into the road and continued down the hill, through the early-morning traffic of Little Hangleton, and on up the slope of the road as it left the village up the further side of the valley. As he toiled up the lane, panting in the increasing heat of the day, he caught sight of a clump of dark trees, off to one side of the road, and immediately left the paved way, making straight for them.
When he finally arrived, it was evident he'd come to the right place. There was a patch of ground that might once have been a sort of garden to one side of the trees, where it could get a little light. Its contents had long since escaped their bounds, putting tendrils and creepers everywhere, sowing progeny wildly. The house that crouched beneath the trees was completely covered with dank greenery, but even through such exuberant matting, Harry could see that the roof was caved in. It would no longer be so dark in there. Windows, which had once obscured the daylight with the grime of decades, were gone. The darkness was finally lifting from the old house of Gaunt.
It retained, however, some old associations. As Harry approached, he was abruptly halted by an urgent voice. "No! No Closer! It Mustn't!" Looking around, Harry saw a little snake flicking backwards and forwards beside the crumbled step.
"Why not, little one?" he asked, in the same hissing speech.
The serpent suddenly froze, considering this new experience.
"The forked ones with tongues—they are our masters. That is the old story."
"I'm no-one's master." Kneeling, Harry laid down the casket, reached into his bag and brought out a boiled egg. Breaking off a piece, he extended it towards a questing tongue. Eventually, the offering was accepted. "Why are you afraid of me?"
"The eggs." Bending closer, Harry peered into the pile of vegetation across the doorstep and saw a small clutch of soft white eggs.
"Your eggs are safe from me. But someone else is coming—I think—who might not be careful. Can we shift them from here? He might stand on the step and crush them."
The tiny creature whipped its body around in agitation, looking always at Harry, then said, "Here," and nosed aside some twigs to make a path into a bush, the leaf mould around its base steaming slightly in the sunlight that fell through the sparse leaves. Watching the snake carefully all the while, to be sure he had permission, Harry carefully reached into the rotting leaves and rolled the miniature eggs into a cupped palm, then transferred them to the new nest.
"They are safe now," he said as he stood, wiping his hands on the filthy jeans beneath his cloak. "Listen. If the other comes, please don't tell him I am here. I want to surprise him."
"There are others with a tongue?"
"Only one other. And after today—only one." Harry turned away from the little reptile, stooped for the casket, and stepped through the doorway. Here, he laid the casket down again, just out of sight of the door. There was little within but dust and the fallen leaves of the vines that had covered the roof. A few rotten fragments of furniture stood near the walls, and laths from the roof lay splintered among the detritus. Harry chose a dark corner and lowered himself to the thickly-carpetedfloor. He ate the remains of the egg and a stale roll, sipped from a bottle of water, and then relaxed against the wall. He had to think. He had to prepare himself for what was coming. He had no idea how long he would have, but it was inevitable that, drawn by the trapped Horcrux, Voldemort would look here, too. He had to be ready.
Maybe he slept. He wasn't sure. His mind was filled, still, with the evil he was facing, when he was brought back to himself by a nudge on his hand where it hung between his knees. There might have been the faintest of hissing whispers and a flickering movement before he became aware of a footstep immediately outside. It was dark. A hint of twilight remained in the sky visible through the creepers, and a single ray from the setting sun faintly illuminated the doorway. Harry's wand was already out, and as a tall, dark figure appeared in the doorway all the turmoil in his mind resolved itself into the hideous killing curse. "Avada Kedavra"—the shaft of green light hit its target, and the casket glowed briefly. Voldemort's Expelliarmus was equally true, Harry's wand flying from his hand immediately the Unforgivable had flown. He stood now, gazing down at Harry, two wands held lightly in his long, pale fingers.
"A wasted curse, my enemy. And now you are defenceless."
"Look again at that wand, Tom," Harry rejoined. "It's a one-curse special, borrowed from an Auror friend. Here's mine," and in the fractured moment that Voldemort glanced down, Harry's own wand flickered into his hand with the speed born of the year's heavy dependence on Seeker reflexes. "Shall we pit our phoenix feathers against each other again?"
"Phoenix feathers? No, I have developed something of an aversion to such things. My... acquaintance... Mr. Ollivander has been assisting me with some of his more recent creations. You cannot rely on Priori Incantatem to save you this time, Harry Potter."
"Nor can you rely on your snake. Have you seen Nagini recently?"
The slitted nostrils in the pale face flared briefly, and Harry thought the fires in those red eyes flashed a little darker. "You have come a long way, Potter. To not only kill Nagini but to afterwards survive the consequences... and that Killing Curse actually appeared to be the real thing! I never thought you would discover such darkness in your pristine little soul. A pity your aim is so terrible."
"The darkness...." Harry's breath heaved as his throat thickened and his heart felt as though it might burst the walls of his chest with emotion. "That darkness is all yours. Everything you've done has darkened my life, and I don't intend to let that continue. My aim was pretty good actually. The Horcrux you tracked me here by was in that box. No more!"
Harry continued to allow the hatred he felt for all that Voldemort had done to swirl through him, obliterating his thinking, swamping his consciousness. Voldemort's blank features swam closer to him through the haze, though the tall figure never moved a step nearer, and through the intense burning of his scar, he felt a needle of perception pass into his brain. The bloodstained hand holding his wand before him trembled a little, but its tip never left Voldemort's heart.
The probing finger in his mind stirred the morass of emotions, and Harry gladly gave to it the memories it sought—the destruction of Nagini, of the locket, the cup, the ancient quill, the broken ring on Dumbledore's hand, and finally, the first: the piercing of the diary with a broken Basilisk tooth. Voldemort's reaction was swift, but Harry, his long-rehearsed intentions hidden by the intense emotions he was feeling, was faster: "Desacro!" he cried, all the energy and long frustration and bitter hope that had carried him thus far poured into this one attempt. There was a stupendous, silent burst of azure light that pinned Harry back against the wall and threw his adversary to the far side of the room. It flared, twisted, and bucked, numbing his hand, and he could no longer feel his wand held before him. Then it was gone, and Harry dropped to his knees in the darkness. He brought his hands together in front of him—but the wand was no longer in his fist. Pressing his still-numb right hand to his eyes in the hope of clearing his vision, he groped in the mess for his wand. Somewhere in front of him he felt something move—a slim, scaly body pressed against his hand, was gone again, then he felt something pushed against his fingers: a stick, broken and burned, and with it the stiff spine and delicate edges of a feather.
Again there was movement in front of him, and a larger body stood before him. "Lumos," the cold, high voice croaked out. Harry's vision remained blurred. He realized that his glasses were gone from his face.
"It doesn't appear that you will be using phoenix feathers again either, Potter. That magic requires a staff of some heft, you foolish boy. And to which god where you intending to sacrifice me?"
"Uranus," muttered Harry through clenched teeth.
"An ingenious idea, nevertheless! You would immolate me in an act of... loving sacrifice? You feel some... affection for me?" The icy tones were mocking, but Harry could hear the uncertainty beneath them.
"You're part of me, too... Tom. I hate everything you've done with your life, but I can't deny what we share. Even you still have a remnant of a human soul. I can't hate that." Harry's voice was flat, tired. It was over.
Voldemort's uncertain outline stretched out a hand, and a wand flew into the fingers from the floor. "Had you not overestimated your wand, I grant, you may have finished your task. And now—I shall finish mine!"
As Voldemort once more raised his wand, Harry lifted the soft feather to his face, pressing against his skin all the memories of Dumbledore, of his time at Hogwarts, of his friends and their love for him. Somewhere in his mind he could hear a phoenix singing. As Voldemort chanted again the Killing Curse, he threw his other hand uselessly before his face, its back, bleeding once more, shining in the reflected green glow of the speeding spell. There was the sound of swiftly beating wings, a turning inside out, an emptiness and a quietness. And Harry knew no more.
Between one heartbeat and the next, Harry turned to the face of the elderly man beside him. "Do you see, Harry? The curse, once more, has rebounded on its caster. And this time he has no Horcruxes to keep him from death." Somewhere in the dimness beyond them there was a fading wail of the uttermost despair.
"But how, sir? No-one died for me this time."
The eyes twinkled behind the oh-so-terribly familiar half-moon spectacles. "You know this one, Harry. You just need to put the pieces together. Consider your own unique power."
"Love. When the curse hit me, I was remembering the love everyone has given me, you—and you did die for me, didn't you?—and Ron and Hermione, and all my friends—everyone. Everyone has given so much for me."
"Yes, and then, making it relevant to the situation, you chose to focus on that love. And there was one more thing, making it magically effective. What was it you held out in your defence at that last moment?"
"My hand? It was bleeding... with Ginny's and my names."
"Your contract, in fact. A deed of self-giving love, topping a life given for love."
"So... he's gone. And me? What now?"
Another smile. "You have to make a decision, Harry. It is your choices that matter now."
Harry looked beyond his old mentor to some of the other faces approaching him....
Much later that evening, Ron and Hermione sat either side of a silently weeping Ginny, Ron with his arm around her trembling shoulders, Hermione frowning at the parchment in front of them. "Tell... tell me again, how you found him?" she asked in a shuddering breath.
Ron heaved a sigh, and Hermione answered, "We had a second tracer thread—but hidden in the folds of the Cloak, so it was invisible and magically masked by the Cloak's own power. But its signal could still be picked up by the map." She nudged the rumpled map of the British Isles before her. "We would have got there earlier, but we hadn't counted on Harry using such a potent sleeping draught, so the antidotes we'd taken weren't so immediately effective."
"Bloody Harry," quavered Ron. "I woke before Hermione, and when I saw her lying there like that...."
Hermione reached across and put her hand on Ron's before continuing, "We didn't wake until evening of the day Harry left. We went directly to Little Hangleton and walked straight into the Death Eaters."
Ginny clutched convulsively at her brother, reminded afresh of how close they had come to losing another Weasley.
"But, with Snape's help..." Hermione paused, shaking her head at the confusion that that help had caused them, "we escaped."
"That was incredible," Ron put in, his voice less that of the ardent Quidditch spectator and more that of the Tsunami survivor. "He was at the back of the whole bunch of them. When they all turned towards us and started to raise their wands at us he just...." He halted, uncertainly. "I don't know what he did," he continued shakily. "He raised both arms and just... slammed them down! And every one of the Death Eaters was flattened."
Hermione picked up the story again. "We ran then, but we didn't know where to go! We were just working our way around the village when there was an explosion of strange light among some trees on the hill opposite. We ran—but it was tricky.... There were fields and ditches and fences and every obstacle in the country! It took us so long! When we finally got there it was all quiet—except for a sort of slithering sound. Everywhere we looked, the ground seemed to be seething. There were snakes... everywhere...." Hermione's voice dropped to a horrified whisper, and she stopped.
Ron took up the thread in his turn. "We went into the broken-down old house there, and that's where he was—covered in snakes. I was going to try some sort of clearing spell when Hermione pointed out what they were doing—making... caduckses? How do you say that?"
"Caducei," Mrs. Weasley supplied, coming into the kitchen. "Old, old magic. An effective form of treatment against the attack of deadly serpents. Even Muggles know something of it and use it as a symbol of their misguided healing efforts. Arthur told me." And she smiled wanly at the memory. There was silence at the mention of Mr. Weasley and a strangled sob from Ginny.
Bill entered the kitchen behind his mother and sat at the table, picking up the parchment from before Ginny. "If I'd known why he was asking me about this stuff I wouldn't have said so much," he muttered. He put the parchment back on the table in front of his sister, who reached for it and wiped away her tears so that she could read it again. "You know what that means, don't you, Ginny?"
She gave a shaky laugh. "Yeah. If he dies, I'm rich."
Bill nodded. "If he lives you'll be rich, too—and married."
Jaws dropped all around the table. "It doesn't happen often, but it's a legal declaration of marriage based on complete sharing of assets and a clear statement of devotion." Bill looked up into the stunned faces around him. "But don't worry! It's easy enough to annul, we can just...."
Ginny had her wand aimed directly up her brother's nose before he saw her move. "You take one step towards separating me from Harry and you'll never see daylight again through the batwings!" She glared into his astonished features for a second more, then whipped her wand back to her side and stalked out of the room. A moment later she could be heard going up the stairs. The Weasleys and Hermione looked at each other.
"Remus is with him still," said Bill. "He'll deal with her okay."
"Maybe I should just..." Mrs. Weasley began, looking after her daughter, but appearing strangely hesitant.
"No, Mum," said Ron. "Ginny will be okay. Leave it to Lupin."
Molly Weasley sat and put a careworn hand to her trembling lip. "Oh, my baby girl...."
Upstairs, Ginny pushed gently through the door into what used to be the twins' room. Beside the darkened bed she could make out Remus Lupin's form, hunched over the tousle-headed young man who had written the note still crumpled in her hand. As she watched from the shadows, a tear fell from her old teacher's face onto the bed-cover, and he said, quietly, "He still looks so like James, you know?" Ginny jumped. She'd no idea he'd heard her enter. Now he turned towards her, and she moved to stand beside him, looking down at Harry.
"No." He turned back to the bed with her. "Nothing at all since the St. Mungo's team left. Ginny... you did hear what they said, didn't you? That he may never wake again?" He reached for her hand.
"Yes," she said, abruptly, and suffered her hand to be held for a second before she reached up to push her copper locks from her face. "Yes. Remus, can I stay here for a bit? I... just want to see him."
"Do you want me to go? I wouldn't mind a bit of a stretch...." He was already standing as he spoke.
"Yes, okay," she said, not turning away from the still form before her. "Thanks."
He paused behind her, putting a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Ginny, Bill told me about Harry's... will. And what it means. If you want to talk about it...?" He felt her stiffen beneath his hand.
"No—not now. Thanks." She turned and smiled briefly at him, then turned away again. He left as noiselessly as she'd entered.
The youngest Weasley sat leaning forward for a few seconds, peering intently into the well-known features. With a familiar hand, she brushed the mess of hair across his forehead and let her fingers trail down over the drawn cheeks.
"Harry bloody Potter...." She sat up straighter, fixing his closed eyes with her own. "You've done it again—and we've got the future we never thought we'd have. Only I don't know that I want it. I definitely don't want your bloody gold! And now...." She paused miserably, and her hand fell back into her lap. "And now I discover that we're married—only you're not really here to be married to, but you're alive, so we are, and... and I just feel so stuck! Again! Help me...?" Her voice fell to a whisper. "Help me, Harry. Don't leave me again." Her voice faded completely away, and her eyes roved his features, looking for any sign of movement. As she scanned his face, she blinked once in confusion, then opened her eyes wide as she realized what she wasn't seeing. With a gasp, she knelt beside the bed and held his head in both her hands. The scar, that lightning bolt that had marked him for so long, had gone. And they had all been so very used to seeing it that they no longer noticed its presence—or its absence. Pressing her lips to the alabaster skin, she kissed its new innocence with a feeling of awe, as though she had encountered something holy.
"Gin-ny?" a feeble voice creaked out.
She sat back so fast she almost threw herself off balance. "Harry?!"
The long-shut eyelids cracked open, and the ghost of a smile turned up the corners of his mouth. "Smell... of Amortentia."
The engagement was a long one, long enough for Harry to return to full strength and set his affairs in a slightly more regular order. Long enough for the restored Mr. Ollivander to help Harry find a replacement wand—after which Harry joked that he felt more insecure than ever as Ginny's brothers might now see him as fair game. One of them, at least, was more likely than the others to cut him some slack, as he was similarly occupied. The bodies of Voldemort and the Death Eaters who hadn't survived the treachery of Snape were burned. The remaining Death Eaters were either hunted down or fled abroad—where they were hunted further. Snape himself did not survive his final treachery, but was buried in a plot alone, with none but Order members to note his passing and ponder the grim smile that his features still held in death.
Nobody could ever say that it was a good end to the war—what part of any war can be called 'good'? But of all those who rejoiced to find the world a freer place, there was a small group who still gathered occasionally at the Burrow to remember their dead, celebrate their redundancy, and rejoice that none need suffer again such scars.
Author's note: Many thanks to Little Winky, beta-reader extraordinaire!