A/N: Thanks to Paula for dashing off for some kleenex, and for Irene for the moral support. Thanks also to Sherry for slapping my wrists about a few commas.
This is what OotP has done to me! Not sure what you're going to make of this…
The steel-grey light of morning slowly crept through the unseeing panes of 12 Grimmauld Place. The fire had long since died out in the kitchen grate, leaving only charred lumps of wood, crumbling memories of the glorious fire that had once danced so vibrantly before being snuffed out.
The solitary clock that had survived Sirius' purge of the glorious house of Black ticked on relentlessly though the silence. Its monotonous sound seemed to echo the dull thud of Harry's heart, beating onwards because there seemed to be little else to do.
Harry could feel his scar aching on his forehead, and without even bothering to think about it he knew that Voldemort was pleased. His scar gave a particularly triumphant throb and Harry wrenched his glasses off his face, casting them aside with a clatter as they slid carelessly across the table.
He slumped his head in his hands. He didn't want to think, didn't want to sleep, didn't want to relive the horrors he had witnessed. He ached for oblivion. Nothingness. Just for some way to make this all stop, to let the heartache cease. Yet there was no way to stem the tide of emotions that bubbled so close to the surface these days, and no end within sight. Dumbledore's kindly face seemed to swim through his thoughts momentarily, and the image shimmered uncertainly, giving him a shadow of reassurance that lingered somewhere just out of reach.
Harry slammed his fist down suddenly on the table, his fury making his glasses leap into the air and then rattle to a standstill on the tabletop. He snatched them up again, only to pace restlessly around the room as his rage churned within him. It bubbled and curdled in his stomach, and he could feel the bitter bile begin to rise.
"It shouldn't have been like this!" he yelled suddenly. His words echoed hollowly through the empty air. The memory of Dumbledore flickered, the genial smile creased into lines of worry, his twinkling blue eyes became instantly darker, like the calm depths of an ocean just before the storm. "How could you know and still let it happen like this?"
He kicked the table leg furiously, a sharp pain shot through his toes and up his leg, but he didn't care. The clock on the mantelpiece chimed the hour, and something inside Harry snapped. His frantic hands swept along the shelf, knocking brass candlesticks flying, crashing noisily onto the hard floor and then rolling away to safety from his wrath.
His fingers tightened around a photograph frame, his temper wanting to smash it too, to destroy it before he could look. Remus had put it there as a type of memorial, and Harry had hated it from the outset and avoided even admitting that it was there. But now he couldn't stop himself from staring. The cheerful faces of the new Order of the Phoenix smiled and waved happily at him from the snatched moment of peace, just before everyone's world had fallen apart and nothing had ever been the same again.
The innocent faces instantly reminded him of a much older photograph that Moody had once shown him in this very room. Like Moody, he could look at all their faces and tell the tales behind the smiles. There was no Sirius Black here, the portrait had been taken too late for that, but he deserved to be there as much as anyone. More. Harry's godfather had been felled in the earliest of battles within the Ministry of Magic itself; cursed by Bellatrix Lestrange because of Harry's own folly. He still missed his godfather badly, even after all this time.
The serious image of Remus Lupin nodded at him, as if he agreed with Harry's thoughts. Harry watched the greying locks of his former professor and the lines around his sombre eyes that betrayed the knowledge that the full moon was approaching. Remus had been tortured to death only a few months before, his body torn apart in a sickening mockery of the man he was. The Death Eaters had systematically destroyed him, binding him tight and filling him with pure silver, organ by organ. The agonies he must have felt…
The smiling group of Weasleys appalled him, and he could not even bear to look in their direction, not now that he knew their fates. Not now. Not ever. Nymphadora Tonks, her hair green and crinkled like a lettuce; she had last been seen alive on a mission to Wiltshire, seeking evidence about the Malfoy family.
A flurry of red caught his eye, and Harry's heart twisted painfully in his chest. He'd recognise that anywhere. The mischievous face of Ginny Weasley winked up at him. She'd clearly slunk into the photograph at the last minute, despite the fact that she wasn't really old enough to be there.
He watched on, unable to tear his eyes away as she darted past various witches and wizards, twisting around every obstacle until she finally came to a halt right beside the figure of a bespectacled young man, with messy black hair and a lightning bolt scar just apparent on his forehead.
Her hand entwined with his, and she grinned adoringly up at him in the way that used to make his stomach turn somersaults. His shaking finger touched her, wanting to feel the softness of her hair, to smell her perfume as his face nuzzled against hers, to hold her. Just once more. Just for a moment.
The glass covering the picture was cold and unfeeling.
Fury such as he had never known burst out of him in a primeval cry of anguish. The photograph smashed against the grate, shards of glass splintering savagely across the room. He couldn't take this any more. He had to do something. Anything!
Dumbledore's words wafted around his mind as they had haunted him since the end of his fifth year.
"And either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives."
This had to end. He didn't want to keep living like this. All that remained was a cursed life, a half-life filled with such terrible grief. Almost everyone he'd ever loved had been destroyed, and the entire magical world was paralysed with fear and dread. No one had ever expected it to be like this. It had to end.
It was time.
His fate, decreed from his birth, was to be victim or murderer. Harry stared at the stark choice before him, weighing it up one final time. There was a way. He'd had the idea niggling away at him for some time, but it was a risk. It was a risk he had to take.
He grabbed his wand from his pocket and prepared to Disapparate, and then stopped. There was something he had to do first. He silently scurried up the stairs, past the heavily curtained portrait of Mrs Black, up to the room that he and Ron had once shared when they first arrived at Grimmauld Place.
He pushed the door silently open, and stuck his head inside, conscious of intruding on the privacy of the sleepers. One of the figures stirred fretfully within the bed, and instantly an arm snaked out to comfort her.
Ron and Hermione.
Harry could just imagine Mrs Weasley's shrieks rivalling those of Mrs Black if she'd ever lived long enough to see them like this. He bit his lip hard to stop the unfamiliar tears burning to the surface. Ron and Hermione wouldn't understand what he was about to do, and they'd find it hard to forgive him. He could see them clinging to each other in the morning, numb with disbelief and pain, but there was no other way.
The pallor and haunted shadows beneath both sets of eyes spoke of unbearable strain, and Harry knew that he had to try and help them live again. He loved them both and it was the least he could do after everything they'd had to put up with from him for the past few years. This new grief and anger would engulf them both for a while, but it was only a little more in the unbearable chasm of despair they seemed to be facing now. They'd cope with it together, just like they were managing now.
The word was little more than a choked whisper, but he saw Hermione's brow crease fretfully in her sleep as if she were reading his thoughts. Harry swallowed anxiously, seeing her hand reach up and push her bushy brown hair back from her pale face before wriggling closer to her boyfriend and seeking comfort from her nightmares.
Harry knew he had to go. They'd learn to understand one day. Not daring to stay another moment, he clutched his wand and Disapparated.
The darkened bedroom vanished in the blink of an eye to be replaced by something far gloomier. Stone-grey corridors sealed him in. Rat-like in a laboratory maze, he tensed, listening intently for any sound. All was still, so he crept his way along the corridor, battling back the memories of the spells and curses that had flown around this place little more than four months ago.
He steeled himself, hatred beginning to flame more strongly than ever in the pit of his stomach. Slowly, he rounded the corner and with shaking hands he pushed the arched door open, slipping into the vaulted room beyond. The memories he'd fought back for so long suddenly crashed in on him and pressed down so hard that it felt like he was unable to breathe. Dizzying flashes of remembered light and frantic cries of incantations filled his brain. His mind was engulfed with the cacophony of noises echoing madly through the acoustics of the chamber, and the slow-motion falling of bodies, slumping around him.
Harry walked steadily on, the only sound now being the soft beat of his feet across the floor. Two steps up, onto the dais. Visions of flowing black robes, fighting, wands outstretched went unheeded, his eyes were only fixed on one point directly ahead.
He knelt slowly to the floor, his eyes now brimming with tears. He scuffed them away with his sleeve and then lowered his hand to touch the floorboards. It had been here that he had found her, after he'd thought they'd won. She'd been so pale, but her hair flamed all around her, rippling with life in the candlelight as the shades of red glinted and shone. It had given him hope. Her arm had been thrown out above her head, her wand a couple of feet away from her hand where her fingers still curled as if she were holding it.
He thought she'd been hurt. She was still warm.
Ginny. He'd taken her hand, he'd called to her, then caressed a gentle hand down her cheek, willing for those deep brown eyes to open and smile at him once more. He could remember the desperation building inside him, his frantic hands lifting her from the floor, holding her close against him and rocking her in his arms, trying to force some of his life into her. If he kept holding her and loving her, she'd have to be all right. She'd have to be.
Her head had lolled momentarily against his chest and then fell sickeningly backwards revealing the slender column of her throat arching unpleasantly. Her lips had been colourless and cool. He could remember kissing her, then the howl of anguish surging up inside him as he realised that he could deny it no longer: the one person he loved more than life itself had gone.
"Not long now," he whispered. The burning tears fell silently. He didn't care about that now.
He lay on the floor, in the very spot where she'd died and faced the vaulted ceiling. He clutched his wand to his chest, took a deep breath and closed his eyes, letting his mind relax. Let the pain go he reminded himself. Relax and empty your mind.
His mind was scurrying through his memories, stretching and spreading in the way that Dumbledore had taught him in his lessons in his sixth year. Faster and faster they whirled, sending everything he knew into a blur of colours and noises and smells. Legilimency worked best when the subject was there, but Harry knew that he should be able to slip into Voldemort's mind without detection, as long as he was careful. Once he was in there, he would not dare think or plan anything of his own, he had to give himself time to absorb the Dark Lord's memories and gain control before Voldemort realised he was there.
He knew what he had to do.
His mind went blank.
He could see new things, not his memories at all. A small dark-haired boy was being taunted mercilessly by a gang of larger children. They chanted and jeered at him, circling him like vultures and throwing stones. Another memory, this time of a tall man striding past him and the ache of need to be recognised for who he was. Then there was the feeling of hatred and defiance, the need for revenge. Harry firmly reigned his own thoughts in check, and felt out through the layers of thoughts before him.
A darkly-hooded figure lay writing on the floor before him, and he sneered in triumph at McNair's weaknesses and frailty. Harry's mind followed the twitch of the wand, the cry of, "Crucio!" and the sensation of complete and utter control. Power was his. They feared him; he could smell it. In such a very little time the Wizarding world would bow to his command. The fool McNair would never amount to much, but he was a useful tool in keeping the others in line. Harry sensed a glow of pleasure as other terrified eyes swam into focus.
Harry drifted along the waves of memories, binding them tight to him as he passed. An old house, with stairs that creaked as he ascended. Riddle. That filthy Mudblood name would exist no more. The malicious sneer as the startled faces turned to stare at him: grandmother, grandfather, father. He'd teach them what magic was. They couldn't cast him aside now as they had all those years ago. He'd make them pay.
Harry pushed himself forwards, bobbing through eddies of hate, absorbing all that went by. Dumbledore. The tones of disgust were clear. Flashes of light shot through the sky as he battled with the only wizard they had said that he was afraid of. As if he, Lord Voldemort, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, should be afraid of anything at all. Giants, Dementors, and all manner of dark creatures followed his every whim. Why should he be afraid of this bumbling old fool?
A searing pain shot through his left arm, and the hatred built. This was not mere hatred but the desire to annihilate. Savage fury erupted as the full force of the killing curse was forced out. Dumbledore had to go.
The killing curse. A flash of green light and glee at a woman's scream. Suddenly Harry was faced with a memory of a small child in a crib, an innocent. A dark haired baby. Him.
"Now!" he said to himself, and concentrated with all his might.
He had grasped Voldemort's mind, possessing him, and as the Dark Lord became aware of his presence it was too late for him to throw Harry off. He clung on tightly, and began to release memories of his own into Voldemort's mind.
It was summer, not far off his first birthday, and there was a picnic in the garden at Godric's Hollow. Harry was crawling across the rug, and being caught and rolled over onto his back by his father, who blew raspberries on his stomach. He squealed with giggles, and was rescued by his mother who smothered him in kisses.
A hiss of pain erupted in his mind, and Harry smiled grimly to himself, clutching his wand and seeking rapidly through his past for another memory.
The Hogwarts Express shimmered into focus, and Harry felt as if he were on the train again, lurching and swaying from side-to-side as it rattled northwards. A redheaded boy, with a black smudge on his nose, slid into his compartment and welcomed him into the Wizarding world in a way he'd never imagined. By the time Ron's detested squashed corned beef sandwiches had been produced, they were friends, standing up to Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle together. They'd never looked back since.
Slightly older this time, in a darkened room with an array of bottles of varying shapes and sizes. Hermione looking worried and then throwing her arms around him.
"You're a great wizard you know, Harry…"
His cheeks flamed in the blushing embarrassment of an eleven-year-old boy, especially one who'd never been used to receiving love.
The mind in his grasp struggled harder, but Harry wasn't about to let go. He could do this.
The image of Hagrid in his fourth year came into focus, when he'd been disgraced in The Daily Prophet by Rita Skeeter. Harry could remember charging after Hermione and Ron to Hagrid's cabin and hammering on the door until Dumbledore had opened it and allowed them in. His fury at seeing Hagrid so upset by the cow's words, and his heart aching for his friend. He'd do anything to let Hagrid see how much he was wanted and how wrong the articles had been about him.
He sensed a screaming and writhing inside him. A snake desperate to slither to freedom, squirming within his grasp.
Molly Weasley. Opening the knitted sweater arriving on his first Christmas at Hogwarts. Remembering the first time in his life that he'd ever had presents and people who actually cared about him. Being enveloped in her arms and hugged tightly, trying to shield him from pain. Her constant fretting and care for him. He could hear her angry now with Sirius.
"He's as good as. Who else has he got?"
His family. The place where he belonged.
Sitting at the table in The Burrow's garden before the Quidditch World Cup, chattering and laughing. Being accepted for who he was. Simply being loved.
The screams were piercing now, worse than anything Harry had ever heard. They seemed to shatter through his scar, and white-hot agony split his head open from the inside, shooting through every nerve he had. High-pitched and uncontrolled the cries surged on. There was a desperate struggle within him, magic crackling through every nerve as the powerful mind fought to break free of his own.
A bark of a laugh rang around his skull. Sirius seemed to be standing there before him, looking at him anxiously. The worry of Sirius fulfilling his godfatherly duty consumed him. He wasn't going to lead Sirius into any danger, not when he could avoid it. The warm knowledge that Sirius would always be there for him and the feeling of his godfather's hand clapped on his shoulder. The hope that one day he could leave the Dursleys and live with him.
An image lingered in slow-motion. Sirius falling through the air as the blast of light hit him squarely in the chest. His own cries as Sirius passed through the ragged black veil that whispered to him and his desperation to save his godfather. He loved him. He was only just out of reach. Just there. He could save him.
The hiss of pain in his mind was stronger than ever, but suddenly strong bands bound him tightly. Voldemort was fighting back and Harry was finding it difficult to maintain his concentration. He was vaguely aware of tears soaking his face, mingling with sweat from his efforts. He couldn't let go now, he had to make this work.
The soft sunlight dappled the memory that emerged next. He was down by the lake at Hogwarts in a rare moment of peace, not much more than a year ago. Ginny was sitting, leaning against him as they fed toast to the Giant Squid. He could remember her turning to him, the laughter slowly fading as the world stilled around them. Her cheek cupped softly in his hand, and he sensed her breath quickening as he bent his head uncertainly to hers.
Soft brown eyes flickered closed, and his lips brushed hers, sending tingles and shivers running through him.
"I love you," her voice echoed across all time.
And I love you. Always.
There was a horrendous screech of agony. The love was poisoning Voldemort. Dumbledore had told him once that Voldemort could not bear to possess him because his heart was full of love, something he could not abide to be near or touch. If Harry was right it would destroy him.
Another mind seemed to probe away at his own, tearing down the walls inside, and struggling with him. Harry fought back with every ounce of strength he possessed.
He loved Ginny, and he didn't care what this fight cost him. He'd be with her again one day, and that was what he wanted more than anyone else in the world.
A searing pain shot down through his head, blinding him, and making him retch. He clung to his thoughts as a lifeline, but despair dragged him down and down. The chilling laughter rent the air, and Harry saw the red slit-like eyes appearing in his mind.
"You've lost!" but the voice was shaken with pain.
"I could never lose," Harry smiled grimly. "Killing me gives me those I love. I win either way."
With his last bit of strength, he thought again of Ginny. His hand reached out for hers, smiling as her ghostly fingers grasped for him. She was there.
The final hideous scream rent the world apart, and Harry felt Voldemort explode within his mind. Love had ended it. The prophecy was finished.
His breath so light he could barely feel it.
The world seemed to swim. The shadows of the past seemed ever closer, nudging all around him.
And then there was no breath at all, just bubbles rippling to the surface and lifting him beyond it all.