Harry clenched his teeth and stared blankly into the darkness, his mind gripped by one thought.
"Either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives."
Words to live by or words to die by in any case, Harry knew for certain that he wasn't going down without putting up a damn good tussle. He wouldn't be backing down when Voldemort came to call. If the so-called Dark Lord thought he was going to find an easy fight in Harry, he was sadly mistaken. When they finally came to blows, Harry had plans to end it, just like the Prophecy had foretold but without being the one ending up annihilated. No, if there was to be any of that going on, it was going to be he Harry doing the annihilating.
For seventeen years Harry had had to live in the aftermath of Voldemort's botched attempt at trying to snuff him out. In failing to take Harry's life as a baby, Voldemort had succeeded in ripping his life apart by robbing him of his family. And the ramifications of this echoed through each of those seventeen years in one way or another. There was the isolation of his childhood; the uncertainty of his young adulthood; and now, as he stood on the brink of manhood, he was faced with an ultimatum kill or be killed.
He had the image of his parents, nearly two decades gone now, as motivation to spur him along all of his life. Their faces appeared in his mind as he stumbled along the darkened corridor. He remembered every photograph in the album Hagrid had given him his first year at Hogwarts and thought bitterly how his only memory of them was from snapshots. Snapshots of happier times. Snapshots of lives ended too soon.
No, there was no way he was backing down from this fight. Things were different now. Maybe Voldemort thought he was the same wizard novice he'd encountered a year ago. Maybe he expected to be able to merely swat away "Dumbledore's feeble apprentice," as he had called him, once and for all. And a year ago, Harry realized, without Dumbledore's intervention, he would have been toast. Harry's skills only went so far back then and Voldemort knew this. But what Voldemort didn't know was that a lot could happen in a year. And now, Harry was ready for the fight. He was even eager for it.
He felt adrenaline coursing through him. The fingertips on his right hand tingled as they clutched his wand, itching for the battle. He could see nothing in front of him, and he dare not set the wand tip alight for fear of being ambushed. "Give the enemy no advantages," Hermione had told him just before he Disapparated earlier that day. Her face appeared, just as his parents had moments ago. An image of when they first met, practically seven years ago, on the Hogwarts Express, shot into his mind. He remembered his first impression of Hermione and nearly laughed out loud. What thickheaded gits he and Ron had been well, mostly Ron. Red hair and freckles replaced the image of Hermione. Ron had been his best mate all through their Hogwarts years. They'd had their ups and downs, highs and lows but Ron was like glue. He stuck by Harry through thick and thin. They both did. Ron and Hermione.
Harry thought he heard a noise a few paces ahead, making him break off from his reverie. He needed to stay alert. He tilted his head and cocked an ear in the direction the sound had come from. Nothing. He must have been imagining things.
His mind drifted off again, his thoughts seemingly determined to keep him from forgetting what it was that he was fighting for. Another image drifted to his mind's eye an image of more red hair and freckles, but quite a bit prettier than the last one. Ginny. His face began to warm at the reflection of their last moments together. He closed his eyes as he remembered holding Ginny tightly, never wanting to let her go. He could almost imagine the orange blossoms and ginger that scented her hair if he tried and the sweet warmth of her mouth on his he could almost imagine that, too
Something had begun to dawn on Harry earlier that year and he had Ginny to thank for it. He had finally understood that, once the fire died and the ashes cooled, if he managed to make it to the other side of the inevitable battle intact, he might just come to realize that he wasn't alone. All logic told him to shut out all of his emotional ties that they were liabilities but Harry couldn't be logical in this particular instance. Ginny Weasley had defied all logic and she made him feel like he never felt before. She told him, just a week earlier, "I don't care where you have to wander, Harry. God knows wherever it is, it'll probably be a lonely road, and when you come back and I know you'll be back there's going to be a lot of voices calling out to you. Just listen for mine, Harry. I'll be calling you, too calling you home."
For seventeen years, Harry had lived without a home. Privet Drive had not been a home, but an address where he ate, bathed and slept. Hogwarts had been close to a home his best friends were there. The love of his life was there. But it was temporary. He wouldn't be able to remain there forever. He would have to make his own home somewhere else. With Ginny, he would finally be home at last.
This thought put the last bolt in his resolve. Voldemort didn't stand a chance with the weapon he was bringing to the fight. Dumbledore had always told him this weapon was his strongest advantage and the one that Voldemort was always too blind to see. Harry used to think it was a drawback that he had so many people he cared about, but he could see very clearly now that it was definitely an asset. He felt like he could take on the world right now.
He stopped quickly as he heard the noise again, this time more clearly. He felt beyond a doubt that he wasn't imagining things that time. A high-pitched hiss came from the darkness.
"Hasn't Dumbledore taught you how to clear your mind yet, boy?"
Harry wasn't sure if he wanted to respond to get sucked into having words with Voldemort. He would much rather have the fight he came for he was hungry for it now.
"Don't worry," Harry finally replied. "Dumbledore taught me all I need to know."
"Well, how careless of you not to put your training to good use," Voldemort said in a patronizing tone. "I can see all of your insignificant little comrades. Isn't it gratifying to know how much you care about them?" Sarcasm was practically frothing from his lips. "It's a pity I didn't have the chance to get rid of them before I disposed of you, but don't worry I will get rid of each and every one of them. I think I'll start with the red-haired girl "
Voldemort couldn't have known what power he was unleashing in Harry with that last statement. He'd been the thief of one home; he would not be thief to another.
Harry raised his wand and felt the eleven inches of holly shudder in his grasp. He could practically hear phoenix song emanating from the core of the wand as it aimed at Voldemort.
High-pitched laughter echoed off of the walls of the corridor. "You know that thing is useless, don't you, fool? Or are you really so brainless "
But Voldemort didn't have a chance to finish his insult. Harry's right arm burned, as if he had dipped it to the elbow in a cauldron of boiling potion. The words he had muttered under his breath while Voldemort had been stupid enough to give him the opportunity were taking effect and fast. His arm glowed like a red-hot iron and sparkled as if peppered with gold dust. The transformation was beginning.
"What?" was all the great and powerful Lord Voldemort was able to utter before Harry said, "Goodbye, Tom."
As Harry trudged up the gravel drive to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he noticed his right arm was still warm and that the tips of his fingers glittered golden in the bright sunlight. He paused for a moment and basked in the rays that were streaming down on him and reminisced about his glorious transformation and his triumph over the darkest wizard in an age. He put himself back in the moment after he had bid Tom Riddle goodbye.
Harry felt his arms elongate into great wings, sensed as the hairs on them sprouted into plumage. His neck lengthened as well and a golden beak emerged where a mouth had been just moments before. Harry the phoenix piped out a proud note as a long golden tail materialized and sharp talons took shape.
But Voldemort was not to be outdone as he took serpent-form and stared hard at the bird-shape of his nemesis through evil, red eyes, his fangs bared and low hisses sounding from his throat.
Harry's great wings beat effortlessly and sent him aloft to the high ceiling of the corridor and he knew what taunts the snake hissed at him, even in phoenix-form. He let out another note and thought how disappointing that Voldemort couldn't speak bird like he could speak snake. But he had to know what was coming. Or did he? Did he know what Fawkes had done to the Basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets?
Harry, in the present, squinted into the rays in the sun and could have sworn he saw a flicker, as the figures of three people flashed briefly in front of his eyes. He was probably imagining things. He had had so many other memory flashes that day
He began walking again, and as he did, the memory of the final battle sprang back, as if it were videotape that had been paused, and then restarted again.
The snake reared its hideous green head and tried to snap its saber-like fangs at him, but Harry the phoenix avoided each bite with ease, warbling with bird laughter at each frenzied nip.
Idiot, Harry thought in his mind. You don't know what's coming next. You don't realize I'm going to peck your eyes out. You don't realize that you'll die, just like the snake you are.
"Harry! Oh, God it's Harry he's back he's all right!"
Harry squinted at the doors to the castle, where a small figure with a flame of red hair streaming behind her was running like a deer towards him, arms outstretched. Two more people were moving quickly behind her, but Harry had no time to focus on them as Ginny's arms wrapped around him and the force of her body against his nearly toppled them both to the ground.
He lost count of how many times she spoke his name. He became dizzy from her hands in his hair and her mouth on his ears, neck, lips. He softly mouthed the words, "He's finished, Ginny it's finished," into her shoulder and felt so light having said those words that he thought he might float up in the air again.
More arms clasped around him and Harry suddenly became the center of a group hug. He heard Ron's voice breaking a bit as he spoke the words, "Welcome back, mate." And Hermione's strangled sobs of elation were being drowned out by Ginny's pleas to let him breathe, followed by Ron's reply of "Oh, you're one to talk!"
Harry felt himself grin. Not too much longer, he thought, and I'll be home at last.
Author's Note: The title comes from the song Won't Back Down by Fuel. It is from the Daredevil soundtrack. It also served as inspiration for some of the angsty feelings in this fic. ;-) Also, the song After The Fire by Amy Grant was very inspirational in the parts about Ginny.
And finally, thanks to Sherylyn, my wonderful beta. Your compliments always make me feel ten feet tall! *goofy grin*