Chapter 31 : Battle Wounded
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“Master,” Lucius Malfoy said, bowing as he followed Voldemort out to the landing with its grand, grey marble railing. “Are you certain you should be moving about so?”
The disturbing visage of Lockhart stopped and said, “Your overbearing care grows tiresome Lucius. If you cease to do my bidding, you will feel my wrath.”
Malfoy stepped back, bowing again, face pained and disturbed. Behind him, Bellatrix hovered, also appearing startled, but then she smiled maliciously at Malfoy. Voldemort stepped boldly to the top of the grand staircase and looked down upon the broad view of the large, empty hall, lit marvelously by the sun, which streamed in through the gauzy curtains. Bellatrix sidled over to her colleague and whispered, “It is almost as though you do not wish our Lord to recover himself, Lucius.”
“That’s not true,” Malfoy replied loudly, but Bellatrix snorted.
A brightly dressed figure emerged silently from a ground floor doorway and began to cross the hall, head bent over a letter.
“Who is that?” Voldemort asked, sounding more his distant and uncertain self. “I have not seen that witch among my followers before.”
Malfoy stepped forward and taking on the attitude of a butler, said, “That is my son’s fiancée, Master.”
Draco appeared from the other side of the landing, also moving in silence. “That is my wife,” he corrected.
Lucius waved his hand dismissively. “Some or another elopement was involved.”
Voice low and vicious, Draco replied, “You were in prison and mother said a big party would give her a headache.”
“Where is your mother?” Lucius asked.
Draco’s face took on a cruel grin. “Helping the house-elves, I expect.”
Lucius’ eyes narrowed. Bellatrix took a step back to get out from between the two of them, face cocked in amusement. Voldemort’s voice interrupted their cross-armed standoff. “Bring her up here.”
Draco’s shoulders fell. His father’s cruel grin meant he would get no support there. He strode down the long, wide staircase that curled even wider at the bottom and urged Pansy to follow him up. She nearly stumbled upon seeing who waited at the very top. Lucius was stating grandly, “Ms. Parkinson, you should be honored to finally meet our great Lord. We have been remiss in giving you this opportunity.”
The red-eyed face of Lockhart stared at her intently, framed by his wild, sparse hair. “My followers are not as young and attractive as you . . . but they once were . . .” His hand gestured elegantly. “Many, many as lovely as you used to come to see me talk, some would come to my room without an invitation, even.” He stopped abruptly, seeming to try to resolve conflicting memories. He tilted his head oddly, like a lizard might. “I do miss that: the cameras, the adoration.” He reached out a hand to brush an errant lock of black hair that hung loose beside her cheek. “Do you adore me?”
Pansy swayed slightly, looking as though she may have forgotten to breathe. Draco balled his fists and looked ready for a fight, but no one moved until Lucius said, “Master, we have much to do—decisions and strategies to work out.” Voldemort ignored him. Lucius went on, “I’m afraid you are becoming distracted.”
Voldemort tugged on Pansy’s hair. “Lucius adores me in this new, very alive body,” he said, although it sounded mocking. “I’m afraid those who don’t will have to die.”
Draco’s fists rose up and he made a grab that was intercepted by his father, who had his wand at Draco’s throat in the next instant. Voldemort turned stiffly at the disturbance behind him. He took in the scene and said, “Does your son not adore me, Lucius?”
Speaking quickly and silkily, Lucius said, “No, My Lord, he does. He is simply having a bit of trouble with his priorities at the moment.”
Voldemort turned back to Pansy, who swayed dangerously, threatening to collapse backward down the very long staircase. “You seem content to make all of the decisions, Lucius, so you certainly can do so for the next half hour or so while I explore being alive again. As long as you make them in my interest, I will let you live.”
Draco’s eyes watered from the pressure of the wand stabbing into the soft flesh under his chin and he watched helplessly as Voldemort pulled again on the long loose lock of Pansy’s hair, causing all of it to tumble out of its clasp.
Harry kept trying to find Voldemort in his mind, but he couldn’t, no matter how angry or upset he felt about not knowing how Snape fared. It was as though Voldemort was blocking him out now, which meant he must know Harry had been getting in before. Ron had not yet returned and Mrs. Weasley grew more and more nervous, pacing the kitchen and gazing with no little stress out of each of the small dingy windows.
An owl arrived with a quick note written on a sweet wrapper that read: Got waylaid helping Lavender. While sniffling, Mrs. Weasley carefully folded the note and put it into her apron pocket.
Frustrated beyond his control, Harry stood and went around the long table which dominated the kitchen of the Burrow. As he approached, Hermione took up her wand, but she held it low, pointed at the floor.
“I can’t stay here,” Harry said.
“Do you know where they are?” Hermione honestly asked, not mocking at all. “You keep closing your eyes, but you haven’t seemed anything less than grim when you open them again.”
“I don’t know where they are; I can’t get any impressions now. I have to go to the Ministry in case something is happening. I can’t stay here.”
“Harry they’ll come if they know-”
“I don’t believe they really will,” Harry returned angrily. With that burst of betrayed feeling the long dark room finally came into view again. He didn’t want to be distracted by it now, though, so he sent it away easily by feeling terribly, terribly sorry for his adoptive father. That worked remarkably well; trouble was, his emotions were bruised and ached intolerably when used in this manner.
Harry calculated carefully. He took a very small step closer to his friend, saying. “Hermione. You know how terribly important this is to me.”
“Harry, we’re just trying to do what’s best for you.” Her shoulders fell in sympathy, as expected. This loosened her other arm muscles as well.
Harry, with the lightening reflexes of a Seeker, snatched the wand from her hand and Disapparated before she could even lean forward to grab for him.
Harry stepped out of the alleyway where he had arrived, despite aiming for the Ministry Atrium. Other witches and wizards were there as well, cursing their own redirection. A few gathered into a small group and whispered to each other angrily.
Harry rushed to the phone box where a short and round old witch was shouting into the wrong end of the receiver. Others were crowding around the door impatiently. Harry pushed them aside with a Grand Flecture and slipped in. The woman’s mouth fell open upon looking up at him, but he ignored her expression and took the receiver away from her. “Harry Potter to see the head of Magical Law Enforcement,” he announced.
Something fell into the coin slot as they slipped downward. Harry pulled out two badges, one that read Harry Potter, MLE and the other which read Goodwich Stillingfleet, Question for Helpwitch. Harry handed over her badge and she put it on with a broadly wrinkled smile.
“Thank you, young man. Had the hardest time explaining. Always do.” She patted her badge proudly as they slid through the ceiling of the atrium, which teamed with people milling about with a larger knot of them near the security desk. The woman was still talking. “Just want to find my son. Something terrible happened, my neighbor said.” She sounded more resolute as she added, “I just wan’ to know what happened: good or bad. Can’t stand not knowin’.”
Harry spent the remainder of the downward journey feeling guilty for being so wrapped up in his own problems followed by a surge of frustration that there were too many people with serious problems to be solved. He pushed aside the doors when the box reached the atrium floor and with enormous willpower, gestured for her to precede him.
“I hope you find out about your son,” Harry said.
She nodded, looking less than hopeful. Harry hoped to not catch her pessimism. He rushed to the desk to the side set up for employees so that they would not have to wait in the much longer visitor’s queue.
Harry told the clerk his credentials, but the milky-complected, young clerk pondered the long scroll before him, saying, “You are not on the active roster at the moment.”
Harry held himself down with immense effort. “Can I be a visitor?”
The man pondered the long queue across the atrium. “Yes,” he said, tacitly agreeing to handle it. “Of whom?”
Harry almost said ‘Arthur Weasley’, but then a more manipulative instinct said, “Tristan Rogan.” Rogan had always given Harry more leeway and if Harry had ever needed it . . .
Rogan came down to meet Harry as expected and led him inside without comment. Back up in the Auror’s office Rogan took a seat in an otherwise empty room.
“You’re on duty all alone?” Harry asked. Rogan nodded. Piles of Weasley Wizard Weazes Wondrous Wake-up Wonkers wrappers littered his desk. Harry then asked, “Where is everyone?”
“Meeting,” Rogan replied around a sweet he had just popped into his mouth. He had a strange casualness about him as though he may not be motivated by anything short of absolute emergency.
Harry had no time to worry about his uneasiness regarding Rogan’s capacity. “Where’s the meeting?”
Rogan lazily gestured upward. “Minister’s office.”
Harry went out the door and to the stairs like a shot. There were guards this time outside the door to Bones’ office suite—two people from the Liaison office. Harry strode confidently between them as though he belonged there. A large table dominated the reception area, and nearly the entirety of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement was seated around it, along with many important others. Several heads jerked hard over at Harry’s appearance. Fortunately, Tonks was not present to remind him that he had been specifically told otherwise than to be there.
Bones cleared her throat and said in her diplomatic voice, “Mr. Potter, as much as your presence is desired, I do not think we can risk it at this time.”
Harry stood behind Mr. Weasley’s chair, resisting grabbing hold of it for balance. Across from their Department Head, Shacklebolt had slipped his wand into his hand, although he held it casually on the tabletop. That lack of faith did enormous damage to Harry’s control. He wavered for a long moment, making everyone more tense. “I need to be here when you find Voldemort,” he said. Several people flinched. “That’s his name,” Harry pointed out harshly. “Well, it’s the name he gave himself, anyway.” He wavered more at that confusion, desperate not to slip into that other room that kept encroaching at the edges of his vision.
Bones sat straighter in the head seat. “Nevertheless, this meeting cannot continue with you present. And I do think it is in your best interest that it continue. We are closing in, Mr. Potter.”
“I don’t have much time,” Harry said, trying desperately to explain. “They’re wearing him down.” Despite his valiant efforts, the world was now overlaid with another where someone was screaming. Harry’s steps faltered and Aaron, who’s chair he was now passing, reached out to steady him.
Inaction was utterly impossible. “I have to take care of this myself, then,” he said, unaware how far away he sounded.
Bones voice grew firm. “Mr. Potter, you are not allowed to take independent action. You could foil all of the plans-”
Harry’s Disapparating interrupted her. The room broke from its frozen tableau when the the other junior apprentices all stood. They stared at each other, but only Vineet disappeared with a good guess as to where Harry had gone.
Harry strode across Hermione’s small flat toward Kali’s cage. A plan was forming in his head like a living thing and he gathered it close and nurtured it as though it were his only hope. He stopped before the cage and cleared his mind of everything except his intense need to reach the only father he had ever known before it was too late. He forgot everything that ever made him doubt Snape and reached in for his ragged pet. She sniffed him but didn’t fight being lifted out.
A pop! sounded as another person arrived in the flat. Harry looked up sharply at his fellow, saying, “I hope you aren’t here to stop me.”
Vineet bowed his head and lifted it again. “I offer my unconditional assistance.”
Harry petted Kali as she tried to crawl inside his robes. “Thanks. I need it.”
“I believe the others would help as well . . .” Vineet began, lifting his hand behind him as though offering to fetch them.
“I don’t trust everyone just now,” Harry said. He glanced around the room. “And more people will just get in the way. Let’s get out of here before we’re followed.” He grabbed Vineet’s arm and took them to the first place that was remote, easy to defend, and seemed unlikely for them to go.
Vineet caught himself as a gust of wind tried to knock him off his feet. He turned to take in the bay spread out before them and the grey circular fortification of the castle behind them. “Where are we?”
“Falmouth,” Harry explained. It was a nice day, but since there was an entire Quidditch stadium hidden nearby, the Muggles were dissuaded from coming this way, just at the edge of the drop-off. Harry, feeling confident that they wouldn’t be found here by the Ministry, shook off his cloak, gently wrapped his wand and his pet in it and placed it on the ground. “Get out your wand and guard me. If, when I open my eyes, I don’t seem like myself, take every action you can against me. I have to become Voldemort to see where he is. I don’t know how long this is going to take.”
Vineet’s eyes filled with alarm but he nodded and took a quick glance around to check for anyone in the vicinity before holding his wand out before him.
Harry closed his eyes. In the darkened room, the figure on the floor before him wasn’t moving and enormous will was required to not feel so much pain that the vision would be lost. Instead, Harry directed his pain into anger and hunger to strike back, which brought the vision in the clearest yet. His other self turned and stepped dismissively away from the contorted heap on the floor.
“Perhaps you should rest, Master,” Malfoy was saying.
“I am fine,” came the peeved insistence from Harry’s lips, but he took the nearby chair anyway and leaned back. The crumpled figure on the floor still had not moved.
Hold steady, Harry coached himself. Don’t give yourself away. It’s the only chance.
Malfoy was down on one knee beside Harry’s chair. “Do you desire anything, Lord?”
“Tea,” Voldemort said. “Where is the young wench with the tea?”
Bellatrix came into view with a pained expression. “Would you like me to fetch you tea, My Lord?” she asked, sounding willing to do just about anything.
Harry found his own pure hatred for her. He wasn’t sure if it was that or just Voldemort’s orneriness that said, “You are an old hag, Bella. I was certainly not referring to you.” Harry’s lips tried to curl at her appalled expression. “The lovely wench where is she?”
Malfoy stepped away quickly. Harry wanted to urge Voldemort to look at Snape on the floor to better see his condition. He didn’t need to; Snape shifted, drawing Harry’s host’s attention. A wand lifted in Harry’s hand. He ached to beg him not to strike out. Snape lifted his head with effort and opened his pain-filled eyes. They narrowed with defiance as they found Voldemort, lifting Harry’s spirits immensely.
Malfoy returned, rushing in the manner of a brow-beaten servant. “Your tea is coming, My Lord.” He followed the aim of Voldemort’s wand with his eyes. “Ah, our traitor has awakened,” he sneered with malice. Snape’s eyes didn’t waver from glaring at Voldemort. Malfoy went on, “Shall we send a message to the boy hero to lure him into a trap?”
When Voldemort didn’t respond, Malfoy grew patronizing. “It is just a suggestion, Master. I simply assumed you would wish to destroy your former nemesis.” He gestured at Snape with a sadistic smile. “We have the perfect bait to lure him in.” He turned to Snape and asked mockingly, “Or did you not think of that before you handed yourself over without a fight?”
“I could not fight,” Snape stated hoarsely, making Harry wish Snape would shut up and ignore the git.
Malfoy stalked over, bent low. “Because you are weak,” he said and struck out with a Crucio. Harry tried to shut his eyes, but he could not. He tried to make Voldemort yell stop! but he could not. His vision twisted to seeing Snape from a much lower view that was strangely distorted. Nagini, Harry realized quickly and tried to back out, but he had already been snared again.
Harry could feel the stiff wind and the sun on his body in Falmouth. He tried to use that as an anchor to remain himself, at least partially. Voldemort had used Nagini to trap him last time, he remembered, holding himself from panicking just yet. The sun felt reassuringly warm and, nearby, Vineet waited patiently. If Harry opened his eyes without recovering, everyone would still be safe given how hard his fellow could strike out with an attack. Harry relaxed at that and felt Nagini’s grip loosen.
“Potter,” Voldemort uttered, low and long.
“Yes, Master. We will get him,” Malfoy said with pleasant reassurance, as though Voldemort were a child.
Snape lifted his head and said, “He will destroy you,” with immense confidence, and some version of Harry swallowed hard.
Voldemort didn’t reply; he was pulling Harry in again, tethering him in parallel with Nagini. Harry struggled, but panic only fed his enemy, so he stopped and waited for a better opportunity to break loose. He and Voldemort stared at Snape who was pushing himself to sit up. He seemed to barely possess the strength required for this movement.
Snape’s shoulders stuck up starkly, too tired to prop his weight up, but his eyes remained defiant. “He will destroy you . . . same as last time,” he repeated. More tauntingly, he said, “Or don’t you remember . . . ?”
“. . . Gilderoy.” Snape added slowly, as though savoring the name.
Harry broke free when Voldemort’s thoughts froze. His own thoughts were churning madly, wondering if Snape’s sanity had slipped, but if so, why did Voldemort react so? One part of him wondered if Snape knew Harry was there and that he had needed help. In that case Snape should say where he was. Harry thought himself capable of pulling completely back into himself now, but he could not before learning where Snape was being held. He hovered, hopefully out of reach, the dark room overlaid by the veins in his eyelids, illuminated by the sun.
Frustrated, Harry growled and heard Voldemort growl at the same time. Harry said, “Where are we?” hoping Voldemort would say it too, but the growl must have been a coincidence because the Dark Lord remained silent and Vineet replied uncertainly, “Falmouth. In the case that it is me you are asking.”
Figures shifted elsewhere in the room and urgent whispering followed. Someone approached, unexpectedly in a flowery orange kimono. Tea cups rattled and Harry could just make out Pansy Parkinson shakily setting a tray on the table beside him. Beyond this sunlight-bright vision, at the far end of the room, stood a very pensive Draco Malfoy, watching Pansy’s every movement. He appeared as tortured as Snape.
Harry Occluded his mind with all the force he could muster. He opened his eyes onto the windswept grey water of the bay with its scattering of boats. “I know where they are.”
Vineet lowered his wand. Harry stooped to pick up his cloak-wrapped pet. He unfolded the cloak slowly, sorting out his thoughts as he did so to assure that they were only his own. If he held his thoughts in a state of narrow, forward-moving discipline, Kali didn’t struggle. “Lockhart,” he murmured. “What does Lockhart have to do with this?” Kali climbed into his pocket as though disliking the sunlight.
“You have a plan?” Vineet asked tentatively.
Harry reached into his pocket and stroked the warm fur curled there. A leathery wing beat against his hand. “Yes, but you aren’t going to like it.”
Vineet held out his dark hand when Harry lifted his own in a grasping pose. Harry took his fellow’s wrist and Apparated them to an empty, gently curving drive surrounded by dark woods. He had arrived here last time by flying according to Snape’s instructions, directly into the space between the barriers surrounding the property and the barriers surrounding the manor itself.
Vineet appeared curious but did not speak, simply waited for guidance. Harry focused only on the core of his thoughts that he knew to be purely himself and pulled his pet from his pocket, petting her repeatedly. “We’re at Malfoy Manor. When we get inside . . . Voldemort’s mine. You can take out anyone else you feel like.”
Vineet nodded with a small bowing motion.
Harry held his pet up for inspection. “I need to get her through the barriers and inside the manor.”
“We should step closer to them, then,” Vineet suggested. Harry gestured that the Indian should lead.
They crunched along the fine grey gravel to where the first of the many smoke stained chimneys emerged high in the trees bordering the drive. Vineet held up a hand, calling for a halt. “It is right before us.”
Harry bent over the sparsely furred body clutched in his hands, pressing his nose against her quivering form. If he could connect with her the way he connected to Nagini, this would be easier. He tried to imagine himself as her, seeing out of her eyes. For an instant, he managed, but her mind was as fluttery as her wings. Stress also invaded; he was running out of time.
“I know I’m about ask an awful lot of you,” Harry said to his pet. “But I need you to do this. Go to him and behave as you normally do until I get there.” He couldn’t help smiling at the memory of her feisty nature expressing itself in the past. He straightened and said to Vineet, “Can you open a gateway all the way through for her?”
Vineet considered the lonely drive. “I can try, but there are many layers ahead.” He lifted a tentative hand like a mime might to find an invisible wall.
Harry petted his Chimrian again and said, “I’m counting on you, Kali. This is very important.” He held her out to get ready to release her.
Vineet didn’t quite drop his hand, but his posture shifted to a drooping one and he stared at Harry. “Your pet is named how?”
Harry blinked at him, thinking this was really not the time. “Kali,” he repeated.
Vineet stared at him. He seemed to have transformed into someone else, from patient and obedient into alarmed and challenging, though at a complete loss for words.
Kali was sniffing the wind and stretching her wings. Harry could feel her eagerness to fly after being bundled up and thought these quiet seconds were giving him much-needed space to connect to her, so he let Vineet struggle without pointing out that they were in a serious hurry.
“Do you know who that is?” Vineet asked.
Harry cast his mind back. “Er, goddess of something . . . destruction or . . . Hermione named her,” he then pointed out a little defensively.
“She creates worlds and then consumes them. Over and over. This is her age, in fact.”
“It feels like it,” Harry said, thinking how very tired he was of a certain dark wizard repeatedly returning. “How do we break out of that?” he asked, truly wishing to know the answer.
“When the universe finally ends for good and is not recreated. This is the last age.”
The wind rustled the leaves around them. “Right then,” Harry said. “Gateway?” he asked, stressed and a tad sheepishly because he really needed this man’s help but somehow they had drifted far off topic; although for Vineet this seemed to be the topic.
Vineet appeared as one accepting fate and not too happy about it, if only just on principle. He lifted his hand again and closed his eyes. Presently, he opened them a crack and said, “I cannot get through all of them. But a gate is present now through the first few. She must fly as straight as possible.”
Harry stood close and tossed her through the first gateway, or where he assumed it was, floating just before Vineet’s rich brown hand. She wheeled in the breeze and came back to true when Harry urged her to do so with his mind. Electricity stung his arms when she passed through the next ward. There weren’t piles of dead birds everywhere, so perhaps she would go unnoticed. True, fly true, Harry chanted in his head when she banked to the left to counter the wind.
The gravel cut into Harry’s knees when he fell to it. Kali had struck a hard barrier full force. He could feel her clearly now, as a tumbling winged outline carved out of his mind. Bending over, hands clutched over his head to block out everything else, Harry reached out and felt her careening. Through her eyes he could see the ground crookedly rearing up. He forced her to flap, to shift her weight back and spread her rear feet for stability the way his own ungainly Animagus form needed to. The ground filled her vision but she only scraped a paw and lifted off again with a round of desperate flapping.
She was doing much better with his help, although it was probably mostly his strength that was creating the improvement. He made her turn at the corner of the manor and fly faster, giving her the extra energy to do so. The front door sailed by with a sparkle of spell energy. She turned again with purpose, driven by Harry. The small kitchen door, used only by the house-elves, stood ajar to ease the heat inside. Kali aimed directly for it.
Inside, the house-elves reacted wildly to the invasion. Most ducked, but one swung the broom it held. Harry wished his pet could breathe fire, but had to settle for dodging instead. The swinging door at the other end was closed. He landed on the flat of it, gripping firmly to the old wood with able claws. The door swung from Kali’s momentum. A long, sunlit hall spread before him with an ostentatious sweeping staircase up one end of it. The doors on the ground floor were open and appeared well-lit. Harry made Kali flap upward to land on the banister for a rest. She was breathing heavily, her head moving up and down as she did so. Harry calmed her and listened through her ears. No sounds came from the right but there was murmuring from the left. He gave her a few breaths more break before urging her to take flight again. She glided along the corridor for more of a recovery before turning sharply into the room at the end, a darkened room that appeared much longer through a Chimrian’s tiny eyes. On the floor in the middle of the farthest rug, sat Snape, hunched and worn down.
Harry’s surge of emotion at his success led Kali to let out a cry that made everyone in the room turn. He could feel her zeroing in on Snape on her own, so he set her loose. Her reactions were better than his when someone spelled a netting charm at her as she careened through the crowd. She dodged expertly and swooped low to take a clawed hold of Snape’s chest the way she had of the door.
“What is that?” MacNair demanded over the sound of the room erupting.
Snape’s reactions had slowed, but he managed to perceive that Harry’s pet was not attacking him in her frantic grab for his robes. She cried out again, piteously, this time. He put his hands on her and then around her, in a crude attempt to protect her from what appeared to be overwhelming odds. Everyone around them had their wand out, aimed.
Harry nearly collapsed flat. His forehead and hands dug in the gravel as he tried to sort out the pain that seemed to be erupting from the center of his skull.
“Harry?” Vineet asked in alarm.
Harry forced his mind closed again with near heroic effort for the second time that day. The task did not seem to get any easier with practice. “I don’t know what happened. But he’s found her.” He pushed himself drunkenly to his knees and then, one leg at a time, to his feet. He brushed gravel out of his hair while he stared up the drive, trying to recover. His hands were shaking so he clutched them together firmly while trying to puzzle why Kali was suddenly in so much pain when she didn’t get hit by any spells.
Straightening himself, he narrowed his eyes and focused on the trees at the bend in the drive. He tossed his quivering hands to his sides and wished he could see the manor. But he had seen it before and could picture it, which would have to suffice. He needed anger, his own, and only his own, hot consuming anger which required little effort.
Snape bent his head over the quivering form trying to burrow through his robes. He petted her repeatedly trying to calm her. His pain, however, was making her inconsolably frantic. The pain, as Malfoy had promised, continued on long after the curses had faded and now felt as though it would never fade completely. The Chimrian’s clear concern for his fate did raise his spirits marginally. Strangely, he wondered whether Dumbledore would have allowed him to have a pet like her when he was a student. She was rather a nice pet. The room and Death Eaters blurred out and he imagined that he was arriving on the train with her instead of his small black owl.
Malfoy stepped close, eyes suspicious. “That . . . that is Potter’s pet. The one that started out as my son’s,” he said, jarring Snape painfully out of the past. “Master, he has come,” Malfoy announced.
Snape stared at him, wondering why he had not figured out himself that Harry must be close if his pet was. At least that meant this would be over soon. He gathered what he could of his dwindling will and clutched Kali tighter. Voldemort was going to die again soon, and he wanted to see that.
Malfoy gestured for some to go to the landing to get in position for an ambush. He then glanced around as though missing someone. Casting away his disturbed expression, he explained, “That is Harry Potter’s pet.” to the unchanging expression on Lockhart’s face.
“I drew him here,” Voldemort said. “I need him.”
“Odd calling card, though,” Malfoy muttered, turning first one way and then another as though unsure which course to take, and to Snape’s relief, ignoring the speech of his master.
MacNair stepped close. “He’ll try to come up here. Most should stay.”
“He cannot Apparate in. Guard the doors.” Malfoy gestured at the row of thickly curtained French doors that led outside to the first floor terrace.
The Death Eaters took their positions and the room fell silent.
It was Snape who started first at the noise. Malfoy apparently heard it too and glanced at the fire, which was burning low due to inattention.
“No,” Snape uttered in horror. He gauged the distance to the wall from the middle of the rug and decided he could do no better for position. “Harry, don’t,” he whispered, not caring that his alarm was clear to everyone.
The sound of claws scratching on metal came again, louder this time. “What is he doing?” Malfoy demanded, wand lifted to aim between Snape’s eyes after tracing along the wall, looking for a target.
This time a stranger sound came, like bony little limbs clacking together. “He is opening the gates of hell,” Snape said.
Malfoy swung his wand away. “We have driven you into madness; I see,” he quipped with a little laugh and stalked away, over to Voldemort, where he bent down and made solicitous noises.
Kali hissed. It was more than a noise; it involved a heave of her entire tiny body. Spit flew from between her long teeth. Snape loosened his grip on her. “Harry, do not travel farther than you can retreat from,” he whispered. His own agony shrunk before the significance of imminent events and a kind of limbo wrapped itself around him. His first glimpse of Dumbledore floated before him as his rational mind sought the past as a refuge from the chaos and pain of the here and now. In the Great Hall, Dumbledore’s distinctively blue eyes had individually taken in each and every new student huddled in wait for the sorting hat. Snape remembered now with a cold jarring of his heart that his own first reaction to that gaze had been fear.
When the gateway split open, it startled even Snape, who ducked, arms over his head. Glistening, dark bodies poured out of the seam between the floor and the wall as though a living avalanche. Kali became a screeching blur of claw and tooth. Other screams soon joined hers. Malfoy leapt to his master’s defense but the other figures in the room were quickly overwhelmed and toppled.
Harry broke into a run, stopping impatiently at each of the five barriers for a cancellation spell that they had to cooperate on or for a gateway that Vineet alone opened. Harry led the way around to the kitchen door. Inside, he was knocked flat by a spell from one of the meaner looking house-elves. From his position at the base of a butcher’s block, Harry lifted his wand to retaliate, but his wand slipped from his hand and zipped to the elf’s he grinned triumphantly. Vineet moved so quickly, Harry missed half of his movements. The elf took flight into the hanging copper pans from a rather awkward-looking swinging kick that nonetheless appeared well-practiced. Vineet picked Harry’s wand up and handed it to him, hesitating.
“This isn’t yours.”
“No. It’s Hermione’s; let’s go.”
Vineet took on that darkly fateful mode again where he seemed to droop. Harry charged past him as he stood faintly shaking his head, and led the way up the grand staircase. At the top, Harry tripped in surprise. A black robe lay splayed open, gnawed half away. Blood soaked the marble floor. A creature with rancid yellow eyes chewed at the bloody corner of the sleeve. It charged at Harry, who backed up while gathering his wits. Vineet stood frozen nearby, one foot poised on the second-to-last step.
Harry had sent the creatures back away, he had believed; although doing that from a distance had felt a little weak. The snarling thing lunged for his foot. Harry snarled back, exuding confidence, and stepped forward into the attack, hand held up, palm out. The creature reeled to the side in a panic and scuttered away on one tentacle and two claws. Harry raised his head and willed it away, it and another that was creeping along the nearby wall. The creatures sunk into the white marble and disappeared.
Vineet was much slower in following this time, but he caught up with Harry at the end of the corridor, where more empty, tattered robes lay scattered. Just in the doorway, a teeth-marked thigh bone stood, half sunk into the floor as though it was being pulled down when the gateway was closed on it. Harry didn’t glance back at his fellow this time, just plunged ahead.
His wand was raised, which was the only way he managed to counter the attack that flared from the other end of the room. Malfoy stood near the hearth, bodily guarding someone else. Blood ran heavily from a gash on his cheek. Harry, despite aching to do otherwise, couldn’t risk taking his eyes off his enemies to check his guardian’s status. Kali’s hiss of greeting indicated that she, at least, was all right. Harry stepped forward slowly, trying to judge the figure on the floor out of the corner of his eye. Malfoy threw another curse at him, which Harry countered. Hermione’s wand was nearly as good as his own in defense, but Harry doubted it would do as well on attack.
“Protect Severus,” Harry whispered when he felt a figure at his shoulder. Vineet moved to obey.
Harry raised his wand and fired a blasting curse for cover. It flared with only half the expected power and was countered with no effort. He had to think like Hermione for her wand to work properly, he considered. The tip felt light and flexible when he waved it. Ollivander’s voice describing Harry’s mother’s wand came back to him: Swishy, nice wand for charm-work. With a clear image of the spell in his mind, Harry cast a bumblebee charm. A giant swarm flowed out of the wand and rushed across the room in an arrow-shaped mass landing on Malfoy’s wand and hand despite his waving them away. There were so many, his hand grew to resemble Hagrid’s for size. He waved his bee-infested hand violently to shake them off, and he shouted curses that sent many falling to the floor like hail, but a second later, his wand was soaring out of the smashed open doorway, borne in the center of the swarm. Harry waved a prison box around him and then stood facing the man who had been in Malfoy’s shadow.
“Voldemort,” Harry uttered mockingly. “Really?”
The red eyes narrowed, making Harry have to resist scratching his scar. He wondered why it didn’t burn instead and hoped that meant this version of his nemesis was too weak to make that happen, but he suspected that somehow it was the opposite . . . that they were too similar this time as Ron surmised.
Between them, Vineet had lifted Snape to his feet and backed him to the wall, shielding him with his body. Vineet’s blocks being what they were, Harry felt touched by this. That shook him loose from being drawn into Voldemort’s mind, which had started to happen again without his notice.
“You are the last piece, Harry,” Lockhart’s visage said.
“You can’t have me,” Harry insisted and sent a freezing charm at him.
Voldemort cast one of his own to match but the spells didn’t cancel as expected. Ice ran up Lockhart’s arm and had to be tossed aside in a shower of shards. Sharp red eyes came around to Harry. “You do not have your own wand.”
“Nope. Lost it,” Harry replied pleasantly. His own arm stung with cold too, but he ignored it. He cast a block as Voldemort’s attacking spell came and lanced out with an eel charm this time, aimed only at Voldemort’s wand, so that it would not impact him as well. Hermione’s wand liked charms. They leapt eagerly from the tip rather than needing to be pushed out with concentrated effort. But charms were not what he would prefer to attack with and he had to struggle with his own instincts to strike out with curses. “Are you sure you’re Voldemort?” Harry taunted when the flying eel persisted in pestering his opponent. “You look like Gilderoy Lockhart to me.”
Voldemort hesitated less than Harry had hoped. He cast a curse in response and seemed only to have grown angrier. Harry stepped back from the force of the spell. He had been counting on that distraction and now tried to think quickly of something else.
“You doubt who I am?” Voldemort asked in a voice that Harry did not fail to recognize as the Dark Lord’s. The next instant the world twisted and Harry stumbled. Cold prickled him over all of his skin and his view shifted disconcertingly to the other end of the room. Voldemort’s voice came through the confusion. “You, who are part of me, doubt who I am?”
Harry righted himself and held up his wand. Kali hissed at him. His view was nauseatingly disorienting, but he could still aim if he really tried hard. He struck out with another freezing charm, but a flare of fire consumed it. “I may be part of you, but you are NOT part of me,” Harry snarled. The violent tugging on his mind allowed him to find the outlines of Voldemort the way Kali’s striking the barrier had allowed him to find her in his mind. He straightened, pulling thoughts of sympathy and caring for his friends from his memory, filling his thoughts with them.
Voldemort lifted his chin. “That only goes so far now, Harry. You are no longer the powerfully pure child you were before. You are an adult this time, and you have steeped yourself too long in darkness to wield the sword of light against me.” Voldemort’s voice dropped and he grinned Lockhart-style, which contrasted bizarrely with his crimson eyes. “I feel the rest of my memories with you this close. You have those . . . and other skills that I want.” He smiled more wickedly and held out his hand invitingly. It was a young hand, well-manicured. “And I will have them as soon as take what is mine . . .”
“No!” Harry shouted, forcing alarm and his increasing heart rate down. He held his wand out straighter. He was learning to ignore Nagini’s view of events with its fish-eye distortion. “I’m stronger than you, you bastard,” he insisted, believing it all the way to his thudding heart. Using only his own anger, which had laid resting too long for fear of losing himself, he tossed a rapid string of charms at Voldemort. They were ones from the drills they had practiced day after day in training, and they rolled out without need for his careful attention. “I’m whole, for one thing,” Harry mocked, battering himself too as each spell struck his opponent. With each subsequent spell he had to force himself not to shirk from the abuse that was coming full circle back to him.
A Crucio struck out at Harry, dropping him to his knees, but the attack stopped immediately and Harry was free suddenly of the tug on his mind as well. He jumped back to his feet. “Can’t take it, can you?” Harry mocked. Voldemort, bent over from the pain of his own curse, raised his wand, looking malicious. “Go ahead,” Harry said invitingly, even lowering his wand fractionally. “You will get hit too.”
Voldemort hesitated, apparently not one for self-inflicted pain. Harry used that instant to lash out with a whip charm. As it stung his own chest badly enough to suck his breath away, Lockhart’s figure doubled over. Harry stepped forward, hitting the helpless figure with a weak blasting curse that nevertheless crumpled him farther. Harry quickly picked himself up from his knees where the pain from the curse had dropped him too and strode forward aggressively.
“You’re pathetic,” Harry said as he approached. He was furious at the notion that this mere shadow had caused so much disruption, had hurt his friends and family so badly. Voldemort’s wand came around to aim up at him, but Harry knocked it away with a Bludger charm that he cast on a crystal ball resting on a narrow side table. The crystal cracked the wood paneling before crashing to the floor and splitting open. Voldemort grabbed his injured hand and curled around it, looking much more like Gilderoy Lockhart as he did so.
Harry picked up Voldemort’s wand, focusing only on the core of himself, ignoring the pain that had flared in his own hand as though a railroad spike may have gone through it. He stood over his enemy and carefully switched Voldemort’s wand for Hermione’s in his uninjured left hand and aimed it at Lockhart’s chest, which rose and fell rapidly beneath his black robe.
“You’ve been far too much trouble,” Harry uttered angrily. Red eyes opened and turned toward him. Something tugged on his mind again. “You can’t have me,” Harry said. He bit his lip momentarily. “And this is the last time I suffer through your return,” he vowed. A pause ensued during which both of their breathing slowed. Harry was too angry to think and his anger was giving Voldemort a way into him. He let go of some of it to buy time, and wondered how to kill the sorry excuse for a wizard lying helpless before him. There didn’t seem to be a way to do it that wouldn’t sacrifice himself as well. He could not find the same love-filled Forbidden Curse in himself now. Voldemort was right: it was the product of being a child. Nothing in him was so purely simple now and causing death would be handing himself over to darkness.
The vertical irises of Voldemort’s eyes constricted, his chin tilted to the side inhumanly. He was still attempting to grab hold of Harry. “That isn’t going to work,” Harry promised. He wrapped Lockhart’s legs in a binding curse to stall, still uncertain how to proceed. He thought with alarm of how much the dark tendrils would feed on him if he simply murdered Voldemort outright. The heavy scent of the scattered blood-soaked robes surrounding them repelled him too from causing more death.
The only sound in the room was the breeze outside in the trees until Vineet’s voice interrupted his musings. “What are you waiting for?”
“I don’t want him coming back again,” Harry said, sounding less confident than he had felt just seconds ago. What would Dumbledore do? he wondered. Last time, he had left it up to Harry with scant advice as to how to proceed. The burst of annoyance at that thought made the pain in Voldemort’s broken hand throb sharply in Harry’s own before fading again. “There are worse things than death, Tom,” Harry quoted Dumbledore, hoping understanding of that mysterious statement would flow from speaking it.
Something flickered behind Lockhart’s red eyes. Harry’s own widened as he followed the pathways of knowledge which had just opened like a blossom before him. Voldemort feared death, that’s why he had cleaved his soul so many times. Death many times over hung in the room waiting to be drawn upon. “No. Worse than death,” Harry breathed, feeling elated and faintly dizzy at the knowledge that was so clear now. Harry could feel the power to make a Crux Horridus thrumming through his hand and the wand that was the twin of his own. It was so simple what he needed to do, he nearly laughed.
“If I don’t kill you, you can’t come back from the dead,” Harry said, face cracking into a strained smile. Voldemort’s eyes shifted again. “Oh, you think you fear death more than anything else,” Harry added, reading the currents of thought behind the queer eyes. “That isn’t quite true.”
Harry reached down with the wand and circled it slowly as the knowledge urged him. The heaviness of death and the scent of blood, still wet and radiant, gathered in close as the spell built. Lockhart tried to squirm away, but Harry pressed his foot down on his arm and held it there, careful not to lean hard enough to distract himself with new pain. Lockhart was just another vessel like the others into which someone had poured power and it had not yet taken up firm residence. It pulling loose with ease as the spell tugged on it. Sparking white cotton began gathering on the wand Harry held. He backed off, still turning his hand in a circle to keep the spell active; he did not want to remove all of what had been added, that would simply leave him where he had been at the beginning of all of this. Instead, like an adept spinner with a bag of wool, he plucked out just the exact tangled threads he wanted. The ball of faintly crackling blue-white energy rapidly gathered on itself. Harry drew the wand away and held it straight up until all of the trailing sparkles faded. The slippery weight of death in the air had faded, gathered up with the wooly energy, binding it together.
Harry closed his eyes a moment. His heart raced in his ears. He cracked open the gateway to the Dark Plane and threw the glowing cottony ball of power off the wand and into the gap before slamming it closed again. No one moved. Harry half-expected an explosion, but there was no sound, and no more light flickered than was already coming in the damaged French door with its torn curtain.
Harry’s eyes came to rest on Nagini’s unblinking ones staring over the edge of a rope basket in front of the darkened hearth. Harry wasn’t sure what to do with her any more than he quite knew what to do with himself. He turned to his companion, still standing guard before Snape. Worrisomely, Snape had slumped to his knees and leaned heavily on the wall behind him. Harry tossed Voldemort’s wand down and stepped over to his adoptive father, horribly grateful that he was alive, that Harry had come in time.
Without straightening his back, Snape raised his chin. His eyes still held the same pain Harry had seen earlier in Voldemort’s vision. Vineet moved to guard Voldemort even though Harry said, “Don’t bother.”
“I knew you would come,” Snape said, but not in his normal voice, in one that wavered uncharacteristically.
Harry plucked Kali out of the way off of Snape’s shoulder and pulled him forward with his other arm, pressing his ragged brow into his ribs. “Of course I came,” he said lightly. He felt dizzy but intensely relieved to have succeeded. “Had to get rid of the bastard anyway,” he added, trying to find some much needed cocky confidence. He felt cut down, reduced, now that everything was calm.
He squeezed Snape’s shoulder harder. “You all right?” Harry asked, thinking that Snape did not seem at all himself and in fact felt odd, as though he were repellent. Kali fluttered in Harry’s other hand.
“Dumbledore would not let me keep such a familiar,” Snape stated, reaching toward Kali.
“What?” Harry queried. He crouched, still holding Snape steady, trying to look him in the eye to judge that strange statement better.
Snape gazed at Kali, fluttering as though she had difficulty perching on Harry’s hand. “Too much like Fawkes,” he said, sounding very far away.
Harry’s blood ran icy. Snape had been tortured too long and seemed to be losing his grip on reality.
“Vishnu,” Harry stood and said in alarm, “Can you take care of . . .” He began to gesture at the blonde figure on the floor, whose dim red eyes were fixed on him.
“You wish me to take Voldemort . . .” Vineet began hesitantly, clearly startled.
Harry frowned, duty feeling a terribly weighty burden. “I guess I should . . . be the one to explain.” He gestured at Snape. “Severus needs a Healer. Can you take him to Mungo’s?”
Vineet moved quickly to support Snape’s wavering balance so that Harry could let go of him. Harry said, “See that he gets the Auror’s Healer, Shankwell, all right?” Harry dearly hoped the Healer could help him.
Vineet nodded. “I am, of course, remembering him.” He helped Snape to his feet, holding most of his weight to keep him there. He turned to Harry with a sharp, almost reprimanding gaze.
Harry found quick annoyance at this. “What’s wrong?”
Vineet hesitated, “You summoned the Rakshasas.”
“I told you you weren’t going to like what I was going to do,” Harry pointed out smartly. He was feeling himself more and more by the moment and reveled in his newly safe annoyance.
Vineet stared at him a breath longer before drawing his wand and drawing a slow circle of yellow light around him and his burden. He then put his hand on the wall and closed his eyes. With a pop! they were gone.
Harry stood in the quiet room staring at the prison box containing Malfoy, the wizard who had reduced his guardian to a state of tenuous sanity. Harry stepped over and kicked the box a few inches, making it topple. Lockhart’s red, but no longer glowing eyes, watched him do this.
Kali gave a cry. Harry pulled her in closer and took his first good look at her. Her wings were torn and most of her front left foot was missing. She repeatedly tried to put it down but then had to jerk it up and fuss at it with her mouth. These injuries on top of her previous ragged state left her sorely wretched. Harry petted her tenderly. “You’ve suffered more than anyone else during all of this, haven’t you?” he said to her, feeling aching sympathy for her, sympathy not burdened, layered, or tethered to anyone else’s emotion. Her pain bled through to him, ghostly, as though he had wings right now too.
Harry waved a prison box around Lockhart and sighed into the quiet of the room. He thought of Hagrid, whom he suspected would still be at Hogwarts. With new determination he turned away from the boxes and strode out of the broken door and onto the wide terrace. Decorative urns stood at the corners with flowering plants growing out of them. Kali’s pleasure at escaping the room made him elated as well and they both deeply breathed in the fresh air. Harry strode to the edge and looked out over the drive splitting the forest. He was presumably still inside the manor’s barriers. Kali curled up in the crook of Harry’s arm, trusting that he would take care of things or simply happy enough just to have him back. Harry was glad to have himself back too, although he wished he didn’t feel so strangely empty, as though his emotions resided alone in a large hall with too much space around them.
He felt a bit jealous of Vineet’s ability to open a gateway, peeved almost, and this made him hesitate taking flight. He aught to be able to Apparate away too, barriers or not. Kali’s injuries hummed in him, grating on his bones. Terrible to have damaged wings, he thought; nothing could be worse. Hagrid, he thought, he needed to get to Hagrid. He could feel this wish resonating inside of her as well and almost laughed.
“Let’s see what we can do,” Harry muttered aloud. He closed his eyes and fell through the cracked cement of the terrace and into the Dark Plane. He arrived on his knees with Kali burrowing frantically into his sleeve while snarling. “It’s all right,” he said to her, maneuvering her into his pocket.
Something howled pitifully in the distance. Claws scrabbled nearby, investigating. “I’d have thought you’d be well fed,” Harry commented to the noises.
Kali’s panic was bleeding into him so he did not have time to walk. Hurrying, he imagined Hagrid’s cottage, fixed it clear as a photograph in his mind, but upside-down, and Apparated. He didn’t know if that was going to work, hadn’t thought of trying it before now, but when he opened his eyes he was in a different stretch of grey tufted land. Different scrabbling sounded nearby. Harry turned and found himself facing the wretched werewolf. “Everyone else got something to eat,” Harry said to it, grinning a bit at his own poor joke. “Next time I’ll try to bring you something.” The werewolf sniffed the ground and blinked at him.
Harry grabbed hold of the wiry, trembling bundle in his pocket and fell again. Hagrid’s cottage stood before him. He glanced behind him at the hulking grey castle wall with its looming tower and let out a joyous laugh at having arrived well inside the castle’s infamous barriers.
“Harry?” Hagrid said in confusion from the middle of his pumpkin patch. Harry had not seen him there. He was giving Harry a very odd look.
“Kali’s hurt,” Harry said, pulling his pet out into the light.
As soon as the half-giant got a look at the miserable bundle Harry held up before him, he completely forgot that Harry had appeared out of nowhere, just as Harry intended.
“Ah, le’s have a look at her now.” He carried Kali inside and shifted a small pot of black goo, from the shelf above Fawkes’ perched, onto the fire. “You are a sad little thing,” he cooed to Harry’s pet, despite the fact that she had just sunk her long teeth fully into his pinky finger, quite a feat given that she was not even as large as Hagrid’s pinky.
A minute later, he told Harry to pull the pot off of the fire and with a cotton swab, he dabbed the tarry substance onto her injured foot and along a nasty laceration Harry hadn’t seen that went clear to her ribs. Hagrid then, with surprising grace, considering that he was working with a creature so small compared to his hands, spread her wings out on the table and ran the tar along the torn edges. Spread out like a ruined specimen from some macabre collection, she did not look as though she could ever fly again.
“I’ll have to get Professor Sprout to sew her wings up. I can’t do that kinda work on somethin’ so tiny, but she has the hands for it.” He gathered Kali up as he spoke, almost disregarding Harry in his single-minded concern for a creature put into his care.
Harry held the heavy cottage door open for him since Hagrid was cradling Kali in both massive hands. “If you see Professor McGonagall,” Harry said, “can you give her a message?”
“Ay, she’s here,” Hagrid said as though just remembering something important. “Got all hot un’er the collar with Bones, ‘parrently, after finding Perfessor Flitwick dead. She left the Express to look for him after more help arrived. She’s s’posed to rejoin it, but Pomfrey insisted she rest for an hour.”
“Good for her, getting mad at Bones,” Harry said, despite a voice that insisted that Bones hadn’t behaved nearly as bad as Fudge. “You lost Professor Flitwick?”
Hagrid nodded and used the corner of his waistcoat to dab his nose. Harry now noticed the rings around his eyes that must have been there before, but Harry himself had been too distracted earlier to notice.
Harry frowned, hoping things were finally turning around for the better; he was tired of losing people. He patted Hagrid’s elbow in sympathy. “Bones is who I have to go deal with right now, in fact. Can you tell Minerva that Voldemort’s taken care of but that Severus is at St. Mungo’s. Can you ask her to go make sure he gets proper care? I sent him with my fellow apprentice, but I think she’ll know better what he needs.”
Hagrid halted, stooped low in his own doorway. He turned to Harry. “You took care o’ He-Who- . . . already?”
“Yes,” Harry assured him. “But please send Minerva to St. Mungo’s,” Harry repeated, dearly wanting Hagrid to remember that part. “Have Fawkes take her.” Over by the hearth, the bird fluffed himself at the sound of his name.
“Ah, that bird doesna mind anyone,” Hagrid grumbled.
“No?” Harry asked, still holding the door. He turned back to the phoenix. “That’s because you don’t know his secret,” he said in a falsely pleasant voice. Fawkes flapped his wings and gave a squawk.
Hagrid turned and ducked his head back inside the cottage. “Wha’s this?”
Harry stared at the bird. “You never change back, do you? You probably can’t. You’d turn to dust if you did, wouldn’t you?” When Hagrid glanced at Harry in consternation, he explained, “He’s Godric Gryffindor, who has simply stayed in his Animagus form all of these years. One way to live forever, I guess.” The bird tilted its head at them, changing from one sharp angle to another.
Hagrid didn’t speak right away, but he finally said, “That so?”
Harry said, “I have to go. Thank you for taking care of Kali.” With that, Harry disappeared. Hagrid caught the door with his foot and eyed the brightly colored bird across from him, ignoring that Harry had just repeated the supposedly impossible.
Harry stepped through the broken door from the terrace and found Draco Malfoy hovering over the prison box containing his father.
“Not thinking of letting him out, are you?” Harry asked.
Draco started, not having heard Harry come in. His gaze then went a little strange as though something about Harry was additionally unexpected. “No,” Draco said. The box cursed him with language more foul than Harry had ever heard. Draco kicked the box and it fell silent.
“I’m surprised at you, Draco,” Harry said.
“Get them out of here before I kill them both,” Draco hissed with such vehemence, it gave Harry pause.
“Right-O,” Harry said pleasantly.
Draco lifted his wand to point it at Harry’s face. “If I ever see him again I’m going to come after you in revenge,” he spat.
Harry gently pushed Draco’s hand aside. “I’ll do my best,” he said, unprovoked and very happy to be. Control had been returned to him: he could get angry when he wanted and let things slide when he didn’t; it was wondrous.
Draco eyed him with some suspicion and then stalked away like a man defeated and angry about it.
“You all right, Draco?” Harry asked.
Draco pulled himself around and then upright although his eye twitched. “As soon as they’re gone for good, I can put things back together and then maybe I will be.”
“Speaking of which,” Harry said, turning to the basket by the hearth, which to his relief, still contained Nagini. The snake stared at him. There was nothing inherently evil about her, she simply hosted evil. “Sorry about this,” Harry said, and blasted her out of existence with a fire charm. A secondary explosion of magic followed the initial one, making both of them duck for long, sizzling seconds. Afterward, Harry stared at the glowing, cindered rope that piled in a coil on the hearth. He felt even more acutely empty now.
Draco said, “Why the devil don’t you just kill the Dark Lord too?” He waved his arm at the bloodied robes surrounding him. “Not as though you held back with your little army of nightmares, Potter.”
Harry found himself needing to be understood. “I thought if I didn’t kill him, then he couldn’t come back from the dead.”
Draco’s mouth puckered to the side. “Twisted bit of logic, that. And I have a feeling that from now on you are going to do as you wish.” He turned and stalked away with, “Bloody hell.” On his way out, he kicked a stray skull out of his path, so cleaned by tiny teeth that it gleamed.
Harry watched Draco’s shadow shorten after he turned the corner and then counted the robe remains strewn in this room. There were seven. He and Vineet had seen three on the way up. That made ten. “Damn,” Harry said. That left a lot of them roaming free. Strange to wish for more death, but it was hard not to in this case.
Hagrid ducked and entered the soothing shade of the plants that crowded greenhouse three. Professor Sprout sat on a tall stool, attacking the roots of a Whiskwire vine with a small hatchet. Chips of metal flew from the hatchet when it hit an especially hard tendril. Professor McGonagall sat nearby, hands folded in her lap, one of them heavily bandaged, looking as though she wanted to be more calm than she was managing. They both greeted Hagrid.
“Ah, Perfessor, I need your fine hands for some sewing, if you can put down yer ax fer a moment.”
Sprout sighed and pushed her work aside. After the workbench was cleared and cleaned, Hagrid spread Kali’s wings out and held her down with great care, suffering only two bites that didn’t even break his thick skin.
McGonagall stared at the animal while Sprout threaded a needle. She blinked and seemed to come out of a trance. “That’s Harry’s pet.”
“Yep,” Hagrid said and then his face contorted. “Oh, yeah, I have message for you.”
“From Harry?” McGonagall asked sharply.
“Yeah,” Hagrid hesitated then, wondering if he should explain other things about Harry. “He said to tell you that You-Know-Who has been taken care of and that Professor Snape was at St. Mungo’s . . . oh, and would you please see to it that he gets properly taken care of.” Hagrid stared at the glass ceiling above him. “Yeah, that was it.”
McGonagall stood so suddenly, her stool rocked and nearly fell backward. Sprout said, “Minerva, Poppy said an hour.”
“Poppy’s with the train and it’s been a half-hour, I’m going. Have to get my broomstick, though.”
“Do you want Fawkes?” Hagrid asked.
McGonagall stopped and rotated around on her toes. “Will he take me?”
“Yup, he will now.” Hagrid gave a great whistle that shook the panes of glass in the greenhouse, but in a burst of feathers, Fawkes arrived and hovered in the air before them.
“Well, look at that. How in the world . . . ?”
“‘arry told me the old bird’s secret,” Hagrid said. Fawkes gave a great squawk. “But I best not pass it on. He’ll take you though.”
McGonagall held out a hand and Fawkes landed on it and preened spasmodically. “How did Harry know?”
Hagrid shrugged. “Have to ask ‘im yerself. But . . . about Harry . . .”
“Yes?” McGonagall prompted, preparing to grab onto long tail feathers.
“Nothin’,” Hagrid said and waved her off.
With another burst, they were gone.
Harry picked up the prisoner boxes and used his new apparition trick to put himself into the alleyway outside the Ministry where he had been redirected last time. It was empty. He stepped out onto the pavement after glancing around for Muggles. Despite the sunshine, the road and pavements were deserted. A prickle started teasing at the back of Harry’s neck. He took a deep breath and stepped toward the phone booth, but it had a sign reading Out of Sorts hanging in the doorway and it was chained closed with a padlock that sparkled with more than sunlight. Harry slunk back to the alleyway. He instinctively did not want to show off his new skills by putting himself directly inside when security was supposed to be preventing it.
A doorway opened behind him, where he didn’t think there had been one before, and Mrs. Stillingfleet stepped out, the woman Harry had ridden down in the booth with last time. She had a large-bellied man with her who was wearing overalls and looking grim.
“Hello,” Harry said, stepping over quickly before the brick doorway could close.
“Mr. Potter,” the woman said. “Surprising to see you . . .”
“Is it?” Harry asked, wondering with a small tremor if the Ministry had printed wanted posters for him already. The opening in the brick wall behind her was fast shrinking. “Is that the new way in?” Harry asked, hoping for another convenient change of subject.
“Yep,” the man said. He turned and tapped the bricks in a pattern and the wall re-opened.
Harry slipped through, nodding back at them in thanks, although the old woman gave him an alarmed gaze in return. The wall closed again, leaving Harry in darkness. He had the sensation of falling even though his feet stayed on the ground. The world settled and a lamp appeared some distance away. Harry walked toward it. The same pale-skinned young man sat at a small desk in the middle of what seemed to be a large empty space. He looked harried and his hands shook. “Name?” he demanded, voice echoing.
“I was just here,” Harry said, “Harry Potter.”
“Right,” the man said, and began laboriously checking his lists. “Special instructions, it says. Inform Minister for Magic.”
“That’s exactly where I’m going,” Harry assured him. “Straight to her office,” he added chummily, trying to get away as fast as possible. He handed over Hermione’s wand which was weighed and handed back. He realized with sweaty palms that he had left Voldemort’s behind at the Malfoy’s.
“Well, don’t make any stops on the way,” the man said. “I don’t have an escort for you right now and I have to watch the desk.”
The prickles moved from the back of Harry’s neck to dance on his chest. “Why was the entrance changed?” Harry asked.
“‘S damaged,” the man replied, “‘n it needs to be repaired. Only employees let in now anyways. Doorway only ‘lows authorized Ministry staff to open it and mos’ Departments are closed right now.”
Harry glanced back at the blackness behind him. He couldn’t make out the bricks in the low light.
“Atrium’s that way,” the man said, pointing off to his left. He sat down and began making notations in the large logbook that dominated the desk.
Harry stepped into the darkness and tall hidden doors parted before him, revealing a dimly lit atrium. The poor lighting was a blessing; the atrium was in shambles. The gates had been pulled halfway down and hung like a sagging harp behind the reception desk which had been toppled. Parchments were strewn everywhere although it looked as though someone had used a spell to clean up the area around the remains of the desk. The floor was blackened before several of the hearths. The paintings were missing and chunks of gold leafed frame lay against the wall. The statue in the fountain was intact but the cement ring had been smashed and water puddled a large part of the floor.
Harry backed out and returned to the desk. “What happened?”
The man looked up and stared at Harry. “Riots. Public got wind that You-Know-Who was back and had attacked the Hogwart’s express and they went mad. They thought the dark mark had been put up over the train, they thought the Minister herself was under an Imperio and had given up the train to appease You-Know-Who.” The man’s upper lip quivered as he said this. “They were nutters, every last one of ‘em.”
Harry’s arms were growing tired of carrying the prison boxes. He stretched his neck and shifted the weight around on his fingers. “Merlin,” he said. He went back to the atrium. The gates had been propped open with a broken broomstick and only two lifts were functional. Harry turned and eyed the still darkened reception area that ironically did not seem nearly as damaged now in comparison to the atrium. Harry thought of stopping at the floor before, but he wasn’t in the mood to talk to Mr. Weasley, so he pressed the button for level one and waited while the floors slid by. The quiet Ministry felt like death too and Harry shivered.
The guards on the door to Minister Bones’ office did stop him this time. One of them held a wand on him while the other went inside to say that he was there. Bones’ voice tiredly told them to let Harry in.
Flanked by the guards, Harry stepped into the reception area of the office suite where six staff were working frantically including Percy Weasley. Things were only disorganized here by nature rather than by malice and Harry felt warmer. He set the boxes on the floor at Bones’ feet. She stood, hands on hips, seeming in conflict about how to deal with him. Harry said, “Malfoy and Voldemort.”
The office broke into panic, all except Belinda, who sat at her desk mutely staring at him.
“You brought Voldemort here, Mr. Potter?” Bones exclaimed. Half of her staff had taken up hiding in her office. The guards also ran off, but Harry suspected it was to fetch reinforcements.
Harry frowned. “I rendered him harmless and brought him here. I thought you’d want to know first-hand what had happened. If you don’t, I’ll be on my way . . . I have other things I need to do.”
His attitude hardened her alarm into movement. She inspected the boxes and while holding her wand on them, said, “Let’s hear your report, Mr. Potter.”
Harry found himself faced with explaining exactly what he had done; something he had somehow neglected to foresee. Running footsteps approached and Mr. Weasley, Shacklebolt, and Kerry Ann appeared in the doorway accompanied by the guards. “Harry,” Mr. Weasley said in surprise, but he lowered his wand.
“Says he has Voldemort in one of these boxes,” Bones stated.
Harry cancelled the box and let Lockhart topple out onto the floor. Six wands were pulled out to aim at him. The crumpled figure raised its head and looked around at the crowd. It was Shacklebolt who broke the stunned silence with, “Gilderoy Lockhart?”
Harry was grateful to be able to tell part of the story without risk to himself. “Merton turned him into Voldemort by emptying the Crux Horridi into him. Voldemort had left them behind to make himself hard to kill. Merton got them from the Malfoys. Nagini, who was another one, I destroyed.” Harry wondered with an acute twinge exactly what he was going to do about himself.
“Why did you bring him to the Minister’s office?” Shacklebolt asked in disbelief.
“He’s harmless now,” Harry said, “I made him into a Muggle.” Harry was thinking he really needed to move on to St. Mungo’s to see how Snape was doing, since his life was on hold until he knew. But everyone stared at him mutely after that statement and he had a bad feeling this was going to take a while.
“No one can make a wizard into a Muggle, Harry,” Mr. Weasley said. “Take them to the dungeons,” he ordered Shacklebolt and Kerry Ann. With mystified glances back at Harry, they obeyed. Mr. Weasley stepped closer to Harry, his eyes moving back and forth between each of Harry’s as though seeking something in them. He glanced at Bones and some silent agreement must have passed between them because Mr. Weasley went on, “We’re very glad you took care of Voldemort, Harry. Where did you find him?”
Mr. Weasley sent a silver message through the floor at that. “Do you want to take a seat, Harry?” Mr. Weasley offered and Harry, with a bad jolt, thought he sounded bizarrely similar to the way Lucius had when speaking to Voldemort.
“No, I need to go to St. Mungo’s. Severus is there. They tortured him too long.” Harry cut himself off since his eyes were stinging as he spoke and his voice was sure to go next.
Mr. Weasley’s attitude shifted. “Of course,” he said gently. He glanced at Bones but she didn’t contradict him. Everyone seemed to be standing on the edge of something.
Harry resisted sniffling. “I can go?”
“Yes,” Mr. Weasley said. Harry had the strangest sense that he was being rewarded for simply asking and nothing more.
Harry headed for the door. He turned back at the last to say, “Draco didn’t help them at all, make sure no one is rough with him.”
The room stared at him, a little more tensely than Harry thought reasonable. Mr. Weasley said, “Of course, Harry.”
As Harry headed down the corridor to the lifts, he wished he could hear the conversation that occurred after he departed. Currents were running beneath everyone’s actions that he didn’t understand and he keenly needed to. Later, he told himself. He would have time to worry about it later.
Chapter 32 - Battle of One
"We can talk when you're better," Harry said, stubbornness coming to his rescue. "I'll see you in the morning."
Snape propped himself on one elbow and accepted the bottle. His hand shaking clearly conveyed his state. Harry took the empty bottle back and watched Snape go limp. Despite the voices in his head reminding him of all the things he should be doing, he sat there for nearly an hour trying not to plan for a future that did not include this man.
Yes, yes, terribly long time since the last update, but I have the next three chapters in draft. Been in forward-writing mode rather than revision mode.
Oh, yeah and the already stressed should wait for 33 to be posted before reading 32
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