The Road Not Taken Chapter Twenty-Four: Through the Gateway
"Hello Potter, and Longbottom. We all get to finally meet. How sentimental it is," rasped Voldemort. He was the sickly-looking Riddle no longer, but the fire-eyed, soulless slayer of innocent people.
The figures behind him swirled into the room and the shop door closed behind them and they heard the lock click. He could sense Neville tensing to his right and he himself clutched the wand tightly in his fist, his sweating, panicked fist. Harry was still murderously angry, but not feeling as bold and reckless as he had moments ago himself.
Judging by the look of things, he and Neville had no chance. They were two students who hadn't even graduated from school against ten or fifteen Death Eaters and Voldemort himself, cornered in a shop in Diagon Alley and no one even knew they were there. He had faced better odds last year in the Department of Mysteries.
"I can not express to you what a feeling it is to finally see you both die after sixteen years of waiting. Fifteen years, so much can happen in fifteen years. But this is no time for sweet recollections. Goodbye to the both of you."
"Why?!" Harry screamed as Voldemort raised his wand.
If he was going to be murdered so senselessly, he wanted to know why he was there in the first place. Why had Voldemort switched his and Neville pasts? Why? He was shaking in vehemence and was clutching Neville's father’s wand so firmly in his hand that he could feel it bowing as though it were about to break.
"Why? I would have thought you were smarter than that Potter. I did for a time fear that you would see right through the dreams and would go straight to that Muggle-loving fool Dumbledore. And you Longbottom, you were so close that night but then you had to wake him up and the Imperius Curse was broken. It was so hard pitting the two of you against each other," he said almost wistfully.
Voldemort had pitted the two of them against each other? “Why?” Harry wondered madly.
"...but then by torturing Potter's parents into insanity, I provoked the thing that I've spent the last few months trying in vain to agitate. It was unexpected, I admit. I never would have even known the two of you went off to this shop to duel had Weasley not made himself useful for the second time in his life and entered your filthy little common-room right as Longbottom went through the fire."
"What?!" Neville cried.
"You have been rather kept in the dark Longbottom, I would tell you, but my time and patience is wearing thin."
He raised his wand again to attack but Harry refused to die without knowing, and raised Neville’s wand in defense. He wanted to know why.
"That's not good enough! Why?!"
"Manners Potter, manners," he snapped, frustrated, but oddly enough, still willing to explain himself and buy both Harry and Neville more time. "I needed a different opponent. I found out from Weasley a few nights after you left Hogwarts about the prophecy. They discussed it at that little club of theirs, what is it? The Order of the Phoenix?" he laughed to himself, causing a murmur of laughter from the Death Eaters.
"Percy had been a spy in the other world too?" he felt another tinge of anger added to the massive hate already swelling inside him. The wand he was holding was very near fracturing from the strain of his grip.
“So I told Weasley to remain at Grimmauld Place to spy not only on their meetings, but on you, knowing of a secret corridor that would be perfect for a secret stay, after having murdered a foolish boy there once anyway.”
Percy had been staying in the room. He should have known. It made such perfect sense. Meanwhile, Voldemort continued.
"Do you know why? Come Potter, think. You are more powerful than you realize, surely you know that? Your father was a pleasure to kill, not nearly as defenseless as the slime I was used to killing, and I can see so much of that power in you-"
"Shut up! Shut-" Harry yelled.
"You wanted to know why Potter, so I'm telling you why," he said in a coldly quiet murmur. "I switched you and Longbottom because there is a deep power in you that I now acknowledge. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me four times, shame on me, no? It was my only option. I did of course consider not attacking either of you as children, but there would have only been another prophecy made about how to destroy me, and instigating this at least gave me the benefit of knowing what was to come."
“You tortured my parents!” Harry screamed, mostly devoid of reason.
“Me, oh no. I did not. That was Weasley. That was the other purpose of his stay at your silly little Order, to do whatever was necessary to make sure we met here tonight. If I had done it, they would not be alive to tell their story.”
I am sorry my Lord, there wasn’t time-” a voice whispered from amongst the Death Eaters.
Neville looked a mixture of absolute confusion and rage, and Harry was wholly unrecognizable from the unspeakable fury on his face. He took a few small steps forward, toward where the voice had come from. He wanted Percy dead so badly, worse than he had wanted to hurt Bellatrix Lestrange the year before.
“What are you saying?!” Neville cried.
Voldemort looked upon Neville with a look of utter revulsion and turned to face Harry again, not even acknowledging Neville further.
"I wanted your parents dead. I remember what happened the last time your foolish Muggle mother died for you, and I needed to unleash the irrational and bold side of you that brought us here tonight. So I arrived at your stinking Muggle residence in Surrey, seized your wand, and used time against you. I switched the both of you. I put my power into bumbling Longbottom, and left you as you were. All I had to do was make you fight, make you finish each other off, and keep my hands clean as I watched from a safe distance as you both died. I was not going to risk killing one and having the other rise up against me, so it made sense to dispose of both of you. There would be no more mistakes; you both had to die. Do you see now?" he said curtly and sarcastically, as though still beaming at his own brilliance.
Harry's mind was too full of hurt to care about what was being said, but it was so obviously clear. Percy had found out about the charm over the summer and had gotten in contact with Voldemort, thus explaining the letter in the library's archives. Voldemort then came to Privet Drive and sold Harry on the idea of having his parents back. In doing so, he transferred instead his powers to Neville so that they could finish each other off. If they were both dead, there was nothing to stand in his way at all. It was brilliant, and Harry certainly might have thought so if the lust to kill every man standing before him wasn't so great, and his fear over how unlikely that was to happen grew even greater. He just wanted to get to Percy, to put his hands around his neck, and to squeeze, and his desire to do that was beginning to outweigh his fear.
"Now that that is done, I say goodbye to you both again,” Voldemort said, raising his wand at last.
The desire for revenge in both boys sparked violently, and though they knew they stood no chance, for a split second their thoughts connected and they stood resolved to avenge their parents and lost friends in the best way that they could. There was no time to think of the nobility in it, only time to act.
"Avada Kedavra!" cried Voldemort as the Death Eaters began to swarm into a frenzy to pull out their wands.
Neville and Harry both ducked away from the shocking green blast emitted from his wand and darted in opposite directions. Neville landed behind the sales counter and Harry behind an aisle of boxes containing thousands of wands. His eyes furiously scanned the room for Percy.
"Come now boys. Potter, you should know better than this, we have discussed this before. Fight me like a man, just as your father did. Longbottom? Your father didn't have much time to put up a fight, I am sorry to say, but you might at least have to decency to fight me like a man as well."
Harry's heart was beating too hard in his chest to take in the full weight of what he was saying, but it angered him even more, if possible, that Voldemort of all people might talk of decency. Decency was clearly not killing hundreds of people, decency was not torture, and decency was not killing two boys who were trapped in a shop in the dead of night.
Harry finally got the jolt of anger that he needed to stand and curse the foul excuse for a man with everything he had, but Neville had beaten him to it.
"Crucio!" he heard Neville scream.
Harry jumped out from behind the aisle of boxes just in time to see that Neville's action, while though it had taken Voldemort and his Death Eaters by surprise, was not going to be successful. His spell had missed and Voldemort was recoiling his wand back to strike as a snake might, and almost as if in slow motion, without hearing he saw several blasts of green light strike Neville all at once, and the sweet boy who had never done anything to cause anyone ill, the Boy-Who-Lived, the boy who was the hope for the survival of good as it was known, fell backwards into the counter. Neville was dead.
Harry stood there in shock for the briefest of moments and Voldemort let out a cry of triumph and there was murmuring amongst the Death Eaters behind him, but it only took them a fraction of a second to realize that their second target, him, had yet to be destroyed. Standing free of the aisle he felt so exposed and naked, as though he was standing nonchalantly in a war zone about to be bombed.
He looked over at Neville's lifeless figure, certain that he would share the same fate in a matter of moments. If the only boy who had the power to vanquish Voldemort had died so simply as he, what chance did anyone stand?
"Expelliarmus!" Voldemort hissed, and Harry was thrown back against the aisle, there was blood running down the back of his head, and he was now lacking a very necessary wand.
His hand dived in among the boxes, he grabbed blindly for a wand with which to defend himself and grasped one at last. There was a sudden warmth in his fingers and he dared not to hope. It was indeed his wand, the wand he had been searching for.
In the back of his mind he heard the phoenix song and thoughts and memories flashed through his mind. He would not let Neville die in vain, he would not let his parents' death and torture go unpunished, he would not let the lives of all the people Voldemort had destroyed go on without the needed justice, he would do it for Sirius.
It occurred to him at the very last second that it was his chance out, and the desire to live reared itself in his head and the last thing he could remember was:
His body pitched forward and he felt the breath flee from his body. The world swirled black around him, and then there was nothingness.