A/N: And so we come to the last...
Chapter 14: Truth and Lays
Harry drew his wand with a shaking hand, and faced down the man who'd killed so many. Between them, unmoving, was a stark reminder of all those deaths. Iana's face was turned in his direction, her eyes closed and features rumpled by the pain of her last moments.
"Do you know how to duel, boy?" Voldemort asked, his voice as smooth as silk over a blade. "Did the old fool at least give you that?"
Unsure if he'd be able to answer, Harry instead opted to bow in the accepted manner. Behind him, his mother called out to him.
"Harry, you don't—!"
A movement, viper quick, from Voldemort's pale wand silenced her in a moment. "Good," he said approvingly. "Some of the old traditions are being observed, at least."
The Death Eaters who were accompanying Voldemort formed a loose half-circle around them, their blank, expressionless masks gazing at them both with inscrutable calm. Not one of them seemed to think there was any chance of Voldemort losing.
Then Voldemort mirrored Harry's bow, and stood up to his full height. "Begin!"
Even before the word had finished passing his lips, a deep purple spell, trailing thick smoke shot from Voldemort's wand straight at Harry. By some miracle, Harry was able to duck beneath it and it sailed overhead. Even the most fleeting breath of the smoke which leaked off it caused him to retch, and a scream sounded from the assembled witches and wizards behind him, only to be abruptly silenced.
A look of vicious glee crossed Voldemort's face, and he batted away Harry's return hex as if it was little more than a first year's jinx. Another curse followed close on the heels of the first, and once again Harry only avoided death by throwing himself out of the way. His wand ended up tangled in his robes, and before he could free it, pain such as he had never known suffused every part of his body. Liquid fire suffused his veins.
It was a strange thing; to know he was about to die. The pain, great as it was, seemed to lessen, and the screaming of his mum and sister melted into the white noise that had filled his mind.
His frantic attempts to avoid Voldemort's first spells had landed him face to face with Iana, and she looked back at him, tears filling her eyes. Perhaps he was already dead. Maybe this was what it felt like.
The pain was barely noticeable by now, and he reached out to Iana with his free hand to brush the tears away. Her own hand came up to meet his, and she stretched forward to meet his lips with a gentle kiss. The pain vanished completely. He looked up, and saw Voldemort standing over him, wand held out at him, a grimace of effort suffused with surprise upon his face. Harry succeeded in freeing his own wand.
"Pathetic," Voldemort spat. "Avada Kedavra!"
A boom like a cannon shot sounded, accompanied by a flash of light bright enough to leave Harry temporarily blinded. He was knocked flat against the ground, his head rapping painfully upon the stones. Flashes and spots, like firefly echoes of the explosion which had come before, filled his vision but in the vacuum left by the explosion a deceptively quiet noise followed. The clatter of a wand landing upon the stone of the bridge.
Through the after shadows of the flash, Harry looked up to see Voldemort swaying, his red eyes spinning up into his skull. Then, like a tree with its trunk cut, he toppled over backwards.
But Harry didn't care about that. He had eyes only for Iana. For a moment, he thought he really had dreamt it as her eyes were closed once more. Then, they opened, fluttering just slightly. She blinked at him, clearly having been blinded by the explosion just as he had, but it was equally clear that she was alive.
How it had happened, he had no idea. He really didn't care how, or why. All that mattered there and then was that she was. He reached out to her as sound erupted all around them. Spells flew over their heads, and screams and cries filled the air. He didn't care about that either.
Gently, like she was some fine porcelain thing which might shatter if he wasn't careful, he ran his hand over her cheek, and felt the warmth there, the life. The how could come later.
He leaned in once more, and she met him halfway. As they lost themselves in their kiss, the sounds of battle around them melted away. None of that mattered either.
"You're alive," he said when they broke apart. It was almost too much to believe. Around them the fighting was already dying down. He didn't know who was winning. He still didn't care.
She smiled broadly. "I'm alive."
"I'm alive," he said, the realisation suddenly hitting him. He's stood up to Voldemort. He'd seen the green flash as the Killing Curse had formed on his wand.
"You're alive," said Iana, her smile widening even further.
Finally, he couldn't contain the sheer ridiculousness of it all, and he started laughing. A moment later, Iana joined him, and there, amid the ruins of their preposterous battle, they laughed together. Voldemort's body lay still just feet away. Death Eaters and Hogwarts' defenders and Aurors were locked in furious duels. Harry and Iana could do little more than laugh, and laugh, and laugh.
Eventually, their mirth subsided, and Harry pulled himself upright. He extended a hand to Iana, who took it and rose next to him.
That seemed to be the signal for what remained of the fighting to come to an abrupt halt. All around them, witches and wizards were scattered, but it was immediately clear that the majority of the casualties were among the Death Eaters. The hesitant allegiance of the Aurors had been lost the moment Voldemort had fallen, and the Death Eaters had been significantly outnumbered.
Every Death Eater who'd fallen had reduced their forces by two or three times that when their Imperius Curse victims were freed. Many of those freed had fled, or been too dazed and confused to offer any help, but a couple of them had clearly taken much joy in getting stuck into their erstwhile tormentors.
"Harry!" a voice shouted, seconds before he was tackled by his sister, nearly sending him tumbling back to the ground in the process. She hugged him with a fierce strength as the remaining few Death Eaters gave up the fight.
"Hey, Effie," said Harry gently, brushing her hair in an attempt to comfort her. She responded by trying to pull him to her even more tightly. "Can't breathe here, Eff."
That got her to pull back and swat him on the arm, though there was no fire to it all. She looked a right state, with tears smudged all over her face, but it was the broad smile that dominated everything. She grinned at him wide enough that the top of her head could have fallen off if he'd shaken her too hard.
Harry lost track of the number of hugs, handshakes and pats on the back he had to endure from the defenders and Aurors, but eventually he was able to make good his escape to a quieter room, away from the uproarious celebrations of the survivors.
Amazingly, the number of injuries in the final fight had been low, with the Death Eaters quickly becoming overwhelmed and it seemed everyone in the castle wanted to make as much noise celebrating that fact as was humanly possible.
Well, a bit more than three quarters of the people, anyway. A lot of the Slytherins, many of whom had taken a bit of a beating themselves when they'd unwisely tried to fight back against teachers and adults, looked significantly less happy about things. Harry had hardly been surprised. Many of them had family members among the masked Death Eaters.
Not that it was confined to Slytherin, of course. It would surely take many weeks to work out just who had been a willing follower of the Dark Lord's coup, and how many had been subverted either through threats, misinformation or Imperius Curse. More than one member of the other houses had discovered a family member among Voldemort's followers, and they could be easily identified by the stunned and uncertain looks on their faces.
"I should go," Iana said, though her reluctance was clear to see. She looked around at the others in the room they'd managed to gather in, away from the mad bustle of celebration. All of Harry's family was there, including Sirius and Remus. Even Effie, who had disappeared for a while after the fight, had reappeared, looking suspiciously tousled. "You should catch up with your family."
Harry stopped her by grabbing her hand. "I'd rather you stayed," he said, ignoring the many watching eyes. "If you want to go, I can't stop you. Well, I could" — he caught the look of challenge in her eye — "maybe. Anyway, what I mean is we did this together. If everything we've been through doesn't make us as good as family, I don't know what does."
"Yeah," said Sirius, grabbing Remus around the shoulder. "If this old grump gets to join the Potter clan just because he turns into an oversized Crup once a month, I think you get a free pass."
Iana's hopeful expression was only reinforced by the approving nods that came from James and Lily.
"Sit down, dear," said Lily with a smile. "I think we all have some questions, anyway. Would you indulge us?"
Harry led Iana back to a seat, and they sat down, arms and legs brushing against each other. Iana nodded to Lily. "I'll try to answer your questions."
It was, of course, Sirius who managed to get in the first word. "So, how long have you and Harry been…" He waggled his eyebrows.
"Sirius," Lily sighed, shaking her head. "You don't need to answer that."
"Oh yes she— Ow!"
Remus looked down innocently at where he'd stamped on Sirius' foot with what looked like quite a lot of force. "Oh, sorry about that," he said mildly.
"Hey, walking wounded here!" said Sirius, pointing to his still badly damaged face. "I'm asking because it looks like I'm going to have to pass the torch on earlier than planned."
"You'll be passing nothing on to Harry," said Lily firmly, though Harry could see the mischief sparkling in her eyes.
It took Sirius a moment, but he let out a bark-like laugh. "Good one."
"Don't mind that idiot," said James, leaning forward on the cane that he'd transfigured to help him get around. "The real question here is will you be doing it again?"
That got rueful looks from both Lily and Remus, while Sirius had another good laugh at it. Iana, to her credit, managed to take the question in her stride.
"Well, I was actually thinking of retiring from the Dark Lord killing business," she said with every impression of seriousness. "It's a young woman's game."
James leaned back happily, as if her answer was entirely reasonable. "I think you'll fit right in."
"If you're all quite done?" Lily asked, quickly quelling Sirius' chuckles, and rapidly chasing away Remus' grin. "Good." She turned back to Harry and Iana. "Now, can you explain what on earth happened?"
Given that he didn't really understand how it was that he or Iana were still alive, Harry couldn't resist turning to look at her. She met his eyes, looking a little embarrassed.
"I only know some of it," she said. She took a deep breath, steeling herself for what was to come, and Harry squeezed her hand as a small offer of support. "But I'll try to explain what I do know."
She paused again, no doubt trying to work out where to start.
"My father left me some memories," she said eventually. "Snape showed them to me. Or, he showed me how to view them, anyway. In them, Dumbledore was talking to my father about Horcruxes. More specifically, he was telling him that at least one more Horcrux was out there." She pointed to the thin lightning bolt scar on her forehead, which was usually hidden by her fringe. "Me."
Lily gasped, James swore, and Harry squeezed her hand again. Iana offered him a brief grateful smile. "I had to die if Voldemort was to be defeated. That's why it was always the two of us. Harry had the power to defeat him, but only after I'd made sure that the Horcrux was destroyed."
"What!" Harry yelped, realising what she meant. He peered at her more closely, but couldn't see any sign of whatever it was that had removed the Horcrux without killing her.
"Voldemort cast a Killing Curse at me," she said sadly. "Eventually, anyway. I don't really know what happened, but it didn't kill me."
The way she avoided his eyes as she said it told Harry that there might be a little more to it than that, but he kept his silence for the time being.
"I think it destroyed the soul fragment instead for some reason," she continued. "Dumbledore had never said I might survive, so when I woke up and saw Harry there, I didn't know what was going on."
"And so at this point the story turns to Harry," said Remus, prompting everyone to shift their gaze from Iana.
"Well, that'll be quick," said Harry with a shrug. "I have no clue what happened. I just knew what the Prophecy said, and knew I couldn't let Iana down after what she'd sacrificed."
"I think I might have an idea," Lily admitted. Her expression was halfway between a scowl and open wonder. "That impossible, pigheaded, arrogant, brilliant man."
"You're gonna have to fill us in here, Lily," said James, looking every bit as puzzled as everyone else.
"It was the sacrifice," she said, shaking her head. She got up and started pacing back and forth across the room. "But surely it would only work if you know you're giving your life… and Voldemort gave us the ultimatum. Iana for our lives. It all fits, but— Oh, that man."
"Mum," said Effie, waving her hand in an attempt to get her attention, but she was completely ignored.
"But how did Harry win?" she asked no one in particular. "He would be protected, of course, but that's not much help. There must have been something else at play—" She stopped speaking, and looked at Iana. "The wand," she said suddenly. "Severus said he gave you Dumbledore's wand?"
Iana nodded, clearly following Lily's logic about as well as Harry was, which was not at all. "He said I had to use it."
"He must have sabotaged it in some way," said Lily. Then she shook her head, a chagrined look on her face. "No. Anything like that and Voldemort would have been able to work it out. Then how?"
"She might be like that for a while," said James with a fond grin. "Come on, you lot. We'll leave her to it. I'm sure she'll let us know the answer at some point."
"Or she'll never work it out," Remus pointed out.
"Oh, she'll get there," said James with absolute confidence. "Now, who wants to take a trip down to the kitchens? It's been far too long since I last ate."
It wasn't until much later that evening that Harry was eventually able to pry both himself and Iana away from his family and the other revellers. He wouldn't have been surprised to find out that the entire Wizarding World had been revealed by the celebrations supposedly going on around the country. Apparently the Weasley twins had turned the entirety of Diagon Alley into a huge party.
After extricating themselves from the party and constant attention, they quickly made their way up to the one place in the castle where they knew they wouldn't be found. As Iana paced back and forth to summon the room, Harry trailing along behind her, he wished there was somewhere a little more comfortable than the Come and Go Room. Quiet and secret it may be, but mountains of junk didn't make for the most romantic of atmospheres.
Both of them were very puzzled to find the room very different from how they remembered it. The shelves were still there, though this time everything had been arranged much more neatly, with clear paths through that didn't involve clambering over mounds of ancient mouldering books.
And, in the patch of floor they'd cleared, there was a comfortable looking sofa, next to cracking fire. At least, it was probably in the same place. It was hard to tell with everything moved about. Somehow, it seemed like the room was even larger than it had been last time, though Harry put that down to how much more orderly it all seemed to be.
"I see the House Elves have been hard at work," he said in no small amount of wonder. It would have taken a witch or wizard hundreds of hours to make any kind of sense of the room, and the Elves had apparently managed to do it in the middle of a magical siege.
"After what happened to Snooks, they must have decided to do something about the mess at last," said Iana, though she gave Harry a suspicious look. "I don't suppose you had anything to do with it?"
"Me?" Harry asked, surprised. "I figured it was you!"
"Well, I'm not going to complain about having a decent place to sit," said Iana with a shrug as she plopped herself down on the seat. She gave Harry a very pointed look.
He didn't need to be told twice, or even once. He quickly dropped himself onto the seat, which was indeed very comfortable. It wasn't long before Iana shuffled in closer to him, and they just sat there for a while, both staring at the fire.
It might have been half an hour before one of them spoke, the minutes just seemed to evaporate, and there was really not all that much that needed said. Not urgently anyway. Harry was quite content to simply be.
"I lied about what happened when Voldemort… killed me," said Iana eventually. Her words were hesitant, as if she was having to dredge them up individually from some deep, dark place.
"You know you don't need to tell me if you don't want to," said Harry. The way she shifted told him it was bothering her, not telling him, but he also didn't want her to feel like it wasn't her choice.
"I do," she said. "Want to, I mean. It's just— I don't know how you'll take it."
He waited patiently for her to get her thoughts in line once more. Finally, she started speaking.
"When Voldemort… killed me, I didn't just wake up," she said. "I'm not sure what it was, but it felt like I was back in Malfoy Manor. I was in this corridor that was decorated like the one in Mother's suites. Father never usually let me go there, but I snuck in a couple of times with Dobby's help."
Harry nodded, unsure of what to say. He settled for offering what silent support he could.
"Well, there was this ugly baby… thing there. With Voldemort's face," she continued, a grimace flashing over her face. "I wanted to stamp on it, but before I could… she was there."
"She?" Harry asked.
"Mother," said Iana, meeting his eyes. "She was as beautiful as I'd ever imagined. Father got rid of most of the pictures we had of her, you see. All I had to remember her by was a copy of one of their wedding photos which Dobby had managed to salvage before Father threw it all out. She was in the dress she wore in the picture, and she said she was proud of me."
When her voice broke, Harry pulled her tight into his arms, and they stayed like that, wrapped up together until she found her voice once more.
"She said I'd been strong. Stronger than her. Stronger than Father. She said she was so happy that I'd found what had eluded her."
Harry wanted to ask what that was, but Iana was lost in her recollection.
"I asked her why they'd done it. Why I'd been raised like I had, only so I could die. Why couldn't I at least have had a few happy years if all that was going to happen was Father was going to throw me at Voldemort's feet the first chance he got. I asked why they didn't fight for me like your parents fought for you.
"She said she did. She said she fought with every ounce of her being. That she died not to make me a sacrifice, but to give me the life that fate tried to take from me. She said that every lie they told, to the world, to me, was meant to give me a chance at living the life they wanted for me."
She was crying freely by now, and no amount of hugs could stem the flow. The words continued to tumble from her, though. Harry wasn't sure she'd be able to stop them even if she'd wanted to.
"I think I shouted at her then," Iana said, and the sob that followed contained a little bubble of laughter. "I told her she wasn't even real. I was dead, and it was all just my imagination. She just smiled, and hugged me. Then she told me I didn't even need to be dead if I didn't want to. She said there was enough soul in Voldemort's shard to keep the ferryman distracted.
"Then she wished me farewell. She used my real name to do it."
It took a moment for Harry to register just what she'd said. He gawped at her. "Your real name?" he asked her in awe.
She turned to him and nodded. "Call me Diana," she said with a broad toothy smile.
"You got it!" said Harry. He resisted the urge to jump up and punch the air in celebration. instead he kissed her firmly on the lips before he frowned. Had it really been that simple?
Iana seemed to understand what was confusing him. "That's why it was so hard to work it out. Why nothing seemed to feel right. I was already almost there, but I needed you to get me the final step."
"You," she repeated. "Before I came to know you, I never would have imagined giving my life for anyone. Not the way my mother did. Now, I understand— I do. You helped me understand." She fixed him with an intense look. "I'm not sure. I'm not exactly good with this kind of thing. But I think I love you. I think that's what the prophecy meant. You're my heart. You gave me the strength to do what needed to be done to save us both. Even if I thought I was only saving you."
As she lapsed into silence, Harry felt breathless. He couldn't find the words. She loved him? She loved him? She loved him? It seemed so sudden. Did she even really know what love was? But no, that was a stupid question. She'd been willing to give up her life for him without hesitation.
Maybe it was too soon. Maybe it was too quick, but he didn't care.. He didn't need words. He swept her up in his arms and captured her lips with his own.
How long they stayed like that, he wasn't sure, but eventually they broke apart once more, and a funny thought prompted Harry to give her a playful smile. "I guess you just needed me to give you the D."
A/N: So, full disclosure, one of the driving forces behind this story was the following question:
Can I make a decent long-form story out of nothing more than a memey dick-joke?
It was a challenge presented to me by Seratin on DLP. I don't think he ever expected me to take it as far as I did, but here we are. I guess the answer to that driving question depends on how you define 'decent'. On the other hand, this might be the longest setup ever deployed for a one-liner lame joke, and of that I am actually rather proud. Gonna have to shout out to those of you who saw the joke coming. You clearly have the same infantile humour I occasionally have.
In the end, this was a fun experience for me. I hope it was a fun read for you too, even if the joke at the end didn't really land. Future stories will return to your regularly scheduled crossovers. My next project is an original work, which will be followed by the sequel to Toppling Heroes. Beyond that, I have plans for some Warhammer crossovers in the works which are currently slated for next year. Oh, and I'll keep plugging away at Shadow of Angmar. Follow my author's page if any of that sounds like your cup of tea.
Till next time!