Author's note: So, here it is. The final chapter of The cave incident. Thank you for your patience, I know it took me longer than usual to finish it. I wanted to do it justice and now it's only up to you to tell me what you think about it.
Before the chapter begins I would like to thank to each and everyone of you who read this story, reviewed it and enjoyed it - because that's the reason why I wrote it in the first place. If you're curious if there will be a sequel, you'll find the answer at the end of this chapter.
Also, I must not forget to say that my biggest thanks belong to my perfect beta, theSecretUchiha. Thank you for an awesome job, I'm really, really grateful! :D
What you win and what you lose
London, Grimmauld Place 12
26thDecember 2000, 04:38
No matter how much humanity vampires seemed to preserve at the first sight, they were nothing close to human. If Harry had to compare them to something, he would probably say that their rabidness could only be equal to the bestiality of werewolves during the full moon.
Just hearing the sounds they produced was enough to make the bravest men shiver. Their snarls' and roars' were nothing short of horrible; the way they attacked each other in order to reach the dreamed-of prey first only showed the true monstrosity of their condemnation. Harry couldn't afford himself the luxury of raving, but if he could, he would probably imagine the Gates of Hell being open and the most hideous creatures crawling out of its depths.
In any case, he had to stay focused if he wanted to find out what kind of plan Voldemort wanted to carry out. The Dark Lord certainly knew what was coming, Harry mused fervently. Yet he stayed here, facing it all by himself.
But why? And why wasn't he doing anything about it yet?
The knifes of terror cut deeper through him as he watched the growing heap of writhing, ravenous beasts, piling on the spot where the Dark Lord stood just a moment ago. What he saw led him to a dreadful conclusion.
What if Voldemort's plan failed?
Harry's fingers went numb as he feverishly squeezed whatever his hands took hold of. His lungs started to burn again, yet he stifled whimpers and complaints. He had to do something to forget that pain … but the question was, what? Should he try to help him or not? And if he should, then how?
An elbow in his ribcage made him howl in pain. Malfoy, who just extracted himself from his grasp, turned around and shoved him forcefully against the damaged wall.
"Stop doing that, Potter! Stop throttling me!" he snarled, rubbing his aching throat. With the vampires out of the way the young Death Eater could freely take a few steps aside.
Harry only partially welcomed the distraction. His muscles and nerves only tensed up as he watched Draco smooth down his expensive robes.
"And you should stop sniveling, Malfoy," he snapped while hugging his sore chest. "By the way, I have a feeling that your master is in serious trouble. You should hurry up and help him," he added as he glared at the wand in Draco's palm meaningfully.
"Tche. Why do you care, Potter?" the young blond man sneered in response. "The Dark Lord did not request my assistance thus I'm not obliged to do anything. Besides, I'm not suicidal. I don't know how about you, but I'm leav … oh, great Salazar!"
Malfoy's long face suddenly twisted in disgust.
"Filthy mudblood's coming here," he hissed in distaste and retreated a few more steps. "Can't they just tear her apart already or something?"
"Shut up!" Harry sputtered infuriatingly. "I really don't understand how could she ever decide to help you … you little ungrateful scoundrel!"
Malfoy only snorted.
"And I don't understand why I wanted to help you myself," Harry added, lowering his voice. "Voldemort and his lot - just what exactly was I expecting? Why was I thinking that something … could change," he whispered bitterly and his bright green eyes pierced the young aristocrat hatefully before he turned back to locate his friend. He couldn't see her at first, but fortunately his worriment didn't last too long. He soon found her weaving her way through the mad crowd, using her wand to confound monsters which appeared to be too close. Once she was close enough he reached forward and grasped her sleeve, pulling her into the relative safety of a niche in a broken wall, partly sheltered by a shattered cupboard.
"Hermione! Have you lost your mind?" he snapped at her immediately. "Why did you come here? You shouldn't have risked so much!"
She exhaled in relief that he was all right and leaned against the wall.
"I had to do something," she said then. "And trust me, leaving you here without a wand was not an option! Tell me, how would you get out of this alone?" Her strict tone cut off Harry's protests. Sometimes it was really hard to disagree with her because as far as he knew, she was always right - even now. Harry couldn't deny that without her he would probably follow the Dark Lord's dreadful fate. He looked back at the place where he last saw him and suddenly felt sick of everything – the turn of events, the vampires and most of all his own fecklessness.
"Harry, we can't linger here," Hermione told him resolutely as she noticed his idleness and Harry could only nod, deep in thoughts as he was. Although he agreed with her, he didn't move. He couldn't make himself run away without knowing what happened to Riddle. He knew that he shouldn't feel any concern for him; Voldemort even gave him solid reasons why not to care a straw about him and yet the young wizard couldn't listen to reason, his heart's desires were too strong.
Just why did everything have to be so utterly maddening?-! Facing these naughty desires was more frightening than fighting that horde of thirsty vampires with bare hands. Harry knew they must leave. The vampires will attack them too without any doubt, so by staying here he was risking Hermione's life! And all of it because of his parents' murderer! Who was he kidding?
And yet a mere thought of Voldemort dying here because of him made his chest monster howl in fury. It was all his fault; Harry literally called for the Dark Lord's help!
He chewed on his hurting lips, tasting the metallic flavour of his blood, squeezing his palms, looking at Hermione and then back at the growing pile of rabid vampires.
"Harry!" Hermione implored and tugged at his hand urgently.
"Where … where're Ron and Arthur?" Harry called back, knowing that he was only buying time to postpone his final decision. He had never felt so powerless as he did right now and it had nothing to do with the lack of wand in his hand.
"They're safe, Harry! You really don't need to worry about them. I forced Arthur to use the Floo powder when you ran to help Malfoy."
"You forced him?" Harry asked, backing slowly as Hermione dragged him towards the broken windows.
"Harry … just don't ask. Please, let's go!" she pleaded. As he looked at her, only then did he fully realized how terrified she was.
And so he made his decision. No matter what happened to Riddle, saving Hermione should be – no it must be his priority. He can deal with his stupid feelings later.
For one last time Harry looked back at the place where Voldemort stood not so long ago and then he turned back to his friend.
"You're right," he said flatly. "We must go."
He glanced up towards the exit, noticing that Draco was already ahead of them, trying to crawl out one of the windows. Harry seized Hermione's hand, helping her jump over the ruins as they quickly ran after Malfoy.
And then, as if Harry wished on it, a sudden piercing, earsplitting sound set his brain aflame. He screamed and covered his ears, falling to the ground, rolling on it in spasms. The pain he suffered was excruciating. When he thought he couldn't stand it anymore, the frequency of the sound sharply increased and then, finally, dropped. Harry waited a few more seconds before he gingerly let go of his ears and, after another moment, sighed in relief. He raised his head and realized that Hermione was on the ground too, looking owlishly around just like he was. Without exchanging a single word they were both searching for the source of that infernal sound, which meanwhile turned into penetrative vibrations. Everything around them began to shake and rattle. The floor moved and creaked, the walls rippled, even the ceiling sagged few inches.
Harry's confusion grew as he couldn't find anything what could be possibly causing those violent quakes. He couldn't detect anything suspicious and so he gave up searching and focused on the vampires instead. Though it was quite difficult to distinguish their figures through the mass of floating dust, he couldn't overlook a sudden change in their behavior. Something had happened.
Was it now then? Did that mean that Voldemort was ultimately dead?
Harry forcefully bit into his clenched fist to overcome a seizure of despair. Oh, how dreadful it was to feel such fear and panic for that bastard, especially when he thought that after Ginny's death he became immune to it. Everything about Voldemort reminded him that he was still alive and damn, it was crazy but Harry didn't know whether to be grateful or hate him for it.
Whatever he felt at the moment he knew he hated Negura incomparably more.
Before Harry's little chest monster could react more profusely to these findings, something else diverted his attention. A soft, golden light appeared in the midst of shambles, glimmering gently, innocently. The young man slowly sat up, trying and failing to make some recognition through a madly swirling dust cloud.
"What is it?" he muttered as the shine rapidly grew brighter and brighter. The dust was suddenly blown away by a strong, unexpected gust of a cold wind and the young wizard could see for the first time what was really going on there.
No … it couldn't be … but Harry certainly wasn't mistaken...
He knew, not only his appearances, but also his gestures, his movements … so it couldn't be anyone else.
Harry bit into his fist again, only this time to hold back a cheerful outcry. Just as he ultimately gave up on Voldemort, he had to prove him wrong. The bastard obviously learned a lesson during their imprisonment in the cave. He wasn't going to give up, no matter what. Harry's heart made several flips in his chest, feeling a ludicrous, inexplicable joy. He raised his head a bit higher to see him better. The Dark Lord was kneeling, his left hand firmly holding the wrist of his other hand above his head. The long, spidery fingers clutched at the yew wand as if it was incredibly difficult to keep it steady in his palm. Though he was on his knees, no one could look less defeated than him.
Also, it was him or more specifically his invincible magic, which was the source of both, the sharp golden light and that earsplitting sound. He was enveloped by an odd, shimmering bubble, which apparently worked as both a shield and a weapon at once.
Harry leaned forward and quickly wiped the dust off his glasses to improve his vision. It seemed to him that the sharp flares, which the bubble occasionally emitted, were blinding the monsters.
"Harry! Harry! Did you see that?-!" he heard Hermione call out from behind him. She somehow managed to crawl next to him and nestled herself in a small hollow surrounded by broken bricks. They both had to resist a violent wind which pushed them backwards, away from the battle field. Harry briefly noticed that they were still out in an open space which could prove to be very dangerous. However, to his great surprise, Hermione didn't mind. She pointed her finger at Voldemort, making a curiously exultant face.
Harry looked back at the fiery bubble and realized that the Dark Lord's magic wasn't just blinding the vampires … no … it was crushing them. His mouth fell open as another gleam erupted from the globe and burned another pack of vampires to ashes.
"Did you see that?-!" Hermione exclaimed again.
"Just what is it?-!" Harry called back, feeling confusion about why Hermione found such a dangerous magic so fascinating.
"I think I have an idea! It must be one of the...!"
Hermione's ecstatic voice was drowned by another piercing sound. The flare immediately multiplied, the shine was so powerful that Harry could no longer look at it without fear of going blind as well. Instead, he focused on the chaos which broke loose among the vampires. Negura screamed something at his poor minions, his deadly white face holding expression of shock, rage and disbelief. He tried to stop Voldemort with some spell, but at that point Harry didn't give him any chance. The monsters were retreating – or better say they were running for their lives (though it was disputable if they still had that). They were rolling towards Harry and Hermione like a destructive blast wave.
The young witch saw that and screamed. Harry tried to get up and drag her away, but it was too late. The small sun Voldemort created around himself exploded, creating the most frightening and astonishing light show Harry had ever seen. The wild flames sprung in all directions, consuming the roaring crowd of rabid creatures, pulverizing them, rushing towards them, closer and closer...
Harry embraced Hermione protectively, trying to shield her from the direct impact, though he knew it was futile. They were going to be crushed by a magic that drastically exceeded his wildest imagination.
The smite was powerful. It lifted them both and hurled them against a wall which he heard crack and crumble beneath them. Harry felt a sharp pain, but he couldn't say whether it was due to his previous injuries or some new ones. He didn't know why he felt so dreadfully cold when he should be burning. He knew he was engulfed by monstrous flames, yet all he could perceive beside the unholy iciness was the wailing of the wind, loud cracking sounds and a buzz of something like electricity which rushed through him. It was so intense that it nearly made him collapse from the sensory overload. He fought that weakness, keeping his eyes firmly closed, waiting for his body to start to burn and crumble apart. When none of it happened, he boldly opened his eyelids a little.
The moment he did that all sounds and lights disappeared.
The quiet and dark was absolute.
This first presumption was quickly cast aside because the pain in his chest and the growing need for air said otherwise. He breathed in and coughed. A horrible taste in his mouth made him cough even more. He blinked and rubbed copious amounts of dust from his eyes.
He shook his head and slowly sat up, rubbing the dust and dirt from his hair and clothes. His fingertips were still freezing cold.
"Hermione," he wheezed and groped around himself, half-blind.
"Harry." Hands, a little warmer, touched his own. "Are you hurt?"
"No," he coughed and wiped the rest of dirt out of his eyes. Hermione sat before him, her hair was grey from the dust in it, her face ashy for the same reason, but otherwise she looked all right. He still had to ask.
"What about you?"
"Without injuries … if you don't count scratches and bruises," she replied and also began to rub dirt off her face.
Harry shook his head again, making more ash fall from his hair.
"Great to hear that. Right, so … what just happened?"
For the first time since he opened his eyes he truly looked around to see what was left of his house. Horrified, he realized he could only see some burning ruins. The anger surged inside him as he turned his eyes up - and his breath hitched in his windpipe. Innocently, dozens of stars twinkled down at them from their immense distance. There was no ceiling above him. Also, no first floor, no second floor, no roof … nothing.
Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place was gone, destroyed to the foundations. It no longer existed, besides some relics. The fact that the same fate met the neighbouring houses, which were also smashed to pieces, only fueled Harry's rage. He let out a fierce growl and grasped his aching chest.
"Sirius...," he muttered, the bitter taste in his mouth prevailing above anything. A bile rose in his throat.
"SIRIUS!" he cried, feeling as if he lost his godfather once again.
"YOU BASTARDS!" he howled and jumped on his feet, looking around, feverish. Hermione called out at him but he didn't listen; he only glanced at whimpering Malfoy, who lay curled on the ground few feet away from them them. Harry felt no desire to check if he was all right, the conceited young Death Eater had to wait, as he needed to find the culprits and punish them.
"Damn you," he hissed. "Damn you!"
He climbed on an uprooted pillar, looked over the havoc quickly … and found what he was looking for. Mad as he was, his jaw still dropped at a sight of a crater (he couldn't describe it any better) at the place where the living room used to be. At the very place where Negura ordered his army to kill Voldemort.
The vampires were gone - exterminated, flattened and annihilated just like this house, if Harry could say so. He didn't see anyone else, only the Dark Lord who still knelt in the middle of that flat, perfectly circular, twenty feet wide hole, barely illuminated by burning wrecks.
And he was steaming. Water evaporated from his robes and his skin as if the wizard was scorching hot. The Dark Lord was very still. He didn't even seem to breathe though it was difficult to judge that over such a distance. As he stared at him, Harry's anger slowly turned into fascination. Did Voldemort just destroy dozens and dozens of vampires by a single curse? Was it even possible? Did Riddle's magic really know no boundaries? More importantly, if Voldemort was able to destroy this house and the vampires, why had he, Hermione and Draco survived it?
Harry made two more steps onwards before a quiet sound coming from behind caught his attention. He looked back and noticed that Hermione caught up with him, her face pale, full of penitence and regret.
"I'm sorry for this, Harry," she whispered. "I know I shouldn't have invited Malfoy to come here. If I didn't do that, Negura would never have entered this house. None of this would have happend."
"Oh, come on, Hermione," Harry said quietly as his anger somehow dissipated. "How could it even occur to you to blame yourself? No, it's not your fault but ... theirs."
Hermione's sudden bewildered expression informed Harry that she also finally spotted Voldemort.
"My...," she whispered in a completely different, astonished tone. "I've never seen anything like this before. Amazing… He really used one of the mythical curses."
Harry looked back at Riddle.
"He used what?" He didn't quite like the sound of it.
"A very rarely performed magic," she said quietly, her eyes glued to Voldemort's still figure. She didn't even scold Harry for being ignorant of the matter, which possibly meant that she was too fascinated to reproach him for his limited knowledge.
"Many wizards and witches believe," she continued quietly as she stared ahead, "that there is no magical way how to kill the undead, the soulless creatures, such as vampires and Dementors. You can stab the vampire's heart to kill it as you can use Patronus Charm to chase a Dementor away, but to destroy them with magic … no, no one could ever do that, except for..."
"Except for who?" Harry asked with growing trepidation.
His voice finally brought Hermione back to reality. She blinked and looked up at him.
"Have you ever read History of Magic?" she asked and her facial expression instantly changed, reminding Harry of Snape during a Potion exam.
"You mean the collection of twelve books, each of which two feet thick? Sorry, but I really haven't read that," Harry snapped, close to losing his patience.
"You should at least pay some attention when Professor Binns..."
Harry really didn't want to remind her what grades he usually received for that subject.
"Okay, okay … who was the greatest wizard of all time?" she asked and Harry only rolled his eyes.
"Merlin, of course," he sighed loudly. This was crazy, really; Voldemort might wake from his languor any second, the other members of the Order were probably coming here along with Aurors, there might be some fanged survivors prowling towards them at the very moment and yet they were standing here, having this discussion.
Naturally, he was the only one to notice as Hermione was too enthralled by the topic she talked about.
"Exactly!" she exclaimed. "In the second volume of History of Magic, there is this report about how Merlin destroyed – no, wiped away – hundreds of vampires who were slaughtering people in muggle villages. It was the first and also last time that vampires openly fought magicians. Ever since then they preferred to stay in secrecy, away from wizards and even muggles, murdering without being seen. The curse which Merlin used was described as a golden sun which turned the night into a day and reduced the undead to ashes, while those poor muggles remained unharmed."
"Remarkably familiar," Harry whispered and looked back at Voldemort. "Do you think he could use the same spell...?"
"Harry, it's only a legend, but..."
"His magical abilities could be equal to Merlin's then. Quite a scary thought."
"Totally frightening...," Hermione whispered. "Nevertheless, I'm convinced that that spectacular increase of his powers was caused by the potion he drank. If my reasoning is correct, then he had to use one of the Forbidden potions. It could be Fortiserum, which releases magic from every pore and fiber of the magician's body and multiplies it for a short amount of time. However, if the wizard or witch who uses this potion doesn't drink the antidote soon, they very quickly run dry of their life force and can easily..."
"Can easily what?" Harry whispered.
"Die," she finished quietly. "What's even worse, once the magician drinks the antidote, he or she will lose all magical abilities for many days as the potion seals the remaining magic within the body cells to ensure the survival."
Harry's throat tightened as he heard her quick whisper.
"How is it that you know all these things, Hermione?" he asked to mask his flurry.
"I've read that horrible book, remember?" she hissed. "Secrets of the Darkest Art. I have to admit that I've also learned some things," she said reluctantly and grimaced.
"However, even I can say that the way You-Know-Who managed to combine the Dark Arts with magic invented by Merlin was incredibly … interesting."
Harry had suspected her that she wanted to describe her 'interest' in far more imaginative way, but he didn't have a chance to taunt her as Voldemort suddenly moved. It was for the first time since Harry found him kneeling in that crater.
Slowly, gracefully, Riddle hoisted himself up on his feet and opened his sanguine eyes. Harry's body slightly stiffened, but it wasn't because of a fear. He couldn't properly describe it but he felt really strange as he watched him cool down after such a great magical performance. His attention turned to Riddle's long, spidery fingers which flexed, then uncurled and disappeared into a pocket of his silky black robes. They reappeared a moment later, holding a small black flask.
The antidote, Harry thought instantly as he watched him uncork the vial and bring it to his lips.
Voldemort never drank from it though. He halted just before the first drop of liquid could enter his mouth, his eyes fixed onto something before him. His face grimaced in distaste.
"Negura," he breathed out, his voice freezing cold. He plugged the flask mechanically and hid it back in his robes.
Merely hearing that name made Harry's throat tighten. Still he held his stance unlike Hermione, who sank to the floor, pressing her palm against her mouth. She couldn't hold back a whimper and Harry instantly understood why.
The black pillar which stood at the edge of the crater wasn't a pillar at all.
It was a human body. Awfully burned, seared nearly to the bone, black and sloughing … and yet incredibly, impossibly alive.
"Still in one piece, I see," the Dark Lord whispered maliciously as he watched the immortal with growing disdain.
The sounds of flames, wind and distant police sirens were the only reply he received.
With a quick flick of his wand Voldemort conjured a sharp wooden pole, balancing it in his thin, pale hand.
"I've been waiting for this moment for a very long time," he spoke quietly, while gazing at the blackened figure with a malevolent stare. "It makes me almost happy that you were able to endure that much. It makes my revenge a lot sweeter. I've always wished to see you suffer till the very end."
He tucked up his sleeves, baring his tenuous wrists, then clenching his fingers around the pole firmly.
"Tell me, Dragomir … are you still disappointed by our duel?" he asked pointedly. "Or did you finally learn the price you're going to pay for your betrayal? Do you regret it now? Too late, Lord Voldemort has no mercy for … traitors."
The burned vampire took an unsteady step backward and raised his hands in a futile attempt to protect himself from what was coming. Harry's eyes jumped from him to Voldemort and back. His chest heaved as he watched the Dark Lord launch the final attack.
Harry had never seen any fight like this. Voldemort's and Negura's powers might have been entirely different, yet both of them mastered their magical potential to perfection. And none of them wanted to give up and run away. Voldemort was motivated by a sheer hatred and Negura … Harry didn't know what exactly the vampire felt. He just knew that the Leader wanted Voldemort on his knees and that he nearly succeeded. Minutes ago Voldemort was losing and yet he managed to pull himself together against all odds. Now it was Negura who stood no chance against the furious Dark Lord.
Mr. Ollivander was right in the end, when he thought that Voldemort was formidable. Yet Harry still wasn't scared of him, he wasn't abashed in the slightest. Though he couldn't deny a certain tension and particular feeling of envy. If he had such a power, he would never have to be afraid for his friends anymore. He would be able to protect them all no matter what.
However, he was also wise enough to be aware of what a thirst for power can do to a wizard. After all, Voldemort was an excellent example of it and Harry didn't want to follow in his footsteps for sure.
Meanwhile, the Dark Lord reached the striking distance and his arm holding the sharp wooden pole moved in a flash. Harry closed his eyes; he didn't want to see that. Just as his eyelids touched a whiff of a cold air ruffled his unruly hair and then he heard a quiet, soft cry.
Hermione grasped and squeezed his forearm forcefully.
And Harry looked up with trepidation … and what he saw stunned him completely.
Voldemort didn't miss what he was aiming for, only … the person he stabbed wasn't the one who he wanted to kill...
A woman, pretty and beautiful embraced Negura's burned body, clinging to his neck, desperately clutching at his blackened skin. Her long, ebony hair fell over her narrow shoulders in cascades, hiding her face from the rest of the world.
"Dragomir,*" she whispered again, her voice agonized and loving at once.
It would be surely a very emotional moment to watch if there wasn't a wooden pole morbidly sticking out of her back.
Voldemort was apparently taken aback by her sacrifice. He took a step back, then another one and finally sank to one knee, breathing heavily.
"Le... ohh … ti … na..." Negura finally stuttered out. His voice was broken, barely comprehensible, which made it all the more terrifying. Her mouth moved quickly against his blackened skin as she spoke in a fast whisper.
"It's too late my dearest Child. Forgive me and drink … quickly. Never forget that I've … always loved … only...*"
Her lips disconnected with his cheek and then her body sagged in his arms as what life was in her vampiric body melted away.
Harry watched the scenery stunned and horrified. He couldn't understand it. How was it possible that a vampire sacrifice herself for another vampire? Weren't they merely soulless monsters unable to feel any form of love? So what was this about?
He felt Hermione clenching her fingers around his wrist repeatedly but didn't show any response. His shock multiplied as he watched Negura howl in agony, bare his horrible teeth and bit furiously into the woman's pale neck. Their bodies began to change instantly; just as Leontina shrank, her skin turning into something like a dry old parchment, cracking and peeling off layer after layer, Negura grew a new tissue, new flesh and skin. His mouth separated from her when she was nothing more than a grey little mummy, but the process didn't stop there. Moments later, only few fragile bones remained in the Leader's arms; it was all that was left of a body which actually died hundreds or maybe even thousands years ago. Dragomir held her gently, stroking the small skull, his eyes firmly closed, moans leaving his once again perfect lips.
"Leontina," he breathed out, his voice shaking and pleading.
"How could you leave me alone? You've promised me to always stand by my side forever. You've always been there... What … just what am I going to do … without you?*"
He leaned down and pressed his lips against her skull.
"You must come back to me … you … I beg you …Leontina!*"
The bones couldn't answer him. She was gone. She was dead and he only slowly started to comprehend it. His fingers caressed her skull once again and then he quietly whispered.
"Sleep well, my dear. I can only deeply regret that I … loved him more than you."
He exhaled slowly, looking at the hyperventilating Dark Lord, who struggled to open the black flask once again.
"Far more than he deserved. Now I see that he was not worth it," the Leader hissed coldly. Voldemort glanced at him and for the first time apprehension prevailed over the usual malice on his face.
"I will revenge you, dearest," the vampire continued quietly, his voice becoming more and more threatening. "That's what I solemnly promise!"
Negura reached out his hand and his seemingly lost wand miraculously jumped back into his waiting palm. Then he conjured a satin cloak and deposited Leontina's fragile bones on it, taking the remnants of her fingers in his hands, pulling down her small silver ring and sliding it on his little finger.
Then he rose to his feet again, still completely naked, but with another flick of his wand he was dressed in black and ruby robes and took a step closer to Voldemort.
The Dark Lord meanwhile fought an uneven battle with the cork of the vial. His movements were quickly losing the necessary coordination. His hands shook, although he visibly tried to control the tremors. When the plug finally went off with a quiet pop, he greedily brought the flask to his mouth.
A kick in his face made him roar in pain and fury, but then the sound of shattering glass halted every sound coming from his mouth. His worriment was quickly replaced with a pure terror, but only for a moment. The water-like liquid spilled from the black flask hissed as it evaporated from the bricks heated by fire.
Voldemort's trembling fingers curled into fists but when he looked up again, the fear was gone, his face filled with detestation again.
"You bloodsucking freak," he hissed venomously. "You still think you can hurt me. I'll … crush you like the rest of those vermin of yours." He slowly stood up and raised his yew wand.
Negura's navy blue eyes flashed as he came closer to him, so close that the tip of Voldemort's wand pressed into his chest.
"Do it then," he said softly. "Just do it, Voldemort. I can't wait to watch you die right after that."
Riddle didn't say a word, only his lips tightened for a second.
"You must realize that you've lost, you're finished. You've taken everything from me and now it's my turn to do the taking," Negura said cruelly. "You'll die tonight, desolated, stripped of everything, even of your own magic."
The vampire retreated to Leontina's remains, wrapped them into the satin cloak and picked them up.
"I was very kind to you," he said. "I was nice and patient … and this is how you repaid me. I offered you immortality and you only hurt me in return. It's all over now. I'll show you how cruel I can be."
He turned his head towards Harry, and the youngster instinctively hid Hermione behind himself. Harry felt how she trembled under Negura's gaze and so he tried to resist his own dread as much as possible.
Negura didn't call his name, however.
"Draco Malfoy," he said snidely, "come here my sweet, young godson."
For a long moment it was quiet, only the quickly approaching police and firemen's sirens could be heard. Harry feverishly wondered, where the hell were the Aurors? Or did Umbridge know what happened here? Had she ordered them not to come? It wouldn't surprise Harry much. The youngster however shuddered at the thought of what would happen if they arrived and rather thought of what Negura could possibly want from Malfoy.
"Don't make me drag you here, boy! You know the time has come for you to show your master your true loyalties," the Leader spoke softly.
A quiet shuffling sound could be heard soon enough.
Draco, still whimpering, slowly passed Harry and Hermione, coming closer to Negura, his head bent down, his steps uneven.
"Please," he whispered as he came closer. "Please … don't make me..."
The horror in his weak voice made Harry's fists curl. He wanted to hit Negura's perfect, sly face, he wanted to hurt him but he couldn't risk a possibility of drawing the vampire's attention to Hermione. So he forced himself to stay unmoving, taking quick glances at Voldemort. Riddle seemed to suffer serious pains, which brought Harry back to what Hermione told him about the antidote. Negura destroyed that flask, which meant … no, he didn't even want to think about that. Harry's muscles tensed, as the Dark Lord suddenly sank onto his left knee and his breathing became irregular. As Harry watched him, he began to recall the events of the past few days. The cave, the hospital and then Mr. Rodger's house as they lay side by side, talking … arguing but why it felt so nice? His thought didn't stop there and he remembered the way Voldemort saved Sheena and how he came here, saving his life in the very last second.
He also recalled the way he glared at him when he though Harry was in love with Draco and then he thought about the remarkable satin quality of his skin, how pleasantly it tingled his fingertips when he touched it … he could almost feel his warm breath against his lips.
Harry looked at his clenched fists, a resolution building inside him. If Voldemort needed the antidote for his survival, then Harry would find one, whatever it may cost him.
"Come here Draco!" Negura's sudden strong voice made Harry jump a little and grit his teeth. The young Death Eater bent his head even more, yet he obeyed.
"What are you doing, Malfoy? Kill him!" Voldemort snarled, still on his knees, gasping for breath.
Draco winced, his large grey eyes glanced at the Dark Lord quickly before he bored them into the floor, shivering.
"Just look at him, Draco," Negura ordered, came over to him and raised his chin. "You'll see that there's nothing to be afraid of. He can no longer cause you any harm. You don't have to listen to him anymore."
Draco only whimpered.
"What are you waiting for, Malfoy?" Voldemort snarled, clenching the yew wand in his palm, trying to get up, but failing.
Draco, on the other hand did raise his wand, pointing it at the man beside him, but a few seconds later it uselessly sank back. He didn't utter a single word.
"You see, Voldemort," Negura said softly, "he won't hurt me, not even on your direct order. Now, watch how your traitors will have no mercy with you and condemn you to death."
The young Death Eater choked, palming his mouth.
"Malfoy," Voldemort hissed furiously. "You wouldn't dare!"
"I … can't …," Draco muttered through fingers, his whole body shaking in strong tremors. Negura brought him closer and lay his arm around his trembling shoulders in a fatherly gesture.
"Draco," he said quietly. "You'll take me to Voldemort's hideout. I have to burn that nest of evil to ashes with everything what's inside. You are going to help me with this task."
"No!" the young Malfoy cried and backed away. "Please, no. Please, please … don't make me do it!"
Harry extracted himself from Hermione's clutch and gestured to her to stay behind. It was too much for him; he had to stop it right now. Using Negura's distraction, he slowly tried to approach him.
"Oh, my dear boy," Negura sighed in fake disappointment. "You must listen to my good advices, otherwise I might easily think that you value Voldemort's ideals more than mine. I don't consider you as my enemy, dear child, and you certainly don't want to become one, do you? You don't want to meet the same end as your master."
Draco's knees buckled. He began to sob.
"Come with me and live. Or stay at Voldemort's side and die. It's that simple Draco. Make your decision."
"Don't listen to him, Malfoy! He's going to kill you anyway!" Harry called out, running towards them, giving up on a secret attack. He knew that Draco will break and do wherever the Leader wanted him to do. Negura will destroy Voldemort, using that young Death Eater, who would be dead already if Harry didn't pay such a high prize for his life. Voldemort must regretted agreeing with Harry. He must regretted sparing someone's life. It just gave Harry another reason why to despise Negura.
"Potter," the vampire sneered and with a flick of his wand knocked Harry down. "You were unexpectedly right about him, Voldemort. That boy's way too bothering and persistent."
Then the vampire turned back to the blonde.
"So?" he asked shortly. "Are you coming with me, godson?"
Draco was on his knees too, hiding his tears behind his palms.
"I …I … can't … please…!"
"Very well..." The Leader's voice changed to be colder than ice. "If that's what you wish..."
"No!" Draco screamed as he faced Negura's wand. He looked at Voldemort, who watched him with an accusing stare and shivered again. He still slowly got up, came over to the vampire and said with a broken voice.
"I … I … I'm coming with you, my Leader."
Negura's victorious smirk made Harry nearly vomit.
"Good boy," he whispered and grasped his elbow. "You're much more cooperative than the so-called hero Potter, who's siding with his enemy. Ah, no matter, finishing Voldemort is my priority. I'll deal with that brat later."
Harry snarled under his breath and raised himself from the floor (with Hermione's great help and support). As the couple Apparated away Voldemort who still somehow managed to keep himself upright heavily sank to the floor and closed his eyes.
"Hey," Harry whispered and took a step towards him. Then he halted and turned to Hermione, who was unusually pale and quiet. He heard new voices, which reached them from across the havoc. Someone was already here, searching through the ruins. Harry even saw the lights coming from the wands. He knew he must not hesitate. Besides, he already made his decision.
"Hermione," he said softly and took a deep, painful breath. "May I ask a favour of you?"
"Of course, Harry. Just tell me what you need," she whispered, her eyes still fixed to the place where Voldemort collapsed.
"Thanks. Please, just hold the Aurors back for three minutes."
She looked up at him, her eyes filled with surprise. But she didn't ask anything, only nodded. She took two steps before looking at him once again.
"Harry … whatever you're going to do … please, be careful."
"I will," he promised. "I'll meet you and the rest of the Order in half of hour at Hogwarts, okay?"
She nodded again and hesitantly asked.
"Do you need my wand?"
Harry considered it for a moment and then he shook his head.
"Er … no, thanks but I'm thinking of another option. Just go stop them, please," he said and watched her hurry away. Then he turned to Voldemort.
He overcame the distance quickly, knelt beside him and grasped his shoulder.
"Wake up," he said firmly and shook him. When he was met with no response he added the force.
"Wake up, Tom!"
Voldemort opened his sanguine eyes and snarled.
"Gah... Potter… How is it possible that Negura didn't kill you yet?" he hissed poisonously.
"I see you're pleasant as ever," Harry snapped.
"Crawl up Malfoy's ass and die there."
Harry sighed loudly before he countered.
"Oh Merlin, I can't believe that after everything that happened tonight you're still so jealous!"
"I am what?-!" Voldemort hissed like a rabid snake but then his body doubled up in pain, effectively stopping his fit of fury.
Harry shook his head, leaned to his ear and softly whispered.
"Don't you think that if I were in love with Malfoy, I would be preferentially trying to help him instead of you, bastard?"
The sanguine eyes met Harry's green ones and grew wide.
"What … do you mean?" his pale lips moved slowly.
"You're the genius here. Why don't you make your own conclusion?" Harry said firmly. "Now, get up. I must take you to your hideout before Negura can destroy it. I'm sure you have the antidote for Fortiserum there, am I right?"
Voldemort gazed at him, breathless.
"And why would you want to help me, Potter?" he finally asked, his burning eyes making holes through Harry's head as he desperately searched for the answer.
At that moment Harry was too tired to give him a lengthy, sensible explanation. He took a hold of Riddle's chin, raised it up a little and descended on his mouth with his own dry, cracked lips. For a few long seconds he lingered there, enjoying the silky feeling, the way the other man's skin warmed up against his immediately, the way Voldemort's breath hitched in his throat. He had to pull away then and he did so with certain reluctance. As they finally separated he looked down at the Dark Lord who remained shockingly composed – at least at cursory glance.
"Was that a satisfactory answer?" Harry whispered. When Riddle didn't say anything, he continued. "Tom, we really must go now."
After some hesitation, Voldemort slowly raised his hand and sneaked it around Harry's shoulders.
"You may assist me," he said simply, and then added. "Though if you call me Tom again, I will rip off your tongue that instant."
"Oh, you would soon miss it," Harry muttered as he hoisted him up onto his feet.
"What was that?" Voldemort hissed, but Harry only smirked.
"Nothing … I need your wand now."
Voldemort's eyes widened for a fraction of second and the corner of his lips involuntary jerked as if he wanted to laugh at Harry's insolence but forgot how.
"Give you my wand, Potter? If you really thought that I would do something like that, then you're more insane than I considered you to be," he hissed, incredulous, though not as mad as Harry expected.
Still, the young wizard gritted his teeth.
"Insane? Sounds funny coming from you. But, let's face the situation. You can't use magic and as you can see I'm presently without a wand. I can hardly Apparate us like that. So, if you mind so much to lend me yours, we can always stay here and say hello to the Aurors behind that wall!"
Voldemort said nothing to that, he was obviously thinking. Harry looked up and met his fiery gaze. He didn't know how to transfer the urgency he felt on the suspicious Dark Lord.
"I'm not going to steal it. I promise," he whispered quietly.
Voldemort broke their stare and glanced at the wall separating them from his immediate demise.
"You can touch it, Potter," he said finally. "I will use your magic to Apparate us."
Harry nodded and slid his hand down Voldemort's forearm, over his bony wrist and long fingers towards the warm, wooden stick he held.
The moment he touched it the world around him imploded, squeezing his sore chest and whole body drastically, before releasing him again. He coughed for some time, rubbing the soreness off his thorax.
The sound of a horn alarmed him, but Harry soon realized that it was just a passing lorry. He exhaled and took another deep breath, smelling something decaying right away. The stench was probably coming the overflowing garbage bin which stood ten feet from him in the shadow of an old tree. Harry turned his head to the other side, glancing over the houses and squinting as the sharp artificial light of the street light blinded him for a second. The cold hand clinging to his shoulder tightened its grasp, boring the claws into his muscles.
"Stop dawdling, Potter," Voldemort hissed and Harry blinked and looked at his face.
"We're here already?" he asked hesitantly. It was a surprise for him, though seeing these surroundings was somehow in correlation with Harry's suspicion that Voldemort lived in a house built by muggles.
"Almost," Voldemort retorted and gave him further direction. Soon they rushed through a small park and crossed a wide street.
It was early in the morning, the sky was still dark and muggles were mostly still asleep, however Harry could imagine how animated this wide street could be during the day.
They passed several residences and Harry slowly began to wonder how far they would have to go. He hoped that in such an emergency Voldemort would Apparate them directly into the house. It didn't happen, but maybe it wasn't possible – Harry didn't know.
Harry nevertheless noticed the growing tension in the Dark Lord's body. The longer they went, the more the man hurried. Finally, they turned left from the pavement onto a long driveway. Voldemort prolonged his steps so much that Harry had to trot beside him. The old building was quiet, nothing showed that it was – or should be under the attack. All the windows were black – whatever residents were inside, they were probably asleep.
Voldemort released his hold on Harry's shoulder and rushed forward, raising his wand.
Harry watched him approach the entrance door, already feeling relieved that they made it in time. But before he could start to think about what he was going to do with Voldemort who will be temporarily stripped of magic after drinking the antidote, a roaring, billowing noise together with flames of an abnormal size knocked him back to reality. For a second he though it was some protection wall, which Voldemort used against the intruders, but according to the Dark Lord's reaction that wasn't the case. The flames grew higher and higher, consuming the whole house within seconds.
Harry, over his shock, remembered when he had seen such a destructive fire before. It was three years ago in the Room of Requirement. Crabbe cast that horrible spell to kill them all.
"Fiendfyre," he whispered quietly. "The cursed fire."
He hesitated only a second. Then he ran after Voldemort.
He saw the Dark Lord trying to perform some magic – and it was working – Riddle was managing to stifle the wild flames, but the pressure and exhaustion he had undergone tonight must have been enormous. All the magic he recovered during past minutes was soon gone and nothing could stop him from collapsing to the ground.
Once freed from the magical restriction, the fire fully broke forth once again.
"Tom!" Harry screamed and finally reached him, grasping his robes and dragging him away from the range of the extremely dangerous flames.
"Voldemort!" he said more urgently, but the wizard didn't seem to be aware of his presence. The Dark Lord overdid that by far, the Fortiserum already brought him to his limits.
"Damn it," Harry cursed, his fingers tightening onto the Dark Lord's robes. He could only hope that the Death Eaters inside will try to stop it by themselves. But if they were sleeping...!
A sound of shattering glass and a horrible scream nearly perforated Harry's ears. A burning figure jumped through the window, trying to escape the fire, yet already condemned to the most horrible death.
"NO!" Harry roared and jerked off his sweater and shirt, throwing it at the poor man in a hopeless attempt to blanket the fire. The effect was quite the opposite, it only fueled the horrible flames.
"No!" Harry screamed again, ran back to Voldemort, wrested the wand out of his firm grip and pointed it at the burning figure.
"Aquamenti!" The water merely turned into a vapor the second it touched the flames. Harry was desperate … he didn't learn about these Darkest Arts during his training yet, which he deeply regretted now. How was he supposed to stop it?-!
He failed to save that poor man, so he turned to the building, focusing all his will power on the next spell.
It didn't work, though the wand listened to him amazingly. It wasn't the proper counter-spell, the fire still grew in strength.
Harry staggered back to Voldemort and sank to the ground.
"Sheena," he whimpered, his eyes slowly filling with tears. He was losing her. The thought that he would probably never touch her soft, glistering scales again and he would never hear her quiet taunting voice calling him 'amigo' was a torture. The despair he felt made him sick. His body couldn't take the physical and emotional exhaustion anymore.
"I can't stop it alone … Voldemort! You have to help me! Wake up!" he implored, ignorant of what was left of his Gryffindor pride.
"Wake up, please... Don't let Sheena die … don't let Negura win over you...," he whispered, but the Dark Lord remained unresponsive. Slowly, Harry lay his trembling palm over Voldemort's inert hand and closed his eyes. It was hopeless; the Dark Lord was powerless, defeated.
And so was Harry.
He didn't know how long he sat there, tears prickling in his eyes, listening to the appalling sounds of destruction. It couldn't be longer than minutes but it felt like hours.
"I'm sorry," he whispered to no one. "I know I failed."
"You're still here," whispered a weak voice.
Harry started tremendously and looked down. Voldemort was watching him through his barely opened eyes.
"The Boy Who Lived … brave so much that he's foolish, impudent and reckless like a child, good and noble beyond common sense. Yet … you … didn't fail me … Harry."
The way he said his name made Harry's throat tighten. Riddle had never said his name with such a tone. Usually, he only said it to mock his juvenility. Now, his voice held much more acceptance. It made Harry feel all the worse.
"But I failed to get the antidote, I couldn't stop the fire … why aren't you mad at me?"
Voldemort took his time before he replied.
"Because being mad at you is so simple, easy. Yet you've made the most difficult decisions because of me … for me. And I am not blind to that. But now, you should go away boy. The Aurors are coming here as well. I don't think you want to see that," he said blankly.
"What are you saying?-! Have you lost your mind?-! I can't leave you here! Gosh, they're going to kill you!" Harry cried and grasped Voldemort's collar, shaking him. "I won't let it happen... I … I'll take you..."
"Where?" Voldemort hissed. "I'm going to die anyway, Potter."
"To Hogwarts," Harry finished firmly.
"And you think your friends are going to take care of me? You are such a fool. Besides, it's too late. Give me back my wand which you promised not to steal and go home, you silly boy."
The cracks of Apparation made Harry's whole body stiffen. He quickly leaned to Voldemort and whispered to his ear.
"I don't have a home anymore. You've destroyed it, because of that freak, Negura. I honestly can't let that monster win so easily. He murdered thousands of people! He took away the lives of my two dear friends tonight! So if it is your death what he wants, than trust me, I won't let it happen."
Harry pressed his lips quickly against the cold, soft cheek and added.
"And because of that, I need your wand for a little longer."
He got up, rising the object of their dispute and cast the Shield Charm as the first stupefying curses flew in the air.
The yew wand once again complied with his wishes. It served him even better than the hawthorn wand he stole Malfoy. It was nearly as good as his old precious holy wand, which reminded him that this was its brother after all. If Harry had time to think about it, he would certainly find this whole matter very discomfiting. But he couldn't afford to stop paying attention to a dozen of dark figures, who were rushing towards him. He recognized the first two soon enough. It was Umbridge, her toad-like face widely grinning in an unconcealed glee.
"It's him, it's him!" she screamed. "We've finally got him! You were right, Leader, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's here, defeated!"
Negura, who was right behind her, remained impassive, glaring at Harry instead of Voldemort.
Harry moved. He levitated Voldemort from the ground and grasped his forearm.
Umbridge was very close now and she observed Harry's action with growing suspicion and distaste.
"You didn't kill him, did you Potter?" she snarled at him as if Harry just stole her life-time victory.
But Harry didn't answer – he couldn't because he suddenly recognized the wand in her palm.
It was the Elder Wand.
The Elder Wand.
It was the wand which Voldemort lost in the cave. The wand which was found by someone who decided that it will be better if Harry and his archenemy died by cold or hunger thirty feet under ground. Someone who desired to see them dead. Someone who thought that their existence limited her own power.
And that someone was Dolores Umbridge, Minister for Magic, who employed a bloodthirsty, cruel and revengeful vampire, Dragomir Negura.
"STUPEFY!" he roared and watched with a great satisfaction as a red flash hit her corpulent body, which instantly toppled over and thudded loudly against the ground.
Negura sputtered in anger, pulling out his wand, but Harry moved like an experienced fighter and send out his favourite curse.
The wand jumped out of Negura's palm and Harry immediately used the moment of surprise to chain him with a nonverbal spell. It worked before, why wouldn't it work again? And yes, it was amazing, the yew wand obeyed his every whim. Harry really began to like it.
Negura snarled in fury, tore the chains apart and as a result more figures were running towards them, but the youngster had a split-second advantage. He grasped Voldemort's motionless body, looked at the Leader for one last time and before he turned on the spot he whispered loud enough for the vampire to hear that.
"I'll make sure he will live."
And with a loud crack they disappeared.
When the pinioning darkness was lifted off Harry's body, he breathed out the fire in his lungs and staggered towards the closest tree, resting his back against it.
"Hell, I can't believe I've really made it. I've never Apparated that far before."
Harry expected some response from his companion, but Voldemort didn't say anything. He lay where Harry dropped him, face buried in a humid, cold forest soil. Someone would probably found his position funny and humiliating, but none of it occurred to Harry. He closed his eyes, relaxed his muscles to recover some strength, then breathed in the clear, icy air and listened to the sounds of the woods close before a dawn.
"It's been a long time since I last was in this forest," he said. "Almost three years. I'm sure you recall those events too. It feels like it was yesterday that Hagrid carried me towards the castle while I pretended to be dead."
Voldemort remained quiet.
"Anyway, who says that history doesn't repeat over and over? Though, there is a considerable twist in events comparing it to the last time, isn't there?"
The Dark Lord only breathed out loudly and Harry nodded.
"Ah … right, there's no time for sentiment. I must not forget we're in a hurry."
He came over to him, levitated him again, encircled Riddle's long arms around his neck and settled him on his own back.
"It's not very far, but what do you think about having a talk before we reach the gate?" Harry asked, seeking for the lights of the castle.
Voldemort still didn't reply and Harry began to feel suspicion that the man was unconscious. Maybe, it would be easier that way. Riddle didn't have to know everything.
"Great," Harry whispered, breathing heavily as they mounted up a steep hill, "I really enjoy talking to you when you can't spit your insults at me."
Harry had to stop for a moment, his sore lungs were hurting due to his inadequate fitness. But he could see the castle already and it gave him new strength.
"Damn, it's so cold," Harry shuddered. He was only in his undershirt and the heat his body absorbed from the Fiendfyre was already gone. Moreover, Voldemort wasn't exactly warming him up.
Oh crap … he didn't just think that. He rubbed his arms and looked upwards. He let his thoughts wander, searching for a distraction. He asked the first thing which occurred to him.
"Honestly, who would have thought that you are so 'self-destructive'?" he said. "I mean, how is it that you can only have a crush on people who can potentially destroy you? It's not exactly … safe. For you at least."
Harry knew already that it was going to be a monologue. If Voldemort were awake, this question would certainly stir some reaction on his part, which didn't happen.
"Everyone has different needs. Maybe you don't prefer having safe sex," Harry chuckled and resumed walking up the hill.
"Uh … just please, don't die on me, Voldemort," he gasped a minute later, resting again. "I promised Negura that you'll kick his ass later. There's hardly anyone else who can do it."
Only few dozens of feet separated Harry from the end of the ascend and he focused on surmounting it. When the hill finally flattened and he could spot the old gate to his beloved school, he sighed in relief.
"You told me to go home, so we're here," he said, breathing quickly, shallowly. "Now I have to make sure you'll get the antidote in time. I wouldn't worry too much, because professor Slughorn inherited Snape's perfectly equipped Potion's repository and he certainly wouldn't miss such a special potion in his collection. However, convincing him and Madam Pomfrey to give it to you will be more problematic. Well … I think that I can deal with Horace, but Madam Pomfrey? I have a distinct feeling that she will refuse even if I promise her to repot her Mandrakes for the whole term."
Harry halted his pace suddenly.
"And there's also Kingsley … and Professor McGonagall. They'll be more mad than I've ever seen them before. Oh damn, talking to them is not going to be easy. Especially now, when I'm officially a criminal again. I shouldn't have attacked Umbridge, no matter how much I enjoyed it. Too late to regret it now I guess. And then, my friends … I hope they're all right … they are going to be shocked and upset... I'll be getting it from them too..."
The youngster resumed the pace and approached the high stony wall, looking over the surroundings and then turning his face to the Dark Lord, whose head rested on his shoulder. He hesitated a little longer before speaking quietly.
"There is one more thing which is quite official. I would hardly do any of this if I didn't feel what I'm feeling right now and if you didn't … er … if … we didn't…"
Harry bit his lip and cursed under breath. "Oh Merlin, why the hell am I stammering? It's not like you're listening to me, right?"
He had to spit it out already.
"I really need to finally say this or I'll go crazy, I swear … so … shortly, there is this something about you which I've learned to like … a lot. Although," Harry paused and scratched his cheek, "I have no idea what that something exactly it is yet. And I really want to find out, so I will face it. I will face everything to discover the truth."
Harry nodded, making a new resolution as he looked up at the old, massive gate in front of him, ready to face a whole new adventure which lay in this castle and in his future.
Author's note: Yes, there will be a sequel and the title will be The love accident. So if you liked this story, you have something to look forward to! :D