Harry Potter & the Ritual of Merlin's Choice

Chapter 3

Harry awoke to the feeling of the cold forest ground against his face, and an ache that filled his body from head to toe, but he had the presence of mind to keep his eyes closed, and not to stir. Though he could feel his wand in his pocket where he'd left it, he made no move to draw it. Instead, he maintained the illusion of death as best he could while trying to get his bearings. Ignoring his discomfort, he concentrated instead on his sense of hearing.

The clearing—if that was still where he was—was surprisingly quiet. The only sounds he could make out were the crackling of the fire, some hurried whispers, and the sound of scuffling. Where were the cheers of triumph and jubilation? Shouldn't Voldemort and his followers be celebrating his apparent demise? Curious, he risked a quick glimpse and caught sight of Voldemort getting to his feet, a few paces away. Had the destruction of his final Horcrux knocked the Dark Lord out?

Voldemort brushed away his servants' offers of assistance, but he seemed wary of approaching Harry. Perhaps he suspected that his nemesis was not truly dead? Whatever the reason, he sent one of his Death Eaters to check on Harry instead of doing so himself. That was his first mistake. His second mistake was his choice of servant; Narcissa Malfoy cared more for the potential fate of her son than for ensuring her Master's victory, and was more than content to lie to serve her purpose.

When she stood and proclaimed, "He's dead," the change in mood was instantaneous. The gathering of Death Eaters in the clearing was small, but what they lacked in numbers, they made up for in enthusiasm. There was shouting, and cheering, and stomping of feet. There were flashes of light, visible through Harry's closed eyelids. And, then there were curses, as —one after another—each of the Death Eaters took turns cursing Harry's "corpse".

Somehow, he managed to maintain his facade all through Voldemort's premature victory celebration. Even when Hagrid was forced at wandpoint to carry him through the forest—back to the frontline of the battlefield — he succeeded in feigning death through their entire trek.

The sounds of the still raging battle had grown in volume, as they approached the forest's edge, such that when they finally reached it, the battle sounds finally eclipsed the celebratory Death Eater cheers.

They paused then, and Voldemort addressed the battlefield once more, his voice magically magnified, "Your hero is dead. He and his sidekicks were killed as they attempted to flee, leaving you all to die in their places. I have brought you Harry Potter's body as proof of his treachery, and of his demise at my hands. His companions I have left to rot in the forest and be eaten by scavengers—a fate befitting of cowards." He paused before addressing Hagrid, "Lay him down at my feet—where he belongs."

Harry could feel Hagrid shaking as he complied, gently laying him on the blood-soaked grass. He struggled to contain his need to comfort his friend with some sign, any sign, that he wasn't truly dead, but he knew to do so would be unwise. Hagrid was notoriously bad at keeping secrets...

"The battle is over," Voldemort continued. My forces can easily slaughter what remains of your pitiful resistance. But Lord Voldemort is generous. I offer you a final opportunity to surrender; if you lay down your wands and bow before your Lord and Master, you will be spared. Continue you futile resistance and share the fate of you hero."

There was silence on the battlefield, as Death Eaters and the resistance alike took in the Voldemort's words. Harry chanced a quick peek at the scene. Bodies littered the ground, too many for him to identify them all from such a quick glimpse, though he thought he recognized Flitwick and more than one red-headed corpse.

Harry never did find out if anyone was planning to take Voldemort up on his offer; for, mere seconds after the offer was made, Neville charged Voldemort—unsuccessfully— and the battle recommenced.

Voldemort's boast that his forces outnumbered the resistance was shattered, before long, by the arrival of reinforcements. First came hundreds of witches and wizards—the families and friends of those already fighting—and Grawp. They were followed by the arrival of Buckbeak, and a flock of thestrals, who attacked Voldemort's giants and Death Eaters from the air. Then, a herd of centaurs burst from the forest to join the fray, and a legion of house-elves—lead by Kreacher—charged out from the kitchens, wielding cutlery of all shapes and sizes.

Chaos reigned, and Harry took advantage of everyone's distraction to spring to his feet and hide himself in the crowd—what he wouldn't do for his cloak at that moment—while trying to keep Voldemort in his sights. As the fighting moved off the grounds and into the castle proper, a need to defend himself from attack at all angles, hampered Harry's attempts to reach Voldemort.

Had the Death Eaters all forgotten Voldemort's orders to leave Harry Potter to him? Or perhaps they simply thought such orders now voided by Voldemort's unsuccessful Killing Curse? Or... did they simply not recognize him; he was supposed to be dead…

Whatever the reason, the distraction of defending himself, and that of watching helplessly as first Seamus Finnigan and then Hannah Abbott were killed by Death Eaters caused Harry to temporarily lose sight of the Dark Lord. Harry weaved his way through the crowd; he witnessed Dolohov and Walden blast Hagrid against a stone wall—then kill him. He then saw Neville brought down by Fenrir Greyback, and Yaxley bring down Lee Jordan. He passed Aberforth as the older wizard stunned Rookwood, only to see Thicknesse kill Aberforth.

When Harry caught sight of Voldemort, once more, he was standing in the centre of the Great Hall and locked in battle with McGonagall, Slughorn, and Kingsley. However, before Harry could reach him, the young wizard's attention was drawn to the sight of Bellatrix Lestrange in a heated duel with Ginny and Luna. The young witches were putting up a good fight, but Bellatrix clearly outmatched them. Harry changed course, intent on helping them out, but he was still halfway across the Hall when a jet of Killing Curse green caught Ginny in the chest.

Luna was saved from sharing the same fate by the arrival of a vengeful Molly Weasley, who arrived yelling, "THAT WAS MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!" and pushed her out of harm's the way.

Harry had never seen the Weasley matron so angry. Enraged, Molly was more than a match for Bellatrix, and the dark witch's taunts that she'd already killed Arthur and two of Molly's sons, only served to fuel that same rage. It wasn't long before the red-haired matron landed a killing blow.

Across the Hall, Voldemort screamed, blasting his opponents backward with the force of his fury. His response to Bellatrix's death caught Harry by surprise—though he'd known she was Voldemort's best lieutenant, he'd never considered the Dark Lord one for emotional attachment; he treated most of his servants like disposable commodities.

However, when Voldemort turned his wand on Molly Weasley, Harry reacted instinctively, roaring, "Protego!" before the Dark Lord could utter a single curse.

The appearance of the resulting Shield Charm, and the power with which it glowed, drew Voldemort's attention at last—and that of the rest of the crowd.

Silence fell abruptly and no one interfered as Harry covered the last few yards to stand before his nemesis, nor did anyone interfere with their duel when it began. In fact, for as long as the duel lasted, there was no other fighting—every witch, wizard, and being stood rooted in place, their attention focused on the duelling pair at the centre of the Hall, to the exclusion of all else.

It probably would have ended far more quickly had the two not wasted quite so much time trading insults and taunts. Eventually, however, Voldemort's luck ran out and he was struck down by a killing blow that had emerged from his own wand—or rather the Elder wand, which though wielded by Voldemort, considered Harry it's Master—and he fell as though in slow motion to lie crumpled on the ground.

Only after Voldemort's defeat did the fighting start up again, the combatants bursting back into motion as though a spell had been broken. Though many of his Death Eaters survived—among them some of his best fighters, Yaxley, Dolohov, Macnair, Fenrir Greyback, and Thicknesse—they were outnumber, and their Master's death had robbed them of some of their drive, while reenergizing Hogwarts' defence. Most attempted to flee the scene, though few made it very far, with Apparition blocked by the wards, the centaurs blocking their escape into the forest, and the thestrals blocking their escape into the air.

The battle was over in short order, but with the number of corpses littering the ground— outside on the grounds, in the Great Hall, and elsewhere in the castle— there was little cause for celebration when it finally ended. Certainly, Harry had no interest in celebrating as he tallied the list of the dead he knew of in his head: Fred, Susan Bones, Remus, Tonks, Hermione, Ron, George, Charlie, Arthur, Flitwick, Seamus Finnigan, Hannah Abbott, Lee Jordan, Aberforth, Ginny, Neville…

Perhaps others felt differently, for Harry found himself surrounded by survivors attempting to crowd him in a show of gratitude. The first to reach him was Luna, wrapping her arms around him in a mix of relief and shared grief. Then came Molly, and Bill, and Percy, all that remained of the Weasleys, followed by Kingsley and McGonagall and Sprout, and dozens if not hundreds of complete strangers, who all wanted a piece of the Boy-Who-Lived…

Nobody asked what he wanted—if they had, he would have requested peace, quiet, and some privacy to grieve. It wasn't until hours later—the sun had long since risen—that Luna sat down beside him and—in a gesture he would be eternally grateful for—offered to distract the crowd with talk of Blibbering Humdingers.

While everyone turned to where she was pointing, Harry slipped out of the Hall, and then out of the castle as quickly and as stealthily as he could without his cloak. First order of business was to find his cloak; he had a feeling that it would be indispensable in the coming days if he hoped to have any peace at all.

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