The Unforgiving Moment
At first you can hear nothing but a faint ringing. Your eyes are closed, eyelids feeling heavy as if they are made of led. You can't quite remember what the last time was that you got a good night's sleep. You have been awake and alert for 45 hours now. At this point, you realize, you are pretty much running on adrenaline and two and a half doses of pepper-up potion. Your thoughts are drifting. CONCENTRATE! You take a deep breath to center yourself. It smells of concrete dust, sweat, smoke and sulfur. Sound is coming back. You can hear voices, faintly, as if you are submerged in water.
You open your eyes and see him. Your friend Neville. You think that he's trying to catch your attention, but your are distracted by how old he looks all of a sudden. No, not old. Just mature maybe or adult. Battle-hardened is the closest you can come to a description. He has not shaved in a few days and the serious look in his eyes make him seem so different from the shy boy you knew back at school, this sudden moment of clarity shifting your perspective. He just looks so different! You are drifting again... Finally, Neville yelling "Harry, get the fuck up!" for the twelfth or so time gets your attention, it focuses your senses to the here and now. You are lying on the floor of the Ministry's atrium, right next to the rabble of what used to be a hideous centerpiece statue extolling the arrogance of wizards and their supposed superiority over everyone else.
Neville pulls you to your feet and drags you to cover. Right, the fight. The last hoorah of whoever was left alive after the sacking of Hogwarts castle. Students and members of the Order attacking Voldemort's Death Eaters with the frenzy and desperation of someone who has lost too much. Those that lost their significant others, loved ones and friends at Hogwarts that morning are fighting like they are possessed. Poor Remus. He looks practically feral. After he saw Tonks gutted right in front of by a dark cutting curse from that bitch Lestrange he has been frothing at the mouth to avenge her. Casting like a maniac, taking curses instead of dodging or shielding in order to catch them off guard and kill them quickly and brutally. You realize he probably won't make it through the night he keeps going like that for much longer. Not that it would be a good thing if he did. Seeing the light go out of his wife's eyes and having to live with that for the rest of his life would be unbearable. You know you too would lose the will to live if she died. No, don't think like that, not now. She is safe, with her family, out of Britain. She promised.
You have to get your head in the game. You lift your wand and take aim at the nearest Death Eater. You notice that he is bleeding from a shallow looking cut on his chest. You cast an intentionally botched flesh knitting charm right at that cut of his. He sees the spell, red in color, tries to block with a protego thinking it a simple stunning curse, but is surprised when it goes right on through and makes contact with him. Healing spells are weird like that. In order to block it, you would need to cast the Winston shield spell (named after the wizard that invented it in 1891) that blocks beneficial spells. No one bothers to learn how to cast that shield, except maybe charms masters. You see him looking at his chest, trying to understand what just happened and notice that the spell had the intended effect. His formerly shallow cut looks wider, deeper and is bleeding profusely. You quickly hit him with the "seizure vice" next, a spell that healers use to paralyze the patient's limbs when they are thrashing around too much. He drops on his face and you leave him there to bleed to death. It's more than he deserves. Dying from blood loss is not a bad way to go. It's like going to sleep. Only you don't get to wake up from that.
You shift your suddenly morbid thoughts to the next Death Eater in sight. You block a purple dark cutter and side step when he casts an Avada Kedavra. It sails past you, right where your head was moments before, with the telltale whoosh and that familiar, foreboding feeling of death that always accompanies that curse. It makes the hair on the left side of your head stand on end like static electricity. At that moment you decide that that particular scumbag deserves something special. You hit him with the "Iron Maiden", a 13th century torture curse, cast low at his feet. It impales them to the ground with iron spikes. You hear him scream in pain. Good! You follow that up with a cutting curse to the neck and chain the wand movement to an accio mentally targeted at the former statue's rubble behind him. Predictably, despite his state of agony he has the presence of mind to block the cutting curse, but he doesn't notice the summoning charm. The rubble hit him mostly at the head and upper back. He then slumps awkwardly forward, his feet still impaled to the ground and his head bashed in and bleeding. He'll be dead in seconds.
You turn your head to the left and you see the most terrifying sight a wizard can witness. An amalgamation of fiery animals striding and galloping towards you, now inches from you. Fiendfyre! Ah, that's why it smelled like sulfur... you think, as you scramble to hit the ground and the cursed fire flies above you. That means the Lestrange brothers are here. You know that only they are insane and powerful enough to summon the hellfire. When you feel the burning inferno has passed, you yell "Cover me!" to Neville as you prepare to perform a short purification ritual, or the "Father Biacci's Purifying Rite" as the Vatican wizard-priests call it. It is draining as all hell, but one of the few obscure, known ways to counter the demonic flames. You thank your lucky stars that she insisted you memorize every useful spell you could from her family's library.
You draw the vial of holy water from your jacket and coat your wand with it, mentally repeating the necessary prayer three times. You perform the wand movements needed, a cross inside a circle movement that stays imprinted in the air with golden-white light. Then you gather your magic, concentrate and incant out loud one of the seven words of power. The one that roughly translated means "Purify". You see a golden wave of light and magic cascading from the cross-in-circle mark and quickly enveloping the entire room. When it meets the demonic flames it eradicates them with a bang accompanied by white, blinding light. You notice the shocked and surprised looks on the unmasked faces of the Lestrange brothers. You feel drained, but you have to capitalize on their distraction. You cast two quick piercing hexes, aiming for their heads. You hit one on the forhead and the other in the right eye. They drop dead like puppets with their strings cut, that same expression of shocked surprise forever etched on their faces. And a few steps away Lestrange shrieks like a banshee and attacks Lupin again like a possessed madwoman. You guess that even psychotic murderers care about family.
For a moment, you wish it was your fourth year at Hogwarts again. When Voldemort was just a shade looming in the dark, not an ever-pressing threat. When you first met her. When learning new magic was exciting and not necessary for survival. When the world was black and white, friends and enemies, clear lines drawn between the good guys and the bad guys. A simpler time. But now is not the time to wish the impossible and reminisce on what was. As if to drive that point home, the lone Death Eater left on this side of the demolished statue realizes that he's cut-off from his skull-masked fellows, facing three to one odds, goes for the "hail Mary" bombarda on the ground. He's probably thinking that if he's gonna die, he might as well take as many as he can with him. You pull a move the aurors have dubbed "Robards' blanket" and cast area wide impedimenta and cushioning charms on the ground where you see the blasting curse is going to hit. Needless to say, Gawain Robards is a genius and Tonks was the best for teaching it to you. You notice the Death Eater has closed his eyes and waits for the inevitable shower of debris and painful demise. So, it's only logical that he's surprised when the chunks from the destroyed atrium's floor merely bump him like pillows. He's even more surprised when your follow-up bonebreaker curse hits him in the face. He isn't surprised for too long...
You take a moment to gather some strength and magic, and follow the others to the other side of the former statue. You really need to finish this and get to the Minister's office, get to Voldemort now that he's vulnerable. Now that all his Horcruxes are destroyed. Now that for the first time ever, Voldemort is retreating after he found out about his failed immortality contingency. You have to get to him before he vanishes to some hidden safehouse to research other avenues to everlasting life. You know he fears death above all else. If he disappears now, all this death will have been for nothing. He will always be out there, a threat to everyone.
You get to the other side of the room just in time to see Bellatrix on her back with Lupin above her, his hands around her neck, strangling her with an expression of murderous vindication. You also notice her right hand is grasping the hilt of a dagger and said dagger is impaled in the werewolf's abdomen all the way to the crossguard. The light fades from her eyes and Remus staggers back, burnt, bloody and bruised with a pained but satisfied look on his face, the dagger still sticking out of his stomach. He stumbles back, just falls backwards and lays there on the ground, his eyes focused on something only he can see. You know, you just do, that he's never gonna get up again.
Now there are just two of Voldemort's minions left in the atrium, and with tears in your eyes you cast an augamenti all over them, focus all your righteous anger and cast a lightning curse on them. You watch them screaming on the ground and writhing as they are being cooked alive, from the inside out. Someone pulls your right arm up and interrupts the curse's channeling. "I think that's enough, Harry." she says with her scottish brogue. McGonagall, or Minerva as she asked you to call her earlier in the day. She looks a little worse for wear but she's still alive. That's what matters. Not her left stump of an arm, cut off at the elbow by Voldemort himself as he was retreating that morning. Nor the burn marks on her right side of the neck and shoulder, probably caused by the fiendfyre earlier in the fight. Scars caused by such dark magic can never be healed entirely; she will probably carry the dark flames' marks for the rest of her life. On the plus side, she will look even more intimidating than before.
You take a look around, trying to assess the situation, now that you have a fleeting moment of peace. All you see around you is death and destruction. There are bodies strewn everywhere and the scent of burnt flesh clings in the air. You recognize the Patil twins, one looking blue like she asphyxiated and the other cut in half at the waist. You can see a part of Seamus lying on the ground, clearly dead, because the rest of him is buried under a humongous piece of marble that used to be the statue wizard's head. You turn around, hyperventilating, to look at something else, anything else. You feel like you are going to throw up, and you do. You can't bear to look around anymore, for fear that you will despair at the amount of friends you lost in a single day. To think that God or Magic or whatever higher power exists out there, granted a percentage of the human population the gift of magic, the ability to alter reality as you see fit, in essence a sliver of godlike power and we, humans, have been using it to destroy, take advantage of and kill each other and in terrifying ways. Human nature at its finest.
Deciding to end the philosophical monologue, you ask the survivors to keep guard in the atrium, voice oddly calm, and you stride towards the elevators, resolve hastening your step. He has to be running out of minions by now. Unfortunately, you find them demolished. Of course, why would this be easy. A couple of exploding curses take care of the broken carriage and gravity takes care of a seven floor descent to the minister's office floor. It's easier to slow down your fall with magic, than to take the stairs down all those floors. You make it safely to the aformentioned floor and do a few revealing spells for humans and traps. A cornered animal is dangerous after all. You don't find much, only a couple of alert wards, very mild, which must have been part of the original wards here and not cast by Voldemort. They are probably there to give the Minister enough advanced warning to freshen-up for his guests. Typical superficial crap.
The receptionist's desk is empty. No surprise there. You cautiously peak around the corner and surprise there! You can't believe your eyes. Percy fucking Weasley, in black robes, silver mask in one hand and wand in the other standing guard outside the doors to the minister's 'd never thought you'd see a Weasley dressed as a Death Eater, doing the bidding of the Dark Lord. Apparently, some people's thirst for power knows no bounds. You cast a Stupefy and he falls with a thud. You go close and lift his left sleeve. There, lies the dark mark, in all its disgusting glory. Whatever doubts you had that this may have been a ploy go out the window. The dark mark has to be taken willingly. It can't be forced on someone. You cut off his head with the "guilotine curse", transfigure it to a roll of parchment and burn it, along with his wand. Let this be an unnamed Death Eater's body. You know it would break 's heart to know that one of her sons betrayed them to serve a homicidal maniac. It's better they think he died fighting or got out of the country when he could.
And now, time for the big finale. You open the double doors and head inside. He's there, sitting in the minister's chair, poring over a gigantic tome. You assume he's searching alternate methods of immortality. He looks sickly pale and you can see black veins standing out on his face's chalky complexion. So, this is what loosing the greater part of your soul looks like.
"Ah, Harry, so good of you to join us." he says, without even looking up.
"Hello, Tom." you reply "Why the plural? If you expecting friends, you're mistaken. I'm afraid the majority of your minions are too busy pushing daisies right now."
"Oh, on contrary child, it is you who are mistaken. We are not alone here, Harry. You see, a good strategist always has a back-up plan. A contingency. And here's mine..." he says as he points his wand to what looked to be the statue of a female figure. The statue slowly morphs to a human female. A girl tied up with magical rope and gagged. A girl with raven hair and unmistakable violet eyes. You spot the ring you gave her at the end of your sixth year with a promise. That you would be together after the war was over. That you belonged to her. To Daphne.
"Your dear fiance decided to join us." he says sarcastically. You fall to your knees and your eyes are tearing up. "Yessss" he says, the pleasure obvious in his eyes, seeing you on your knees. "You see, when I visited Gringotts and realized that you removed my Horcrux there, I knew I had to plan for this eventuality." he says "Losing so many pieces of my soul, has weakened me as you can see. My magical powers have waned. I couldn't ensure that I would emerge victorious when we would eventually clash. So, I had to guarantee that even if I died, and you lived, that you would live a half life, wishing you were dead as well. That's why I did this..." he says.
He gets up, walks over to Daphne and twists her left arm around so that the inside part is visible. There above the her wrist lies the dark mark. You are speechless. She can't be marked. "B-But, you can't force it one someone. It has to be taken willingly!" you retort, to which he says "Oh, poor Harry, still using all the muscles except the one that matters?" he mocks before continuing "You can't force someone to take the dark mark, but you can force them to accept it. I find that casting the Imperius on the father and making him rape his little daughter while his other daughter and wife watch can do wonders to change a person's mind." he remarks sadistically. Astoria! Jesus... "And as you must know by now, my Death Eaters' dark marks are all linked to me. If I die..." he let's the implication hang like a noose. If he dies, they all die... even Daphne.
"And so you have a choice. You can let me leave this place and I will let you and the lovely Miss Greengrass live, or you can kill me now and kill her with me." he states waiting for me to choose.
"You will give me your oath that if you leave you won't hurt us, ever?" you say, wanting to see if he would actually go through with it.
"Even if I did, it wouldn't mean anything. There's no such thing as magical oaths." he says amused.
"What?" you reply, surprised.
"You are more ignorant than I was lead to believe." he sighs "Think about it. If there was such a thing as magical oaths, the wizarding world would be a utopia. Everyone in a government position would make an oath to be incorruptible. The Ministry would make you, upon receiving your wand, take an oath to never harm anyone with you magic. Is that the world we live in Harry?" he questions you mockingly.
So, reading all those stories about magical oaths in wizarding novels was bullshit, huh? You know you are stalling trying to come with alternatives, but you are failing. It's getting hard to breathe. You are once again faced with an impossible choice. You can't lose her, but you can't let him live. "So, what will it be Harry?" he asks.
You can't see another way. You point your wand at him. You look into her eyes. She's weeping silently, knowing what you will choose, because she knows you better than you know yourself. That unforgiving moment, you see in your mind your future , waking up next to her in the morning. Her smiling face, laughing at something you said. Married, with kids, a family of your own. A life of bliss. You are crying as you are saying the words. The words you thought you'd never say. But, if there's a single person that can make you feel such hate, that you will fuel this spell with, it's him.
Green light floods the room, as the curse sails to its target. Ironically it hits him in the forehead, at the same spot where he once hit you with the same spell. He drops to the ground, dead in an instant. You run to her, spell her free and remove the gag. She falls into your arms sobbing. You wipe her tears with your thumbs, not knowing what to say, what to do. You tell her you love her and that you always will. You kiss her, but she doesn't respond, her lips lay still. You look in her beautiful eyes and they are glassy, the violet almost faded. She's limp in your arms.
You yell in rage. You curse whatever fate brought you to this moment. Wild magic lashes out and makes glass explode everywhere. Deep gouges manifest on the walls and floor, the magic merely responding to the maelstrom of emotions inside you. Then it's all over. Everything is still and there is silence. You don't have the strength to scream anymore. You are feeling empty, the void inside you sucking up whatever emotion there was until you can feel nothing. You are alone.
You attend her funeral the next day. Her only you and her family are there. They look beyond traumatized. After the hell that Voldemort put them through, they lost their child, too. As her coffin is lowered in the ground, you feel as if a white hot blade is piercing you. In the end this is what you get for being a hero. A pat on the back, a useless medal and unending, agony induced, loneliness.
A decade later, you are getting ready for your wedding. You never thought you'd be getting married after everything that happened, but you found in Hermione another tortured soul to share your pain with. She too lost the love of her life, your friend Ron. You love her, but that love pales in comparison to what you and Daphne had, and she knows it. You suspect it's the same for her. As you look in the mirror, fixing your bow-tie, you think again about her and that last moment you looked in her eyes. That unforgiving moment.
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