Hermione opened painful eyes to discover that she was still in a heap in the corner of the room.
Voldemort was still seated in his padded chair, warming himself by the glow of the eerie red fire, his python Nagini curled up nearby.
As she lay there, quietly surveying her surroundings again for a chance at escape, her mind began to play out scenario after scenario of how this would end.
She still hoped that Harry would stay away and let Dumbledore know of the situation, letting him take care of it, but she also knew that he wouldn’t. The thought of him facing Voldemort made her shudder.
Since Harry was probably traveling by broom, she imagined that it might be some time before he arrived. If she could escape before he got there, she could save him from having to fight the dark lord. But how?
Again her eyes scanned the room for her wand. Surely Voldemort had hidden it away or destroyed it by now; unless he was cocky enough to not believe her capable of facing him.
She might well not be capable, thought Hermione to herself. She knew that she could never come away from the Avada Kedavra curse with only a scar like Harry had. But she had to try, if only to save Harry. Just the thought of possibly watching him suffer, or even die was almost too much for her to handle.
She turned her head slightly to glance at Voldemort and the python again, and pulling out of her silent reverie, she began to catch snatches of their conversation.
“Patience Nagini,” Voldemort hissed to the snake in English, “Potter will be here soon enough… and then I’ll allow you to have the girl…I’ll even kill her for you first.”
The snake must have replied with something like “Why can’t I have her now,” because Voldemort continued with “You know why. I want Potter to see her die.” He chuckled cruelly and glanced Hermione’s way. She shut her eyes quickly.
“When Potter sees Granger die right before his eyes, all the fire, all of the resistance will turn to complete despair… And that’s when I’ll have him.”
Hermione could imagine Voldemort’s grim face with a smile on it. She shuddered to think of herself as Nagini’s dinner, but even worse to think of Harry, so brave and strong, giving up in a cry of hopelessness. She couldn’t allow that. She wouldn’t if it was the last thing she ever did, and it might very well be. She squeezed her eyes shut over the terror that had begun to grip her and willed it away.
She had to be strong for Harry… and she had to escape…Now.
Deciding to wait no longer, Hermione settled on a solution. She would summon her wand and fight Voldemort herself. Harry would not be put in danger because of her.
She had never used the summoning charm herself, she’d only helped Harry learn it. And it usually worked better when you knew where the desired object was so that you could envision it. But she had to try. With her wand, at least she had a chance.
As quietly and slowly as possible, Hermione extended her hand, hoping upon hope that wherever her wand was, it wouldn’t have to float past Voldemort’s face to get to her.
She barely whispered the spell and stretching out with her hand and her mind, she focused on willing the wand to come.
As Voldemort reclined by the fire, listening and feeling for anyone approaching, he didn’t notice as Hermione’s wand began to slip out of his right pocket.
She could see the tip emerging and focused all of her energy on sliding it out smoothly. Secretly, she cursed the dark lord for placing it in the right side of his cloak. She was on the left side of the room, which meant that the wand would have to pass around him without him noticing.
The wand was out of the pocket and floating freely now at about his waist level. All Voldemort had to do was glance down and Hermione was done for.
She watched the wand advance towards her slowly, rocking a little mid-flight as it came and squeezed her eyes shut, focusing solely on keeping it steady.
Suddenly, Nagini opened one eye, and then both and hissed wildly, simultaneously striking out towards the wand.
Hermione noticed Voldemort jump, startled, and look down.
Voldemort’s glowing red eyes widened as Nagini recoiled to strike again and he saw the floating wand, moving faster now towards Hermione’s outstretched hand.
She stood on shaky legs, knowing that she’d been discovered and stretched out with both hands, focusing her remaining strength and energy in only one direction.
Voldemort hissed angrily, and with a violent leap, grabbed for the wand but it sped past him and landed in Hermione’s hands.
She broke contact with the spell and immediately aimed.
The spell hurled Voldemort backwards and he crashed into the wall behind him.
Hermione leapt from the corner, barely escaping the snap of Nagini’s large jaws and sped towards the door as fast as her injured knee would allow, grabbing the broom leaning beside the bookshelf.
She flung the door open right as Voldemort righted himself and with a flick of his wrist, sent his own wand sliding from his sleeve into his hand.
The blast that ensued blew apart the door jamb beside her as Hermione rushed outside, mounting the broom.
It was pitch black out and cold. A lashing freezing rain had just begun, and it soaked Hermione’s hair and robe as she kicked off from the ground. Her mind was screaming at her wildly to take off, but it wasn’t as quick for her as it was for Harry and Ron, as she never liked broom flight much. At this moment, she cursed herself for it.
As soon as she began to float up and soar away, she heard Voldemort’s furious voice, screeching into the night.
The red bolt of energy blew the broom under her to pieces and scorched her thigh. She fell about six feet to the ground and rolled to a stop. Even then she picked herself up and began to run as quickly as her bruised body would allow, aware that Voldemort was catching up. Her heart was racing violently, and she felt terrified tears streaming down her face.
Spurred on by the sudden burst of angry energy, Voldemort glided very quickly after her and finally grabbed her arm, yanking her backwards.
He was inches from her face. “You will NOT ruin this for me!” He screeched in an unearthly tone.
She struggled in his painful grasp as he yanked and tugged her back to the cabin and threw her inside, shoving her back toward the little corner that had become her cell.
She had failed. She had failed Harry…
“Nagini! Stand guard!” screamed Voldemort.
The snake complied by slithering over near Hermione and uncoiling his long body around her like a line that she dare not cross.
Hermione recoiled from the snake. She was in pain, wet, and freezing, but she would NOT give in. She glared up at Voldemort defiantly, swiping the wet hair from her face.
“You will NOT WIN!”
Voldemort whirled on her and extended his arm.
The dark curse engulfed her in a torrent of pain unlike anything she’d ever experienced in her life. She screamed uncontrollably, her muscles spasming as wave after wave of agony swept her entire body.
Try as she might, she couldn’t keep herself from letting unconsciousness engulf her once again.
Voldemort ground his teeth and his eyes narrowed. “Come on Potter…”
Harry swiped the freezing rain away from his face, knowing that it would continue to lash him. He silently thanked Hermione for the Impervius charm she had shown him during third year that kept rain from hitting his glasses. It was the only thing that was helping him to see now.
The rain was falling harder now, and since he and Starven were flying at top speed through the forest, each drop stung like a piece of sharp glass.
They had been flying for at least half an hour with no end yet in sight. Harry was just beginning to wonder rather angrily if Starven was deliberately leading them the wrong way when he heard a terrifying scream that cut through him like a blade.
Even Starven slowed, a look of horror playing over his features.
Harry’s eyes widened and he felt his stomach churn wildly. When he spoke it was more of a breath.
He flew up beside Starven and grabbed his arm.
“How close are we!?”
Starven glanced from Potter’s stricken face to the woods in front of them.
“If you squint, you can just make out the cabin there.” He pointed in the direction of a very faint glowing red light in the near distance.
“Go…MOVE,” demanded Harry.
Both continued at top speed again. Harry willed himself not to blink and stared at the approaching red light as if he could get himself there quicker by sheer force of will.
As the cabin came into focus, Harry brought himself up short in front of the door and threw himself off of his broom, out of breath from sheer terror.
Breathing open mouthed, he motioned with his wand for Starven to do the same.
He grabbed the servant’s arm and thrust him in front, pointing his wand over the shorter man’s shoulder.
The door exploded in a blast of blue light.
Harry shoved Starven in ahead of him and entered the cabin, his eyes frantically searching the large room.
But his gaze did fall on a heap in the far right corner, surrounded by a dark red robe bearing the Gryffindor crest. Voldemort’s python, Nagini, was curled protectively around its prey.
An anguished sob escaped Harry’s lips as he rushed forward and pointed his wand to the right of the python.
Another python emerged from Harry’s wand and slid to the floor with a small thud.
Nagini’s small eyes locked with it, and with an angry hiss, he slithered after it to do battle of his own.
As soon as Nagini had moved, Harry threw himself to his knees beside Hermione and grabbed her by the waist, pulling her into his lap.
Gently he cradled her in his arms and wiped the wet hair from her face.
With a gasp, he noticed the large cut on her forehead, now crusted over with dried blood and cuts and bruises of various sizes on her arms and legs. Her school clothes were covered in what appeared to be ash from a blast.
Harry cradled her closer. Silent tears slipped down his face as he touched his face to her own and pressed one of her hands to his lips. He rocked her back and forth gently.
“‘Mione…please wake up…Please don’t go…”
An overwhelming panic gripped Harry from all sides. It tightened his chest muscles and he had to fight to continue breathing.
He kissed Hermione softly and pressed a shaking hand to her cheek. She felt so cold.
“Please wake up love…Please…”
“Too late for that Harry.”
A dark form glided into the room, wand out. He cackled in a high-pitched voice that made the hairs on Harry’s neck stand.
He whipped out his wand, one arm still curled protectively around Hermione.
Voldemort glided closer. Harry lowered his head, fixing him with a glare that would have been extremely dangerous, except that his voice betrayed too much emotion.
“What did you do…”
Voldemort grinned. Potter was already coming apart… exactly how he’d planned. Everyone had their weaknesses.
“She’s already dead,” laughed Voldemort cruelly, “If you’d only come a little sooner…”
Harry fought back a scream that came out as a strangled sob far in the back of his throat and clutched Hermione tightly to him, rocking.
Starven, watching the encounter from the relative safety of a dark corner also bit back a cry of horror. Not because he was sad for Granger, but because he feared that he was next. He really wasn’t cut out for this, he thought to himself. He wanted to run but terror had robbed him of any movement. Besides, it would be easy for Voldemort to catch him. His only hope was if Voldemort would forgive him… or if he somehow didn’t know of Starven’s intention to run.
Harry looked despairingly back down at the limp form cradled in his lap and saw a faint glow coming from the front pocket of Hermione’s robe.
Quickly he reached in and pulled out the necklace he had given her. The chain was broken and scorched, but the red heart glowed a faint ruby. He shuddered a relieved sigh.
A small smile playing on his lips, Harry carefully laid Hermione back down and placed the necklace back inside her pocket.
Slowly he stood and extended his wand toward Voldemort, a masterful smile playing on his features.
“If the pendant’s still glowing, she’s still alive. It wouldn’t work if she wasn’t.”
Voldemort’s smile faltered. Strike one. Damn Potter and that necklace. But there was still the duel.
Both Harry and Voldemort assumed their fighting stances. Voldemort nodded to his enemy, keeping his eyes fastened to him.
“All right then Potter…it begins. But first things first…”
Voldemort whipped around and aimed his wand at Starven.
Immediately Starven dropped, his eyes open. He was killed so quickly that the look of shock died with him.
The dark lord showed absolutely no remorse and turned back to Potter, resuming his duel stance once more.
Harry’s insides twisted sickly and he faltered in surprise, but kept his guard up. He glanced wide-eyed from Starven’s body to Voldemort and shook his head to clear it, making certain to keep his gaze directed on Voldemort. It wouldn’t do to get distracted.
Voldemort gave him a curiously odd look and grinned. “You still haven’t figured it out yet, have you?”
Harry snorted derisively. “What’s there to figure out? You think you’re that complex?”
“Not me, Potter…” snarled Voldemort, “Hasn’t it crossed your mind to wonder who Starven really is?”
Harry and Voldemort still circled each other, both keenly aware of the other’s movements. Harry frowned. What was Voldemort trying to do? He wasn’t stupid. He wouldn’t get distracted…
“Why should I care…”
Voldemort shook his head at Potter almost as if scolding a child. “Ah Potter…because of the power I wield. To think…that all this time, he stayed loyal to me…only to lose his life in the end. Pity. But then again, he was weak…too afraid of his own mortality…I have no need of weaklings. But you’re not a weakling, are you Harry? All of this can be avoided if you’d simply join me. Together, we’d have all the power we’ve ever dreamed of…”
Harry shook his head at Voldemort and almost flippantly growled out a reply. “SAVE IT! You killed my parents and you hurt Hermione! I wouldn’t join you if my life depended on it! Whoever Starven was, I don’t feel anything for him…sorrow or curiosity. ”
“You should,” stated Voldemort, angry at Harry’s flippant response, “If I can get a strong, level-headed, well-taught Slytherin like Stuart to join me, imagine the possibilities…”
At this statement, Harry almost faltered and his mind began to work overtime. Stuart? Who had Starven been? A Slytherin…from Hogwarts…
Wait…it couldn’t be…
“Kard Starven,” Harry whispered to himself, “K.S…The initials were reversed…Stuart Kavan!?”
Voldemort gave Harry a small round of sarcastic applause. “Very good, Potter…I’d almost lost faith in you. Yes, it was Kavan. He’s been with me almost since the beginning. Why do I tell you this? To make you understand how many others there are out there. Do you think if you defeat me, it’s all over? Harry, how naïve you are. I have many followers…Not the least of those you already know and have leaked to Dumbledore since our last meeting…Ah yes. If you ever do succeed in killing me, know this… There will always be another to take my place. ”
Harry simply smiled wolfishly in reply. “One at a time.”
Voldemort, slightly taken aback by Harry’s fearless reply, answered the taunt with a thoughtful cock of his head, and directed his gaze towards Starven’s lifeless body. “Very well Harry…But as you see, no one crosses me and lives for long. I could feel my servant wished to leave me, so I eliminated him. Pity that curse won’t work on you; it would be over so quickly. But then again, where would be the sport in that?”
“I thought you wanted me dead for reasons other than sport,” Harry replied evenly.
Voldemort smiled evilly and raised his wand threateningly at Potter, to which Harry replied in kind. “I think I’ve earned the right to it…Potter…my greatest enemy. I want us to face each other properly…This way, a victory is truly a victory.”
Harry set his jaw and nodded curtly, an intense fire glowing in his eyes.
The blue energy from Harry’s wand picked up various objects around the room and whirled them in the air in a mass of confusion.
Both arms in the air, palms out, Harry magically shoved the items at Voldemort, pelting him with each one.
Only momentarily taken aback, Voldemort raised his wand.
A wooden crate from the back of the room flew towards Harry, and managed to strike him on the head before he could duck, smashing into the wall.
Harry felt the blood drip down his temple and winced, swiping at it quickly.
Voldemort raised his wand towards Hermione, determined to finish her off, one way or the other in Harry’s presence.
Harry threw himself in front of Hermione just in time to deflect the blast.
His wand caught the whole of the curse and blue energy on red, he forced the curse back with all of his might.
A large purple bolt of energy struck Voldemort hard enough to send him crashing into the wall some five feet behind him.
Harry jumped up and whirled towards Hermione, wand out.
Immediately a shimmery bubble of transparent blue energy formed over Hermione’s body, shielding her from the next blast. It whizzed past Harry, ruffling his hair and exploded behind him at Hermione.
The shield seemed to absorb the blast and make itself stronger.
Both Harry and Voldemort breathing heavily, circled each other once again.
“Clever,” said Voldemort.
Harry nodded once defiantly, holding his enemy in an intense glare.
“I’m full of surprises.”
Voldemort sneered at the boy. “She’s still going to die, you know…One way or the other…I’ll get her before we’re finished.”
Harry shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
A roar of fury exploded from the dark lord.
Harry caught it with his wand, but almost wasn’t prepared for the force of fury that came with it.
The curse slammed him against the wall beside Hermione, but he held fast with his wand. Finally he pushed out with a mighty heave.
Voldemort caught the returning energy with his wand and easily deflected it to the floor beside him.
Nagini, who had been unluckily near, almost caught the blast as it landed beside him.
He hissed loudly and recoiled, slithering to a different section of the room.
Harry noted with interest that Nagini was considerably fatter. He’d made a meal out of the second snake.
He raised his wand and struck Voldemort hard.
The blow glanced Voldemort’s arm as he attempted to dodge it; a white hot surge of pain traveling up and down the limb.
His hideous face twisted in an attempt to control it. He breathed raggedly, clutching the temporarily useless limb.
“Ruthless, Potter…Starven said you had become quite powerful but I must say I wasn’t quite prepared. However…”
Voldemort landed a real blow this time, a force like a sledge hammer to the chest.
The red energy threw Harry across the room and smashed him into a wall. His wand landed a few yards away.
He sagged to the floor and held his chest, coughing and trying to draw a breath, and looked towards his left. Hermione was beginning to come around.
She blinked rapidly and sat up on her elbows trying to clear her head.
Harry lay on the floor, willing her to look over and see him.
Voldemort was gliding closer now; a look of smugness on his features, wand extended.
“‘Mione,” Harry croaked out, and then began coughing uncontrollably.
Hermione blinked again and turned her head. There she saw Harry, illuminated by the red glow from the fire, laying on the floor gasping to breathe.
She drew in a sharp breath and a sobbing noise escaped her lips.
She began to crawl to him but was thrown back by the energy field surrounding her.
She realized quickly that Harry must have summoned it to protect her and watched helplessly as the curse began to drain Harry of his strength.
“Harry NO! Fight it! Fight it!”
He let his head fall back to the floor and grabbed a lung full of air raggedly.
“Get UP, Harry! Fight!”
Hermione pleaded with him desperately, clawing at the field around her and choking back sobs.
“Harry don’t do this! Don’t leave me! Please don’t leave me!”
Harry blinked at her and rolled to his side, pulling himself painfully into a sitting position against the wall.
Voldemort stood over him with an expression of triumph and saw Potter look up at him with weakened eyes.
“So this is how it ends,” began Voldemort, smiling cruelly. “The downfall of the boy-who-lived ends with him on his knees before me…. Fitting, don’t you think?”
Voldemort smiled and lowered his wand to Harry’s face.
Hermione screamed in agony, still unable to break free of the protective charm Harry had conjured, although it had weakened considerably. Almost… almost…
“HARRY NO! DO SOMETHING! HARRY, LISTEN TO ME!”
“Fear not Granger!” yelled Voldemort in mock sympathy, “You’ll be joining him soon…”
At that moment, Harry shoved himself from the wall and crashed into Voldemort, knocking him to the ground and sending the dark lord’s wand flying across the room.
As he was stunned momentarily, Harry took the opportunity to land two vicious blows to his face that left him reeling before he regained his faculties and began to fight back. He punched Harry back with a mighty blow and picked himself up with some difficulty.
Immediately Harry sent a roundhouse kick to the back of Voldemort’s knees, pitching him forward to the floor once more. Scrambling to him, Harry began thrashing him with wild blows to his head and stomach.
Finally Voldemort was able to land a particularly hard punch to one of Harry’s kidneys, sending him back to the floor.
He summoned his wand and it flew across the room into his outstretched hand.
Harry scrambled up from the floor, clutching his side and was mid-stride to meet Voldemort again when he found the dark lord’s wand inches from his face.
He straightened reflexively and head up, backed away a bit.
No one noticed the force field around Hermione. She was almost free…
Voldemort was still doubled over from the heavy blows he had received, but still had enough power to use his wand.
“Crucio!” A bit of suffering before the final blow…
Harry twisted at the last moment and only caught a bit of the curse, but it was still enough to make him fall back against the wall, clutching himself in agony.
Voldemort raised his wand for the death blow…
But at that moment, Hermione flew across the room, finally free of the force field and threw herself onto Voldemort’s back with all of her might, punching and kicking wherever she could, and landing a few well placed blows in the process.
Voldemort was able to shrug her off with a mighty heave that sent her flying back against the wall near Harry.
She crashed into it and slid down beside him, half conscious.
Harry screamed wildly and clutched her to him.
Voldemort saw that his curse had gone wild when Hermione had attacked him and had scorched the wall above Harry, leaving a long blackened gouge in the wood. Harry had taken that moment and scrambled to get his wand.
Screaming with fury, he raised his wand again determined to finish both off with the same final curse. It took a little longer than the Avada Kedavra to finish the victim off, but it worked nonetheless. There was just a little more suffering involved.
Harry held Hermione protectively to him and raised his wand simultaneously.
“PESTUS CONLABOR!” bellowed Voldemort.
The energy of the two wands of equal strength met in mid air, turning the red from Voldemort’s wand and the blue from Harry’s into a thick arced beam of golden purple that sizzled and crackled electrically in the air.
Harry held his wand with both hands, feeling the vibration of power that threatened to shake his whole body. He recalled being in this same position the night that Voldemort had recovered his body… the night that Cedric Diggory had died.
He knew that if he kept pushing hard enough and didn’t break the connection, the energy from both wands being forced back into Voldemort’s would cause the echo of his most recent curses to emerge.
Harry had no wish to see Starven crawl out of the dark lord’s wand, but had no choice but to hold on. If he let go, Voldemort would push the death curse back towards them.
Instinctively, he shifted Hermione’s body closer to him on his lap and gripped his wand tighter.
A thin sheen of sweat stood out on his face and he ground his teeth even tighter, his arms aching from the tremendous force.
Voldemort was equally determined; the energy from the wands vibrating his whole frame.
Harry knew something had to be done. Neither could hold the curse forever.
When the energy from Harry’s wand crossed the halfway point sufficiently enough that he had more power on his side than Voldemort’s, he began to pull up on his wand, ignoring the shooting pain in his biceps.
Voldemort’s red eyes widened as he felt his wand being pulled from him.
He tightened his grasp, screaming in fury, but Harry held fast and gave a sharp yank upwards.
The purple-gold cord of energy dissipated with a loud snap and Voldemort’s wand, still caught in a blue bolt of energy, sailed back into Harry’s hand.
Harry slid Hermione to the floor quickly. Holding out his wand toward Voldemort, he eased his way to one of the pillars near the door and gave the dark lord a wicked smile, holding the other wand out and to his side.
Voldemort’s face twisted in anger as he realized what Potter was about to do. He screamed furiously. “NO!”
Harry turned to the pillar and threw his arm in a wide circle, smashing the dark lord’s wand against it.
When the wand splintered apart, the explosion of red energy that left it dispelled upward and blew a hole through the roof. Freezing rain began to pour into the cabin.
Harry tossed the useless wand aside and extended his wand at Voldemort once more, a dangerous smile on his face.
Shaking with fury, Voldemort glared at Harry and then gave him a masterfully mocking bow.
“Well then… You’ve won Potter… Go ahead and do it.”
The smile on Harry’s face faltered. He knew he had the power now to kill Voldemort, but it would take one of the unforgivable curses to do it. Dumbledore had always taught them that to use the dark arts would make you more susceptible to turning evil yourself.
But if he didn’t rid himself of Voldemort, the dark lord would continue to seek him out for the rest of his life.
Harry shook his head defiantly. That’s just what Voldemort would want. If he couldn’t kill Harry himself, he would love no more than to turn him towards the dark arts that he hated so much.
Harry smiled again. The solution had come to him.
The spell hit the dark lord directly in the chest. He felt himself lifted in the air and then slammed back down to the ground.
Something was happening to his body. He began convulsing, and blue rays of energy began to break open from his face, chest and hands, shooting beams of sapphire towards the ceiling.
Voldemort sat up and scanned himself, finally fixing Harry with a look of horror.
Potter had taken his body again. He would be less than alive, forced to live off of other souls, or to drink unicorn blood to stay alive.
Harry strode over to Hermione and picked her up, carrying her towards where the door had once been. The rain was falling so hard now that it blew in from outside, pelting the two.
Harry tucked Hermione’s robe around her as snugly as he could and began to walk out.
Voldemort stood shakily, staggering towards him, one flesh eaten hand making a grabbing motion; one last pitiful attempt to control him.
“I’ll KILL you Potter! You’ll never be safe! You’re friends will never be safe! You’ll always look over your shoulder and wonder, do you hear me!?”
Harry turned a bit and favored Voldemort with a sideways glare, breathing raggedly.
He knew part of what Voldemort said was true, but he could not use the dark arts to kill him.
He shifted Hermione’s weight in his arms and allowed her head to fall onto his shoulder.
Voldemort fell in front of them, his arm still reaching out to make one final grab.
Finally, the skeletal body gave one final shudder, and seemed to implode in a burst of blue. The body was reduced to ashes.
The half-life that Voldemort had left flew out of the ashes in an unearthly screech and flew up through the hole in the roof, disappearing into the rainy darkness.
Harry stood for a moment, exhausted, and let his head lie on top of Hermione’s, closing his eyes for a brief moment.
He noticed the faint glow of red still wavering steadily in her pocket and kissed her forehead gently.
Walking outside in the rain, he found his and Starven’s brooms gleaming wetly in the moonlight.
The Firebolt rose slowly and Harry straddled it, shifting Hermione’s weight once more and holding her securely.
As quickly as the broom could, it carried the two on the long journey back to Hogwarts.