Voldemort turned slowly on the spot and surveyed the carnage about him. He took in the looks on the faces of the Death Eaters and the D.A. members. Most bore the expression of abject terror. "Why, my friends, why the fear? I have begun to see that many of my oldest and most trusted servants have been hiding secrets from me. It may be time for a changing of the guards. I will make you the simple "pirate's offer." Join me or die. Lest you think you can lie to me about your intentions, look around the room and see the state of those who attempted to lie to Lord Voldemort. The decision to join me will be sealed by an unbreakable vow to serve me faithfully until your life is eaten up in death. So the choice is up to you...refuse and die...or serve me faithfully until you die."

Shouts of Death Eaters filled the room, clamors of willingness to reaffirm vows of loyalty to Voldemort. D.A. members remained silent and watched. Only one figure besides Lord Voldemort was moving. It was almost a full minute before Voldemort realized someone was free of his magical restraint. Severus Snape was slowly walking to the centre of the room. All clamor, all motion stopped.

Voldemort regarded Snape through red-slitted eyes. "You seem to have been able to undo my magic Severus! It does not take a Legilimens to have something on your mind." Voldemort's words were laced with grudging admiration as well as thinly veiled menace.

"Wormtail was correct, you promised Potter a chance to battle. Several times this boy;" and Snape spat on Harry as he spoke, "has thwarted your efforts and plans. Before I swear continued loyalty, I want to see you kill him as proof of your prowess." Snape's words were quiet, confident, and unhurried.

Voldemort flashed to anger immediately, "How dare you question my ability!" Aiming his wand at Snape, he sent a jet of wicked red light streaming from the tip.

Snape neither stepped aside nor flinched. With a flick of his wand, Snape wadded the magic into a ball, as if it were so much crumpled foil, and deflected it into the night sky above.

Voldemort shouted "Avada Kedavra" and green light shot at Snape.

Snape again stood his ground. Manipulating his wand as furiously as he had while battling the house elves, Snape conjured a shimmering ether bottle and surrounded the tongue of green light. In a measured voice, Snape addressed the now astonished Voldemort, "I do not want to battle you. I have sworn allegiance to you, but I will not allow you to kill me unless I deserve to be killed."

Voldemort, even paler than before, stood contemplating Snape. A muscle under his eye twitched. At length he lowered his wand. "Well Severus, it seems I have either seriously underestimated you, or I have been correct to place you as my most trusted servant. You show us all a new aspect of magic. Your display gives me pause. I find that I agree with your proposal. I offered Harry a chance to face you. I saw in his mind that he hates you even beyond his hatred for me. Who can fathom the mind of the noble? Instead, I rather than you, will face and finish Harry Potter, then you and I will band together to rule the world!"

Snape shunted the swirling magic to the side, and without dropping his gaze from Voldemort, he aimed his wand at Harry and shouted, "Ennervate!"

Harry stirred. He marveled at the scene around him through pain-clouded eyes. Snape's spell had enlivened him but left him reeling from the pain of his injuries. He got to his feet unsteadily and leaned on a pillar, leaving it shining with his blood. Taking in the confusion around him, he wondered at the Death Eaters and D.A. members alike, still trapped against the walls.

Voldemort spoke, "Harry, the moment of truth is finally upon you, instead of facing Severus, you will face me. No mother to hide behind. No grave markers to dance around. No shades of your parents to interfere. No Dumbledore to intercede. Just you and me as you always knew it would be."

Harry cleared the pain from his mind and gathered his thoughts. Taking stock of his surroundings he steeled his mind and his resolve. Masking his thoughts, he projected fear on his face. Voldemort started a slow circling gait. Harry matched the steps and speed of the compass. At the end of one complete turn of the room Voldemort struck. The magic had come unspoken but Harry had seen and heard its gathering and was ready. He countered the magic, condensed it as effectively as Snape had done, and hurled it back at Voldemort. Voldemort side-stepped the magic which crashed into the wall directly behind. The wall cracked and shattered. In a fluid motion, Voldemort raised a corner of his cloak and disappeared in s swirl of robes. Harry touched his glasses with his wand. Frequency attenuation showed him Voldemort as a rapidly moving blur of emerald coloured light. Harry did not wait for Voldemort to reappear. Estimating speed, he pitched a jet of frost blue magic in Voldemort's path. Voldemort's momentum carried him headlong into the magic. The floor shook at the impact and Voldemort was jarred from invisibility and cast into a pillar.

Noticeably shaken, Voldemort dropped into a crouch and resumed circling. "Well Harry, you seem to have learned a bit since our last encounter."

Harry could tell that there was no admiration in the statement and responded simply, "Yeah, a bit."

"Harry you still fear," said Voldemort, "but your fear has shifted. You fear for those with you. You should have learned to use those who were willing to follow you. When you learn that all others are merely expendable tools, you lose the fear of having them come to harm. You simply use them up." Then instead of attacking Harry, Voldemort sent up a stream of magic at the D.A. members he still held pinioned against the wall.

Once again, Harry focused on the gathering magic. He could see and hear its now familiar pitch. He reacted instinctively. Arching his body to avoid the streaming magic, he countered the frequency and his magic seemed to engulf and annihilate Voldemort's magic. A heat wave surged through the room.

"You seem to have learned more than a bit of magic," said Voldemort, cool acknowledgment in his voice. "There are few wizards who could have done what you just did. But you'll get no help from the vagaries of brother wands this time. I took the precaution of having Alexi Gregorovitch produce two wands as individual as I am." Voldemort resumed his circling as he spoke. "I had these wands made from the fiercest dragon's heartstring and the most vicious gorgon's sinew, then to be doubly sure, I utterly destroyed him and what was left of those creatures. You will get no help from your pathetic wand..."

Harry sorted Voldemort's words on three levels. "First- let him talk, I'm patient. Second- I too was concerned about experiencing the effect our wands had last time we fought. Now I don't have that thought at the back of my mind. Third- Voldemort is lying! His bombast is hiding the fact that he's worried! Let him rant. It's my turn to plan the outcome of this." Harry smiled inwardly at the thoughts while keeping a guarded demeanor and a strong mind front.

Voldemort withdrew the second wand from within his robes and struck in mid sentence. The stone floor at Harry's feet glowed red and became molten rock. Harry did not seem fussed at the sudden change in footing. Preemptorily aiming his wand downward, he stepped lightly across the liquid rock as easily as if he were walking on solid ground. His steps were neither hurried nor did they seem to cause him any discomfort.

A fleeting look of surprise crossed Voldemort's face. He raised his wand but before he could summon force to power a spell, Harry transformed the lining in his cloak pocket and produced a shimmering sheet of magic encased in a thin layer of gold. He covered Death Eaters and D.A. members alike. The only breaks in Harry's magic appeared where no captives were held against the walls. Voldemort sent a blast of magic at Harry's shield and a gong-like sound reverberated throughout the room.

"Well Harry," said Voldemort with the slightest quiver in his voice, "you have learned quickly. By taking the captives out of the equation, you have assured that the only way I can do away with them is to do away with the one who cast the protective spell. Have it your way."

No spell was gathered. No sound betrayed Voldemort's action. The only thing that saved Harry was his practice sessions with the Lupin and the Order members. He recognized immediately the tell-tale signs of imminent mind incursion. Voldemort locked eye contact with Harry and began an unrelenting mind probing.

As Harry fought back, he found he could deflect the force of Voldemort's will easily. "There's something wrong with Voldemort." The thought had only formed in Harry's mind when Voldemort redoubled his mental pressure.

Wedging open Voldemort's memories he looked for his opening. He found it in a scene from Tom Riddle's childhood, before he came to wield magic. A group of older boys and girls surrounded Tom and were pushing him mercilessly back and forth inside their circle. They chanted as they pushed him... "This way Tommy. That way Tommy. She would rather die than stay and be your mommy." As repulsive as the scene was to Harry, he dug it out of Voldemort's memory and enlarged it until it was all Voldemort could see.

Voldemort broke off the mental intrusion and stepped back panting and shaking. "Severus may have been mistaken about luck and more talented friends. You seem to have..."

Voldemort's hands were a blur. Harry could see and hear the summoning of great power. Matching him, Harry withdrew his second wand from within its golden sheath in his robes. His hands too became and unrecognizable blur. Immediately, Voldemort shouted "Avada Kedavra!"

Streams of light burst from all four wands and collided between the combatants. The intensity of the interface caused a deafening yowling as Harry's magic enveloped Voldemort's deadly magic exactly as Snape had done.

Voldemort considered Harry warily and resumed his circling.

Harry set the contained roiling magic to the side. Circling at pace with Voldemort, Harry took in all the small details of the room; the footing, the lighting, the redoubts and dangers. At length he stopped. He stood facing Voldemort, Snape remained motionless behind Voldemort and to Harry's right, still behind the protective golden shield. The D.A. and Death Eaters had gone silent at the staggering magic spectacle unfolding before them. Voldemort shakily raised his wands and sent identical jets of glittering green lightning lashing at Harry. Inexplicably, Harry raised only one wand, the other hanging loosely at his side, almost carelessly pointing down and behind him. Even though he used only one wand to counter Voldemort's magic, the effect was tremendous. The two spells were gathered so quickly, and with such force and concentration that for a moment it seemed that all the air had been sucked from the room. Their collision was cataclysmic. The magics battled momentarily in the centre of the room and then exploded outward. The concussion hit the walls with such force that the magic facade created by Voldemort to imitate Hogwarts castle cracked and crumbled, in places revealing the tumble-down factory behind the illusion. Neither Harry nor Voldemort had remained motionless as the magics collided. Harry ducked behind a marble pillar and Voldemort conjured his own shield charm as the shock wave coursed outward. The only truly protected were the D.A. and the Death Eaters behind Harry's golden barrier. Voldemort's movements were cat-quick. The instant Harry slipped behind the marble pillar, Voldemort disappeared. Harry reappeared after the pillar had borne the brunt of the magic rebound.

Harry looked about the room searching frantically for Voldemort. He had just made the motion to touch his glasses with his wand when Voldemort reappeared and sent a battering ram of green light from both of his wands directly at Harry. Turned slightly away from were Voldemort had materialized, Harry was a fraction of a second late in his reaction. He arched and spun, attempting to avoid the deadly green magic by physical contortion, but the magic carried too large a crest to be avoided by gymnastic gyrations. Harry was struck mid-motion and catapulted backward. He hit the wall behind him with such force that the stone cracked. He fell hard to the floor in front of him, a visible hole burned through the centre of his chest. As he hit the floor, the golden shield he had conjured to restrain and protect the D.A. and Death Eaters disappeared.

Harry Potter was dead.

Voldemort howled with pleasure. He levitated a pile of broken rock and dropped it on Harry, crushing his remains into the stone floor. "At last!" shrieked Voldemort, "Harry Potter is finished!" His laughter was maniacal. His eyes glowed red as he raised his pale hands, shaking slightly in triumph. "A fitting tomb!" shouted Voldemort as he surveyed the crumbling remains of his Room of Requirement. "Harry Potter will never be found. He will simply cease to exist. No stories. No chanson de geste. No one to remember that he was ever considered an equal to Lord Voldemort."

"Finally!" The word was spoken quietly as once again D.A. and Death Eaters were gyved helpless against the now broken walls. Severus Snape strode casually to the centre of the debris-strewn room. "You have finally fulfilled that accursed prophecy. But even in the act, you were barely able to defeat a teenager."

Voldemort was incensed, "You dare speak to me so! You, who hid cowardly behind that same teenage boy's magic! You who skulked cowardly behind the skirts of Dumbledore's robes to gain protection from the Ministry!"

"DO NOT CALL ME COWARD!" Snape's words were colored with anger's insanity. He had his wand drawn and pointed at Voldemort. " I have lived with that appellation since my childhood, but no more! I will no longer be subject to untalented bullies. I will dominate!" Wordlessly, Snape twitched his wand and both wands were wrenched from Voldemort's grip. Snape held them momentarily in the air and then smashed them to splinters on the stone floor.

Voldemort considered Snape through slit-like pupils, "You will not see the light of another day!"

"Your threats are impotent. I have watched as you touted yourself the greatest wizard who ever lived. I have watched as you bullied and killed those weaker than you. You are just like my father, just like those who have tormented me my entire life. You have no real power. All you have is the ability to do vile things without remorse. You could barely defeat a boy who had not yet become an adult. If it weren't for your carefully placed spy, you would not have survived that confrontation at all. You are arrogant, rewarding loyalty with death. You were trained as a Slytherin but you disregard the basic tenets of Slytherin House. You were deceived by Harry Potter. You proclaim yourself the greatest Legilimens in the history of the world. I think not! You were deceived by the Lestrange, even the boy Draco Malfoy was able to deceive you as you probed his mind. And yes, I deceived you! You used your willingness to descend into the deepest mire of dark magic to cow your followers. I will not be cowed! I will not bow to, nor follow the bidding of, whatever you have become. Regardless of my loathing of Harry Potter, he was correct, you would end up killing us all. I will rectify that!"

Snape's eyes were wild with madness.

Voldemort considered Snape cautiously. He held out his hands, long pale fingers stretching before him. His voice softened from its usual high-pitch, Voldemort began, "Severus, you know I would never harm you. You know I count you as a friend not a servant. I have just killed Harry Potter. I can use his death to split my soul again, to regain immortality. I will show you how the magic is performed. You too can become immortal. Together we will be unstoppable. We will rule the world."

"No." said Snape summarily. "Once again you forget your Slytherin training." As he spoke, he hit Voldemort with a silent spell. Voldemort screamed and fell writhing to the floor. "Your mortal body is once again subject to death. The agony you are experiencing is due to more than your frail body. Your choice to use Harry Potter's blood to rebuild your body was unwise. You did so before questioning him thoroughly. His blood was tainted with traces of acromantula venom from the Triwizard maze. Venom traces that would have killed Potter if not for Dumbledore's phoenix. I learned this fact as I parsed Potter's mind when I "taught" him Occlumency. You are feeling the effects of that most potent of weakening agents in your restored body. I dare say, more so now that you are once again mortal. I could let you die slowly, consumed by that venom, given time to painfully consider your wreck of a life; but I think not."

Snape summoned the encapsulated magics both he and Harry had put aside during their battles with Voldemort. As Voldemort continued to writhe in agony, Snape cracked the capsules open like eggs, and poured out death.

As green light enveloped Voldemort, his screams were silenced as though turned off by a switch. When the green light faded, Voldemort lay dead on the floor amidst the wreckage of the room.

« Chapter 54 - Sorting Wheat from Tares   Chapter 56 - Unmasked »


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