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Stories begun in 2006 (post-HBP)

Author Notes:

This is the final, edited, complete version of Harry Potter and the Last Horcrux.  Chapters 1 through 14 were completely written prior to publication of Deathly Hallows in 2008; chapters 15 through 19 and the alternate ending were in draft or outline form at that time.

TWELVE
Acts of Last Resort

July 31, 1998     The Ministry for Magic, City of London

2:03 AM

Einar leant into the lift and opened the inspection hatch in the ceiling. Harry, who sat atop the lift cabin, let his legs dangle through the opening. He was tied to the cabin's frame with an enchanted rope that was also treated with a positionable sticking charm. Several newly arrived Swedes kept him magically shielded as best they could, but the report from the Saracen's gun still made him flinch.

Shacklebolt called up to him, “Be sure to crouch tightly; your head needs to stay beneath that crossarm.”

“No worries – I'd rather keep my head attached, if it's all the same?” Harry returned.

Shacklebolt reminded him, “As soon as the shaft closes above, bring up your feet.”

“We've been over this,” Harry said tersely.

Magnus's patronus emerged from the ground and Shacklebolt stepped into the cabin, which started the lift. As soon as the shaft opening sealed above them, Harry pulled up his feet and sat cross-legged while Shacklebolt shut the hatch. The open hatch had been a precaution in the event that the shaft had been evacuated of air.

Their plan was predicated on Shacklebolt's experience that the Unspeakables were brilliant but were prone to cut corners in areas of little importance to them; security had often been one of those areas, at least in the past. They were gambling on the likelihood that, while the wizards below could probably tell whether one or two people were in the small lift cabin, it was unlikely that they would detect Harry sitting atop the lift.

The lift took the better part of two minutes to reach bottom. Harry heard the lift door open, and then a muffled voice barked out a spell; he was fairly sure that the Imperius Curse had been cast on Shacklebolt. Five seconds after that, there was a barrage of spellfire and the lift shuddered. It suddenly occurred to Harry that the lift might go back up, and he would never have the opportunity to come out the hatch and into the entry. Several long seconds later, there was a knock at the hatch and Shacklebolt said, “There are no ferrets bouncing down here,”; it was the sign for Harry to come out.

This was the weak spot in their plan. It was possible that Shacklebolt was in fact still under the Imperius and had been ordered to bring Harry out. Then again, the Death Eaters wouldn't know Harry was atop the lift unless they asked... which they would if Harry's presence had been detected. He opened the hatch by about an inch and took a quick glance. What he saw made it fairly certain that Shacklebolt and Magnus were in control of the area.

Almost half the floor in the entry was slicked with blood. Three figures in black cloaks were strewn against the far wall from the lift. Two more bodies were near the exit, both impaled on long metal rods. Magnus was holding a sixth man by the throat. Blake stood silently in the corner. Harry felt the rise of bile in his throat but ruthlessly suppressed it.

“This one's mind is too strong, there will be no breaking him,” Magnus said of the man in his clutches.

“Any chance you'll willingly tell us anything?” Shacklebolt asked the man.

“Piss off, Auror,” Rookwood growled; “You'll get yours, mark my words.”

“Pity you shan't see it. Stupefy,” said Shacklebolt.

Magnus dumped Rookwood a few feet from the three bodies against the wall. Shacklebolt pointed his wand, averted his gaze slightly, and said, “Reducto.” Another part of the floor was covered in blood.

“What are we to do with this þræll?” Magnus asked, his staff directed toward Blake.

Harry looked at Blake, then waggled his wand and said, “Mr. Blake, once we leave this room, you will walk ten feet in front of us at all times.”

Shacklebolt raised one eyebrow. “You're going to use him as a shield?” he asked.

“He's earned it,” Harry said, daring the Minister-in-Exile to challenge him.

Blake erupted into movement. He blasted Magnus to the floor with a Concussion Hex, managed to stun Shacklebolt, and transfigured one of the dead Death Eaters into a stone barrier before Harry was able to react. For his part, Harry banished both Shacklebolt and Magnus into the corridor beyond, and cast a potent Bombarda at the barrier. Blake returned fire with two silent curses; Harry recognised one as an Entrails-Expeller and managed to roll clear of both. He created his own barrier, which both shielded him and blocked Blake's avenue of escape from the entry. As Blake pounded away at the barrier, Harry enervated Shacklebolt. Magnus was already moving around and casting some sort of field healing spell on his own leg.

“Did you really think you could hold me under the Imperius indefinitely , boy?” Blake called out; “Think about it: I resisted Veritaserum and maintained Occlumency shields for months.”

“Then what's your game?” Harry asked.

“I needed Rookwood eliminated, and you've conveniently done my work for me. Now my path is clear,” Blake said.

Harry whispered forcefully to Magnus, “Do the ward that stops a patronus!”  As he suspected, Blake's little silvery bird was soon bouncing around the entry, unable to escape. Blake growled in frustration and began to pepper Harry's barrier with darker and darker curses; it tottered dangerously.

Harry quickly cast deafening charms at Shacklebolt, Magnus and finally himself. He reached into his protective vest and pulled out one of the Muggle soldiers' toys. The 'flash-bang' bounced just outside Blake's barrier and then erupted. Blake stumbled to one side, his hands pressed against his ears. Harry took no chances. He dispelled his barrier and cast a Blasting Curse at the downed Unspeakable's head; then he cast another and another until little more than a puddle remained.

Shacklebolt cancelled the charms on himself and Magnus, and then on Harry. An involuntary shudder began in Harry's wand arm and quickly spread. He bit out, “That s-scum helped Dawlish give us up... g-got Remus killed... h-he deserved that... ”

“Adrenalin,” Magnus said flatly. He drew a small chunk of chocolate from a pocket in his tunic and held it out for Harry.

“Yes, definitely the rookie shakes,” Shacklebolt said.

“S-suppose you're mad at me...” Harry managed.

Shacklebolt sighed; he said, “Look here, Blake's probably not the last person you're going to kill today. Still, there's no room in this for revenge or blood-lust; it's the sort of thinking that'll get us killed instead. This isn't something to enjoy, or even to find satisfying. It's killing, and it's ugly, but we have to do it. It's our job to save Britain, simply put. So, stiff upper lip, and let's get on with the job. Clear?”

“Clear,” Harry said. He tried to shake off the shuddering but it was slow to lift.

Shacklebolt sent his patronus through the ceiling with the proper all-clear message, and Einar and the Weasley twins began their respective journeys down the lift. While they waited, Shacklebolt transfigured the dead Death Eaters into small rocks and Harry spelled away the blood and other evidence of the fighting. The third Icelander remained behind to help the Swedes and the Norwegians finish off the trolls and then to proceed with their own assignments. Eight long minutes later, they were ready to proceed into the Department of Mysteries.

2:35 AM

Despite Blake's painstakingly drawn map, the Department of Mysteries was still enormous and labyrinthine. In fifteen minutes, it appeared that they had only crossed about one-eighth of the map's width. In that time, they'd not seen a single soul. The whole of the Department thus far was unnaturally silent, almost as if a silencing charm had been set against every floor, every wall, every object, even the air itself. Most of the rooms that they passed were empty, or nearly so. Harry wondered what sort of horrors Voldemort and his men had spirited away.

Magnus was at the front of the group and Einar at the back, with the Weasley boys behind Magnus and Harry and Shacklebolt in front of Einar. The two Icelanders moved in ways that were beyond Harry's understanding. Sometimes they were visible, sometimes they were hidden in the shadows and sometimes there was no trace of them at all; they came into view just often enough that the others knew they were headed in the right direction.

They rounded a corner and Magnus abruptly appeared, already in action. Within three seconds, he gave a signal to move forward. Leant against the side of the corridor was an old man in a silver-black cloak that was almost difficult to look upon. It was obvious that he could only move his head.

“Ahh, you're here. I can't say as I'm surprised, although I had expected it might be a while longer,” the man said calmly.

Shacklebolt came forward; he said, “Croaker! What in blazes are you doing here?”

“I'm working, of course – as are you, are you not?” Croaker returned.

“All the Unspeakables were ordered to evacuate months ago! How did you get in here?” Shacklebolt demanded.

“Why, through the main entry, of course,” Croaker said.

Magnus lifted his staff and said, “ þræll...”

Shacklebolt held up his hand to stay the Icelander and asked Croaker, “When was that, exactly?”

Croaker seemed to disappear into thought for a moment before he said, “Oh, it must have been around the 17th of September... I honestly don't pay the time much mind.”

“You've been here all this time?” Shacklebolt asked in disbelief.

Croaker smiled and said, “Of course we've been here. Where would we go?”

“There was an order to evacuate!” Shacklebolt snapped.

“From whom? Our leadership gave no such order. Was it from the Minister of the time? We would certainly have ignored that; after all, we couldn't leave this place to just anyone,” said Croaker.

“We? How many of you are here?” asked Shacklebolt.

Croaker returned, “All of us, young man... excepting, of course, those whom we sent away. We couldn't allow any to remain amongst us who did not have our complete trust.”

“You... you kicked out all of your traitors? Are you saying that every Unspeakable we've dealt with was a traitor?” Shacklebolt hissed.

“No, no, not necessarily. Now young Mr. Blake, there was a man not to be trusted. We had to turn out his apprentice as well – a Mr. Calloway, if I remember rightly. Mr. Calloway hadn't been in our company long enough to be sure of him, but I rather doubt he was a traitor. He merely had the misfortune of a poor apprenticing match. There were a few others as well. Then there's Mr. Rookwood, of course. We've had to strongly limit his access since his return; the risk that he might have upset the balance of things was simply too great,” Croaker said.

“You've let Rookwood run free in here?” Shacklebolt asked.

“As I said, Mr. Shacklebolt, we have strongly limited his access. He has not been aware of this, of course,” Croaker clarified.

“Doesn't matter now – he's dead,” Harry cut in.

“And such a shame it is. He had great promise at one time, but was seduced by the illusion of power,” Croaker said. He peered into the darkness toward Harry and continued, “Ahh... Harry Potter... we've been interested in you for a very long time. Your uninvited visit the year before last only heightened that interest, don't you know? It was the strangest thing... you made the Room of Magical Energies sing.”

Harry tried not to sound too eager. “We need to get inside that room,” he said; “Voldemort hasn't managed it, has he?”

“Certainly not! Young Mr. Riddle is absolutely unworthy of most of the knowledge we've accumulated over the centuries. He only visits the Room of Time and the Room of Death now,” said Croaker.

“What is he doing messing about with time?” Harry asked.

Croaker said, “To the best of our knowledge, he has accomplished nothing there.”

“The Room of Death... you're talking about the Veil, right?” Harry said.

“Ahh, yes – the Veil of Death. He finds it a convenient way to rid himself of enemies. It is more humane that some of his other chosen methods, so we have not attempted to prevent his access,” Croaker told him.

Shacklebolt asked, “How often does he come?”

“He has come more frequently of late. He and his thralls were here as recently as last evening. I imagine they're searching for you right about now,” said Croaker; “Mr. Potter, come closer, would you? I shan't bite – haven't got the right sort of teeth for that.”

“Go ahead, Harry. If he tries anything, I'll take him down,” Shacklebolt said.

“Thank you for the show of confidence,” Croaker said with mirth in his voice. The old man gazed into Harry's eyes for some time, but there was no hint of any sort of magic.

Finally, the Unspeakable said, “At the moment, you're worthy of the knowledge, Mr. Potter. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named attempted to enter the Room of Magical Energies once. It was not pleasant for him. Based upon the evidence, I'd hazard a guess that he barely escaped with his life, such as it is. I doubt you'll have any difficulties at all, however. I also believe you're correct in speculating that the Room is a sure way to rid the world of his spirit anchor... oh, what's the Abyssinian name for it... a horcrux?

“There are three things you must know. The first is how to call for the correct door from the nexus – that would be the Room of Doors which you doubtless recall. Simply call for the Room of Magical Energies. If you have been granted access by us... or if the Room itself wishes to see you... then that door will appear. You'll know it when you see it. It's only when found accidentally that it appears the same as the other doors.

“The second is how to open the door. Tap the door three times with your wand and say 'I ask permission to enter'. At this point our permission matters not. It is the Room that decides whether to open or remain closed – we know not how or why this is the case.

“The third and last is how to properly seal one of our doors. There is a silent spell that we Unspeakables can apply to all the doors in this facility save the Room of Magical Energies. It can be defeated, but even the most capable of wizards will be thwarted for a few minutes. Watch this wand movement very carefully. The incantation is compingo permissu. Do not speak it aloud lest the spell fail.

“But know this, Harry Potter. No one enters the Room and remains unchanged. Most have been rendered physically ill. Some have died in an instant. Some have been ejected from the Room with no memory of the experience. Some have had ecstatic visions. Some have been healed of every malady they had ever suffered. A lucky few have been gifted to solve some of the great mysteries... but no one has left the same as when they entered,” Croaker finished.

“Did you ever go in?” Harry asked.

Croaker nodded and said, “It haunts me to this very day. I can only give you this advice, based upon the experience of dozens who have taken the same journey: ask of it what you seek, do not expect anything from it, and whatever you do, do not demand of it.”  The sounds of battle echoed down the corridor just then. Magnus turned his attention toward the sound and Einar made ready.

“May I be released now?” Croaker asked. Shacklebolt nodded and Magnus twitched his staff.

“Thank you,” Harry told the old Unspeakable.

Croaker gave an enigmatic smile and said, “You're most welcome, Mr. Potter. Either you will win this day, or you will not. Whatever may be, we will protect what the wizarding world knows and what it does not know. I will indulge my prejudice in the matter ever so slightly, and sincerely wish you well. Now then, I must join my colleagues in our lower levels. Until next time...” He waved his hand and a downward stairwell appeared in the wall beside him. As soon as his second foot reached the steps, the opening disappeared.

“Lower levels? What lower levels?” Shacklebolt asked no one in particular.

2:50 AM

Somehow, the six men made it halfway across the map in less than fifteen minutes. While they had heard sounds of fighting at various times, they came upon no one. Harry figured that Croaker had something to do with it, but he wasn't about to complain.

They turned a corner into a long narrow corridor. At its end, in complete defiance of the map, they found the Room of Doors – the nexus, as Croaker had called it.

“This isn't right,” Shacklebolt said.

Harry said, “Does it matter?” and then called out firmly, “Please show me the Room of Magical Energies.”

The room spun fast enough to sweep the twins off their feet; Magnus and Einar braced with their staves. Harry and Shacklebolt managed to hold their positions. When the spinning stopped, two doors impossibly spread apart and revealed a faintly glowing door between.

Harry opened his vest and freed the knapsack he had been carrying. A dark weight seemed to lift from him as the sack settled on the floor. He drew his wand and tapped the door three times, and began, “I ask – ” but had to dive clear of a blood-red spell.

A hated voice crowed, “Look what we have here: unwelcome guests!”

“Bellatrix,” Harry hissed.

Magnus threw up a stone barrier in front of Harry and the rest began to exchange spells. Harry moved on hands and knees to the door and managed two taps before a Reductor Curse nearly caught his wand.

“Now what would wee baby Potter be wanting with that nasty room?” Bellatrix asked as she fired at Shacklebolt.

There were seven attackers in the tight space: Lestrange, Mulciber and five that Harry didn't recognise. He made a second move toward the door, but one of the Death Eaters had flanked George and landed a cutting curse on Harry's leg just below the knee. In return, George caught the Death Eater with a quick transfiguration that merged his legs into a reptilian tail. Before the wizard could free himself, Einar delivered an explosive killing blow.

“Ooh, Icelanders! I thought we'd killed all of you the last time around! A shame, it was – you Guardians are all so deliciously fit,” said Bellatrix.

“I feel that I should vomit now,” Einar said.

“Enough talk,” barked Magnus, and he unleashed a blast of blue lightning that Bellatrix nearly failed to block.

Bellatrix laughed madly and then said, “Now that's a spell! Ahh, if but one of you could be turned... I'd throw Rodolphus over in an instant.”

Harry tucked in behind the barrier and cast a rough Episkey on his leg. It was enough to stop the bleeding but the cut was raw and deep. Three of the Death Eaters were converging on Shacklebolt. Fred moved to break them up but Harry took on one of them from his perch. George was distracted for a moment and Shacklebolt moved to shield him.

It was then that Harry realised what was happening, but he was too late. Mulciber had been moving into position the entire time and he let loose a Blasting Curse that cut Einar nearly in half. Before Mulciber could seize it, Harry had the presence of mind to summon Einar's staff; he doubted that he could use it, but now neither could Mulciber.

Magnus tucked and rolled beneath a spell from Bellatrix. When he stopped, he lashed out with his staff and swept Mulciber off his feet. His free hand drew a large knife from within his robes, and he buried the knife into Mulciber's chest. The twins converged on one of the remaining Death Eaters and Shacklebolt took on the other. Bellatrix howled with rage and stalked toward Magnus, curses flying.

Harry used the opportunity to give three taps upon the door. He called out, “I ask permission to enter!” He heard Magnus let out a pained growl but he couldn't pull his eyes away from the door. It glowed brighter and brighter until all Harry could make out was an impossibly bright white light. He reached for the knapsack just as it began to slide away from him.

“Now what could wee Potter have in his little bag?” Bellatrix cooed. He turned to face her and saw that everyone else was down.

Harry banished the knapsack away from her and growled, “None of your business, you bloody hag!”

“Oh, my! Did baby Potter's danglies finally drop?” Bellatrix cackled and she took aim at him.

Magnus lifted his head from the floor and gave a rough wave with his staff before he fell unconscious. A pale yellow light struck Bellatrix and shoved her hard in Harry's direction. She slid along the floor, her wand already redirected to strike back at Magnus. Harry took a shot at her as he stumbled backward, but missed wide.  Her slide took her within a few feet of the opened doorway.

She staggered to her feet and turned away from the fierce light. Before she could completely avert her eyes, she began to moan, “No... no... no... NO!”

The light flared out like a brilliant fog and enveloped Bellatrix's legs. She shouted and clawed at the floor as the light dragged her into the Room. The fog and Bellatrix retreated back through the door with a last shrill scream. Harry was already summoning the knapsack when the Room abruptly sealed itself.  Harry tapped and tapped and asked and pleaded, but the door wouldn't reopen. On the third attempt, it simply disappeared.

He pounded his fist against the floor and shouted, “Fuck!”

“That sums it up nicely,” Fred bit out. George sat up slowly, his hand pressed to his forehead. Harry enervated Shacklebolt for the second time in an hour even as he made his way to Magnus.

“Where's Lestrange?” Shacklebolt asked.

“The Room sucked her in,” Harry said bitterly.

Shacklebolt looked around the nexus and asked, “Where's the Room?”

“Gone,” said Harry; “Help me with Magnus.”  The burly Icelander took a full minute to awaken, during which Shacklebolt did his best to mend the man's ribs and George found and fused together a broken bone in his leg.

As soon as George withdrew his wand, Magnus waved off his helpers. He struggled to his feet, leant heavily on his staff, and said flatly, “Einar is dead.  We will collect him on the way out.”

“What now, Harry?” Fred asked.

Harry slung the knapsack over his shoulder and said, “We have to be rid of these.”

“The Veil room, then,” said Shacklebolt.

“Your Unspeakable, he said that this is where Skí-maðr has been seen,” Magnus said.

“It's the last place I want to go, but I don't know what else to do. I can keep trying to re-open the Room...” Harry offered.

“There is no time. We will go,” said Magnus.

The five wizards made their way slowly and carefully through one of the other doors in the nexus, and onward through a series of rooms as Harry remembered them. They were on the verge of reaching the Room of Death when a large company of Death Eaters set upon them. It was over very quickly; Harry hadn't even sensed them coming.

3:05 AM

With his next conscious thought, before he could manage to open his eyes, Harry knew that he was bound and standing. His head felt as if he'd been trampled. It only required a glimpse from a single bleary eye to figure out the situation.

“Hello, Tom,” he said.

“Mind your place, boy. I am the supreme ruler of magical Britain – and soon the ruler of all Britain – while you are an insolent whelp about to die,” Voldemort hissed.

The sound of a distant explosion echoed through the open door to the Room of Death. Harry said, “Do you hear that, Tom? It's getting closer. You're the supreme ruler of half this building, and I'll call you by your true name, thank you very much.”

“You place too much confidence in your friends,” said Voldemort.

“And you think too much of the power of fear,” Harry returned.

Voldemort sneered, “You really are Dumbledore's man through and through, aren't you?”

“No, actually – not for some time,” Harry said.

Voldemort hesitated for a moment before he said, “How... unexpected. Seen through the great man's veneer, have you? It's a shame that didn't come sooner... perhaps things would have played out differently.”

“Not likely. You killed my parents and you've tried to kill me, what, five times? Six?” said Harry.

“It's a shame to end the repartee, but Lord Voldemort has work to do. You will now be released from your bindings, upon which you will open that pack,” Voldemort ordered.

“Couldn't do it yourself?” Harry said.

Voldemort said, “Whomever you enlisted to seal it was rather skilled. Lord Voldemort knows no bounds, but would rather not destroy the contents. Whatever is in that sack gives off an intense dark magic.”

“And you just can't pass up the chance to gather it up, can you?” Harry said.

“Insolence will get you nowhere, boy. I have all the time in the world to decipher that seal. Lord Voldemort is attempting to show mercy despite your cheek. If you open it, then you might save at least some of your friends,” Voldemort said.

Shacklebolt and the twins were tightly bound and hovering no more than fifteen feet from the Veil. While moving as little as possible, Harry tried to sweep the room; he saw no sign of Magnus.

“All right, but I can't dispel it without a wand,” Harry said.

“If you direct that wand anywhere other than toward that pack, your friends will die,” Voldemort said.

Besides his three comrades, Harry saw a handful of Voldemort's minions and three of his inner circle: Macnair, Avery and Snape. Snape didn't acknowledge his glance; there was no hint that the man was anything other than Voldemort's thrall. He certainly wasn't going to count on Snape as an ally. Macnair moved directly behind Shacklebolt at Voldemort's direction.
Harry carefully picked up his wand from where it had been dropped before him. He worked slowly but consistently, neither wanting to provoke Voldemort further nor wanting to believe that Magnus was dead and unable to help.

“Time is slipping away, Harry Potter...” Voldemort taunted him.

“It's not a simple job,” Harry snapped.

Snape sneered, “The boy has never been a consistent performer under pressure.”

“Shut up, Snivellus,” Harry growled as he continued to perform a very elaborate version of the unsealing spell.

“Ahh, I do so love the taste of old grudges – wouldn't you agree, Severus?” Voldemort said with some relish.

“There – it's open,” Harry said, all the while thinking 'where are you, Magnus?'.

Voldemort said, “Excellent. Mr. Macnair, if you please...?” With a negligent flick, Macnair sent Fred, George and Shacklebolt flying toward the Veil.

Harry dove for his wand, narrowly missing a wicked-looking spell from Voldemort, and frantically conjured a thick marble column between the Veil and his three friends. Shacklebolt and Fred bounced against the column and ploughed into the floor at the edge of the dais. George hadn't even the time to react before he disappeared.

“George... GEORGE!” Fred cried out.

Before either Voldemort or Macnair had opportunity to fire on Harry's remaining comrades, Magnus stumbled into the room. With a guttural howl, he cast a vicious-looking gout of red flame toward Macnair. The Death Eater dove to one side but one of his feet was nearly sheared off. Voldemort immediately dispatched a Killing Curse toward Magnus, who managed to dodge.

“Voldemort!” a gravelly voice cried out.

“Auror Moody... how nice of you to join us,” the Dark Lord hissed, and then cut loose with a quick series of half-a-dozen spells that Harry didn't recognise.

Shacklebolt pulled a distraught Fred clear of the dais, and Harry realised that it was Snape who had freed them. The Room of Death was chaos – Moody and his sixteen fighters had all entered the fray, a dozen Death Eaters had followed them in, Magnus and Macnair were engaged in a vicious exchange, and Voldemort...

“Snape, send Potter through the Veil to join his friend,” he ordered. Snape was at Harry's back, with one hand at his waist and the other atop his shoulder.

“He is here for your taking, my Lord,” Snape said.

Voldemort strode toward them as though nothing else was happening in the Room. Attacking spells seemed to simply bounce off; one even appeared to bend around him. He snarled, “The thing is, Severus, that you're far too slippery for my comfort. The way by which you can return to my good graces is to do as I say and cast the boy through the Veil.”

Snape stepped to one side of Harry and bowed formally. “As you command, my Lord,” he said. As he came back up, his wand flashed forward and his signature curse – Sectumsempra – blasted into Voldemort's shoulder. Snape never stopped moving; he raced directly toward the most feared wizard in the world and continued his attack. At the same time, Moody made for Voldemort from the opposite side.

“Get rid of them, Potter – NOW!” Snape shouted as he cast spell after spell. 

Harry summoned the knapsack, but Hufflepuff's Cup bounced free as it shot toward him. Fred saw the stray cup and made a dash for it.

“What do you think you're doing, Potter?” Voldemort said with an almost-casual air, even as he engaged two outstanding fighters in Snape and Moody; “That knapsack belongs to me – leave it be.”

Harry dodged a spell from Voldemort and fished out the already-ruined Ravenclaw Grimoire. With a flick of the wrist, it flew through the Veil. He reached for the next item.

“You will stop what you're doing, Potter, and you will stop it now,” Voldemort commanded. Harry replied by casting Slytherin's locket through the Veil. Only he heard the death rattle of the horcrux over the constant din.

Voldemort said, “What was that, Potter? It looked like... jewellery...”

Harry ducked as Macnair soared through the air, over his head, and into the Veil. Fred rolled to a stop next to Harry, his face lit with grim satisfaction. Harry conjured a broad stone wall and Fred added a series of stone spiders the size of small acromantulas that went straight for Voldemort.

“Did you get the Cup?” Harry asked.

“No, someone kicked it,” Fred said.

Harry rooted through the knapsack and threw Tom Riddle's long-destroyed diary into the Veil. “We need that cup. Without it, we're lost,” he said.

“I'm on it,” Fred said grimly.

Harry removed the last item from the sack: Slytherin's ring. Dumbledore had been sure that he'd destroyed it, but the old wizard had remained covetous of it. When Harry had tested it, he had found that the ring was still incredibly magical. As such, he sent it through the Veil rather than take the chance that Dumbledore had been wrong.

“That was... that was a ring! That was my ring! You couldn't have... YOU WOULDN'T DARE!” Voldemort roared.

Magnus tried to draw Voldemort's attention with a sickly yellow curse, but Voldemort was having none of it. A ball of roiling orange energy collected at the end of his wand and whipped directly into Moody; it ripped through the old Auror's shields as though they didn't exist, and tore him to pieces. Snape moved away as fast as he could, dodging for his life.
It was Shacklebolt who intercepted the Dark Lord. Voldemort hadn't been looking anywhere save toward Harry and the Veil, and the Minister literally ran into him from the side. The tackle caused Voldemort's wand to come free from his hand, and he landed hard against the stone floor.

Fred ducked and dodged his way through the mêlées with the Cup in hand. Harry saw Tonks – who had come with Moody's group – shield him from several vicious spells along the way. Along the way, Fred started to fling all manner of things out of his vest. In seconds, the space around him was filled with swamps, man-eating plants, poison-spewing gobstones and other distractions.

Shacklebolt came to a stop next to Harry behind his battered stone wall. He spied Fred and began screaming, “No! Stop it, Fred! Stop it!”

“But he's got them running for cover!” Harry said.

“He's making a path!” Shacklebolt countered.

Harry took a quick look around the side of the wall and realised that Shacklebolt was right. All Voldemort had to do was to dispel the Weasley creations, and he had a direct empty path to them.

Voldemort howled, “Give me that Cup, boy!” and he fired a crisp orange jet at Fred. It struck his hand and the cup within it, and both were quickly engulfed in flames. Fred screamed in pain and fell to his knees, but struggled to his feet and stumbled toward the Veil.

“I've got to help him!” Harry said.

Shacklebolt nearly laid on Harry and snapped, “He's in open space – you can't go to him; all we can do is lay down fire. On three...”  Shacklebolt and Harry opened a barrage on Voldemort. The Dark Lord literally slapped away Shacklebolt's spells, but Harry managed to hit him once on the forearm.

Voldemort screamed in rage and bellowed, “Accio Cup!

Fred screamed again as he began to slide across the floor. His free hand grasped blindly, seeking even the smallest crack to stop himself. Tonks conjured a stone barrier in the path of the Summoning Spell, and Fred came to a hard stop.

“Now we can get to him,” Harry hissed.

Shacklebolt shook his head and said, “Tonks has a better angle.” He made contact with the other Auror and they exchanged hand signals. Tonks began to make a move, but was quickly cut down by two of the remaining Death Eaters.  Voldemort swept his hand from left to right, and the stone barrier slowly slid away from Fred. Fred rolled to one side, trying to keep the stone between himself and Voldemort, but he lost ground each second.

“Snape! Snape!” Fred shouted.

Shacklebolt whispered forcefully, “What the devil...?”

“There's no need for yelling, Weasley,” Snape returned over the constant concussion from spells striking stone. The spy dove behind his own set of barriers to avoid a fresh fusillade of curses.

Fred held up his hand high, almost above the top of the barrier. Harry had to avert his eyes. His friend's hand looked to be virtually melted and there would be no freeing the Cup from it, short of amputation. He saw Fred catch Snape's eye and something was exchanged without words.

“Do it, Snape – do it!” Fred yelled out.

“Weasley...” Snape hissed.

Fred stumbled to his feet, still crouching behind the moving barrier. “Damn it, Snape – do it!” he demanded. From his position, Harry saw Snape close his eyes slowly and then open them with purpose.

Fred abruptly stood tall – Voldemort was actually startled by it – and bellowed, “Come and get it, you pasty-faced arsemonger!”

“Fred!” Harry shouted.

Still under constant but ineffective fire, Voldemort shouted, “Impudence! Avada kedavra!

Fred Weasley died literally thumbing his nose at the Dark Lord Voldemort. In the same moment, his body flew into the air and raced backward into the Veil. There was a loud and shrill scream that took seconds to die out.

Forget everyone else – kill Potter!” Voldemort roared.

Harry was still clear of cover from having tried to stop Fred. He ducked but still took a cutting curse across his upper arm. Voldemort began to blast Harry's wall into pieces.

“We have to clear out now,” Shacklebolt said.

“On three?” Harry asked.

“Three!” Shacklebolt declared, and the two men dove and rolled to Snape's barrier.

“Isn't this cosy?” Snape drawled.

“That door seems a mile away,” Harry said.

Snape said, “It may as well be. Where is that accursed snake?”

Nagini was slithering between the feet of combatants and attempting to bite the Death Eaters' opponents. Dragon-hide boots were slowing the snake's work, but it was persistent. It seemed as though Snape thought Nagini was a horcrux, which didn't make sense; Harry knew Snape was a right bastard, but the man could surely count.

“Nagini!” Voldemort called out.

Shacklebolt hissed, “Shite, he's onto us!”

Voldemort cast, “Accio Nagini!

Harry rose above the barrier too late, as the snake began to slide toward the Dark Lord. Just feet from its destination, Nagini slammed into a giant stone rabbit. Tonks, who was laying on one side and soaked with blood, had conjured it at the last second.

“Damn you!” Voldemort ground out; he cast a Blasting Curse at the bunny that sprayed the whole area with sharp chips of stone. As the dust settled, it was clear that Tonks was dead.

In the confusion, Harry slowly summoned Nagini in the direction of the Veil. When it looked as if Voldemort was about to catch on, Shacklebolt dashed free of the barriers and crossed in front. Voldemort shot a curse in his direction but then caught sight of Nagini. Harry switched to a banishing charm and drove the snake toward its doom as fast as he could, but Voldemort conjured his own barrier in its path, not more than six feet short of the Veil. Shacklebolt launched a rapid-fire series of curses at the Dark Lord, momentarily drawing his attention.

Snape tapped Harry on the forehead and asked, “Have you found a way to be rid of it?”

“Yes,” said Harry, startled by the contact.

“Then it's time to be rid of the snake,” Snape said.

“Why?” Harry asked.

“Because the Dark Lord believes that Nagini is a horcrux. Only an imbecile would give him the chance to think otherwise,” Snape snapped.

“Is it worth dying over, for God's sake?” Harry asked.

“You really are an imbecile, aren't you? No more fumbling about, Potter – do your job,” sneered Snape. With that, he burst free of the barriers, grabbed the unconscious Nagini by the tail and swung the heavy snake toward the Veil.

“Snape!” Voldemort shouted. He cast a Killing Curse but Snape had anticipated it; the snake's body rose into the air and caught the curse.

NO!” Voldemort exploded. A frenzy of wild magic rippled through the Room and knocked nearly everyone from their feet, including Snape. The spy fell backward and both he and Voldemort's familiar slipped through the Veil.

Voldemort began to madly cast curses in every direction. He spotted the nearest wizard to him – one of his own – and applied a Cruciatus Curse so powerful that the man's robe began to smoke. Harry realised he wasn't going to get a better chance, and he full-on sprinted toward Shacklebolt and the exit. A curse from somewhere struck him on the right shoulder but he ploughed forward. It was Magnus who dragged him through the door.

“Have to seal it –” Harry rasped out. He pointed his wand at the door and performed Croaker's spell.

“Hold still, Harry. This is going to hurt,” Shacklebolt said.

A spell struck Harry's shoulder and he bit back a shout.  Nonetheless, he forced himself to his feet. Somehow, Einar's staff had remained in the corridor the entire time, so Harry collected it.

“We can not remain here,” Magnus said. Harry struggled to his feet. There were only seven of them left: himself, Magnus, Shacklebolt, and four of Moody's fighters – two Swedes and two Englishmen.

“Back to the nexus, then?” Shacklebolt asked Harry.

“It's all we've got,” Harry said.

The seven fighters trudged back through several rooms until they could see from their position into the nexus. A dozen Death Eaters awaited them there. Three appeared at the ready, but five were actually seated on the floor.

“No better opportunity will come,” said Magnus.

Shacklebolt said, “I don't like having to enter through a single door.”

Harry consulted Blake's map. “We can go through the Room of Time, cross here, and come in on the opposite side.”

“Is it wise to split up?” one of the Swedes asked.

“Mr. Potter is with me. Mr. Shacklebolt goes to the other door. One other comes with me, the rest with Mr. Shacklebolt,” Magnus ordered.

“A signal?” Shacklebolt asked.

“We attack in three minutes; that is the signal,” said Magnus. Shacklebolt nodded and disappeared into the next room along with the Englishman and two of the Swedes.

Harry peeked into the nexus and then tapped Magnus on the shoulder. “There's a spell... my headmaster did it once, and I figured it was worth learning. I think it would be a good one at the start,” he said.

“It is a powerful spell?” Magnus asked.

Harry said, “He used it to keep back inferi – you know, undead?” Magnus weighed that for a moment before he nodded.

Two and a half minutes later, Harry edged into the nexus – the Room of Doors – and executed a flawless Fire Whip. The flames tore through the room in a great circle as he moved forward, with Magnus and the other fighter close behind. Twelve burning black robes and white masks fell to the floor, empty.

Shacklebolt ran into the room from the opposite side. “It's a trap!” he shouted; one of the Swedes made it into the room with him, followed closely by a pack of Death Eaters firing wildly. Magnus dropped to one knee and Harry rolled to the side; along with the Swede who accompanied them, they took advantage of the Death Eaters' hesitation at the doorway and began to pick off their opponents.

The Englishman who was with Shacklebolt ploughed through two of the Death Eaters under fire and shouted, “DOWN! DOWN!”

Harry and Magnus flattened themselves against the floor, and both Shacklebolt and the Englishman shot a volley of spells over their heads. More Death Eaters were entering from behind them, and their Swedish comrade had already paid the price.  By dividing the room, the five rebels were able to keep back the Death Eaters. Harry tried to open another door, but was barely able to force it closed against a third onslaught of attackers. He was able to seal that and the other closed doors, but there was no way out of the nexus. We need another way out, Harry thought, and then the obvious occurred to him.

“Dobby!” he called out.

The house-elf popped into place at his side and immediately popped away to avoid a Blood-Boiling Curse; he reappeared an instant later, eyes wide. “Dobby is getting Harry Potter, sir, out of here straight away!” he squeaked.

“There are five of us,” Harry said as calmly as he could manage.

“Collect our dead, please,” Magnus added.

Dobby disappeared and returned not more than three seconds later with several of his fellows. While the house-elves could not attack wizards, they were more than capable of defending themselves and others in their care. The Death Eaters failed to land another spell.

3:25 AM

They found themselves in the midst of chaos. A healer who Harry didn't recognise shuffled him toward a cot, all the while casting charms.

“Shoulder, left leg,” the white-robed witch called out briskly.

Harry thought to protest, but the healer's grim expression stopped him cold. He allowed her to direct him onto the cot. Someone thrust a steaming goblet into his hands. He sniffed at it – definitely Pepper-Up, he decided – and downed it in one go. He winced as a healer started to work on his leg.

A very familiar healer approached, arms crossed and face carefully schooled. “I see you're still prone to ending up in hospital, Mr. Potter?” Madam Pomfrey chided him.

“I suppose it looks that way,” said Harry.

She checked him carefully from head to toe and said, “It seems that you didn't fare too badly, at least compared to most.”

“What about the shoulder?” he asked.

“I can repair the soft tissue easily enough, although you'll notice a strain for several hours. In ideal conditions, I'd regrow the acromion, the head of the humerus, the corachoid process and part of the clavicle. These are not ideal conditions,” she told him.

Harry asked, “What can you do in these conditions, then? I have to go back, it's not finished yet.”

“I can mend the bones, but you'll be at high risk of re-breaking them... especially the acromion, which is a fine mess... and you'll be at fair risk of shearing the coracoacromial ligament,” she said.

Harry managed a mirthless laugh. “You don't sound like a school healer any more,” he said.

Madam Pomfrey huffed, “I'll have you know that I was the chief healer for Artefact Accidents at St. Mungo's. Hogwarts was supposed to be my quiet dotage - imagine that?”

“That's certainly gone down the pan, hasn't it?” Harry said with a wince.

The healer cast a bright yellow beam at his shoulder, and he bit back the pain. “Quite. I have a better qualified healer on hand for this particular repair...” she said as though distracted; “There... is that any better at all?”

He tried to rotate his shoulder and gasped, “It's a bit better...”

Madam Pomfrey huffed, “Stop moving it, then, if it hurts so much! No sense, these children... Healer Stefánsdóttir, over here please?”

Gudrun turned and automatically began, “Yes, Healer Pomfrey... oh...”

“What in the hell are you doing here?” Harry demanded.

Madam Pomfrey hissed, “Mr. Potter! I'll not have that on my ward!”

Harry continued undaunted, “You're supposed to be with Ron and Hermione, and they're supposed to be in the bloody Shetlands! Why are you here?” Before she could form an answer, he heard a cry of “Harry!” from behind him that was immediately followed by a brown-haired missile.

Aaaahhh! My shoulder's broken!” Harry bit out.

Hermione quickly let go; she stammered, “Oh! Oh, I didn't mean...! I'm so sorry...”

Harry fixed the most dangerous gaze he could muster on Gudrun, pointed at his shoulder, and barked, “Fix it!” Before she took her first step toward him, he had already turned to face Hermione; with equal force, he ordered, “Explain!”

“Gudrun has been here since the outset. Ginny and I only arrived a few minutes ago. Everything's changed – can't you feel it?” Hermione said.

Harry snapped, “You can't be here – look around you, for God's sake!”

Ginny came storming down the aisle toward them; “We have to be here – even I can feel it!” she fired back.

Harry was furious, “A good thirty of us went in there, and five came back! FIVE!”

Ginny's mouth opened and closed without any sound coming forth, even as Hermione said, “Fred and George were with you...” Gudrun did something that made most of Harry's shoulder feel numb even as a tiny area burned so sharply that he pulled free from her, but the pain seemed well earned at that moment.

“Ginny, they didn't make it out. I'm sorry,” he finally managed. Ginny went rigid; she took in hoarse, keening breaths and her hands shook. Hermione pulled her into a tight embrace.

Gudrun grabbed Harry by the chin and turned his head to face her. “You will stop moving if you care to use this arm again,” she said.

Harry closed his eyes tight and told Hermione, “That's why you shouldn't be here. I suppose Ron managed to come along? You'd best take Ginny to him.”

“Yes... I'll do that...” Hermione whispered.

An explosion echoed down the wide corridor in which the hospital had been set up. Harry's cot rattled and Gudrun pulled back. Bits of plaster rained down from the ceiling.

Harry looked around to see if anyone could offer an explanation. Ginny sniffed, “That was Anders blowing up the lifts. Fred and George helped him plan it out...”

As Gudrun returned to work, she snarled, “This way, if Skí-maðr and his þræll come for us, they must use the stairs. Skí-maðr may survive it, but the þræll will die.”

“I thought a healer might have a problem with that,” Harry said.

Gudrun looked at him with watery eyes, but her voice was steady. “Einar was my brother,” she said; “If they can die a thousand times, I hope that it will be so.”

3:35 AM

Dobby led Harry down a side passage into another large corridor. “Minister Shacklebolt and Mister Twing and others wait for Harry Potter, but Dobby knows the short way,” the house-elf said.

“Good, I don't want to keep them waiting. We're running out of time,” Harry said.

“Dobby must apologise to Harry Potter. His mission could not be carried out,” Dobby told him as they walked.

“You got us out of there, Dobby; if you hadn't, we'd all be dead. There's nothing to apologise for,” Harry insisted.

Dobby tugged on one ear. “Dobby and the other house-elves did not come to the Room of Death... did not take the wizards to hospital like Dobby said. Dobby and the other house-elves could not come near He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”

Harry said, “It's all right, Dobby, I understand. It was terrifying in there, you know? There's nothing wrong with being afraid –”

Dobby cut him off, “No, Harry Potter does not understand. Dobby and the other house-elves would gladly serve the good wizards, would give up their very lives to serve. When the house-elves popped, we could not come near He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Dobby does not know why.”

“You did your best. Moody's group were the only ones you couldn't help. Madam Pomfrey told me that you saved dozens of people. No apologies, Dobby, I won't have it,” Harry said.

The house-elf insisted, “Dobby did not try hard enough. Dobby could have saved many good wizards, like Harry Potter's red-headed fools –”

“My what?” Harry choked.

“ – or Dobby could even have saved not-so-good wizards such as Professor Snape, if Dobby was absolutely required to do so...” he went on.

Harry broke into what he knew was completely inappropriate laughter, but he needed it too much to care. He spluttered, “Sweet Merlin, don't say that aloud, Dobby... Snape's probably right around the corner... you just know he'd become a ghost to bother me for the rest of my life...” He had to force himself to stop laughing and to wipe the smirk off his face.

Dobby led him to an all-too-familiar door.  “You must be joking,” Harry said.

“Dobby rarely jokes on purpose, Harry Potter,” Dobby returned.

The grand interior of Courtroom Ten was barely recognisable from Harry's last visit. Fighters in scorched robes and dirtied boots lounged in the Wizengamot's throne-like chairs. Supplies were stacked here and there on the centre floor. The once-intimidating witness chair had been carelessly shoved to one side. Shacklebolt, Anders Twing, Neville Longbottom and a woman Harry didn't know were standing at a conjured table littered with large sheets of paper.

Neville spotted him as he drew close. “It's good to see you,” he said.

“It's good to still be here,” Harry said.

The woman at the table extended a hand. “Astrid Michelsen, from Norway,” she said briskly.

Harry swept the table with his eyes. “You've mapped everything?” he asked.

“As best we could,” Shacklebolt said; “Between those of us who worked here and the survey group, I think it's close to complete.”

Twing pulled out a cross-section drawing that showed all ten levels Harry expected as well as two further below. He said, “My fellows used a series of spells created for miners. In doing so, they concluded that there are more levels below us. The Minister tells us these are likely an extension of your Department of Mysteries. We shan't concern ourselves with them unless there is no other choice.”

Harry said, “That fits with what Croaker told us. I understand you've been blowing things up?”

Twing laughed softly. Michelsen explained, “Our main area of concern is this Department of Mysteries and this level is our fall-back position. The main lifts will no longer reach below the seventh level. This leaves four sets of stairs that the enemy can use. They will not like what they find.”

“There's an old lift located just behind us. It was for Wizengamot members to enter and leave without otherwise being seen. Bagnold had it shut; she didn't care for the elitism of it, and she also knew it was a security risk. It isn't marked on any current floor plans,” Shacklebolt said.

Neville went on, “That means the only Ministry people who know about it date back at least twenty-five years. We think the chances are pretty fair that the only ones of that sort who Voldemort would keep around in the middle of the night are the ones from his inner circle.”

Shacklebolt finished, “With Rookwood and Macnair dead, there shouldn't be anyone else who even knows it exists, and even then it's a small thing to remember. We blocked the shaft for that one below the eighth level, so it can't be used to get down here.”

Harry asked, “How many fighters do we have? The group with Moody... well, they're all gone... and we didn't fare well either.”

Twing drew a small notepad from his vest, glanced at it and then reported, “We started the morning with 171 fighters and 7 healers – it's fewer than we had hoped, but the evacuation required more support and a few just weren't battle-ready. As of ten minutes ago, there were fifty-seven dead and thirty-eight still in hospital. The Swedish have taken the worst losses, as you know. We at this table are the remaining leadership; Pedersen and Lund are dead. There are ninety-three of us in this room and not all of those are in a condition to fight. We've also lost two healers.”

“How many Death Eaters are dead, do you think?” Harry asked.

Shacklebolt said, “That's a fair question. How many did our group take down?”

Harry counted off, “Seven at the lift if you include Blake; seven more at the Room of Doors; twelve or thirteen at the Room of Death; and a fair dozen when we were stuck in the Room of Doors the second time.”

“So figure on thirty-eight,” said Shacklebolt; “What about you, Twing?”

Twing said, “We cleared seven rooms with the use of explosives, and that could have killed as many as one hundred, but I suspect closer to seventy. On the way down to this place, there were at least thirty more. As for the atrium area... there's no getting around it, it was a horror. Astrid, any guess at it...?”

“Each of our people took on one or two of the enemy. The only ones to leave that area alive were our own. As many as one hundred were killed. There were also creatures... trolls, things that appeared as werewolves even without the moon... we killed all that attacked us,” Michelsen said.

“So we've killed upwards of two hundred Death Eaters, and likely more. We don't know how many more might be injured. How many of Voldemort's inner circle are gone?” Shacklebolt asked.

Harry said, “Macnair went through the Veil. Did you see if Avery went down?”

“I don't know,” Shacklebolt said; “I don't recall anyone left standing other than us and Voldemort, but we weren't keeping score.”

“One of the Englishmen with us said that we killed one of the Lestrange brothers,” said Twing.

“Bellatrix was sucked into the Room,” Harry added.

Neville's eyes grew wide. “Bellatrix Lestrange...? She's dead, then?” When Harry nodded, he closed his eyes and gave a small smile.

“Magnus killed Mulciber, and Rookwood's dead,” Harry went on.

Shacklebolt mused, “Pettigrew is gone, Crabbe and Goyle died months ago, the Carrows were killed when he took Hogwarts, no Malfoy – the elder, at least... are there any left?”

“This does not mean that the Death Eaters are without powerful wizards,” Twing pointed out.

Michelsen countered, “They may be without leadership, however.”

Harry set his hand atop the pile of papers. “Is there a plan, then?” he asked.

“Room by room,” said Twing.

Michelsen followed on, “We will take back this place one room at a time, but we will start at the eighth level. It has been pointed out that the ninth level is too dangerous – that we might cause an event of apocalyptic proportions.”

Harry stroked his chin in thought. “There's more to it than that,” he said; “What are the chances there's another turncoat in here?”

Twing said, “It is a risk, but less likely now than before, I should think. Why do you ask?”

“It's time to tell part of the truth, then,” Harry said; he cast Sonorus on his throat, and asked, “May I have everyone's attention?” Some sleeping fighters stirred and took their feet off the Wizengamot's chairs; a few stood. Shacklebolt muttered, “I hope you know what you're doing,” before he cast his own Sonorus.

“Friends, I am pleased to introduce Harry Potter. He would like to say a few words,” said Shacklebolt. Nearly everyone stirred with that announcement and many rose to their feet. Harry contemplated hitting Shacklebolt with a stinging hex, but he decided to save it for later.

“Thank you, Minister,” Harry said; “I wanted to thank all of you for doing this. We've lost many people today who were important to us. I lost two who were my brothers in all but name. It's hard to imagine that there's more yet to come, but I won't lie to you. We fought our way into the Ministry, and now it's time for you to take it back. It's also time for me to find Voldemort and to kill him.” He drew the expected chorus of gasps and mutterings, but within a few moments the room became eerily silent.

“For the last year, a small group of us have been on the hunt for several items. Voldemort placed a part of his soul into each of these items. That's why he's been more or less immortal. That's why he didn't die when his killing curse rebounded off of me. We couldn't risk killing him, because he might arrange for a new body and we would have to go through this all over again,” he said. The shock on the faces of nearly everyone was actually greater than he'd expected.

He went on, “The reason we came here today... the reason so many have died... is so that I could destroy those items. It was so that Voldemort could be mortal again... so that he can be killed. That's over and done.” That announcement drew the sort of cheering that he had anticipated.

He held his hands out to stop the commotion and continued, “In a few minutes, you're going to begin taking back this place from the Death Eaters. I have one more job to finish besides Voldemort, and some of you will have to risk your lives to help me pull it off. There's a room inside the Department of Mysteries that's filled with a kind of energy. It's so powerful that if the room were to explode, it could level an entire city in an instant.” He waited for the gasps that would surely come, and wasn't disappointed.

“I have to secure that room, and it has to be me that does it. I'm the only one who can go in there – even Voldemort doesn't have that power,” he announced. “We have to be finished here – Voldemort has to be finished – by the end of today. If not, we've been told that the Muggle government will use its bombs to destroy everything of magical Britain that it can find, including this very place. If they did that, and that room is still as it is right now, then the Muggles might think that someone set off an atomic bomb in the middle of London... I see most of you know what that is... and that could start a war that I can't even imagine. I know you don't need more pressure, but the future of Britain and the world is on our shoulders today. The people brave enough to do this are in this room. The people I can count on are in this room. The people who can win this thing are in this room. You're the best people for this. We're going to win, I know it! So do your job today or die trying, because we've got to win today, we've got to!”

The people assembled in Courtroom Ten began to applaud, something that he hadn't entirely counted on. He cancelled his Sonorus charm and raised his right arm with his fist clenched, which inexplicably drew even more cheers. Shacklebolt clapped him on the back and Twing gave him an excitable thumbs-up.

Harry saw Hermione, Ginny and Ron standing off to one side. He gave a last wave and then headed toward them. Hermione was fidgeting, Ginny was leaning into Ron, and Ron had a smirk on his face that seemed quite out of place.

“We need to talk, Harry. I need to explain,” Hermione said.

Ginny said quietly, “Thank you for mentioning Fred and George... I think they considered you a brother, as well.”

“I hope so, I really do,” Harry returned.

Ron took a stuttering breath and then let out a snort. “Bloody hell, Harry... a Quidditch speech? Ollie Wood's Quidditch speech?” he chuckled.

“Oi, it's not like I spend my Sundays at Speakers' Corner!” Harry protested; “Besides, there's a bit more to this one than Quidditch! Ollie didn't have to game plan around atomic bombs, did he?”

“Harry, really... we do need to talk,” said Hermione.

“That's right, we need to talk about why you three are here and not in the Shetlands,” Harry said.

“When did you destroy the rest of the horcruces? It wasn't all at once; there was a break between them. Was it just after three o'clock... say, around thirteen minutes past?” Hermione asked.

“That has to be about right,” said Harry.

“I felt it from almost four hundred miles away, Harry. Everything's changed. All of my strength's come back. My spells haven't been this powerful since... well, they've never been like this, really,” Hermione said.

Harry gave a hesitant nod. “It was like this weight was lifted,” he admitted; “I wasn't paying attention to spells; we were trying to stay alive.”

“Do you suppose he's weaker, then?” Ron asked.

“It's possible; I hadn't considered that,” Hermione said.

Ginny said, “You're stronger with us here, Harry. We need to be here for this. I need to be here for this. I need to be there when you beat him.”

Hermione took Harry's hand. She pointed out, “Distance won't save me. If I could feel what you did from that far away...”

“You don't know that,” Harry said.

“You're right, I don't, but it stands to reason,” said Hermione.

Harry snapped, “I'm still angry about this – you shouldn't be here.”

“I can't be anywhere else,” Hermione countered.

He turned to Ginny and said, “Me beating Voldemort could be the last thing you ever see. I understand what you're thinking; I felt like that after he killed Cedric, like I had to see him dead. I haven't a choice in that, but you do.”

“I haven't had a choice since the Chamber of Secrets, and you know it. This isn't about dating or seeing you as my white knight or whatnot; this is for me, Harry,” Ginny said.

Harry said grimly, “Ron...?”

“I can't be out in front, and I know it. I'd be in your way at best. That doesn't mean I have to sit here. I'll be with Twing,” he said.

Ginny's face brightened. “You'll look after him? Really?”

“I suspect he'll be the one looking after me, but at least I can keep up a shield for him,” said Ron.

“I figured Twing would be off with the rest of the Danes,” Harry said.

“That's not why he came. He came to see V-Voldemort finished. He has good reason for it,” Ginny said.

“We all have our reasons for it, Harry,” Hermione said, “and you aren't responsible for that. You don't get to decide who comes and who stays behind.”

“Almost sixty people are dead already, just in getting me where I needed to go!” Harry protested.

“They're dead because they want to end this, mate. That's what we all want,” said Ron.

“I'm coming with you. I can have Kingsley order it if you'd rather,” Hermione said.

Harry huffed, “Fine. Where's Twing?”

Ginny said, “He's over there – hello, Anders!” Twing looked up and gave a quick wave. He was loading a backpack.

Harry headed in his direction but stopped short. “What is that?” he asked warily.

Twing didn't look up. “These? These are box magazines, 30 rounds each.”

Harry pointed next to him and demanded, “And what are you planning to do with that?”

Twing stopped what he was doing and stood to face Harry. “That is an MP5K-PDW. It's a Heckler & Koch. They make a nice weapon. Folding stock, suppressor-ready... it does nicely in these small spaces.  What will I do with it?  What sort of question is that?  I will kill Death Eaters with it, of course,” he said.

“But... it's a gun...” Harry said.

Twing's expression cleared; he said, “Ahh, you were under the impression that I am a wizard. Sadly, no. I am what you Brits refer to as a Squib – a rather offensive term, if you ask me.”

“Why?” Harry asked simply.

Twing knelt to finish filling his backpack. He explained as he worked, “My father is also a Squib. My father and his father before him were in the import-export business, you might say. On occasion, when the Kingdom of Denmark is in need of, shall we say, unique items or services, then they fulfilled the Kingdom's need. I am in a similar business, albeit more closely tied to our government. My mother was an English witch. She attended your school. In fact, she knew your family; my father claims that she was your father's minder on occasion when he was a boy. She came here to visit her brother and sister last year, just before Voldemort took control. She was the worst sort of blood traitor in his eyes, of course. We believe she was murdered in November, along with the entire extended family.”

“I see,” Harry said softly.

“That is why I am here. This Voldemort, he is a rabid animal and he must be put down. I may not be able to do that, but I can clear your path, and so that is what I will do,” Twing said.

Harry whispered forcefully, “I'm glad to have you, then, but you need to live through this.”

As he inspected his gun, Twing asked, “And why do you say this?”

“Because you fancy Ginny and she fancies you. I expect you to take proper care of her, Twing. Anything less and there's nowhere in the world you'll be able to hide,” whispered Harry.

“I thought that she was yours,” Twing said.

“She thought I was hers,” Harry corrected him.

“I am four, almost five years older,” said Twing.

“I don't think she cares about that,” Harry said.

“She's an amazing woman,” Twing said without looking toward Harry.

Harry said, “Keep her and Ron alive: that's what I'm asking of you.”

“And Miss Granger?” Twing asked.

“She's fool enough to be with me,” said Harry.

Twing fitted several of the magazines into his vest and then slung his backpack; “Are you ready to go?”

Harry said, “Give me five minutes.”

“Can you do this?  Can you kill him?” Twing asked.

Harry looked him dead in the eye and gave the only acceptable answer. “Yes,” he said.

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