Chapter Thirty-One, In Which I Learn the Meaning of Death
I know many quotes on death. From Walt Whitman, that greatest of American poets:
…And as to you Life, I reckon you are the leavings of many deaths; (no doubt I have died myself ten thousand times before.) I hear you whispering there, O stars of heaven; O suns! O grass of graves! O perpetual transfers and promotions! If you do not say anything, how can I say anything?...
And from TS Eliot's first play, Sweeney Agonistes:
…Birth, and copulation, and death. That's all the facts when you come to brass tacks: birth and copulation and death. I've been born, and once is enough…
And of course Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Tom Stoppard's masterpiece:
…No, no, no… you've got it all wrong… you can't act death. The fact of it is nothing to do with seeing it happen – it's not gasps and blood and falling about – that isn't what makes it death. It's just a man failing to reappear, that's all – now you see him, now you don't, that's the only thing that's real: here one minute and gone the next and never coming back – an exit, unobtrusive and unannounced, a disappearance gathering weight as it goes until, finally, it is heavy with death…
I know many quotes on killing. There were almost as many. From Aldous Huxley:
…It takes two to make a murder. There are born victims, born to have their throats cut…
…It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets…
And from the Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir:
…There's no difference between one's killing and making decisions that will send others to kill. It's exactly the same thing, or even worse…
I don't know so many on madness, though. Madness is fluid, tempestuous and changing. It cannot be defined by words or thoughts. It exists by itself, in a realm so impossibly different from our own that it is impossible to contemplate. Even from within. But do madmen know their mad? Is the knowledge of being mad enough to assure you've not exceeded madness? I hope so. I've seen the long-term ward in St. Mungo's for that type of thing and read about some of the things they can do… Wizards can help certain things, yes, but others we're worse off then Muggles for treating. I bet you, if Mum had lived, she'd have been a great Mind Healer. She'd have been able to help so many…
But instead she let herself be killed, for me.
I decided right then that, as soon as this was over, the war I mean, I was going to have to give money to St. Mungo's for a decent mental healthcare ward. They could name it after my mother: The Lily Evans Potter Wing for Mental Health and Diseases. In fact, since I'm richer then Merlin, my husband is richer then God, and my adoptive father (unless he manages to get things together with Ari, which I still find hilariously funny, mostly because I just figured it for a joke the first time I thought of them together and not cursing each other's brains out – with witticisms, that is, not spells – and manages to give me an adoptive/god- sibling) more so then the entire pantheon, I can pretty much give away a lot of money… Maybe I'll even start a charity, like that rich Muggle computer guy did. I can call it The Severus and Éléonore Snape Foundation, or something like, and we can give money to help with mental illnesses and war orphans and widows and pre-Hogwarts education and werewolves who couldn't afford Wolfsbane and vampire rehabilitation and rights for house elves so they wouldn't be as bad off as Dobby had been, and rights for other humanoids and part-humans so they wouldn't feel pressured into joining Dark Lords to get their points across, and creating a civil rights group that would make sure that no more innocents like Sirius got sent to Azkaban and to get the Dementors out of that hellhole and to make sure there were no more Azkaban Souths for Wizarding children. Hell, I was Minister now and could force those laws through simply because there was no way to convene the Wizengamot and, if anyone thought to appeal to the ICW, no one could naysay any humanitarian (or goblitarian) rule I might create. I didn't want to be a Franco, however golden my paving stones might be; the moment the war ended, I'd set in motion free elections as soon as practically possible, I promised myself. The moment the people freely elected a Minister I'll step down, totally Cincinnatus.
But back to my Voldemort induced madness. Or maybe natural madness exacerbated by the presence of Dark Lords and their Horcruces. Or maybe anyone would go a little mad after all I've been through. The wonderful space-odyssey-esque dream that I still hadn't and no longer cared to figure out probably hadn't helped matters either. Only one decent quote came to mind for that – from Hamlet, naturally:
…Though this be madness, yet there is method in't…
There had to me some method in to my madness, even if I didn't see it yet. Otherwise this was pointless, and if this all was pointless, well, I didn't want to know. There had to be a point to life, even if there wasn't meaning, even if it was only continuation of the species. There had to be, just had to. Or else I might really go mad – if I haven't already. 'Cause what would be the point of this war then – my parents' deaths, and Dumbledore's, and Cedric's, and Ephraim Cauldwell's, and Malfalda Hopkirk's, and the young werewolves Dianica and Raul's – and Sirius's false imprisonment, and Neville's parents' torture, and my time at Azkaban South, and all of Severus's pain while being a spy – if there was no meaning, no point? What was the point of it all if there was no reason, if we were all no more then ants scuttling over the surface of the Earth like a plague, using up the natural resources and killing the planet and pushing out more of our kind then anyone could think possible and killing each other for the fun of it? What then?
I refused to believe there was a higher power, if only because my own life sucked too much for me to believe someone would willingly let my life be as bad as it had been. But, Herne and Hecate, sometimes I think it'd be easier.
No, I take that back. 'Cause if some bastard, whoever he was, had a reason for letting Dark Lords rise and rise again for people like me, who just wanted to live our lives, to destroy, then there was something seriously wrong with the world. And, while there was much wrong with the world, it couldn't be all that completely screwed.
Or maybe I was. I dimly recalled promising Severus I wouldn't do anything idiotic, at least until my plan to take Sirius's motorcycle over to St. Mungo's tomorrow and mock Tommy to his minions' faces, hopefully leading to the revelation of his remaining Horcruces' hiding places. I wasn't even sure this locket was the missing Horcrux, but, really, what were the odds that there was more then one locket out there that both looked like the one Salazar Slytherin had given his daughter Madalen and had the icy, Dark feeling of blackest magic?
A second drop of Basilisk venom fell from my exudating elbow wound onto the now smoking locket I held below it. The tiny gems incrusted upon its surface, which had began to pop and sizzle like demented popcorn kernels after the first, hissed their protests. They sounded like whispered Parseltongue profanities in the suddenly all too cold and silent attic. "Whore. Bitch. Cunt," it screamed at me, slowly at first and then too quickly for me to catch every expletive, only to tell they were nowhere near as creative as Sus's. I blinked as a third droplet fell onto the locket, the tiny emeralds fading from green into grey, and popped open with an amazingly clear snap.
The room went black. The boxes, the dragon hide jacket, and low, sloping ceiling all faded into the distance… but it was not the black of utter Darkness, but of a night, moonless, before all but the brightest stars of risen. I would have glanced up to look for them – Gamma Orionis, Tau Ceti; Alpha Canis Majoris – but I daren't take my eyes off the monstrous locket of slightly beaten gold, with its cover decoration of a cursive "S" outline in now-grey gemstones, that was now opening of its own accord…
It reminded me of my own locket, in shape at least – the locket Severus had given me. Sometimes I think he gave me jewellery because it was expensive and he wanted me to be sure of his love, or something like that. I don't really know, but I have wondered it – and, unlike the fake locket, there was no carefully folded note, no taunt from the unknown R.A.B inside, but rather there was engraved on the left-hand side a message. Also like mine, which carried pictures of my family alongside Latin, it read:
on the inside, which I knew by no means that I could name to mean: …Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should… Did Voldemort even realize the irony of these things? I might have laughed if it wasn't for what was on the mirroring side was a large, unblinking eye.
Sauron, I thought stupidly. If I didn't know any better, I'd say Riddle had a big fanboy thing going on here. That thought quickly passed from my mind, though, as I stared into its wide, human lens. The pupil was a clear, earth-shattering blue – sapphire? No. Cobalt. Prussian. Ultramarine – though the whites were literally crawling with hundreds of tiny red veins. It had power to it, and I couldn't have looked away if I wanted to, and more then just the irrational desire to blink more often since it could not. Stupid irrationality.
Time seemed to move slowly, and even the faint, eldritch cry that poured from it (as if someone was slowly playing "Neptune, the Mystic" backwards my still idiotic mind thought) seemed to come unnaturally slow. Another drop of venom was welling from my un-understandable wound, but it seemed to come too slowly too…
And the eye began to speak.
Though I had done this thrice now, a curious sense of jemais vu settled over me. I knew it was familiar – the high-pitched wailing, the deadening of other senses, the hazy smoke that slowly poured from the pupil like some strange black pink eye – it seemed just as unknown and frightening as ever before. How could I have only done this a week before? It cried out again as the next drop hit it, but didn't pause the rant it had begun: "You can't win," it told me. I fought the irrational, hopefully born of bizarre dreams and a week's worth of not eating anything they couldn't inject into me, desire to stick my tongue out at the pale, dark-haired head slowly pooling from the locket's right-hand side. My limbs, despite my assurances otherwise, feel weak still; I knew I should be resting, despite my irrational desire to clean rather then remain uselessly in bed. I should run, but my legs felt colloidal, my arms asthenic, especially where the deathly fluid was dripping from my body (the only thing I could compare it to was lactation, but only in the sense of something being pulled out of me; but this was sickness, not life, being pulled from me); and my throat was as if paralyzed, making it impossible for me to cry out again or even breathe.
"I'm stronger then you. More powerful then you. Even like this, I can defeat you. You think I need a wand, a body to kill you?"I knew it mustn't let it talk. Think Lord of the Rings – an ithildin door, the fen of The Battle of Dagorlad, now the all-seeing eye – I told myself. It corrupted people. Think of it like the One Ring. (Three rings for the Elven-Kings under the sky… Herne and Hecate, how do I do this to myself? Stop thinking of Black Speech poems and remember to breathe. Breathing is good. Breathing is necessary. Breathing will keep me from passing out and, therefore, most certainly dying. Dying would be bad, especially seeing as how I'd Auguste now to think of too… A son, a son, I'd a son and a daughter and a husband and images of Elven hands wearing Narya, Nenya, and Vilya playing in my head that I cursed myself for, uselessly, knowing the names of The Three… didn't I have better uses for my mental powers then useless knowledge? Like breathing… In, Out, In, Out…)
A torso followed. Why wasn't I killing it? "You think that you can just stand there and kill me, you freak? You little mudblood whore?" I was strong. I'd destroyed the diary and the diadem; I could do this too… I hoped. Just drip some more of the poison on it… (…Seven for the Dwarf-Lords in their halls of stone… God-damn it all! Work brain! For once in your life, work! Find my wand and summon the now-fallen locket and end this all. Dripping Basilisk venom or icky wound-pus or whatever this was coming from my elbow wasn't working fast enough, or wouldn't work alone. What to do? Didn't I call Severus? I should've brought the Sword… Idiot, idiot, idiot, why didn't I think things through for once in my life? ... In, Out, In…)
"Look at you, you idiot. Just standing there, gaping at me. What do you think you are, some sort of hero come to destroy me? – Ha! Destroy? Me? You're nothing. Nothing. Your own parents died rather then see you grow up to be the monumental failure they knew you'd be. Your own kin didn't even want you – you should have stayed in that cupboard, where you belonged. The only worth you'll ever have is as a servant, a slave. Look at you," his eyebrows raised in a familiar manner, and in that second he wasn't Tom Riddle, the Dark-Lord-that-Would-Be, but Severus, eyes going black and not at all warm. I felt the floor rise up to meet me. A cold laugh and a heavy thud echoed alongside the wailing, ghostly shrieks. It was rough and chill, the floor, and a hot, unpleasant wind billowed up from between the floorboards. I expected to turn and find third degree burns, or at least bruises, covering me, but I couldn't turn. I felt like a broken rag doll, a paraplegic, a… a girl who was being told truths she didn't want to hear, let alone believe were true. Were they? I don't know, but they felt like it. Dark magic at work, I imagine, or… "Look at you," he repeated. "You killed everyone who ever gave a damn about you. The only reason Snape hung around isss because you're a good lay – you'd have to be, to be worth sticking with after you got knocked up. But, then again, he never did have good taste. He liked your Mudblood cunt of a mother, didn't he? Gives new meaning to 'keeping it in the family…'" he laughed sickly.
He was right – why was it that Dark egomaniacs were always right? I knew Severus loved me – even narks like Severus didn't propose to sixteen-year-old girls they don't yet know they've impregnated if they don't love you, at least, I think – but it was painful to hear such things aloud. Even if they were lies, which I could only hope they were. I tried to force my mind to think of spells, to call for Severus – the real Severus – again to help, but I couldn't. With every word the Riddle-in-the-Horcrux spoke, I could feel the familiar despair settling on me… (And, by ever demon known to snake and Wizard, why was the only thing of any use running through head …Nine for moral men doomed to die; one for the Dark Lord on his Dark throne, in the land of Mordor, where the shadows lie…? I felt doomed to die as I watched legs sprout from the hideous Horcrux-creation, which now looked halfway between blue-eyed, twenty-something Riddle and a Fell Rider… my Lord of the Rings comparisons had to end soon, before I asked if he'd read the Quenta Silmarillion. How do you ask your murderer about his taste in literature when you can't seem to breathe? … In, Out…)
"What are you going to do then? Sob at me to death?"he spat as he came ominously closer (and I could swear I heard "Dies Ira: Tuba Mirum" in the background as he approached), "I've seen your heart, and it is mine."I shouldn't listen too it. I knew better then that… I had to stop listening to him. I needed to stand up and… no, I didn't even need to stand. All I had to do was pull the locket towards me and bleed the stupid Basilisk venom on it and it'd all be over… Where was my wand? Had I even brought it with me? I was stupid, so stupid… "I have seen your dreams, Harry Potter, and I have seen your fears. All you desire is possible, but all that you dread is also possible…" (…One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them; one ring to bring them all and in the Darkness bind them, in the land of Mordor, where the shadows lie… In…)
"Unloved, always… never more then a nuisance… They call you a fraud, you know… I don't even know why they bother with you. They're better off without you, happier without you, glad of your absence…" But we were at war, and life did go on; they would have been at my bedside if they could, I think… "Your 'father' confessed that he would rather his friend have lived, not you – a whore who'd spread her legs for any snake… Who wouldn't prefer your parents to you? What person would want you? You are nothing, nothing, nothing…"I tried to remember that I was strong. But I didn't feel strong. I'd spent the last week remembering all my worst memories, feeling all my injuries, and had come out of it alive… but the power I'd felt from this knowledge seemed to have faded away entirely. Rather then being proud for surviving my mind, I felt weak for having ever been trapped in it. It was my mind, my own mind, and I can't control it? If I couldn't do that, what did I expect to ever accomplish? Destroy Voldemort? His memory had just about killed me three times now. Three! How did I ever think I could go against the real thing? Every time I'd fought against the real him I'd not died only by great luck, and if I'd anymore of that she was keeping it from me… "You have been kept alive only to die at the right moment… but I'll settle for now…"
My mind was going mad with thoughts I'd thought I'd long since suppressed. I was very good at suppressing bad things, so I'd thought. But now all of the words and thoughts and whatever else was bundled up there with them were floating freely around my head. (What is the point? Even if I manage to defeat him, another will rise…? And He's had five decades at least to improve his magic; I'm just a stupid little girl who didn't even know I was a witch until seven years ago. If Dumbledore couldn't stop him, how do I expect to…? And He's right, he's right, he's right… Breathe…) "There's no one here to die for you today, Harry Potter…"
There had to be a way… where was the locket?
He was at my feet now, an oddly solid wand in his flickering and still mostly translucent body. "You could have been great… but you chose the wrong side. You always choose wrong…"
And, in that one instant, I couldn't think. My heart, my lungs, my mind – all these shut down for one second, leaving me broken and (momentarily dead; I could feel pallor mortis setting in) numb. For one impossible, brief moment, I couldn't bring myself to care what happened to me. Live or die, it was all the same, in the end. Why not save myself the devastation of my inevitable failure and just let him get it over with?
He was just beginning to cast – God, I don't know what, my mind wasn't paying any attention to what, though assumed quite naturally it was something Dark – when I snapped back into myself, a flood of faces – Severus, Claudia, Auguste, Sirius, Tonks, Remus, Fleur, and so many more, too fast to name, but all the Order, and all my students at Hogwarts, and all those dead whom I had loved… - rushed through my mind, together with one singular, powerful emotion that swelled so big in my breast it was impossible for me to contemplate without going mad.
I did anyway, and decided as, life suddenly coming back to my limbs, I scuttled backwards and wished more then cursed a tripping jinx in his direction. I'd no idea where my wand was, but it worked – by Merlin and his pointy hat collection, it'd worked! This infused me with a feeling of smugness, of superiority – or, at least, better duelling tactics. I'd fought scarier things then this Riddle-Horcrux (okay, mostly just the real Tom Riddle, but still). I'd gotten out of hairier situations then this one, where at least I was only fighting for my life in the attic of HQ and, therefore, could easily scream for medical attention later… Hell, I'd lived through dancing at the Yule Ball with Neville, a thought that struck me oddly then as my hands found one half of an ancient (and probably cursed) pair of tap shoes as I tried to scuttle away. I threw the shoe at him, but, as I should have expected, it passed through him as if he were no more then the ghost of Tom Riddle as he'd been in the age of Disco.
It was at this moment an image of Voldemort, in a powder blue suit, doing a Disco popped into my head. While it confirmed that, yes, I was completely out to lunch, it also broke the last of whatever spell had fallen over me. The room, which had as if disappeared, made itself known again, with boxes and trunks stacked from floor to ceiling, a couple of pieces of furniture that hadn't been burned by Sirius in a fit of Let's-Rid-the-World-of-all-the-Black-Fam
So, raising my hands and deciding spontaneously that, if I could do it once, I could make it happen again, I started shouting every curse that came to mind at the Horcrux-Riddle. And I mean every curse, from Wingardium Leviosa on up to Dark spells that spewed acid on a box of something that smelled like burning rubber as it melted after passing uselessly through the apparition.
"You really think that you can destroy me?"
"Bastard," I cursed, trying an accio and having it fail as he caught it up, tisking me with his free hand. I sent the strongest severing curse I knew at his jugular in return, feeling the icy burn as it exploded from my fingertips, and would have been covered in arterial spray had he a body to separate his head from.
"You didn't kill me as a baby… you were just lucky: the girl who has survived by accident, and because Dumbledore was pulling the strings? I know things… I've heard you crying out in your sleep; I've heard your plans to destroy the me-that-is… and I know that the protection that was once on you is now on your bastards…"
I found myself taunting him right back, my entire body covered in blue light, beams of it pouring from my fingertips as I tried to get to the locket… (Drip Basilisk venom on the locket, that's all I need to do; I can make it if I do… In, Out, In…) "Accident, was it, when my mother died to save me? Accident, when I decided to fight in that graveyard – I take it you 'heard' about that? Accident, that you're standing up here talking to me, unable to 'kill me properly'?"
The Horcrux-Riddle screamed this time, and I swore I heard in the background other screaming voices, "…mors stupebit et natura, cum resurget creatura, judicanti responsura…" who wouldn't give me a translation of what I could only guess came to, "…you will die, Mudblood, because the Dark Lord said so…" His actual words were so much less worrying, "Accidents!Accident and chance and the fact that you crouched and snivelled behind the skirts of greater witches and wizards, and permitted me to kill them for you!"
So I did what I did best, fighting back that real fear as I send curses – iaceos and accios and sectumsemperas and crucios, but the crucios failed to even twist maddeningly from my hands though the Darker the curse the colder I could feel my hands growing until they felt numb and laden with icicles, so I didn't even try the Killing Curse I knew would end it all if I'd just my wand, wherever it'd gotten to – and quoted The Unbearable Lightness of Being: "…But is not an event in fact more significant and noteworthy the greater the number of fortuities necessary to bring it about?" I said, "Everything that occurs out of necessity, everything expected, repeated day in and day out, is mute. Only chance can speak to us."
A purple light came my way, and, though I tried to dodge it, it still hit and only bringing me closer to the Riddle-echo. "How lovely," he teased, laughing as I stumbled to the ground, the force of his spell knocking my legs from underneath me. (Less talk, more summoning; less talk, more summoning.) "They've trained you to talk now. What next, roll over?"
I felt kind of disappointed that that was the best he could come up with. "No, but if I really wanted to be their lapdog I'd tell you to think," I tried to contain a grin as the locket flew from his hands and I pressed it to my elbow (which, my mind couldn't help but thinking, was the strangest was to rid the world of a Horcrux, with your elbow, that is), "Think really hard about what you've done, and try for some remorse, Tom. But that's not me."
Querulously, "What is this?" He was growing weaker now, I could tell; and though he stayed perfectly still, his limbs were starting to retract back into his torso and whatever words were to follow this Horcrux-Riddle's question turned into the death-throes of some litch. I wished for the quick ease of the Advada Kervada.
"This," I said slowly, feeling gold melt against my skin, and loudly, so as to be overheard his shrieking and that of the music, which was going about as mad as I had to be to hear it, "is me, sending you to hell. No worries though," I added more softly as the noise began to die away and the memory of Tom Riddle, who had once been just like me, faded away, "I've sent your bags ahead; the sword-wielding demons are waiting for you."Chapter Thirty-One - Part Two