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He felt as if he was being crushed under a terrible weight, every bone smashed to the marrow, every muscle ripped from its moorings. His lungs had collapsed in his flattened chest. His heart was unable to expand; every beat was a sickening lurch. Between the pain and the lack of air, Harry nearly passed out before Ondossi raised her wand to lift the curse.

"Mother of Merlin, I hate using that spell," she said emphatically. "But you need to understand I'm dead serious, Harry. I'm sorry." She picked up his wand as he lay gasping for air, then sat down a few feet away, watching him.

Harry pulled himself on his elbows, panting, his eyes wide. "What is this?"

"Please don't move, Harry. Just stay there. Don't make this any harder than it already is."

That clearly wasn't an option. "I'm not--" He stopped short as she pointed her wand at him and glared, shaking her head reprovingly.

"Oh yes you are, that and more, Harry. I'm sorry."

"What are you doing?" he demanded in a low voice.

She set her jaw. "You know me and my secrets. I've had to keep things from you, Harry, because I'm aware of details that you aren't. Things that no one else knows. This just isn't going to work. It can't. So I've changed the plans. It's got to be this way."

She's gone spare, he thought, looking critically at the distance between them, trying to decide if he was close enough to jump her before she could cast a spell. Not with her wand held at the ready. I've got to keep her talking. "What changes? What have you done?" Even though his voice was raw with adrenaline, he kept his body motionless, unthreatening, hoping she would drop her guard.

"Harry." She took a deep breath and sighed. "I don't want to upset you more."

"Don't you dare patronize me. Tell it!"

She clenched her fists around the handles of both wands and huffed noisily. "How many times have we had this conversation?" Without further ado, however, she added "Imperio!"

Harry felt her will descend on him gently and thoroughly, as though a parachute had drifted silently down upon his mind. Beloved. Don't you trust me, your Tura? Do as I ask and everything will be fine. Every day will be like that day when we rode your broom over the Quidditch pitch, pure and bright and loving, and it will never end. Just do as I say, sweet one. Get up on your knees and sit quietly.

Of course. Harry obeyed instantly, pushing himself up into a crawling position, then folding his legs beneath him. How could he possibly do anything else, when his Tura wished it?

How indeed. Her spell was backed with the might of her magic, but Harry was no slouch either. He let his body follow the command, settling down into position, but behind a screen of Occlumency, he fought to clear his head of the complacency of the curse--fought, and won. His first thought was that he couldn't believe his luck. In all the time they'd known each other, she had never learned that he could resist the Imperius curse!

Though she was watching him carefully, she dropped her shoulders and brought her feet together, softening her aggressive stance. He concentrated on Occlumency, walling off his resistance along with every memory even remotely related to this curse. Hoping that she wouldn't notice, he shifted slightly to one side to keep his legs from falling asleep Apparently it satisfied her, because she too sat down facing him, although still a good six feet away.

"Damn it, Harry, now you've made me take away your dignity!" she said, with a strain of sincere sorrow in her voice. "Listen: you may move around to make yourself comfortable, but you will come no closer." She started to set down both wands, then eyed him uncertainly and clutched them both tightly in her lap. Nonetheless,this was a good sign: she no longer had her wand pointed at him.

"I have to turn you over to my father, Harry." She sighed, averting her eyes, too ashamed or regretful to face him. Harry was just glad she'd looked away, for he had been unable to hold back a furious glare, and he had not been "given permission" to express his emotions. He forced his expression back to neutrality. No matter what she said, he must keep his cool. When she raised her eyes again, she looked genuinely sad.

"Prophecies stink. You know why? Because 99% of the time, no one believes them. That's human nature for you. If it's unpleasant, hey, just pretend it's just not true. Denial. Number One Defense against the Dark Arts, right there. Look at your own Ministry for the last 10 years!" She was getting a bit worked up; her voice was louder and angrier with every sentence.

"But then there's that other 1% of prophecies, the ones people accept. A collection of words that some Seer throws together, based on a 'message' from Who Knows Where. You give a quoted prophecy to a group of so-called experts, and every one of them will have a different take. If it says, 'The Chosen One will wear blue,' then they'll argue endlessly whether that's light blue or dark blue. And do Seers ever use language that precise? Puh-leeze! They'd say 'the color of the sea,' or some such claptrap, meaning everything from turquoise to gray, to whitecapped!"

Tura looked down at the wands in her hand, turning them with nervous fingers. "The Dark Lord heard a fraction of a prophecy eighteen years ago, and he set right out to make sure it couldn't come true. It's unbelievable, really, for someone who's so meticulous about everything to leap into action on the basis of some half-heard, half-baked prophecy. Serves him right that it nearly killed him. If one of his captains did something that stupid, he'd torture their families to death and then kill them.

"But he attacked you, and he left a 'mark' that fit right into the Prophecy. Of course, the Prophecy was phrased vaguely enough to accomodate anything from a freckle to a missing limb. Regardless, by popular vote, you became The Chosen One. We all believed it. But just because something wins the vote doesn't make it true. That's the problem here.

"Harry, you have to understand. About two months ago, I paid a visit to Sybil Trelawney in her little tower. I opened up her mind and saw that Prophecy, the real, pure knowledge, not just the words she muddled together to describe it. Dumbledore blew it, Harry. My father blew it. Even though you've been groomed to be the hero since the Dark Lord left you that scar, it's not up to you. You can't kill him. The one with 'the power the Dark Lord knows not,' the one fated to kill my father or be killed, is Neville Longbottom."

It was all Harry could do to keep his face slack; he broke out in a cold sweat from head to toe. Dumbledore had once told him that Voldemort's actions had swept him into his role in the Prophecy--yet Dumbledore had also admitted he wasn't absolutely certain that Harry was truly the one ordained for that role.

"Everyone was so excited about The Boy Who Lived," continued Tura bitterly. "No one even noticed Neville. His losses were just as terrible, if not worse, than yours, you know. At least until this year... But regardless, look at him, Harry! The product of two distinguished and powerful Wizard families--precisely the kind of 'pureblood' my father longs to be. But Neville's as unlike the Dark Lord as you could ever find: humble, selfless, honest. They're matter and anti-matter, Harry. They'll annihilate one another should they ever meet.

"But when will that ever happen? Neville's been bumped clean out of the picture--by you. He can't even get close to Lord Voldemort while you live--everyone's too busy shoving you to the front of the line. And there's nothing I can do about it! Think about it, Harry: What do you suppose would happen if I started clamoring that the handsome, talented Harry Potter wasn't actually The Chosen One, but instead it was the awkward, clumsy Neville Longbottom? Heh," she threw her head back, "you think the old split between the Ministry and the Order was bad? Imagine if everyone had to choose between Harry and Neville. Talk about a rift! The Dark Army would march through us like a sneeze through a cheap Kleenex."

She pulled her knees up into a huddle, peering over them with a frustrated expression. Her grip on the wands had loosened.

"As prophets go, I prefer Tiresias to Cassandra, Harry. So I kept my mouth shut. People believe in you, and that in itself has power. You've been their standard, their rallying point, and that's made so many good things happen, Harry. You'll always be a hero for that. And you've been a decoy. Everyone's obsessed about you all this time, so Neville's had a chance to just grow up into his own magic." Her voice became gritty and tears filled her eyes. She looked away to compose herself. Harry reappraised the distance between them, carefully shifting his weight to keep his legs from stiffening.

When Tura regarded him again, her jaw was set. "But that's all over," she said firmly. "If you run headlong to his outpost tomorrow, he'll destroy you, and that would be that. Nothing could stop it. He's already killed you, Harry, we just haven't caught up to it time-wise. But it doesn't have to be wasted, Harry. That's the part I can still change--what your death will mean.

"He's going to take Europe, Harry. That's all he wants, really. He considers the rest of the world a bunch of savage Mudbloods and Muggles. Once he has Europe, he'll feel... appeased. He'll want to spend his time settling into his new realm, reading ancient, hidden books, ransacking fine treasures, all that 'conqueror' stuff. He's not going to trudge around in uncivilized filth, exterminating vermin. He's been waiting a long time to enjoy the spoils and that's exactly what he's gonna do.

"He won't just let the rest of the world go free, of course, but he'll appoint governors to handle the tedious business--people he trusts." She laughed ruefully. "Needless to say, there aren't many of those. Obviously up till now, I've never even been in the running! He can't see into my mind the way he does with his sycophants, and he's terribly afraid of the unknown.

"So that's why I'm going to earn his trust, Harry. Tonight. I'm going to serve you up to him, all trussed out and ready for slaughter. I'll be the Prodigal Daughter returning home with a beautiful gift, begging his pardon for the errors of my youth. I'll sit at his feet and smile winsomely while he tortures you. I'll give Bellatrix Lestrange dirty, jealous looks. And just when he starts to think it's all a bit much, I'll coyly ask him if I can have one of his territories. He'll be so proud. Daddy's little girl has tried her first scam; it was transparent and amateur, but the family colors are finally showing.

"He'll give me North America and he won't interfere--much--because he'll be busy overseeing his other governors while they raise their secret armies and assassins and what not. I'm the princess, after all. The others have to unseat him if they want real power, but I get power automatically just for being his daughter. He won't waste his energy peering over my shoulder when he has to keep tabs on people like Lucius Malfoy.

"I can save the giants, Harry! And Northpole! And my Inupiat people! I can save some of your friends, at least the ones who aren't in the Order! The Dark Lord won't spare any of them, but he might not bother hunting down someone barely connected, like Ginny or Seamus. And most importantly, I can save Neville!"

She set the wands on the ground beside her and began to wring her hands. A new rush of adrenaline brought every muscle to the ready and Harry closed his mind as completely as he could. She fixed his gaze with an imploring expression, then glanced briefly toward the mouth of the cave and the last of the twilight. He didn't make his move, however. She was still too guarded. He would only get one shot at overpowering her; he had to make it work.

"I shouldn't have told you, Harry, but now that you know... you have to take it with you to the grave. I can't let you slip any of this to the Dark Lord. He's got to believe that I betrayed the real Chosen One. Once you're gone, he'll think he's truly invincible. He'll get careless and cocky, and in the meantime, I'll be working on Neville, getting him ready for the real final battle. He can't find out about Neville! If I think he's gonna break you, I'll kill you myself, but at that point, you'll probably welcome it."

Her voice dropped still lower. "I'm going to bind you up now, and take to the keep. Sit very still, Harry." She looked down to find the wands she'd set aside.

Harry launched himself at her like a bolt from a crossbow, ramming her with his shoulder and knocking her flat, sweeping up both wands as he skidded past her. It had taken all his self-control to sit there passively, waiting for this chance. He was on his feet in an instant, his wand pointed at her throat, but between adrenaline and rage, he couldn't even think of a curse; he wanted to strangle her with his bare hands. He stood there, panting, his face a rictus of fury, as she stared up at him with her empty black eyes. He finally spoke, his voice an octave too low and raspy through clenched teeth.

"You were my teacher. My friend... I loved you!" Harry stood over her, shaking with anger. "I'm going to find the keep myself, now." he said, his voice drenched with rage. "My only question is, do I bring you along or leave you here?"

Though shaking, she glared determinedly at the ground and shook her head. Harry waited a moment until he'd calme down enough to rein in his temper, then gripped her jaw with one hand and forced her face toward his. "You tell me, Tura. Should I take you to him? Or bind you in here to starve to death?"

"So you can go die for nothing at all?" she rasped defiantly.

Harry was not going to play games, not now. He held her gaze for a moment, trying to force open her mind, but he was too angry to focus properly. Shoving her back to the ground, he stood up straight, nodding as he steeled himself; she had shown him how serious she was, now it was his turn. He pointed the wand right between her eyes and said in a deliberate whisper, "Crucio."

Even fueled as he was by rage, Harry was unprepared for what happened next. There was a vibrato sound of air being forced from her lungs, followed immediately by a strange, dull grinding. She was literally imploding before his eyes, as though she were being crushed by something enormously heavy. Her nose and cheekbones shattered with sickening popping sounds, as her ribs bowed inward until they snapped. The first ones produced a dull popping, but the sound quickly became sharper. Though her nightshirt concealed it from view, he knew that the jagged edges had burst through the skin.

Horrified, Harry leapt backward, flinging his wand arm sideways to break the curse. What followed was almost more sickening, for her body immediately reconstructed itself with a series of wet, meaty crunches. Only after all fell silent again did Harry realize he had backed all the way across the cave and was clutching the earthy walls with bloodless fingers.

She coughed, letting her head fall to the side to look at him. Her voice began as a strangled whisper. "Nicely done," she gasped. "Had you attended Durmstrang, Potter, instead of Hogwarts, you would know that there are only two ways to amplify the Cruciatus curse. One is to use your victim's own wand against them. The insult of forcing your magic through their wand somehow makes the pain even more severe." She pointed weakly at his arm, and Harry glanced down to discover her pale birch wand in his right hand. "This actually happens fairly often; if you're the type that uses the Cruciatus curse, you generally have no qualms about stunning your victim and taking their wand.

"The other way is to cast the curse with a wand that has been recently used against you for the same purpose," she continued, now achieving a matter-of-fact tone that made his skin crawl; she sounded like she was calmly explaining something to her class, not informing her torturer of his unexpected proficiency. "The wand forms a link to you when you receive the curse, so when you subsequently cast your own curse back through that wand, it delivers all the intensity of your magic plus the original curse it sent to you.

"Needless to say, it's very rare that a victim gets a chance to wrest the wand away from their torturer and use it against them. You were lucky to break it off in time for the curse to reverse itself. Or, rather, I was lucky. Or not," she added with a defeated expression. Tura pushed herself carefully up on her elbows, tentatively testing her strength, then fell back to the cave floor.

"Enough," Harry said determinedly, hurling her wand away through the mouth of the cave. "I'm not your student anymore, you're not... I don't know what you are. But the game's up. We're going to find Voldemort."

She pushed up onto her elbows. "And then what, hotshot?" she spat. "You'll find him, you'll die, and he'll mount both of our heads on sticks to wave at all your friends. No more hope, no more resistance, and no one knows about Neville Longbottom. I won't help you. I told you, it's my way or the highway."

Rage began to rekindle in Harry, and he felt around his robe for the other wand, his own, which he had mistaken for Tura's and shoved absently into a pocket. "No, Tura. You're wrong. Maybe Neville is the Chosen One, but so what? Who chose him? Huh? Maybe that's something else to hate about prophecies--that people like you don't question their accuracy. How can some 'Inner Eye' be so certain about the future? Ever think of that?" He paused, but she merely glared at him. "I may not have been ordained, but I'm prepared, Tura. I've been preparing for it all my life. I'm going to destroy him and end this war. Now get up. We're going."

"Hah! Oh, you're going, all right," she sneered, "but I'm not following you to my father."

"You will. Or you'll rot in this cave, Tura, I swear it. Get up! Don't make things harder than they already are," he said, a menacing echo of her earlier words. She smashed her lips together like a toddler refusing a spoonful of healthy green vegetables.

Harry set his jaw, pointed his wand (with one last quick, nervous glance to make sure he was, in fact, holding his wand), and repeated, "Crucio."

This time Tura's limbs curled and twisted like a snail doused in salt, but Harry was relieved to see that there was no physical destruction this time. Harry simply stared at her, feeling completely numb; there was no visible injury, no bolt of light, nothing. Was she only pretending to suffer? He began to wonder if he had done it wrong. He leaned a bit closer. There were beads of sweat on her forehead, and she was a little pale, but those signs could have been left over from the earlier Cruciatus. Furrowing his brow hard, Harry nudged her shoulder with the tip of his wand.

His arm exploded into flame from the marrow outward.

He flung himself backwards to find that his arm was perfectly normal, he had dropped his wand again, and Tura was coughing and laughing at the same time.

"Yes, you nitwit, you were doing it right," she finally panted. "You know, I did the same thing the first time I cast the Cruciatus. I think everyone does. Hard to believe, isn't it? It's so sanitized! No blood. No nasty sounds. No remorse. And you could do it all day without needing a break. Of course, that's why it's Unforgivable, can't have people just using that kind of power any old time can we? That's the law." She paused, staring at him pointedly. "Tell me, Harry, when this is all over, will you confess that you've used that curse--twice? Will you present yourself to the Wizengamot for punishment?"

Harry didn't know what to say. This was different--the fate of the world was at stake! He had to get to Voldemort, they were at war, she was now a threat. Oh, is this another one of those famous Harry Potter Special Circumstances? Harry blocked his mind again; Tura had burned the thought into him the second he dropped his guard.

He wasn't able to hide the panic he felt at her words. The Ministry, the Daily Prophet, they would have a heyday if they knew he used the Cruciatus on a wandless witch. "Sure, he defeated Voldemort," they would say, "but only to take his place! He uses Unforgivable curses as he sees fit--he's no better than a Death Eater!" He imagined the look of shock on Hermione's face. She got so angry about the rights of house elves, what would she say to him if she knew he'd tortured Ondossi, especially after he'd tossed her wand outside? If she knew he'd stood over her and watched as her bones snapped?

Tura looked up at him, nodding meaningfully. "You've always been above the rules, haven't you? What are you going to do now? You might be able to silence me with the Imperius curse... but of course, if you fail, that's another strike against you, isn't it?"

"You'd face the same charges as me!"

"Of course--the old 'two wrongs make a right' defense." She snorted. "Maybe we'll share adjacent cells."

This was insane. Harry couldn't think straight. First she tried to hand him to Voldemort, and now she was talking about handing him to the Ministry! But she'd said that Voldemort was going to kill him... How could she turn him in at some future date if she was so certain he'd be dead as of tomorrow? It didn't add up. In a blow like lighting, he realized she was lying to him.

But what was the lie? Was it her story about Neville and the Prophecy? But if the Prophecy were true all along, why would she surrender him to Voldemort when he was on the verge of fulfilling it? If she wanted him dead, she could have arranged it many times over in the previous months. Why go through all the motions of teaching and preparing him? He wished he could just sit down for a minute and work it all through, there had to be some way to make sense of it, to figure out what to do next.

"What're you going to do, Harry?" she said coldly. "Kill me?"

That hadn't crossed his mind, but for a moment it sounded like a viable option. But it didn't add up either--why would she even suggest such a thing? Was this some sort of trap? Maybe he'd been right in the first place: she'd gone stark raving mad. Either way, he was going to know; the stakes were too high for games or secrets now.

"Tura, this is it. I know you're lying to me. You're not afraid of the Cruciatus, that's obvious. But you're going to open your mind, or I swear, I'll hurt you in ways magic can't repair! Now what's going on?"

The insolence drained from her face, replaced, oddly, with confusion, but she said nothing. "I'm not going to warn you again," he continued. "I know you're playing me, Tura, but I can't figure out how. You will tell me." Still she did not respond.

Harry steeled himself, pointed his wand, and said, "I warned you, Tura. Sectumsempra!"

Once again, he was unprepared for what followed the curse. He was ready to see her slashed open by an invisible sword, for blood, for screaming, but not for this. She clutched her nightshirt, but there was no blood. Instead, a thick, black cloud seemed to billow out of the center of her chest. No, not a cloud--it was too dark, too formless; it was more like the light was being sucked out of the air. She was gaping with terror unlike he'd ever seen, trying to cup this darkness without substance with her hands and scoop it back into her body. It slipped fluidly through her fingers.

"You've let him out!" she wailed.

"Let who out? Of what?"

"No time," she said in a choked voice. "Kill me."

Harry was too stunned to move. The fluid darkness started to twirl, making long tendrils that had escaped wind lazily about the center.

"Kill me, Harry. Now. Do it! No time!"

Pinpoints of red light flashed in the depths of her eyes. Her face contorted with pain and she squeezed them shut; when she opened them again, the red was gone, but she began shaking violently.

In another bolt of inspiration, Harry saw what tied it all together. She was the last Horcrux.

She had woven a clumsy lie, to persuade him to kill her, along with the soul of Voldemort she carried. She wanted him to feel betrayed, so he could kill her in self defense, without guilt. She'd had to improvise when he didn't strike at the first opportunity, and that got her in trouble; she was a lousy liar. The Sectum curse had obviously shattered the magical barricade around the Horcrux, so there was no more time for lies. Harry raised himself to his full height. "No." he softly. "No."

Too many people had been sacrificed to Voldemort. Martyrs or heroes, it didn’t matter. Too many had fallen, too many would not walk the earth when this horrible war finally ended. Harry had enough. He would not be the instrument of another murder for Voldemort's sake.

He threw down his wand and strode purposefully to her, even though she shook her head frantically. He could feel the air drop rapidly in temperature as he drew closer. The center of the dark whirlpool formed a pit as the tendrils spun more rapidly through her clenched hands. Harry could see that her fingers were blue, covered in tiny crystals of ice that sparkled in the torchlight.

"It's a Horcrux? In your mind?" Harry demanded. She nodded, teeth clenched. Harry dropped to his knees, took hold of her collar, and ripped her nightshirt from top to bottom. Where her torso should have been, there was nothing but a swirling black vortex.

Harry reached in a fury toward the center, thinking to rip out whatever lay at its core, but it was too cold. His hand froze, solid and white, all the way to his wrist, though only the fingertips had passed the surface of the whirlpool. His hand snapped back involuntarily. He regarded it in a sort of curious disbelief. He couldn't feel anything, it was as though the hand had died, yet he instinctively knew that it would be in agony as soon as it thawed.

Tura was shaking so hard that Harry could tell she couldn't cooperate with him, even if she wanted to. With his living hand, he reached behind her, gripping her tightly by the nape of her neck, forcing her head upward to meet his eyes. She tried to look away; he turned her head to the side and brought her eyes back into his line of sight. "Don't fight me!" he breathed, pulling her closer, trying to fix her with his gaze. "Fight him! With me!"

He caught her eye, and her mind broke open like an eggshell.

"With me..." he told her, without words. Ignoring her tiny sting of reproach, he plunged through her mind straight into the dark pit at the core.

Harry found himself in utter blackness, not cavelike, but more like outer space: a vast emptiness. He looked for Tura, her memory, her consciousness, but they were nowhere to be found. Where are you? he thought. What is this place?

"How do you like it?" said a low, measured voice. Harry spun around, but could see nothing; he wondered if he'd gone blind.

"I don't," Harry said, for lack of anything better to say.

"What a coincidence. Neither do I," purred the voice from every direction. "It was supposed to be my home, but it's turned into rather a prison." At last Harry saw a pinpoint of light from the corner of his eye; he turned toward it and watched as it separated into two tiny specks of red, which he soon realized were rushing at him at an alarming speed. He ducked, but the red specks became slitted, glowing eyes, and passed through him with a great gust of freezing wind.

Harry spun around after the eyes, which had already zoomed impossibly far away. "Just as you deserve, Riddle," he said scathingly.

The light in the eyes flared brighter. "Not a gracious little guest, are you, coming into my home and insulting me?" The eyes came at him so fast, he couldn't even see the movement; they were simply upon him, through him, and their chill penetrated him to the core.

"I wonder, little guest, if you even know where you are," said the voice, which seemed to come from right over his head, no matter where the eyes traveled. "Or more importantly, how to get out."

Harry gulped. He knew he must be inside the black vortex, but it was certainly nothing like it had appeared just now, from the outside. It had looked small and shallow, as though he could reach in with one hand and rip out whatever it was at the center. In her mind, he'd glimpsed it once, a black and bottomless pit. She must have let him fall into it somehow... but what was it, exactly?

"Indeed. That very question has been bothering me for years," said the other. "I was rather hoping you might provide some illumination on the matter. Particularly regarding the exit."

The cold shot through him again; it must have come from behind. Harry had already given up on following the eyes. It didn't seem to matter, since there was no way to avoid a strike that fast.

"Sadly, I see that you are hopelessly ignorant. And not even particularly entertaining." Another strike, so sharp it took Harry's breath away. His tongue was frozen to the roof of his mouth.

The eyes whipped to a halt in front of him, examining him with malevolent curiousity. "I wonder..." it said thoughtfully. "Did she send you here as a little gift? Or did you break in? Are you here to vanquish me, perhaps?" A low, mirthless chuckle came, this time, from the direction of the eyes. "How noble!" it said mockingly. "You've come to slay the dragon. But you seem to have forgotten your weapons!"

Harry wanted to speak, to pluck out those hideous eyes, but he seemed to be frozen solid. Another pass would kill him, he was sure of it, his heart felt like it would burst from pumping the thick slurry of his blood.

But then Harry snapped to the realization that he had no heart or blood; his body was kneeling somewhere beyond the borders of this place. Only his mind had entered here. Thoughts could not be frozen. He could raise his hands. He did not need to raise them. He had no hands at all, just the memory of hands. This was a battle between metaphors; may the best mind win.

"Lumos" Harry said aloud, not because he needed words, but because it was a familiar way to accomplish what he wanted at that moment. The darkness immediately turned to light. A huge serpent stretched before him, uncoiled and unprepared to strike, having arrogantly lounged before him without a thought for its defense. The light had stunned it as well. Harry had the creature at a temporary disadvantage, if he could make use of it.

One natural enemy of the snake is a predatory bird like a hawk.

Or a phoenix...

Harry was no Animagus, but he remembered how it felt to become the cobra. He opened his arms wide, willing them to stretch into wings, his feet into claws. He had flown with Fawkes the night they Bonded; he knew how to use his back and chest to control his wings. He could feel it, he could be it, he was it: A glorious red bird, not quite free of gravity's constraints, but able to defy them. A carnivorous bird, with an appetite for snakes...

Beating his wings, Harry became airborn and seized the snake with his talons. He snapped it hard in the air, trying to break its back. But it, too, had a will to live, and coiled quickly into a writhing knot. Having been a snake once, Harry had grabbed it near the head so it couldn't twist back and bite him. But he also knew it would soon use its long, pliable body to wrap him up and crush him.

Harry flew upward. A hawk would kill a snake by carrying it to a great height and dropping it, letting it smash on the ground. But this was the snake's home, not the world as he knew it. The ground simply followed them up as he climbed. Harry was strong, but he could only flap for so long before needing to soar and refresh his muscles. But as soon as he stopped climbing, the ground would catch up with them--and that snake could easily toss him over once it could gain purchase on the ground. Suddenly the whole bird thing seemed like a bad idea.

But I'm not a bird. I'm a phoenix.

Harry looked down at the snake, recalling the many times Fawkes had tried him by fire. He burst into flames.

The last free splinter of Voldemort's soul writhed wildly in his grasp, then died.



Harry was in his own body with no transition. Tura lay beneath him on the dirt floor of the cavern. His frozen hand burned with pain--the flesh had already started to thaw and the nerves were howling at the injury. Nonetheless, he propped himself up on it and looked down at Tura. She was ghostly pale and cold.

"Tura! Wake up!" He patted her face with his warm hand, hoping desperately that she was still alive. "Breathe!"

To his relief, she began to stir, moving her head away from the patting. Then, without warning, her hands flew to her chest and she gasped in terror and screamed. "I lost him! He's gone!"

"It's okay!" shouted Harry, taking her by the shoulders. "He's not lost. He's dead." She looked up at him in recognition, but he was stunned to realize that her eyes were no longer hollow and black. They glowed with a warm amber light, and as she focused on him, her pupils constricted into small circles in the center of flecked brown irises.

Harry started to smile, but his joy was short-lived. Tura abruptly started screeching and flailing her fists at him like a crazed windmill. Fortunately she had almost no leverage since he was holding down her shoulders, but she was still managing to pummel him pretty soundly. Harry had a mental image of a net full of live fish flopping after being dumped on a deck. He didn't dare let go, so instead he flopped on top of her with all his weight and tried to pin her arms down.

"IDIOT!" she screeched into his ear. "FOOL! Reckless idiot! Why didn't you kill me? You should've killed me!"

For the first time, Harry wished that someone else had come along on this journey, just so he could share a look of pure incredulity and confirm that this witch was totally out of her gourd. "I'm beginning to wonder myself, I have to say! Stop that!" he shouted. "Stop hitting me!"

The flailing ceased, but now she dug into his sides with a furious grip. "You idiot! What if the Horcrux had gotten away? It would go right to him, he'd be all that much stronger, and he'd know exactly where you were! He'd know everything I know! He'd know everything you know." Her new pupils widened in horror.

"Well it didn't, okay?" he snapped crossly. "It's dead. So stop trying to shred me, already."

"Not until you PROMISE never, ever to do that again! Ever!"

"Okay, okay! I promise! Next time, I'll kill you straight up! You're a goner, okay?"

"Okay!" she barked, and unclenched her hands, then her eyes narrowed quizzically "Wait." She paused and wrinkled her brow. "You are SUCH a jerk."

"Me?" said Harry in mock indignation. "I destroy the Horcrux, spare your life, and I'm a jerk? How's that bloody possible?"

"Tell me about it! I can't figure it out myself!" she said, both laughing and crying, and buried her face deep between his shoulder and neck. She was still holding him very tightly, but not in a punishing manner at all. Harry closed his eyes and took in her softness, her warmth. She felt nice. He presently realized that Tura's nightdress was still ripped open, but the black vortex had been replaced by all the sorts of things one would typically expect to find on a pretty young witch.

"Harry," she whispered sadly, "I meant to make you a murderer tonight."

He pushed up onto his elbows, just high enough to look in her eyes but leaving barely a finger's breadth between their faces. "I know," he said. "But you don't have to, Tura. You never had to make me a killer." He paused for a beat, then whispered, "Make me a lover instead."



Harry lay beside her, blissfully spent, watching the last bit of torch guttering out. Morning was still a few hours away. He listened to Tura's slow, even breath. For a few quiet moments, the world was at peace, unsullied. He drifted off to a dreamless sleep.

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