Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Crumbling Pedestal :: 01 :: Duel Interrupted

01 • Duel Interrupted

Notes: The italicized beginning of this chapter is lifted directly from book four to set the stage for the AU split. Reference, US hardcover edition, page 659.


Wormtail approached Harry, who scrambled to find his feet, to support his own weight before the ropes were untied. Wormtail raised his new silver hand, pulled out the wad of material gagging Harry, and then, with one swipe, cut through the bonds tying Harry to the gravestone.

There was a split second, perhaps, when Harry might have considered running for it, but his injured leg shook under him as he stood on the overgrown grave, as the Death Eaters closed ranks, forming a tighter circle around him and Voldemort, so that the gaps where the missing Death Eaters should have stood were filled. Wormtail walked out of the circle to the place where Cedric’s body lay and returned with Harry’s wand, which he thrust roughly into Harry’s hand without looking at him. Then Wormtail resumed his place in the circle of watching Death Eaters.

“You have been taught how to duel, Harry Potter?” said Voldemort softly, his red eyes glinting through the darkness.

“No,” said Harry, “and I refuse to now.”

Voldemort was slightly taken aback at this and said without thought, “Excuse me?” He fixed his slit-pupiled eyes on the boy and stared.

“I said no. Why don’t you look like you did in the Chamber, Tom? Young, handsome, a deep commanding voice. . . . What’s the point in achieving immortality if people can’t even stand to look at you? I mean, which is more frightening? Velvet-clad steel or a horror show freak?”

“Shut up, you worthless piece of—”

“Sod off,” Harry spat back defiantly at the Death Eater who dared speak. “I’ll be dead shortly anyway, so I might as well speak my mind.”

Voldemort had been on the verge of obliterating the boy when a phrase came back to him. The Chamber? Tom? The boy was still speaking, though, so he turned his attention outward and back to his words. After a second he realized Potter was hissing in Parseltongue, judging by the confused postures of his minions, and paid even closer attention.

“You know, I’ve had it. One minute I’m a muggle, the next a wizard. One I’m some hero, the next a dark lord in training. I’ve had it! In the muggle world, thanks to my oh-so-loving family, I’m an incurable criminal that everyone likes to either avoid or hunt down to be kicked and beaten. In the wizarding world I’ve already been painted in delusional colours, subject to fits, dangerous, even psychotic. I’d be willing to bet if I got back to Hogwarts alive I’d be blamed for Cedric’s death, too.”

Potter waved his wand around in agitation, sparks bursting from its tip as emphasis.

“So go ahead, do your worst, you scaly bastard. At least dead I could see my parents again, except this time I wouldn’t be seeing or hearing them die over and over again.”

The boy took a deep breath and clenched his hands tightly, his knuckles turning white.

“And I wouldn’t have to endure the petty tyranny of my so-called family, either. It’s no wonder that with muggles like them around some wizards think we’d be better off without them.”

Potter continued to rant, breathing heavily, and Voldemort began to wonder if the boy had finally gone over the edge. But that thought was dispelled a moment later when Potter paused long enough to stare him straight in the eye before starting in again. There was only sanity in those emerald depths, and passionate life, despite the boy’s words and air of teetering on the edge of despair and the potential battle against suicidal tendencies.

“You started it all, Tom. You killed them, you tried to kill me. Somehow you failed. Maybe he was right and it was my mother’s love that prevented you, but it set me up as an icon. I’m nothing more than a myth, something for people to pin their hopes on, or use as the whipping boy for everything that went wrong since Grindelwald.”

He paused and made a nasty little motion with his wand at the name, then continued. “I don’t care anymore! At least my so-called family was honest. They hated me, and our world, and never said otherwise. They were constant, just like the Slytherins, just like Snape. They never wasted time coddling me one moment, then fearing me the next. Whatever I am now, what started with you, and ended with them, it is because of them. They made me what I am now, willing to just lay down and die.”

Voldemort raised his hand, causing his faithful to each step back a pace, some out of respect, and some anticipation. Potter didn’t appear to notice anything until Voldemort moved to stand directly in front of the still ranting boy.

It was only then that Potter stopped his vehement hissing and looked up into his eyes. He did not, however, step back in response, nor did the fire in his eyes morph into fear. They remained starkly defiant in the face of the nearness of his enemy.

Voldemort lifted his wand and made a show of inspecting it before gazing back into Potter’s eyes.

“This is much too easy,” he said dispassionately, then quickly stunned the boy, watching as he toppled to the ground bonelessly.

“Wormtail!”

“Yes, master!” Wormtail slipped out of position and groveled at Voldemort’s feet.

“See that the Diggory boy is delivered back to Hogwarts.”

“Right away, master!” The rat-like man leapt to his feet and scurried away.

Voldemort turned back to the Potter boy and stared for a moment, then flicked his wand, levitating the body. Changing direction, he strode off toward the house, Potter floating along behind him as his Death Eaters watched.

*

Harry awoke to dimly-lit surroundings, though he was not uncomfortable. Given the yielding nature of the surface beneath him and the warm weight covering his body, he deduced he was in a bed.

His mind and body warred briefly, one happy, while the other was wondering just what was going on. His hand automatically reached to the side seeking his glasses. He had them on a second later and was trying to focus on the room before it occurred to him that it was odd that he had them at all.

After all, they were a decided disadvantage, so why he had access to them was, for now, beyond his ken. He shrugged and continued to look around, silently surprised at the opulence of the furnishings and decor. Looking down he saw he was dressed in a clean set of plain pajamas, and obviously unhurt. Again, he shrugged, then pushed himself up, swinging his legs out from under the covers and onto the floor.

Lifting them aside, Harry stood and examined the room again. There were two doors, though only one of them was open. It revealed a bathroom, tiled in white and sea green. The closed door, he assumed without bothering to check, was locked against his efforts.

Next to the bed was a small table with a narrow drawer, and topped with an ornate lamp which was currently turned off. Looking up he saw that the molding was not flush with the wall, but angled outward at the top, and from the space within spilled soft light which illuminated the room.

Against one wall was a heavy desk and matching chair, set with an inkwell and several quills. The drawers were closed. As Harry approached it and sat down, a meal appeared in front of him, steaming slightly in the air.

He sighed. Did it matter if he ate? Did it matter if the food was poisoned in some way? He was already willing to die, wasn’t he, and end it all? Harry lifted the fork that had materialized beside the plate and began to eat, enjoying the food for what it was.

When he was done and had settled back in the chair, he felt a curious sense of calm descend over his mind and body, and knew that the meal had in fact been drugged. Any thoughts of worry, or anger, or escape were wiped away, and he found himself accepting the current situation.

As he stood to visit the bathroom and take care of his pressing needs, the plate and utensils disappeared. A half hour later he stepped back into the bedroom, dressed in a fresh set of pajamas, and sat down at the desk again for lack of anything better to do.

Opening one of the drawers revealed a small book, which he lifted free of its confines and laid on the desk’s surface, then opened. The pages inside were empty and pristine. Harry reached out and uncapped the inkwell, took a quill in his hand, and began to write.

*

Some few days later, Voldemort took the time to assure that Potter’s evening meal was laced with a powerful sleeping draught, and entered the room to investigate exactly what the boy had been up to in his drugged little retreat from the world.

The journal he had left in the desk was sitting on top, practically begging to have its contents exploited to his benefit. So he sat down and opened it to the first page and began to read. Nothing of the first entry struck him as particularly odd, given what the boy had been ranting about the night of the duel that wasn’t, though he found Potter’s childhood an interesting parallel to his own.

He sneered when he read of Hagrid, and snarled when the younger Malfoy was mentioned. He would need to give Lucius a little reinforcement to pass along to his wayward child for such behavior. Obviously Lucius had been remiss in his teaching to produce a child who was unaware of political machinations and sly subversions. What a waste of pure blood.

However, when he reached Potter’s words on Severus, his eyes widened slightly. The implications were quite illuminating. He knew full well that Snape was a traitor, and had not been the least bit surprised to note that he had not been among those who came to his rebirth calling. He had not known that it was by his actions though that Potter had been exposed to the first stirrings of betrayal.

Furthermore, it made him realize that for all Lucius’s failings, it must have been him who released his own diary into the life of the youngest Weasley in an attempt to raise his master once more, despite never having searched in the more conventional way. Of all his Death Eaters, Lucius was the first to have consciously tried to bring back the old order.

Perhaps he would reward and punish. Good deeds must not go unremarked.

He would need to question Lucius closely about the aftermath of that event. Thoughtful, he read through the remainder of the entry, then flipped to the next.

26 June 1995

Actually, I have no idea what day it is. I have no idea how long I was sleeping before I woke up in this room. I guess it doesn’t matter, just like whatever I write here has no real meaning. I know my food is being drugged. I’d have to be stupid not to realize that. But anyway.

I’m tired of alternately being thrust upon a pedestal and dragged off it into the mud. If I truly am the Savior of the wizarding world then you have all damned yourselves to hell, for I will no longer serve as the whipping boy of or for corrupt officials and a capricious public.

Well, I’ll be dead, right?

If the wizarding community and its leaders had been as united against the problem of Voldemort and his followers as they have been in persecuting me, then maybe he would have no power base from which to strike, and we would not now be in a state of abject fear and denial.

It’s all very stupid really. Just because I somehow miraculously lived I’m supposed to have the power to defeat Voldemort again? And how come it was only my mother’s love that could save a child, and not all those other mothers and fathers who must have died for their children. How come none of those survived? I’m having a hard time believing now the things that Dumbledore said.

I don’t really think that anyone in the general public will ever read any of this. If they did though, maybe they’ll come to understand just what they’ve done. How they’ve made sure of their own destruction by ripping to shreds their icon of fool’s gold.

I wonder if there’s a special place in hell reserved for idiots?

So let me see . . . since I’m getting it all out, let’s start with my family. No, not my parents, since they’re dead. I’m talking about Uncle Vernon, and Aunt Petunia, and Dudley. I think the idea was to squash the magic out of me. Dudley didn’t know much, but they knew enough certainly. Petunia hated mum, despised her, and Vernon is the same.

They thought if they tried hard enough, the magic would leave me, and I’d be an ordinary boy they could cast off at the first opportunity. Yet, I was useful to have around. I learned very early not to ask questions and not to expect anything but hardship. I still wonder why I was placed there. Surely it would have better elsewhere?

I know Dumbledore said he didn’t want me growing up with a swelled head, but is abuse the right response in contrast? I never bothered to say anything. I knew he’d give me one of those gentle smiles, pet me on the head, and send me right back again saying it was for my own good and I’d be safe there. Does that make him a bad man, or just ignorant?

Dudley and his friends love to play a game they call Harry Hunting. Trying to chase me down so they can rough me up and feel better for it. Well, when they aren’t out terrorizing anyone else they can get their hands on.

Still, something must have gone right, because I don’t think I’m such a bad person in the end. I’m not cruel, and I’m not timid either. I guess you could say that adversity breeds either contempt or strength. Maybe both.

And that stupid sorting hat, insisting I’d have done well in Slytherin. How the hell would it know? Was that some sort of oblique way of telling me I could have corrupted Slytherin from within? Or that I’d make a fine dark lord in training so I could join right up and have fun exterminating muggles like my family?

And then there’s Dumbledore again, saying things like choices make us who we are. What about the choices made for us? Is he saying that his choice not to assist a young Tom Riddle had no bearing on the outcome? That Tom could have decided to push aside what had happened to him and strove to be better for it rather than submit?

It makes me wonder, since he knew I never liked going back to the Dursley’s, but made me go anyway, just like he never bothered to help Tom. Am I identifying too much here? Never mind, it doesn’t matter. He’s dead set on revenge, and dead is what I expect to be.

The boy certainly had a way with words, and it was clear that he understood far more than some gave him credit for. Voldemort wondered if it would be more prudent to simply kill him, or keep him around to see what evolved.

He wondered if killing off the boy’s remaining family would be seen in a good light or bad, if it would be a release or a further burden upon those slender shoulders. Not having decided what to do, he decided not to decide for the time being.

He smirked when he read about Dumbledore’s choices and actions. It seemed as though in some respects the old man was doing his work for him. Surely he must be ignorant of the effect it was having—or was this some ploy to force the child to see him as the epitome of safety and a deserving recipient of gratefulness when the boy was rescued each year from his relatives?

*

Several days later Voldemort returned. Potter was in another of his forced sleeps, though it could not be used very often. Too much of the potion would likely permanently harm him. Addiction was not unknown in the wizarding world, and insomnia was one of the easiest problems to abuse.

He sat down and began to flip through the new entries in the journal.

27 June 1995

Draco is an idiot. I remember when I accidentally floo’d into Borgin & Burkes and listened, hiding in the cupboard, to what he and his father were saying. When Lucius told Draco that it wasn’t wise to appear less than fond of me against the tide of the wizarding world’s opinion.

Draco thinks he’s so superior, but he never listens. All we ever hear are the same old tired taunts. No wonder his father is so cruel about his grades. He should spend less time repeating himself and more time studying, since it’s obvious he hasn’t got a jot of creativity to his name. Of course, Hermione is loads more brilliant than he is, but did he ever bother to find a way to slow her down and make her grades drop?

Having his father buy his way onto the team was typical, I guess, though I can’t imagine why Mr Malfoy agreed to it. If Draco’s grades are so awful, why give him a treat like that? Fairly stupid if you ask me.

At least I got him back third year when he pulled that silly dementor trick. I hope he pissed himself in fright. He’s nothing more than a gormless bully, who runs at the first sign of real resistance. He can’t even do anything without his two hulking twits at his side.

Some tatty old books appeared overnight. At least now I have something to do other to stare at the ceiling or write in this book. They don’t exactly look thrilling, but they’re different.

28 June 1995

Snape is an unmitigated bastard, you know? Takes every chance he can get to ridicule me, humiliate me, and punish me, all because I’m supposedly so enamored of my fame. He can have it for all I care. I just wanted to be normal.

Asking me questions on the first day of class I couldn’t possibly answer. Slapping me and my friends with detention every time we turned around. Looking the other way when Slytherin students ruined our potions and blaming us for the destruction.

Why did he even make the effort to save me? Honestly, I have to wonder if it’s only because of Dumbledore. Maybe he didn’t want to go back to Azkaban as a Death Eater. Not much use he’d be in there, but his personality might have improved.

I wonder what he’s doing now. Has Dumbledore forced him into returning so that he can spy on Voldemort? Is he alive or dead? Or has he been biding his time all the while, waiting for the moment he can return and tell his master all that he knows?

I wonder why I’m still alive. I wonder why I’m not reading one of those boring books instead of sitting here at this stupid desk writing drivel?

29 June 1995

I’m tired of this place. It’s lonely. I haven’t seen a soul since I got here. Just this journal, those books, that bed, and meals that appear at timed intervals.

I almost think I’d rather be sitting in Professor Binns’s history class than endure this too much longer. I finished two of the books—they’re dry. I bet Hermione would like them. Forget it, I’m tired. I may as well just go back to sleep.

*

Harry had been imprisoned for what he reckoned was several weeks. He couldn’t be sure by any means, as he had no idea how long he slept each time, and no way of knowing the passage of time in any meaningful way. The lights came on when he started to rise from the depths of sleep, and winked out when he laid down and began to slip under.

He continued to alternate between writing in the journal—whatever came to mind—and reading the books that rotated on the single shelf. Every time he’d finished what was available, another group appeared to take their place.

His wand had been found in the side table drawer, but no amount of spellwork on the closed door made it open, so he’d long since given up trying. When he felt willing he practiced the spells he knew, just to keep in shape, though he wondered at the futility of the exercise.

Aside from the books changing, nothing else did. Not even after the nights when he knew he’d been drugged into a heavy sleep. No bruises, no wounds, no aches or pains. Not a single thing in the room appeared to have changed on those ‘mornings’.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t even feel sorry for himself, not with whatever was spiking his food, and he wasn’t the type to try and starve himself to death. So he waited.

*

He woke up, or was it fell asleep, to find himself in a plain white room. His mind called it a room, but in fact it was more like an endless existence of white stretching in all directions. He walked around until he noticed that not only was he getting nowhere fast, but that he wasn’t tired after all that exertion. So he sat down on the spot, then flopped over onto to his back.

After a time, streaks of not-white began colouring the bleached expanse, slowly devolving into a recognizable grey, and then into black. The swirling made him want to feel dizzy, but he was not. After a short time he heard an androgynous voice speak to him.

~Greetings, young Harry, and tidings on the day that marks the fifteenth year since your birth.~

“Hullo,” he replied, “and thank you. Where am I?”

~You are nowhere and everywhere.~

“Then why am I here? Is this a dream?”

~In this timeless moment you have a choice, young Harry. Here you will be unburdened by grief and guilt, by fatigue and hunger, for so long as it takes you to decide your own fate. You will see, and understand, and think clearly for perhaps the only time in your young life. You may ask of me any question you desire, in order that you may properly formulate your answer. You stand at a crossroads, a divergence, and you alone have the power to decide which path is correct.~

“What choice is it that you expect me to make?” he asked curiously, strangely unbothered by the situation.

~You will decide your fate, young Harry. Do you choose to return to what you have just left, and give over the choice of your fate to the hands of the Dark Lord? Or do you choose to leave that place behind you and move forward through another kind of uncertainty?~

A pause, of indeterminate length.

“Are you able to tell me what would result in either choice?”

~Each choice presents a multitude of results, young Harry. Should you choose to stay, then Voldemort will decide for you, whether it be torture or death, or corruption enough to turn you as black of heart as he. Should you choose to move forward you will be taken from that place and brought elsewhere, to train, to learn and grow, and eventually to come back to a point in this circle to confront what you may not choose to, or be capable of, doing now.~

“If I chose to stay, what fate the wizarding world?”

~A wise question, young Harry. If you were to die now, the wizarding world would rally to the cause of a martyr, fighting against the darkness that threatens them, but in the end they too would die. A few here, a few there, a crowd or a mass, and many too weak to believe or defend would submit to dominion.~

“And if I were turned?”

~Then the people of the light would despair and fall into apathy. Precious few would hold fast to their ideals, and people would come to know death faster and in greater numbers. In the end, the result is the same.~

“Who are you?”

~I am everything and nothing. I am the voice of the earth’s cry and the sound of magic as it whispers along your veins. I am the blinding white of life and the suffocating darkness of death. I am, in a word, opportunity.~

“Then I have no choice,” Harry stated calmly.

~How so, young Harry?~

“A choice that allows me to hasten the demise of the only world I knew happiness in is no choice I could bear. I have no choice but to move forward. To do otherwise at this junction would be to deny everything that shaped me.”

~And if I told you that Albus Dumbledore has consistently and knowingly manipulated your life in order to produce such an answer?~

“Then I would say that it is that much more imperative that I move forward, so that I may have the chance to investigate the validity of your claim, and act accordingly when the opportunity arises.”

~Interesting, young Harry. I think that you would be angered presently were you able to feel negatively.~

“Perhaps. But anger clouds clarity, and you do not allow for it. Anger won’t help me anyway, will it. You are manipulating me though.”

~How so, young Harry?~

“Wouldn’t it have been more cunning to ask me my thoughts on a claim that staying might prove out Voldemort’s kind and cuddly nature in the face of a man who had shaped him as he shaped me, to kill two birds with one stone and retain his ascendancy of power? You lean toward moving forward, and it shows.”

~You are quite clever, young Harry. And correct. Regardless, the choice is yours.~

“As I said, there is no choice. I don’t know everything, and I can’t, but I do know that stagnation is death, so moving forward is the only option there is.”

~If you say so. Strange though how only a month ago you were ready to die.~

“It doesn’t matter. What happens now?”

~Now? Now you begin a new life. Right now, in fact.~