The Sugar Quill
Author: cranston  Story: Lesser Evil  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Lesser Evil

Lesser Evil

 

Disclaimer:  If they were my characters, I wouldn’t put them through this.

 

Warning:  The second part has a small amount of blood, and no gore, but it does present appalling cruelty.  This is Voldemort we’re talking about, after all.

 

A/N:  Sometimes the lesser evil can be the greater good.

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A love supreme

A love supreme

A love supreme

A love supreme

            – John Coltrane

 

 

She was dead, and he was lost.

 

He knew he was somewhere near Hogwarts.  He was in the woods.  That should have meant the Forbidden Forest, but he knew that he had never seen these woods before.  Beyond that he knew little or nothing:  not where he really was; not how he had got there; not where he was going.  He suspected that Voldemort had conjured these woods – or was it just the appearance of woods? – to lead him into a trap.  He didn’t care.  He was looking for Voldemort anyway, and it didn’t matter where they met.  She was dead now, and Harry wanted nothing so much as to face him.

 

Hermione and Ron had killed her, just as they had planned.  While Harry dueled Voldemort and kept him occupied, Ron had baited her into chasing him, down by the old walls.  As she passed by, Hermione dropped a tonne of stone on her.  Then, to make sure, the two of them incinerated her body on the spot.  Nagini was gone; the Horcrux hunt was finished, and, with luck, Voldemort didn’t know that it had even been going on.

 

But he did know that she was dead.  He had turned his head toward the crash of the collapsing wall, too late to see anything besides billowing dust, but the crackle of the magical flames and the hiss and stench of burning snakeflesh would have told him she was gone.  He bellowed with rage, and Harry’s scar blazed white-hot, worse even than a Cruciatus Curse.  But instead of taking advantage of Harry’s vulnerability; Voldemort had simply disappeared.  From that moment to the time he found himself in these woods, Harry remembered nothing.  He certainly hadn’t seen his friends, and he needed to find them.  But most of all he needed to find Voldemort.  Voldemort was mortal now, and it was time to finish this.

 

Muffled explosions sounded behind him; wherever he was, he was moving deeper into the woods and away from the battle.  A cry sounded in the distance ahead.  It was too far away to make out the words, if indeed there were any, but the timbre was unmistakable:  Ginny’s voice.  Real or not?  No matter.  If Voldemort was trying to lure him on, using Ginny’s voice was the obvious way to do it.  He headed in the direction of the voice.

 

Ron and Hermione hadn’t yet set a date for the wedding.  “After Voldemort’s gone,” was the only reply Hermione had given him when he had asked.  Well, he thought, tomorrow will be “after Voldemort’s gone.”  But you’d best not have it then.  I already have my wedding present, but everyone else will need some time to prepare.

 

It was springtime, but nothing in these woods was in bloom.  It was just the sort of thing Voldemort would have forgotten.  He pressed ahead.

 

Everyone who had heard about the engagement was surprised, but no one was surprised for more than a moment.  True, Ron and Hermione were young for marriage.  But no one who knew them could think they were being hasty.  They unquestionably knew each other’s character far better than most engaged couples a half-decade older.  In fact, Harry mused, he had been watching them mold their characters to one another for some time now.  Their feelings for each other had gotten far ahead of their physical relationship, which was now only gradually catching up.  No matter, he thought, they’ll have plenty of time for that.  

 

So help me.

 

He heard a crackling from far off to his left, and he turned left into the undergrowth to follow it.  Immediately he heard a scream, much closer and slightly to the right of his original direction.  No, that was the way he was being led.  He turned back and continued toward the scream.

 

The three of them had been in Diagon Alley when it happened, taking a break from the Horcrux hunt to rest, to do a bit more research, and to lay in a few more supplies.  They had split up early in the day; later, in the afternoon, he and Ron had met up with Hermione again in front of the boarded-up remains of Florian Fortescue’s ice cream parlour.  Ron had flashed him a significant look and, suddenly remembering something he had forgotten to pick up at Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes, he had excused himself to go back and get it.  When he returned they were in a close embrace; on one of Hermone’s hands, looking as perfect as he’d known it would, was The Ring.

 

It had all been perfect:  the ring; the joy and promise and certitude in their eyes as they greeted him; the backdrop before which the proposal and acceptance had taken place – he knew that this scene by itself was reason enough for him to finish Voldemort.  And he had many reasons.

 

Something moved again in the undergrowth, and he dropped to a crouch, wand at the ready.  He barely made out a squirrel-sized creature scurrying away.  He leveled his wand at it, reasoning that any animal in these woods must be spying for Voldemort.  Or, he then thought, it might just be a ruse to get me to use magic and give away my position.  Whatever, I’ll just keep moving and sooner or later we’ll find each other.  If he gets the drop on me, he’ll need to gloat anyway, and that will give me a little breathing room.

 

At least it wasn’t a rat.

 

The day in Diagon Alley had begun with him and Ron leaving Hermione to pore over books old and new at Flourish & Blotts, while they went off by themselves.  It was only when Ron suddenly collared him and dragged him into a jeweler’s shop, of all places, that he realized that they had actually dumped Hermione – Ron’s brilliant tactic to get a chance to put his secret plan into effect.  Once inside the shop, it was only moments before The Ring caught their eyes, The Ring which had obviously been made for the sole purpose of adorning Hermione’s hand.  Ron examined one ring after another:  plain bands, braids, knotwork, emeralds, sapphires, diamonds … but every few minutes he came back to sigh over The Ring.  At length he picked up one of the others, weighed it in his hand, and started toward the counter.  Harry had stopped him.  “Ron, why not that one?”  And when Ron murmured, “I don’t have that kind of money, Harry,” he had simply replied, “Yes, you do.”

 

He made to part the branches of the tree in front of him with his wand, then stopped and used his left hand instead.  It was the first time he had actually touched one of the trees in this wood, and he wasn’t at all sure the branches wouldn’t grab him.  Better, he figured, for them to catch his hand than for them to snatch his wand away.  But they did neither.

 

It had been a simple deal, really.  The lantern belonged to Ron; they had all agreed on that.  Having been half melted would have lowered its value somewhat, no doubt – not to mention the curses – but it had been priceless in its day.  Ron would never have parted with it if it weren’t a choice between it and The Ring.  But since that was precisely the choice before him, he simply asked Harry to name a price.  Harry managed to catch himself before just repeating the price of The Ring; instead he offered that amount less the price of the ring in Ron’s hand – the one that had not been forged just for Hermione.  The deal was done quickly enough; Ron had The Ring and the next hundred or so years of his life in his pocket; Harry had got a somewhat damaged historical artifact for a bargain price.  And how often do you get to buy an ex-Horcrux from your best friend?

 

It would make a perfect wedding gift.

 

A brief flash of light illuminated the forest from above, the trees casting crazy shadows that made his position seem even more fantastic, more surreal than it really was.  The thunder that followed was muted by all the leaves above him.  For all he knew there might be a torrential rain coming down, but none of it made it through the forest canopy to him.  At least the fight would be on dry ground.

 

Harry had been the first to spot the ancient, ornate, and clearly magical lantern, hanging from the rafters in what he recognized as young Tom Riddle’s room, as they searched the old orphanage for a Horcrux.  Hermione spotted Ravenclaw’s crest on it.  Ron, meanwhile, simply climbed up on the chest of drawers to take it down.  As soon as he neared it, the lantern lit itself – a hellishly bright light, so brilliant that it was agonizing even with your eyes closed and your face covered.  A light to drive you mad, a light to make you want to claw your own eyes out.  Then, suddenly, pitch blackness.  Either they had been blinded, or the light was somehow gone; whichever it was, the room was now getting unbearably hot.  A moment later Ron was pulling him by his hand.  Hermione’s voice shouted, “Ron, the door is this way,” and he felt Ron lurch to the right before saying, “I know, come with me,” and dragging her back the way they had been going.  He felt like his clothes would burn his skin by the time they blundered into the wall.  Ron pulled them to the right along the wall, sweeping furniture out of the way.  When they reached the door, their skin and hair smoldering, Ron shoved them out ahead of him, then came through and slammed the door behind him just as the room exploded in orange flames.  They could see again.

 

“Peruvian Darkness Powder,” Ron explained, panting.  “Guess absorbing all that light heated it up a bit.”

 

Hermione was livid.  “Were you trying to get us all killed?  Why didn’t you lead us to the door?  We could have still been in there when that fire started!”

 

Ron looked straight ahead as they made their way out of the building.  “And suppose we’d aimed for the door and missed,” he replied.  He turned and looked Hermione in the eye.  “Which way would we have turned when we got to the wall?”

 

After the fire burned itself out, they picked through the rubble and found the remains of Ravenclaw’s lantern.  Harry and Hermione agreed that it rightfully belonged to Ron.

 

The voice now seemed to come from directly behind the bole of a great tree before him.  Wand at the ready, he circled the trunk counterclockwise, only to come back around to his starting position without seeing anything unusual.  The voice keened again, still behind the tree.  Smiling grimly, Harry started to circle the tree again, this time clockwise.  Of course, he mused, this would be the way he’d make me go – with my wand arm pinned against the tree.  Halfway around, this time, he found himself looking across a clearing into Voldemort’s eyes.  At long last.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

“Harry!” Voldemort called out with just a touch of menace poking through his cordial tone.  “I’m so glad you were able to drop in and visit.”

 

Harry could not have hoped for better than this – Voldemort was once again taking time to gloat.  In the precious seconds this gave him, Harry leveled his wand and shouted, “AVADA KEDAVRA!”  He knew his aim was true … but something deflected the spell ever so slightly.  Voldemort lazily stuck a finger in the lurid green light as it sailed harmlessly past his left shoulder, then bent and straightened it, examining it appraisingly.  “Weak, Harry.  That wouldn’t have done at all.  I’m disappointed in you, showing up here so woefully unprepared.  Surely your teachers would have insisted that you practice that spell.  It’s too bad you didn’t listen to them.  Such willfulness can often be costly.  Now rest assured, in a little while I will show you how it is done properly.  But first we have some other business to attend to.  Oh, and you won’t mind if my illustrious ancestor keeps his hand between us while we are occupied, would you?”

 

Voldemort swept his wand in a wide arc and the appearance of the clearing changed.  The ground and the surrounding trees were now a stone floor and walls.  Harry recognized the place instantly even though he hadn’t seen it in five years:  the Chamber of Secrets.  Slytherin’s statue towered above him, its stone hand now interposed between him and Voldemort.  Harry essayed a few steps to the side; the statue moved its hand, keeping it poised between them.  “Merely a temporary inconvenience, I assure you.  I shall be sure to restore it to its original state when we are ready for your final duel.  In the meantime, it will keep either of us from getting impatient and casting spells on the other.”  Harry was doubtful about this, but Voldemort seemed to regard the matter as closed, as he took his eyes off Harry and turned to his own right.

 

“You will be pleased,” he announced, “that I have arranged for us to have an audience when we duel.  Oh, none of my Death Eaters – I wouldn’t want you to have to fight in front of a hostile crowd, and in any case I plan to work some magic that I don’t care to have them witness.  No, but when I impressed upon them how important it was to have the right audience, they went out most efficiently and invited some of the people that you and I would most want to have in attendance.  Observe.”

 

He flicked his wand, and suddenly Ginny was visible, her ankles encased in the very rock of the wall.  “I was most anxious to have Miss Weasley, as I was sure her voice would be the most effective means of leading you through my little enchanted forest to my new home here.  And to keep her company …” Another flick and Molly, Arthur, and George were visible, similarly shackled.  “… a few more members of the family.”  Suddenly he dropped the pretence of cordiality, and his voice went cold.  “And now the most important guests of all.”  He flicked his wand yet again, somewhat farther to his right, and to Harry’s unsurprised sorrow, Ron and Hermione appeared.

 

“I’m afraid, Harry, that your friends Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger have made rather a nuisance of themselves.  In fact I’m rather surprised at you, that you would associate with such people.  Why, while there was no doubt important work for them to be doing, I saw these two needlessly and wantonly kill my dear, harmless Nagini.  Their behavior was so disgraceful that I actually spent most of the time that I was waiting for you to arrive in considering what a suitable punishment might be.

 

“I must admit that since his not untimely passing I have found a certain respect for your old Headmaster, and I have even started to entertain the possibility that there may be some grain of truth in even the most ridiculous ideas he was wont to propound.  Come to think of it, I actually began doing that somewhat before he died.  You see, as you no doubt know, Dumbledore was always going on about the importance of `love.’”  Voldemort spoke the word as if it were some disgusting thing on the floor that he was obliged to clean up.  “So last year I experimented with it and found, rather to my surprise, that it can be quite effective.  It managed to impel that young Malfoy lad to try to end the old fool’s life, and at the same time it was very useful in keeping his over-ambitious father in line.  Delightful, no?

 

“And so I thought I might take this opportunity to try out another of Dumbledore’s daft ideas.  I remember him telling me, not so long ago, that there are worse things than death.  Absurd on the face of it, I thought, but … could there be some truth to it?  So I determined to perform another experiment:  One of these two will die, and for the other we will prepare a punishment that the old man would likely have considered worse than death.  Now, I wondered, what could that be?  And inspiration came quickly to me as I thought once again of Dumbledore’s fascination with this `love.’  What could Dumbledore have considered worse, I asked myself, than for one to kill a person that one loves?  Your friends seem to be engaged to be married, so we will simply arrange for one of them to kill the other.

 

“Ah, but which one lives and which one dies?  At first I thought I might give them the choice – that would make for a fascinating experiment, would it not?  Then it occurred to me that it might be more mannerly for me to sacrifice science for hospitality, and let you, my guest, make the choice.  But finally the realization struck me that there was in fact a simple, correct answer to the question.  Mr. Weasley comes from a large family, and so there are several people he `loves’ that he can be compelled to murder.  Since I am by no means convinced that it is even possible to inflict a greater punishment than death, it is obviously important to make his alternative punishment as severe as possible.  So Mr. Weasley will kill Ms. Granger, and then the rest of the members of his family in turn.

 

“Now no doubt you have heard of people being so overcome with remorse for things they have done that they take their own lives.  We wouldn’t want Mr. Weasley to do something like that, though – it would ruin the experiment if he were to choose his own death.  Fortunately, there is magic to prevent this.  Have you ever heard, Harry, of a Horcrux?”

 

Harry carefully avoided reacting.

 

“No?  I suppose they still don’t teach about them at Hogwarts.  It is a rather simple spell, actually, by which one ensconces a fragment of one’s soul in a suitable material object.  Performing a murder conveniently detaches a piece of your soul and makes it available for storage.  And with it safely stored in your Horcrux, your soul is firmly anchored in the world so that you do not die even if your body is destroyed.”

 

“So I suppose you have one?” Harry asked noncommittally, hoping for useful information.

 

Voldemort laughed unpleasantly.  “Do I have one?  My dear Harry, I have five, soon to be six.  Three that honor my illustrious ancestor here, and – soon – one to establish my mastery over each of the other three of the Hogwarts founders.  Imagine, Harry:  one soul in seven houses.  How grand!

 

“I must say, however, that Gryffindor, and you, proved rather difficult.  Your late Headmaster would not allow me access to the only object known to have been owned by Gryffindor, so I was forced to expend considerable effort finding another one.  Seventeen years ago I brought it with me to a place called Godric’s Hollow, thinking to use your murder to make my sixth and final Horcrux.  But somehow my Killing Curse backfired, and although my first five Horcruxes prevented my dying, Gryffindor’s cloak-clasp was again lost.  Eventually, while some of my more incompetent servants were making a pig’s ear of helping me restore myself to a body, I admit that I lost patience and decided to give up on procuring a relic of Gryffindor.  In part, this was because I had conceived a truly fascinating idea:  I would make Nagini into a Horcrux – no one has ever made a Horcrux out a living being before.  Your insolent little friends have now made that impossible, of course, and for that they must pay.  But it is no matter, since in the confusion of battle I was finally able to secure this.”

 

He lifted Gryffindor’s sword from a nearby stone slab, turning it so Harry could see it well.  Tossing it casually back onto the slab, he continued, “And when I am done with it, I will even be able to return it to its accustomed place in the Headmaster’s office.  But I digress.  To keep your friend Mr. Weasley from killing himself, we shall have him make a Horcrux for himself, using his first murder.  Now we do need a suitable object to be his Horcrux, but I see that there is one right at hand.  On Miss Granger’s hand, in fact – that ring will do quite nicely.  Once we are done with the spell, I will simply enlarge it a bit and then wear it for safekeeping.

 

“But now it seems to me that Miss Granger may be getting off rather lightly here, and we can’t have that.  So we shall perform a second experiment at the same time as the first.  You see, some of my Death Eaters have reported to me that if you maintain the Cruciatus curse on a Muggle for long enough, its body simply gives up and it dies.  It seems to me that the same should be true of Muggle-borns, don’t you think?  Well, we shall see.  Mr. Weasley will simply cast the Cruciatus curse on Miss Granger and maintain it either until she dies, or … well, until she dies.

 

“But enough of this talk.  Let us begin.”

 

A wand flew through the air into Ron’s hand.  His wand.  Quick as thought, Ron shot a nonverbal Stunning spell straight at Voldemort, who parried it effortlessly and chuckled horrifically.  “Harry!” Ron shouted in a constricted voice, “Kill me if I can’t fight him off.”  His trembling wand hand jerked toward Hermione; in short order his wand was trained on her.  “Kill me if I can’t stop it, Harry, kill me if I can’t CCCruCrCrumllrrgh.”  Blood streamed out from his mouth and dribbled down his chin.

 

“Cretinous fool,” Voldemort snarled, “You think you can stop me by biting through your tongue, do you?  Well, boy, you should know that a wizard with sufficient skill and motivation can cast the Cruciatus nonverbally.  You, of course, have neither.  Fortunately I can provide you with both.”

 

In an instant Hermione fell screaming to the floor, the rock shackles still encircling her ankles holding her in a grotesque pose.  Blood drizzled from Ron’s chin and he trembled all over from the futile effort to resist Voldemort’s Imperius curse. 

 

Watching his friends’ ordeal was just as agonizing for Harry.  In his mind’s eye he saw replayed dozens, hundreds of scenes of friendship, all his memories of his first real friends, the first two people since his parents who really loved him.  Hermione’s screams and the Weasleys’ shouts, the horror of the whole situation, made conscious thought impossible; he could do nothing more than feel his blood boiling with love and compassion and empathy for his suffering friends.  Presently Voldemort’s roaring added to the din that filled the Chamber.  Harry’s head no longer belonged to him; it was taken over by Ron’s voice, echoing over and over, “Kill me if I can’t fight him off.  Kill me if I can’t stop it.”  Could he do it, though?  Could he kill his best friend, even if it was to save him from what Voldemort was planning for him?  Other voices joined the argument.  “To the well-organized mind, death is just the next great adventure.”  “Nothing is worse than death.”  “Killing rips the soul apart.”  “Your failure to understand that there are things much worse than death …”  “The soul is supposed to remain intact and whole.”  “The supreme act of evil …”  “Splitting it is an act of violation.”  “… has always been your greatest weakness.”  Harry closed his ears to the noise around him; he shoved the cacophonous voices out of his mind.  They were no longer needed.  He had made up his mind.  He knew what fate awaited Ron if he did not act.  He could not allow that to happen to his best friend.  He would give his life to prevent it if he could, but he had no way to do that.  He would need to give even more.  He would have to live, not die, but live with the memory of having murdered his best friend.  Live as a murderer, an outcast in the Wizarding world.  Live with the hatred of all those who had ever loved him.  Live with his own soul rent in two.  And for Ron he would do it.

 

With nothing left in him but the will to kill, to kill Ron in order to save him, he aimed his wand, screwed his eyes shut, and intoned, “Avada Kedavra.”

 

Nothing.

 

No green light.  No feeling of power.  No sense of having done magic at all.  Harry opened his eyes to the dreadful sight of Ron standing, very much alive, his wand still trained on the witch he loved.  Ron, still bound for the abominable existence that Voldemort had planned for him – the abominable existence that Harry was unable to deliver him from.  For a frozen moment of time, Harry merely existed, in an empty world.  Empty of comfort.  Empty of warmth.  Empty of everything but failure.

 

Empty of sound.  Harry realized that everything had indeed gone silent; it horrified him even through his numbness.  Hermione had stopped screaming.  She was dead.  Ron was a murderer.  Soon half of his ruined soul would be imprisoned in the very ring he had placed on her hand with a promise of eternal love, and the ring would be on Voldemort’s hand, a toy to be turned at his whim.  And Harry was powerless to prevent it.

 

Then, after an eternal second of silent hell, sound returned to the world.  Ron’s wand clattered to the floor of the Chamber.  Hermione whimpered.  And from somewhere to Harry’s right came a heavy, dull thud.

 

Harry watched as if from another world as Ron, the shackles gone from his ankles, dropped to his knees with excruciating slowness and gathered his fiancée in his arms, bleeding into her hair as he tried to minister to her.  Far to the side he heard Weasleys falling to the floor, their shackles evidently having vanished also.  Turning to his right, Harry beheld a vision of Voldemort collapsed in an unnatural heap, every visible patch of his skin moon-white.  He walked mechanically toward it, and when he reached it the vision was one of a corpse.  Its hand – Voldemort’s hand – still clutched a wand.  Harry pointed his wand at its wrist and murmured, “Diffindo.”  The hand fell off and hit the floor with a very real sound, and from the arm it had come from Harry heard a rush, a hiss as if of escaping gas.  There was no blood.

 

Then something hit him hard from behind, and there were slender arms across his chest.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

When it came time to deal with the last seven people to see Voldemort alive, St. Mungo’s showed itself at its best.  The Healers immediately understood that most of the harm the seven had suffered was mental rather than physical, and that consequently they were the people best able to heal one another.  To facilitate this, the physical plant staff cleared the Ministerial ward and magically rearranged the interior walls to create a suite of comfortable, interconnecting rooms.  The security staff already had a plan for keeping unwanted visitors away from the ward should the Minister of Magic be hospitalized; even though it wasn’t the Minister this time, their best people jumped at the opportunity to implement it.

 

For Ron and Hermione, who had suffered the most physical damage, the prognosis was much better than it might have been.  Hermione was responding well to her therapy for extended exposure to the Cruciatus curse; the Healers had wisely put her and Ron together in one room as part of that therapy.  Her forelegs required much more effort, though.  They had been shattered when she collapsed from the Cruciatus curse while her ankles were still held by Voldemort’s stone shackles.  The Healers had painstakingly fitted the dozens of fragments of bone back together, and Hermione was expected to walk again, although not any time soon.  Repairing Ron’s mangled tongue had been simple by comparison, but it would still be some time before he could use it without pain.

 

“We’d better enjoy the silence while we’ve got it, then,” Harry suggested to Hermione, as he visited the next morning.

 

“What silence?” Hermione replied with arched eyebrows.

 

“Yeah, wha’ hsiyess?” Ron attempted to echo.  Harry looked back from Ron to Hermione.  Her lips were pursed, and she rolled her eyes.  In a moment all three were laughing hysterically.

 

The soft swish of the door opening and closing was completely drowned out by the uproar, so they were all taken by surprise when the visitor spoke.  “Well, if it isn’t my three star pupils, if I may be so bold as to claim you as mine?”

 

“Prof–,” Harry began brightly, but the visitor cut him off.

 

Remus, please, and I’ll thank you to forget that I mentioned anything about ‘pupils’.  I do believe you are all well beyond that.”

 

“But, Professor, we still have –”

 

“Yes, I understand that, Hermione, but I think you also understand what I meant,” Lupin replied, Summoning a chair and settling into it.

 

“Ow i you ge i?”

 

Lupin had just taken a breath to speak, but this brought him up short.

 

“He asked, ‘how did you get in?’” Hermione translated.

 

“You can understand that?” Harry asked in wonderment.  “You’d better get married, then!”  Hermione’s blush was disappointingly faint.

 

“How did I get in?” Lupin chuckled.  “Well, Ron, it seems your parents have taken quite firm control over who is allowed in and who is not.”

 

“Surprise, surprise,” Harry deadpanned.

 

“Yes, and the St. Mungo’s security staff are doing admirably.  Scrimgeour was simply apoplectic when I was let in – I thought he was about to do accidental magic.  Wouldn’t that have been a scene?  Of course, he was already livid because the guards wouldn’t let him into the ward that’s normally reserved for his use.  And to make matters worse, they did let his junior assistant in.”

 

Percy?

 

“The very same.  He’s now in the foyer of the ward, having a little heart-to-heart with the rest of the family.”

 

“I ho ey wip i ow of hi shesh.”

 

“Ron!” Hermione scolded.  “I’m quite sure they won’t!”

 

“Won’t what?” Harry and Lupin asked together.

 

“Wip hish hah –”

 

“Rip his heart out of his chest,” Hermione announced with indignation.

 

“I doubt that that would make a heart-to-heart chat any easier,” Lupin observed dryly.  “Hermione is right –”

 

“For once,” Harry broke in, and Hermione blushed much more satisfyingly as Ron and Lupin laughed.

 

“As I was saying,” Lupin continued, “Percy, to his credit, hasn’t shown any interest in using his family connection to get his boss past the guards.  I hope that proves to be something upon which a rapprochement can be built.”

 

Harry saw Hermione tense up and glance surreptitiously toward Ron.  He turned toward Ron himself.  Ron was looking away to the side, his jaw set.  Slowly, he started to nod, then crossed his fingers.  Hermione smiled, and her shoulders dropped a little.

 

“Prof– Remus,” Harry asked, “have you heard about what happened in the Chamber?”

 

Lupin nodded.  “Arthur told me the story before letting me in here.”

 

“Do you have any idea how it happened?”

 

Lupin flopped back in his chair and looked toward the ceiling.  “Harry, Harry, Harry,” he chuckled.  “You and the Killing Curse are going to keep a lot of us busy for a very long time.  First you survive it, which, of course, no one has ever done before, and still, after – what is it, about seventeen years now? – no one has anything more than a guess as to how.  Then you get it to do something else it has never been known to do before:  kill someone other than the one on whom it was cast.  And now, two days later, you’re asking me to explain it?”  He looked around the room, inviting wry smiles from the teenagers to match his own.  “But seriously, Harry, nobody knows precisely how the Killing Curse works, even without Harry Potter to further muddy the waters.  You’ll have noticed,” he continued, nodding toward Hermione, “that the incantation is not based on Latin, as is the case for most of our spells.  The working of the magic itself is similarly unusual.  Most of us who investigate the Dark Arts are of the opinion that the Killing Curse is related to the uncontrolled magic that Wizard children perform, especially Muggle-borns and those like you, Harry, who grow up among Muggles.  You and Hermione will certainly remember, and perhaps you do also, Ron, you will remember situations in which you involuntarily performed magic when under severe duress?”

 

“I remember one time when I was around eight, some bigger boys were chasing me, and when they’d almost caught me I suddenly found myself on the roof of the school.  With no idea how I got there.”

 

Lupin and Ron looked at each other wide-eyed.  “Appa’ishin?” Ron whispered.  Lupin nodded, then shook his head slowly before continuing.

 

“Right, well, it’s believed that the Killing Curse works in a similar way.  The Dark wizard trains himself to regard his victim’s continued existence as an intolerable situation.  He then unleashes this primitive, nearly uncontrolled magic to rectify that situation.  In your case, Harry, you certainly found yourself in an intolerable situation.  Perhaps the curse found another solution than the one you envisioned.”

 

“But Harry,” Hermione said, “you told us that you hadn’t even felt like you had worked magic.”  She turned to Lupin.  “Shouldn’t he have at least realized that he’d done magic if it happened that way?”  Lupin shrugged.  “I think it might be something else.  I remember you telling us, Harry, about the night Voldemort came back – how he used your blood as part of the spell to make himself a body.  Well, there’s a magical connection between blood and love, isn’t there?  So his using your blood would have created a connection between the two of you, and whenever you felt love it would have affected him as well.”

 

Harry looked skeptical.  “So he’d start to get all romantic, you think?”

 

“Don’t be silly.  He had cut himself off from love as completely as possible since he was a child.”  She started to turn pink as she continued, “So completely that even his body wasn’t, … you know, …”

 

“Ma’ wi’ wuv,” Ron offered helpfully.

 

“Yes,” she said, struggling to regain her composure.  “Anyway, I’d bet that whenever you felt love it pained him.”

 

“Like my scar but in reverse?” Harry mused.

 

“Exactly.  And so when you chose to end your friend’s life to save him from what was about to happen, and to accept everything that that would do to you, that much love just overcame him.”

 

Lupin considered this for a minute.  “An interesting hypothesis, Hermione.  May we never have the opportunity to test it.”

 

 

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A/N:  1.  Inuit hunters will steer a boat to reach shore at a point well to one side of where they want to go, so that they will know which way to turn when they reach the shore.  Turning the wrong way, in the Arctic, would be fatal.  See Shadow of the Hunter, a wonderful ethnography by Richard K. Nelson.  Strategist that he is, Ron would probably think of that on his own.

2. I know “snake flesh” is two words, but I think the neologism “snakeflesh” is more evocative.  To me, snake flesh is just the flesh of a snake.  Snakeflesh is something altogether more sinister.

3.  Thanks again to Zsenya for helping me clarify the things that I hadn’t intentionally made unclear.

//
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