The Road to Hell
The sounds of screaming stabbed his ears as the valley smouldered. Acrid smoke tore at his throat, turning each swallow into a burning stab of pain; it was all he could taste, all he could smell, all he could see.
It’s fucking everywhere.
The screaming swelled louder still. Each shrill note was like a twisting dagger in his chest.
Harry brandished the Elder Wand. Pools of lava rose from the cratered earth, twisting into an undulating shield. Uphill, emerald flashes lit the gnarled trunks and tangled brambles of the forest sheltering their enemies. He could briefly make out the casters before their curses flared against his molten shield.
He thrust the wand and the lava surged forward.
We can’t let them advance.
Screams emanated from the now blazing trees, but the unburned returned fire.
Shields flared along the frontline and by their pearly light Harry watched the blood spray from those who had been too slow.
A delirious laugh caught in the back of his throat. We have to fall back. Fuck, why must there be wards?
“Someone go find Kingsley — tell him to order a retreat!”
A soldier stumbled off to Harry’s right. “Retreat where?” The Elder Wand snapped up to shield the soldier from an incoming curse.
Hatred roiled inside him. Damn them! Damn anyone who fights for him!
“Sir?” Harry looked down and blanched at the mess of mousy hair.
Familiar faces mocked him. Lupin, Tonks, Fred, Colin, Ron, and all the others who had died that night at Hogwarts because he had refused to face Voldemort.
“Either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives.”
I’m sorry, Colin. We had to take who we could get, there are hardly any of us left.
“Under Mount Othrys. Retreat to the tunnels; Bill Weasley led a team down there hours ago. Follow his tracks.”
“B-but sir, they haven’t come back. There could be curses, or wards, or—”
“Just do it!” Dennis stumbled down a jagged slope; his silhouette was soon lost amidst the cratered earth and lifeless corpses.
Curses broke against Harry’s newly conjured shield as he surveyed the battle.
His troop was nestled in a cramped, blood-soaked valley. Looming mountains surrounded the battle on three sides, their silhouettes like grim giants stretching out across the pockmarked dirt.
An explosion sent him sprawling. Shards of stone slashed his skin, leaving searing gashes that brimmed with scarlet wells of blood. Pain stabbed through his hip, that old lingering injury flaring up.
His head spun from the ringing in his ears and his vision was too blurred to decipher why his robes were so hot and damp. What the fuck is that smell?
He forced himself upright and wiped crimson-stained clumps from his robes. The men in front of him were gone.
He banished the debris uphill, stepping onto newly conjured stone and filling an opening on the frontline.
He brandished his wand and tore up several trees. They crashed through the forest, unseating dark figures from their wooded perches.
The conducted trees ignited and lurched at him, but Harry wrenched back control and sent them on another sweep through the forest. Orange light blazed through a gap in the trees, but it died as fast as it had started.
They had a dedicated group putting out fires. What I wouldn’t do for so many men.
“Fall back!” Kingsley bellowed. Finally! “Retreat to Mount Othrys! Move North!”
“Go!” Harry ordered when those around him hesitated. Curses fell and hissed around them. “I’ll buy you time!”
No one asked questions. Why would they? I’m the Chosen One.
He choked down his bitterness and unleashed his emerald Fiendfyre.
The flames cackled as they consumed the hillside; the sound grated like steel grinding against steel but a hundred times worse.
He coughed, surrounded once again by great gouts of smoke. How is there so much smoke? The fire just started burning. Icy fingers closed inside his stomach. Fuck!
Crimson flames wrapped around his own. The Elder Wand shuddered and he gave in, pouring magic into his spell until it overwhelmed the other.
The flames billowed, spreading so fast they would soon engulf the valley. His knees trembled and the beginnings of fatigue crept up his legs.
The fire choked out and left a scarlet lake where the hill and forest had once stood.
A tall shadow crept towards him, cloaked by a nearby pillar of smoke. “Such power.”
Harry wiped ashen sweat from his brow with the back of his hand and forced a smile. “Evening, Tom. Lovely night — if you ignore all the smoke.”
“Why must you play dress-up? You make a poor imitation of a man long dead.”
Funny how often I think that. A pang resounded through him when he thought of Dumbledore, but he bared his teeth. “Why must you stand here and preach?”
“I want you to understand how hopeless this all is before I kill you.”
“Hopeless? I’m surprised you’ll still face me now without your horcruxes.”
Red eyes shone through the smoke like a pair of coals still burning in a long-extinguished hearth. “You take too much pride in what you’ve done when it was all by my allowance.”
“Your allowance?” His heartbeat thundered in his ears. “Did you allow me to escape the graveyard? Did you allow me to destroy those horcruxes?”
“Have you never considered what happened the moment I took you seriously?”
Ron’s death had appeared in his dreams too many times to count. Hermione’s fall into madness had been worse. Shame still filled him when recalling the night she had left.
No! Don’t think about that! You’re letting him win!
He slashed the Elder Wand and sent a storm of curses rolling towards Voldemort, who disapparated despite the wards.
Harry followed him to a distant clearing. The first curse came not a second later — a jet of green light that missed his ear by inches.
Boulders spun around him and absorbed the maelstrom of spells Voldemort rained down from a nearby cliff.
Harry disapparated, appearing on a neighbouring peak just above Voldemort, who conjured the same silver shield Harry had used so many times that night.
Harry appeared behind Voldemort as he vanished.
His next jump took him closer to Mount Othrys. He sidestepped another killing curse and returned a volley of his own, ignoring the dull ache of his reaggravated hip.
The rocks behind him shuddered and he sent a gout of golden fire at Voldemort, then turned to face the stony serpent rising from the ground. Seizing control of two more trees from a nearby forest, he transfigured wood to metal and pounded them into the stony snake.
Fiendfyre surged from Voldemort’s wand. It rose higher than the treetops as it took the twisted shape of a basilisk with burning fangs bared.
Harry grimaced. His limbs throbbed with the familiar ache of exhaustion. The last thing he wanted was to cast more Fiendfyre. Not that he’s giving me much choice.
His own green flames rushed forth, dimmer now. Trees burned to ash where the two spells met and the ground around them crumbled. The smoke obscured his sight and choked his breaths.
An unseen spell clipped his knee. Pain and panic flared. Shit!
He appeared next at the foot of the mountain, gasping and staggering. The sun had sunk further behind the peak at his back. Scarce streaks of orange stretched across a darkening sky, the final shreds of daylight fading fast.
Harry’s breath hitched; his knee was on fire — the pain nearly consumed him.
I can’t lose!
A barrage of curses came swift as gunfire. His hasty shield faltered and he staggered, slashing the wand in Voldemort’s direction.
The Dark Lord leapt skyward just as the air around him crackled. A rippling wall of heat flared out from where he had stood, charring stones and vaporizing earth.
Voldemort swooped down, cloak ablaze. Harry’s foot snagged. Thunder boomed.
He tried breathing — nothing happened but for the searing of his ribs and the throbbing of his hip, knee, and ankle. I’m dead. Never had he imagined that death would hurt so much.
That couldn’t be right.
If I’m not dead, why is everything so dark? The answer swam up through murky depths. The tunnels; he blasted me into the tunnels.
He tried standing, but it was like flames had burst alight just above his heel.
I have to hide. Dark spots crept across his vision as he reached into the pocket of his now singed robes. Don’t faint; just a little longer.
His fingers closed around smooth silk. He wrenched the cloak from his pocket, teeth gritted against the pain, as the sound of approaching footsteps reached him.
The footsteps paused. Harry’s heart thundered against his flaring ribs.
“I expected better,” Voldemort jeered. “You can’t hide from death, Harry. Face me! Die the way your father died.”
He sensed probing magic. “Playing hide and seek beneath your father’s cloak? It doesn’t matter. I will comb every inch of these caves until I find you.”
A boot stepped just inches from his head, then moved on and continued down the tunnel.
Harry let the footsteps retreat before lifting his head. It was nearly too dark to see, but he could just make out a fork up ahead and heard Voldemort going left.
The entrance was too far behind him — he would never make it back. Right it is. If he could create enough distance between him and Voldemort, perhaps he could rest long enough to heal himself.
He scrambled through the tunnel on all fours and lurched blindly around a corner. His heart froze as he tumbled forward and began falling.
The stone walls bellowed his spell back at him a hundred times.
A jolt ran up his spine and lanced through his burning ribs as he slammed against cool rock.
At least I’m alive.
Torches blazed along circular walls, held by roughly-hewn brackets etched with faded runes. The flames revealed smoothed, weathered stones and yawning blackness overhead
Something long and wooden lay against the backmost wall, covered in countless faded carvings. A sarcophagus? Nearby, a stone plinth jutted up some five feet from the floor. He squinted up; seeing what perched atop that plinth was difficult from his place sprawling on the cold hard stones.
Whatever it was leapt down; leather handle smacking into his palm. What the fuck? I never summoned that. Streaks of gold glittered in the torchlight, set into a grip that remained smooth despite its age. What the hell is a scythe doing down here?
Harry sensed him and looked up. A bone-white face descended through the darkness, its owner’s black cloak rustling.
The cloak! Where the fuck is the cloak?
Voldemort’s feet touched down. “I hoped for a more dramatic end, but no matter. Be proud, Harry. You were almost my equal.”
“Either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives.”
Death’s fingers reached out from Voldemort’s wand. Harry raised the scythe.
The pain was like nothing he had ever known; his bones were acid, his blood was fire. The scythe had exploded — it must have because something was melting his hands and arms. The pain was in his chest, consuming everything but the golden light that filled his eyes then faded away to nothing.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
— Henry G. Bohn
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