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I Could Not Stop For Death

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At the flick of a yew wand, the locked door swung soundlessly open.

 Perhaps, if his pale skin had not slowly been turning hard and scaled and brittle with inhumanity, he would have felt the rush of warm air that seeped from the nursery. Perhaps, if his dark red eyes were not charged with a most vicious act of murder, he would have seen the brightness clinging to the room despite the darkness of the night. As it was, he did not. 

 Lily Evans turned around, dark red hair wreathing her head with a crackle of tingling static. Her pupils were mere pinpricks against her vivid green eyes, which widened on her starkly greyed face as she took sight of the monster in the doorway. She was leaning heavily against the crib in the middle of the room, trembling with the effort to stay upright and strong. Her ragged breath was the only sound in the room, far louder than the gentle sough outside the window.

 Tom Riddle, swathed in rich black from hem to hood, stepped into the room and raised his white wand with satisfied conviction towards her chest. Cruel red eyes met desperate green, and the beginnings of a smile curved around his seared lips.

 If it were possible, Lily’s bright eyes became even wider. She flung herself wholly around, arms spread and chest open, and stood shakingly between Riddle and the crib – unarmed and desperate.

 “No,” she said hoarsely, and then louder: “Not Harry.”

 “Stand aside,” Riddle commanded.

 “NO. Not Harry!”

 Lily’s voice increased sharply in volume and pitch, until she was screaming at the top of her lungs.

 “Not Harry, not Harry!”

 The sound was jagged, excruciating, against the quiet.

 “Please not Harry!”

 Her face was ugly with tears and she could barely stay on her feet.  

 “Stand aside, you silly girl… stand aside, now…”

 There was no wavering of the yew wand. Riddle’s inhumanly edged face was now twisted with impatience, upset with disgust, annoyed at having his murderous high interrupted. He took another step forward, into the grating screams, grip tight and ready.

 “Not Harry, please no,” Lily begged. Her back slumped against the crib, elbows and arms the only thing keeping her upright as Riddle advanced. “Take me,” she offered desperately. “Kill me instead!”

 Something that might have been laughter bubbled from Riddle’s lips, shrill and distorted almost beyond all recognition. The offer amused him somehow and his dark red eyes welled with malicious mirth. He looked down on the woman before him with delighted pity.

 “Not Harry! Please… have mercy… haVE MERCY…”

 Lily Evans screamed and Tom Riddle shrieked with laughter. The tangled sounds echoed through the nursery, down the hall and the stairs, and all throughout the cottage. And underneath the horror of noise, a hitched sort of sobbing began – the quiet and confused crying of a small child.

 “Stand aside,” Riddle said, for the third and last time.

 The noise that Lily Evans made was not a natural sounding noise. Through heaving lungs and brimming tears, Lily screamed her refusal. It was the word ‘No’, but scraped raw and raked shrill and twisted beyond speech and human sound. It was a sob, a snarl, pure fury, pure fear – a scream that could have become the making of a myth if there were witnesses to this scene.

 It was a sound so terrible that even Tom Riddle had to pause at the banshee scream.

 When the woman before him ran out of breath, she tried to heave in air and choked on it. Sputtering and shaking, Lily struggled for breath before a monster. She hacked and gasped and shuddered. And all the while, through streams of tears, she kept her bright green eyes fixed on him in an unbreaking stare.

 “K… Kill me instead,” she said, voice wasted.

 Riddle stared and then once more laughed his terrible, twisted laugh.

 “So be it,” he said.

 Perhaps, if his measure of a witch had not begun and ended with her as a thing to possess, he would have noticed the way the shadows darkened and the brightness subtly surged, throwing the room into a sharp and unnatural contrast. Perhaps, if Tom Riddle’s focus were not so wholly on the vanquished prophecy and seventh piece of his path in such close reach before him, he would have seen how, in the blink of an eye, the nursery rose and swallowed these three careless words.

Perhaps, if he had not already accepted his long-awaited victory before it was his, he would have seen how the nursery finally fell into the proper, natural darkness of a bedroom at night. There was so much he might have noticed, from the sudden lack of warmth to the quiet banishment of the itch in the air, if only his hairy heart was not increasing in beat with greedy anticipation.

 The words settled around them, swallowed by the warmth and brightness occupying the nursery as the nursery swallowed it. So be it. The room was quiet and dark with acceptance of the statement.

 Lily Evans struggled to be fully upright once more, ignoring the whimpers behind her, trying to stand tall.

 Tom Riddle did not wait for her; he raised his wand and howled, “AVADA KEDAVRA!

 The terrible green light struck her in the centre of the chest. Lily Evans, still trying to push herself high as it struck, simply crumpled to the floor. There was no pause, no seizure of limbs, no space between breaths. Lily Evans simply collapsed like a marionette whose strings had been cut.

 Her limbs fell at awkward angles – no longer trembling, but perfectly, eerily still. Her dark red hair spilled over the floor, limp and tangled. Her expression was unremarkable, but her eyes were still open and now strangely dulled, as though a light had gone out behind them. As though something had been turned off inside. 

 Standing over the corpse, Riddle’s red eyes gleamed with a new rush of cruel victory. He stared, clearly savouring the moment, but he did not stare for long before turning an impatient look towards the soft crying in the crib. Riddle stepped forward, over the fallen body of the mother, and let his wand next fall down on the sobbing child inside with more satisfied conviction and premature victory. He allowed for one moment to give the child a look of pity and disgust, but no longer.

 “Avada Kevadra!” Riddle cast again.

 Ghastly green light surged from the yew wand, only inches from the crying child’s forehead.

 There was no pause, no space between breaths, not even a split-second to blink before the Death Curse reared and turned itself on its caster. The nursery surged.  Green light shone bright as day and the shadows were their darkest yet, and both sides of the sharp contrast pounced on Tom Riddle and tore into his seared white skin. The air, suddenly hot and crackling with destruction, rushed forward and ripped into his dark red eyes.

 Tom Riddle screamed, alight with pain and green light, blinded and crumbling piece by piece into green-burnt ash and crackling dust. His limbs fell apart beneath him, collapsing inward, disintegrating. Tom Riddle screamed as his own spell undid what had become of him, destroyed the human-shaped shell beyond twisted by Dark rituals and crueller, even greedier acts. His black robes broiled around him, as green light and promised shadows pushed him to his breaking knees and seared him clean.

 A yew wand clattered to the floor, fallen through withering fingers.

The noise that Tom Riddle made died with a broken gurgle, fading into a terrified whine, before being cut off with a final crackle. All, by then, that was left of him was a scorch-like smear and dust on the floor with a dissipating greenish glow. The only sound left was the gentle rustling from outside the window.

 Then, after several minutes, small lungs taking in a deep gasp. And then there was a pained wail from the child in the crib, surprised and hurt.

 Around them, the nursery had settled with only the faintest of buzzes, one to be felt rather than heard, as the green light had faded and the shadows had softened back into the rest of the dark room – and as the heat in the air had drifted off and left a slight chill in its wake. Quiet normalcy had returned to the terrible scene, and stayed there as the child in the crib wailed out anew to an emptied house, blood dribbling down from a fresh lightning-shaped cut on their forehead.

Harry Potter howled, not knowing what had just happened, not knowing that he would be famous for a deed he had not done and would not remember. He could not know that this very moment was just the beginning of the boy who lived.