Hermione lifted her head weakly, heart thumping an erratic beat of adrenaline inside her chest. She was overwhelmed.
She was also freezing.
The older man who had rushed them from the office when the alarms began was looking down a hawkish nose at her, eyes narrowed.
Hermione wet dry lips and tried a smile. It hardly wobbled at all.
"I'm… I'm Hermione Potter. This is my husband. We… are going to leave, ah… now."
That sounded good. Hermione glanced up at Harry, who was staring directly at her chest.
If her cheeks hadn't already been flushed, they would have reddened at his inconvenient gaze placement.
"Right?" Hermione nudged him sharply. "Time to go?"
He blinked at her, smiled in that way that almost, almost made her forgive him for the last weeks.
"Yes, let's go."
"No one is going anywhere until I am told exactly what is going on here." The same man, face a cold mask of anger. "Immediately."
Even as she opened her mouth to say something, another robed wizard stepped forward, Russian spilling from his lips in sharp tones.
Somewhere in there, she heard the word for Minister, and felt her heart sink. The Russian Minister was not known for being easy to get along with. Quite the opposite.
The Minister narrowed his gaze at them as he listened to his aids chatter away hurriedly. A quick glance up at Harry told her he didn't seem the least concerned about the development. He hadn't even glanced at the other people.
Or maybe he had. It was hard to tell, when a person could look without using their eyes.
"We thank you for your service in detaining Lady Isabeau." Hermione's eyes darted back to the Minister, who had folded thin arms across his chest. "Are they correct, that you intend to leave with the artifact?"
Hermione froze in her husband's embrace, then pulled away.
There, held loosely in his right hand, was a gleaming bone-white wand, its surface pockmarked with circular grooves and knobs. The staff he normally held in his right hand was on the ground at their feet, unnoticed.
"It's mine." Harry's voice was rougher than she remembered, his face a mask of neutrality.
"It belongs to the Russian Ministry, per the deal we made with the British Ministry when we sent our extraction team to their aid. It was unfortunate Isabeau had difficulty with its mental effects, and we are grateful for your aid. But this... artifact, is not yours by conquest."
Harry stepped away from her and lifted the wand with a casual gesture. Hermione didn't so much as blink an eyelash as she saw over a dozen wands raise in threatening response.
Over their robed shoulders, she saw Vaughn and Lucy looking furious.
Not good. Not good, not good, not good.
"This artifact, Minister?" Harry asked politely.
The wizard opposite them, arms still folded, lifted his chin.
"Return it to us, and you are free to leave. A monetary sum will be sent to your vault for any inconvenience you or your family have had here."
If Hermione hadn't turned to stare directly at the innocent looking wand in his hand, she would have missed it when it happened.
The wand… dissolved. White wood lost its rigidity and then seemed to melt through his fingers and into his skin, drying into nothing but a dark silver stain across his right hand, leaving a swirling mass of lines that gleamed wetly in the midday light.
The Minister's hands dropped to his side, clenching into fists.
"What have you done?!"
Her husband smiled, eyes gazing beyond the Minister and into the gathering crowd.
"The artifact, as you call it, can not be given, only taken. I have taken it. Feel free to take it back."
A long moment of silence. Aurors began to shift uncomfortably as a low murmur began along the edges of the crowd.
Hands holding wands aloft began to droop and then fall as no move was made.
The Minister turned abruptly away, marching steadily into and through his guards and into the rubble of what was left of the garden walls.
Hermione let out a trembling breath.
Then she narrowed her own eyes at the man beside her.
"You have a lot of explaining to do."
Green eyes locked onto her face. He nodded.
Hermione felt her heart clench at the simple words, and tears of all things prick her eyes.
"N-not good enough." She said, and hated how weak her voice was.
"I know." He replied, and closed his eyes, head down repeating the words softly. "I know."
"Good." She tried to force the word out sternly, and thought it a decent effort. "Now you're coming home with me. And before you try to argue, I don't want to hear it. As far as I'm concerned, you're mine, and that means you belong with me. At home. Or, well…" she faltered. "Technically, at Master Snape's house at the moment."
His head lifted as his eyebrows rose with surprise. "Where?"
"You get to explain before I do." She watched Vaughn and Lucy rush towards them, Kraken hardly visible behind their robes. "Now let's get out of here, please."
"Wait." His soft plea made her turn, body clenching with pain and worry and an instinctive brace for yet another emotional blow.
What now. What on earth did he want to wait for now?
"I need to do one more thing." His words, so soft, his eyes reflecting back at her all she felt and more.
"What." Her one word was brittle, bitten out with perfect painful enunciation. At her side, she felt the guards pause, joy at the reunion turning to concern.
"I need to go to the Ministry. It shouldn't take long."
She watched his face, saw the moment his eyes brightened with power, felt his magic like a wave of warmth from her chilly toes to the tip of her cold nose, sinking into the miasma of comfort and security.
She fought against it, and hated the feeling of manipulation, purposeful or not. The very first time she had ever hated its touch.
One word again, one word all she had to give.
He raised his hands, lifting them both out to her so she could see the black markings and the silver ones side by side, see the swirls that moved beneath his skin, there a moment and then gone again, a living testament that he was not the same man who had left her.
But she wasn't the same woman he had left, either.
She straightened her spine.
"I will be waiting up." She said it quietly, purposefully. "Be prepared."
He lifted a hand to brush her cheek, a soft fleeting touch full of meaning.
"I love you."
She watched him leave this time, holding her own international portkey in steady hands as he and Kraken disappeared with a rush of sound.
"I hope you kick his arse." Lucy said with a sniff. Vaughn rumbled in dissatisfaction. He, too, had been left behind, and was none too happy about it.
"Let's go." Hermione said, lifting the portkey into the air.
It was a relief when the magic took her away.
"Its influence is rapidly spreading as we speak, Minister." The head of the Department of Mysteries folded her hands together, voice quick. "Not even a half hour ago it seemed to have reached equilibrium, but now… we've evacuated the entire floor. I've… we've, lost two of our researchers. Some cataclysm is taking place within the Veil that we can not explain or predict. It is unprecedented in all the years we have researched it and its concept. Natural flux and shifts of influence have occurred, sometimes multiple times in a generation, but this…"
Scrimgeour stood by his enchanted window, cane firmly in one hand, and watched the normally placid woman vibrate with intensity.
"This?" He prodded, as her words failed.
The cloaked head tilted up towards him, its face unknowable. "I must recommend we evacuate at least the two floors above us. Perhaps four. Time is of the essence."
He stared at her, letting her words sink in. He was no fool. He knew what happened to those who listened to the whispers from the Veil. And now those whispers were roaring.
A knock at the door made them both turn in time to see it open without waiting for his acknowledgement. A sure sign of an emergency if he had ever known one.
But the witch who poked her head apologetically inside didn't tell him that office drones were grouping en masse to get inside the Department of Mysteries, following the voices of long dead loved ones.
He had a visitor.
Harry appeared in the British Ministry atrium's designated house-elf portation area with hardly a stir at first.
The place bustled with quick movement, the air holding all the portent of a disturbed beehive. He saw the distinctive warded shades of hit wizard and auror robes alike, noticed the increased guard, the wary air.
He noticed when they saw him, how their lights brightened with increased focus and adrenaline.
Harry approached calmly, pace measured, though every fiber of his being told him where he needed to be, what he needed to do.
"I would like to see the Minister." He was amazed at how steady his voice was. "I don't think I'm expected."
The guards heads tilted towards one another in silent communication.
"This way, my Lord." One said, while the other rushed off, no doubt to carry word up ahead of them. It was obvious the auror leading his way stalled a bit too often, stopped to converse with other people, waited a minute too long for the lift. By the time the doors opened and he stepped out, the secretary was standing to meet him, bright lime-green light a frenzy of anxiety.
When he entered the Minister's office however, the man was not alone. Another stood there, cloaked under robes so white with wards he couldn't even see the color of their soul.
"Lord Potter. You finally grace us with your presence." The Minister's voice was cold, deadly. "My congratulations on your successful mission."
He wondered for a moment if the man already knew that the Wand had been retrieved. It occurred to him a second later that there was no way that was possible. He meant the assassination of Lady Luxe.
"I did what I had to do." He said simply, not interested in the least in being commended, and doubtful the Minister intended to do so regardless. The man's voice alone was proof of that.
"I'm afraid I'm busy at the moment." The Minister gestured to the other figure in the room. "If you would like to return later to discuss the past few weeks, I would be..."
"I'm here for the Veil." Harry cut in, feeling the fire in his veins burning ever hotter, the urge to run greater. "I asked you once to see it, and you asked me once to try to destroy it. I'm here, now, to make a new deal."
He saw their reaction, both of them, in the movement of their bodies and the flickers of their energy.
They must feel it too. Perhaps they could even hear it, so quiet it was not even yet a murmur, more of soft whisper across the edges of thought.
"You always ask for a trade." Scrimgeour began carefully. "I always wonder later who gets the better end of it."
"I want a time-turner capable of going back to the day of the attack in Diagon. I will give you my Unbreakable Vow that I will not in any way change the events of that day. I will not stop the man responsible, nor shield my wife, nor prevent the death of any lives that were lost."
The Minister let out a long breath of air, shoulders stiffening as if under a great weight. "Even if, even if, we possessed a time-turner capable of going back into time that long ago, even if I agreed to consider, let alone actually, giving it to you, why go back if you don't plan to change anything? Do you take me for a fool?"
Harry closed eyes that didn't matter, took a breath and watched it move through him, his body a living, solid thing.
"I know you have one. I know, because I saw myself that morning. Is it not enough, to want to see my pregnant wife and unborn child one last time? To see myself, before I become what I am?"
A whisper murmured on the air then, quiet, pleading in the voice of someone he knew.
The white warded person moved to the door like lightning had struck, a feminine voice ringing out.
"I will give you what you want, Lord Potter, if you only calm the Veil. Only know that if your use of time disturbs the fabric of this universe, I will find a way to kill you. There is always a way."
The Minister groaned, but it was a sound of helpless reluctance, not denial.
Harry fixed upon the witch, let the bargain be made.
"So be it."
People streamed from the lifts, every inch of space packed as white-robed figures ushered them reluctantly away from the whispering voice at the edge of hearing.
Many tried to turn, tried to speak, and were pushed onward again, mute and unable to articulate just what they wanted anyway. He and the woman moved through them, a path appearing before her the way water slides around rocks. It was something he had seen before around himself, when he wore his Look openly and the world recognized it for what it was.
They gave the white woman that same unconscious gravity, and he followed in the wake of it like a boat towed upstream.
They didn't go to the lifts. They went to another door that opened into darkness.
"A emergency portal. Linked directly to the Room of Doors. Are you prepared?"
He stared into the darkness, ignored the whispers.
"Will you be safe?" He asked, and meant it. He had personally witnessed the pull the Veil had on people.
"For a while, yes." She spoke calmly. "I wouldn't dally."
"Who are you?" He said the words even as he stepped towards the dark pool of emptiness.
"I am the Department of Mysteries."
"How grand." He murmured, and stepped into the hole of magic. He sunk into it like stepping into mud, down and down, too fast to allow him leap back and yet too slow to be truly instantaneous. The hallway disappeared as he held his breath, magic cloying all his senses until his feet touched solid ground a moment or a lifetime later.
A hand touched his shoulder, prodding him on, speaking through clenched teeth.
"Do you know the way?"
He didn't, not really, but it wasn't hard to follow the voice of what lay beyond the Veil.
They moved as a unit, through one door and down a hallway. The air twinkled with dark specks of light, the edges of walls filmed with chaotic swirling color.
It called to him. It sang, it whispered, and it raged. It felt wrong, and it felt right.
The Wand that lay across his left hand purred with contentment, a bloodthirsty sound that may have meant home, and may have meant murder. The other Hallows were silent inside him, watchful, waiting. Their combined patterns presenting a whole that mirrored the large archway that he abruptly found before him, down the long symmetrical steps, crouching at the bottom of the bowl-like room.
Or was it a hill? At one moment it sank, and in another it rose, and his knees locked as he tried to tamp down the nausea that followed such a sensation.
The hand still upon his shoulder squeezed, but the witch did not speak. She sat upon the stair at his feet, and the wards upon her robes gleamed ever whiter, the only thing in the room that did not twist and turn upon itself, making and being unmade.
The Veil. The beginning and the end of the Hallows, the physical representation of what could not be truly grasped in physical terms, and had never been meant to be. Death is unknowable to the living.
He took the stairs down, and thought of his wife's face. His unknown child. His promises. His lies.
Down, until he stood below and above the Veil, its rainbow of color so bright and horrible, its pyramids and cones and prisms, its torn pieces and broken panes.
What am I? He thought again, as he lifted both hands before him, Wand and Stone. What am I? As the Cloak rose to the surface of his skin, all three of a Triad, brothers in arms at last. What am I?
The Veil didn't answer with words. It reached out with its colors and grasped his outstretched hands, a gentle clasp of peace and war, the quiet before the storm and the roar of a foul wind.
The Door was open. He stepped forward and backwards, rose and fell, died and did not die.
He had done both twice before. One death for every Hallow, one life for every gift it bore.
He was stars in a new sky, nothing but intent and purpose and emotion.
He was a fixer of broken things.
He did not close the Door. He took it off its hinges entirely, removed the construct and the thought, removed the cage of the idea that death was ever something to be entered and left again. It was a funnel, one step in a process that repeated infinitely, renewal and rebirth, the fire a phoenix must die in before it could live.
I am not possible, but I exist, he thought, and with that idea, he felt his hands released.
The Veil was gone. There was no doorway for it to cover any longer. He stood in a vast emptiness, a cave of natural stone and hewn rock, a place of the contemplation of Life and Death.
He felt it there, once again at the edges of thought, a deep-seated knowing that he could lay down upon the stone here and die to the sound of his loved ones welcoming him home. Or he could leave, and live again.
Promises. Lies. Both wrapped up together like lovers.
He turned, and he was ebony and ivory color, he was emerald green and sage green, dark and light, dead and alive. Unchangeable and always changing.
I am what I am, he thought, and saw a woman standing at the mouth of the cave, her white robes gone to bare a gleaming, opalescent soul of vibrant jade.
"I think I might have died." Her voice was calm. "But I didn't."
"Yes." He replied.
She hesitated, her head dipping down to look at herself before it lifted to him once again. "I have a lot of questions."
"I can give you more." He mused, and found a smile on his face. It was something Hermione would have said.
He was ready to go home, and hold her, and tell her how very sorry and stupid he was for thinking she might care that he was a bit scarred and broken and changed.
He was finally ready.
"I suppose... It doesn't matter that I'm unclothed, with no one here to see me. The Room of Time is just down the hall, if you are... done?"
Her voice rang with reflected humor.
He laughed, and heard the Hallows laughing with him, deep-seated contentment and a overwhelming certainty that things were finally right in the world.
"Lead the way."
The time-turner was a simple thing. A hourglass construct of raw magical power, lying heavy in his hands.
"You will need this as well." The jade witch held out a rectangular object of solid wood, grooves carved into its pattern. "It will allow you to seek sanctuary here in the past if… things do not go well."
"I understand." He said quietly.
She held out another object, this one round and made of thin delicate glass. "Emergency portkey. One use only. Use it to return here once you return to this time. Simply break it under your foot."
He took the third object, and wondered at how the magical world seemed to revolve around prime numbers.
"We've been watching you." She said softly. "Do you even know what you are? I had begun to think you belonged in one of these rooms."
He glanced around the Room of Time, at all its floating and glowing color. "It's quite beautiful."
She turned with a slight shake of her head. "I can give you a portkey to Diagon Alley. That is where you wanted to go?"
He paused in surprise at the offer, and smiled after a moment's consideration. "That will do."
She stood still for a long moment, silent.
"I don't understand why you are doing this. You've sworn to change nothing."
"I won't change anything. But I do need to do something I've already done."
She did not freeze with surprise. She moved with it, turning back to face him, narrow face angling up, hands folding over her bare chest.
"I see. I should have known that might be it."
He watched her watch him, wondered at how differently they must each see the other. No wonder they could not comprehend how each other thought.
She was a mystery to him, and he a mystery to her.
"Be careful, Lord Potter. I'll be waiting."
Diagon teamed with life and color. People laughing, people arguing, people moving, moving, moving, tall fish in a slow moving stream.
He watched from the sidelines, carefully angled, as a more human version of himself held his wife in his arms.
He knew he smiled at her. Knew when she began to smile back. Knew that expression never reached its conclusion.
He saw the fire bloom like a deadly flower, faster than any person could possibly react. Saw the moment she ceased to exist on the physical plane.
Saw himself crack like glass, lightning fractures running through the green of his soul.
He watched it again, and then a third time, standing beside himself standing beside himself, three versions of the same man lined in a row, watching people die.
He did not talk to himself. They all thought the same thoughts. They all watched a pivotal moment in his life, when the path he had been trodding upon was shifted onto a new road, a different life.
That third time, he left his previous selves and moved forward, closer to his past, and drank in the sight of his wife and their child, as a man in the desert drinks the first gulp of clean water after a long day in the sand.
The fire bloomed, and he felt its heat, stood steady as the earth shuddered and the windows shattered and the glass fell and the people screamed.
Then he turned, and he apparated away to a familiar empty home, walked to his empty office, and again turned the hourglass in his hand just enough to make a few sparkling white grains of sand fall.
"It's okay." He said to himself, and saw the shock pulse in angry rapid heartbeats.
In those heartbeats, he grasped the ugly red stain that crouched upon his past soul and tore it asunder, in no more time than it took for his past to summon his staff to his hand, a staff he no longer carried but had left forgotten upon the ground on a frigid day in a time that hadn't yet happened.
"Just look a moment. Understand."
Calm words, words he had listened to a hundred times in a pensive as he studied who he was to become.
The unbroken version of himself stepped back and away, breathing heavy and loud in the quiet closed space.
"They say you should never go back and meet yourself. You might kill your future, after all. Or your past. But I know it's far worse looking through the eyes of your past self and seeing what you are going to become and wondering why."
He did know. He knew. He wished he didn't, but he did.
"And I'm going to lie awake in the middle of the night and wonder why I decided to do it this way. This time. Why not only minutes or hours of time, which is far safer? Why take the risk? Time is such a fickle thing. I'll learn I can't change it. I can't stop it from plodding along on a giant wheel of inevitability. But you see, I knew I could do it this way because I knew I already had; it's an inevitable circle. You can't have more time than there is."
Another breath, and another, and then he saw himself straighten, shoulders squared and braced for a blow.
And maybe his voice even sounded different, younger, missing the rough quality he heard in his own words.
"I know my own thoughts. I've lived this night a thousand times in memory. I came here to say what I said, and I've memorized every word. And they are all enough that I will understand in time." Harry laughed softly, and thought of Hermione, waiting for him, angry as a cat in water. "It's going to be okay. It's all going to be okay."
"Stop speaking in riddles." His past self snapped out, more anger, louder. "And answer me!"
"What happened? What happened to me? What have I done? What do I know would give me a fractured soul? Or what did I do to deserve the scars?" He fired off the questions he remembered, one by one, a tally of words.
"Stop it!" The wizard shouted, the emerald of his soul lacking the ivory and ebony that now marked his own.
"I'm not here to answer questions. I'm here to do what I've already done, and that was finish the task of destroying the parasite that clung to me. Who better to destroy a soul forever? Who better to heal myself than myself?"
He wished he had answered some of those questions. Made things just a bit easier maybe, changed the course just enough that some fragment of its happiness would be retained.
He saw himself wilt, and knew he had begun to understand.
"It's not so terrible as I once thought." The words so gentle, so softly given in his older voice. "Having a scarred soul. You can't feel the change when it happens. You learn to forget the pain that caused it. And the pattern… well. Humans are wonderful at adapting to change."
"What happened to me!" Again the demand. "Tell me!"
"If only I had." But he hadn't then, and he couldn't now, and he wouldn't still. "But the nature of time travel is such that I can't do what hasn't already happened; can't undo what has. You'll remember the temporal laws soon after I've gone. Just enjoy every good thing. Every good moment."
Again he watched himself retreat. "Wait! Hermione. Is she...?"
This, at least, he could answer.
"I know her pattern better than my own. Would I ever let it fade while I still live?"
He lifted up the time-turner in his hands, watched its light shine for a moment.
"I asked for one and they wouldn't give it to me. They trust me to destroy the things they want gone, but not to get my hands onto time. But I knew what needed to be done, because it had already happened. The power of prophecy, of having a glimpse into the future. Don't underestimate the person who thinks they know how things will be."
He began to turn the glass again, more than mere grains this time, but the shallowest of streams, days and weeks of time, as the magic swelled in a gathering wave.
"You'll know when it's time." He said, watching his past for the last time. "To come home."
The wave crashed upon him then, and he was moved in its waters, lifted and set down again as the ocean lifts and sets down a piece of flotsam floating in its endless sea.
The house was empty, void again of the ghosts of his past. He took the portkey out of his pocket, and set it gently upon the ground.
Then with a quick movement, he smashed it under one booted heel.
Snape was waiting when he stepped from the fireplace, leaving behind a time-turner few wizards knew existed, and the jade green woman who was the Department of Mysteries.
The wizard lurked behind a desk, brown quill grasped in one dark purple hand as his head rose to regard him with frigid silence.
"About time, Mr. Potter. I had begun to wonder if you would ever grace us with your esteemed presence."
Harry walked forward and sat, choosing his words as carefully as any duelist would in a battle of spells.
"But I am here."
"A fact I doubted would occur based on your prior record of the past month."
It was a barb meant to sink under the skin. He let it, because he deserved the pain.
"Things are clearer now." Harry said softly. "I do not plan to leave again."
"Perhaps you should find out first if she even wants you to stay after your recent performance. I, for one, would not count my vipers before they hatch."
He didn't get a chance to respond before violet-blue light appeared in the doorway, and Hermione's answered for him.
"Are you calling me a viper?" She sounded tired, looked tired, her light a thing of slow steady stubborn perseverance.
"Consider it a compliment." Snape turned away from them both, looking down at the scattered parchments on his desk. "Now leave me in what little peace I have with my house full of elves and witches."
Hermione turned away without another word, and Harry rose to follow her in the same silence, letting her lead him blindly through a house he had never set foot in. He didn't reach out to touch her when they entered a room, nor speak when she closed the door softly behind them both and lifted her wand to place a sound dampening ward upon it.
She moved around him to sit on the bed, tucking her feet under her, face down and away. He cataloged all that he could see, guessed at what he could not, then he knelt on the floor in front of her and laid his head by her hands.
When she gently threaded them through his hair, he sighed, and let the silence move around them both for as long as it needed to last.
"You left me behind." She said it softly, with no recrimination in her voice, but simple fact.
"You left me alone to grieve. You were gone for weeks. You didn't send me any letters or updates or explanations."
He said nothing, and she continued.
"You sent your house-elf to spy on me, and didn't even give me the same ability. I finished your projects. I have been helping with the factory construction, with the twins' first marketable items, with the reports from the muggle government regarding our potions. I went back to school, and you knew all of this, and gave me nothing about yourself and how you were doing. I had to trap Kraken to get a sliver of information. I had to hear from Ron Weasley that Luxe was burned out, and you had left again during some sort of vampiric civil war. I went to Russia out of pure desperation. You put me in that position. You did that to me."
"I'm sorry." He said again, because it was all he could think to say. He had had his reasons for everything he did, and at the time, they had seemed like good ones. But in this moment, they all felt inadequate.
"I know you care about me. I know you value me. I know that you were grieving too, and I know something cataclysmic has happened. I can tell just looking at you, being around you now, that something monumental has changed. And I know you are going to tell me everything. Tomorrow. But right now, I just want your promise, that you value me enough to not ever leave me in the dark again. That you value my intelligence, my strength, enough to give me the same courtesy I give you. Trust."
"I was afraid." Harry said, and lifted his head to look up at her glowing form. "I found a limit and it ruined me and I was afraid. I'm so sorry, Viola. I didn't handle it right and I know that now. I'm not going to do this again. Never again."
She cupped his face in her hands, and her skin was warm against his cheeks, so warm and alive and smelling of ink and parchment and her and oh how he loved her.
"Oh Harry. I was afraid too. And I'm so glad you're home."
She brought him up to her then, leading him to her side with the gentlest of pressure. She didn't say she forgave him; not then, not that night as they held each other wrapped together under layers of blankets.
She didn't say the words in the morning, as he watched her go about her routine, dressing and cursing at her unruly hair and staring for longer moments than usual into a reflection in a mirror he couldn't see.
But she held his hand as they went downstairs, and again when they went to meet both his and her family. She kept holding it as he was verbally berated by both sets of worried and irate family members.
And she let him hold her again, when they stood in the Dursley's yard outside and she cried in his arms for the first time since he had returned, for the life and the future they had lost. He watched the guards under their cloaks and only held her tighter, the memory of how things used to be still fresh in his mind's eye.
And finally, when they once again lay tangled together, alone in a house that wasn't his, he heard her whisper against his chest.
"I love you."
And he knew that was all he really needed to hear.
He didn't sleep. It took a couple nights for that fact to sink in. A night or two of insomnia had never been unusual. But by the fourth night after his return, as he found himself standing and leaving the warmth of his own bedroom in the newly warded Grimmauld Place, he acknowledged the possibility of a new normal.
Kreacher was sitting at the kitchen table as he entered the room on carefully muffled footsteps, a mug of tea glowing in front of him.
The elderly elf was tired. He saw it in every fragile yellow thread that made up his form, in his posture, in his pattern. Once, this would have driven him harder to find some way to stop the passage of time. Once, he would have tried to change it.
Now, he sat, and accepted the tea, and embraced the memory of this moment, with a deep knowing from the core of his new self that there would not be many more like it.
"Master can't sleep." Kreacher said in his gravelly voice.
"I thought perhaps you could show me your garden."
The house-elf didn't point out that it was past midnight and as dark as it ever gets in London. He merely rose on creaking joints, and if Harry sent out a bit of his gaze to give the elf strength, neither mentioned it. They walked up the stairs and into the attic and then up a ladder, and Harry could feel the life blooming in every crevice, a rainbow of jade plants and chestnut insects, small sparkling blues of magical wildlife mixed with the more mundane ambers. Scarlet fire bloomed in braziers as they walked the small violet cobblestone path, the air warm and slightly humid inside its golden warded sky.
"It's so beautiful." Harry said, the awe of it striking the heart of him. "I wish… so much sooner…"
"It's perfect because Kreacher has it now." The elf interrupted. "This is where mistress Hermione likes to read."
The stopped at a low sloping brown couch, and he saw books beside it on a rounded table. The brazier here was larger, its purple metal shape the unique hue of precious metals.
"Where did you get that?" He asked, as Kreacher sank slowly into a chair.
"It was a gift." The words were short and brooked no argument. Harry smiled and turned in a slow circle, glimpsed the low ambling brown color of Crookshanks approaching with a saunter to leap onto the couch directly where he had planned to sit.
"Thank you." He chose another place to sit, and stared into the dancing fire. "I'm different."
He made the acknowledgement aloud for only the second time. He had told no one other than Hermione the details of the last month, and just what they might mean.
She worried about him. He worried that he wasn't more worried.
"Kreacher knows." Silence again, for a long enough time that the kneazle beside him had stretched out, paws gently resting against his thigh, fluffy fur covering the entire cushion, a purr gently rising into the night.
"I don't think I can sleep anymore. Sometimes, something else happens, and it's almost the same, but it's not." It was that vortex of color he had once dreamed about, the spiraling, living birth of souls that he saw when he closed his gaze and his mind and drifted away into the bright darkness of the Hallows under his skin. And always, the sight of it arrested his thoughts for long moments he swore were eternal, until he awoke back into himself and found no time at all had passed. "And food…"
"It is good the mistress and those guards eat well, or Kreacher would have nothing to do."
Harry felt a smile twitch his lips despite his mood. He hadn't ate, either, in four days, though he had held the occasional cup of warm tea in his hands and remembered how it used to taste. Comforting.
Hermione had noticed, and he could feel her watching him, the air alert and crackling with unspoken questions. He knew she was afraid to ask.
He was afraid he already knew the answer.
"Is it selfish, that I'm already planning to keep her with me? To not let her die like everyone else will?"
Everyone but him. Everyone, and it was a truth hard to bear, hard to accept, impossible still to fathom. Everyone was going to die.
Everyone except him.
The Hallows circled and moved inside him, three brothers, three patterns, three parts of a whole that was now him, Harry Potter, different.
"Yes." Kreacher sighed and shifted, his yellow form slowed with age and a weakness that had never faded after the vampires attack on Grimmauld Place. "But this garden of Kreacher's is selfish too, and still beautiful."
They didn't talk anymore, and soon he saw Kreacher drift off into a light doze and then a heavier sleep. Crookshanks eventually migrated over into the house-elf's lap, curled tight and content.
And when Harry rose to leave them, he didn't return to his bedroom.
He went to the floo.
They would call the day of June 11th the St. Mungo's Miracle. It would take only three years before it became a national wizarding holiday; and only five more before offerings were made at the feet of the shrine to the Blind Sorcerer with whispered prayers of hope for healing of loved ones.
But that day started like any other.
The receptionist would tell it later; how in the dead of night, the witching hour, a robed man stepped from the floo entry and stared at her with wonderfully bright green eyes, and she knew who he was and simply let him pass.
The auror on duty on the other hand followed him, per orders from the Minister himself if any unusual activity was detected in the hospital. He would report in detail to his superiors how Harry Potter walked from one doorway to the next; how sleep came upon those inside with a glance; and how the hair upon his arms rose and his ears felt clogged and his blood seemed to move so slowly with each moment the wizard Looked into each room at each patient and said nothing.
And then walked on.
It was quiet; muffled voices of mediwizards and nurses, occasional groans of patients and mutters of cleaners. But when they passed, the wizard and his silent shadow, time seemed to go quiet.
There was no hiding it. No explaining it. Nurses slowly slumped to the floor in dead sleep as they approached, others sat at stations or fell into chairs. And still they walked.
It took nearly an hour, the auror would calculate later, though it felt like a dream lasting no more than a second.
When they ended back at the receptionist's desk, the hospital so quiet and calm and feeling almost empty with it, the auror met green eyes and felt Seen.
He tried to speak; to demand answers, to plead questions. But the words never came, and the eyes looked away, and the man was gone in a swirl of green powder and flame.
"Merlin." The receptionist said aloud, a curse of awe and a statement of dread wrapped in one.
And the auror slumped into a chair in the empty receiving room of a hospital filled with sleeping people, and wondered how the hell he was going to explain it all.
There was never any question of continuing their old life afterwards.
The very first morning after Hermione had put the newspaper down with trembling fingers, and said it aloud.
"We are going to need to move."
She never once chided him for his actions; and in fact would help coordinate many other such visits over the years. But she was a realist. She knew what it would mean, when a person appeared with the power to heal, no longer a rumor but a solid fact.
It was only the moderate ignorance of their location and the larger measure of fear for her husband that had not already sent hoards to their door.
But they would come. The desperate. The hopeful. And no wards would keep them away for long.
"All of us." Harry said softly, and she looked over to where he sat, straight and staring ahead in a kitchen chair, his power focused like a hand on where their aging house-elf moved from counter to table, laying out breakfast.
A plate wasn't put in front of her husband. She stared at the empty space for one long moment, and then back at her own food. Her stomach rumbled.
"Where?" She asked. "It'll take a remote island to get away from this."
He smiled in her direction, so bright and sudden, like sunshine coming from behind the clouds. "Alright."
She smiled back, though the notion was ridiculous. One simply couldn't not smile, when the gesture had been so scarce of late.
"You're silly." Hermione spoke lightly, and heard the floo roar to life in the other room, Vaughn's trademark clmp of feet hurrying towards them.
"Harry! Goddamn what did you do?! Fuck!"
Her husband laughed, and the sound of it startled her anew, though the expression on their longtime friend and bodyguard's face was worth a laugh in itself.
She ducked her head and began to eat with a grin as Harry attempted to explain in between the bald man's frequent expletives his sudden drive to do some gesture of good in the world.
Everything was going to be fine.
Harry had known, somehow. Not exactly like a date or a time or an internal counter, but something Else.
He had risen from Hermione's arms, disentangling himself with gentle movements, to leave their room, padding downstairs on bare feet, following the knowing he couldn't put a name to.
Like a flame in his heart, a burning in his eyes, and a deep dreadful acceptance.
Kreacher sat at the kitchen table, and his light was dim and slow, so slow, ripples across the pond of his pattern. His head rose slowly to face him, wide bulbous eyes and large quivering ears, mouth parting in short slow breaths.
Harry knelt at his side and took one hand in both of his own. He remembered so vividly all the hours he had spent trying to reverse or prevent the very thing happening at that moment.
How arrogant he had been. How young.
"Master Potter." Kreacher said, in his gravely, tired voice. "Glad to be of service."
"I love you." Harry said in return, because it was the only words he had, and they summed up every ache in his body, all the many words he could have used instead. "Rest."
And his elf and servant and friend smiled, yellow teeth and wrinkles and eyes, as the last of the slow yellow ripples faded into stillness.
Harry saw it then, underneath the yellow pattern of body and soul unique to all elves, where he had never been able to see before, streams of golden light sinking away, into the floor at their feet and the walls around him and up, up, up beyond what he could see with his own sight.
Swirling yellow gave him only a second's warning before the loud pop of elf apparition sounded, Kraken appearing, a wail started upstairs already falling into the open air beside him.
The young elf fell upon his elder, tears like two yellow rivers spilling to the floor.
Harry stood and moved away even as he heard another door open, his wife's worried voice calling out.
"All of us." He said, echoing his wife's words the week before. He had known, somehow, when he approached the goblins about a remote land purchase, that only one elf would be coming with them. Just as he had known, somehow, that the damage done during the vampire attack had strained an old heart beyond what any magic could repair.
Things ended. He could heal. Repair. Replace. But not everyone. Not everything. Not forever.
"Oh no." Hermione, hand to her mouth, eyes welling. "N-no. Harry."
He opened arms and gathered her close, held her as she cried.
And knew, with that same knowing, that everyone in the room was going to die.
Except for himself.
That summer passed in waves of frantic motion interspersed with periods of quiet research.
His days were spent working on the nearly complete magical factory project with the twins, and performing small and large anonymous favors across the many muggle government departments he might need assistance from to sell his future potions.
He worked. He learned. He bought a track of remote land in the mountains of Scotland, not too far away from Hogsmeade and the eminent purple majesty of Hogwarts' living walls. Hermione made a house plan and marveled at the swiftness of magical construction.
They moved, and Harry found a measure of peace there he hadn't had in Grimmauld Place, surrounded by the masses of people he couldn't help but sense dying.
And at night, he wandered sleepless around his new laboratory, colors following his movements in swirling elements of unmade creation, fire and water and earth, rock and stone and the green and brown of plants and animals, unformed and raw and waiting to be assembled into something new.
The Ministry sent owls. They had questions that needed answers, they had problems that needed solving. They had many important people, dying.
He sent back politely worded statements. He was taking a year to enjoy his family. Nothing more or less.
One morning, a jade green woman knocked at his door and smiled, and he returned the gesture. Hermione was gone for the day as she was gone most days, with classes and apprenticeship and the factory-initiative she now spearheaded in his place. He felt more and more as if a wall had come into place between him and the mortal world, and only Hermione made him care to be in it.
He sat across from the Department of Mysteries, and held his cup of warm tea.
"I wish to extend to you an offer, in person." The woman began, as his eyes followed the sparkling white of the warded robe she wore. "We will ward your property as few places in the world are warded. You will be a Mystery, your location only known to yourself and to me. Visitors may come, but not know where they are, and when they leave, only remember that they never quite found out. And will forget to ever ask."
It was a deep sort of mental, not just physical ward, and one that required expertise and a softer touch than he possessed. Harry waited for what was next, and she continued after only another minutes pause.
Some left silence to let others fill it. Others, created silence to settle the mind.
"We know about your efforts within the muggle government. We know about the potions being adapted to muggle medicine. It took us a great deal of time to put together the entire scheme. Your motivations, for one, seemed... Irregular. But the factory, the muggleborn- job training initiative… all the many laws and statutes you have broken. Finally it came clear. You wish to bring the worlds together in harmony."
"Yes." Harry said, and the woman did not stir at his words. Merely sipped her tea, and let the silence flow before it was again broken.
"My exchange for a ward that will be maintained as long as the Department exists…" She paused, and he knew she wanted him to know her suspicions that the Ministry might fall before he was unmade. She had deemed him one of her mysteries, and he doubted she would ever be satisfied with the answers he could give her. "...I ask you work with a select group of similar-minded people within the various Departments towards this goal. You may have plans in place for ways to make magic palatable, even desirable, to the modern masses. But a structure of law and organization must be ready to be put into place when the news finally breaks."
Harry gently placed his tea down. It had begun to cool.
"My lady. By the time I am done, it will not be magic. Merely science, which, as you put them, the modern masses, are already happily prepared to accept. We merely posses a different gene, that allows for telepathy, teleportation, and telekinetic manipulation of the physical and spiritual world around us. The words we use are merely triggers our brains can be trained to use to create established outcomes. The muggle world is already ready for this scientific breakthrough. But the magical one may not be. There will be demand for potions. Demands for information. Demands for help. There will be crime, and jealousy, and fear. There will be support, love, new religions born overnight. What I have been attempting to do is set in place the industry needed to attempt to meet the needs of the new demands that will be born."
That was an overly simplistic way to put it. The massive amount of qualified labor needed, the buildings, the training, the supplies… it would be an effort to take a lifetime.
But if there was anything he was now certain he had, it was time. And his drive to rush to the peaceful utopia he envisioned, had slowly died as his appetite had withered, as need to sleep had evaporated.
Take it slow, and do it right. He wasn't going anywhere.
"We will help." Jade green hands moved and shaped the words even as she said them. So many people spoke with their hands, and hers were elegant and full of conviction. "You are not the only one who can see the good that could come from this."
Harry smiled. "My wife will be home in a couple hours. Come back by for dinner?"
Hermione sat next to him on the bed that night, the air vibrant with her excitement.
"This is it, isn't it? It's happening. It's really going to happen."
"In a decade or so, yes." Harry agreed. "When things are set into place."
Hermione curled onto her side, her hands soft against his back, violet-blue on ivory-darkness.
"People think you are Merlin." She whispered the words like they were a confession. "There are rumors of a cult starting in your name. Harry…"
"I know." He said, and laid down, twining his hands with hers, letting something of himself reach out and run through her, deep green through blue, pale green through violet. She shivered in his hold. "I dont think I'm human anymore." He said his fear and his certainty into the warm air above her shoulder. "I don't feel human. I don't… care, like I used to. Everything… ends. Everything begins dying as soon as it stops growing, and even upon dying it only comes back to grow again. We are all phoenixes, Hermione. Burning through our days. Only you… make me remember what it's like to be afraid of an end."
She moved closer to him, until she was all he could see, his entire world in vibrant color.
"We've got a mission, together. You and I. To make the world a better place to… to be born in to. And to grow in, and to die in. If life is a cycle… why not make each cycle a better one."
Her words had an air of desperation, as if she felt all the fear he did not. He loved her, and maybe it was that love that still gave him humanity. He could cling to that hope. To her.
"My Viola." He said simply, and kissed her. "I'll always be with you."
It could be a promise, or a curse. He supposed they would decide that each day the sun rose.
He felt her smile against his cheek, felt her body relax as the light of her soul brightened.
And it was warm, and it was wonderful.
Angela's Note: I could have written three more novels to this story. Hundreds of thousands of words, and indeed, planned to at several points. But life got into my way. I still have those timelines, if I ever decide to add on to this story. Or write some occasional Epilogues, snapshots in time months or years after this end. So I'd leave it on your alert list if you are interested, as those may get written at some point. But for now, this is the end. This story deserved an ending, and I hate how time turned so badly against me that it took this long to write it. I've dealt with several catastrophic family upheavals, the sort that change your entire world view. Have lost two family members in that time, as well. Have dealt with two of the worst weather events in my families farming career. Have made some friends and lost special ones. I've passed days and weeks and months, of sleeping-working-sleeping, moving through life in a sea of days that seem to never end and then end-too-quickly, watched the sun rise and set again from behind the windshield of one or another piece of equipment. I've made three trips to the hospital, one for each member of my own little family. I've fallen down, and gotten back up again. I've counted money out the way a squirrel counts the hoard in its winter nest, preparing for the lean times. And watched as acres of profit wash away in weeks upon weeks of rain. There are days of no hope, and days of nothing-but-hope. You learn to keep living.
So. This is the end of Blindness, for now. I'll begin the long process of re-reading hundreds of pages of notes on WSoSW (and there are indeed hundreds) and try to get that finished, as well. I apologize for my lack of response to reviews and messages. Sometimes weeks have passed where I have not even checked my email. It is hard, to watch as something you love withers from neglect, especially when many of you loved this story as dearly as I do. I hope you are satisfied with the conclusion, even if it is much more abbreviated than planned. I wish you all well.
GJMEGA's Note: Hey all, you've probably noticed that I'm nowhere near as eloquent as Angela, so I'll just say that it's been a blast working on this with her. Once we've both rested and recharged a bit and gotten back into the swing of things with WSoSW maybe we will feel like coming back to this great story. Thank you all so much for sticking with us all this way!