"But if Voldemort used the Killing Curse," Harry started again, "and nobody died for me this time — how can I be alive?"
"I think you know," said Dumbledore. "Think back. Remember what he did, in his ignorance, in his greed and his cruelty."
Harry thought. He let his gaze drift over his surroundings. If this was indeed a palace in which they sat, it was an odd one, with chairs set in little rows and bits of railing here and there, and still, he and Dumbledore and the stunted creature under the chair were the only beings there. Then the answer rose to his lips easily, without effort.
"He took my blood," said Harry.
"Precisely!" said Dumbledore. "He took your blood and rebuilt his living body with it! Your blood in his veins, Harry, Lily's protection inside both of you!
"He tethered you to life while he lives!"
Deathly Hallows Chapter 35 - JKR.
"But you want me to go back?"
"I think," said Dumbledore, "that if you choose to return, there is a chance that he may be finished for good. I cannot promise it. But I know this, Harry, that you have less to fear from returning here than he does."
Harry glanced again at the raw-looking thing that trembled and choked in the shadow beneath the distant chair.
"Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and above all, those who live without love. By returning, you may ensure that fewer souls are maimed, fewer families are torn apart. If that seems to you a worthy goal, then we say goodbye for the present."
Harry nodded and sighed. Leaving this place would not be nearly as hard as walking into the forest had been, but it was warm and light and peaceful here, and he knew that he was heading back to pain and the fear of more loss. He stood up, and Dumbledore did the same, and they looked for a long moment into each other's faces.
"Tell me one last thing," said Harry. "Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?"
Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry's ears even though the bright white mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.
"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"
Deathly Hallows Chapter 35 - JKR.
In one swift, fluid motion, Neville broke free of the Body-Bind Curse upon; the flaming hat fell off him and he drew from its depths something silver, with a glittering, rubied handle—
The slash of the silver blade could not be heard over the roar of the oncoming crowd or the sounds of the clashing giants or of the stampeding centaurs, and yet it seemed to draw every eye. With a single stroke, Neville sliced off the great snake's head, which spun high into the air, gleaming in the light flooding from the entrance hall, and Voldemort's mouth was open in a scream of fury that nobody could hear, and the snake's body thudded to the ground at his feet—
Deathly Hallows Chapter 36 - JKR.
All at once, the whole courtyard froze as Voldemort's scream changed. It grew to be impossibly loud, forcing everyone to cover their ears as it morphed from fury to fear.
A death wail.
With the destruction of the final anchor tethering his soul to this plane of existence, the magic binding him to the graveyard's ritual began to come undone. Blood leaked from his eyes, ears and nose. His body began to shrink in on itself, and a magical pressure could be felt by all.
"No," he gasped, as he fell to his knees. "No!"
As he snarled his defiance, a dark cloud of magic swirled around him. Voldemort was trying to defy the natural order one more time; he was trying to keep his untethered soul from moving on. He pulled on every vestige of magic he could. "No," he said again. "I am Lord Volde–"
His words were cut off as his body impossibly pulled within itself, as if there was a magical black-hole in the centre of his being and his body was forcefully going to enter it.
Black wisps flew off from Voldemort, connecting with the arms of his followers. They screamed in agony, grasping, falling, and succumbing to the incredible pain.
There was no fighting it. Voldemort's soul was moving on, and the magical construct that housed it was returning to its base components. With his final act, he futilely fought with his followers' magic, but no power on earth can overturn the natural order.
Harry's sacrifice and Neville's sword swipe fulfilled the prophecy. The Dark Lord's tyranny was over, and his followers were left, all bereft of magic, most of their lives as well.
Harry watched as Neville used Gryffindor's sword to kill an oversized snake, just as he had, years before. Somehow, he was above the whole scene, descending towards his body.
When Voldemort dropped to his knees, he felt something latch onto him. Something far off. Distant. Its hold was immutable but the pull towards it was weak.
"No," he echoed the Dark Lord. He'd chosen to come back to life, but he saw the blood that had been tethering him leak out of Voldemort.
But as Voldemort frantically fought against nature, Harry felt the foreign force wasn't connected to what was happening to Riddle. He didn't know why. Just that it felt wrong to think so.
He had no time to dwell on it. And, Instead of trying to breach the latch, he used his magic to urge himself back to his body, to reunite himself. To be all that he was. To be whole.
With his eyes snapping open, he saw the Dark Lord implode and a smile came to his lips. Harry tried to get people's attention. He tried to reassure them, to tell them that he was alright, but it was so hard to move.
"I'm alive!" He tried to croak out, but the magic affecting him had built to its zenith. It wrapped around him in a bubble, and he disappeared.
Opening his eyes, Harry awoke and found himself staring up at a very familiar sight. The roof of the hospital wing.
With a glance at the side table, he located his glasses and put them on. But instead of the world going into focus, it blurred.
He pulled them off, blinked and looked around. "I- I can… see?"
The whole room was in perfect focus. He held them up, examining them. "They are mine…"
Had removing the Horcrux fixed his vision? "Weird."
As thoughts whirled in his brain he didn't get the opportunity to collect them.
"Ah, good, you are awake."
The voice came from his left, and he turned towards it. Madam Pomfrey bustled to his bedside.
She whipped out her wand and began to cast a slew of spells. He'd been on the receiving end of a post-wake up check up many times but this one seemed to be more frantic than the standard. She kept going though, oscillating between frowns, furrowed brows and satisfied nods after checking her notes.
"It appears you are stabilising well," she said, looking at him with a piercing stare. "But with a case like yours? Not even the headmaster has seen the like before."
"The headmaster?" he asked, rubbing at his forehead.
"Be assured you are in perfect health," she said, giving him a reassuring smile, "and the Headmaster will be here shortly to relay the details of your…situation."
The way she said the last word caused his stomach to clench. "Snape survived?"
Pomfrey's eyes widened, and she looked unsure. She pinched her lips together and shook her head. "I'll let Headmaster Dumbledore handle this," she said, folding her hands behind her back. "He's been patiently waiting for you to wake."
He frowned but didn't say more. This wasn't Kings Cross, but it didn't feel like it was his Hogwarts either. There were no signs of a recent battle. The beds were all empty, and the walls and floors were pristine.
Where was he? In limbo again?
As Harry was lost in his thoughts, a noise from the entry drew his attention. Through the double doors, in strode Albus Dumbledore. Midnight blue robes with pulsating yellow stars, even in the bright, sunlit room. He had a matching pointed hat on, and his beard was as long and white as Harry remembered him.
"How are you, my dear boy?" he asked, coming to stand near his bedside.
The matron excused herself.
Harry awaited an explanation or the start of a discussion, but the Headmaster was looking off, left and right, glassy-eyed.
"Am I dead, sir?"
He'd gone into the forest, presumably died, gone to limbo, had a conversation with Dumbledore that may or may not have just been in his head, and then he'd seen the end of Voldemort as a spirit descending to his body…
"Only as much as I am," he said, smiling genially. "But that's not such a bad thing, is it?" he added after a moment when Harry was trying to keep from hyperventilating.
As the words dawned on him, Harry sank back into the bed and tried to keep his breathing under control.
What? Why? How?
Tears pricked at the edges of his eyes. Was this always to be his fate?
His knees drew up, and Harry buried his head into them. Overwhelmed, exhausted, and without the willpower to hold it back, he gave in to the flood of emotions that he'd dammed up.
Faces flashed through his mind. Remus. Tonks. Fred. Colin. Guilt burned within him. Rushing through his veins. If only he'd been smarter. If only he'd been stronger. If only…
Recrimination after recrimination. Person after person came to mind. All those that had died for him. Cedric, Sirius…his parents. All futile. Prophecy had sealed his fate. Death. Self-sacrifice. Assisted suicide.
He'd done it. He'd played his part, and this was his reward?
Harry felt hollow. Numb. Dissociative. He'd died. Moved on.
Ever since Trewlawny's ill-fated words had reached Voldemort.
"I guess not," he eventually whispered.
What use was fighting any more? He was dead. It didn't matter anymore.
At least his friends were alive, with that monster dead, gone, defeated.
The back of his head rested against the hospital bed, and he squeezed his eyes shut. Just as another sob escaped his lips, a flash of fire lit up the room, and Harry felt a balm for his soul.
"Fawkes," Harry said, his hand reaching out of its own volition to stroke his plumage.
The majestic bird perched on his lap, trilling a soft, soothing song.
Tears dropped down his face, but he felt a swell of gratitude, comfort and even…hope. His breathing relaxed, and the vice grip his one hand still had on the sheets relaxed.
"Fawkes," Harry whispered out again. He tried to add a 'thanks' but the bird pressed its head against his cheek and rubbed it over and over.
"How remarkable," the headmaster giggled. He sat there, stroking his beard whilst breaking out into minor fits of chuckles.
"Can you tell me why I'm here, sir?" Harry asked, feeling a mixture of better yet confused at the headmaster's behaviour.
"Yes," he said, shaking himself back into focus. "Yes, yes, there are some things we should cover, if you are feeling up to it."
As if it was just a programmed response, Harry nodded numbly, his hand not leaving Fawkes.
The phoenix kept up its soft song, but though it had quieted, its magical effects were not lessened.
"First," Dumbledore began, "you have been brought here by the Goblet of Fire. The ancient artefact contained more power and abilities than have ever been suspected. If I hadn't seen it for myself, I would not have thought pulling you through space and time was possible."
Space? Time? The Goblet of Fire? What on earth?
"Like all previous tournaments, there will be three tasks that you will have to compete in," he continued on. "Though you won't truly be free to start your new life here, you can still be comfortable here for the year."
Wait. He had to participate in another tournament? Was the goblet binding beyond death?
And where were his parents? Sirius, Remus, Tonks, Fred? Where were his grandparents and all of the family he'd never gotten to know?
"C- can I meet my parents at least?"
Dumbledore's eyes dropped and he looked down in distraught. "I'm afraid that's quite impossible, my dear boy," he said gently.
"What about Sirius?" Harry asked, his fingers pressing into the phoenix's feathers.
With his lips pinched together, the Headmaster shook his head. "He's not available to come to the castle," he said. "Once you've completed the tournament, it should be possible."
"Just bloody wonderful," Harry said, banging the back of his head into the bed repeatedly. "Do another tourney. What a great next adventure," he shook and let out a breath, "Brilliant. Just bloody Brilliant."
"You're familiar with the tournament?"
Though the words came to Harry's ears, he stared off, out the windows to Hogwarts' grounds.
Of all the places to be in death, he was at least in a place that felt like home.
After a few moments, he nodded and then tried to broach the difficult topic of the tournament. He tried to begin by telling of how it was a trap set up for him by Voldemort but his mouth stayed shut and jaw was frozen.
He brought his hands to his lips, but every time he attempted to speak about it, his body refused to respond. He tried harder, pulling on his magic to help, but a cold feeling shot through his body.
It was the strangest sensation Harry had ever had. Like a dementor had come into the room but utterly lacking the prototypical despair. There was just a feeling of piercing, undefiable coldness.
"Marvellous. How stupendously marvellous," Dumbledore said, his blue eyes twinkling merrily. "Then you already have the instructions for the First Task?"
Pushing the new mystery out of his mind, Harry wracked his brain for a moment before Crouch's words came back to him. "The First Task tests our daring. Courage to face the unknown," he paraphrased.
"Exactly, my boy, exactly," Dumbledore gazed at him for a few seconds before adding, "I'm sorry if it comes across at a difficult time for you but even after all I have seen and done, it is wonderfully refreshing to encounter new magic."
Aside from getting another encounter of how barmy Dumbledore still was, a thought suddenly struck him: dragons. He was going to face a dragon again.
He went for another go at telling him about Voldemort but though he could speak of the task, generally, his body was unable to cooperate in this. Frustration bubbled up within him but it was something he'd have to sort out later.
Looking down at himself, then around the room, Harry had to ask, "Did I bring anything with me?"
"Ah yes," he said, raising his hand with one finger lifted. He pulled out an ebony wand and summoned a triangular pouch. "Noone has touched it since you arrived."
Fawkes, by this point, had jumped off and was resting on the bed beside him. The pouch was levitated to him, and he took hold of it with trembling hands.
The shape wasn't without purpose; outlined in a glowing silver, it had a line bisecting it and a circle contained within it. Reaching his hand in, he felt the familiar cloak he'd first received at Christmas all those years ago.
As he reached in further, he felt a small stone and a knobbed wand.
The Hallows. They had followed him into death?
"Thanks," he mumbled, not sure what else to say.
Gazing back at Fawkes, the bird lifted its head and eyed him before letting out a trill.
"What about other things, like clothes, a broom? Am I a student again?"
Dumbledore popped a gummy into his mouth. "Do you want to be?" he asked. "Need I remind you that champions are excused from classes and exams, and will receive a passing grade for the year?"
"Oh," Harry said. It had been some time since the tournament. Skipping classes wasn't advised when he had so much to learn in comparison to the others.
"Is it the same as before? Krum for Durmstrang and Delacour for Beauxbatons."
Chuckling, Dumbledore nodded. "It is indeed."
"Cedric for Hogwarts too?"
"Young Mr Diggory, from Hufflepuff?"
Harry sat up straighter in his bed.
"He did put his name forth, and Pomona was quite adamant her badger was going to be selected," Dumbledore said, almost musing just to himself. "But, alas, no. Karkaroff was certain about Krum, just as Maxime was with Delacour. No, the student's name I expected to hear was Harry Potter."
He uncrossed his legs and shifted to reach down to the bottom of his pocket. Digging around for a moment, he must have found what he was looking for as his eyes lit up. "Aha!" he said, pulling out a little brown bag. Opening it, he pulled out a few items. They were leaf-shaped and of various colours: green, blue, red.
The headmaster smiled warmly. "Muggle confectionery," he said. "Wizards always add that little extra to ruin them. Frogs smudge your paperwork or land on your delicate items. Every good flavour of jelly bean, including ones so off-putting you wouldn't buy them if you had any sense. And that's not getting into the whole slew of odd items like Bloodpops."
He munched on another gummy as he shook his head. "Muggles understand," the Headmaster said, looking down at his handful of Halloween sweets. "Simple, sweet, delightful."
"Aberforth is the best brother," he said, popping a green one into his mouth.
Unbidden, the thought of Dumbledore dressed as he was, waltzing into a muggle confectionary shop. He couldn't help but feel a smile tugging on his face.
Barmy as he was, the Headmaster was good-natured. His words and speculations oft struck at the heart of the issue.
Rubbing the back of his head, he tried to puzzle out why Cedric wouldn't be the Hogwarts Champion. As far as he knew, Krum had been off playing quidditch, still very much alive. Fleur, he knew, had lived through the battle.
Was that why they were competing; whereas Cedric, who had died first, was not?
"Now, where was I? Ah yes," he said. "As you are here for the duration of the tournament, which House would you like to stay in?"
Blinking, Harry took a second to come around to the change in subject.
For some reason, things like eating, and sleeping hadn't concerned him. It didn't seem like something the dead did. Though Nearly Headless Nick's DeathDay Party had had food…
"Gryffindor," he said, shrugging.
"Given your situation, the Head Boy's room should do, I would think. Private quarters is the least we can do," he said before carefully selecting one of the gummy candies. "If there is anything else you need, clothes, money, or any other necessities, it will be the least Hogwarts can do to cover it."
He popped a red one into his mouth before he pushed himself up. "Come, come," he said, walking towards the door. "We'll make our way over to your accommodations now. You may well know the way but I'll need to provide access."
Patting Fawkes one final time, Harry grabbed hold of his Deathly Hallow pouch and jogged after the headmaster.
The halls were deserted, and the staircases unusually cooperative. They walked in companionable silence, except for when Dumbledore would suddenly stop and giggle or when he stumbled twice.
Harry used the opportunities to scour the castle for any changes. But, so far as he could tell, it had been much the same as always, sans the battle he'd just left.
It was as if each step built his hope up. He might have died, but he was in familiar territory. Back at Hogwarts, at the start of a new adventure. He'd been through one blasted tournament and he'd get through this one. Then, he'd see parents and Sirius– all those that he'd lost.
Hopefully, Ron and Hermione would be a long, long, long time coming, but they'd join him eventually, and the rest of his friends too. Perhaps Hagrid would bite off more than he could chew and cross-breed something far too dangerous.
He chuckled softly, thinking of his good-natured friend.
They arrived at the Fat Lady and she swung out of the way, once the password had been provided.
"Albus?!" a voice called out from behind, just as they were about to enter. "What are you doing?"
Turning his head around, Harry saw Professor McGonagall was stalking towards them.
"You were not to remove Mr Potter from the Hospital Wing," she said.
Harry had never seen her so livid and like any smart Hogwarts student knows, when the Transfiguration Mistress is upset, let alone this upset, you do everything in your power to keep her ire from focusing on you.
Dumbledore tilted his head down and looked over his half moon spectacles. "It's best to just take care of these things," he said, as if he was the unaware mouse that had been dropped in front of a starving cat. "Lest any unfortunate accidents happen first."
Withdrawing his hand from his pocket, he had half a handful of gummies. He was picking through them when someone came upon them.
"How delightful," he said, watching the trio approach. "Let me introduce you to the younger Mister Harry Potter. Our fourth-year student and his two remarkable friends, Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley. Though I expect you may know them?"
Whilst everyone else was gaping at him, Albus popped a gummy into his mouth. "Candy?"
AN: Yay new story! It took a while to start publishing something else because I was going back and forth on what to write. A number of stories progressed well beyond a sole chapter but this is the one I've stuck with. Looking forward to updating/writing it.
I don't have nearly the same volume of time as when I wrote ITT and I'd like to keep more regular updates (no I'm not giving a set timeline). A shorter chapter length will help accomplish this. Expect 3k-5k going forward.
Thanks to Petrificus Somewhatus, Nauze, & Taliesin19 for their greatly appreciated beta assistance!
Thanks for reading, following, reviewing and I hope you enjoy. There is a discord link in my profile for those that are interested.