Disclaimer: Round in third one day…
A/N: Thanks once again to my many reviewers. I do read every review, the good the bad and the ugly, and it makes the effort here worth it. Cheers. There's a line in this chapter about nuclear launch codes – I stole that line from Ragon on DLP, so credit where credit is due.
Last time counts for all, ladies and gentlemen. This is the last chapter of Wastelands of Time. There will be an epilogue, however, but this should answer a few questions (for the astute readers among you) and pose a few more for the sequel! Read on, folks, read on! And be prepared to hate me in the end.
Harry Potter and the Wastelands of Time
Chapter 28 – Lonely Tonight, Lonely Tomorrow
And nothing ever happens,
Nothing happens at all.
The needle returns to the start of the song
and we all sing along like before…
"I AM HARRY POTTER – THE LAST LORD OF ATLANTIS! FOR THE CRIME OF INVADING THIS UNITED KINGDOM, I CONDEMN YOU ALL TO DEATH!"
Bold words. Yet I had the stones and the resolve to back them up. Atlantis was mine. Had been mine. Mine to destroy, at least. On my authority – and there was no higher in this or any world.
With seven wands swirling around me and thrumming with devastating potential, and my own clenched in my fist to make eight, I stepped off the railed decking of the Reminiscence and out into the air – flying once more on the wings of my intent. I cast a quick sticking charm on my awesome hat so I didn't lose it in the fight to come.
Before me was a creature that's sheer size was mind-boggling. It dwarfed me against the sky, and if not for the fierce blizzard absorbing all light over London, its shadow would've plunged the city into terrible darkness.
The magic coursing through me was doing several things, the least of all allowing me to fly. My storm raged with ever-increasing ferocity and the pulses of desired suggestion I'd cast over London forced the Muggles to duck and run, to avert their gaze away from the sky. It wasn't enough – there was never enough – and innocent people were about to die.
"ATLANTIS BURNS!" the Lord of the Shambling Bone-Men roared, its giant maw stretched as wide as Hogwarts was tall. Its breath – a cold, death-riddled wash of foul air – threatened to dissolve me.
I laughed at the sky, lightning forked across the world, tearing through snow and glancing off the corrupted bone as I took flight and the Reminiscence fell away behind me. The creature's mouth snapped shut fast, but I was faster, as light began to stream from my collected wands.
Curses of destructive nonsense. Magic of long forgotten chaos. I knew it all – was it all. Such power inside of me, along the flow of understanding stolen from the Infernal Clock and the many lives I had lived and died and lived and died and lived and di—I was a conduit for all the Harry Potters that had ever sought to stand against the nightmare.
I was the sum of all that I had ever been. The final equaliser, borne now under a darkened sky, alight with the curse fires of the world gone mad!
It all flowed through my mind. Magic I had long forgotten came back to me, pathways of understanding were ajar and devastation was released. There were explosive powers akin to nuclear weapons locked away inside my head, and the Infernal Clock had given me the launch codes.
Terrible light scored the length of the mammoth beast, digging long irreparable gouges into the thing's skeletal hide. Fire that began to eat.
I laughed, my voice still magnified, still an echoing boom across the ruined heavens!
London trembled beneath me, as did the Lord of the Bone-Men, the pair of us crawling across the sky. My wands spun faster now, flickering and spiralling around me in patterns faster than the eye could follow. Magic flowed in a rainbow of colour and an orchestra of pure sound, sinking its fangs into the bone that stretched and sizzled.
And I laughed because I no longer knew how to cry. Sleet and snow lashed the glasses from my face, but I was seeing with another sense entirely now. A deep sense of Long Ago, of the Dreams Before. I had fought this fight so many times and I knew, even as the rest of the demonic horde descended upon their wounded master, and Voldemort sought to blast me out of the sky, I knew what I was doing.
I was fighting a war.
A war of my own making – a war only I knew how to fight. A war I always lost, in the end, but what else was I going to do with eternity? An eternity I no longer had…
I sent liquid flame, brighter than the sun and as hot as hell, surging into the gouges cut along the length and breadth of the enormous Bone-Man. The thing was screaming beneath my feet, roiling in the sky. Its entire bulk moved to crush me, but I was fast – too fast – and baby, I'd been here before.
Smaller creatures of the kind I had defeated beneath Rome, in Fleur's garden, and many lives before, attacked en masse. Razor-sharp claws slashed through the air, cutting into one another and missing me entirely. I moved the stolen wands around my form and great silver swords of light erupted from the tips.
Half a dozen magical blades sprang to life around me and began to cut.
And set bone aflame.
My chest burnt, as well, with an entirely different fire. One of Infernal making, upon the hands of a broken Clock.
Time slowed for the rest of the world, much as it had done against the Aurors, and my lightning blades cut a swath through the Bone-Men surrounding me in the storm-addled sky.
Great chunks of fiery bone began to rain down upon the city below. London would soon start to burn. Burn, baby, burn! Nothing to be done about that, save the snow in my storm would help minimise the damage and fight the fires.
"Know when to fold 'em, motherfuckers!" I roared.
I was one against an army, one against the impossible remnants of the Old World. A ten thousand quid bottle of scotch was the least I deserved for my efforts. I deserved a fucking parade for my effor—
A beam of crimson curse light blasted through my defences, shattering them like thin glass cast against stone. It was magic moving as fast as I was, as deadly as I was…
I raised my arm on pure instinct alone to absorb the unseen blow, to protect my beautiful face.
The curse severed my left hand just below the wrist.
Sliced it clean through – a dark cutting curse, then – and the remnants drew a quick line of blood against my neck. Along the very same thin white scar that Voldemort had given me upon cutting my throat in Atlantis some days or months or years ago. That had been this life, hadn't it?
And speak of the devil, descending on black clouds of malice and hate… the Dark Lord Voldemort, his wand forever raised against mine.
A spurt of precious blood exploded from my fresh stump of a hand, followed by white-hot… nothing. A cold numbness. I ignored it and shoved my stump into the light of the silver blades surrounding me. Ever practical, tempered through long experience, the heat and flame of the magic fused the wound closed, saved my life, cauterised the injury.
There was no pain. It was simply too hot. The nerves were seared away before I could feel a thing. Pain would come later. Shock, as well, if I had been any other man. But I wasn't. And I had lost more than a hand before.
Lightning flashed and I caught a glimpse of my severed limb falling so slowly away into a swirl of cold snow and sleet, never to be seen again…
I accepted it in my stride, already veering away from the monstrous burning creature beneath me, up again into the sky and out of the path of Voldemort's next curse. A familiar emerald green burst of death.
I adapted to the loss – at least it had been my already diminished left hand and not my wand-arm – and forced an array of new defences into existence against Voldemort, sacrificing half of the silver light blades that were still slicing the slow motion Bone-Men asunder.
Only Voldemort wasn't moving in slow motion.
And why didn't that surprise me? We were equals in all things, it seemed.
His magic, his will and resolve, was just as heightened as mine by the shard of eternity digging its way toward my heart. I reckoned whatever force the shard was emitting that slowed the world down around me did not affect the Dark Lord.
Pity, that, but then this game was never fair. Or perhaps it was too fair.
No matter. Maybe yes, maybe no, you can't change the fuckin' weather or regrow a lost hand.
"You burn Atlantis! You burn my army!" Voldemort's voice was pure rage and violence. "YOU DARE FOLLOW ME BACK! POTTER!"
The Lord of the Bone-Men was screaming and dying beneath us as we circled one another under the torn sky. Only it wasn't torn anymore. The horde of demonic terror had crossed over and the void to Atlantis had closed forever. The city was no more. All that remained now was what the Dark Lord and I had brought back with us.
And I had set most of that on fire.
The sound that reached my ears was muffled and sluggish. The snowflakes fell around us in what appeared to be gentle, achingly slow waves, and I flew through it, leaving a track in my wake, as the Bone-Men tried to keep up, but they were moving through water… and my blades did the rest.
Only Voldemort was unaffected. His words reached me loud and clear.
"You owe me one hand, asshole," I said into the abyss.
"I'll take your head!"
We fought as we had fought so many times before.
Arcs of curse light swam across the sky. I used my arsenal of wands against the Dark Lord, yet he was quick – very quick – and had me on the defence, as well. Eight wands against one and I still couldn't best the son of a bitch. Not like this, anyway.
I had a theory that the torn and ragged piece of shit Voldemort called a soul afforded him a greater understanding of the dark knowledge we had gained within the Infernal Clock. Despite all my lives, all my collective knowledge, Voldemort simply understood, and would always understand, magic better than I could.
I was also battling an army of nightmare-demons from Hell at the same time, which while not overly taxing, did prove a distraction.
We cast non-verbal spells across the sky, an array of devastating magic that slammed against invisible shields, burst through the blizzard against a backdrop of clear blue lightning, and forced us further across the back of the beast below.
The world shook not with thunder but with the reverberating echoes of the sheer power we were flinging around.
"Atlantis has served you well, Potter!" the Dark Lord cried – every word a fierce curse.
"Just like your mother served me—"
Flakes of cold snow had settled on Voldemort's dark robes, across his bald, pale head. The fire in his eyes was death incarnate. I was not afraid, never afraid, but I was tested.
And not to be found wanting, I fought with all the vengeance known to my time-blasted soul.
I threw myself at the Dark Lord, casting magic of such sheer destruction that the Bone-Men still clawing at my broken form were fused and melted by their proximity to the spell work. Voldemort's robes tore, as did my suit. I could feel my skin stretching, little breaks in the flesh in the webbing between my fingers, and warm blood beginning to flow.
My eyes were bleeding.
I was screaming! Rage and defiance and ice and nightmare!
Tears appeared across Voldemort's flesh – only he did not bleed. The bastard was not human enough for that. Fuckin' horcruxes.
We were mere feet apart, identical snarls of raw hate on our faces, and caught between us was an invisible sphere of magical energy – a swirling vortex of power created from the spells we had cast between us. Neither of us gave an inch, yet it was impossible to move closer… we were two opposing magnetic forces.
"BAH!" I cried out in frustration and broke the connection. The magic slipped, erupted outwards, and we were both flung back along the length of the atrocious creature beneath us, spinning through the air.
The flames had consumed most of its form now, spreading swiftly and eating into the yellow bone. It was breaking apart – no match for my considerable wizard balls – into fiery missiles destined to pulverise London.
I felt a piercing pain in my chest and time sped back up. The remaining demonic soldiers, only a few dozen now, renewed their assault against me. My three silver blades became six again as I fought them off and surged back through the sky, away from Voldemort.
My scar was burning, but if history held its course, as it most often did, then he was running, as well. Running away from me and toward another goal.
Toward a castle far to the north. A castle I called home.
The Lord of the Bone-Men was ripped to shreds, screaming and wailing and finally dying under my fires, and its skeletal children quickly followed. I had bested the Dark Lord's broken army, choked it to death on enough liquid flame to torch the whole world.
They all died screaming. And I, bloodied, one hand lost for my trouble, hovered laughing within the chaos as great swaths of London were poised and threatened to burn under the same flame. As people began to die. People that had died so many times before.
Shining in the distance I glimpsed my awesome battleship.
The Reminiscence sought me out within the maelstrom and I descended toward her with my awesome captain's cap still stuck to my head.
And the best you can hope for, Harry, is to die in your sleep…
I landed on the deck of the Reminiscence with a bit of a stumble, coughing on smoke and swaying from fatigue, loss and all manner of the wearied resolve caught in between one moment and the next.
Tonks ran down the length of the ship to meet me, her eyes determined and her hair a rainbow of dark, intense colour. She had seen some of the fight, it seemed, and her gaze scanned me for injury as she approached, her wand held aloft and at the ready.
"Harry!" She pulled up short, raising a hand to her gorgeous lips. "Your hand is gone."
I glanced down at my burnt stump. There was a sick smell of roasted pork wafting on the air, and thin tendrils of white smoke rose from the wound. "Yeah, there goes my sex life. Heh." I sighed. "Oh that made me sad…"
"Let me heal the burns—"
"No time!" I ran past the Auror, most likely ex-Auror, and ascended to the bridge of the ship. Jason and Grace were doing their best to keep the ship steady, straining against the control column as the storm raged about us and the army of the Bone-Men plummeted down through the sky – on fire. "Fly us under the bulk of that son of a bitch."
"What!" Jason looked at me as if I were insane. "You're insane," he said, settling the matter.
The Lord of the Bone-Men had been twisted and the fire had broken it apart into several dozen chucks roughly the size of battleships. Even one of those would cause widespread devastation to the city below. The lives lost would be, if not millions, then hundreds of thousands. I had to stop some of the madness.
"Of course I am. Insanely awesome." I tipped the cap back on my head and gave the Muggle professor a wink. "Fly under it, Jason, we have to dust as much as we can. Fly!"
"Damn it, Potter!"
Acting on what had to be instinct alone, Jason plunged the Reminiscence down through the sky at speeds fast enough to have us all holding on lest we were blown away. Tonks crouched down next to me, holding my ruined and numb left arm, as I used the seven stolen wands whipping about my body to buffet us all against the wind and the storm.
I was laughing again – laughin' and smokin', boss, yeehaw! I was beginning to notice I had a real problem containing the insane cackles. Oh well.
We caught the sky beneath the mammoth chunks of desecrated bone. If not for the fire tearing through the skeletal remains we would have been plunged into total darkness halfway between London and my blizzard. I sent three of my wands pointing skywards, sketching quick and vicious Atlantean runes in the air, as fast as I could manage them.
A trail of glowing silver runes was left in the wake of the Reminiscence, a trail of intent and purpose, once more, on the edge of my higher, infernal understanding. Cords of thick golden light erupted from the runes, dozens upon dozens shining like rays of sunlight, turning the dark sky bright.
The cords of shining power swayed back and forth like heavy spotlights. As the falling pieces of the Bone-Man carcass fell into range the golden light scoured the bone into dust. It dissolved the chunks of falling devastation, ate the potential catastrophe about to befall London.
We reached the end of the creature and I cried, "SWING AROUND!" at Jason, but he didn't need telling. Having mastered the rather simple controls, he swung the Reminiscence around on a sickle and dived lower, below the matrix of corded rune-light I'd strung across the sky, and set about back the way we had come.
I cast more runes as fast as I could, larger runes. Flaming pieces of bone slammed into the deck all around us and I sacrificed another of my eight wands to deflecting the shrapnel and intended carnage. It wasn't enough. My ship was once again aflame as heavy slabs of dying bone tore into her.
Tonks, shielded as best I could next to me, cast jets of icy water at the flames roaring across the lower deck, trying to keep the ship afloat by drowning it.
"I LOVE YOU!" I shouted above the maelstrom.
Tonks snapped her head around to look at me. "You… WHAT WAS THAT?"
I winked. "I SAID 'ABOVE YOU'!"
Tonks looked up in time to see one of my wands deflect a large, jagged bony knuckle from the beast away from us and into one of the defunct cannons lining the port and starboard flanks of the ship. It struck with the force of all hell unleashed, tearing the cannon and a good portion of the main deck away.
Jason couldn't control us against the impact and we began to spin out of control, travelling fast and hard once more down toward London.
That was us done, then.
I leapt up, pulling Tonks with me and casting spells as quick as I could to fly us up to the bridge. We landed behind Jason and Grace – she was clinging to his waist with one hand and trying to right our balance with the other, pushing desperately against a dead crystal column.
I buffeted us all against the wind and the storm, sealing us within a bubble of protective magic and stepped in to seize the main controls from Jason. He gladly let it go. The silver-white light and the Atlantean runes were flickering and dying all across the wheel. We were bruised and bleeding, leaking vital fluid, it seemed.
And running out of time.
If we hit London at this speed – at any speed, really – the starlight in the core of the ship would ignite and wipe out a fair amount of the old town. But the controls were not responding, and I had only one good hand to thump them with!
"Ladies and gentlemen, time, please!" I cried. We needed more time.
The sliver of eternity in my chest seemed to hear that thought as it burrowed ever closer toward my heart. I winced, half-expected all the world to slow down again, but it did not. That would have been a boon in my favour, and those just never fucking happened.
"'Of freedom and of pleasure'," I sang, forcing the control column against the spin and freefall. "'Nothing ever lasts forever… na…na…na'" Easy, easy. "'Everybody wants to rule the world… Jason, lend me a hand, if you please, I'm one short! Ha!"
The Muggle professor pushed in against me and took over forcing the pitch crystal back while I gave a good kick to the whole damn column. "COME ON, YOU OLD WHORE!"
The console flared back to life under my tender care – yes! – before going as dead as a rock.
Behind us we had done all we could for London, given the circumstances. My runes had annihilated most of the remains of the demon army to dust and less than dust, but large chunks and smaller, fiercer pieces of bone still rained down upon the city with all the fury of the Old World.
London began to burn as we fell like deadweight above the outskirts of the metro area,over what looked like Wimbledon Common.
"What now, Harry?" Grace asked. The world was strangely silent inside our bubble of shielding magic, and Grace's question sounded far too calm.
I laughed again. "Twist and shout, lady!"
I keyed the ignition, primed the lines, reset the shiny otherworld crystals, crystals from a time before the birth of the world and magic we knew today, and hoped to all hell that—
"Life! I give you life!" I screamed and thrust my fists… fist and stump… against the cold panels.
Hot silver light flooded into the crystal podiums and the ship thrummed heavy beneath our feet! The light was bright, ever so bright, and power returned for what may have been the final time, given the trampled condition of my still-proud ship.
He pushed hard on the balance crystal and I spun the ship against the fall and the wind and my mighty storm. The Reminiscence buckled and I could hear the hull screaming against the turbulence as it was torn asunder.
Splinters of wood and reinforced mythril panelling fell away but our fatal descent became a lot less fatal and, about a quarter mile above the heavily populated areas below, I righted the ship and took off north.
Tonks collapsed against me, breathing a heavy sigh of relief and Jason held onto Grace, as pale as a ghost. I put on my grim, determined look, offset a little by the awesome hat still stuck to my head, and steered us out from under the storm and back into daylight, bleeding the engines now for all they were worth.
No rest for the wicked, even if we were beaten and on fire, and no time to assess the damage to London. My scar was a hot knife of pain etching that cursed lightning bolt into my very skull. Voldemort was taking his newfound strength against Dumbledore, against Hogwarts.
I had a bit of a problem with that.
Time ticking away, Harry. Take a moment. Have a break and sit back… admire the chaos of the worlds you have unmade.
You're in ruins, my boy.
I gave the control column back to Jason somewhere just north of Birmingham, as I wasn't feeling too well.
"Harry?" Tonks said, placing a hand on my shoulder.
I shook my head and waved her away, stumbling over to the edge of the ship and throwing up a mix of beer and minestrone soup. I retched once, twice, and drove the spike of the Infernal Clock in my chest another step closer to my heart.
The pain was blinding and I screamed. "FUCK!"
With my bloodied yet whole right hand I thrust two fingers into the agonizing wound in my shoulder, two knuckles deep, tearing at the shard, desperately trying to yank the son of a bit—
I actually went blind for a moment with the pain this time, my legs collapsing beneath me, laughing so hard it was more like sobbing as I hit the scorched deck. Hey Jude, don't let me down…
I allowed myself half a minute to blink away the tears and think of nothing but a sweet, sweet demise, alongside deep steadying breaths of endless life. Then Tonks was there, pulling my fingers out of my shoulder as gently as she could. The pain was there, but it was distant and pointless, and I ignored it.
"Merlin, Harry," Tonks whispered, as Jason and Grace flew the battleship and gave us a moment. "You're a mess, kid."
"Yes, Harry. I'm here." She was waving her wand up and down my form. A soft, familiar pink light settled over the dozens of cuts and bruises, along the burnt tissue surrounding my stump of a hand and arm. Cool, healing light. It did nothing for the shoulder wound, but then neither of us had expected it would.
I was magic beyond mere magic now.
"We've all been here before," I muttered, mindlessly stroking a loose strand of Tonks' cerulean hair back behind her ear. I ran my fingers down the back of her ear – I remember she liked that.
I felt her shiver. "Harry, stop that, I'm trying to fix you." She swatted my solitary hand away and I let it fall with a dull thud against the deck.
"You're always trying to fix me, but I work better broken, sweetheart." I was falling asleep. How long have I been awake? I could hear a gentle ticking sound. "Do you hear that?"
"What?" Tonks asked, casting quick looks around for any trouble.
"Tick… tick… tick…" I frowned. "Time. That bitch is around here somewhere."
Tonks pressed her hand to my forehead. "Merlin, you're burning up, Harry. We've got to get you to a proper Healer. Ahh!" She whipped her hand away and pressed it against her own forehead. "Holy shit! What the hell was that?"
"Voldemort," I muttered. "Don't touch the scar, never the scar, Tonks. It is always burning."
"But I saw…" She shook her head. "I felt him. God, Harry, is that what you feel all the time?"
I was shaking my head, trying to stop the ticking. It was maddening. Tick… tick… tick… A thought occurred to me.
I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out the dull gold watch Father Time had given to me in a world that now felt like a dream. When this watch strikes four minutes to twelve – midnight in the minds of insanity, Harry – you will have failed for the last time and be lost to an eternity of near-death upon the grinding gears of the Infernal Clock. This I foresee.
It wasn't keeping true time, of that I was sure. According to the cursed watch, it was five minutes past ten. A little under two hours before I died, but two hours according to whose measure of time? Right now, in the real world, it was mid afternoon. I glanced up at the sun. Thirteen minutes to four, said the clock in my head.
Ah, to hell with it. I needed to deal with my burnt stump of a hand. I put the watch away and the ticking stopped echoing through my mind. It was with a heroic, godly effort that I shrugged away my mounting fatigue and gained my feet.
The world swayed for a moment on my overcooked and wrecked battleship. "Like the worst hangover of all time," I mumbled, but managed to stay standing. It was always a near thing. I could have slept for a lifetime, right then.
But time – there was very little of it left. These were the closing scenes of Act I, of the long, timeless summer before school was back in session.
"Thanks, Tonks," I said. I felt better for being sick, and for the healing. "Now let's get to Hogwarts."
"It's going to take an hour or more at this rate," she said. "Why don't we Apparate to Hogsmeade?"
"Because I don't want to give the game away too early. Also I need half an hour to fashion myself a new hand."
"Well I should go ahead and warn Dumbledore—"
"He is already well aware and we'll be seeing him soon. Just help me down these steps, would you. I don't wanna fall on my ass and look all stupid."
"Oh Merlin forbid," Tonks muttered, but she did help me. I must've looked like I needed it. "You're overdoing it, Harry. You're going to kill yourself."
"Most likely," I agreed. "Hopefully, even, when all things come to an end. But that's what I get for plotting the necessary annihilation of dominant tyrannical paradigms."
So the deck of the ship was a splintered and scorched ruin, much like my good self. My smouldering stump was a lot less smoky and a lot more painful now. It was time to manufacture a new hand. A sturdier, much more manly hand forged in the elements of a lost world.
Maybe I'd fashion myself a hook instead of a hand. That'd be swashbucklingly awesome. I had the ship and the hat, after all, and could quite easily acquire a parrot…
"You're breathing pretty hard, Harry. Is it the pain?"
Tonks set me down on the deck against the armoury, near the cabin into the lower reaches of the ship. There was a comfy bed down there; a bed Fleur and I had shared, as well as an expanded treasury full of our spoils from Atlantis. Gold and mythril bricks and ancient tomes…
"I always feel just about a heartbeat away from bursting into tears, Tonks, but never from the pain."
"Then what? Isn't it about time you came clean with me? I think I've earned some sort of explanation for everything that has happened since you gave me the slip back at Privet Drive." She shook me by the shoulders, as I was fading fast – to sleep, or mayhap unconsciousness, again. "Harry, I think I've earned your trust."
"You earned that a long time ago, my dear," I whispered. "But if I told you the truth of the matter, the heart of the whole damn sordid affair, then you would leave. Just like Fleur."
"Well, then you've got a problem, Harry, because I'm this close to leaving anyway. You can talk about trust and faith all you want, but at some point that has to become more. Don't you see that?"
Of course I did. I saw more than anyone – lived more than anyone. My heart was beating so fast. The crystal shard, the petal of eternity, the fucked up infinity fractal buried in my chest was only a single push away from piercing what remained of an old, ruined soul.
"Okay," I said. "But don't say I didn't warn you. Let me do something about my hand first, please, and then I'll tell you how I've done what I've done – why London is burning, why Atlantis is ash… all those 'whys' and 'what the fucks' in their drunken glory, Tonks, if that's what you want."
I nodded. "Then do me a favour and go grab one of those bricks of mythril from down below. I have a cunning plan."
"So far your cunning plans haven't been so cunning."
"What I lack in subtlety I make up for in badass explosions. Please go get that brick."
Tonks disappeared down below, into the no doubt broken and dilapidated interior of the Reminiscence. From my pocket I withdrew my own wand, one amongst the seven stolen sticks and began to sketch sharp, crimson runes into the deck at my side.
"Aleous… neratu… sanctensee…" I muttered old words, old spells, old things learnt in Atlantis a long, long time ago. More memories came to me now, more than ever before. It was the piece of the Infernal Clock in my chest, uncovering lost secrets, laying bare the tormented wastelands of time. Oh, Time… Tears that would never fall.
By the time Tonks returned I'd sketched a merry band of softly glowing runes into the space around me, collapsed up against the armoury – my back against the wall – and I accepted the brick of raw mythril with my good hand carefully, and placed it in the centre of one of the runes.
"What is this?" Tonks asked.
"I'm going to fashion a new hand out of this here mythril." It was magic similar to the silver hand Voldemort had bestowed upon Wormtail in that blasted graveyard. Oh if I could go back in time to that moment… I would never have failed. "You see, mythril is unbreakable, Tonks, once its fired and tempered with magic. This is the raw stuff – see how it's murky-purple and yet translucent? Yeah, I'll be able to crush steel with this thing."
"That sounds… lovely." Tonks was unnerved.
I laughed. "These runes will also impart a touch of transfiguration magic into the mix. This one, and this one. You ever see that Muggle film about a time-travelling robot that can change its form? The Terminator?"
Tonks nodded. "My dad loves those movies."
"Yeah, me too. My new hand will be kind of like that." I sighed. "But it'll also just be a hand – a shiny, metal hand – but I can wear a glove and pass for normal."
Tonks was silent for a moment, her violet hair blowing about her face in the cool breeze high above the green fields of England. The day was descending toward twilight, toward darkness. "I don't doubt you can do it, Harry, but it sounds dangerous."
I shrugged. "I just had my hand blown off in a duel with Voldemort in the flaming, snowy skies above London, amidst the fiery ruins of a demonic, skeletal army that was blasted into this world on the remnants of another. I'd say we're a little past 'dangerous'."
Tonks actually smiled. "Yeah, me too. But once you're done, you owe me some answers."
"A promise is a promise… is a promise," I said, frowning at the thought. "Anyway, stand back, I'm about to do magic."
Magic which was very uneventful, all things considered. I rested my burnt, nasty stump against the block of raw mythril and began whispering dated incantations and archaic spells. The magic flowed through me, through my mind, like water through a sieve, if the cliché can be forgiven, and it took no real effort to fashion my Terminator-hand.
Silver fires flared from the runes scattered about me on the deck of the Reminiscence and the runes began to spin, faster and faster, shooting sparks of hot light into the air. Harmless sparks, timid sparks, yet powerful sparks. The runes spun and converged upon the mythril brick, dissolving the raw material, an element of Long Ago, and fusing it to my nerveless stump.
There was very little pain. Very little sensation. And when the fires died away I raised my shining hand before me, resplendent in the late afternoon light, and polished to perfection.
It was amazing – it was triumphant! I felt a flood of new life rush through my veins, a deluge of surging strength and might! Here I was, whole again, with the hand of God himself—
"Er… Harry," Tonks said. "You've got six fingers."
"What?" I looked again at my shiny new extremity, admired the magic and the craftsmanship as the runes of Atlantis faded all around me, the mythril brick fully absorbed, leaving nothing but scorched ash upon the deck. There was the thumb, sure, and counting from right to left… one… two… three…
Tonks snorted. "I count six fingers there, Merlin."
Was there a sweetheart at home?
"Easy fix," I muttered, concentrating on the extra digit in my new hand. The mythril shimmered like a pebble cast on calm waters, and the additional finger was absorbed back into the whole. "See, just like the Terminator. Quit smirking."
"Very impressive, Harry, now how did you know how to do it?"
I sighed. "Not letting that go then?" I offered her my shiny metal hand and she accepted it carefully, as if it may fall to pieces, and helped me to my feet. The fusion to my flesh was flawless – there was no sensation in the actual hand, but my arm felt complete. "Well, I knew how to do it… because I've had to do it before."
Tonks stared, uncomprehending. The wind ruffled the tattered remnants of my suit around me – everything about the world was burnt or burning. Everything except Tonks. She looked great in the half-light.
"You've done it before?" She looked me up and down, biting her tongue. "Don't tell me you're hiding another metal appendage under that fancy ruined suit?"
I snorted. "No." Tick… tock. Time, Harry James Potter, yes, yes. I shook my head. "Whoa, did you just hear that?"
Tonks shrugged, looked around. "Hear what?"
I delved into my pocket and grasped the golden pocket watch. Tick… tock… What time was it? What time was it, hmm? Midnight in the minds of madness? Four minutes to or four minutes past?
It was exactly 11:55. Oh, oh shit. "Jason!"
I moved faster than I had in the last half hour. Raw panic, something I hadn't felt in some time, flooded my system. I felt an intense pain in my chest. The shard was moving… moving the final scant distance into my heart.
The sun was in my eyes, setting over the west coast of the United Kingdom, and we were just below the azure clouds as I hurled myself up to the bridge of the Reminiscence and into what was the last minute of my existence, if Gods and darkened destiny were to be believed.
Grace was gone.
Jason was still there, still manning the control column.
In fact, he couldn't do anything less. A long, obsidian blade, a sword akin to the long minute hand of a clock, had been thrust through his back and into the Atlantean crystal – piercing his flesh and pinning him to the reins of the ship.
There was not much left in this or any reality that could shock me. But the sight of my old friend, the fiercely intelligent Muggle professor Jason Arnair, impaled against my battleship did make me sway…
Blind fury descended like a dark mask – and it was a cold, patient fury. I barely heard Tonks' cry of anguish as she pushed past me to Jason's aid. But he was beyond aid, beyond any—
"Harry, help me! He's still breathing!"
I blinked and started to move. Surely not… I ran over to the other side of the crystal column and Jason blinked up at me, seeing but not seeing. He was alive, bloodied and dying, but alive.
Tonks was casting quick spells across his slumped form. The sword was well and truly cutting him in half, but it didn't look like it had pierced his heart. Tick… tock… I still had the pocket watch clutched in my hand. The pain in my own chest was getting hotter and hotter. Time, time, time – never enough fucking time!
"Who did this! Where's Grace?" Tonks was near hysterical – or perhaps just gripped by a fury similar to mine, but a touch more heated. Fury that could end worlds.
"I… I don't…" I held a hand over my chest, my shining mythril limb, and felt each desperate beat. I could barely breath through the pain, through the surmounting nightmares on all sides. I chanced a glance at the stopwatch at the very second the minute hand moved from 11:55 and one minute closer to midnight.
So did my heart as the white rose petal of Time punctured it.
Everything went silent. I dropped the pocket watch. It slipped from my hand in achingly slow motion, and shattered against the splintered decking at my feet.
And then Chronos was there.
Standing before me, as everything else moved in that terribly slow way. Tonks was holding Jason's head, whispering sweet lies into his ear, and I could almost make out the words as his death was drawn out in those fragile, endless moments between one second and the next.
"You can't change the weather, Harry James Potter," Chronos said, looking for all the world like one of my classmates. Barely sixteen and yet ancient, dressed in a fine suit, shooting me a confident grin. "Maybe yes…"
I licked my lips. "…and maybe no."
Chronos dashed forward and closed his hand around my throat—I can't touch you now, Harry Potter, not for more than a second. The consequences of our coming into physical contact would be… This world has grown on me. I'd hate to see it end in fire once more—and squeezed. His eyes held the fire of burning realities, of time gone mad, his grin turned feral, fierce, and he thrust his face into mine.
"Wait…" I gasped.
"Waiting's done," he growled. "It is time for you to remember!"
"All for this, Harry! Everything for this moment! Wake up! Wake from the Dream! REMEMBER!"
My endless headache rose on a wave of pure, raw pain – a rising crescendo of impossible sensation, and I was dead. Time, Father Time, had been right. My heart had stopped beating four minutes to midnight in some alien time flow. Insanity would beget chaos… would all be undone by the unmaking of the world as my soul was thrust back in time—
Who are you?
—Just who were you expecting?—
I do not know… but Time's up, isn't it?
—Yes, yes it is, Harry James Potter. And this is really, really going to hurt…—
Fuck it, DO YOUR WORST!
"Her name?" I asked the voice that was only the madness in my mind. Batshit-insane and feelin' fine, that was me. SO BE IT! "She was a muggle and she loved me."
"Tessa," I whispered. Darkness descended. "Oh yeah…"
I met her after running away.
Chronos choked the life from me. "Do you remember yet? No? Time to wake up, Harry James Potter – time to face the truth of all that you are! All that you have ever been! REMEMBER!"
And as the shard of the Infernal Clock settled inside my heart, I did. God save me, the Devil take me, Magic forsake me… I remembered.
Life earlier than life flickers before my eyes. Time spent upon golden coasts, under the ruling madness of infinity gone mad.
"Better to have died, Harry. Better to have died and forsaken the ruined earth to Voldemort all those lives ago."
It wasn't just the highlights set to repeat – this was the full playback. Every minute, every blasted second. I lived it all on rewind; saw it all through a haze of blind insanity. True insanity. The kind you can't walk away from. The kind that haunts.
I remembered more than I ever had before – more than I could have ever remembered, given a million lives and painless time-travel. It was all there, all in my head, never truly forgotten… merely festering below the surface of my waking mind.
There was magic there, magic I knew and had forgotten. But there was also death – endless death. Not just my own, but of those I cared about in my own fucked-up way. Fleur and Tonks featured heavily, committing all the old sins in new and exciting ways.
"What's your name?"
"Potter, Harry J. We should get a beer sometime."
"Hey, that sounds pretty good."
Fleur gone. Jason dying. Grace missing in action. Tonks losing faith. What did I have left? This thrice-damned world I'd just have to watch end in fire? Again and again and so many times? Why bother? Why lift one finger, mythril or otherwise, to try and make a difference this last time?
Because it is the last time, whispered my fragmented sanity. And because Tessa loves this world, you selfish asshole. Tessa. She sees hope where you see fire.
Oh, Merlin, why do I keep finding reasons to go on?
There was no one steering the Reminiscence. We were cruising through the sky high above England, veering northwest toward the dark seas. Her latest pilot was skewered to the control platform, dead or close enough to make no difference.
Chronos was crushing my windpipe.
But that didn't matter.
Because I had remembered.
I had remembered it all. Every moment. Every life since the first. What had that old bearded son of a bitch said back in the Fae and Forget?
"When your memories awaken, when the storm is unleashed... Woe be to anyone who stands in the path of Harry Potter…" No laughter now. Just a solemn nightmare-silence. "…The Sleeping God."
So we were playing at gods now, were we? Very well.
I met Chronos' gaze and the creature, whatever he or it was, let me go. I stumbled back, sucking in a harsh breath. Whatever had happened in my head to cause me to remember, some time had past, and I watch Tonks disappear – Disapparate – dragging Jason along with her.
She left a bloodied crystal column in her wake, an obsidian blade of harsh unknown metal driven right through the heart of the ship's steering wheel. Tonks was trying to save Jason – but if fate held her course of fucking me over, there would be nothing she could do. As powerful as I was, Healing magic wouldn't work for me. Never had. I didn't have that particular skill. I only destroyed. I wished them both luck.
"Is your heart still beating, Harry James Potter?"
I rested my hand of flesh and blood over my chest and felt calm, steady beats. There was pain, too, and every breath drew the shard of the Infernal Clock scraping against my heart's wall. I felt… anticipation. Something had changed. Something was still changing.
"For a wonder, it is. What did you just do?"
Chronos shook his head. "Nothing that wouldn't have happened anyway, eventually, given all the lives you've lived and all the lives you could have lived."
"No, this is the last time. I won't survive the trip back again." I laughed. "Don't you see that? Every attempt on my life is an attempt on the whole world. If I die, we all die."
"That is my doing, yes, yes. My influence. You would have continued on living life after life if I had not interfered, if we had not taken your blood back in Italy, but Harry, oh Harry Potter, you were simply taking far too fucking long to get it right."
I could taste blood – a mouthful of pennies. It hurt to draw breath through my bruised throat. The Reminiscence flew onward, straight and level yet on a slow descent. The fading sun flickered through the purple clouds on the western horizon, the wind was a calm, patient breeze…
"You and Saturnia… made this the End Game?"
He nodded. "It had to be your doing, of course. You had to destroy the Infernal Clock by yourself."
Chronos blinked. "Isn't that obvious? Harry, just who else possibly could?"
Truth enough to that, I suppose. I didn't know who he was, or how he and Saturnia had done it, but there were answers here, answers at long last… answers bleeding into yet more questions. Damn it all, I was too old for this shit. I realised with a start that I knew exactly how old I was, right down to this very moment.
Oh God, the lives burnt through my mind. No longer in drips and drabs or half-remembered battles, but in bright impossible technicolour. I had been doing this for so long.
"One more question," I said to Chronos. To the young man who was, perhaps, as ancient as I, and as dangerous. He had played a game to end the world, and now we were all anticipating something. Something on the horizon. "One more, for the road, you son of a bitch. Where is Fleur Delacour?"
Chronos' intense gaze softened. He looked almost kind and a lot less insane. "She is safe, yes, yes. Back at home with her family, trying so desperately hard to forget everything you exposed her to. But she cannot forget, not now…"
"Did you hurt her?" I asked, rather politely given the circumstances.
"No more than you did."
I would have had something to say about that, both witty and redeeming, but it was at that moment a great shockwave of unknown origins came rolling in across the heavens and knocked the slow-falling Reminiscence from her steady path and spiralling down sideways at a terrifying, vertigo-inducing angle.
I leapt backwards, using those brief precious moments between one second and the next, and closed my grip around the bloody sword embedded in the control column as the force of our dive took hold, and a thousand screaming harpies tore apart the cool serenity of the sky.
Given the current state of my battleship, I wouldn't have been terribly surprised if the controls were unresponsive, but luck was with me for once – or always, depending on how I looked at it – and I shifted the ship into gear and we rode the edge of the invisible explosion down through the sky.
Chronos had no problem with the altered gravity of our flight; even as we descended he remained perfectly at ease. He looked expectant, like this was what he had been waiting for. That subtle feeling of anticipation had become about as subtle as a nail driven into my skull.
"Here we go, Harry James Potter!" the demigod called. "You're all here, at last, every one of you, and it is coming back – coming to you! The Last Lord and High King of Atlantis!"
We were striding the coast, two miles over a brightly lit strip of buildings. There was a tower, strung with lights. Blackpool, I thought. Alongside the Irish Sea… What the hell was happening? The town below, bustling with early evening traffic, was darkening… fading.
In its place rose taller structures, buildings of white magnificence, scraping across the sky. A horribly familiar city was bleeding through what I could only surmise was a tear in the world, in reality itself, and it was crushing the Muggle town below.
Atlantis was rising from the ragged depths of time!
But that was impossible. I had melted the city mere hours ago.
I said as much to Chronos. "But I destroyed it not five hours ago!"
"Harry." Chronos sounded offended. "You of all people should know that you cannot destroy something inevitable."
The entire city, alive and unharmed, appeared as if from under an invisibility cloak – and crushed Blackpool beneath its weight. Great fires and tremendous explosions rocked the world below. The roads and structures were torn asunder; the entire earth shook and splintered.
An impossible wave of chaos and destruction, screeching loud enough to wake the dead, crippled the seaside town.
Half the city materialised out into the ocean and cool waters flooded in between the shining silver towers and long, mythril-strewn streets. I could barely process what I was seeing, but given my unique vantage point and association with the absurd, I had to act fast.
With the ship levelled and set to hover in the sky, the initial shockwave over, I reached for my wand and began scratching runes in the air – magic as old, or as new now, as the fabled lost city below. I didn't know how this was possible. Atlantis was gone, dead, buried for the last time, and yet…
It was here. Now. Tens of thousands of innocent souls had just been crushed beneath its weight.
"Your move, Harry James Potter!" Chronos called above the chaos. "Look at it – sparkling in the twilight! This is no ruin, this is the might of the Old World, borne upon the folly of the New. Your move, Potter, your motherfucking move!"
Magic burst from my wand and split in the air, multiplied, like jets of streaming energy cascading over a waterfall of pure intent. Silver sparks of intricately designed runes flickered out into the world, surrounded the city below. I could see people down there, walking the streets of Atlantis…
And Chronos was right. The city wasn't a ruin. It was half drowned in the Irish Sea, and buckling under the ruins of Blackpool below, but it wasn't the dark, ash-covered mess I'd annihilated just that afternoon. It looked alive.
"Time," I whispered. "I need time."
The magic I'd cast rained down upon the city and a great, wide sheet of liquid green light began to form in the air and along the ground surrounding the outer areas of Atlantis. I let the magic flow free through my unencumbered mind, through the clear pathways of endless life… I let it grow, change, adapt.
A massive dome, several miles across and two miles wide, faded into existence around the Lost City of Atlantis. An impenetrable dome of emerald green light, pale yet deadly. Not a soul. Not a single soul would be able to pass either way through the barrier without being killed.
I was risking innocent life, but then the authority was mine. Atlantis was mine! TIME WAS MINE!
"That is an impressive piece of magic," Chronos said, coming to stand alongside me and admiring the city through the vast dome. "You included a time dilation field, yes, yes."
I took a deep breath and let it out slow, feeling every one of my years like a world upon my shoulders. "One second under that dome is one year outside of it."
"You saw them, didn't you? The Atlanteans? They came back with the city. At least now you've given yourself time to deal with them."
"This is impossible," I said, but my heart wasn't in it. My heart was aching, the shard embedded there fiercely hot. Had I done this? Had destroying the Infernal Clock deep beneath the old ruins of Atlantis, in worlds of Forget, somehow unanchored the city in time? In true time?
"Think on what you have done this day alone, Harry James Potter," Chronos whispered, and he sounded strangely pitying. "The battles, the magic… Ancient cities, mighty Atlantis, spheres and portals ignited with dark light, skies of burning snow and screaming across the void between worlds in an archaic battleship. You think this, of all things, impossible? Is it because it is new to you? New to the Sleeping God, the weary time-traveller? You're a fool!"
"AH!" I threw the first punch, not holding back, and my metal fist closed Chronos' right eye for him. Stuck it shut good.
Chronos spun away, reeling back from the blow, and came up laughing and bleeding. "Oh, very good. You're angry enough to actually hurt me, old man. What? No magic?"
"I'm going to beat you to death," I decided, slipping my wand away and clenching my fists. "And I'm going to enjoy it."
"Don't you have a war to fight?"
"Voldemort will keep. This is me and you, at the end, in a bloody fist fight two miles above the earth in a crumbling battleship."
I lunged at the abomination before me and slammed my fist into his gut. Chronos grunted and smacked me in the side of my head with his elbow, followed through with a head butt that sent me back biting my tongue. I absorbed the blows and spat blood.
"Come on then!"
Chronos came at me, immaculately dressed and grinning like the madman we both were. His fist flew swift and true, faster than my fatigued and shaken mind could follow. I spat out a tooth as the world shook, deafening in its dizzying silence. The ship spun beneath my feet, but I shook it away and returned a blow in kind…
…with my mythril hand. Chronos' jaw cracked beneath my fist and he fell to one knee. The world was still spinning and I was very nearly sick. The punches, although few, were backed with such raw anger that I was already blinking in and out of consciousness. Mayhap the day's other events had something to do with that, as well.
With a surge of unexpected speed Chronos launched himself back up and slammed the top of his head into my chin! My teeth, those that remained, clicked shut with enough force to sever my tongue. For a small mercy, that didn't happen, but I stumbled from the blow, lashing out wildly with my unique hand and landing a glancing blow above the son of a bitch's ear.
We danced apart, blood splattering the deck around us both. The grin on my face felt like it hurt, but I was detached from the pain, always had been. Chronos snarled and came at me.
"Ha!" I laughed, dodged his clumsy tackle and ran around the crystal platforms on the bridge. He came at me again, and again we traded blows, but there was no real heat in it now. Just two men, two men who were more than men – or less – trying to beat one another into fatal submission.
Chronos stood before the splintered railings, silhouetted against the fading sun in the twilight, and lit in the eerie green light from the dome encasing Atlantis below. He was beaten and bloody, his right eye fused shut. I'd managed to dent that pretty face at least.
"Is this the best you can do?" he asked me.
I ran at him, and of course he'd been expecting that, and dived to the side, spinning on the spot and landing a bloody fist to the back of my neck. I saw stars as I tried to recover, heading straight for the edge of the ship, ready to topple over into the indifferent sky.
I tried to do a back flip up and off the railing to save my fall, realised just past the point of no return that I had no idea how to do any sort of flip, and landed hard on my arse.
Chronos laughed. Drops of his blood splattered against the deck. "You are truly an idiot. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Hero of Time, the Saviour of Mankind, the Chosen One and the Boy Who Lived – HARRY JAMES POTTER!"
He didn't attack me, as defeated as I looked lying on the scorched deck. "Was this your doing? Your plan all along?" I asked him. "To bring back Atlantis screaming from the depths of long forgotten time?"
"Oh no, Harry James Potter." Chronos laughed. "This was all you – always and forever you! Two worlds, two worlds merged back into one and this is only the beginning!"
He helped me to my feet.
So I tried to kill him.
I roared pure, violent hate and tackled the demigod around his waist and hauled him up and over the shattered rails of the Reminiscence. We both went over, toppled off the side of the ship, out into the clear twilit sky.
We fell still throwing punches. Chronos' knee slammed into my gut, knocking the wind out of me, but my swirling mythril hand did all the talking necessary and I felt his nose break under the force of my return fire.
We fell apart, broken and bleeding the pair of us, down above the Lost City sheathed within my power, down toward the ravaged coast with its flaming towns and buckled roads. I fell and didn't feel any inclination to slow my descent, to fight the inevitable. For a moment I let myself pretend that I could die and stay dead, that the fall would kill me for good…
But reality was a harsh mistress, as harsh as time and those precious moments between one second and the next… To die would blast my soul back across time and I would not be able to physically survive the trip. I would be caught in a loop of mindless agony, never to truly live again, upon the screeching gears of the Infernal Clock.
It was tempting, oh so tempting, but I was more than that, wasn't I? Didn't I stand for more – exist for more? I hadn't sacrificed so much so many times to slow down at the finish line.
Chronos came flying in out of nowhere and crashed into me. I didn't try to stop him. He wrapped his legs around my waist, grasped my head between his two good hands and made sure I had a good view of the white-fire in his eyes. His bloody grin through his broken teeth was insanely familiar… like looking in a mirror.
"The truly great adventures, Harry James Potter," he said, and I could hear his voice in my mind – wild and chaotic – as well as in my ears. The truly great adventures… well, they never end, do they?
He was crying. Honest tears, alight with the literal fire in his eyes, burnt steady tracks through the blood on his beaten and swollen face.
"Who are you?" I asked quietly. With the wind roaring about us and the ground running up fast, I doubted he could hear me, but he did.
"Nothing you have ever done…" will last, Harry James Potter. And perhaps that is for the best. His maniacal grin faded away into what I could only discern as contemplative reflection. Chronos looked puzzled. "In time the answers will come, yes, yes, and deep down in the angry, raw core of your soul… you already know who I am."
He began to laugh. Oh, death… and then he leaned forward and slammed his forehead against mine, loosing his legs around my middle and disappearing in a puff of unnecessary dark, menacing smoke.
I laughed, as well, dazed from the blow and seeing double as the world began to spin around me. The ground was the sky was the ground was the sky was the ground was the sky—
I started flapping my arms like a bird – laughing and laughing and spinning – hoping for the best. My awesome captain's hat was still firmly attached, thanks to the sticking charm. I could feel my right eye swelling shut from Chronos' parting shot. Repaid in kind, yes sir, t'is the way of the universe.
Moments from death and endless torment I reached for one of the wands buried deep in my pocket, hoping mine was still there, and slowed my fatal descent.
It wasn't yet time to die. But I wished that time would hurry the fuck up.
I scowled. Any mention of time always made me twitch. Time was mine. "Time is not a river," I said, and I'd come to believe that – somewhere, somewhen. "Time is an ocean caught in a storm, Professor."
To that Dumbledore said nothing.
Back aboard the Reminiscence, I was alone and beaten. My body was failing. I hadn't slept for days and the latest brawl had really taken its toll. Don't get me wrong, I love a good fistfight, but even I had my limits.
The day was descending toward night now. Time was slipping away. I managed to steer the ship around the sword impaled in her controls and set the course north once again, north to Hogwarts. The fight wasn't over yet. It was never truly over. But I didn't have the heart for it anymore.
"Oh there you are, sweetheart," I whispered, digging around in my case for the bottle of scotch I'd paid a small fortune for in London, before London had started to burn.
I broke the seal, popped the cork, and took a long, healthy swig of fifty-year old liquid gold. The flavour was perfect, the spice of the drop almost like rum, but better, so much better. Was there anything more satisfying than a perfect sip of amber scotch?
No, there wasn't, but I didn't care anymore. There was no one to care for. They had all abandoned me, and in my mind was nothing but memories of them dying – dying and leaving me.
I remembered everything. Every life. From the first desperate attempt, to travelling back in time and resolving to make a difference, and again and again… An endless cycle of loss and defeat, of power gone mad and absurd indignation.
The scotch hurt going down, but it was fair and pure.
I didn't care. There was no one left to stop me. Perhaps I had been wrong, after all.
Perhaps it was time to die. At long last, in the crimson wake of all I had ever been and done, perhaps victory had become indistinguishable from defeat.
Mayhap death, or as close as I could come to it, was the redemption and salvation I sought.
"What do you think?" I asked aloud of the empty battleship. "Speak now or forever hold your peace…"
Alone and tired, in great pain and feeling old – so very, very old – I raised my bottle of scotch and inclined it toward the horizon. A toast, a salute, to all that I had ever been, in all the lives of my long existence, and to all that I could never be.
Wearied resolve had turned to dark acceptance – and it was lonely, here at the end. But I wasn't quite through…
There was one last parting shot to convey, because even if this was the end, I couldn't change who I was – time and death had shown that to me more than once across the long years. A closing remark on the whole distasteful matter then, one last effort…
A final fuck you to say to the Dark Lord.
"Trust him, Harry," Grace said. She was holding Jason's head in her lap, stroking his hair. He was unconscious, a nasty bruise swelling across his brow. "You have to trust in something."
I met her eyes, sapphire-blue and pretty. "Grace Connor… why did you come along?" A spent, mirthless chuckle escaped me. "We all know why, don't we. Very well."
Fleur gone. Grace missing. Tonks lost and Jason most likely dead. Well, I'd had worse results getting this far…
Hogwarts was approaching, less than thirty miles away now. I could almost smell the forest, see the snow-capped mountains, and hear the flags of the old school flapping in the breeze. I was going home, but home had been invaded.
The last vestiges of twilight clung to the world, and long thin stratus clouds were strung across the sky. The Reminiscence was shaking, deep clunking sounds were emanating from within the belly of the beast. She was dying. Time for one last push.
I urged the throttle forward, and a strange calm descended over my mind. Something had changed again, but I couldn't place it.
I took a swig from my bottle of scotch, enjoyed the burn – never with ice – and sensed a presence standing behind me.
"Hey Jude, my headache is gone. Can you believe that?"
Grace Connor put a delicate hand on my shoulder. "You're about to lose, Harry, you're about to die. You know what will happen if you do."
"Time to drop the act, don't you think, sweetheart?"
Grace came to stand alongside me, looking fresh and innocent. Her form shimmered and Grace… Saturnia… became taller, stunningly beautiful, and wrapped in that same, stunning red dress she had kissed and stabbed me in way back in Italy, all those long days ago. "How long have you known it was me?"
"I had suspicions right from the start." I shrugged. "You people forget I've done this all before. I've known Grace Connor more than once. You wore her face well, but you didn't have her soul… And I knew for sure in Atlantis, when you gutted that frask with a piece of mythril. That could never have been Grace."
Saturnia tilted her head. "You didn't call me out of disguise, Harry?" Her smile was luscious, her lips full. "We could have had so much fun. Why ever not?"
I shrugged again, steering the ship now over highland plains. Hogsmeade was just over the horizon – and then, Hogwarts. Hoggy-woggy-Hogwarts. "Friends close, enemies closer… also you saved Tonks' life, even though you probably killed the real Grace."
"She didn't suffer."
I stared straight ahead and not at the beautiful, murderous woman caressing my mythril hand. "It doesn't matter now… done is done. And done a thousand times before." I actually laughed. Maybe that was the scotch working its own special brand of magic. "Do you know it has been centuries, honest to God centuries, that I've had that headache. It's gone… I feel free, lighter, somehow. Like I'm already dead."
Saturnia nodded. "Your lightning bolt scar is bleeding."
"Yeah, that still hurts, more and more the closer I get to the snake-faced bastard. We're almost at the castle now."
"Time to ease back on the speed a touch then, don't you think?" Saturnia asked, raising one delicate eyebrow.
The Reminiscence was trying to jump out of my control, but I kept a firm grip on the column, forcing the crystal platform to obey me. "No, I don't think so, not this time…" I pushed the throttle down, old runes flared, and the ship's speed increased, faster and faster. I intended to burst through the sound barrier.
A moment later, I did just that. A great, resounding sonic boom ripped across the sky, and a white halo of condensed air formed in our wake. We rocketed forward, faster and faster, screaming across the heavens.
"Did you stab Jason?" There was Hogwarts! Magnificent Hogwarts. Miles away, still, and almost tiny set against the shining silver lake. But the sight of it was… a relief. It was almost over. Two minutes, maybe a fraction less.
Time… had finally run out.
Saturnia nodded. "I needed him and Tonks out of the way, so Chronos could force your hand and give Atlantis a chance to rise again. Tonks fell in love with Jason, Harry, and he with her, while you were seeking the Infernal Clock with Lord Voldemort. You gave them months to love each other, in the mere hours you were warring in another world. Now, please stop what you're about to do."
"I've great affection for you, and you know what will happen should you die."
I nodded, staring at everything and nothing. The castle was so beautiful in the faded glow of the dark heavens overhead. "The world will reset, the universe skips a beat... and I won't survive the trip back again." I took a deep breath. "I'll die and keep dying back at the start, as my body, brain, and soul can no longer take the impossible time-travel. I'll be caught in a crippling cycle, I'll be ending the world, but after awhile I reckon I won't be able to feel it anymore... I'll just be... ground down to nothing."
A certain fate, at long last. A determined destiny. For the first time since her appearance, I met Saturnia's beautiful gaze.
"Non-existence is better than endless existence," I said, and that was the sum of all my wisdom, of all my years resolved into seven short words.
A tear fell from Saturnia's eye, cutting a track down her flawless cheek into the corner of her mouth. "And how many times will you die in screaming agony, Harry, before you no longer feel it?"
"Sweetheart," I said, and tipped my awesome captain's hat back on my head, "how many times have I already died in screaming agony?" I could remember them all now, every last one. Power, terrible power, coursed through my veins. "I'm just a badly written song stuck on repeat, baby."
Another tear. Saturnia struggled against them, struggled to compose herself. She couldn't do it, and the tears fell like light rain – misery's what happens when you stop and count the cost, lady, don't ever forget it.
"You can't die – there's still so much to do."
"I'm clocking off—"
Couldn't I? "Fucking watch me. Its four minutes to twelve, Saturnia – midnight in the minds of insanity! Ha-fuckity-ha-ha-ha!"
I steered the ship on a collision course with the crenulated turrets of the Astronomy Tower, the heart of the castle. Voldemort was in there, secure in his conquered domain. I'd ram this ship so far up his ass he'd be choking on cannons and sails in a few seconds. Haha! I had to be insane, didn't I? No doubt anymore, despite my cleared and cleansed memory. I felt cut loose without that headache – a pain I had carried for centuries – born free under this endless sky.
Saturnia took a deep breath. Standing behind me, she slipped her arms under mine and wrapped her hands across my chest. I hated this woman. Hated all that she had stood for, Beatles and all. And yet… Her body was warm against mine, and soft.
So very soft and human.
"Harry Potter," Saturnia whispered. "Harry James Potter. You brave, tireless boy. All the worlds forgive me for keeping you alive, but Harry, sweet Harry…"
Don't. Please don't.
"…Fleur is pregnant."
My hands fell away from the controls and I whipped my head around so fast to face the demigoddess. We fell into a rough embrace, forged in the blood covering my body. My mouth went dry, I struggled for words... a thousand thousand thoughts sped through my mind.
A lot of little things suddenly made sense. Fleur choosing to leave, her rare fury and anguish… the irrevocable hurt I had caused her.
This was something new. Something that had never happened before.
Oh, oh damn…
A few impossibly long heartbeats later, the Atlantean battleship Reminiscence crashed into the Astronomy Tower with all the fury of every life I had ever lived.
The starlight core erupted and the ship disintegrated in a chaotic storm of old brick, ancient magic, and splintered wood – the impact ended my insane run through the sound barrier, air rushed back in through the wake, loud enough to end the whole damn world.
And oh god, what an awful world it was…
Night turned to day as a hellish fireball of superheated energy engulfed the ancient, triumphant majesty of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
A/N: Dun, dun, dun! Cliffhanger…ish. And yes, your tears of hate and frustration are delicious. This was the last chapter of Wastelands of Time. Yes, it was. However, there will be an epilogue up and running in a few days that will resolve this ending here. It's mostly written, so look out for that soon. Once again, thanks for reading, this isn't the end of the story – but it is very close.
If you're looking for something to read in the meantime, I'm gonna swing my hefty writer balls around and suggest A Clock On The Face of Hell by IdSayWhyNot. A new story, time-travel, but shaping up rather nicely. Go find it and review that instead of this – I've got enough reviews.
Or review both, actually. Now there's a good idea.
Okay, all the best, folks,