Harry Potter and the Tree Mysteries Chapter 3: Death Part 2
So this is what dying feels like. Feels a lot like falling but never hitting anything. Falling but somehow the wind was falling faster. Crazy vertigo, falling but the world falling away faster.
Harry sort of kept expecting to hear Dumbledore, it was traditional at this stage. But no voice came. Harry began to expect that this was a different kind of dead.
The air rushing past him felt lumpy, foci of existence passing past him. Souls. The souls of all the people who died every second, every moment. He was just the only one with a body, the only one who had flesh to hold him together.
And a wand. And a knife. Harry gripped them hard in his hands. He had no idea what would happen if he dropped them. He tried to breath, tried to prepare himself for the fight. To finally beat the dark lord. But there wasn't anything left to do. He tried to breath deep breaths but it caught in his throat when he realized he was probably breathing in dead people.
No. No he needed to focus.
Harry closed his eyes and imagined the spray hitting his face. Imagined the birds. Very calming. Harry turned in the air so that he was feet first, the wind whipping against his hair, his clothes. There was something underneath him now, something he could see.
His magic eye was so mixed up with the strange shadows and swirls of insanity in the air that it was next to useless. He considered popping it out, it was only a distraction. Maybe it would be a little more use later on.
The light beneath him grew brighter and brighter, growing closer. It was pulling him in, like it was expecting him to resist. He didn't. He let it drag him in. The light encompassed him, then he felt his feet strike the ground. The sand.
Harry breathed deep and stepped forward. The desert unfurled out in front of him, flowing out like a sheet of silver sand. It was empty, footprints leading away, towards the distant hills. To his left, to his right... the veil. Stretching out like a vast wall, stretching out into infinity. The sky was a blank slate and the air felt alien. His magic eye was going mental, the air was full of spinning shapes. Barracudas in nowhere.
Harry took another breath of dead air and stepped forward, following the trail of blood. Just a few meters away, crouched in a ball or dark robes. The sand crunched under Harry's boot and Voldemort's head snapped up, twisting around to stair in shock and horror at his pursuer.
"Boo." Harry's wand came up faster than a striking snake and the sword slashed out, tearing another deep canyon of blood across the dark lords chest. "Surprised to see me?" Harry lashed out again but the dark lord dissolved into nothing. Harry's eye caught him for about a millisecond before the shadows everywhere covered him. Harry spun on the spot, wand held out ready.
The blow came from nowhere and became a fist travelling faster than light. Harry was lifted into the air and skidded through the sand. He struck the veil and it felt like diamond, harder than diamond. It was rippling in the wind and still it was harder than steel.
The air came together. The sharks gathered. Voldemort was there. There was no flash, no pop, he was just there.
"I cannot believe you did that." The dark lord raised an eyebrow. "I have tried to kill you for seventeen years and you destroy yourself without a thought."
Harry silently pushed himself to his feet. The dead were everywhere, he was totally surrounded. He was even more outmatched than usual. Well, what was the worst that could happen? He was already dead.
"Snake-face, you're looking well. Didn't you have a giant hole through your chest thirty seconds ago?"
"Did you not have a broken leg?"
"Good point." Harry stood and shook out his arms. "Well? This is it then."
"Yes." The dark lord glanced around, almost pensive. "This is almost too simple a place. We should be fighting in the mountains," Voldemort gestured to the distant hills. "Or perhaps further out on the plain, there are places there where the darkness gathers thick... pools... trees made of steel wire. Cathedrals of the dead that no one else has seen."
"I'll put it on my vacation list. It's quite low down though, the first thing's the Taj Mahal. Your cathedral is down with the world largest ball of twine."
"You don't think this is an important day? An auspicious day?"
"It's a day like any other for most of the world." Harry shrugged. "One of the things I learned travelling. You may think you're a big deal but... meh. Around Europe you're kind of feared. English speaking countries, yeah they've mostly heard or you. Everywhere else? Not so much. Maybe they would have learned... in time. But not now. I won't let the rest of the world get touched by your crap. At least while you're destroying my life the shit's all concentrated in one place. On me. You ruined my life you slimy inbred twat, turned it from something that could have been... anything, to something out of a nightmare. Well I recently found some Buddha, what's done is done. But at least the rest of the world can be kept at least a little clean. My friends, the rest of their lives... they can be better. So see the veil behind me? That line people can't cross? Well you're not bloody crossing it either. You're ending here. "
The dark lord was silent for a moment then...
"I was wrong. This is a good place." The dark lord nodded. "I do not know what the real Harry Potter would have been like to fight but... I am glad it is you."
"Thanks man. That means a lot." Harry's wand flashed up. "Cardusmark!" The dark lord was smoke before the spell touched him and Harry was left spinning again. The desert, empty in one eye and full in the other seemed to mock him.
Harry had no warning, the blow came from nowhere. This time it wasn't a warning, it was designed to kill and Harry barely twitched out of the way of the worst of it. It still felt like being hit by a train made of ice. Harry skidded through the sand and stabbed his wand at the dark lord, or at least where the dark lord had been. Gone.
Harry spun on the spot, the shadows playing merry hell with anything like a sense of direction.
You may think you can't die Potter. But you can be destroyed. No afterlife for you. Your soul shattered.
"Ferio!" Harry fired on total instinct. He was off by a mile and the blow came too quick to dodge. "Protego!" Harry's shield held through desperate hope and Voldemort vanished into the ether.
Harry's skin crawled. He felt like he was being pulled out of his flesh. No! Harry gritted his teeth. He needed this body just a little longer.
The shadows were gathering. There would be another attack. Harry didn't have time to attack and dodge. He'd have to do just one. Just attack, and if he missed... he'd be dead. Well... more dead.
Well Harry? Are you ready?
"Just for clarities sake what would you do if I said no?" Silence. "Right."
Harry wanted to close his eyes. He'd spent so long relying on his magic one that whenever he wanted to see clearly he closed them. Now he couldn't even afford to blink. He kept his wand light in his hand. Had to be quick... had to-
"Avada Kedavra!" Harry's wand was dead on. The dark lord appeared out of nothing and the curse exploded out of his wand, gathering energy from the world around and shooting out like a column of pure power. Green light blinded Harry, the recoil made his arm snap back painfully, the stabs of the darkness stabbed into his bones. Slowly, very slowly... like the tide. Harry stepped back, every muscle aching... every bit of energy spent.
"That spell is useless against me Harry." The dark lord smiled. "Most spells are really. But that one especially."
"Really? Damn." Harry pushed his wand into his belt and stepped away from where he was standing. "I'm heading for those mountains over there. You coming?"
"Well we can't go back through the veil. I'm walking that way." Harry chuckled. "You can go wherever you want. Except back of course..."
"Are you totally deranged Potter?"
"My name is Jack, and yes." Harry put his hands to his hips. "I've also won. Seven god-forsaken years, and I've finally won... YES!" Harry punched the sky unexpectedly, crowing and falling to his knees. "It feels good enough for me to stop being sarcastic about it! I've finally, undeniably and totally... WON!"
"You are insane!" The dark lord growled. "Your spell did nothing!"
"The spell was a decoy." Harry laughed.
The dark lord's eyes flickered down to his chest. The knife hilt, the basilisk knife, stuck into his ribcage.
"Ha! I believe you may be celebrating prematurely. This will not kill me either."
"Wasn't aiming at you. Well... I was aiming at you, but only by coincidence." Harry tapped his chest, then his eye. "Look deeper."
But as Harry said it the dark lord pulled the knife out and there was the silky scrape of metal. A tiny scrap of gold fell to the floor, dropping from the bottom of the dark lord's robe, trailing it's chain. A heavy locket, stabbed straight through.
"Bullseye." Harry smiled. "I win."
The dark lord's eyes went wide. In a flash he was at the veil, clawing at it's surface, screaming. Harry laughed as he watched Tom Riddle slam his fists into the imperturbable surface until they were covered in blood. The wailing from the dark lord expanded into the empty desert and Harry's laughter filled to gaps.
"All that effort to avoid dying and you walked into death willingly." Harry tutted. "Foolish."
"I will..." The dark lord's voice was choked with tears. His form was growing fuzzy around the edges, the shadows were gathering. "For this I will-"
"What? Kill me?" Harry shrugged. "Do your worst." Harry turned and walked away from the veil, laughing all the way. A part of him wanted to turn and tear the dark lord limb from limb, torture or burn him or flay his skin off for everything he'd done. It was a part of him that he ignored. He had finally killed the dark lord, and that was enough. The dark lord was dead, the fact that he was still moving and wailing was only an incidental. Oh... now it sounded like he was crying. Pathetic.
Harry followed the footprints away, towards the distant hills. The screaming of the dark lord followed him. He looked back once, the dark lord was still beating his hands against the impenetrable barrier weakly. The dark shape was becoming a blur, the shadows gathered around like piranhas. He looked back again, and there was nothing left but the rippling veil.
So that was it. He should really feel happier. He was fairly happy sure, but mainly just drained. His fingers felt numb, having trouble feeling anything now... NO! No! Harry shook his head to keep his soul in. It had been better when he had been laughing. Harry opened his mouth wide and barked out a forced laugh. Actually it didn't help much.
He was dead. He could try to avoid thinking about it, but he was dead.
Harry turned back to the hills. They seemed a lot closer now, distances changing. And, peeking over the edge like a sunrise, was a sickly purple light. Lighting up the sky.
"Aright, I'm coming." Harry spoke to the dead air. "Keep your spidery hair on."
The sand was kicked up by a sudden wind, when it died down the distant hills were even closer. There looked like a staircase was cut into it, a thin path to the summit. Harry momentarily considered not climbing the stair, looking around for another path. Who was he fooling, there wouldn't be another path.
Harry started up the path, his legs burning with fatigue already. He didn't really know where he was going, probably towards some sort of spidery death. Not death. He was already dead. Screw it. Harry kept climbing, his wand still in his hand.
He looked back over the desert, the veil was still clearly visibly stretching to the sky. Harry turned away. No way out that way.
Step. Step. Step. Harry climbed up. It wasn't even a mountain really. The sides were just flat planes down to the plain below. Step. Step. Why was he bothering? Because it was marginally preferable to lying down to die. Or die more. Step. Step. He was almost at the top. As he climbed the summit came into view. Harry's feet faltered at the sight, but he kept going.
Rising above the edge of the rock, rising into the sky... the sphinx waited. Great haunches like hills themselves, made of rock or sandstone or something else. Paws stretched forward, one lying over a great ankh, the other over an equally massive key. Either one could have crushed Harry in an instant. It's massive head, maned in red-ribboned rock with a lions head. Not a woman with lions features, a lion. With bloody massive teeth. Perfectly still it waited, even it's crystal purple eyes. Harry could have believed it was simply a statue, if he had been an idiot.
Harry reached the plateau, a circular dais lifted slightly above the the rest of the mountaintop. Just before the beast's massive mouth. Harry tried not to think of it as a platter. He stepped into the centre of the circle and looked up at the cold eyes.
"Yeah yeah yeah." Harry snorted. "So you're what? Anubis? Saint Peter? Judge dread?"
YOU KNOW WHAT I AM. I AM THE END. I AM YOUR END, AND THE END OF EVERYTHING. The massive beast shifted like the grinding of continents. IT HAS BEEN A LONG WAIT NAMELESS. BUT YOU ARE HERE NONETHELESS. YOU SHOULD HAVE DIED BEFORE YOU COULD WALK, BUT NO ONE ESCAPES FOREVER. IN THE END, ALL ARRIVE HERE.
"Really?" Harry glanced right at the blank mountain, then left. "Don't people die every single second? Where are they?"
IN THE AIR, IN THE ETHER. THEY ARE BLOWN THROUGH NOTHING TO ME. THERE IS JUDGEMENT HERE FOR ALL, JUDGEMENT. THAT IS ALSO WHAT I AM. THE FINAL JUDGEMENT.
"For Voldemort?" Harry glanced down the mountainside. "What about him?"
HE WAS JUDGED WANTING.
"Good." Harry's mouth twisted into a smile. "Good." Harry threw his head back and let out a breath he didn't know he was holding. So it was done then. It was finally done. His friends, the world he had left... they would be safe. They would be able to live without fear or the unrelenting pain that his had been. Well... mostly unrelenting. There had been some good bits. Harry chuckled under his breath. There had been some good bits... Harry closed his eyes...
Some people's lives flash before their eyes before they die. Harry's flashed by after. Every moment, every happy spark in his existence. It was magic. It had to be. Or maybe it was this place. Maybe it was that he was dead. But he remembered everything. Absolutely everything.
Crashing rocks battering his tiny form and pushing him to a muddy bank. Warm hands lifting him up. Warm but for a cold ring. He could feel every callus of their hands. A blanket. Warmth. People talking. Lights...
Laughing as he worked out how his legs worked. How to walk, how to run. He remembered he liked running. He ran a lot. He climbed a lot too. Now he was climbing the wall of the orphanage. Falling down and crying. Being comforted. Kissed better... Climbing again. Succeeding again this time. Smiling as he raced towards the trees he could see down the hill. Apple blossoms... He put a bucket of water over the headteacher's office door. How had he even reached that far? Eating desert with the other orphans. Cake. Lemon. Ice cream.
At the Dursleys, a different face. A different time. Leaving, throwing everything he could find in a bag. Breaking Dudley's walkman under his heel as he rushed out the door. Scattering the pieces over the garden. He hadn't made a sound until he's reached the end of the street. And then he'd cried... he was so happy, he'd finally done it. He'd gotten free.
Children laughing as he spun three batons above his head. Laughing. Summer. Summer was always best.
The train to Hogwarts. Meeting the marauders, faces he'd known longer than his own. They looked so small. Were they ever that small? Neville looked nervous, Ron was made of freckles, the twins still dressed alike back then, they looked like toys in a shelf in a shop. Backflipping to impress them. Giving them their name. Recruiting Hermione. Throwing oil on Snape. Oh how could he have forgotten that. That was genius. And the posters were even better. Running through Kings Cross, dodging carts and making for the door. Laughing...
STEP FORWARD. The words carried an order on them. A force of will powerful enough to make Harry's legs move of their own accord. STEP FORWARD AND BE JUDGED.
Thea... smiling and giving him the necklace. Harry's hand went to his neck. Not there. He had had it in the temple. He had had it in Venice. Where had he lost it? When he passed through the veil? In the fight before... He felt incomplete without it. It was part of him, when even his face hadn't been his it had been him.
Memories streaming on, faster now. Harry stood in the chamber of secrets, saving Ginny, fighting Flint, being wreathed in phoenix fire. He stood in the flickering light of time and felt it burn into his skin. Thea...
He stole a ship! Why had he stolen a ship? Oh yes... the tournament. Forcing it forward through the lake and shooting upwards into the spray. Laughing as he flew to shore. Landing in meringue. Landing in meringue? His life was insane.
Standing in the rain. Standing in the rain and speaking to the shining face of Harry Potter. Harry's hand strayed to his neck again. Hearing the voice of the man he was supposed to be. Realising he was. Thea... Fighting the dark lord, the blood pumping in his ears as he spun through sandstorms to survive.
YOU WILL BE JUDGED! STEP FORWARD!
Faster, flickering like shutterflash.
A summer at Malfoy Manor... Lemonade... Ice cream... Laughing...
Faster and faster...
Standing alone by the sea in Rio... drinking in the night air. Climbing to the temple. Peace... Waking up and being told through fiery eyes to expect a guest.
Thea... Venice. Thea...
A little... in between the horror.
STEP FORWARD! STEP FORWARD AND MEET YOUR FATE!
Harry's eyes slowly rose.
"No." Harry's hand flickered into his hand. Shutterspeed. "Not a chance. Never. I will not bloody step forward. I'm stepping back. And you're letting me."
YOU ARE INSANE NAMELESS.
"Screw you. I've earned this. I've earned my life. If the is anyone who deserves to go back through that curtain I've earned it! Well, OK... lots of people have earned it. But I'm the only one bad-ass enough to take it."
THAT IS IRRELEVANT.
"Says you! And who the hell are you anyway? What the hell gives you the right to judge me! Or anyone? Sitting here on a rock- You're a vulture! I've lived however I've had to and I do not care what your opinion about my life is. Because you know what? It was my god damn life! Lots of people tried to take it away from my in various complicated and unfortunate ways. They tried to break me, make me someone else, burn me, beat me, crush my spirit or just plain slit my sarcastic throat but I always always took my life back! NO ONE takes that from me! My life had some truly sucky episodes but it's still mine. I'll take the good with the bad and I'm not giving it up now, not when it just started! I'm living! I'm going back!"
YOU CANNOT! YOUR LIFE IS OVER! YOU ARE DEAD!
"You can make it happen!" Harry challenged. "Can't you?"
I CAN. I WILL NOT. STEP FORWARD!
"Pretty please with a cherry on it?"
"Ok fine. If you won't listen to my reasonable arguments..." Harry stabbed his wand forward. "You have a choice between letting me out willingly or me beating the living shit out of you, breaking out anyway, going to Egypt and making damn sure they build a Starbucks in your arse!"
YOU THINK YOU CAN FIGHT DEATH? YOU THINK YOU CAN STAND AGAINST A FORCE OF NATURE? YOU THINK YOU CAN DENY THE INEVITABLE?
"I've been doing that every moment of my life."
YOU ARE DEAD!
"Really? Cos I've never felt more alive." Harry could feel every muscle tensing. His blood pumping harder. The sphinx shifted, standing on pillar-like legs. Towering above Harry, light shining down on him like a searchlight. Claws longer than Harry's entire body, black with dried blood. Unstoppable mystical power. Harry smiled,
"Here kitty kitty."
An inhuman roar so loud the earth splintered apart tore through the air but Harry was already dashing away, the explosion of air only pushing him faster. One boot shredded the ground as Harry skidded, spun and fired up, an explosion of pure plasma and mana, the heat of the sun. It gouged into death's eye, blue fire shattering purple and tearing bright auroras through the air.
A claw the size of a truck smashed down but Harry banished himself away like bullet and twisted in the air.
"Jupital!" Harry fired from the air, peppering the vast flank of the beast with electric death. His feet hit the ground as it's roar of pain shook the air. "Feel that! That's life!"
Harry's foot twisted on the rough ground and in a moment Death's paw was there, swatting him like a fly. He flew across the ground, tumbling like a leaf and losing skin by the square yard. He had left a trail of blood. Wonderful, it showed he was still alive. Harry sprung up and jammed his wand at the ground.
"Muil!" A spike of metal stabbed out of the ground like a spear just in time for the sphinx's swiping paw to impale itself on it. Black blood and cracking rock filled the air. "Galbinus digitus!" Vines as thick as trees anchored the arm to the ground. Harry sprinted forward, his blood pumping in his ears. One foot pushed off the spike, the next off the rock skin. It was cold as ice. Harry leapt up like a squirrel, his hands grasping the cracks in the ice cold stone.
Harry threw himself back just as lasers like lightning bolts hammered out of Death's eyes and blew the arm where he had been away.
He shot his own arm! That's not fair!
"Hammus Missus!" Harry fired the grapple as he fell and his arm was almost jerked out of it's socket as he fell, swinging under the vast trunk of the beast as the rope drew him up like a rocket. He grabbed it's back and rolled on. "Excalabus!" Harry jammed the magic sword down to it's shifting hilt in the rock beneath him. Black blood spurted in his face. It tasted like rotten worlds. Harry pushed forward, running with the sword down, raking a twenty foot spurting line of putrid wound in the beast.
He was doing it! He was hurting it! If he just reached the head- NO!
The rock under Harry became a wall! The thing was rolling! Harry was turfed off and hit the ground with a sickening crack. He only had a moment before the mountain of monolithic flesh rolled on top of him!
"Evanesca!" Harry aimed straight down and dropped into the tiny hole in the ground that he had made as the steamroller crashed over him. For a dark and airless moment everything went black then a sliver of light snapped back and Harry leapt out, dashing away and firing any spell he could think of behind him.
The noise of black claws shattering the ground as the massive creature crashed to it's feet was like hearing continents collide.
Harry screamed a charm, slamming another grappling hook up, but Death batter it away like a fly, tangling it in it's claws. Well that was good too. Harry spun the rope out in a vast loop and flicked his wand like a lasso. It lashed around the beast, around it's free legs.
Harry jumped forward into reach of it's arms. One massive paw snapped forward and the ropes snapped tight, pulling four legs like tree trunks together. Harry kept his feet in the shockwave of the falling giant and dashed forward, an insect before the fallen god. He leapt and landed on it's face, his arm came back, the sword flickering into glorious life again, back down, purple light. Harry stabbed deep into it's massive eye.
The explosion blew Harry into the air, burning him like a blowtorch. He flew, a piece of shrapnel, to smash into the ground below.
Ow. Well at least I hurt him as much as he hurt me. ENOUGH!
Harry felt a grip like a vice close around his neck. He was lifted off the ground as black spots swum in front of his eyes.
YOU DARE COME INTO MY WORLD AND DO THIS TO ME!
The face of Death came into view in front of Harry as he rose, fighting unconsciousness, his feet flailing uselessly. The cat's face. Lion's features dripping with black blood and the purple light of it's remaining eye tainted with enraged crimson. Every tooth was stained with blood.
LITTLE INSECT! CRAWLING ON THE EARTH!
Harry tried lo lift his wand but a force slammed it back to his side. The pressure on his neck doubled and Harry screamed in anguish.
I HOLD THE POWER HERE! YOU HAVE NOTHING! NOTHING!
Darkness, black darkness closing in. Thea, think of Thea! But it was no use, there was no air! Harry had nothing left. His eyes were flickering closed. Nothing left to give... Luckily he had an eye that didn't need light.
Harry's eyes snapped open, finding the tiny spec of shining light tumbling through the air towards him. On only instinct, his hand snapped out. His fingers curled around the the light and in an instant the force around his neck snapped out like a switch. Harry plummeted down, the lion's head beneath him. As He fell he slashed out, lashing out again. The second eye flashed into view and Harry stabbed forward. Harry was tossed like a leaf by the blast but this time he was expecting it and spun as he flew, landing on his feet. His eye flickered down to the golden spark in his hand. A medallion? Like Voldemort had. The medallion that-
VEIL! THAT COULD GO THROUGH THE VEIL!
Harry's intelligent legs made up for his idiot brain and dashed away, running for the edge of the plateau.
He almost missed the figure standing on the edge of the ridge, his hand flung out, robe covering his face. The person who had thrown the medallion, the person who had saved him.
Who the hell was standing on a hill in hell?
Questions later. Fleeing now.
"Go! Run!" Harry yelled as loud as he could. "The veil!" The figure spun and stumbled away, grabbing his leg. Whoever it was they were hurt badly. Harry could hear the crashing behind him of the blind god rising. They needed to escape! Harry spun and fired hexes, anything he could think of. He had to give his saviour time to get away!
"Hey! Hey you stupid spayed bitch! Over here!" The ground shattered with every powerful stroke and Harry was thrown to the side.
Ok. Bad plan.
Harry dashed for the edge of the cliff, aiming his wand at the ground.
"Pinguis!" The ground instantly went slick like oil. Harry leapt in a rugby tackle, and slammed into his saviour, throwing them both off the edge of the cliff and sliding down faster and faster. The earth shook like an earthquake and Harry jerked his friend to the side as a crashing claw broke the mountainside.
Harry spun his wand in his hand and lashed the roughest healing he's ever cast at the man beside him. Harry's feet his the desert plain and he ran. Feet biting dirt, pushing and dragging and sometimes almost carrying the mad beside him as fast as both their legs would take them towards the distant veil.
Crashing lightning bolts rained down blindly, trying to stop them, the plain itself rose up like waves. Harry crashed through the waves and kept running. He slammed his hand into his friend's closing the medallion between them. Harry's legs pumped like pistons, his other hand flung out forward. The veil was so close. A bolt of lightning slammed right in front of him and Harry screamed a shield. The spell shattered almost instantly but another was thrown up from Harry's right the same moment and they were through, leaping into the shadows if the veil.
It was like falling into toxic waste. Harry splashed into it and dug his feet into the ground, forcing himself into the blackness. It wasn't enough, he could feel the other man struggling beside him. There wasn't enough power in the golden amulet to take them both through. Harry's fingers moved to release but he couldn't the hand with the gold was already inside the veil and stuck there. Harry twisted and he could see the massive god of death bearing down on them like a behemoth, it's blood streaming from it's ravaged face and back like a river. Stuck like this Harry would have no chance. He was dead.
Well... more dead.
The air in front of Harry misted over and Harry could hear the roars of the beast getting quieter. Time seemed to slow... The mist pulled together, shifting shades forming together. Piercing eyes looked out of the nothingness out at him, a wry smile. Dumbledore reached out towards Harry out of the smoke. He spoke but Harry couldn't hear anything. He spoke again, just one word. This time Harry understood.
"Stop saying sorry old man. I forgave you ages ago."
The old man's face broke into a smile for a moment before his features shifted and a new face appeared, young smooth skin and flowing hair.
"Ginny. I'm so so-" A ghostly finger was placed over his lips and Ginny smiled at him. A beaming smile that he hadn't seen in a long time, even that last year she had been alive. The mist parted again and a new face rose. Even younger, rising bodily out of the white. Clothes too big for his billowing in the smoke, lightning scar clear on his forehead.
The six year old Harry Potter stepped forward and embraced the seventeen year old. The childs lips moved and this time a little noise came out. Just a little...
"Any time brother."
The shade drew back and the three figures merged. Three faces becoming one, six eyes fading into one another. Six hands shifted together into two and reached forward, grabbing Harry by his lapels. The mist gathered and Harry could see other spirits, other faces, other hands joining the ones already there. Then... as one... they clenched... and pushed.
Harry couldn't help but scream as the pressure crushed him between the hands and the wall as he slid slowly into the veil. As he at last slid through the surface the last thing he saw was the screaming face of death howling as he escaped from her domain.
Take that bitch.
Harry cried out in triumph as he flew up like a bullet, wind whistling in his hair. He crashed out of the veil and stumbled to a dusty stone floor. The medallion fell from his hand and clattered to the floor in pieces. It hadn't survived. Maybe two people really had been too much for it.
Harry tried for a moment to rise but every muscle in his body quickly informed him that that was a stupid plan and he slumped back to the floor, taking huge gulps of the stale air. He could hear someone beside him doing the same. His eye swivelled in it's socket and at long last Harry got a good look at his rescuer. Even in his weakened state Harry almost choked in surprise.
The old professor didn't move, didn't respond. Probably didn't have the energy. Harry dragged himself to his knees and raised his wand to heal, only to find that it had been broken in two by the transit through the veil. Harry dropped it to the floor and reached forward. Maybe he could manage wandless magic one more time...
A light glow told him he had been successful and the werewolf turned over, his face still twisted in almost total exhaustion.
"Lupin is that really you?"
"Did we get out?"
"Yes. We got out." Harry glanced around. "I've been here before, it's in Egypt. Definitely on this planet. Last time I was here it was falling apart though."
"Are we alive?"
"Yes we're alive." Harry almost laughed. "Yes, despite everything we are actually alive. Do you want to tell me how the hell you got Voldemort's medallion and went into and... everything?"
"I found it... on the ground. Voldemort attacked Malfoy manor. I was left behind and... left for dead... there were veils everywhere. I saw you fight the dark lord. I found it in the rubble, I think it was the one he used to take Thea through the veil."
"So you... you came in after me? You don't even like me."
"You... you beat the dark lord. I couldn't... I couldn't just." Lupin ran out of breath and crumpled to the floor, resting his forehead against the rock.
"You couldn't leave me." Harry finished the sentence off for him. "You couldn't even have known if you'd get back."
Lupin didn't respond, just kept panting for breath.
"You could have died."
Harry run out of words. He couldn't even think of the beginning of anything to say. After a very long pause he settled for-
"You saved my life." Lupin didn't answer, just looked at him. "Thank you." They saw there in silence for a few moments more. As the seconds crawled by Harry noticed something in Lupins gaze that made him laugh out loud.
"Oh my god! You still hate me don't you?"
"I..." Lupin sort of shrugged. "Sorry. I've done it for so long I don't think I can stop."
"You went through the veil for me." Harry threw his head back and laughed. "And you still hate me."
"Sorry. I don't think I can stop. I've hated you for a long time."
"Well I don't hate you. People who save my life get a pass on hating me." There was silence again for a moment then.
"I saw James and Lilly. They pushed me through the veil."
"I saw Dumbledore. And Ginny. And... Harry."
"How did he look?"
"Really?" Lupin looked back up at the rippling veil. "It's a bleak place. Death."
"I don't think it's all like that." Harry shook his head. "Maybe that's just a kind of... stopping off point. Last time I was dead it was a lot nicer."
"More trees. Less angry mythical monsters. Few butterflies."
"Really? You're not just saying that?"
"No. They're... they're happy. Wherever they are they're happy." Harry paused. "You still got your wand Lupin?"
"We're surrounded by killer assassins."
"Oh." Another pause. "Is this what your life is like? One disaster to another?"
"Pretty much." Harry pushed himself to his feet as a white robed shape separated itself from the darkness.
"Frances." Harry waved weakly. "Hi, how you doing?"
"Hello Mr Potter."
"Please, call me Harry. Mr Potter is my father. Wait... no he isn't." Harry wondered briefly how much blood he had left in him. Not a great deal probably.
"You came out of the veil."
"Yeah... yeah I did. You planning on putting me back in?"
"I..." Frances looked from Harry to the veil then back. "You survived death itself. You survived what no one is supposed to survive... Death. You defeated the dark lord. You are the hero your name was meant for. You have no destiny and yet... I cannot help but think that there must be a plan behind all this. I cannot help but think that perhaps god has a plan for you that we do not know. I... No. I am not going to kill you Harry Potter."
"My friends call me Jack." Harry managed to step forward. "Thank you for not killing me."
"Let us help your friend." Frances gestured to Lupin. A while cloaked man instantly moved forward towards him.
"Are you going to get in trouble with your boss for letting me go?"
"Perhaps." Frances smiled. "But since he gave Voldemort your location I have been thinking that perhaps the order needs a change in leadership."
"Need any help?"
"I think you need to get home Mr Jack." The monk bowed slightly. "It was a pleasure to meet you."
"Yeah... about getting home." Harry glanced down at his tattered clothing then back at the injured Lupin. "Any chance of a lift?"
"All this is going to take years to repair properly." Hermione pushed her hair behind her ear and looked up at the ruined stump of Gryfindor tower.
"Hermione sit down." Ron was sitting nearby, his face in his hands. "You've been up since the battle, and before that. You need to rest."
"I can't! How can you?" Hermione hugged her arms around her chest. "I can't just rest. There's too much to do. Hogwarts is a wreck, there are injured people, the only parts of the ministry left alive are still covering in the basement..."
"We've done everything we can for the injured people and Hogwarts won't get built in a day. The order of the phoenix are dealing with everything else. Let them deal with everything else, they didn't just have to fight dead souls." Ron stood and put his arms around her. "Just lie down for a little while. You'll feel better."
"But everyone else is working."
"Only when you're watching them."
Hermione buried her head in Ron's chest and closed her eyes. She could almost fall asleep right here... except...
"Is that a helicopter?" Hermione cupped a hand to her ear. "It sounds like a helicopter."
"Why would a Helly-copter be flying around Hogwarts." Ron shook his head.
"It's definitely a helicopter. It's really close..." Hermione cocked her head. "It sounds like it's landing."
"Who would be arriving here by helicopter? Except for someone trying to make... an... entrance...'" Ron's eyes went wide suddenly. "You don't think..." But Hermione was already running, bursting out into the corridor with Ron hot on her heels. Crowds joined them as they ran and when she came to the cracked steps of the school all the marauders were already there, the order, the ministry. Hermione raised herself up on tiptoes but she couldn't see over them. Ron's hands closed on her waist and she was lifted up, above the crowd. She could see the crush pushing close right next to the helicopter, but one figure was forcing her way through it. Blond hair, white robes. The crowd opened for the seer and she was at the door to the machine before it even opened. The crowd went silent. They didn't want to hope. They didn't want to believe.
The door slid open...
A vast intake of breath...
Hermione put her hands to her mouth...
A heavy boot slid out of the cracked door and kicked it full open.
In one voice the crowd started yelling, crying, cheering. Hermione couldn't help but join in. Tears streaming down her face as she saw her friend, their hero, the man who could survive anything, the true hero, Harry Jack Potter, jump down and embrace the woman he loved. The phoenix song rose all around, greeting their friend, their kin. The only other creature in the world to defeat death. Hermione could hear Pythea crying over the noise of the crowd, sobbing in happiness, grabbing Harry's face as if to make sure he was real. Hermione brushed a tear from her face, it was beautiful.
"What's going on?" Ron yelled behind her. "I can't see a thing!"
EPILOGUE: One month later
Draco gave one last futile check in around the classroom before shrugging and adjusting his tie in a mirror before lifting his drink from the desk and stepping out the door. Back to the party. A month later ant only now had they got around to celebrate the victory. It had taken that long to clean up the mess.
"Mr Malfoy. Did you find Harry?" The voice came from behind him.
"No Professor." Draco turned to McGonnagall. "I don't think he's in the castle. There really aren't many places to hide until everything is repaired."
"Where can he be? He has to give a speech in just a few minutes."
"Then he'll probably be here in a few minutes. If he gets here at all." Draco shrugged. "He's earned being late."
"Well of course." The headmistress walked up to stand next to Draco. "How are you feeling today Mr Malfoy?"
"Um..." The question caught him off guard. "Quite good I suppose."
"Are the transformations becoming easier?"
"They're more... predictable."
"You've been spending a great deal of your time at Hogwarts recently haven't you? I know I have seen you here a good deal. Helping with the restoration."
"What's all this is about?" Draco's brow crinkled.
"Straight to the point. Alright Mr Malfoy. You know I intend to open this school for next summers intake whether the repairs are complete or not."
"It's been in the papers."
"What you perhaps do not know is that Professor Michelson will be leaving us as defence against the dark arts teacher. He is returning to his travels. Apparently some student told him about a creature called the Crumple Horned Snorkack and he now simply must hunt one. As such I require a new teacher."
"Are you thinking of Harry?" Draco asked sceptically. "I doubt he'd have the patience to teach, and he might spend more time messing with the other teachers than-"
"I was in fact thinking of offering you the job Mr Malfoy." Draco opened his mouth wide in shock. The thought had never occurred to him. "I understand you taught your friends combat techniques back when the marauder army was first put together."
"My friends yes, but other people?" Draco shook his head. "I don't know. And besides, I'm a werewolf. Won't people complain?"
"I have no doubt they will." Professor McGonnagall smiled. "But I do not listen to that type of person."
"But I... I can't. I'm not... suitable." Draco couldn't meet his old teacher's eyes. "I'm just... I'm sorry. I can't take the job. People wouldn't accept it."
"Mr Malfoy..." McGonnagall looked like she was about to say something then smiled. "There is a thing I have noticed Mr Malfoy, about people who keep secrets. Especially secrets they have had to keep for a very long time. They fear that people will find out, but often they think they keep the secret better than they actually are. Often the people close to them know..."
"Did Hermione say something?" Draco felt cold fear gripping his heart.
"I dare say I guessed a good deal before Miss Granger. After all, I have seen it before in someone very close to me." The old Professor bowed her head. "You are actually quite like him. Feeling almost like there is something wrong with you, feeling inadequate despite your many successes. And you both had many successes."
"Who?" Draco was confused. He hadn't ever envisioned himself having this conversation.
"The greatest Headmaster this school has ever had."
"Dumbledore?" Draco felt his breath catch in his throat. So that was why the old man had never married. He had never had a paramour, never been involved with anyone. Because he was also... wrong. Well, according to most of wizard society he was wrong. Draco's mouth felt dry but he managed to say, "Did he tell you?"
"No. But I knew. There were letters between himself and another boy when he was young. Reading between the lines the true nature of the relationship was obvious to someone who knew him. I never told him I read them. It was his choice to keep the secret and I respected that."
"But... but he was Dumbledore."
"Why would this change that?" McGonnagall reached out and placed a comforting hand on Draco's shoulder. For McGonnagall that was probably like a hug. "All I am trying to tell you Mr Malfoy is that if you choose to tell people I will support that decision. If people complain, well I don't listen to that type of person either. But even if you choose to never tell anyone, you are still in illustrious company."
Draco felt a tear come to his eye. He really hadn't ever imagined having this conversation.
"So. Enough of that." McGonnagall stepped back and adjusted her bun, her normal expression of sternness on her face. "Will you take the job or not?"
"I... yes!" Draco blurted. "Yes I'll take the job."
"Wonderful. I will expect a brief curriculum by the end of the week, I'll arrange to have the owl and newt syllabi given to you tomorrow." Mcgonnagall turned away and began striding towards the great hall. Draco followed her. "You will not be joining an entirely unfamiliar staff. I have hired The Pythea to teach divination."
"What about Professor Trewalny?"
"She was killed." The response was brief, but filled with strained emotion.
"I didn't even know."
"Only her family and friends were at the funeral." McGonnagall said quickly. "I considered dropping the subject entirely but my deputy headmaster informed me that having an easy subject increases our overall average scores."
"So you made Snape your Deputy Head?"
"He has earned it."
"And your friend Neville is going to be helping professor Sprout, who needs assistance since her injuries." They reached the entrance to the great hall and Draco paused, thinking he should say something. All he could think up was,
"Thank you for the job Professor McGonnagall."
"Minerva, you will have to get used to calling me that."
"Yes Minerva." Draco had a thought. "Will you still be teaching transfiguration?"
"No, I do not believe I will have time. I have selected someone else for the job."
"Not another marauder?" Draco smiled. "Soon we'll be the majority."
"No not another of your friends Mr Malfoy.. I will be asking an old acquaintance to take the job. Her name is Jane Archon, she is quite capable."
"Hermione turned you down didn't she?"
"Enjoy the party Professor Malfoy."
Snape took a deep sip of wine, it was quite a good vintage. They had clearly taken care over this party. Only right that they should, after all this war had in truth lasted the lifetime of most of the people around his table. But that was only because he was at the marauder table.
"Where is Harry?" Hermione kept looking around the great hall at the other tables as the clock clicked forward. "And where's Pythea?"
"They are no doubt together." Snape raised an eyebrow. "They often are."
As Hermione blushed Snape smiled and glanced to Natalie on his left. He certainly hadn't left her side a great deal in the last few weeks, although that might be partially die to the small sparkling ring on her finger. The stone had taken a rather complicated potion to make. It had been easily worth it. The look on her face had been the happiest moment of his life.
The moment when someone suggested a double wedding with Lupin somewhat less so. At least he had steered off that idea, he had been prepared to use poison to avoid it.
"I can't believe the papers are still talking about him as the chosen one." Padma Patil was shaking her head as she read a copy of the prophet. "I mean people know who he really is now!"
"Most people probably do not fully comprehend." Snape shrugged. "The headline read 'Harry Potter defeats Voldemort' and that is all most people read."
"Yeah but still..."
"Do you think Harry's got delayed or something?" Hermione was still watching the crowd.
"Oh no there he is!" Ron pointed at the doors of the great hall just as a cheer went up from the crowd. Snape craned to look as the boy hero cheerfully trotted through the crowd and vaulted up onto the raised stage of the high table. He typically hadn't bothered with dress rodes.
"So nice of all of you to come!" Harry spread his arms wide and welcomed the applause.
"Is there something different about Harry?" Natalie asked suddenly, but the boy was still speaking.
"I'm not very good at speeches, I prefer punching things, but here goes... The dark lord is dead!" Harry waited again for the applause to die down. "Well that went down well. Goodbye... Nah I'm kidding. But it's been a long battle, and we've all lost friends, family... we can't ever forget their sacrifices, or even our own sacrifices. Not much chance we will, but people traditionally say that so I thought I would. The most important thing though, is that it's finally over. We can finally get on with our lives. We can-" Harry's speech was cut short by a loud banging from the great door of Hogwarts. Snape's hand instinctual jumped to his wand.
"Damnit." Harry said, up on the podium. "Thought I had more time than that. Listen everyone! Everyone. Don't panic. What is about to come through those doors I have entirely under control. No one stands, no one draws wands. Understand? I have it under control."
"What's going on?" Ron hissed.
"Open the door!" Harry commanded, and flicked his wand, drawing the bolts back. As the heavy doors slid back a contingent of at least twenty goblins pushed in, angrily brandishing shock lances. Snape's hand slid to his wand again.
No Snape. Trust me.
Snape didn't move his hand closer. He didn't move it back either.
"Harry Potter aka Jack?" The goblin at the head of the formation barked.
"Technically the other way around but yes."
"You are under arrest for theft from Gringots bank."
"What!" The cry went up from all around the hall but Harry silenced it with a wave. Snape stood quickly.
"I believed this matter was settled. There is nothing to connect Harry to the theft from the Lestrange vault but unsubstantiated evidence."
Sit down Snape.
"That was not the theft I was referring to." The goblin sneered. "I am referring to your theft from the Potter vault. The fact that you repeatedly and knowingly withdrew money from Harry Potter's inheritance despite the fact that you are not Harry Potter."
"Ah yes." The one eyed boy smiled. "That."
"So you admit to the crime?"
"Well..." Harry tapped his lip, appearing to think. Then he shrugged and, to the horror of the room as a whole, said, "Why not? Yes."
"Those funds were necessary for the defeat of the dark lord!" Snape stood again.
I have got this Snape. Please sit down
"That is immaterial!" The goblin growled. "You have stolen from Gringots and so goblin justice applies."
"Yep, that's also true."
"So you submit?"
"Ah, now here's where we hit sort of a snag." Harry stepped out from behind the podium. "See you seem to be under the impression I'm going to... ah what's the phrase? 'Come Quietly'. Which, you know what... that's not going to happen."
"You are resisting arrest?"
"That was the implication."
"Then you leave me no choice." The goblin's voice went hard. For a moment the whole room was silent. Then the goblin's hands flashed forward, his bolt thrower in his hand. The arrow flashed through the air before anyone could stop it and flashed directly... through Harry's shoulder and into the wall behind him. The goblin didn't even hesitate in firing three more bolts straight through Harry and into the wall before dropping his arm to his side and yelling. "You're not really here!"
"Nope." Harry jumped down off the podium and walked directly through the lines of goblins like a ghost before turning and grinning at the door to Hogwarts.
"You cannot escape us!"
"Really?" Harry laughed. "Well I'll tell you something. There's something everyone's kind of forgotten. There's one last death eater out there. Barty Crouch. Barty freekin Crouch escaped and I once, when I was very young, made a promises to catch him. The fact that he's apparently fled to the continent and I might have to travel across half the world to exotic locations has no influence on my decision. None whatsoever. Well... maybe a little. God I hope he tries to hide somewhere near Rome I haven't been there yet. I get bored with normality. I thought I wouldn't, I thought peace would agree with me but you know what? Boring!"
"You cannot hide! Gringots is everywhere!"
"And good luck holding your banks together when all the wizards take their gold out." Harry laughed and tuned to the marauders table. "Sorry guys, guess I won't be joining you for the rest of the meal. Ron can steal my desert. Write to me! But no traceable addresses!"
Harry laughed and waved as he slowly faded into the air. The last things to dissipate were his eyes, laughing out of nothingness until he vanished entirely like a Cheshire cat. The trickster god eternally, fooling the world.
As the room fell into chaos Snape smiled to himself and took another rip of wine.
"Do you think he'll be back." Natalie whispered over the din of the crowd.
"He will be. When he realizes what he's left behind." They shared a mental image of Harry standing on a beach, beside him a white-robed figure. "Yes... He'll be back."
Snape smiled to himself as the goblins were driven from the room. He topped up his glass and raised it in a private toast.
"Harry... Bon Voyage."