A/N: 'Ultima' means 'last, final.' 'Fan-fiction' means 'I don't own these characters, Jo Rowling does.' 'Musings' means 'Good Beta-ing!'
Ronald Weasley had taken part in a dozen Auror raids without suffering serious injury, or even suffering what the old-timers would term ‘a close call’, before the law of averages (or the sinister power of the number 13) caught up with him. He and the rest of the squad were in stealth mode – Disillusioned and under silencing charms – as they made their way through the halls of the suspect’s home. They were perhaps halfway through their sweep, and had encountered no sign of the suspect’s presence, when Ron heard Harry’s voice about two feet to his left break the stillness by intoning the words:
“Don’t be early.”
Harry’s words of warning weren’t shouted in panic, but they were spoken in a tone of deep urgency, and Ron was quite unprepared to hear them at this juncture. He swiveled in shock in the direction of his friend’s voice, then -- just as he turned -- felt something singe the back of his neck, and slumped to the floor in a daze. Shouts and spells immediately filled the air. The suspect was quickly subdued, having given away his position with that Reductor curse aimed at Ron’s head. Well-aimed: if Ron hadn’t turned when he heard Harry speak, he would have been killed instantly.
As it turned out, Ron suffered only from some mild dizziness as an aftereffect of the glancing strike, enough to be sent to St. Mungo’s for observation but not enough to be held overnight. He was told, however, not to attempt Apparition of even Floo travel for another day, so he waited for Hermione to find a babysitter and come pick him up. While he waited, Ron attempted to go over in his mind exactly how much to tell her and how to phrase things. Then he tried to recall as exactly as possible the events of the day after Voldemort’s destruction….
He stood in the Room of Requirement with Ginny, intently observing Hermione go through a series of spells. Harry should be joining them in just a few minutes, Merlin permitting. As Hermione spoke yet another incantation he had never heard of, Ron felt his unease grow stronger. He’d suspected what Hermione was planning from the moment she had pocketed the wands. When the ultimate Head Girl had flatly lied to the Ministry representatives, telling them both wands had been destroyed, Ron had no more doubt. He’d never made any attempt to stop her, though, and he didn’t really want to: certainly not at this point. Hermione’s last incantation conjured two ghost-like hands which took possession of the wands and floated to opposite ends of the room. That one definitely did not come out of the Standard Book of Spells, Ron thought.
Hermione nodded to Ron and Ginny, and they took their rehearsed places: Hermione and Ginny holding onto the wand in one of the ghost hands, Ron placing his hand on the wand in the other (and thinking grimly that he was playing black on this occasion).Hermione had explained how this should work, based on Arithmantic theory and on Harry’s description of what had happened in that graveyard in Little Hangleton. Theoretically, with all Hermione’s additional spell work, only the final spell from the one wand would be discharged, and would remain semi-corporeal for minutes instead of seconds. Ron looked across at the determined faces of his sister and of his girlfriend, and tried to feel as certain about all this as they looked. They’re probably feeling the same way, he thought. Finally Hermione counted “one, two three” and all three of them exclaimed: “Ultima Incantatem.”
The two spells from the brother wands met, and a bead formed in the center. With the force of two spell-casters impelling it, the bead was rapidly forced towards the wand Ron was holding; contact came before Ron was ready for it, and the vibrations almost shook his hand free. Then, almost instantaneously, came another event Ron was not ready for, even though it was what they were all waiting for and expecting. A silver-gray ectoplasm emerged from the wand: feet first, then torso and arms, then at last an unmistakable face.
Finally detached from his enemy’s wand, the silver-gray Harry seemed to land clumsily on the floor and struggle to right himself, as if he had just taken a bad Floo trip. The moment Harry gained his balance and stood, Ron found himself looking directly into the eyes of his best friend and seeing confusion and shock stamped on them. Ron suddenly realized that, from Harry’s perspective, only a moment ago he had been facing Voldemort, seeing him hold out that same wand and call out the killing curse; now the Boy Who Had Lived saw Ron holding it as if the red-headed boy had stepped in an eye-blink into Voldemort’s place to finish the job. Ron gave a cry at that thought, and shook his hand off the wand like it was coated with live spiders. The ghostly hand held firm, though, and the ghostly Harry twisted around frantically to read the situation, his own now-useless silver-gray wand out and ready.
Harry looked at Hermione and Ginny, at the two wands still connected by the beam, and then at himself. Recognition of the state of things soon showed on his body and face.
“So… we got him, then.”
A set of cries went up all at once: “You did, Harry, you did it!” “The bastard went down screaming!” “You finished him, mate, he isn’t coming back!” The three excited survivors moved instinctively towards the echo of their friend (while the ghost-hands held on to their wands, and the spell was maintained), wanting to welcome him back with a hug, but then realized that the true body, the one which could be touched, was at that moment lying cold and unmoving one floor below them.
There was a momentary silence, which Hermione broke. “I’m sorry, Harry, I’m so sorry, I should have worked longer on that spell, I thought it should shield you…” The “objective experimenter” look that had been covering her face for the last twenty-four hours was completely gone and in its place was a picture of grief and guilt held under control only with the aid of the calming potion she (like Ron and Ginny) had drunk. Harry was trying to break in on Hermione’s repeated apologies but each try was aborted. He would start “No, Hermione, that’s…” and then grimace and fall silent, start again “Don’t apologize, it’s…” and then shake his head in frustration at being unable to finish the sentence. Hermione intervened again.
“You’re trying to say, ‘that’s alright’ and ‘it’s OK,’ aren’t you?” The gray head nodded. “You can’t, Harry. The dead,” Hermione swallowed and continued, “can’t lie. That’s why so many people try necromancy, because once you’re summoned, you have to give a truthful answer. Harry, you can’t say it’s alright that you’re dead, because it isn’t alright, and you know it. It’s not alright, it’s terrible, it’s --”
“So is that why you’re doing this,” Harry interrupted, “to tell me how terrible it is, and make sure I can’t contradict –”
A set of “no”s and protests cut off his statement, with Ron breaking through. “We just needed to do it, mate. We couldn’t leave it like… like that. We didn’t really get a chance to say goodbye.”
“I tried, Ron. And every time, every time, you would shut me up and tell me not to think about it, it was all going to be OK, there was no point in saying any advance goodbyes because we were going to make it through together. Well, I told you –” Harry paused a moment, and gave a little snort. Finally, he broke into a half smile and said “Alright, I reckon this is a pretty stupid time to be starting with ‘I told you so’.”…
The quartet smiled as best they could.
“I’m sorry too, Harry,” Ron continued. “I really thought, with all the times you’d gotten away when you really had no right to, that somebody had to be watching over you.”
“Yeah, I thought that way too, for a while, but I think if I did have some sort of protection it only lasted until I’d finished off Voldemort. After that… I guess it’s like those insects that once they’ve mated and their job is done, nature has no more use for them so…” Harry gave a shrug of his ghostly shoulders, then spoke again in a quiet voice, as if to himself: “Something else I never got to do….”
Although they tried very hard not to, Ron and Hermione couldn’t resist glancing at Ginny, who looked dismayed. Harry swore at himself and tried to apologize. “Ginny, I didn’t mean it that way. I wasn’t even thinking of you, I was just –”
“And who were you thinking of, Harry?” Ginny asked, and Ron noticed that there was a fair bit of snap in the reply, considering the circumstances.
“I wasn’t thinking of anybody, Ginny, just… taking note of the fact. Look, forget I said it. I’m still no good at this; I’m just messing things up like always.”
“No, Harry,” Ginny hastily replied. “You didn’t always mess things up. You got most things… you got most of the important things right.” Ginny paused a moment. “Most of the time,” she amended, sounding as if she couldn’t stand to swerve from absolute probity at a moment like this, and so had placed herself under the same truth compulsion binding Harry.
“Most things, most of the time,” Harry repeated, obviously not quite sure exactly how to take that.
“That puts you into Boyfriend Hall of Fame for sure, mate,” Ron said. “Inner circle.”
The ghostly Harry managed a ghost of a smile, as did Ginny.
“You know what else I used to fantasize about, that I guess I missed out on,” Harry said after a short pause. “I really wanted to see Riddle’s face when he realized he’d just bought it. But our surprise was a little too slow-acting, I was already gone….”
“But it did work, Harry, and you did the most important thing,” Hermione said. “You stopped him.”
“Yeah, I know that, but knowing that is somehow… when I think of him, not just of everything he did, but of that sneer on his miserable excuse for a face while he bragged and bragged about what he was going to do to me, to all of you…. Just having him gone -- I don’t know, I guess I’m immature or… unenlightened, but it feels like it’s not good enough. I don’t know what would be good enough, probably nothing. But I used to imagine myself… following him down, you know, giving him the business all the way to the judgment seat. I even had a bloody singing medley picked out, starting with ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’ and ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ and--”
“Well that wasn’t going to happen, because you definitely aren’t going in the same direction he’s bound for,” Ron insisted.
Harry shrugged. “I hope not,” he finally replied. “I don’t suppose–” Harry turned to Hermione “– I guess there’s no way to call the old bastard here, is there?”
“I don’t know, Harry. I wasn’t thinking about it when I arranged all this. I think we would need another wand, I mean another wand with the same core.”
“Well… how about this one?” The silver-gray Harry raised his silver-gray wand.
“I don’t think--” Hermione began, but was interrupted by Harry.
“What’s the incantation you used?”
It should not have worked. Hermione said later that when she saw it she was more surprised than she had ever been by anything else she had witnessed in the magical world, which was saying something considering she was Muggle-born and raised. It was as if a spell cast by someone in a Pensieve memory had affected the live observers. But somehow the spell from Harry’s weightless wand sent another beam to his solid wand. From that beam came a sickly, greenish-tinged glow, and from that glow a series of body parts began to emerge. Unlike Harry’s own slow, continuous emergence, these parts looked like they were being disgorged or spat out in rapid-fire pieces, as if Harry’s wand were desperate to hurl them away: a leg, an arm, another leg, part of a face, falling to the floor and struggling with one another for position, finally spasming together into the shape of the most feared wizard of his time.
The would-be Thief of Death saw where he was, and what he was, and couldn’t speak. He stared, frowned, bared his teeth, and rose up as if to deliver a curse, again and again, but each time sank back. When he broke off for the third or fourth time, it was all too much like a bad bit from a bad melodrama, and the quartet burst into laughter.
The fury on the face of the Lord of the Death-Eaters now lent an added darkness to his dark, gray-green hue. The dark wizard turned to his slayer and spoke a single word, in a hiss of hatred.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Harry answered jauntily. “I’m Harry James Potter, son of James Potter and Lily Evans Potter. Who are you?”
“You all know me!” the dark lord raged. “You all feared my name! I am Lor…. I am Lor…. I am Vo…” The syllables stopped coming, and Ron could almost swear he heard the gnashing of those insubstantial teeth. Finally, an utterance forced itself through the snarling lips, as if the speaker were trying to strangle it in his own throat. In a harsh rasp, but still perfectly audible, came the words “I am… the shade… of Tom Marvolo Riddle.”
Ron, Ginny and Hermione looked on silently as Harry and Riddle continued their contest. Clearly it was a duel Harry was far better prepared for than was his adversary.
“Tom Marvolo Riddle, the dead, half-blood criminal? Tom Riddle, who used to brag about how he was going to rule the world and live forever, and ended up being outlived by thousands of millions of Muggles who went about their lives completely unaware of his existence? That Tom Riddle?”
Riddle shook his head furiously, but the word which he pronounced was “Yes.” “I outlived you too, Potter,” he spat.
“Yes, you did, Tom. You outlived me by about a second. That makes me your elder in death, and now you’ve got to listen to your elder, don’t you? But you did get to kill me, after failing how many times?”
“Six times you escaped me, Potter.”
“Quite a foul-up, aren’t you, Tom? Couldn’t kill a baby, couldn’t kill a Hogwarts firstie, and couldn’t kill a fourteen-year-old recovering from Cruciatus. It must have been embarrassing, having to slink off every time after all that bragging and crowing and strutting and fretting. But you were persistent, I’ll give you that. I imagine your father would be proud of you for it.”
This was met with an absolute rattle and hiss.
“And finally, seventh time, you got me! Seven must be your lucky number, Tom!”
“No. Not lucky.”
“Oh, that’s right: you’re dead too.”
A long keening moan.
“…And think of all those plans that will never be realized now that you’re dead…. Tell us, Tom. Tell us your hopes, your dreams. Tell us now. What did you want to live for?”
“The study of revenge, immortal hate,” the dark adversary proclaimed. “I would have taken the three of you here next, tortured you, made you watch each other suffer and die. Then done the same to everybody who opposed me.”
“And then you would have lived happily ever after, wouldn’t you”
“No. I would have gone through the world, looking for enemies, or anybody who might become an enemy, and invented new forms of pain and death to give them.”
“And then you would have been satisfied?”
“No. I would have become tired of my followers, of seeing their grunts of contentment at the power I had given them, at the victories I had won for them. They had no right to share it with me, share the satisfaction. It was mine. I would have turned on them, wiped them out as well.”
“And then you would have been content?”
Tom Riddle puzzled over this, and could not answer for a while. Finally he declared, in a bewildered tone “I needed to be feared and worshipped; I despised the ones who feared and worshipped me; I needed to destroy the ones I despised… but then….”
Riddle seemed to be attempting to work his way through the conundrum, but Harry interrupted.
“It sounds like quite a problem, Tom, and I don’t see any way to solve it. I guess you’re lucky I killed you and you don’t ever have to face it.”
“Where do you get the right to gloat, Potter,” Riddle screamed. “I killed you too! You lost also!”
“No, Tom, you lost what mattered most to you, but I got what mattered most to me.” The Heir of Slytherin stared in puzzlement at this. “You don’t understand, do you? I’ll give you a hint: what mattered most to me is right here in this room.” Riddle’s eyes actually lit up for a moment as he scanned his surroundings. It occurred to Ron that he must be looking for some kind of resurrection potion.
“Three treasures, Tom,” Harry said. The dark lord gazed around at the furniture and cabinets which he would of course have been helpless to open even if the treasures were there. “Cold, Tom,” Harry continued, following his nemesis’ gaze. “Cold, colder, colder… frozen to death.” Harry shouted in furious disgust. “You stupid wanker. You stupid, worthless lump of shite…. People actually followed you, people kissed your robe? I’ve had enough of this.” Harry raised his wand.
“Wait, Potter, wait,” Riddle cried out. “This isn’t life but it’s still… existence. Let me stay in it, and you can go on insulting me, go on taunting me, as much as you like, as long as you like.” He turned to plead his case to the other three. “You could bring me to the Ministry, in this form, put me on exhibit – people could come and curse me all day and I would be helpless, powerless against them, they could remind me a thousand times a day how I failed, how I lost, you could all take pleasure in my misery, my impotent fury, as many times as you wanted, but I would still have some shred of existence….”
Harry finally stopped him with a gesture, and paused to consider his answer.
“Should we?” he asked his friends. Ron didn’t think much of the idea, but felt obligated to say “It’s up to you, Harry.” Ginny and Hermione nodded agreement, and Harry turned to Riddle. “It depends on how you answer this question, Tom. If you can answer ‘yes’ we’ll give you a chance.”
Riddle nodded with desperate eagerness.
“Let’s suppose the Devil came into the room now,” Harry went on, “and said to you: ‘I’ll turn back time. I’ll bring you back to life, and I’ll keep you alive as long as you keep killing. You have to torture and kill at least one innocent Muggle every minute of every day to stay alive.’ What do you think, Tom? Would you able to turn down an offer like that? Could you stop killing, for one minute?”
Riddle twisted himself into a serpentine in his attempt to avoid the answer which everybody knew had to come. It came in another choked whisper.
“Well, there’s the answer to your request. Go back to being nothing, Tom. Finite.” Harry swished and flicked, and – in the middle of another cry of protest – the shade of Tom Marvolo Riddle vanished for good.
The three who were still alive gave a kind of simultaneous shudder, trying to shake the clammy and unclean feeling off their skin. The posthumous one went on frowning and shaking his head. “That was… I can’t say I feel satisfied at that. But it’s something. Thanks.”
Harry looked down at the threads of magic between the wands which were keeping him there, then raised his head to speak again. “Enough about him. I really should be taking the chance to talk about us. But I still don’t think I know how to say...”
“You don’t have to say anything, mate,” Ron said.
“Let him talk, Ron!” Ginny snapped back at him.
“I’m not stopping him, I’m just saying…”
“Look, he obviously wants to say something…” Hermione said.
“You’ll never stop, will you,” Harry said fondly. “Okay, I know what I want to say to you all.” The others quieted and attended.
“I never told you before, but after I found out about how my parents had died, and how I’d survived because of my mum’s protection, I used to wonder… I didn’t know how magic worked; I guess I still don’t know how magic works, but what if it’s like… Hermione, you remember when we learned about matter and energy in school, that you can’t get it out of nothing, it was like whatever you use had to be paid for somehow? Yeah, of course you do. So when Dumbledore told me about my mother’s love being what had saved my life, I thought, maybe it’s like that with magic too, so much love was used up for me and it had to be balanced somehow. So maybe that meant, for the rest of my life, I would never be able to get any more of it.”
“Oh, Harry,” Hermione cried.
“Well, I’d lived with the Dursleys for all those years – you see how that… theory… would make sense to me, it would explain why even though I was their relative, nothing I ever did could buy a hug or a kind word, no matter how I tried. It was the conservation of magic law at work. But the point is,” Harry continued, “you three, you showed me how wrong that was. That’s why… My mother saved my life, but I wouldn’t have had a life if it weren’t for you. I owe you everything, and now I’ll never be able--”
“You don’t owe us, Harry,” Ginny pleaded. “Just listen to what you’ve been saying. It’s not a balance sheet. We didn’t love you because we expected to get repaid for it…”
“I know, I know. OK, I don’t ‘owe’ you, but... I’m grateful. I can say that, right? And you know I loved you too, all of you?”
“We know, Harry.” “We know.” “’course we did, mate.”
“Good, good. Glad we got something accomplished here.”
The quartet shared quiet smiles.
“There’s something else, though, Harry, something we have to get settled,” Ron said. “Scrimgeour wants to take charge of, you know, your funeral.”
“He wants the service to be at the Ministry…”
“…and he’s going to invite wizards and witches from around the world, to pay tribute--”
“Ron, for God’s sake, NO, you can’t – he can’t be serious, after everything that rotten bunch put me through, put all of us through, he thinks he’s going to make me the star attraction at his effing little party? ‘Look, everyone, under my great leadership we won the war, and I’ve got the trophy here to prove it!’ Squeeze out some crocodile tears and then all the ministers and sub-ministers of all the other countries who didn’t do a damned thing against Voldemort can swap stories about how they held up during the war? ‘It was such an ordeal, Floo travel could be backed up seven minutes sometimes when there was a mass killing!’ No, Ron, please!”
“I know, mate…”
“You read my will, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, I read it, Harry.”
“Okay, so you know you’re the executor, you’re the one who decides this sort of thing. Ron, I’m begging you: don’t let them do this!”
“I promise, Harry!”
“Please, swear to me--”
“I swear on my wand, mate!”
Harry calmed himself and finally gave a half-sinister grin. “If you can’t – if you really can’t stop them, ask Fred and George if they know any animation spells, and maybe some ventriloquism: they should make me get up, tell Scrimgeour to eat dung, and walk out.”
Hermione tut-tutted, Ron and Ginny bellowed with laughter, and for a moment it seemed all was right with the world again. Ron had to break the mood, though, to ask:
“How do you want it done, Harry? Where, who gets to come?”
“Anybody from the D.A. and the Order can come. Anybody else is up to you, maybe some of the other students. Just not the, you know…”
“Not the Romilda Vanes,” Ginny suggested.
“Right. And if you can, have the funeral here at Hogwarts. And if it’s okay with everybody, this is where… I’d like to stay here. Can you ask about that, I don’t know if it’s done, but…”
“We’ll say it was your last request,” Hermione said. “I don’t think they could turn that down.”
“Okay. Good. I don’t mean in the middle of the Great Hall, you know. Someplace on the grounds. But this is where everything important happened for me, all the best moments of my life. And getting rid of Voldy wasn’t number one,” he said. He turned to Ginny. “It was end of my second year, saving your life back then. That was it.” Harry looked pleased, as for once in this afterlife the speech constraints had allowed him to say exactly what he wanted to say. “Never mind all of this,” he waved at the wands, dismissing them and the vanquishing of the Dark Lord they symbolized. “Getting you out of the Chamber, that’s still the best thing I ever did in my life.” Harry gave Ginny a tender smile. “Guaranteed, a hundred percent true now,” he said to her quietly.
All of the calming potion Ginny had taken must have been burned through in a second. She looked at Harry for a moment with a kind of elation, and then her face fell and she gave way to cries so breath-sapping they made Ron’s ribs wince with sympathy pains. Ron and Hermione rushed to support her and Harry could only look on anxiously, his spectral arms lashing the air with frustration at their own uselessness. “Please, Ginny… Honey, please,” he said again and again, with no apparent effect.
After some time Ginny regained control of herself, but by then Harry was in a state. “This is no good,” he said to the trio of survivors. “I can’t touch anybody; I can’t even cry along with you, I don’t have any tears in me…. You’ve got to end it. Don’t -- please don’t do this spell again. We’ll make this goodbye, okay?” A dialogue with Ginny followed, she repeatedly saying “not yet, not yet” and he replying “you’ve got to let me go”, until finally she nodded in acceptance.
“We’ll see each other again, Harry,” Ron said. “I know we will.”
“Not for a long time, okay guys? Not for… a hundred years. If any of you come calling before then, I won’t answer. A hundred years, at least. Because if there is some reunion place, then I won’t be alone while I wait for you, will I?”
“No, you won’t. Say hello to Sirius for us, okay?”
“Yeah, I’ll do that. And say goodbye to your mom and dad, and Fred and George… everybody. Well… Take care of each other. I love you three.”
Harry nodded to Hermione, who pronounced, with shaky hand and voice, the Finite Incantatem. In the moment before Harry faded out, Ron called “See you again!” one last time, and Harry intoned, with deep urgency, three last words:
“Don’t be early.”
Ron didn’t know what the Animagus transformation felt like, but he felt something like that must have just happened to him; he had spent the last year or so in an alien shape, as a wizarding warrior in an epic tale, and now he was suddenly returning to his true form: a rather thick teenaged boy, unable to understand why his best friend was gone, and crying uncontrollably for his loss….
Hermione sat at the side of Harry’s grave at Hogwarts, listening to her husband finish his short speech of gratitude to Harry for saving his neck on the raid. Ron patted the headstone as he had a hundred times before, at the spot on the right where the top began to round into a semicircle (the stone’s right ‘shoulder’ was already beginning to show the wear on this spot), and came around to sit on Hermione’s left. After a quiet minute or so, Ron began talking.
“I know you don’t believe in this sort of thing. I can give the alternate explanations myself: I picked up on something on a subliminal level, some sign of movement that shouldn’t have been there, and my subconscious tried to alert me. So what better way of doing that than taking the form of Harry, standing beside me like in the old days, giving me a heads-up…”
“I wasn’t going to say that, Ron.”
“I know. But I know how your mind works after all these years. And I can even use words like ‘subliminal’ in conversation now.”
They shared a smile, and Hermione leaned her cheek against Ron’s.
“And furthermore, you were going to say--” Ron began.
“No I wasn’t going to say it, whatever it was. I was just going to sit here and keep you cozy.”
“…you were going to say, ‘if our loved ones can contact us from the next world, then why doesn’t everybody get this kind of warning all the time?’ Well, the way I figure it, it must be against the rules. But you know Harry; he was always good at getting around the rules.”
“So, maybe Harry’s serving detention now.”
“That would be my guess.”
“If that’s true,” Hermione continued, placing her hands over the sides of Ron’s face, “you know what that means.” Her face turned serious. “He might not be able to help you out next time. So you have to careful next time you go out.”
“I’m always careful, Hermione.”
“Extra careful, then. Please?”
Ron nodded, and kissed Hermione gently on the mouth. They rose and dusted themselves off, and prepared to leave.
“See you in ninety years or so, mate.” Ron cheerfully waved.
Hermione then whispered “Thank you for everything, Harry,” and fondly pressed her hand upon the stylized depiction, above Harry’s name, of his lightning-bolt scar.