Disclaimer/Author's Note: Harry Potter and all the terms you recognise from the books and movie belong to the brilliant J.K. Rowling, her publishers and Warner Brothers. No copyright infringement is intended and I'm certainly not making any money off of this. Many other concepts, bits of dialogue, and some quotes, were also inspired by or at times shamelessly copied from their sources and adapted to the situation. Have fun with calling them if you see them. Most of them are individually disclaimed at the fanfiction.net postings.
Existence, really, is an imperfect tense that never becomes a present. Nietzsche.
Standing on the walkway between two battlements of a fortress on top of a hill, Harry looked at the flickering lights of an impressive city some three miles away to the west. It was like a huge wedding cake with seven tiers.
The city was called Concordia, which was Latin for Harmony. It was located in what could best be described as a circular island covered by a Magical Hemispherical dome that had a radius of a bit over half a mile on the outside and was twenty times larger on the inside, and that moved around from one secluded place to another every week. The domed island was therefore called Nomad Island.
Nomad Island had the highest concentration of magical beings in the world. Concordia was home to about forty five thousand beings, half of whom were wizards, and that also made it the largest magical settlement in the world.
He lifted his gaze and looked at the night sky as it was projected inside the dome. It was a clear night, and he saw many familiar constellations, for it was the star field of the Northern Hemisphere. The island could be at the bottom of the South Pacific, but the sky would always be the same. From observing Polaris' position, Harry roughly estimated the place where the night sky might look like the projection, and he came up with the Iberian Peninsula, or similar latitude. Astronomy had never been his strong point.
Two years had gone by since he'd defeated Voldemort and left Hogwarts. One of those years he had spent training as an Auror, and the second year he'd been in this place.
"Out here all by yourself, Potter?" a voice asked. "Why aren't you at The Barrel?" The Barrel was the tavern of choice for all off-duty Rangers. And that night, Harry had been officially inaugurated as a Ranger. He now held the rank of Ranger Seventh class.
He looked at the person who was speaking to him. It was a tall and imposing man standing four inches taller than Harry at six feet and three inches, with chiselled features and a full head of silver hair. His eyes were filled with wisdom, yet there was still a hint of the lazy and insolent look he'd had in his youth.
Harry snapped his heels together as he stood in attention, placed his right fist to his chest and bowed. "Commander Ironheart, sir!"
The old man casually returned Harry's salute, minus the bow. "As you were!"
Harry relaxed and eyed the man suspiciously. "What brings you out here, sir?"
"That should be my line, Mr Potter." Ironheart sighed. "Today, you officially became a Ranger. You should be in The Barrel, celebrating with your classmates."
Harry shook his head. "I'm not really in the mood for celebrating sir."
"Aren't you happy?"
"I'm pleased, but not really happy." Harry shrugged helplessly. "Don't get me wrong, I'm very proud to be part of an Order that protects the innocent from threats they can't deal with by themselves. But my reasons for being here aren't quite as noble as you'd like them to be."
"As I'd like them to be? Please elaborate." Ironheart frowned.
Harry shifted his stance uncomfortably. "Well, you know what I did in the late spring of 1998?" Harry swallowed, and his spirits plummeted as he remembered it. Voldemort and his supporters had killed Sirius Black and Hagrid, among others, in a particularly savage attack. Harry and Ron had tracked the attackers down and killed Nott and Macnair...in self-defense. They'd caught up with Lucius Malfoy and interrogated him, but the Death-Eater had smugly pleaded ignorance, confident that Fudge, who was on his payroll, would protect him. Blind with rage, Harry had tortured Malfoy with the Cruciatus curse, and when a horrified Ron tried to stop him, Harry had turned his wand on him before he knew what he was doing. Ron's agonised screams had brought Harry back to reality, but the damage had been done. A month or so later, he'd defeated Voldemort 'the Muggle way', by decapitating him with Godric Gryffindor's sword, but most of the wizarding world, especially the Weasleys, shunned him because of what he'd done to Ron.
"I know all about that." Ironheart nodded gravely. "Go on!"
"Well, as you can imagine, I wasn't everybody's favourite son after that." Harry fought to keep the bitterness from creeping into his tone. His shoulders sagged and his head drooped as he took a deep breath. "But I understand. A Muggle philosopher, Nietzsche, pretty much phrased what happened to me. 'If you gaze too long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.'" His lips formed the thinnest sort of smile after he finished the sentence. There he went, quoting philosophers again. The Dumbledore brothers had probably rubbed off on him that way.
"Yeah? Well Holbrook said, ' Man looks in the abyss, there's nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character and that is what keeps him out of the abyss,'" Ironheart said quietly. "You saw the abyss, and it changed you, to be sure! But you didn't fall into it, like Tom Riddle did.
"You have to let go of your guilt and forgive yourself. You fought a battle and faced a horrible destiny that was thrust upon you. You may have lost your footing, but you never lost your way! If you had, you wouldn't be a protector of good right now; rather you'd be bitter and resentful and dabbling in the dark arts to get your revenge."
The old man paced about on the walkway to collect his thoughts. "As my Muggle-born son-in-law would say, ' The wizarding world chewed you up like chewing gum, to remove the foul taste in its mouth and replace it with minty freshness. After they were done with you, they spit you out.'"
"Nice metaphor." Harry smiled ruefully.
"It does mark my point well, eh? But some people still care, like your fellow Rangers. Even though you didn't tell them about this, they know! News travels fast. Some were apprehensive at first, but they all came around," the Canadian Ranger said.
"My dear boy, haven't you heard what I've been telling you? It is what you are doing right now that matters! In our eyes, you have more than made up for the mistakes you've made."
Harry shook his head. "No offence to the Rangers, Commander, but the people who matter to me most hate me, because it was their son and brother I tortured. Without their forgiveness, I can't be complete, and I mean that literally. All my happy memories are somehow connected to them. I can't even produce a Patronus anymore because of that, sir! I've tried very hard, but nothing seems to work."
He managed to hold back a sob and tried to will himself not to shed the tears that were coming, but to no avail. It was as if the universe had decided it had been too long since he'd cried for the last time, and nothing would stop the tears.
Ironheart regarded the tears that were streaming down Harry's face. "I wish I had all the answers, but I don't. I doubt that even Albus would have been able to help you with this one. It's a good thing that you told me about your Patronus though, because I wanted to deploy with the Dementor hunters."
"I'm sorry sir. I let you down," he mumbled miserably. But he couldn't help the fact that he was no longer able to perform the Patronus Charm. As long as the Weasleys and Hermione hated him, he would only be an empty shell. All the happy memories were now tinged with sorrow and guilt over what had done…and what he had become. They could no longer be used to cast the charm.
"No, you didn't let me down, son. You're here and you're a Ranger! Just promise me one thing."
"Never, ever give up! Fight to win back those you hold dear. Deep down they must still care for you…never forget that."
"Then why did they banish me?" Harry sniffed, wiping the tears out of his face.
"They are afraid of you, Harry! You're a very powerful wizard, and in your brief lapse you must have been terrifying indeed, and they are only human," the old Ranger explained. "Now, do you promise?"
"Yes," Harry whispered. "On the graves of Albus Dumbledore, Hagrid, Sirius and all those who gave their lives to defeat Voldemort," he said, a little louder. "You're right, sir! I can't wallow in self-pity anymore. Even if they never forgive me, I will strive to make this world a safer place, so that no child will ever have to experience what I had to go through as a child. That those I hold dear can live their lives in peace, even though I can't be part of it. Maybe I won't know happiness, but at least I'll be content. I can still be that sticky piece of gum under the sole of evil," he added, referring to Ironheart's earlier quote in a forced attempt at humour.
"You are a true Ranger, Harry! I'm proud of you…we all are!" Ironheart said solemnly. "Now…why don't you go and mingle with your classmates? It may be a year before you see some of them again."
"You're right, sir. I'll do that." Harry nodded and forced a happier look onto his face. His heart was still heavy, but at least he had some perspective on things after talking to the commander.
He stared at the retreating form. Commander Ironheart had reached out to him just now. Several others had tried to do the same thing over the course of the training, but Harry had chosen to keep them all at arm's length. At the time he'd felt like he'd done the right thing, but in retrospect it was probably a good idea to be well acquainted with those upon whose lives you would depend at some point.