Harry Potter, thirty years old and the last surviving member of the Order of the Phoenix, blinked his eyes rapidly, trying to restore his vision. His ears still rang from the explosion and being half-blinded left him close to helpless. He dashed the tears from his eyes, ignoring the debris that rained down around him. I have to see this, he thought, I've spent so long… I have to do this. He squinted, holding up a shaking hand to shield his face.
Gobbets of flesh, drops of blood, bits of gravel rained down, but the deluge eventually trailed off. Before him was a smoking crater, almost twenty feet across. Harry's breath hitched painfully in his lungs. Was it finally over? He blinked rapidly again when he saw a twisted mass of half-melted steel imbedded in the lip of the crater. The sword of Gryffindor was no more, having finished its purpose in finally ending the line of Salazar Slytherin. Harry mourned the vague awareness he could sense in the blade.
Whatever bit of Godric he left of himself in the sword is probably happier now. Harry mused; it's served its purpose, so it can move on to the next great adventure, as Albus used to say.
"I suppose it's my turn now," Harry said aloud. With one last glance at his final battlefield, he Disapparated.
Harry appeared in the ruined Great Hall. The steady drip of water from the shattered ceiling beat a quiet tattoo on the cracked flagstones. It seemed to rain constantly these days and Harry wondered if it was a consequence of the battle that had been fought here. If the heavens wanted to weep over what had happened here so many years ago, who was he to disagree?
Still the patter of droplets on stone was soothing in its own way. Any balm for his grief was welcome indeed. The rage was gone, burned out in the apocalyptic fury that ended the war, and now Harry was left feeling hollow and cold… like a burned out building after the flames had died. Like Twelve Grimmauld Place.
The gaunt man in his tattered and blood-stained robes sank to his knees on the wet stone floor. Memories of happier times in this place overwhelmed him and he wept bitterly until darkness claimed him.
Harry awoke cold, wet, and shivering. He slowly rose to his feet, trying to massage feeling back into his fingers. That was stupid, he thought as old scars and badly-mended fractures began to all throb in time with his pulse, I'm not in my bloody twenties anymore. I'm going to be sore all day, if someone ambushes-
He cut that thought off. The war was over. He'd finally killed that bastard. If he'd had any Death Eaters left, Tom would have had them with him at the end, hoping for some advantage. Even if some had fled the conflict, Harry remembered what Hermione told him about her examinations of the Dark Mark, a corruption of the ancient Protean Charm. With the final death of the bearer of the Master Mark, everyone else that carried the mark would perish as well. Harry imagined that little surprise was kept from the Death Eaters though.
Harry took in a deep breath and let it out. It was over, and he could finally relax. He looked up, past the shattered stone vaults, at the storm clouds brewing overhead. The war was over, but the price had been far, far too high. He felt his hands curl into fists, the ragged nails digging into his palms. Too many…
The rubble around him began to shift, smaller pieces tumbling down, the haphazard piles of stone left from the cleanup settling. The ministry had barely been organized enough to send Aurors out to retrieve the bodies; they never had a chance to even discuss rebuilding before they were gone as well.
Harry swallowed, ruthlessly forcing his magic back down. A small corner of his mind want to set it loose let it rage out of control, even if it brought the remaining walls down on his head. I need to let Albus know, he thought to himself, desperate for any distraction at this point.
He still remembered the way to the headmaster's office, and barely noticed when he had to detour around collapsed stonework or jump over a crack in the floor. When he reached the half-melted gargoyle, he laid his hand on its distorted face and whispered, "The end of days". The charm he had replaced on the statue caused it to swing aside with a grumble of stone on stone. Harry slowly ascended the stairs.
The headmaster's office still looked like a disaster area. The stone walls were black with scorch marks and the furnishings were little more than ashes. Harry remembered Hermione wincing when she first saw that the priceless tomes had been reduced to ashes. Of course they had all been numb by that point, but that reaction was the kind of thing Ron and he had kidded her about since they were first years. That memory brought it all back to him again, and bile flooded the back of his throat as other thoughts rose unbidden.
"Harry?" the headmaster's voice brought him out of it. He nodded gratefully. "I'm back, Albus."
The face in the portrait smiled, but the eyebrows were knitted above eyes that hadn't twinkled in years. The corner where Dumbledore's picture hung was the only area that had been spared the flames. Tom Riddle had cast a shield to protect the magical portrait when he came here thirteen years ago. He'd wanted to talk to the only remaining vestige of his former teacher, to gloat over how they'd never detected the horcrux embedded in the Sorting Hat, the piece of his soul shrouded by the magical intelligence created by Godric Gryffindor.
"Was your plan a success?"
Harry nodded slowly, struggling against his memories. When the silent alarm charm placed on Helga Hufflepuff's cup was triggered, Voldemort quickly checked on the hiding places of the other pieces. When he found most of them missing, he massed his forces and stormed Hogwarts to retrieve the piece hidden in the headmaster's office. While Harry, Ron, and Hermione had been quietly searching Little Hangleton, their school was sacked and burned. Their first warning came at the end, when Voldemort's joy and relief burst through Harry's Occlumency shields like they weren't even there… and by then it was too late.
There were so few survivors of the Hogwarts Massacre that most of what they knew was based upon the positions of the bodies and what little the ghosts could tell them. Neville Longbottom, who took over leadership of the DA when Harry and his friends left, had led the students out into the courtyard to help the teachers defend the school. From the number of slain Death Eaters, they appeared to have held their own. Finally Voldemort himself stepped in, and brought down the outer walls with horrifically powerful blasting curses, and the resistance quickly collapsed.
When Harry regained consciousness and the three of them Apparated to Hogsmeade, it was already over. He barely recalled their breathless terrified run to the smoking castle. Villagers were already picking through the ruins, desperate to find any survivors. They found Luna next to Neville in the centre of the courtyard. Their eyes were wide open and glassy, signs of the killing curse. Amongst the black-robed bodies in front of them was a familiar face. Harry stopped and stared at Bellatrix Lestrange, her mask thrown aside in her death agonies and most of her ribcage reduced to a red ruin. He hoped Neville realized before his end that he'd gotten the woman who'd tortured his parents to insanity.
He lingered there, not wanting to leave. There was another body he needed to look for, one he dreaded finding. As long as he didn't see it, as long as he didn't know for sure, he could maintain a little hope. Ron's strangled cry turned his blood to ice, but he couldn't let his friend face this alone.
Ron was on his knees in one corner of the courtyard, Hermione kneeling next to him holding his shoulders. Harry felt his feet moving, but he'd remember how long it took to walk that distance for the next thirteen years. His eyes were locked on the ground in front of his feet. As long as he didn't look up, as long as he didn't acknowledge it, there was a chance, a hope… Harry stopped next to Ron and looked up.
Ginevra Molly Weasley laid spread-eagle on the ground. His eyes locked onto her face, ignoring the shredded robes, the bloody wounds, the signs that she had not died easily or quickly. Her face was pale, the spray of freckles across her nose vivid in the fading light… but she looked almost peaceful now, relaxed like she was only asleep. Harry had only gotten to see her sleep a few times. After they'd started dating in his sixth year, she'd once dozed off with her head in his lap while studying in the common room. The crease between her eyebrows flattened out, and her lips relaxed into a soft curve. He remembered staring at her for hours, his textbook forgotten, until she shifted and woke up embarrassed. He stared at the face of the girl he loved, knowing that she would never wake. No prince could kiss death away.
His next clear memory was sitting on a bed at The Burrow, staring at the end of his wand, knowing that it would only take two words to make it all end. Thinking about Ginny's disgust with him if he let Tom win helped him put the wand down and go to sleep.
"Harry?" Dumbledore said softly.
Harry shook himself, pulling himself back from his memories. He wasn't surprised to find himself sobbing. He found himself doing that more often this past year, since he'd started travelling alone. He hadn't wanted to worry Hermione, and it made Ron uncomfortable, though in the end he understood better. He took another deep breath to steady his voice. "You were right; someone with the Americans was feeding him information. The plan worked."
Since the collapse of the English Ministry, along with most of the European Ministries of Magic, the American Department of Magical Affairs deployed several divisions of their war-mages in an expeditionary force. Their commander was given orders to do whatever was necessary to 'contain the situation' and keep the Dark Lord East of the Atlantic. At first, the green troops were no match for the battle-hardened remnant of the Death Eaters. However, they learned quickly and were soon able to liberate the larger cities, though the cost was high. Diagon Alley was left a smoking ruin before the last Death Eater fell. The only thing the well-equipped Yanks couldn't handle was Voldemort himself. Military-grade curses that should have turned him into charred meat either missed or had little to no effect. As the death toll mounted, Harry reluctantly made contact with Alexander Hastings, the American general, and explained the convoluted tale about his role in the war and the prophecy.
The Americans were helpful, and the relief they brought to his countrymen, Wizard and Muggle, was welcome – even if it came too late for most of the people Harry cared about. Unfortunately, as he continued to use the curse bond from his scar to search for Voldemort, his quarry had become more and more elusive. Their Occlumency and Legilimency duels were practically a nightly occurrence, almost always ending in a stalemate. Though Harry could get little more than glimpses of Voldemort's surroundings, sometimes that was enough to make a guess about where he was located. The maddened wizard still struck, seemingly at random, but he always left before Harry could arrive. After raiding another of Voldemort's bolt holes, which showed signs of having been vacated just minutes earlier, Harry and Albus began to wonder if there was a leak among the Americans.
The trap was crude, but effective. Harry, covered with blood and screaming in pain, Apparated into the American encampment. He talked deliriously, but quite loudly, about being injured by something in the dungeon of ruined Hogwarts. Once he was alone with the Healer, he ruthlessly stunned the man and performed a memory charm. Harry had no idea who was giving information to Voldemort, so he wasn't taking any chances.
The rest of the encampment was treated to a loud argument between the head medical officer and a very stubborn Harry Potter. The latter walked out of the infirmary with a large bandage wrapped around his head, and swatches of gauze showed through the rents in his filthy robes. While the medi-wizard lectured him about brain trauma and depleted magical reserves, Harry yelled back that he'd found out that something crucial to ending the war was located near his parents' house in Godric's Hollow, and nothing would stop him from retrieving it now.
Harry then Apparated to a location near Tom Riddle's latest lair in Surrey. Ignoring his scar, Harry sent tendrils of Legilimency into the surrounding area. The gossamer thin wisps of mental energy detected the brooding malevolent intelligence that lurked within the townhouse. He sat quietly while the faint echo of smug superiority flared up and then completely disappeared. Harry quickly approached the now-empty building. The door was a solid mass of alarm and detection spells. Harry smiled grimly as he pulled out a set of picks. He remembered the long-dead twins showing him how the pick locks the Muggle way.
Harry found the Sorting Hat on a table in the basement. When he picked it up, the rip near the brim rippled. "You know what you need to do," it whispered. There wasn't time to try and unravel the hellishly complicated magics bound into the hat, and the school that was the focus of its existence was no more.
"I'm sorry," he said as he carried the hat outside.
"Don't be," it said. The lips curved into what Harry swore looked like a smirk. "That was really a clever plan. I still say you would have done well in Slytherin."
"Maybe so," Harry agreed as he set the hat down and stepped back, raising his wand. "Thank you," he whispered. Then he blasted the hat out of existence.
Tom was still tearing into the ruins of the house where Harry had been born when the anti-apparation barrier suddenly went up. "Ah, Potter," he drawled as the filthy muggle-lover appeared before him, "I was worried you'd gotten splinched trying to get here." His eyes travelled from the wand clenched in Harry's fist to the bulky bandage wrapped around the younger man's head.
"Sorry," Harry growled, "I had to make a stop in Surrey to talk to an old friend." His arm snapped up and he snarled "Reducto!"
Voldemort's shield charm was cast with plenty of time, but the pillar of white light from Harry's wand was blinding in its intensity. The curved wall of blue light fractured and Voldemort was forced back several steps. "You aren't as enfeebled as I though," Voldemort sneered. "Good. I was hoping this wouldn't be boring."
Despite his tone, Harry could tell his foe was shaken by the destruction of the last Horcrux. He pressed his advantage, forcing the Dark Lord to stumble backward as he battered at his defences.
"It won't do any good to kill me, you know," Voldemort said as they crested a hill. "I've already won, I've killed everyone you care about, Harry. They all died for you, and there is nothing you can do to help them now." He patted the Sword of Gryffindor on his belt. The Dark Lord couldn't wield it, but it was a trophy from the Hogwarts Massacre.
Harry forced himself to intensify the rate of his attacks, even as the words tore at him. Ginny would want him to finish the bastard, no matter what it took. Thinking of her made his heart lurch just like it did thirteen years ago and he knew what he had to do. He finally got a cutting curse past the Dark Lord's guard and tore away a good piece of his shoulder. Voldemort fell to one knee as his wand tumbled to the grass.
Harry shunted aside the pain of his own injuries and thought about all he had lost during the war, starting with his parents. He thought about his friends, his teachers. He thought about the Weasleys, who'd become the second family he'd lost. He thought of Ron and Hermione who'd been with him from the start almost to the end. He thought of Ginny and the dam broke. He dropped his Occlumency shields and sent everything he was feeling through the link he shared with Voldemort's mind. The grass in front of him was lit with a green radiance that he knew was coming from his scar.
Voldemort screamed as the emotional torrent swept aside his defences and ripped through his mind. His black soul withered in the deluge of love and grief as 'the power he knew not' gave him agony that made Cruciatus feel like a soft caress. Harry wondered if Voldemort was already driven mad by the time he was able to raise his wand and cast the blasting charm. He supposed it didn't really matter.
"Harry? Did the plan succeed?"
Harry blinked dully as the old headmaster's voice finally penetrated. "Yeah, yeah it did."
"Then it is finally over," the portrait said with relief.
"I guess," Harry said quietly.
"I know, Harry, that we have suffered many grievous losses. Defending the light always exacts a high toll," Dumbledore said sententiously. At one time, it would have driven Harry wild, but now he'd come to understand that it was how the old man dealt with his own grief. His excessive formality helped him keep his own ghosts at bay.
Harry tuned the old man out and conjured a chair. He slumped down and sat with his head in his hands, elbows braced on his knees.
"Harry, you have done a great thing."
"Not really," the man replied absently, his voice sounding hollow even to his own ears. It was finally over. The war was over. Too bad there was no one left to celebrate.
"I think you should rest," the headmaster suggested, "things will look better when you've had some time to recuperate and gain some perspective on what happened."
Harry slowly shook his head, but nonetheless slowly rose to his feet. He laid his hand on the wall next to the portrait and a section of wall slid inward and to the side.
The headmaster's private quarters, adjacent to his office, were heavily warded and survived better than much of the remainder of the school. Professor McGonagall had not the heart to even touch the room during her short tenure as interim headmistress, and the fire had not even warmed the walls. The portrait told Harry and his friends how to open the door when they first explored the office to see what had survived.
Harry's eyes grazed over the groaning bookshelves. Dumbledore's private collection of restricted books was supplemented with everything that Hermione could salvage from the ruined library. Just thinking about her made Harry's eyes prickle and he looked away. He quickly stripped off his robes and took a quick bath. By the time he was clean, his limbs were trembling with fatigue. He was asleep the moment his head hit the pillow.
Harry Potter slept without dreams for the first time in well over a decade.
Harry had developed the habit, through the years of constant struggle, of formulating a 'to do' list each night as he performed his Occlumency exercises and prepared to sleep. That way, when he woke up, he could immediately start working and stop thinking about his dreams. At first Hermione had admired his industriousness, though later she seemed to realize he was using it as a distraction. At least she learned to let him deal with his memories on his own, instead of always trying to get him to talk about what had happened. Ron just thought he was crazy for leaping out of bed and immediately setting to work. In their last year together, after Hermione died, Ron was doing the same thing.
Today, he awoke with a strange sense of lassitude. He tried frantically to recall his list before he remembered that he didn't have one for today. Everything was done.
He stared up at the ceiling, willing himself not to think about the past. Should he leave the country? Europe wasn't in much better shape. America was a possibility, but he knew there was little chance of being left alone. Enough word had filtered back with the fleeing refugees for them to understand who Harry Potter was. They might even try to lock him up or at least refuse him entry, reasoning that someone like him could be dangerous.
Besides, he'd spent the best years of his life in Scotland, and Hogwarts was the closest thing he could call to home. Of course, 'home' was a burned out hulk, but one couldn't have everything. Harry's train of thought was derailed by his stomach growling, reminding him that he hadn't eaten anything since breakfast yesterday.
Sighing, he retrieved his wand from the night stand and conjured a simple breakfast of tea and toast. One could subsist a while on conjured food if you weren't picky about nutrition. Or taste. After a while, one's memories of what food really tasted like began to fade, and the examples produced from that memory became even more tasteless. Harry's toast was remarkably similar in taste and texture to cardboard, but it quieted the growling of his stomach.
When he finished eating and stood up, Harry winced. He accumulated a fair number of nicks and scrapes during the previous day, and he was covered with dark blue bruises. From the deep ache in his chest and the fatigue that already weighed him down, he guessed he also had a pretty bad case of magical exhaustion as well. He made his way to the bookshelves and grabbed a couple of books at random, then settled back onto the bed to read. He also didn't really want to talk to Dumbledore just yet.
The last four years had seen a dramatic change in Harry's study habits. With Hermione gone, it had been up to him to research new spells and ways to stop Voldemort. Ron was an excellent strategist, but he was the less scholarly of the two. Also, the death of his common-law wife had left Ron a bit less able to concentrate than his equally grief-stricken best friend. Harry was only able to focus by conducting mental discussion about whatever he was reading with his bushy-haired friend. Just imagining her lecturing them about the latest thing he'd read had helped him keep it together. In some way it was his private tribute to the smartest witch he'd ever known.
On one particularly bad night in an abandoned inn, Ron angrily demanded to know why Harry was smiling as he read an old book they'd scavenged from Flourish and Blotts. Harry looked up at his furious friend and found himself explaining his conversations. Ron just stared at him for the longest moment and said "You're barmy" and walked away from the fireplace. Harry followed his friend into the darkness. He could barely make out his friend's large frame in the dim light, and when he put his hand on the redhead's shoulder, he found it was shaking. Harry turned him around and saw tears pouring down his friend's face. Harry hugged him while his friend cried for the first time since The Burrow was burned down.
Harry took a shaky breath and swiped at his face. He couldn't seem to stop crying, and he felt like he was falling to pieces every time he turned around. He needed to pull himself together if he was going to get over this. A small voice in the back of his mind asked if he really wanted to get over this. Harry wondered for a moment if he'd retained an echo from Voldemort through their connection, or if maybe he was hearing from that part of himself that wanted to die after they'd found Ginny's body.
Harry gritted his teeth and opened the thickest of the books he'd pulled down from the shelf, "Essays in Advanced Theoretical Thaumaturgy, vol. MCXII". Soon Hermione's voice echoed through his mind, explaining how the interaction of precisely-timed cheering, calming, and confusion charms could be used to treat certain variety of psychological disorders.
It was on the second day of bed-rest and reading that it came to Harry. Something about that last article had piqued his interest. He went back and read it again, trying to see why it had grabbed his attention. It seemed to be a purely theoretical exercise in temporal translation theory, and both the author's notes and the abstract indicated that it was published solely as an arithmantic exercise and proof of theorem. Harry read back through the equations again, trying to channel Hermione's brilliance as well as her voice.
The formulas dealt with conjuring the balanced spatial tensions required to create a temporal shift. The focus of the dynamic interface would be a curved field, the parameters of which would be dependent of the magnitudes of the forces involved. Any object that crossed through this curved field would experience a temporal translation, the magnitude of which would also be varied as the interacting forces were altered.
The reason why this exercise was a purely theoretical one was due to the energy requirements. Relativistic mass is a function of mass and velocity squared. The energy required for a temporal shift is a function of time travelled and mass taken to the infinite power, or basically infinity minus one. Anything with actual mass interacting with the field, even a molecule of air, would instantly consume all of the energy and collapse the field.
Once he was fairly sure he had a grasp of the theory, Harry wondered why he even thought it was useful. Yes, if he could go back in time, or just send word, a lot of misery could have been avoided. But even a simple parchment with a warning message to Dumbledore would be far too massive. The article was quite clear that vision was not possible across the field, nor was any sort of scrying or divinatory magic. There would be no way to communicate.
How could anyone possible send information without any mass, and not using magic? Hell, how many things did he know of that had no mass anyway? Harry pummelled his 'inner Hermione' with questions. He knew somehow this was dreadfully important. Something in this article had seized his attention and made him feel something he hadn't felt in a long time.
Finally, at the dawn of his third day, Harry decided to leave his sanctuary. He needed food that hadn't come out of wand, and he needed to talk to his former mentor.
"Harry, this is very interesting, and I'm glad to see you are finding ways to occupy yourself in a profitable fashion. However, I don't understand why you are so enthusiastic about this article," Dumbledore said as he frowned down at Harry from the portrait after he read the article aloud.
Harry got up from his conjured chair and began to pace as he thought. It was a habit he'd first developed while revising in the Gryffindor common room. Thinking about those days made his stomach twist, as the entire Gryffindor tower had been blasted and collapsed during the sacking of Hogwarts.
"I understand the power requirements make any ordinary use impossible. But what about transferring something that has no mass?"
"From what I read, they found that spells could not cross the barrier without being disrupted as well," the headmaster replied. Harry didn't have to look up to know that the blue eyes were starting to twinkle again. The portrait of his mentor hadn't had much opportunity for magical theorizing, and he could tell it was something the professor enjoyed immensely.
"True," Harry said, looking up. "But what about memories, spirits… souls?"
Dumbledore adjusted his half-moon spectacles as he thought. "No, I'm afraid an astral projection spell would still carry enough magical energy to disrupt the field."
"What about…" Harry's voice trailed off. "What about magic that moved the spirit from the body as a side effect? If the spirit was… moving on its own…"
Dumbledore frowned. "Harry there isn't a spell that I know of for moving spirits out of bodies. Unless you..." his eyes widened. "My dear boy, you don't seriously propose to..."
Harry was lost in his own musings, staring off into space. "Curve the field around my body, and then use Avada Kedavra. Hopefully, if my spirit departs, it will interact with the field… and then?"
"Harry, you can't mean to..."
"Albus," Harry's voice cracked like a whip. "If my spirit were to suddenly appear in a time when my body was alive, what would happen?"
"Harry, this is not a..."
"Albus, I've fulfilled your prophecy. If you ever gave a damn about me, not the bloody Boy-Who-Lived, but me, Harry James Potter, then answer the bloody question," Harry snarled. The silence stretched between them like a bottomless abyss.
The headmaster's portrait looked down. "Theoretically, Johanssen's Principle of Conjoining would apply, and the spirit would be reabsorbed into the body, similar to a Muggle who nearly passes away and reports and out of body experience. That's where Karl originally got the idea you know. It's a very fascinating story, how he came to..."
"Thank you, Albus," Harry smiled. The headmaster wasn't going to distract him quite that easily.
"Harry," the portrait said quietly. "What you are proposing is unbelievably foolhardy. You're going to kill yourself, hope your spirit will physically move through the field, hope the temporal field behaves as you think it will and transports your spirit to the past, and hope that your spirit will be drawn to your body. This isn't a plan, Harry, this is little more than guesswork and good intentions."
"I suppose it is. But you said 'hope' three times. I haven't had any hope for a long time," the young man replied, sighing.
"Harry," Dumbledore said, growing a little exasperated for the first time Harry could remember. "You won. Voldemort is dead. You have the rest of your life to live, not to throw away…"
Harry snapped. "The rest of my life, you say? What the hell do I have to look forward to? Everyone I ever loved, everyone I ever gave a damn about is dead! Every place I cared about is in ruins! I don't have a single reason left to go on."
"Harry," Dumbledore responded, getting his emotions back under control. "Many people have given their lives to defend you, to make sure you survive. To throw that away now is to dishonour everything they sacrificed."
"They didn't do it for me," Harry replied coldly. "At least most of them didn't. They did it for The Boy Who Lived, their weapon to destroy Voldemort. And if you'll recall, I didn't ask anyone to die for me, not even your precious Order of the Phoenix."
Dumbledore sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. "I'm sorry, Harry. I didn't wish to bring that up in such a fashion. I care about you and I don't want you to throw your life away. In time, your grief will pass. That is a lesson I learned long ago."
Harry sank down into the chair again. Arguing with the headmaster's portrait was just as exhausting as arguing with him when he was alive. "I don't think I have that much time," he said slowly, his face in his hands. "I came close to killing myself after what happened here. I've had to talk myself out of it a few times each year, and it gets a little harder every time. Stopping Tom gave me a goal to work toward, but now I have nothing left." He looked up again. Albus had gone as still as a Muggle portrait. "I might as well make it possibly count for something."
"Harry," the headmaster said softly, "I have never regretted my passing more than I do today. You are too alone now, and there is nothing I can do."
Harry took a deep breath and willed himself to maintain his composure. "You can help me with this."
"Very well," Dumbledore said. He frowned. "There is also the consideration, if everything works correctly, of how your actions will affect causality."
"I have thought about that," Harry said straightening up. The hardest part of the conversation seemed to be over. "Either my travelling back will change this reality, hopefully for the better, or it will create an alternate reality. Or if Hobson's Paradigm is correct, my temporal journey will deposit me in an alternate reality where time has not progressed as far. Anything," he said emphatically, "is better than living here."
"If your spirit merges with your past self, you will be effectively eliminating your own awareness or that of your younger self. Is that not the same as murdering your younger self?"
Harry sat in thought for a moment. "If I knew that giving up my existence meant a chance to save them, I'd do it in a heartbeat. I'd do it when I was younger as well. I haven't changed that much, Albus." He smiled faintly.
The headmaster wasn't quite done. "You do understand that you will be effectively resurrecting Tom Riddle?"
"If I do," Harry allowed, "it will be a small price to pay for the lives of everyone who died in this war. Fighting him again is nothing, if I have a chance to do it better this time."
"Do it better, Harry?"
"I plan to cheat like Draco Malfoy on a potions exam," Harry replied, smiling grimly.
After his magical reserves were replenished, Harry Apparated to the American Expeditionary Force's encampment. After they first arrived, Harry and Ron made contact with the war-mages, and struck up a loose alliance. After seeing some of what Harry was capable of doing over the course of the following two years, General Hastings had no difficulty in treating the haunted young man as an ally.
In a closed meeting with the white-haired general, Harry explained his suspicions about some of Voldemort's escapes, and apologized for the subterfuge with the medical wizard. Hasting was annoyed at first, but grew chagrined as Harry repeated Voldemort's comments that confirmed the younger man's suspicions. When he told the American that Voldemort was finally gone, the man let out a vast sigh and offered Harry a shot of something called 'Jack Daniels'.
After they downed the shots, Hastings bluntly asked Harry what he planned to do next.
"I plan to go away. Somewhere nice and quiet and hopefully peaceful," was all he said.
"I'm glad to hear that," Hastings replied amiably. "I imagine there are people in Washington who are going to be even happier to hear that."
Harry just shrugged. Comforting warmth was spreading from the pit of his stomach. It almost made up for the burning in his throat.
"You know, you could probably run for King right now if you wanted to," Hastings mused, a sly look in his eye. "There's not much left of the old government, magical or non-magical. You just offed the next best thing to the Anti-Christ. With everyone who considers you a genuine hero, you could write your own ticket."
Harry's face took on an expression of utter horror. He scowled as the American General broke down laughing and slapping his knee.
"Good Lord, boy, you should have seen the look on your face! Go on and enjoy your nice quiet life. But if you ever get bored with it, look me up. I'll notify Washington that they can start the relief efforts now that damn madman is dust."
Harry shook his head as he stood up. He sketched a crude approximation of an American Military salute and Apparated back to Hogwarts.
It was over a month before Harry's preparations were complete. He filled reams of scavenged parchment with equations and notes. He wasn't sure if he'd have been able to finish the calculation without the headmaster's aid. Fortunately, the Hogwarts dungeons were relatively undamaged, though the books were starting to draw dampness and go green with mould. Nevertheless, Harry found the materials and tools he needed to prepare the prisms that would define and maintain the temporal field.
When taking a break or while eating meals, Harry talked to the headmaster's portrait. They mainly talked about the past, and how things came to happen as they did. It was a bittersweet time for both of them. Harry had long ago forgiven the headmaster for the things he had and hadn't done. For his part, death had also brought a note of humility to the Supreme Mugwump's worldview. In the end, they had to agree that Albus had tried his best to make sure things worked out, even if it had ended badly. Now it would be Harry's turn.
The grief that normally came from talking about long-lost friends was tempered by the fact that there was a small chance that he might see them again. Indeed, if he were mistaken in his assumptions, he'd suddenly find himself seeing a lot of people again – though he'd also have some serious explaining to do. When he looked at his options like that, Harry almost felt like he was in a 'can't lose' situation. The only fate that truly frightened him was growing old alone in world filled with despair and grief. Sharing that observation with Albus shocked him at first, but after a while he seemed to understand, and his assistance in Harry's project became noticeably more enthusiastic.
After they quadruple-checking his calculations, Harry carefully and deliberately burned his notes, retaining only the final sheet with the precisely calculated prism layouts. They both agreed that this sort of magic was not something to leave lying around. Harry also wrote out a short note for General Hastings and pinned it to the sleeve of his robes.
"Hastings may come to see you some day, Albus. He's done all right by me. I suggested he may want to keep you around as a local advisor."
The headmaster's portrait looked up at Harry curiously. The boy smiled faintly.
"I don't want to leave you sitting here alone until you mildew. If what I do doesn't alter this timeline, then, well, you can probably help a lot with the reconstruction." Harry paused and then continued in a rough voice, "Maybe you can tell people about a wonderful school that was built to share the knowledge of magic with each new generation as they grew up."
"Harry, no matter what happens here, I know you will make a positive impact no matter where you go. I want you to know that the small help I've given you through the years has been one of things I'm most proud of doing with my life."
Harry stared at the portrait for a long moment. "It was more than a small help."
"Goodbye, Harry. I wish you well on your next great adventure."
"Goodbye, Albus. I wish you the same," he said as he Disapparated from the damaged office for the last time.
Number Four Privet Drive was exactly identical to the properties on either side and across the street, a fact that the Dursleys were intensely proud of. Of course the fact that the houses were all burned-out ruins was something to be less happy about.
As Harry poked through the rubble, he felt a guilty twinge of relief that the house was unrecognizable. He'd gone through some very bad times with his aunt's family, and he needed no reminders of that now. Theoretically, the temporal transit should occur at roughly the same spatial coordinates. Harry's plan had enough unknowns that he didn't want to push his luck. So he wanted his spirit to appear in the past as close to his physical body as possible. With that in mind, he calculated his arrival for the middle of August, 1991. That far back, it was difficult to pick an exact day to arrive, and his Uncle's panicked flight in July made it tricky to make sure his body would be near Privet drive when his spirit arrived. Harry would have like to have gone a little farther back, but the temporal field would have required even more energy to establish, and he had to make sure he had enough magic left for one spell; one very powerful spell.
Harry found a relatively clear spot near the front door and next to the remains of the stairs. He cleared away bits of charred wood and began to set the prisms on the floor. As he positioned them, he used measuring charms to check the spacing and the angle of each one. He had to get this absolutely perfect the first time. The article suggested that even if the energy problem were solved, a 'temporal' charge was likely to accumulate during transit. This was why the farther back you wished to focus the temporal transit field, the more energy it required as well. If he didn't do this right, there was no chance of trying it again – the energy build-up would be too great.
Harry set the last prism in place and recast all the measuring charms. After re-checking everything with his chart, he lit that on fire as well. When the parchment was consumed, he pointed his wand at each prism in order and cast the energizing charm. As each prism began to glow, adjacent crystal wedges were joined with threads of light. When all the crystals were charged, an elongated hemisphere sprang up around Harry. He peered closely at the three-ply fields that enclosed him. The first and third fields formed a barrier that kept the air away from the second field. The modified bubblehead charm worked perfectly; otherwise the transit field would have collapsed from trying to send a random atom of atmosphere nineteen years into the past.
Harry took a deep breath as a deep weariness set into his bones. There was only one spell left to do, and then it would all be over. He set the tip of his wand between his eyes and though of Ginny. Her memory had kept him from doing that after he lost her… now he would do this to get her back.
Harry pushed aside that thought and focused on how many people he'd lost over the years, how many he'd let die. The spell required true hate to cast. Fortunately, Harry had more than enough self loathing.
As the blinding green light swept over his eyes, Harry Potter heard a rushing sound and knew no more.
Sometimes when the body knows death is imminent, it will react reflexively, even if it is useless. Struck by the spell, Harry's back arched, throwing his arm wide. His wand, holly and phoenix feather, eleven inches, flew from his slack fingers. The instant the tumbling wood struck the glowing barrier it collapsed the field…
…and Harry James Potter, the Boy Who Lived, fell to the ground, dead.
Author's Notes: The plot for this story came to me while I was working on another story – I started working on it so it would leave me alone. Kokopelli says that I don't really need a disclaimer, as this story is non-profit writing exercise under the Fair Use Doctrine. If you recognize something in this story, it's probably the property of J.K. Rowling and her licensees. Stuff you don't recognize is mine. My version of Harry Potter is a bit emotional – he's lived (and died) in his worst nightmare.
Beta's Note: This story was written before JKR posted the hint that the Sorting Hat was not a Horcrux. Quibbler that I am, I still think that you could have a Horcrux hidden in old Floppy and still be consistent with JKR's "hint." This story is A/U, so canon-picking quibbles are not appropriate.