Extended summary: A subversion of stories where benevolent spirits/grim reapers/personifications of Fate send Harry back in time to make things right and solve his every problem. What if, instead, those spirits were a bit more… malevolent?

The Lesser Sadness

"Were it not sinful then, striving to mend,

To mar the subject that before was well?"

-William Shakespeare, "Sonnet 103"

Chapter 1 – Once More, With Feeling

Eyes closed, listening to the silence, Harry Potter slowly became aware of his awareness. He was alone. He was not sure, for a long, timeless moment, that he was even there himself.

Inside his head, he slowly orbited a concept, a thought, an idea. He was adrift in the dark, and at that moment, the idea seemed more solid than he did. Harry approached the idea slowly, carefully, as if it were made of glass, and gently alighted on the fact that he was facedown on a surface, that he could feel his face pressed up against something. That bare fact lent credence to the possibility of his existence. And, so concluding, he became conscious of his surroundings.

Harry opened his eyes, blinking against the glare, and pulled himself to his feet. He was indoors, and everything was white. There were two long counters running the length of the room, and Harry stood between them. As he focused on the counters, he became aware of details. He wasn't sure if they'd been there all along, or if his focus had somehow called them into being, but he saw brass scales, piles of gemstones, and stacks of ledgers littering the long counters.

"Dear me," said a voice beside him in a tone of mild curiosity. "I certainly wasn't expecting something like this."

Albus Dumbledore stood next to Harry, examining the surroundings. He wore white, palatial robes, and he had a look of calm beneficence on his face.

"Ah, I see," said Harry. "I'm quite dead, then?"

"Do you really think so?" asked Dumbledore, turning to face Harry directly.

"I let Voldemort kill me. I didn't try to stop him." Harry shook his head. "I should have died."

"And that," said Dumbledore with an air of long-awaited satisfaction, "will have made all the difference, I think."

Harry looked at his old Headmaster and felt an old, tired anger. "Once, just once," he said, "I wish you'd explain something without making me struggle through it on my own."

"Ah, Harry," said Dumbledore jovially. "You must forgive an old man his foibles." The smile slid off his face like rainwater. "My long-windedness is, after all, a trifle compared to the things for which I'll shortly be asking your forgiveness."

Harry chose not to engage with that. He looked around at the high, white ceilings, his gaze tracking down to the single, high-set counter at the end of the room. "Where do you suppose we are?"

"I haven't the faintest idea," said Dumbledore, squinting at their surroundings. "This is, as they say, your party. What does it look like to you?"

"Well," said Harry, pushing his glasses up his nose, surprised, for a second, that he had them. He looked down and was sidetracked for a moment. He was wearing his school robes. He shook his head and looked back up. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say we were at Gringotts."

"Good gracious, really?" asked Dumbledore, and for the first time since he'd appeared at Harry's side, a note of uncertainty crept into his voice.

As if Harry's words had triggered something, the room slowly started to darken around them, all except for a patch of light surrounding the high counter at the end of the room.

"I take it we're supposed to approach?" asked Harry.

Dumbledore shrugged eloquently. "I confess, Harry, that I'm quite out of my depth at this particular moment."

Harry shrugged in return and started to walk forward, Dumbledore at his side. Their footsteps clattered on the marble floor, sending hollow echoes up to the high ceiling. As they neared the high counter, details resolved themselves. The counter was thick white stone, a solid slab of it. Three enormous, high-backed chairs sat behind it.

Dumbledore hung back, and reached out a hand toward Harry's shoulder, as if moving to hold him back, but Harry walked forward and approached, stepping up the handful of low, wide stairs and looking down at the counter. Sitting on top, arranged neatly in a row, were seven stone tablets. They were grey, the color of a tomb, and each one was about the size of a book. A single image was carved on each of them, simple yet elegant.

A mirror. A serpent. An hourglass. A gravestone. An archway. A tower. A skull.

"The choice, in the end, is entirely yours."

The voice came from in front of him. Harry looked up, and then took an unthinking step back.

The chairs had been filled. Three figures, each one easily fifteen feet tall, sat straight-backed against the rigid stone. They wore robes of burnt sienna, held closed at the waist by a rough-spun rope – a monk's cincture. Their hoods flared out and covered an area of pure darkness where their heads would go. The only thing visible though the hoods were blazing, glowing, mono-color eyes – orange, yellow, and violet, respectively.

"Who are you?" said Harry, his voice coming out too high, and too loud.

"Benefactors," said the one in the middle, leaning forward slightly. He was the one with orange eyes.

"Harry," said Dumbledore, stepping to his side. "We must leave this place at once."

"You cannot," said the figure to Harry's right, the one with violet eyes.

"Not until you hear us out." That was the yellow-eyed one on the left.

"And then what?" said Harry. "I go back? I'm pretty sure I'm dead."

"Not even a little bit," said Orange-Eyes. "When Voldemort used your blood to come back, he took on a measure of the protection your mother gave you. He tethered you to life while he lives. And you, with an accidental Horcrux in your head, tether him to life while you live." His head moved fractionally as those blazing eyes turned to regard Dumbledore. "See how I explained that in just three sentences?"

Dumbledore opened his mouth to reply, and Violet-Eyes raised a black-gloved hand, snapping his fingers. "We won't need to be hearing from you until later, I think," said the figure, and Dumbledore's mouth closed with a crack. He looked between Harry and the three figures warily.

"Who are you?" asked Harry again.

Orange-Eyes leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. "We're a relatively new entity. A trial run, to see if beings of a… darker persuasion can actually cooperate towards a common goal. Consider us to be like your Department of International Magical Cooperation."

"Only not so much international as interplanar," said Violet-Eyes.

"And with more screaming," said Yellow-Eyes.

"What am I doing here?" Harry crossed his arms. He was raw, his emotions tightly-wound.

"Straight to the point, I see," said Orange-Eyes. "To put it bluntly, we've had our eyes on you for some time. You're quite an interesting human, when all is said and done. You've dealt with more in your young life than many adults do in the entire span of theirs, and with more grace, besides."

"And yet you've lost so much," said Violet-Eyes. "Even now, at the very, very end."

Harry thought of Remus and Tonks, and Fred, their bodies lying still and cold on the floor of the Great Hall. "What of it?" he asked wearily.

Yellow-Eyes leaned forward. "What if you were given a chance to get some of it back?"

Feeling himself tense, Harry forced himself to stay rooted to the spot instead of backing up and running, like his every instinct was telling him to do. "I'd say that you don't strike me as the kind of fellows who do something for nothing."

"Quite right," said Orange-Eyes. "We're providing a service, after all. We expect to be compensated fairly. But we're offering something quite extraordinary: the opportunity to go back and do it all over. A fresh start. Another chance. Everyone you've lost, you could save. Remus Lupin. Nymphadora Tonks. Fred Weasley. Cedric Diggory." The figure leaned forward and practically caressed the last name. "Sirius Black."

Harry saw Dumbledore stir at his side. He put a hand on Harry's shoulder, shaking his head emphatically. Purple-Eyes raised his hand threateningly, and Dumbledore backed off.

Reaching forward and tracing a black glove over the table, Yellow-Eyes gestured at the seven stone tablets. "Do you recognize these symbols, Harry?"

"They do seem familiar, somehow," said Harry. He leaned forward, almost in spite of himself, and looked over the images again.

"Moments from your life," said Orange-Eyes. "Important moments. Confrontations." He reached out and tapped the tablet on the far right, the one with the image of the mirror. "Your confrontation with Quirrell." He moved his hand to the next tablet. "Your fight with Salazar's basilisk." He looked up at Harry. "I need not go on, surely."

Harry looked over the tablets, placing them in his memory. There was a neat kind of symmetry – one for each of his years at Hogwarts. He stared hard at the last tablet – the image of the skull. "And that one?"

"Well, given the fact that you're not actually dead, you of course have the option to simply return to the Forest," said Violet-Eyes.

"You'd still be surrounded by Voldemort and all his followers," said Yellow-Eyes. "What you do from there is entirely up to you."

"You are completely tethered to life while Voldemort lives," said Violet-Eyes, "and you meant to sacrifice your life to save your friends. That means something."

"You could simply tell us 'thanks but no thanks,' and take your chances."

"Sirius would still be dead, though."

"And Remus."

"Tonks. Dumbledore. Fred. Cedric."

"Voldemort won't go down easily. He might take people with him."

"You've made your point," said Harry, his stomach twisting. He looked up from the stone tablets into those three sets of glowing eyes. "So. What's this going to cost me?"

"Your soul," said Orange-Eyes, shrugging eloquently, as if it were of no consequence.

"Not all of it," said Violet-Eyes.

"Just a small piece, really," said Yellow-Eyes.

At that, Dumbledore stepped forward threateningly. He reached out to grab Harry…

… and dissolved into a white cloud of dust motes.

Violet-Eyes lowered his hands.

"What did you do?" said Harry, whirling to face the spot where Dumbledore had been. The dust wasn't dissipating; rather, it was hanging in the air like frozen smoke.

"He's dead, he has no power here," said Yellow-Eyes. "Unlike you. We'll bring him back when he's needed."

Turning back to face them, Harry took a deep, calming breath. "So… a piece of my soul?"

"You'd barely miss it."

"Voldemort got along well enough with just a small bit of his left in his body."

Harry shook his head. "Not a good comparison. He's barely human."

Orange-Eyes rolled his eyes, a highly disturbing visual phenomenon. "Voldemort was pretty screwed up to begin with. You saw his whimsical childhood pursuits of stringing up rabbits by their entrails and using magic to mind-rape orphans, right?"

"Why do you want a bit of my soul, anyway?" asked Harry. The conversation was taking on a surreal air, and it spoke to the trials and tribulations of Harry's life thus far that he was able to keep it together at all.

The three figures glanced at each other for a moment. "Surely," said Orange-Eyes after a moment, "you've experienced enough of the deeper mysteries of magic to understand the value of such a thing?"

"I suppose I have, at that," said Harry. He shifted his shoulders, his mouth suddenly feeling very dry. "So that's the bargain, then? You take a piece of my soul, and then you send me back and give me another shot to save everyone?"

"Oh, no, not at all," said Violet-Eyes. "Don't under-value your soul, Harry. We're prepared to offer a substantial deal-sweetener."

At some pre-arranged signal, the three figures stood as one. Harry had to crane his neck to meet their eyes.

"You'll want to fill that missing bit of soul with something," said Yellow-Eyes. "Fractured souls are dangerous, you know. Highly volatile."

"We are prepared," said Orange-Eyes in a curiously formal tone, "to replace the piece we take with the cobbled-together souls of three of the most powerful wizards to ever walk the earth. A soul-splice, if you will. Each one is but a fraction of the individual's power at their peak, in life – but together, why, when combined with your own already considerable talents, you might stand against Voldemort as an equal. You might well surpass him, once you've worked out the kinks."

"Wouldn't it feel nice to not be the underdog for once?" The other two figures leaned in, looming over Harry.

"Turnabout is fair play, if you ask me."

"You want to… put a bit of someone else inside me?" said Harry skeptically. "Three someones?"

"You'd be in complete control, of course," said Orange-Eyes. "You'd call the shots. It's your body, your mind. You'd simply have access to a portion of their souls – their knowledge, their abilities, their tactics, their thoughts and feelings."

"Well…" said Harry. He was off-balance, he needed time. "Tell me about them, then. The three bits of soul you're offering."

It was the signal they'd been waiting for, apparently. Each figure reached back behind the massive chairs and came out with a long, rolled-up parchment of considerable size.

"Let's meet our contestants, shall we?" said Orange-Eyes.

Violet-Eyes unfurled his parchment. It was an oversized photo, but a wizard one. The woman in the photo paced back and forth, her expression dark and deadly. She would ordinarily be quite striking, with dark, luxurious hair, tanned, smooth skin, and high cheekbones, but Harry's attention was pulled away from her features by the severed head in her hand.

"This is Sentenza, a Dark witch of Italian descent whose name has been struck from the rolls of history. She was famous for her curses of vengeance and retribution. Her story is a sad one: sold like cattle by her father, her lord husband treated her quite poorly. After years of seclusion and study, she rose to terrorize the country, righting wrongs wherever she perceived them with a shocking degree of ruthlessness. Her motto was they deserved it. She was universally feared for over a decade." Violet-Eyes withdrew his hand, but the picture of Sentenza hung in the air unsupported.

Yellow-Eyes went next, repeating the unfurling motion. This time, the portrait was of a broad-shouldered man with a neatly trimmed beard of deep auburn. He had a square jaw, classically Roman features, blue eyes, and a feral grin.

"You'll have heard of him, if you managed to stay awake in your History class. Emeric the Evil – highly aggressive and destructive. Only held on to the Elder Wand for a year, but boy, what a year. His spells gave new meaning to the word 'overkill.' He didn't have much of a political agenda, except that he seemed to be very pro-fire. One of the first truly infamous wizards – you don't get a moniker like "the Evil" without cutting a truly devastating swath through a few hundred villages." Having said his piece, Yellow-Eyes withdrew and left the portrait hanging in the air.

The third portrait snapped down, and Orange-Eyes stepped forward to look down at Harry from over the top of it. Harry's gaze was drawn to the man in the picture, who reminded him a bit of the photo of Sirius incarcerated in Azkaban, if Sirius had been twenty years older and completely out of his mind. The man was howling, his long, stringy hair flipping about wildly as the man looked left, right, behind him, all around every few seconds.

"Magnus Ekrizdis," said Orange-Eyes. "The wizard who built Azkaban. A prideful, arrogant man who happened to be a master of compulsion, mind magic, disguise, subterfuge, and concealment. Also, quite possibly insane. He made a habit of luring passing Muggle ships to the island, then torturing the crew and using them as test subjects. After Ekrizdis died, and the Concealment Charms around the island dropped, the Ministry of Magic sent investigators. The records of what they found there are sealed in the darkest depths of the Department of Mysteries."

"And you want to put a bit of those nutters in my head?" said Harry. He looked between the three portraits, shuddering.

"We're offering to splice a bit of them into your soul, not your head," said Orange-Eyes.

"What's the difference?" asked Harry.

"Permanence. This is no temporary possession, no insubstantial shadow from beyond the grave whispering in your ear. These are portions of three very real souls. They'll be a part of you. Distinct, and very much not in the driver's seat, but a part of you nonetheless."

"I see," said Harry. He took a moment to process, and then another for good measure. As he mused, the three figures flicked their wrists, the parchments rolling up with an audible snap. They sat once more, gazing at Harry over the white stone counter.

"And if I want you to send me back without the soul-splice?" asked Harry. "I'd still have my memories, right? I'd know what was going to happen, and I could do it right this time…"

"Then you'll have a fractured soul," said Purple-Eyes. "We'll take our payment and you'll have nothing to replace it with."

"And your future knowledge will be worthless the moment you do anything you didn't do before," said Yellow-Eyes. "Haven't you ever heard of the Butterfly Effect?"

"You'll also be giving up a massive advantage. Talented though you may be, you'd need fifty years of intense work to match Voldemort," said Orange-Eyes. "Unless you accept our offer, that is."

Still, Harry hesitated. He looked down at the stone tablets again.

Can I live with myself if I go back to the Forest, even if I beat Voldemort, knowing that I had the chance to save them and I didn't take it?

He looked up.


"Excellent," said Orange-Eyes, reading Harry's expression – or, more disturbingly, his mind. "And the time you wish to return to?"

Harry looked down the line of tablets again, considering. "I suppose I could go back to the beginning," he thought out loud, looking at the first tablet, the one with the image of the mirror engraved on it. "I could beat Quirrell, and then stop Malfoy from giving Ginny the diary… I could spare her that torment, at least." He shook his head. "No, I'd change too much without even knowing it. I'd have no way of knowing what Voldemort would do next." He moved his hand over the other tablets, one by one. "I suppose I have to ask myself, where did it all go wrong? What was the moment when I could have really made a difference, if only I'd known then what I know now?"

His hand stopped in the middle of the row.

"This would take me to the graveyard in Little Hangleton, wouldn't it?"

"Yes," said Orange-Eyes.

"When, exactly?" pressed Harry.

"The moment the Portkey dropped you there," said Orange-Eyes. He anticipated Harry's next question. "In time to save Cedric Diggory, if you're quick."

Harry took a deep breath. "That one, then."

"Excellent choice," said Orange-Eyes brusquely. He waved his hands and the tablets on either side of the middle one disappeared. "The Goldilocks option. Not too far, and not too near."

With another disconcertingly synchronous movement, the three figures reached behind their chairs again, then reached forward and set three objects on the counter next to the remaining stone tablet.

A black, dangerous-looking quill. A single piece of parchment. A silver dagger.

"You'll need to sign here," said Violet-Eyes, indicating the parchment. "In blood, I'm afraid. Highly cliché, I know, but we do have our image to think about…"

"When you've signed and you're ready to proceed, use the dagger and dribble a bit of your blood on the tablet," said Yellow-Eyes. "We'll do the rest."

Harry reached out and slid the parchment towards himself. It took him less than half a minute to read it. It was a simple, plain-English delineation of their offer: a portion of Harry's soul, for a trip back in time and a soul-splice.

Harry looked up. "No complicated legalese? No trick clauses or text that gets so small it fades into nothingness at the bottom of the page?"

Orange-Eyes laughed, the sound booming through the large, open room. He spread his hands in a gesture of openness. "We have no reason to deceive you, Harry. Why would we try to trick you, when we can get what we want by playing it straight?"

Violet-Eyes waved his hand, and the cloud of frozen smoke by Harry's side started to coalesce. "This would be your chance to weigh in, Dumbledore." Albus shimmered back into solidity and blinked, wavering on his feet for a moment. "I would say you were here to be a devil's advocate, but that would be in exceedingly poor taste. You're here to advise. For better or worse, you have had a profound effect on the shape of this man's life." Violet-Eyes gestured to Harry. "He's made his choice, but you're free to give your input at this time."

Dumbledore turned to Harry, who had picked up the quill and was toying with it, spinning it idly in his fingers as he stared at the parchment in front of him.

"Harry," said Dumbledore, very quietly, very seriously. "Listen to me now. Do not do this thing. Do not undo all the good you've done, the good you could still yet achieve. If you go back to the Forest, I believe you will achieve victory. A victory that cost lives, yes, but there can be no perfection in war. Victory is merely the lesser sadness, Harry."

Harry blinked. Once, twice, three times. He held the quill steady. He didn't look at Dumbledore. When he spoke, his voice was level and calm.

"If you didn't want me to be the kind of person who'd sacrifice a part of himself to save others, maybe you should have taught me different lessons."

Harry put quill to parchment and scrawled his name. The back of his hand flared with pain, and he saw his own name carved out in his flesh for a second before the wound closed.

"Whenever you're ready, Mr. Potter," murmured Orange-Eyes.

He finally looked over his shoulder. Dumbledore was looking at him with the most intense expression of sadness and grief Harry had ever seen.

Harry looked down, took up the silver knife, and used it to draw a line on his palm. He held it out over the stone tablet.

"Harry." Dumbledore's voice quavered. "If you do this, you can never come back from it."

Harry didn't look back. He just smiled, wry and brittle. "Don't be silly, Albus. You were the one who taught me about second chances."

He made a fist, squeezed, and a drop of blood slipped through his fingers, falling onto the stone. The moment it splattered against the grey tablet, the etched outline of the gravestone flared with light. White, blinding.

The world spun and dissolved into light.

The world was a howl of wind and swirling color. Harry's mind spun. He tried to sort himself out and failed miserably.

His feet hit the ground with a thud and he tipped over, going to his hands and knees. His senses were assaulted with the normalcy of the world. Everything that had been missing in his… vision… was oh-so visceral here. The grass felt wet under his palms. He took a deep breath and the misty, damp air of the graveyard filled his lungs. He heard insects chirping in the background, and at his side, an intake of breath.

"Harry, where are we?"

Inside his mind, Harry reeled. He was himself. He could think clearly. Yet, as he thought, he was not without company.

Find the rat Animagus / Make him suffer / Make his suffering exquisite

Harry clutched his hands to his head and toppled over, awkwardly rolling onto his side. Too much, too fast, he thought. He felt like he was drowning, the water quickly rising above his head.

A pair of hands rolled him onto his back.

"Harry? Are you all right?" Cedric's face, creased with worry, looked down on him. It made his situation startlingly, starkly real.

"Cup…" murmured Harry, still clutching his head. "Grab it."

"Is this part of the Tournament? Did anyone tell you the cup was a Portkey?"

"No time," said Harry. He forced himself to his knees, swaying in place. His thoughts were a thousand razor-sharp shards of glass.

Send away the useless one / Seize control of his mind / His words are meaningless

Harry reached into his robes – they were battered, torn from his encounters in the hedge maze – and pulled out his wand. He flicked it, barely paying attention to the motion, and caught the Cup in a nonverbal Hover Charm. With a thought, he banished it into Cedric's chest.

Cedric had just enough time to grunt in surprise and pain as the Cup slammed into him before he disappeared.

Harry knelt there, panting. He tried to sort through the overwhelming torrent of information flowing through his mind. He was in control of his actions, he knew himself, he was not lost. In fact, he felt…powerful. Three lifetimes of arcane magic, crackling at his fingertips. If only he could put the new pieces of himself into some kind of useful order…

A figure approached, shuffling through the rows of gravestones, carrying something in its arms.

Harry's scar exploded with pain. It didn't seem to hurt as much this time around – compared to what he'd gone through in the Ministry atrium, it was a mere punch to the gut – but it was enough to disrupt his tenuous grasp on his own mind. Reeling, he shuffled through his discordant new self for a defense. Ekrizdis's mastery of Occlumency came to mind, and as quick as he could think of it, the knowledge was Harry's.

It didn't help. The pain from Harry's scar assaulted him like his newfound Occlumency wasn't even there. It was frustrating, tortuous, unfair that whatever link he shared with Voldemort had such unfettered access to his mind.

This must be rectified / Weakness is unacceptable / Eliminate your flaws

The pain was debilitating. Harry watched the scene unfold before him like he was seeing it through murky water. Pettigrew dragged him to the marble headstone, tied him to it with conjured rope, and stuffed a length of some black material in his mouth as a gag.

Time seemed to pass in flickers. Pettigrew hurried away, then reappeared in Harry's field of vision dragging the gigantic stone cauldron that would soon give rise to Voldemort's new body. Harry could barely pay attention. It was a race against the clock. He had to master himself before Voldemort released him.

Harry watched with a small part of his attention as Pettigrew performed the ritual, slicing off his hand, as Voldemort rose from the cauldron and called his followers, as the Death Eaters appeared among the gravestones and formed a loose circle.

Voldemort started monologuing. Bad habit, that, thought Harry absently, still furiously sifting through his mind and stuffing the new bits into some kind of practical arrangement. He felt giddy, almost. Spells of unimaginable power, techniques that a mere handful of living wizards knew, rituals that would make Torquemada blanch – all of it there, like it was sitting on a buffet table within easy reach.

A flash of light caught his eye. Voldemort's wand swished through the air, a silver ribbon attaching itself to Pettigrew's stump of an arm. Won't be long, now. Soon, Harry would be free to act.

Murder the Animagus first / Curse the betrayer of your parents with unimaginable pain / Reanimate his corpse and let it feast on the rest of them

Harry felt himself grow anxious as Voldemort approached, still speaking at length to the Death Eaters. It was partly the man's presence – even with Harry's newfound knowledge, Voldemort was still, well, Voldemort – but it was mostly his own fear that he wouldn't be ready in time. His head throbbed, and he felt a ringing, buzzing noise in his ears.

He barely felt it when Voldemort's finger prodded his cheek, sending white-hot pain lancing through his head. Voldemort moved off, pacing around the circle, explaining his grand scheme, how he'd succeeded in resurrecting himself. Harry did feel it when Voldemort hit him with a Crucio, but it served mostly as a reminder that his time had run out.

Voldemort stood directly in front of him. "Now untie him, Wormtail, and give him back his wand."

Make him pay for his arrogance / Make them all pay / Burn their bodies and desecrate their ashes

Pettigrew approached Harry nervously and used his new silver hand to cut through the ropes with ease. Harry spat out the gag and held out his hand, keeping his expression blank. A murmur ran through the circle of Death Eaters, who closed ranks around the gravestone. Pettigrew didn't look at him, he just reached into his robes and pulled out Harry's wand, slapping it into his hand before scuttling off to join the circle.

Harry closed his fingers around his wand. It felt… good.

Feels like vengeance / Feels like power / Feels like victory

"You have been taught to duel, Harry Potter?" said Voldemort, his sibilant voice dripping with amusement and confidence.

"I have," said Harry. He kept himself still, quiet, calm. Inside, he thought he might vibrate out of existence with anticipation.

"We bow to each other, Harry," said Voldemort. His red eyes glinted with dark mirth as he inclined his head briefly. "Come, the niceties must be observed…"

The Death Eaters started laughing. Harry was watching for it – there was a moment when Voldemort's attention flickered to the circle, playing to the audience a bit.

"… Dumbledore would like you to show – "

In the middle of the sentence, Harry spun in place and Apparated.

With a whisper of air, he appeared behind one of the Death Eaters. He brushed his wand against the back of the man's neck. There was a flash of green light, and the man crumpled. Harry Summoned the man's wand, and it hit his palm before the man hit the ground.

Ignoring the startled cries and yells that rose from the men around him, Harry swept his wand in a wide arc in front of him. "Incendium."

Iridescent fire belched forth from his wand, spewing out in a liquid torrent of flame that rolled over the mass of Death Eaters in his immediate vicinity like a wave. The Conflagration Curse was one of Emeric's inventions, meant to closely imitate the enchanted flame of a dragon.

As Harry watched men scream as they went up like torches, their skin sloughing off in sheets, he thought that description was fairly accurate.

With an adroit motion, he swapped his holly wand for the one he'd just captured as he strode forward, facing Voldemort.

"I'm sorry, you were saying?"

Snarling wordlessly, Voldemort threw a Killing Curse at him, impossibly fast. Well, at least he's not fucking around this time. An almost imperceptible flick of Harry's wand Summoned a nearby gravestone into the path of the green light. Harry was already moving, his counterstroke one of Sentenza's favorites. The ground around Voldemort erupted in pillars of dirt, which crumbled away to reveal grasping, corpselike arms. The arms bent, the rotting hands at the end of them formed into claws, grasping, seeking.

Voldemort spun to Apparate, but a hand clutched his foot, and he stumbled.

Voldemort stumbled.

Harry felt a rush of pure adrenaline and smiled as he stepped forward again, leveling the wand as his nemesis. Harry's sense of victory was short-lived – Voldemort's wand flicked down, and a purple pulse of light disintegrated the arms and blew Harry back twenty feet.

Stupid / Foolish / Should have done better

Harry clipped the top of the marble headstone and tumbled to the ground. The Death Eaters were in total disarray; the ones uninjured by the fire were moving back hurriedly. Some of them had their wands out, stepping forward to flank Harry.

"Do nothing!" Voldemort's shriek stopped them in their tracks. "He is mine!"

Pushing himself to his feet, Harry caught his breath. He grinned as he saw a flicker of sinuous motion, low to the ground amongst the gravestones. He pointed his wand. Accio Nagini.

Voldemort's snake hurled through the air towards him. Harry aimed carefully…

Nagini changed direction abruptly, slowed, and then came to a stop. With a flash of light, the snake was encased in a shimmering, translucent bubble. Voldemort stepped into view, his wand aimed high in the air, his focus on the snake.

Recognizing the bubble as a very Dark, very creative permutation of the Shield Charm, Harry was impressed despite himself.

Useful magic / It should be ours / We'll pull the spell from his shattered mind after we break him

He thrust his wand at Nagini like he was striking with a sword. Divulsa.

Voldemort twirled his wand and the bubble shifted to a darker, less translucent material. Harry's Shattering Hex struck, to no effect, and he growled in frustration. Fine. You want to play this game? Let's play.

Flickering between bits of arcane knowledge as fast as he could think, Harry started firing off the quickest, nastiest spells his three companions could provide, alternating targets between Voldemort and Nagini.

It was working. Voldemort was pressed into defense alone, his wand a blur of motion as he blocked spell after spell, unable to counterattack. Harry felt a rush of intuition and whipped his wand forward. Exsolvo Horribilis.

Gambit / Trick / Curveball

Harry's next spell came a half-second faster, and he shot the sickly, yellow orb between Voldemort and the snake. It exploded into a multitude of globules. Voldemort jabbed his wand, Vanishing the ones that flew at him, but several of them struck Nagini's cage. They immediately started eating away at the shimmering shield, cracks and hissing bubbles forming on the translucent surface.

Harry flicked his wand again.

Voldemort's eyes widened as he grasped the situation. Nagini's crumbling cage, the glowing circle of crackling fire waiting on the ground below, and Harry, standing with his wand leveled at Voldemort, ready to intercept any attempt at rescue.

"No!" yelled Voldemort.

Yes / Yes / Yes

"Yes," said Harry.

The cage cracked open; the snake dropped. Voldemort spun in place, Disapparating, appearing in midair in the next instant. He caught Nagini in one pale, spindly hand, then twisted in midair, shooting Harry a look of pure hatred as he vanished.

The graveyard was quiet for a few moments. Harry looked around, slowly, over the tip of his wand. A few Death Eaters had slunk away somewhere in the chaos, and a handful of them were dead on the ground and still burning, but of the thirty or so who'd shown up, there were still at least twenty of them standing around Harry in a loose circle.

Burn them alive / Hunt down their families / Enslave their minds and make them serve you

"Now you're all in so much trouble," said Harry, his voice raspy from the smoke coming off the burning bodies.

A few of them Apparated away immediately. The stupid ones hesitated. The very stupid ones stepped forward and yelled Killing Curses.

Harry spun, Apparating a hundred feet away to a little hillock near the chapel. It gave him an excellent line of sight down to the congregated mass of Death Eaters. He held his wand aloft – no time to be subtle about it – and roared, "Procursus Adestrum!"

A brilliant light shone in the sky; the Death Eaters shaded their eyes with their hands, looking up just in time to see death raining down on them. Streaks of violet light lanced down like lightning, exploding into shards of starlight that arced from person to person, incinerating them where they stood. Screams drifted up to where Harry stood on the little hill.

A masked Death Eater popped into being a few paces away from Harry. The man was already bringing his wand down. "Diffindo!"

Harry twisted away from the spell, but it caught him in the leg, biting deeply into his thigh, and he felt hot blood seep into his robes.

He insults us gravely / His spell is a pale imitation / Let's show him what it really looks like

"Divulsa!" snarled Harry. The silver arc of light took the Death Eater in the stomach, severing him in two.

Limping, Harry strode down the hill. He was fairly pleased with the fruits of his labors. He counted the remains of at least fifteen Death Eaters. The rest had probably Apparated out in time, but cutting Voldemort's numbers in half wasn't bad for a night's work.

A groan of pain caught his attention.

One of them lives / Not for long / Torture him for information first

Harry walked over the smoking ground and prodded a body with his foot. He gave the man a swift kick in the ribs, and the man tried to curl into a ball.

"Well, you're alive, then. Who are you?"

"You… how did you…"

"That's what you're worried about right now? Not the fact that you're going to be dead in fifteen seconds?"

With a negligent flick of his wand, Harry Banished the man's mask, and it went spinning off into the darkness. The bloodstained face of Walden Macnair looked up at him, grimacing in pain.

"I won't… I won't tell…" Macnair's voice was faint, but he managed a sneer.

"Yeah, don't bother," said Harry. Legilimens, he thought.

It was a heady experience; he had very fine control. He wandered and skipped through the man's memories, flinching with distaste at some of Macnair's… predilections. Harry's expression grew darker as he roamed further back, to Voldemort's heyday.

Punish him for his misdeeds / Rip his eyeballs from their sockets / Strangle him with his own intestines

"I've got a better idea," said Harry. The man knew nothing Harry didn't already know about Voldemort. He was useless. Harry pointed his wand at the man's mouth. Densolvo.

The man's abrupt scream turned into a gurgle as he started to choke on the milky liquid of his dissolved teeth.

Harry watched him for a moment, then his gaze wandered up. He looked around. The graveyard looked like a war zone. Harry had things to do. He had to get back to Hogwarts. Cedric… he'd have said… something. Strangely, Harry couldn't really wrap his head around what that something would be. He felt strangely disconnected from his memories of what Cedric was like. In any case, he'd have to alert Dumbledore that Voldemort was back. And Sirius… had Pettigrew been killed, or had he been one of the ones to escape? One easy way to find out.

"Accio silver hand!" called Harry, sweeping his wand back and forth over the battlefield. After a moment, he dropped his wand. A twitching, spastic motion at his feet brought him out of his reverie. Ah. Macnair was dead.

So much yet to do / So much within our grasp / Much work to be done

Harry turned on the spot and Apparated.

He appeared in midair, five thousand feet above Hogwarts. He closed his eyes and savored the rush of freefall. Only one of his three companions had been an Animagus, but Sentenza had had a particularly useful form. He shifted, felt himself compress.

A raven winged its way down towards the castle in a slow, descending spiral.

Cedric Diggory was alive.

One down… thought Harry. The castle loomed large, and Harry's avian eyes could pick out the milling crowds near the hedge maze. I wonder what Ron and Hermione are going to think

For the first time since he'd gotten back, Harry felt a shudder of unease.

Author's note: This was an idea I had that was pretty much a bolt from the blue. I've never been a big fan of stories where Harry is sent back in time by helpful spirits, usually with a stern lecture about how he's really supposed to love Girl X and a nice pack of upgrades (Occlumency, no horcrux, unlocked "magical core," etc.), all without any real downside.

This story is peripherally a "take that" to those types of stories, but it's mostly a "getting super!Harry out of my system" story.

The "three figures" with orange/yellow/violet eyes who offer Harry the bargain are heavily inspired, one might say to the point where this could be considered a crossover, by the Lower Planes beings Lee, Nero, and Cedrik from The Order of the Stick's 'Dark Vaarsuvius' storyline. The summary is from the same source - they're the first few things the soul-spliced sorcerers say to Vaarsuvius. They seemed oddly appropriate.

Updates will be sporadic; unlike What You Leave Behind, where I try to write on a schedule, this is very much a "write whenever I damn well feel like it" story.