Disclaimer: Jo's world, my playground.
Summary: Some tests are passed, others are aced, others must be retaken.
A/N: I was really happy with the reviews for last chapter (although I did get a couple critical reviews – for reference, if you are going to criticize, please don't do it anonymously, because I do appreciate sincere critiques). Some of you obviously know me a little too well, so if you read on and find you got it on the nose, you get an internet cookie (the tasty kind, not the monitor you like a creepy stalker kind). Have fun!
Chapter 41: Life and Death
Aries fairly flew as he hurried from the tower. The Headmistress' office was empty, likely those at the meeting had all hurried to help in the short, deadly skirmish, but the Spellsmith paid their absence almost no mind at all. He slipped into the shadows as soon as the wards allowed, heading straight for Charles' office. Thankfully the former Auror wasn't there, leaving Aries free to leave him a message he wouldn't like.
Charles, he wrote on the first blank parchment he found,
I am the last Horcrux. If you are reading this, then I am dead, and Voldemort is fully mortal. Please make sure he is taken care of. I am sorry to leave what was to be my last task in your hands, but I have done all I could.
Thank you. For everything.
The quill hovered over the last line. It felt so inadequate – he would never have made it through the last twenty years – or even the last two days – without Charles there, reminding him of who he was. Unable to come up with anything better, he sealed the letter in an envelope, then burned it. Moving his wand over the ash, Aries enchanted the letter to reconstitute itself wherever Charles happened to be as soon as his own life ended. He wrote another letter to Ron and Hermione, saying the same things, along with an apology for not being there with them like they had all thought he would.
Finally, he removed his familiar glamour, and put on the face of a 17-year-old Harry Potter.
"Goodbye Hedwig," he whispered, not wanting to actually go to his familiar to say the words. "Sorry to leave you like this, but Charles will take good care of you, I bet."
Heart pounding, but head clear, the time-traveler who had come full circle slipped back into the shadows. Once he was out on the grounds, the sun was too bright for shadow travel, so he turned into Cloak for the short run to the Whomping Willow, but changed back and shadow-walked through the tunnel and into the shrieking shack.
"Farewell, my back-biting snake," he heard Voldemort say. A door shut firmly.
Harry's throat seized up. He was too late! Navigating through the confusing negative-world of shadows, he found the door and slipped beneath and through it, stepping out into the real world so quickly he fell onto his knees.
"Sev," he gasped, banishing the offending snake with barely a thought. "Oh, Sev, no!"
"..arr..Pott-," Severus choked out. One weak hand groped in his robes, pulling out a vial of milky memory. "Dumb-do…horcrusss."
"You knew?" Harry reared back, shocked, then he shook that off, focusing on the man in front of him. "Nevermind, I already know, and I'm here to do what needs to be done, but first I need to patch you up."
Severus' eyes widened, then started to dim. His breathing grew even more shallow, and though his lips moved, no more words came out. He was too late. Sev was going to die.
"Nonono, stay with me, focus!" he ordered, and some of the fog retreated from the black irises. "Do you have an antidote on you?'
The Slytherin's head sagged to one side, then back to the other; no.
Harry cursed. He knew a few basic healing spells, but had focused more on preventing getting injured rather than healing injuries. Snake bites…he didn't know a healing spell for snake bites. Severus' eyes started to gloss over again.
Suddenly, there was a flash of light, a small burst off flame, and a juvenile phoenix appeared with a squawk.
Harry's heart soared. With no prompting, Hedwig found the still-bleeding snake-bites and shed a tear in each. The wounds sealed shut, and the blackish discoloration that had been spreading dissipated, leaving behind normal – if somewhat sallow – skin. Sev's eyes shut, but his breathing grew stronger, more regular, the breath of sleep.
"Thank you Hedwig," Harry brushed one hand tenderly on his familiar's head, smiling as she nuzzled against him and nipped one finger affectionately. "Stay with him, okay? Keep him safe; I'll be alright."
Pushing himself up to his feet, wincing at the pain in his hip, unaffected by the glamour, Harry moved to the door. There was silence outside, and he supposed that Voldemort and his followers were moving toward Hogwarts. When he opened the door, though, he was shocked to see Lucius standing outside, head bowed. Lucius looked equally surprised to see him.
"Potter," he gasped in shock, but did not raise a wand.
"Er…hello Malfoy." Harry brought his own wand out and the blond glanced at it, but Lucius remained empty-handed.
"Your wand is a brother to his, so he took mine," the Death Eater answered Harry's unspoken question. "Is Dra- is my son alright? He intends to fight, I assume, as Charles?"
Harry understood, then. Lucius' strong feelings for his son had broken the forgetfulness ward, and now he was struggling between loyalty to the Dark Lord and loyalty to his family. Well, it looked like, by taking his wand, Voldemort had tipped the scales a bit.
"He was well last I knew," he affirmed. "And he does intend to fight. Now either be useful or stay out of my way."
Lucius nodded, quite comfortable with the more heartless approach.
"I'll take care of Severus' body," he whispered.
"Oh, he's quite alive," Harry told him cheerfully. "And he'd best remain so, or you'll find yourself following him." Hopefully the threat would be enough, as Harry wouldn't exactly be around much longer to enforce it. Again, Lucius just nodded.
"You should hurry – they must be nearly to Hogwarts by now. They took the main road, to avoid the centaurs."
Harry nodded, grateful for the information, and left. He felt reasonably confident the centaurs wouldn't bother him, so he cut through the forest, running almost full out to get in front of the Death Eaters before they made it to Hogwarts. With his Occlumency shields lowered, he was able to get a feeling for where the Dark Lord was, and burst out of the trees just a hundred yards or so ahead.
Spotting him immediately, the whole deadly procession stopped, and shouts of "Potter!" and "There he is!" rang out from the ranks.
"Voldemort!" Harry shouted, pointing his wand at the pale, snake-like wizard. "You won't take one more step toward Hogwarts, not while I'm alive."
Slowly, the Dark Lord raised his wand. Harry heard him speak as if through a layer of water.
"I can accept those terms," he hissed. As he pronounced the Killing Curse, Harry stared at his face, which seemed to show anger, hatred, eagerness, and, strangely, disappointment.
I wonder if I hurt Voldemort like I hurt Sev, he wondered idly. The idea that the murderous, soul-damaged wizard had feelings was strange, but Aries he had seen Voldemort's delight in loyal, capable servants. Perhaps the revelation that Aries was not, and had never been loyal was the source of that disappointment.
Green light sparked at the end of Voldemort's wand, and Harry forced himself to move his wand to the side, focusing on the coming spell, the coming end.
Will it hurt? he asked silently, tensing up as he fought his fight-or-flight reflexes. From somewhere beyond the veil, he thought he heard someone say, 'no, it's like falling asleep.'
His vision flooded with green, and then he saw no more.
The light was bright. He realized that fact before registering that his eyes were open. All he could see was the bright, white light, bright enough to be painful, but it wasn't. After a long time of staring at the light, it occurred to him that he must be on his back, looking at the sun. No sooner had the thought entered his mind than he could feel the grass beneath his back. Shifting to one side, he could see expansive lawns, and a clear, peaceful lake. The ground was warm, and the sun was good.
Long moments passed again, before it occurred to him that the lake was familiar. Turning to his other side, he could see Hogwarts, still and sentinel-like in the distance. He wondered if anyone there could see him, but the castle appeared deserted. Still, the thought of other people brought to mind his own vulnerable state, and he sat up, feeling a light robe come to rest on his shoulders.
He heard something crying, and looked over his shoulder, seeing the looming shadows of the Forbidden Forest, disturbingly close.
Facing forward again, he registered four figures, walking toward him.
He couldn't tell which of them was saying it. Was that his name? It seemed like it might be, but there was another name…
The four figures were right in front of him now, and he remembered it was rude to sit when others were standing, so he stood, more quickly and fluidly than he thought he should be able to.
"No catch in your hip here, eh?"
Focusing on their faces, he was finally able to see them, and his still heart lurched.
"Mum, Dad, Sirius, Remus," he named them, voice clear, despite how shaky he felt inside. "What are you doing here?"
"Now really, a better question might be what are you doing here?" James asked, raising one eyebrow.
"Voldemort made Horcruxes to make himself immortal, I was the last one," his mouth said the words, and even as he spoke he remembered. Awareness came back to him of everything, the whole of the last nearly-forty years.
"That was a very brave thing you did," Lily told him. Harry fought the urge to blush.
"So I am dead, then?" he asked rhetorically. "I wouldn't have thought it would be Hogwarts…"
"Hogwarts!" Sirius barked a laugh. "Are we really? Well you always did have a connection to that place. Dead though, that's a better question, isn't it."
Harry ignored the confusing words, focusing on the one who had yet to speak. Remus looked much younger and healthier than he had the last time Harry had seen him.
"Remus," he choked out. "I'm sorry, I- I didn't want you to die. I didn't want any of you to die." Sure they must blame him, he turned away, not wanting to see their faces – faces he had held in his heart for long years, twisted in anger. "You must think I'm the worst sort of coward, standing aside and doing nothing."
"Harry, no," Remus reached out and clasped his shoulder tightly. "I'm sorry you think that. I didn't understand at first, but being here, I can see much better. You suffered as much as any of us because of our deaths, and there really was no way you could have prevented them."
"Frankly," Sirius added brightly, "the way time seems to work, if you'd deliberately tried to prevent one of our deaths, you probably would have ended up directly causing it. By staying smart and keeping out of it, you saved a whole lot of trouble."
"We understand, Harry, really we do," James assured him as well. "Things had to happen the way they'd happened the first time. And I know you don't see it, but you did help. There are a few people who would be here who aren't, your friend Severus not the least of them."
Harry pulled back, slowly feeling better.
"Then you're not mad, any of you? About any of it?" He looked specifically at Sirius, whose hatred of Snape was legendary, but the black-haired man just cocked a grin.
"If there's one thing you get when you're dead, it's a lot of perspective," he said lightly. "Snape is who he is for a reason. I'm glad you could see that when you were still around to do something about it."
Do something about it…
Harry looked down at his left arm, pulling up the sleeve of the robe. It was bare.
"It's over there," James said. Harry looked up to see his dad pointing at the forest. The thing cried out again. "All the bits of Dark are over there, along with Voldemort's piece of soul."
"Is that what's crying?" Harry asked, feeling a strange sort of pity well up for his former master. Lily laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Yes," she said. "He is beyond hope, without remorse for what he has done. A soul damaged and without remorse is an awful thing. But a soul who has done hard things for good reasons, who never forgets his purpose – well, death has a cleansing affect on such a soul as you."
Harry nodded, looking down at his bare arm. It was as if the last twenty years had never happened; except they had. And here he was, talking to his parents and their friends, though he had lived longer than them all.
"I'm glad you met me here," he told them. "I couldn't stand to be close to you, and not do anything, so I stayed away. But I never stopped missing you." He smiled at them, then looked beyond, toward Hogwarts. "So what happens now?"
"That's a bit of a ticklish question," James eyes lit up mischievously. "Mostly, I'd bet it's up to you."
"Up to me?" Harry echoed, confused. "What do you mean?"
"Well, it's all very complicated, but you've dabbled in enough blood magic you should understand," Lily tapped one slender finger against her cheek as she spoke. "I sacrificed myself to save you, and that protection bound itself to your blood. That's why, when you were eleven, Voldemort couldn't touch you. But when you were fourteen, Voldemort used your blood to resurrect himself. So even though you caught the wrong end of a Killing Curse, the magic of the sacrifice is still alive in your blood, in Voldemort's veins. So now you're kind of in-between. Voldemort is mortal now, so you could go on with us and leave everyone else to finish him off. Or, you could go back and take care of him yourself, live years and years, be happy and free, get married, and make lots and lots of babies."
Harry's eyes grew wide and he stared at his mother as if seeing her for the first time. Sirius shared his horrified expression, Remus looked like he was holding in laughter, and James wasn't holding it in at all. Lily looked at them all and pouted.
"What? Being dead doesn't stop me from being a mother."
Harry laughed then, feeling wonderfully free. He had never let himself think like that before, aware of the task ahead of him. Had never let himself feel like he had choices, let alone a future. And both choices had their pros, but even as he debated, he knew he couldn't move on without seeing Voldemort dead. Besides, mortal or not, the Dark Lord was still the most powerful wizard alive, and could likely do an awful lot of damage before finally kicking the bucket. He would return, take care of the Dark Lord, and then…well, who knows?
The sun grew brighter and brighter as they laughed together, until he could no longer see his four family and friends. Soon, the sound faded away as well, and then, as if by the flick of a wand, the light went out.
Narcissa Malfoy held her breath as the green light surged toward Potter's young body. Lucius had told her about the time travel, about Potter and her little Draco, but it was difficult to believe watching the boy standing there. But if anyone understood the need to wear a particular face at a particular time, it was the Lady Malfoy. She wondered what Draco looked like at this moment.
The Killing Curse enveloped its target, but rather than the usual quiet, underwhelming death, a concussive explosion rocked the group, sending everyone – even the Dark Lord – to the ground. Panicked shouts rang out on all sides.
"My Lord! Are you alright?" Bellatrix shrieked, running to her master's side. Narcissa sneered at her sister's maniacal devotion for a moment, before remembering herself and schooling her features. The mask hid much, but not all.
"I am fine, I am fine!" the Dark Lord snapped, standing smoothly, but breathing heavily. "Check him, make sure he's dead. Check him!"
For a breath, nobody moved, and Narcissa was struck at just how scared the Death Eaters were of one boy who, as far as they knew, had not even taken his NEWTs. She stepped forward, gliding toward the still form, mind in turmoil. If he lived, and Voldemort found out, he would stop at nothing to make sure he was dead before entering the castle. He might even retreat, take the boy prisoner, study his body for months to find out how he had survived, and then she might never get to see her little boy again.
But if he was truly dead, then the war was lost for the side Draco had chosen anyway. They would advance, they would take Hogwarts, and maybe, just maybe she could convince him to put on his old face and survive with them, if the Dark Lord didn't know his true identity.
Still unsure what to hope for, she knelt by Potter's body and bent down. She couldn't hear breathing from the slack mouth, and the muscles behind the eyes didn't twitch. But she had to be sure. Reaching out with one trembling hand, she felt his chest over his heart.
ba-Thump; ba-Thump; ba-Thump.
Narcissa's heart clenched in fear – what was this boy? – but in that instant she knew what she had to do, to win back her son's favor, and see him again.
"He is dead," she declared, standing up and retreating back to the circle of masked faces.
The Death Eaters cheered, and even Voldemort cracked a twisted, snake-like smile.
"At last," he hissed, and his followers immediately quieted to hear him. "This thorn in my side is gone at last. See how weak he is, how he came to his death at my command. Crucio!"
Narcissa's breath caught in her throat at the spell, sure that Potter would give himself – and her – away from the pain; but, though his body convulsed under the spell, not a muscle moved voluntarily, nor a sound emerged. She could hardly believe it, and unwillingly her respect for the boy increased.
"Now, let us show those fools at Hogwarts what remains of their 'savior'," the Dark Lord cried in triumph. "Wingardium Leviosa!"
Potter's body was lifted up, and he continued to remain perfectly limp as he was turned comically upside down before being settled in an upright position, chest to the sky. The procession moved forward.
Charles clenched his fist around the parchment until his fingernails broke the skin, staining the inadequate note crimson. In another corner of the Great Hall, two voices rose in wordless denial, and the redhead knew that Weasley and Granger had received the same awful news. His legs shook, his throat seemed to close, and a rushing in his ears blocked out all sound except the litany in his mind:
If you are reading this, then I am dead…
That bastard, that utter bastard. How dare he have kept this from him? How dare he have carried this burden alone for so long? And then to spring it on him after he was gone!
His eyes blurred, and he clenched his jaw around whatever screams or curses or unidentifiable sounds were trying to emerge.
"Death Eaters!" someone shouted suddenly. "On the road from Hogsmead!"
The sudden ruckus drowned out Granger's cries, and the whole gathered body of able fighters surged outside, lining up in front of the steps to the castle. In seconds, highlighted by the evening sun, a long line of black-cloaked figures came into focus. At their head was one more terrifying than the rest, despite the fact that his pale face was almost indiscernible from the white masks of his servants, save for the lack of a black hood on his robe. He had his wand raised, and before their faces a limp body floated halfway to Hogwarts before being dropped to the ground.
"Harry Potter," Voldemort declared, his voice magnified just enough to carry the hundred yards or so to those at the castle. "He tried to desert you. Begged me to take him to my side, make him one of my own. He even allowed me to mark him, you can check his arm – use revealing charms if you must. He was not worthy of joining my ranks.
"You do not have to follow him. Surrender, allow me to take the castle, and I will welcome you all with open arms. Your children, your spouses, your whole families will be forgiven for standing against me. Together we can make a new world, one where all witches and wizards have the power we deserve. The sun is almost below the horizon, and without my protection you will all be devoured by the werewolves, giants, and other creatures who have had the courage to reach out for what I have to offer. What say you?"
The shouted denial came from, of all people, Neville Longbottom. Charles looked at the boy, amazed to see a young man in his place, jaw firm and eyes full of fire. As the echo of his voice faded, the ground started to shake, and Hogwarts began to crumble.
Harry could not believe his luck. Narcissa Malfoy, for whatever reason, had declared him dead. Voldemort was none the wiser. When the second Unforgivable was cast, he raised his Occlumency walls, so high and thick that, though he felt the pain, it was as if it were happening to someone else. He was safe inside his mind, protected by the knowledge of his unexpected survival.
The Dark Lord's levitation spell carried him forward, and he carefully kept his eyes closed, trying to look as dead as possible. Although Voldemort, walking below him, would not see if he took a deep breath, the last thing he needed was someone at Hogwarts to cheer that he was still alive.
As soon as they entered Hogwarts' wards, Harry felt like cheering, the tendrils of magic practically leapt to touch him. The levitation spell ended, and he dropped to the ground, which softened like a cushion beneath him. Lying still, blocking out all that was going on around him, he opened his magical core to the castle. This time, there was no rejection, the Dark Magic had been stripped from him in death, and every bit of Hogwarts bound to him freely.
Remembering his father's last bit of advice, Harry voicelessly incanted a spell he would not have believed existed, were he not fresh from the afterlife.
Draco Dormiens Titilluri – I tickle the sleeping dragon.
Both Death Eaters and the defenders of Hogwarts cried out as the ground began to shake. Confused cries turned to screams as the shaking was combined with the sound of rock grinding against rock. Somewhere, Voldemort was laughing, apparently convinced this was somehow his doing. Harry felt the last rays of sun slip from his face, bathing Hogwarts in darkness. In a matter of seconds, the whole area was reduced to chaos. Werewolves howled, giants roared, wizards and witches screamed.
No one noticed a dead body rise to its feet and run for the castle. He didn't dare slip into the shadows, lest he lose the connection with Hogwarts and control of the transformation. In the darkness, it seemed as if the castle were crumbling, falling to pieces, and he could practically taste the despair of the defenders. But they were standing for an ideal much larger than the school, and their spells did not falter as they fought and protected one another.
Harry couldn't tell who noticed first, but at almost the same time he reached the closest pile of rocks, voices started to cry out in excitement.
"It's a dragon!"
"Dragon of stone!"
"Hogwarts has turned into a dragon!"
Harry had barely formed the request in his mind before the Hogwarts Dragon lifted him up, setting him on its head. Casting a quick Lumos and Sonorus, he faced the scrambling crowd below.
"Voldemort," he began, and nearly jumped at how loud and young his voice seemed. "You have failed. You cast the Killing Curse at me when I was a baby, and it failed. You cast the Killing Curse at me again, just moments ago, and it failed again. Harry Potter lives, and as the Ward Master and Defender of Hogwarts, in the name of the Castle Hogwarts, I reject you."
The castle dragon roared, and the wards shuddered like a dog shaking off water. The curse on the Defense Against the Dark Arts professorship sparked off into the sky. More sparks collected on the dragon's stony skin, finally running up its throat to its mouth. With another earth-shaking roar, the sparks of magic flew toward Voldemort and any who bore his mark. They shielded quickly, and most survived, but anyone with Voldemort's magic was forced to the edge of the grounds.
Voldemort screamed in frustration, urging the werewolves, giants, and other non-humans – those deemed unworthy to be marked – to attack. The dark wizard raised his wand, attacking the castle dragon. Harry poured his own magic into the wards, protecting the castle and the wizards and witches below. Wanting to end this quickly, he asked the dragon to take flight. Sinking down below his own senses, he saw through the dragon's eyes a physical and magical view of those fighting below. Hogwarts followed his guidance and swept away the trespassers – not killing them, but tossing them into the forest and the lake, to be dealt with by their inhabitants.
The great stone dragon flew forward, toward the crowd of Death Eaters. Most scattered, abandoning their Lord, though a few remained, Bellatrix among them.
Tom Riddle, he thought, and the castle thought, and they both thought together. You were once a child of Hogwarts, but now you seek to harm those she protects. Your mater rejects you.
"NO!" Voldemort shouted. "Hogwarts. Is. MINE! Imperio!"
The spell slipped along the ward threads, travelling upward with lighting speed, and finally striking Harry.
"Give me the castle, give it to me, my faithful servant, my Spellsmith," the serpentine voice hissed inside his head.
"I was never yours," Harry retorted calmly. The peaceful feeling of the Imperius Curse was nothing compared to the peace of the afterlife, and he could recognize the fake as easily as spotting a giant among goblins. The spell dissipated into the ether, as if it had never been.
A desire for revenge warred with feelings of pity, but both were overlaid by a firm determination – twenty seven years strong – to protect his friends. His family.
Voldemort, and all the Death Eaters who had not fled, perished in the flame of the Hogwarts stone dragon.
Its task done, the castle needed no direction from Harry to land and reform itself, much to the relief of the Order members, Aurors, and other allies gathered. Charles summoned a school broom and darted up to the highest tower, which had been the dragon's head until a moment before. Harry was unconscious, as Charles had expected given the enormous amount of magic he must have channeled, though the former Auror was a bit surprised that he was still glamoured to look like his old, 17-year-old self. He would have figured the glamour would wear off at some point. Shrugging, the redhead raised his wand to levitate his friend to the Great Hall, where the other injured were being treated, but stopped short as he remembered Harry's dead body being levitated by Voldemort.
Shaking his head at his own sentimentality, he nevertheless carried the smaller man himself.
He arrived at just in time to receive yet another major shock. Standing awkwardly in the middle of the room were Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, next to the body of one Severus Snape – unhappy, but clearly alive – being guarded by Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. All heads turned to watch as Charles entered, and Granger full-on ran to him.
"Professor Higgins, is he really, I mean," she stammered uncharacteristically, eyes red-rimmed from crying, and hair mussed from the fight.
"He is alive," he assured her, continuing toward an empty cot. "Magically drained, naturally, the melodramatic baboon, but alive. You get Madam Pomfrey to check on him, I'll deal with this…other situation."
She hesitated a moment, but wisely bit down on any words questioning his judgment, merely nodding and scampering off.
"Weasley," Charles ordered, walking toward the Malfoys, "guard him until Granger and Pomfrey get back."
Ron didn't even hesitate – after fighting side-by-side today, they were beyond questioning each others' loyalties – leaving Charles alone with his– with the Malfoys, and Severus.
"Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, known and acknowledged Death Eaters," he drawled, making sure his wand was in full view, but neither pointing nor drawing it yet, "what brings you to Hogwarts on this…lovely day?"
The two of them looked worn, tired, far worse than he remembered from before going back in time, though that was less than four days ago. Lucius looked at him with a pale shadow of his usual measuring, calculating glance before, uncharacteristically, clearing his throat.
"Charles Higgins III," he murmured. "I would never have guessed. But, the situation is what it is. The Malfoy family, the bloodline, matters more to me than any other loyalties. Thus, where my son has led, I shall follow."
"I would very much like to get to know you, for the man that you are," Narcissa's soft, familiar tones added. "I suspect you would make any mother proud."
Charles couldn't help it – he was touched. They were being very circumspect, allowing no suspicion that he was truly the son of which they spoke, but offering a friendship – even a welcome into the Malfoy line – without endangering secrets, loyalties, or lives. Granted, he was no fool. If they had remembered that Harry Potter was Aries Hesuchazo, they surely had realized how little chance Voldemort had of winning this petty war; their own survival was surely as much a factor as any love for a long lost son. But Charles was a Slytherin too, and knew that the inclusion of self preservation into consideration of a decision did not invalidate the other gains.
"Perhaps that can be arranged," he said slowly, giving nothing away except in a softening around the eyes. "You will understand, of course, the need to be questioned by those at the head before attending to more…personal matters."
"I would expect nothing less," Lucius approved.
Poppy returned about then, allowing Ron to rejoin his post as guard of the 'prisoners'. This also freed Charles, and he immediately went about his next order of official business – checking just how mad Severus still was.
Pretty mad, as it turned out.
The black-haired man refused to talk to him, barely gracing him with a look so full of venom Charles would not be surprised if he had been poisoned by it. He was pronounced healthy and – based on Charles and Aries' good words – allowed to return to his former quarters in the dungeons until the official paperwork had been completed.
Harry was also pronounced healthy, physically, but took a full week to wake up from his exhaustion-induced coma. During that time, Charles had had Sev's door slammed in his face twice, been glared at in corridors and other halls at least a dozen times, and been spat on once (though that last incident was mostly his own fault – poor timing and all that).
Thus, after Harry had eaten a good meal, tested his legs and found them working – and learned that he was, in fact, no longer glamoured at all, but had been returned to life in his 17-year-old body – Charles was more than happy to use his friend as a shield during his next attempt to visit the prickly Slytherin.
Honestly, all things considered, it went as well as could be expected. After Sev slammed the door in both their faces, Harry simply asked the castle to let them in, which it promptly did. It took the both of them several minutes to disarm the other wizard, but finally, with nowhere to run and no wand to help him escape, Severus opened his mouth and vented his spleen.
Afterward, Charles would muse on how his vocabulary had been expanded by the enlightening rant, but at the time, he felt about one inch tall.
"If either of you know me at all, you know how I value my privacy, how closely I guard my secrets," the Slytherin had hissed at one point. "If you could not do me the courtesy of knowing in whom I was confiding, you should have done me the courtesy of leaving me bloody well alone. I haven't the slightest idea what nefarious or ill-advised plan led you to seek out my company, but rest assured if I could go back in time, knowing what I know, I would have sent my younger self to Durmstrang where I would have been out of reach of both of you."
Charles stood there and took it, feeling only a slight comfort in the knowledge that it had been Aries' idea, not his, to befriend the Slytherin. Harry seemed similarly affected, head bowed and hands clenched in fists. The redhead wished his friend had re-applied his glamour, but McGonagall had already officially declared Aries Hesuchazo dead, and all his crimes with him, making it far too dangerous for him to wear the old familiar face.
Suddenly, Harry lashed out, shoving Severus in the chest with enough force that he was propelled back, landing, startled, on the couch.
"I get it!" Harry shouted. "I know you feel victimized, I know we violated your trust, and I feel horrible about it! I've felt horrible about it for the last twenty years, but Severus, we couldn't change anything. We couldn't save you from becoming a Death Eater, we couldn't save anyone, do you understand? So I'm sorry if I latched on to the one familiar face I knew wouldn't be dead when we made it back. But I don't regret getting to know you better, I don't regret learning to trust you, and I don't regret the fact that you're still alive."
Severus glared at him in stony silence, looking for all the world like he was simply upset his rant had been interrupted. Harry growled and turned away, slamming the door shut behind him. After a long, awkward silence, Charles spoke, though he avoided Severus' eyes.
"He'll probably feel terrible for yelling at you when he calms down," he said. "He's going through a lot right now – has to retake his NEWTs, decide if he wants to re-apply at the Spellsmith Guild, not to mention he's stuck in puberty again– "
"Yes, yes, that's quite enough," Severus snarled. "You would have me forgive him? You have no right to ask that of me."
"I'm not," Charles shook his head. "You're the only one who can decide what truly needs to be forgiven, and whether you want to grant it." He turned to leave, but stopped just short of the door, cursing infernal Gryffindors for infecting him. "But Severus," he added, "We both would be quite glad of your continued acquaintance. It is up to you to choose whether depriving us of that happiness is worth depriving yourself of two friends, whom you know are in your debt."
In the silence that followed, Charles tossed Severus' wand back to him and left, calmly shutting the door.
The next few months were quite eventful. Draco Malfoy was officially proclaimed guilty of the murder of Albus Dumbledore, in the same edition of the Daily Prophet that carried his Obituary. Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy made a great show of mourning their son, proclaiming his innocence and the travesty of his name being sullied after his death. After the furor died down, they quietly carried out a bloodline-adoption of one Charles Higgins III, to prevent the Malfoy line from dying out. Charles went along with it happily – after all, it allowed him to both ensure his future fortunes, and keep an eye on two known criminals.
Harry Potter performed admirably on his NEWTs, getting an Outstanding in Charms, Defense, Transfiguration, Runes and Arithmancy, an Exceeds Expectations in Potions, an Acceptable in History of Magic, and Trolls in Divination and Care of Magical Creatures. He allowed Hagrid to show Hedwig off in class as an apology. His Internationalis Magicalis was published under his usual pen name, and sold quite well in a new atmosphere of tolerance the ministry was promoting. Between his parents' vault and Aries' vault – which the Goblins kindly allowed him to keep, after an extensive identity verification test, and even then only after being vouched for by Crunchmallet Daggerlaw – Harry had quite enough to live comfortably without needing to work another day.
He was back at Atlantis University the next semester, with official Gringotts documents allowing him to claim Aries Hesuchazo's degree. Sometimes he loved the international races – they didn't care one whit what the Ministry of Magic of Britain had charged him with, or that Aries Hesuchazo was officially dead, and they certainly weren't going to go to the papers with the information.
Over a year passed since the death of Voldemort, and neither Harry nor Charles had heard from Severus. But when they met at the Safe House to exchange gifts, they found two wrapped potions bottles waiting on the counter. They shared a laugh at their stubborn friend, but neither minded waiting a bit longer for him to come around.
After all, they had the rest of their lives ahead now, with time to spare.
A/N: THE END! I cannot believe it! The saga is over! (does a little dance) I hope you all enjoyed it more than I did. I will miss you all, my readers, particularly those faithful few who followed me from the beginning. You can find a few unfinished original works at my fictionpress account (same username, the link is listed as my homepage on my profile here), and with this, fanfiction and I must part. Adieu!
Emerson Lore Sabath