MEETING OF THE MINDS
Friday brought a host of mixed emotions. For Harry, Ron and Hermione, it would be their last day spent at Hogwarts as students. Never again would they cast charms in Flitwick's class, or struggle through one of Professor Sprout's practicals, or trade curses (of any kind) with Slytherins in Defense Against the Dark Arts. There would never be another Quidditch practice, swooping through the sky as Harry so enjoyed doing, or a trip to Hogsmeade for a bottle of butterbeer at Three Broomsticks or Chocolate Frogs at Honeydukes.
There would be no more running up and down any of the hundred and forty-two staircases, or along any of the secret passages Harry had come to know so well, thanks to the Marauder's Map. No more passwords to remember for the Fat Lady, no more watching passed notes fluttering back and forth between students in class behind the professor's back.
And finally, Harry thought as he packed the last of his things in his trunk, no more meals in the Great Hall – no sumptuous lunches or dinners of roast beef and chicken and ham and lamb, corned beef or shepherd pie or casserole; no potatoes and corn and peas, rolls, and jam and butter and pumpkin juice. And certainly no more breakfasts of eggs, bacon, sausage, porridge or kippers, with toast and rolls and orange juice and corn flakes.
The Great Hall echoed oddly as Harry and Ron entered. With only a few dozen students in the entire school, sounds seemed to carry further. Most of the students still here were grouped near the High Table, where the remaining teachers joined them for the final meal of the year. Ron sat next to Hermione and looked over her shoulder as he ate at the articles on the new Weasley fortune. As Harry looked around the Hall he saw that nearly every student was reading them as well.
"Whoa," Ron said, pointing to a quote from a "wizard in the street" article, where a wizard had heard that the Weasley family had won over 750,000 Galleons. "I wish that rumor was true," he said fervently, drawing a chuckle from Harry.
"You wouldn't know what to do with all that money," Hermione said plaintively.
"I'd be willing to learn," Ron replied, grinning.
When the time came for them to leave for Hogsmeade Station, the teachers and staff still present gathered with them in the entrance hall to say goodbye. "Best of luck, Harry," squeaked Professor Flitwick, shaking his hand.
"Take care of yourself," Madame Pomfrey said, taking his hand gently. "I think I saw more of you in the last seven years than anyone I can think of."
Tonks held out her hand as Harry approached her, but at the last moment pulled it back and embraced him. "We both had good years, didn't we?" she whispered in his ear. "Your last and my first."
Harry turned and was engulfed by a furry, black-haired mountain – Hagrid, who'd sidled up next to Tonks as she hugged Harry. "Well, Harry," he said, bending down toward him looking both happy and tearful. "This is it."
"Hagrid," Harry said, and suddenly he knew how Hagrid felt. "I – I'm really going to miss you!" He threw his arms around Hagrid's neck, feeling ready to cry himself.
"Me too," Hagrid said, and sniffed loudly. "But I'll be here, if yeh ever wan' ter visit, remember."
"I will," Harry said, and felt Ron and Hermione's arms join his around Hagrid's shoulders. After a long moment together they let go, and Hagrid smiled at them as he dabbed away tears with his tablecloth-sized handkerchief.
Even wheezing, rheumatic Filch, who'd shuffled into the room only after most of the students were out in the thestral-drawn carriages, nodded to Harry as he passed. "Mind yourself, Potter," he growled, and Harry nodded in return.
At the great double doors of the school, Harry, Ron and Hermione stopped and turned, looking at the marble staircase that led up to the first floor. There at the top of the stairs floated several ghosts: Nearly-Headless Nick, the ghost of Gryffindor Tower, bowing genteelly to the three of them, along with the Fat Friar, Myrtle, who'd left her bathroom for once to see the students off, and Peeves, who almost seemed sorry to see them go.
Harry gave one final wave, as did Hermione and Ron, and ran down the steps and into a waiting carriage. In moments the procession of carriages was traveling toward the gates of Hogwarts.
"Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts," Ron half-sang, looking out the carriage window as they pulled away from the school. "Well, that's that!" He turned back to Harry and Hermione. "I feel like having the biggest, bestest party money can buy, now that we're done with school."
"Not quite the right foot to start out on, is it?" Hermione said disapprovingly. "Spending money like there's no tomorrow, just because you've got it."
"Oh, come on, Hermione!" Ron snorted. "I'm not talking about blowing it all or something – just a celebration for some friends! Besides," he added. "I've decided to put Bill in charge of the Weasley gold – he knows the Gringotts crowd better than anyone else, and they're likely to give him more respect than any of the rest of us."
"Good thinking, Ron!" Hermione said brightly. Her entire attitude had changed at Ron's announcement. "Your brother's sharp – he'll know how to make your gold grow."
"Right," Ron concurred. "Without an Engorging Charm, that is!"
At the station, they got their trunks loaded onto the train along with the other two dozen or so students who were traveling that day. Unlike most trips, which filled the Express to bursting, there were plenty of empty compartments for students. Almost every seventh year, however, was part of a group packed into the compartment as they shared this final trip home.
"Here you are!" Ginny said, coming up to Harry and giving him a quick hug. Ron, who had in the past pointedly looked away whenever Ginny and Harry got too close for his comfort, had an arm around Hermione and merely watched them this time, smiling and squeezing her shoulder. Harry helped Ginny put her trunk up and they took their seats in the compartment, Ginny next to Harry, Hermione beside Ron.
At precisely 11 a.m. the train blew its whistle and pulled away from Hogsmeade Station.
"Well, that's it, then," Ginny said. "You're done." She squeezed his hand. "Congratulations!"
Harry smiled and moved his face closer to hers. She smiled, inviting him to continue, and they kissed again. Harry cast a sidelong glance toward Ron, to see his reaction, but he and Hermione were similarly engaged.
There was a knock at the door, and it slid open a moment later to reveal Jonathan Crown. In mid-snog, Harry's eyes widened and he pulled away from Ginny, who looked round to see who was there, as did Ron and Hermione. "Jon!" Harry said. "We wondered where you'd got off to!"
"I've been around," Jon replied, nodding at them, but there was a solemn look in his eyes, a hesitancy, as if he would rather not intrude.
"Come on in," Harry said, and Jon stepped inside the compartment, pulling the door closed behind him, then sat down next to Hermione.
"We were beginning to think you'd skulkered off after we got back from Diagon Alley, after the fight with Voldemort," Harry said.
"No," Jon shook his head. "I just had some things to take care of before the train left." He was looking down, not meeting any of their gazes; he had turned so he wasn't looking at Hermione.
"So what were you doing?" Ron wanted to know. He glanced toward Harry; the look confirmed they were thinking the same thing: Jon was there for some reason, but he was acting like he didn't want to be there. Could something – or someone – have gotten to him during the week he'd been out of pocket?
"Just some loose ends I'd left hanging," Jon said, still avoiding their eyes. Jon was normally more direct and straightforward than this, Harry knew. His right hand crept slowly toward the pocket where his wand was.
"You've all been pretty busy too," Jon said, glancing toward Harry, then Ron, for a moment. "That was pretty amazing how the Vault Tournament turned out, Ron," he said.
"It was," Ron agreed. "I suppose I have you to thank for it as well, at least in part – it was your suggestion about Archimedes that helped me figure it out."
"You're being too modest," Jon disagreed. "I just pointed out a historical figure with the same name. You did all the real work."
"But you did give him a vital clue," Hermione said, reaching out to put a hand on Jon's arm. He nodded, but seemed to shrink away slightly from her touch. What was going on?
"So, what will you do next, now that school's out?" Harry asked, hoping Jon's answer would reveal something about why he was here.
Jon shrugged. "I dunno. I suppose I'll drive my car home to Texas – I got it shipped back to New York at the beginning of the week and I don't need to be in a hurry to get home."
"Oh really?" Hermione said, sitting straighter. "But isn't your –"
"— Isn't that an awfully long drive?" Ron cut over her quickly.
"Sixteen or seventeen hundred miles," Jon said. "Only seven or eight hours at cruising speed, if I wanted to get there that fast. But like I said, I'm not in any hurry."
"You're lying," Harry said bluntly. His hand was on his wand in his pocket. "We know the car is still in the Room of Requirement. We just saw it there yesterday morning."
No one spoke for several seconds. "Hmm," Jon finally said, leaning back into the corner and looking at the tense expressions on their faces. "Well, you caught me there, Harry."
Harry pulled out his wand and pointed it at Jon. Ginny looked at it, wide-eyed, as it came into her view, and Harry put his other hand on her shoulder to move her out of the way. "What's this all about?" he demanded. "Why did you lie to us about the car?"
"I was just curious if you'd checked," Jon said. He interlaced his fingers and rested them on his chest as he regarded Harry, with his wand pointed at his head and Hermione, Ron and Ginny staring at him anxiously, hands now in their pockets as well.
"Why are you here, then?" Harry demanded.
"To explain to you why I was able to do the things I could when we were fighting Voldemort," Jon replied.
No one moved. After several seconds Harry glanced toward Ron, and was surprised to see he was not only motionless, but seemingly frozen, like he'd been caught by a Full Body-Bind Curse. Hermione and Ginny were frozen as well. Harry pointed his wand with renewed vigor at Jon. "Release them!"
"I will, Harry," Jon said quietly. "But first I have to talk to you."
"You can talk to us all," Harry said shortly. "Release them!"
"No," Jon said. "You can decide whether to tell them, after I'm done telling you. For now, though, this is between you and me." He took a deep breath. "I'm not a wizard, Harry."
Harry blinked. "What do you mean?" he asked, perfectly confused by the statement. "You're not a Muggle – you've been doing magic all year long, loads of it! I think you know at least as much magic, if not more, than Hermione does."
"Yes, I know magic, Harry," Jon agreed. "And a lot more than Hermione does, for that matter. I know every spell that's ever been created. I know Arithmancy, Leglimency, Occlumency and a few 'mency's' you haven't heard of yet. I can Metamorph –" he transformed into Harry's double "– I can Animorph –" he changed from Harry into a black cat, then back to his own form a few seconds later. "Or," he finished in a hiss, "I can even speak Parseltongue."
Harry was silent for long seconds. What was he to understand from this? "Is this how you brought Hermione back from the dead? Can you bring people back?" He nearly shouted the last question.
Jon shook his head. "It's magic, Harry, but I'm not God. I got lucky – Hermione's soul was still here, with us, when I made Voldemort's wand show me what it had done to her, before I destroyed it. But –" Jon's voice was breaking, he had turned to look at Hermione, sitting frozen in place next to him. "I – I didn't think Voldemort would attack her – I thought he would try to kill me." He covered his face with his hands, and sobbed.
"What are you saying?" Harry whispered. "You wanted Voldemort to kill you?"
"I wanted to see the look on his face when he tried," Jon said, still hiding his face, his voice muffled. "I was being arrogant. He couldn't have killed me."
"But there's no way to block the Killing Curse," Harry pointed out.
"Every yin has its yang," Jon said cryptically, looking up at Harry. His eyes were swollen; tears rolled down his cheeks. "There is a counter for it, a secret that's been guarded even more jealously than the secret of Voldemort's Horcruxes.
"I wanted to laugh in Voldemort's face, Harry. I wanted him to know that I had what he desperately wanted – immunity from death. But the joke was on me, I guess, because Voldemort found the chink in my armor when he killed Hermione."
Immunity from death, Jon had said. But Harry ignored that for the moment, because of what he'd just said. "So you do feel something for Hermione, don't you? Go on, admit it."
Jon smiled. "I admit I love her, Harry – in the same way you do, as a friend. She's been my friend, nothing more, Harry. Really."
"Then why were you so torn up at her death?"
"For the same reason you would be, Harry, if you'd caused her death – she's my friend."
"Alright," Harry said, though not completely convinced. He changed tactics. "So what was up with you and Ginny, then?"
"Nothing different there, either, Harry." Jon shook his head. "Most of the times she and I talked, you were the main topic of discussion. She was scared Voldemort was going to kill you, or Malfoy, or some Death Eaters were going to get ahold of you. She couldn't say any of that to you – she didn't want you worrying about her.
"Hermione was the same way about Ron. She'd talk about him, how afraid she was that he was falling behind in his studies while trying to figure out how to open that Vault. She was also afraid he'd get into some situation that was over his head because he hadn't studied enough, and he'd end up dead before they could be together."
None of what Harry had learned in the last few minutes was making sense to him. He wasn't grasping it. He looked at Ron's face, then Hermione's and Ginny's. "What did you do to them?"
"Nothing. It's you and me that are changed, Harry," Jon said, pointing. "Look out the window." Harry turned and looked. The scenery outside was frozen, unmoving, just like Ron, Hermione, and Ginny.
"Just like the interior of my car," Jon explained. "There's a lot of space inside, even though outside it's just like any other car. The Extension Charm lets you change the interior dimensions of an object.
"You and I are currently under a Temporal Charm, which does the same thing, only for time rather than space. Time is passing several thousand times faster for you and me than it is for them," Jon said, indicating the others. "By the time they realize anything unusual is happening, our conversation will be over."
"What I'm trying to figure out," Harry said, repressing a mounting anger born of the deceptions he felt Jon had perpetrated on them. "Is what you are, if you're not a wizard. And what you're trying to prove, if you could have beat Voldemort any time you wanted to. Am I wrong? From what you've said, it would have been no problem for you to bottle him up –" Harry pulled out the golden sphere from under his shirt "— any time you wanted to."
"True," Jon admitted. "But that wasn't the purpose of my visit. I just wanted the opportunity to experience Hogwarts with you and your friends."
Harry shook his head, confused again. " 'Visit?' What d'you mean by that?"
Jon sighed again. "Well, this is the complicated part."
Harry laughed. "The complicated part, is it? I guess the rest of this has just been a doss up 'til now!"
"Well, more or less," Jon said. "I'll just say it straight out, then: I come from a different reality than this one."
"There's a lot more to existence than meets the eye, Harry," Jon said. "It's a lot bigger, a lot older, and a lot more layered than you might expect. Do you remember 'Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle?'"
Harry thought for a second, then recalled, "Yeah, that was a comic book I saw Ron reading once."
"Right. Well, there is a reality in which Martin Miggs is alive and the adventures he has are things that really happened to him, not just a story in a comic book.
"In the same way," he continued. "There are some realities where the things that have happened to you – here, at Number 4 Privet Drive, or the Burrow, or wherever, for nearly the past eighteen years – are just a story, a fiction made up by someone to entertain others."
Harry didn't say anything; this sounded so far-fetched, there was hardly anything to say.
"You look skeptical," Jon said, sounding amused.
"Oh, you think so?" Harry said, not hiding his irritation. "You're telling me that I'm like some comic book character and I'm supposed to bleedin' believe you?
"And even if I do, for some reason, not think you're completely mental, that doesn't explain what you're doing here." Harry folded his arms across his chest and waited for Jon to come up with an explanation for that.
"Touché," Jon said, accepting Harry's point. "You're right. In my case, it's easy to explain, although it probably won't sound any more believable."
"When I was young," Jon said. "Or at least, younger than I am now, there were several books written about your adventures at Hogwarts. In my reality, magic was a fiction – there are magicians and illusionists, but they use only sleight of hand and misdirection – the sort of thing all normal people – Muggles, if you will – are capable of.
"Decades after those stories were written, technology made it possible for people to live longer and be healthier than ever before in history. Lifespans of hundreds of years were possible. And still our technology progressed, to the point where we could create virtual environments where any conceivable experience could be achieved.
"Many people lost themselves in these virtual places, victims of their own self-interest. Some of them are probably there still. Eventually, though, we gained the ability to access other realities, to find aspects of existence we had never conceived of before. Since there are nearly a limitless number of such realities, and because they are real, not fictional situations made virtually real, they are much more interesting. That's what this reality is for me."
"It sounds," Harry said slowly, "like you're saying that I and everything here are nothing more than stuff someone made up in a story."
"No, Harry, I'm not saying that," Jon disagreed. "You are real. Everything that has happened to you, really happened. Neville is really dead," his voice cracked. "I wish like hell I could undo that, but I can't."
"Why can't you undo it?" Harry challenged. "You brought Hermione back!"
"Because she wasn't altogether gone yet!" Jon snapped. "Harry, I don't know what your soul is – I don't know where it goes when it leaves your body at death. I would have had no way to follow Hermione, if her soul had left this reality before I could touch it and call it back. She was confused, frightened, terrified even – but the idea that she could go onto what lies beyond this existence had begun to appeal to her. I had to beg her to come back, to stay here a little while longer." He looked away from Harry. "I feel like I betrayed her, doing that to her."
"Does she know any of this, what you've told me?" Harry asked.
"I don't know," Jon said, shaking his head. "She might have some unconscious memory of it, repressed when she re-entered her body." He looked at Hermione, frozen in position, her face turned toward him. "Only time will tell how this affects her."
"I don't know what to say to all this," Harry told him. "It sounds beyond belief."
"I'm sure it does," Jon agreed. "Just as, when I was growing up, in my reality, the kind of magic you practice daily was beyond belief. The person I am now, traveling between alternate universes to visit fictional characters made real must seem utterly fantastic to you."
"I can't disagree with that," Harry said wryly.
"Then we may as well leave it at that," Jon said. "I'll leave you and your friends in peace. There's only one thing left I need to tell you – or rather, to show you." Jon stood, taking out his wand.
Harry stood as well. "Are we going somewhere?"
"In a manner of speaking," Jon said, holding out his hand, fingers splayed. "It will work better if we're touching."
Harry reached out and grasped Jon's hand, intertwining their fingers. "Close your eyes, Harry." Jon closed his own.
Harry did as well. "I'm ready," he said.
"Iunctumens!" Jon said loudly.
Harry opened his eyes. He and Jon were still standing beside each other, but they were no longer touching. The compartment had gone as well – in fact, everything had gone. They were surrounded on all sides by a uniform whiteness, extending even below them. Harry could feel solid ground under his feet, but couldn't distinguish a floor, walls or any structure of any kind. Except –
Standing behind Jon was an old man with long hair and a long white beard, wearing half-moon glasses and a pleasant smile. With a jolt, Harry recognized him as Albus Dumbledore. Jon turned and waved his wand, and the figure of Dumbledore smiled even more broadly at them.
"Ah, Harry!" he said, moving forward, seemingly effortlessly; Harry could hardly see his feet beneath the long white robe he wore. "So good to see you again after all this time! Although I daresay you've already figured that I've seen you every day since we last spoke in the flesh."
"And this must be your friend Jonathan Crown." Dumbledore turned politely to include him in the conversation.
"Yes, sir, I am," Jon said. "It's an honor to meet you at last, although I wish it could be under different circumstances."
"Ah, well," Dumbledore gave an airy shrug. "'C'est la vie,' as the French say. "Or in this case, perhaps 'c'est la mort' is more appropriate."
"Excuse me, Professor!" Harry said. His voice had gone slightly strange. "Aren't you dead?"
Dumbledore looked at him, a twinkle appearing in his eye as he answered, "Well, Harry, 'yes and no' is probably the best answer I can give you. As was well phrased by a mutual friend of ours, the answer, like me, is neither here nor there."
Harry frowned, but in a rush the memory came to him. "Nearly-Headless Nick!" he cried. "You're a ghost, Professor!"
"Your servant, Harry," Dumbledore bowed.
"But –" Harry hesitated, but plunged ahead "– but don't people who are afraid of death become ghosts, Professor? I never would have imagined that of you!"
"Very kind of you to say, my boy," Dumbledore made another small bow in acknowledgement of Harry's words. "But there are other situations that qualify as well."
"Jon," Harry said, not looking at him, but keeping his eyes on Dumbledore. "Where did you bring me? Did you know Professor Dumbledore would be here?"
"I had a strong suspicion," Jon said. "A few people lent me their memories of Professor Dumbledore. They remember he tends to steeple his hands when he's thoughtful or trying to make a point. It's a gesture I've seen you make a few times as well, especially when you've been distracted or concentrating intently on something.
"As for where we are – well, the charm I cast earlier was the Mind-Join Charm. We are sharing the same thoughts. And Professor Dumbledore is here because –"
"— because, Harry," Dumbledore finished, "I've chosen to Haunt – you."
"Me?" Harry exclaimed. "Why?"
Dumbledore looked profoundly regretful. "I apologize for giving you no hint of what I was doing, Harry! I made a dreadful mistake when I found Marvolo Gaunt's ring, and I spent most of that year in a race to teach you what I knew before it was too late.
"The ring bore an awful curse for anyone not of Gaunt's family who tried to wear it. I attempted to remove the curse so I could wear the ring as I disposed of the Horcrux.
"But I failed," Dumbledore finished heavily. "The curse lay dormant until I struck the ring with Godric Gryffindor's sword, one of the very few objects that can permanently destroy a Horcrux. Then it struck, destroying my hand and nearly the rest of me as well, until the timely assistance of Professor Snape arrested its progress."
At the mention of Snape's name Harry's expression hardened. "It is hard to believe that he would have helped you then only to turn about and kill you less than a year later. I've always wondered why he did that."
"Perhaps we should ask him, then," Dumbledore said mildly, extending a hand in the direction of someone behind Harry, who spun and saw –
Snape. Here, in his own head?!
Snape's malevolent expression stared out from under the greasy black hair framing his sallow features. He was motionless; Jon had not as-yet cast the Temporal Charm on him, although he was turning to do so.
"Wait!" Harry said, putting out a hand quickly to stop him. He whirled on Professor Dumbledore. "Why is Snape in my head, Professor?!"
"I'm afraid I must apologize again," Dumbledore said, inclining his head regretfully once more. "Professor Snape is here by my doing. As certain as I was that he had turned against Voldemort, I was slightly less certain of his loyalties to me. I fear that, because of that uncertainty, I caused Professor Snape to be here. Or at least, this part of him."
"'This part of him?' Harry repeated. "You mean, he's not a ghost?"
"No," Dumbledore shook his head sadly. "Severus Snape still lives."
"Then this –" Harry looked at the frozen image of Snape in revulsion, "is a fragment of his soul?"
"Yes," Dumbledore finished, looking at Harry with eyes that were suddenly apprehensive, almost fearful. "I cast the spell preparing your body to become a Horcrux just before we swam to the cave. I did not think I would be able to, afterwards, if my experience with Gaunt's ring was any indication."
"Because," Dumbledore sighed, "I wished to know what Professor Snape's intentions toward me were, whether he truly intended to help me die with a measure of dignity, at a time of my choosing, or whether he wished me dead." He pointed to the frozen image of Snape. "This is the evidence. When Snape killed me on the Astronomy Tower, a fragment of his soul was ripped from him and placed into you."
"So he murdered you," Harry said flatly. "He wasn't helping you."
"He was helping me, but his intentions are still manifest. The irony of it is, Harry, a few more weeks and I would have been dead anyway."
"What? Why?" Harry cried.
"The ring's curse had done its abominable best to kill me," Dumbledore replied, walking up to the frozen image of Snape, who stared, stony and unseeing, back at him. "And in the end it would not be denied. The potions and spells Professor Snape prepared for me helped stave it off for the better part of the year, but I knew I would never see another September first."
"I wish I could have been here, then," Jon said, looking at Dumbledore. "I could have stopped it from killing you."
"Tut, tut," Dumbledore said, mildly reproving. "I have no regrets about dying, beyond the burdens I unnecessarily placed on Harry. My life was fuller and considerably more interesting than many realize. Yourself included, Harry. I suppose I do have one regret – that you'll never read my autobiography."
"I never bothered to write one, unfortunately."
Harry and Jon both chuckled in spite of themselves. "I suppose we should get back," Harry said, not really wishing to go. "I could probably stay and talk with you forever, inside my head, Professor, but now that I know you're here – will it be possible for us to do that?"
"I daresay it's not impossible, Harry," Dumbledore said, with a smile. "Whether you'll ever care to again is the more pertinent question, I think."
"Why wouldn't I want to –?" But Dumbledore put up a silencing hand.
"We can leave that for now, Harry," he said, forestalling any other comments. "However, if you look for me and find me not here, I may have gone on."
"Or, I may be paying a visit to some old acquaintances at Hogwarts," he continued briskly. Harry smiled, and Dumbledore put a silvery-white hand on his shoulder. "Do you forgive me, Harry, for what I've done to you? I crave your forgiveness. I wish I had not forced my responsibilities onto you!"
"I didn't think of it that way," Harry said, honestly. "I am glad you trusted me."
"I wish I could say the same, Harry," Dumbledore said, his voice heavy once again.
"What do you mean, sir?"
"I have one other thing to show you, before you leave." Dumbledore stepped aside, and Harry gasped as behind him stood – Voldemort.
Yet it was a radically different Voldemort than the one Harry had last seen. His thin figure was shrunken, emaciated; it stood frozen, in a hunched and nearly cowering pose, as if afraid of them.
"What's happened to him?" Harry asked wonderingly.
"The Voldemort that came to your parents' house that Hallowe'en night was at the pinnacle of his magical power," Dumbledore said, looking at the wretched figure along with Harry and Jon. "But his soul, Harry, was in quite a different state. Tattered, in ruins, it had been ripped at least five times, more than any other wizard had ever attempted, to our knowledge.
"When your mother's spell caused his Killing Curse to rebound upon him, it ripped away a tiny piece of his own soul and bound it to you at the point of contact – your scar, Harry." Harry reached up to his forehead, but the scar – and his glasses, were no longer there. He looked at Jon, realizing that he was no longer wearing glasses, either.
"Now," Dumbledore continued. "With his Horcruxes destroyed and his soul no longer present, this final scrap of his soul has nothing else to draw upon. It will never be able to pain you again, Harry."
Harry nodded, a ghost of a smile on his lips. "I trust you'll keep an eye on him, while you're here, sir?"
"Of course," Dumbledore said with a twinkle in his eye. "Thank you, Harry, for understanding!"
"I trust you, Professor," Harry said clearly. "I can't put it more simply than that."
"And you trusted your friends," Dumbledore said. He looked at Jon, then at Harry. "A rare gift, Harry, to trust like that, after all you've been through.
"And now, until we meet again, farewell." He moved away from Harry, fading from view, as did the the figures of Snape and Voldemort.
Harry took a step after Dumbledore, but Jon put a hand on his shoulder. "We should go back, Harry." Harry nodded, reluctantly, looking after Dumbledore.
"I'll see you around, Professor," he said softly, as Jon said "Finite!" They opened their eyes and were back in the compartment aboard the Hogwarts Express.
"I'll say goodbye as well, Harry," Jon said, stepping forward and extending his hand to Harry, who shook it without thinking. "I'm sorry too, for the people that have died here – Neville, Slughorn, Professor Burbage… I'm just glad that not as many people died here as they did in the stories in my reality."
"What do you mean?" Harry asked. "Who died – er, there?"
"A lot of people," Jon said. "Let's see… Moody, Lupin, Tonks… Dobby died." Harry looked stricken. "Well, remember, Harry – in my reality these were only stories."
"But… you've said that what's fiction in one reality can be real in another one, right?"
"….Right," Jon agreed, slowly.
"Did Hermione die in that story?" Harry asked suddenly. "Is that why you didn't want her to die here?"
"No, she lived. Ron does, too."
"What about Ginny?"
"She survives as well," Jon nodded. "But – Fred dies. And Neville becomes the professor of Herbology at Hogwarts."
Harry shook his head. "How do you know all this? Is it –"
"Yeah, it's in the book." Jon put up his hands as Harry opened his mouth again. "Harry, please. I could talk for hours about everything that goes on in the stories about you in my reality. But you have to live your life here, in this one. I'm just glad I was able to share some of it with you."
He looked at Ron, Hermione and Ginny. "I wish I could say good bye to them."
"You can," Harry suggested. "I can tell them about this other stuff… when they're ready for it."
Jon looked at him skeptically for a moment, then smiled and sat down. "What the heck," he said. "It can't hurt. Have a seat, I'll end the Temporal Charm and be on my way. Take your wand back out."
"What? Oh, yeah." Harry pulled out his wand again.
"Finite," Jon said quietly, then stood as Ron, Hermione and Ginny looked at him, each other, and Harry, trying to decide what to do. "I'll be going now, Harry. Ron, Hermione, Ginny, it was a very interesting year, thank you all for making it that way."
"Wait a minute, you," Ron took out his wand. "We're not through with you."
"Yes, we are," Harry said. "Put your wand away, Ron."
"Wha' d'you mean, we're through?" Ron exclaimed. "He just lied to us not 30 seconds ago about his car!"
"I know why he did it," Harry said, putting his own wand away. "I'll explain later."
"Is there something we should know about now?" Hermione pressed him, concerned. Harry shook his head.
"Kind of ironic," Jon said, "leaving you all on less than the best terms. But at least I can leave you like that."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Ginny said fiercely.
"It means, 'be well,'" Jon said, and turning on the spot, he Disapparated.
"That was weird," Ron said a few moments later, shaking his head. "He was a strange bloke, wasn't he?"
"Definitely," Harry agreed. "But it was an interesting year, wasn't it?" The others nodded agreement as well.
They continued to chat as the train rolled on through Scotland and into Northern England, finally arriving in King's Cross as the sun hung in the western sky.
"Ron! Oh, Ronald!" Mrs. Weasley gathered Ron up almost before he stepped off the train. Mr. Weasley put an arm across his shoulder, beaming at him. The other Weasleys were there as well: Bill, Fred, George, Charlie as well, back from Romania. They clustered around Ron, all talking at once. Ginny ran off the train and into the pack as well, making one large family hug.
"It's unbelievable!" Mrs. Weasley was saying. "Our Ron figured out the secret of the Mystery Vault, and it was the Weasley fortune all along!"
"Yeah," Fred said, giving George an chagrinned look. "I thought we were supposed to come up with the family fortune, George."
"Congratulations, Ron," another voice said, and Ron turned in shock as he recognized his brother Percy, who'd been standing off to one side, watching silently to this point.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Ron said, glaring at him. "I thought we weren't good enough for you anymore!"
"Ron, I –" Percy looked miserable. "I – look, I know what a bloody idiot I've been these past few years, but –"
"But what?" Ron demanded.
Amazingly, it was Fred and George, two of Percy's most vocal criticals to this point, who came to his rescue.
"Ron, you're looking at a new man," Fred said proudly, clapping Percy on the back. Percy winced; the slap was a bit harder than it needed to be.
"When Bill was trying to get out of the Ministry of Magic in time to get back to Hogwarts," George said. "Who d'you think came to his aid, earning the wrath of Dolores Umbridge and demotion to a junior undersecretary in the Centaur Liasion office?"
Ron's eyes widened in shock. He looked at Percy in amazement. "You mean you –"
"They're making more out of it than it is," Percy muttered, looking uncomfortable. "I just found Bill an alternate exit."
"And good thing," Bill added. "Or I wouldn't have made it to Hogwarts in time to get Ron and everyone to Gringotts, and we would have been flat out of luck."
"Well, boys, the more the merrier," Mr. Weasley said, clapping both Percy and Ron on the back; Ron turned and looked at Harry and Hermione with a expression of pure joy.
"And Harry!" Mrs. Weasley shrieked, turning to hug him as tightly as she had hugged her own son. "It's unbelievable about you as well, getting rid of You-Know-Who once and for all!"
"Yeah," Harry said, feeling the golden sphere pressing against his chest as Mrs. Weasley continued to hug him. She finally let go of him and went to hug Hermione. Ginny came over to him and slid under his arm. Harry smiled and squeezed her shoulder, and Ron moved over to stand next to Hermione.
"Now what?" George said, after a few moments. Other people coming off the train were smiling and waving at the veritable crowd of red-headed people hugging each other.
"Now," Mr. Weasley said, "we can all get back to the business of living again. It's seemed like a long, weary time since anyone's been able to do that."
"How about a party?" Ron suggested. Everyone looked at him. "Well, you know," he said, looking around. "We do have some things to celebrate, don't we?"
"Like our family being together again," Mrs. Weasley said, her arm around Percy.
"And all of our families being safe now," Bill put in.
"And to remember those who aren't with us any more," Hermione said.
"And those who are," Fred added. "I guess it just seems like a good time to say, 'And they lived happily ever after,' for some reason. Dunno why, really."
Harry laughed, as did everyone else standing there. It was a good time, he thought. Until the next adventure began, all was well.