It was late afternoon and the sky was bruised with dark shades of midnight purple and sickly greens. Occasionally, violent flashes of white like splinter in the distance and thunder rolls deep and resonant with ominous portent. Too much magic in the air has upset what should have been a casual transition between the pale summer blue and the deeper evening cobalt. He sat, stoic, at the top of the stairs just outside the entrance hall. There were few people out now and those that wandered about never strayed too close to Harry. Whether it was his empty, and cursory glance at them or the simple truth of who he was, where he was, and what he had done that kept them away he couldn't know, but it was just as well, he thought.
He began again, this time at the farthest edge of the grounds and scanning them inch by inch, carefully, cautiously, his wand still gripped tightly in his clenched fist. The outcome of the dramatic struggle weighed heavily on him, pressing in his chest like a heavy stone and the never ending anger still coiling in his stomach. He is only seventeen, but far from a boy and he cannot ever recall being a child.
The gruesome truths of war are evident upon him, he bleeds from wounds that will leave ugly scars in their wake. He stares at nothing and everything. Fourteen hundred dead at the last count, another thousand or more wounded. He had asked for the numbers, they hadn't wanted to give them to him. The grass is still stained with blood and he can just barely see the top of Hagrid's hut, still smoking.
Behind him, the castle is in shambles, the entire west end is caved in and Ravenclaw tower is gone, as if it had never existed. Harry has begun building a fortress of walls in his mind, blocking out memories that he doesn't want to have, stone by stone those closest to him disappear. Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Remus, Tonks, all of them, like Sirius before. He hears confident and yet, tentative, footsteps behind him—he does not turn. From the corner of his eye, he sees that it is Minerva McGonagall. Her robes rustle as she settles onto the cool concrete beside him. She is silent beside him for a long time, even her breathing seemingly muted.
"You should go see Madam Pomfrey. She has set up a makeshift infirmary in the Great Hall. There are healers from St. Mungo's helping her." Her voice is soft, quiet and not at all the tone he's familiar with.
"I'm sure they are plenty busy." He doesn't meet her eyes and doesn't see the pain that clouds them.
"Harry, you have done enough. You have sacrificed and you have taken care of all of us in a heroic fashion. Let us take care of you." There is a measure of respect in her voice that tears apart his insides.
"There are no living heroes in a war like this." He says with a harshness he did not intend and gets up without looking at her.
He makes his way into the castle avoiding both the Great Hall. Each stair causes violent tremors to ripple through his muscles. The Fat Lady is not in her frame, which hangs at a precarious angle on the open door. He avoids looking at the schoolbooks, clothes, and chaos of familiar things that are thrown haphazardly across the room. In the bathroom and he strips off his clothing carefully.
The water is scalding and the open wounds on his shoulders burn. Washing quickly, he is out again within a handful of minutes and feels neither better nor worse for it. Naked and slightly chilled, he begins to heal the worst of his wounds. He had learned the elementary healing spells from Ginny, but he doesn't think about her. He doesn't think about Hermione, as he mends the tears in his clothes and performs a light washing charm on them using spells she taught him. His mind is empty but for the record of screams and crashing, moaning—the sounds of war, of battle, and death.
It had cost him far too much, this victory, and the payoff was not enough, would never be enough. Voldemort was still out there somewhere, once again bodiless, once again weak. Not gone. Harry was beginning to wonder if he ever would be gone.
He is so tired. He stares into the mirror and does not recognize himself. There are dark, exhausted shadows under his eyes and his complexion is pale and wan. The inexpertly healed wounds have left thick pink scars behind. He looks in his own eyes and sees only a familiar distant pain.
As he exits the tower, suddenly, there is a loud crack and Kreacher appears next to him. He looks hesitant but determined, at once proud and terrified.
"Master, I have brought you some food." He offers a sandwich on a silver plate. Harry stares at the sandwich and then at the elf who had once been full of vitriol before reach for the food. As he continues on, he is somewhat amazed that after all this violence his body can still function so naturally. He eats and walks noting the spell scorched walls and brownish smears caused by hasty attempts to clean up spilt blood. He walks past the great hall again and comes across Madam Pomfrey at the entrance. She walks briskly to him and he does not move to avoid her.
Her robes are stained and tattered, it seems as though in places she has torn pieces of cloth from the hems of her skirt and apron. Her hair is sweat slick and she looks older than he has ever imagined her to be.
"Mr. Potter, did you heal this yourself?" She says with a wave toward his face. "I could have done it and left you with less scarring."
"Thank you, for all you are doing." He leaves her as the tears well in her eyes.
Outside the castle he is walking aimless again; he doesn't realize where he was meant to go until he is standing in front of blackened stone of Dumbledore's tomb. He lays a hand on it, imagining it to be the shoulder of the man—a strange thought for he had never been so casual with the man when he had been alive.
"You were wrong old man, you were wrong." He whispers after a long moment, his voice raspy with disuse and dehydration."There is more to this than horcruxes."
"Harry Potter." The voice is clear and crisp.
Harry turns slowly feeling the sting of newly healed scars. He is not startled to find the centaur standing just at the edge of the forest. He inclines his head a little. "Firenze."
"Harry Potter." Firenze is regal still, his human torso muscular and bronzed.
Harry says nothing and lets his eyes move once again to the sky. He wishes there were stars. "Can you read the future with a sky like this?"
"No, friend. But I need not the stars tonight." There is a thread of apprehension weaving through the centaur's words, and Harry turns to him again.
"Is there nothing we can do?" Harry hadn't meant to speak the words aloud, but there was such finality in Firenze's tone.
"Nothing, I or anyone else can. Only you." Firenze stares up towards the absent stars, face twisted into tense angles."Once many years ago there was a prophecy."
"The damned prophecy." As it always was, as it never should have been. Those words that had wrecked more havoc in his world than Voldemort had ever meant for. Catalyst for despair. The one with the power to vanquish the dark lord approaches.
Firenze nods slowly and with a little apology in the gesture. "We read something unusual in the stars near-to the same time. And we did not understand it then, and it did not come to pass we imagined it was simply a confusion or distraction—in time, we forgot. It spoke of a traveler, bringer of light, neither young nor old. Who would unravel the darkness of evil"
Harry sat on the grass, all of this leaving him too exhausted to stand. "You are that traveler Harry Potter. I know this now."
"Firenze, I have had enough of prophecy, let someone else travel. I am to tired for the riddle of it." Harry stares up at Firenze whose eyes are strangely distant.
"I speak of second chances, friend. For you, for your people. The chance to end all of this—forever."
"It isn't possible, if I catch your meaning, what you are saying is a thing of myth and failure." Harry does not think of Hermione and rescuing Sirius. He does not think of saving lives by meddling with time.
"There are magics more ancient than Wizard kind. Magics that are secret and mysterious, which are bound by none of your laws. Power is sometimes a burden, my friend, and some peoples can not wield it without corrupting themselves. I can send you. But only you, and only tonight."
"Why?" Harry feels a cold dread mixing with adrenaline in his blood, "Why tonight?"
"Years and Years past, on this night. A woman spoke and the world changed."
"So you would send me back, into another war." There is steel at the heart of Harry's words, "And so I go, because I will, at your word—to stop all this from happening. But as I know this world and what I've done in it, nothing comes so easy. "
"Ah, Harry, so wise for one so young. Yes, whatever paints the sky and breathes life into our very bodies—requires, always, some measure of sacrifice. Do you go, and succeed, you will never return."
"You mean I would change the world in such a way that— I could just cease to exist?"
"That which exists cannot simply un-exist. You will live until you die, but you will never live in this life, here, now. Harry Potter may be born, but he will never be you."
"I see. My choice is to live now, or to live then." Harry stares off again. "Where is the choice in that, I have lost all that mattered now and my name is nothing but letters strung along together."
There is a long silence, during which Firenze's face dances with a myriad of emotions—sadness, fear, hope and respect.
"You must get everything in order. Gather anything you think you may need. Perhaps it would be best should you change your appearance a bit, this is your parents time and it may be easier should that connection not be made. Meet me here tomorrow night, at midnight. I will be waiting." Firenze turned and faded into the forest leaving Harry staring after him, with little more than a melting bitterness and his ever present exhaustion.
With one lingering look toward the castle , he lay back against the dewy grass and closed his eyes.
Harry made his way down the alley, which even in the wake of such disaster was still bustling with throngs of people. Harry could feel the stares of the passers-by but it seemed they were either too intimidated or too respectful to approach him.
He pushed through the heavy doors of Gringotts and made his way to a desk. Without a word he pulled a key from around his neck and placed it on the high desk before an unfamiliar goblin.
I need to withdraw everything. 10,000 galleons in coin— the rest either in coin or in some form that I can use anywhere, any time." He said the last part with particular emphasis unsure if it was possible or would be understood. The goblin gave him a penetrating look and then a nod. From somewhere beneath the desk, the goblin retrieved a large book, leather bound with heavy pages. He turned several pages and then wrote a few numbers down.
"One moment." The goblin disappeared from the high stool and through a door behind him. Several minutes later he returned carrying an envelope and a bag of coins. He handed the envelope and the bag to Harry. "This is redeemable for coin at any wizarding bank, anywhere any time. Simply present it to the goblin at the desk and they will assist you. Do not break the seal."
Once again on the street, Harry thinks on what Firenze suggested about changing his appearance and makes his way into a nearby barber's salon. The tall, wiry wizard behind the counter stands up so quickly he nearly knocks over his chair.
"Mr. Potter, an honor, what can I—how may I assist?" The man must be twenty years his senior, and yet, his voice tremble with awe as he speaks.
Harry notices a magazine sitting on the table and picks it up. On the cover is some musician with wild purple streaked hair. He turns the photo to the man. "Can you do this?"
The man's excited head bobs up and down and he motions Harry to sit. "Perhaps, with a nice Gryffindor red, instead, sir?"
At Harry's nod, the man draws his wand and begins to work. Harry closes his eyes and drifts for a while. It seems such a short while before he is being gently shaken. He opens his eyes and stares the strangely familiar reflection has him momentarily confused. The man has matched the photo with impressive accuracy. His hair is shorter now and arranged in a messy chaos of spikes. It makes him look older having it away from his face. The lightning bolt scar is no longer hidden and but seems unremarkable in comparison with the others that have marred his face over the years. Red stripes which appear randomly in the mix of his natural black, look nearly natural despite their gaudy color.
"How long wills this stay? The color?" Harry runs his hand through it and smiles a little when it springs immediately back as it was.
"It will stay for as long as you like. The length too. I use non-growth and perma-color spells. I'll give you the card with the counter-charm so you can remove it when you like. Other wise it will remain unaffected."
He stands slowly, eyes still on his reflection. He hands the man two galleons. Too much, but Harry doesn't care. He leaves before the words of protest escape the barber's mouth.
Two stores over is a novelty store that specializes in muggle clothing. It had become all the rage in the younger generation, a political rebellion of fashion in a way. Harry doesn't not take the time to wander, instead, takes several dark t-shirts, a few of pairs of jeans and a set of black combat boots from various racks and shelves. He pauses as he passes by the jewelry section to finger a thin leather necklace with a strange metal symbol at the end of it and a matching wrist cuff, he collects them both. He hesitates and then picks up a pair of silver hoop earrings with red rubies hanging on them.
After paying for his items he uses the loo at back of the shop to change. It is awkward and somewhat painful to change, but he manages to pull on a pair of tight blue jeans, a grey long-sleeve shirt with a black t-shirt overtop and the heavy black combat boots. He tosses his old clothing into the trash and shrinks the rest of his bags and stuffing them in his pockets.
He remembers a conversation he once had with Bill and Charlie about the shop where Charlie had gotten his tattoo and Bill had gotten his earring put in, and follows the alley down just to the edge of Knockturn Alley The front of the shop had tinted windows and loud music blaring right through the closed door. Ron would have been jealous and impressed. But Harry wasn't thinking about Ron.
He stepped in and large man with so many tattoos it was hard to determine his natural skin tone met him at the counter. Harry explained what he wanted and the man grunted as he motioned Harry back to a chair. Harry had hardly sat down when the man pointed his wand at the earring Harry provided and then with a whispered word Harry couldn't make out the earring went flying and with a small twinge of pain embedded itself in the lobe of his ear. Harry brought his hand up and touched the earring, strange. He peered at his reflection once again and felt as though everything he knew to be true of himself had begun to fade from it.
The tattoo was a sharp form of torture but he didn't flinch or speak, which seemed to impress the large man. Afterwards he paid the man, and returned again to the more reputable part of Diagon Alley.
He hesitated for a moment at the door of his final stop. This would take away the last piece of himself that would so obviously tie him to his parents, to his father and his mother. An hour or so later he exited the small shop, with no round glasses, and glorying in magically enhanced contact lenses that paled his eyes to a frosty version of his mother's emerald green.
Harry apparrated back to Hogwarts this time just outside of the gates. The wards had been all but destroyed and nothing would have stopped him from landing in the Great Hall itself, but he wanted the walk needed it. He carried in his pocket a shrunken trunk filled with gold, clothing and many other things he would need. As he reached the school he checked his watch and did not think of Molly or Arthur. It was 11:30.
He made his way to the headmaster's office. The password Gargoyle had been crushed by a giant and lay in pieces which had been carelessly swept aside. Harry took the stairs slowly. He knocked on the heavy wood door to what was now Minerva's office and barely heard her invite him in. Inside, he stood silent, refusing to look around the office. His eyes falling on his friend, once-teacher, whose hair had turned entirely grey in the span of these past grueling years.
She stared at him but did not comment on his appearance, she had a sad knowing that shadowed her eyes a little more. "I've spoken with Firenze"
"I wanted to say goodbye." He kept his eyes fixed on hers and saw something shift in them.
She stood stiffly from the desk and came around to stand before him.
"I've written up some documents for you. Present them to Dumbledore when you arrive. He won't question them. And he won't press much about your past. I've taken the liberty of changing your last name to Pierson." He noted that her voice caught over Dumbledore's name.
"Thank you." He took the papers from here and with a small nod turned and left the room.
Once again he stood beside Dumbledore's tomb and laid his hand upon it. He waited. The sky was dark and there was a chill in the air, some of the previous night's clouds had cleared and a few stars shone brightly against the deep blue. Firenze appeared just inside the trees and motioned for him to come.
As Harry came up beside him, he spoke. "You will be entering time in 1976. Just outside the gates of Hogwarts. Good luck." And Firenze placed a hand on Harry's chest, muttering a string of words in a language Harry had never heard. Suddenly the world blurred around him and for several minutes he felt completely disconnected from everything, even his own body. Then, as abruptly as it had came the blurring stopped and he found himself standing, warmed by the sun. Just outside the gates of Hogwarts.