EPILOGUE

Hermione swept into the Department of Mysteries, knitting needles clinking together in her handbag and causing several Unspeakables to look up from their work stations when she walked past. Her guide, a middle-aged man with very forgettable features wearing a non-descript Muggle suit, had a very fast way of moving that forced her to practically trot to keep up, and the effect wasn't very dignified.

However, she was far too confused right now to be embarrassed about what sort of impression she was leaving. How could Harry's body be back? She had thought that it had been stolen by some fanatic, and therefore long decomposed or sold in the underworld by now.

The man, who still hadn't even given her a codename to call him by, stopped in front of a unmarked door made of dark stained wood and knocked on it with his bony knuckles. It swung open silently and he ushered her in first like a gentleman, which improved her opinion of him.

On a wood table in the center of the small room, which was little more than a rectangular space with a row of cabinets against one of the walls and a sink against the other with a single bright light above their heads, was Harry. Or rather, what had been Harry when he was still alive. She blinked. His hair had grown considerably, and fell over the edge of the table in a near-waterfall of thick black curls. It looked healthy and well cared for, and from what the light was revealing, he had gained some significant muscle mass.

And then there were the puncture marks, and a series of medical-looking scars over his torso, the backs of his calves, and down his hips. She couldn't imagine why someone would want to cut up a dead body, unless they wanted his organs for potions ingredients or something. Sending the Unspeakable a questioning look, she stretched her hand over to hover over Harry's skin without touching him. He nodded and she began prodding his bruised torso, feeling for any missing bits. There weren't any.

"We haven't found a reason for the scars either, Miss Granger."

"None at all?" She asked, leaning in and getting a closer look at one of the puncture marks.

"Other than perhaps sadistic curiosity, no."

"Do you have any idea what he's been injected with?" She gently touched one of the pockmarks with the tip of a finger, frowning.

"We've submitted a blood sample for examination, and we are still waiting for the results."

"Where did his body turn up?" She tilted her head, examining a tattoo on his hand done in black ink. It was the number 54, whatever that meant.

"In the exact same bed in the morgue it was before it disappeared, in the same position it had been before. A full examination showed that he had been alive but minutes before, and the cause of death was full-body muscle failure, which isn't a condition we commonly find around here. We believe the cause might have something to do with whatever was in his blood."

"I…see." She gazed silently down at his face, not yet altered by a mortician to display the false mask of serenity and happiness made for the benefit of their loved ones. It was contorted in agony, the teeth partially bared on one side where his lips were parted. His nostrils were flared and his eyes half-open.

She shivered. She could have sworn he was watching her, even though she knew that he was dead. "How could he have died of muscle failure if he was dead before from severe head trauma and a broken neck?"

The Unspeakable shrugged helplessly. "We're called the Department of Mysteries for a reason, miss."

Sighing, she circled the table so she could peer at him from all angles. Despite all the obvious physical changes, he was still the kid she had grown up with and been through hell with.

"Oh, and the little air we did find in his lungs is made up from a series of gases that we don't have on earth, in case you wanted to know."

She froze, mind frantically dissecting that information and jamming it into various other sections of her mental research files. Could Harry have been transported to another dimension, the shock of which could have brought him back to life?

No, of course not! The very idea was ridiculous…but then, most of Harry's life had been ridiculous and she had paused to marvel that he had lived as long as he had without meeting a messy end. But how else could the air be explained? And the fact that he had obviously been living somewhere for the past year…

The door opened a fraction, and a woman stuck her head around the edge. "Sir? We have the first results of the blood test."

"Excellent. Have you got them on you or are we going to the laboratory?"

"Laboratory. They aren't authorized to be taken out; sorry."

"It's alright. Miss Granger, if you don't mind, its time for us to migrate to a different division for the blood results; if you still wish to see them, that is."

"Alright." She straightened her skirt, brushed Harry's hair from his forehead, also scarred along the temples, and followed them down the hall.

The laboratory turned out to be a plain room with a row of false windows displaying scenes of a classical pleasure garden, filled with intimidating equipment and long metal tables flanked by hard benches.

They followed the woman, whose hair was a half-blonde, half-gray rats nest gathered sloppily atop her head, to her station where a trio of vials containing swirling liquid were in a case.

What was in the vials couldn't possibly be blood, since it seemed to be more than fifty percent thick green liquid. The green seemed to be trying to crush or strangle the red streaks, moving rapidly inside its thin glass confines. Hermione swallowed. The liquid did not look benign to her, and she could somehow feel in her gut that it was not the sort of thing you wanted attacking you-

She shook her head. She'd been staring at it avidly, and the Unspeakable and examiner were both waving their hands in front of her eyes.

"I'm terribly sorry!"

"Its okay. I took so long getting the results because it kept distracting me. It almost reminds me of the Killing Curse, you know." She shrugged. "It's the color."

Hermione nodded. Now that she was paying more attention, she could see that the green was perfectly aligned to that of the Killing Curse, and it looked like how she supposed liquid magic would, if ever someone found a way to bottle it.

"Anyways, we don't have a name for it."

"Is it a new chemical compound?"

She shook her head, a bemused smile twisting her thin lips. "It doesn't exist. I've run every test we've got on it, and all the results come up empty. Its not a mixture of things, either. It's a whole chemical on its own."

"I…are you sure?"

"Yes. absolutely. Its fucking weird."

"Language, Priscilla." The Unspeakable murmured eyes on the vials.

"Yeah, whatever. What do you want me to do with them?" She gestured to the vials.

"Put them in storage. A private ceremony will be held for Mr. Potter, and those who knew him in life may attend but his body shall remain in our care as a mystery."

Hermione blinked. "But what about when it decays?"

"Our tests have revealed that whatever the green stuff is, its acting as a preservative. He has shown no signs of decay so far."

"Oh."

This was all very anti-climactic.

Two months later the program for locating Alternate Universes was dropped by the Minister because the funds were needed for the annual ball.

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Zack felt like he was floating slowly out of his body, and gritted his teeth to hold on a little longer for Cloud's sake. He could barely bear to see those wide blue eyes filled with tears, leaning over him and clasping his hand so tightly his bones were grinding together.

He hid his wince. Cloud didn't know his own strength…not anymore. Neither of them did. He could feel the blonde's soft skin paled to the color of paper from five years without sunlight against his fingertips and made an effort to stroke it like he would a child's.

"Cloud, I want you to take this." He summoned the last bit of his energy and lifted the handle of his Buster sword with his free hand up to where Cloud could grasp it. "Carry my sword and become my living legacy; live for both of us, as the proof that I existed no matter what lies and record erasing Shin-Ra may do."

"No, I'm not strong enough-"

"Then take my strength. All you need; I won't mind, Cloud. I'll be dead." He swallowed a thick clot of blood working its way up his throat, the raw metallic taste nauseating him. "It's what Harry would have wanted."

His grip on life slipped, and his pupils began to fade. Cloud made a choked sound, and he flexed his fingers, wanting to touch Cloud's face again to comfort him. The world seemed to be slowly fading away as his vision closed off, and then the ringing in his ears from the countless gunshots that had killed him died off, and the smell of blood also disappeared.

He felt numb, then his soul lifted as lightly as a feather from his shredded and abused body, floating on the wind far, far away. He fancied that he could look down and see Cloud's still-petite (he was never built to be tall) body bent over his carcass, and sighed. He hoped that the blonde had taken his advice on absorbing his strength. After all, one didn't take such things with them into the after life and it would be a shame for it to be wasted.

The floating sensation abruptly ceased and he found himself unceremoniously dumped on a grassy field. Looking around after getting his face out of the dirt, he noted that it seemed to stretch endlessly in all directions, a brilliantly blue sky forming a perfect dome in the sky. It was too perfect, and he vaguely wondered if these were the endless plains the dead were said to wander.

"Heya!"

He jumped, head turning so fast he was positive he would have had whiplash if he was still alive. Because apparently he was dead now.

Aerith waved cheerily. "It sure took you long enough. Heh, you probably hung on as long as you could to make me wait if it was possible to wait here."

"Aeris?"

"Yep! Welcome to the Lifestream!" She smiled, green eyes crinkling at the corners. He smiled hesitantly back. A lifetime of being taught that death was a "bad" thing was a little much to get over before he became happy about being dead. On the other hand, someone he very much wanted to see was here.

"Aeris, where is-"

Something swirled the air next to her suddenly and he stared, transfixed, as Harry dropped out of the sky and onto some kind of cushion made from the air. Without giving Aeris a glance, Harry crossed the distance between them and wrapped his arms around Zack's neck, burying his face in his shoulder.

"You're finally here!"

Zack wasn't able to reply; too busy checking in every way he knew how to make sure Harry was really there. "I missed you so, but I'm glad you weren't kept in those labs any longer than you were."

"How did you survive as long as you did, Zack?"

He shrugged, grinning. "Luck of the idiots."

"Try hero instead. Don't think I didn't see how you bravely defended Cloud's honor." He smiled, kissing his forehead.

Zack blushed. "You saw that?"

"Uh-huh, and I have to say that I always knew you had the making of a hero of the old legends." Smiling, he allowed himself to be kissed. Aeris made mock-choking sounds in the background and Zack flashed her the 'loser' sign over Harry's shoulder.

While they were distracted, the air curved and bent once again to admit the General, the pupils of his eyes returned to normal. He raised his eyebrows at the display of physical affection going on, and looked at Aeris for explanation. She just shrugged.

"Officer Fair, you will unhand that operative this instant!"

Zack jumped away from Harry, body automatically snapping into salute. When he heard muffled laughter, he looked to the side to find Sephiroth biting his lip to keep it in with a near-hysterical Aeris leaning heavily on his arm. He grinned and waved when he saw that he had the brunette's attention.

"Where's my hello kiss?"

Zack puffed up his chest and turned his back on Sephiroth, trying to restrain himself from tackling him for a little longer. He had missed his friend terribly and hated that he had had to die the way he did. "Pfft, no kiss for you. I don't kiss jerks."

"Oh really?"

"Yeah, really." Harry broke in, moving closer to Zack and looking dangerously possessive.

A snicker escaped Sephiroth's clenched lips and Harry grinned. "I might let you have a more brotherly one though, if you're nice to me."

"I will worship the ground you walk on if you give me a mere moment to-"

"Hey, these are my lips we're talking about!" Zack butted in, hands on hips.

"No they aren't." Harry coolly corrected. "They're mine."

Zack blinked, thrown off.

"Oh, and I've been walking around telling anyone who hits on me that I'm married to you. I hope that's okay."

"That's more than okay!"

And before Aeris or Sephiroth could object, the physical affection began once again. Zack only paused long enough to hug both of them tightly and plant messy kisses on their cheeks whether they wanted them or not.

When, a vague amount of time later, Cloud appeared, he was tackled quite unwillingly by both of his ex-comrades and forced to 'fess up to knowing all along that Tifa wanted in his pants, something that he was then teased mercilessly for until Sephiroth intervened and dragged the jackals away by the scruffs of their necks.

It would seem that immaturity, like love, can survive even death. Zack had to make do with watching the stars and soaring comets with Harry rather than city lights, though, as they used to in the evening before going to bed.

And when Sephiroth finally did put the moves on Cloud, Zack was so shocked he didn't say anything for a full minute, which has been recorded as a miracle.

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End chapter 29

End Soaring Comets

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