Author's Note: well, this is the end. The epilogue. When I started this fic over three years ago, I never thought it would balloon the way it has. Over half a million words, a plot worthy of Xanatos, and hopefully some characters that managed to tug your flinty and jaded heartstrings. As the guy who's been responsible for this thing... yeah, it's been wild.
Just a few things before I step away. Firstly, I'd like to thank my beta readers who have been helping me since the beginning. Mindless, Seratin, Amerision, Riley Poole, Vash, Blaise, and Virail - you've been great, guys, and I've really valued your input. Secondly, I'd like to thank my readers at the DarkLordPotter forums. Yeah, the criticism is harsh and brutal and nobody there holds back, but it's the best damn site for quality Harry Potter fanfiction online, and they helped make me a better writer. Justly deserved kudos to them.
And finally, I'd like to thank all my readers here, particularly those of you who have bothered to drop reviews of any quality. For those of you who have been reading since the beginning, your support has been awesome - I can't imagine what it's been like trying to follow this story over an extended period of time. Hopefully, that problem will be alleviated when I start publishing in the sequel.
Oh yeah, it's happening. In fact, it's been started here: s/8379857/1/Criminal_Limit.
So here it is. The epilogue to 'Renegade Cause'. No warnings this time. Thanks for reading, reviewing, and enjoying - it's been a trip.
It was two weeks after what some were calling the 'Ministry Incident', namely to differentiate it from the bombing in November. But unlike that attack, the repairs had been markedly easier to complete – albeit extraction of the dragon had proven difficult.
The proof was undeniable now. Unconscious and injured Death Eaters had been left behind in the Department of Mysteries, and while none of them had given Lord Voldemort's name, collaborative testimony was hard to ignore. And with enough members of the International Confederation of Wizards still in Bonaccord Hall, it hadn't been difficult for an old Headmaster to wrangle enough time to deliver a speech restating the truth.
Harry couldn't help but let a wry little smile slide onto his face as he sat behind the table, facing the door. It was a small backroom in the Three Broomsticks (Aberforth had outright refused any further meetings of any kind to be held in his bar), but it was surprisingly well-appointed. The walls were stone, but it was carved and smooth and well-set. The furnishings were rich, but not too rich, and the single tall window was rimmed with a final spray of frost, already melting under the sun.
Spring was coming to Hogsmeade. If he listened hard, he could hear students laughing and drinking in the pub outside on the long-overdue Hogsmeade visit – the perfect cover for Harry to have a few very important meetings.
He looked from the window to Dumbledore, who was standing at the side of the table, peering at Harry over his spectacles.
"Are you quite sure you do not want me here?"
Harry winced. "It's not like that, Professor, it's just…" He searched his mind for the words he needed. "It's probably better he doesn't see you here. It's just a few things he and I need to settle up."
Dumbledore nodded. "Fair enough. Good luck." He opened the door, and immediately smiled. "Come in, Rufus – oh, and I must say, congratulations on the nomination."
"Thank you," Rufus Scrimgeour replied stiffly, limping into the room and eyeing Harry suspiciously – some things never changed. "Is it enchanted?"
"I did the work myself," Dumbledore replied. "Now, if you would excuse me, Rosmerta has just untapped a new barrel, and it has been quite some time since I have had the chance to savour a drink with my students."
Harry's mouth dropped open with astonishment, and Scrimgeour looked as if he wanted to say something, but Dumbledore simply smiled and strode towards the taproom, closing the door behind him.
"Crazy wingnut," Scrimgeour muttered, dropping into the chair opposite Harry.
"Nice to see you too," Harry replied, scratching his chin as he eyed the Auror. "So I guess you got what you wanted."
Scrimgeour grunted. "Yeah, fighting out the race for Minister against a slew of idiots and Death Eater sympathizers. Even with Dumbledore's backing, it won't be an easy fight."
"And mine," Harry added, his eyes narrowing. "We made a bargain I'd support you, and I plan to hold to that."
"Glad to see you remembered something of our negotiations," Scrimgeour said coldly, reaching into a pocket of his robes and pulling free a thick folder filled with papers and parchment.
"Dmitri Kemester's file," Scrimgeour replied with disgust, holding the stack the same way one would hold a mouldy sandwich. "I had a few people put it together, and since, for all intents and purposes, he's dead –"
"You have proof of that?" Harry asked sharply. "I mean, we've seen before –"
"He leapt straight into a building that was engulfed in Fiendfyre, and nobody saw him leave," Scrimgeour retorted, tossing the file onto the table with an audible thud. "If he got out of that… you know what, no, he didn't get out of that. The funeral's been held, the grave's been placed, the man is dead. And considering nobody knows what to do with his file –"
"Aren't you going to keep it on record…" Harry's voice trailed off as he saw the steely look in Scrimgeour's golden eyes. "Ah."
"There are enough paranoid rambling, wild hysterics, and insane conspiracy theories in that mess that would fill a year's worth of Quibblers," Scrimgeour said darkly, "but even then, the stuff that is actually true is…" He cleared his throat loudly. "Well, suffice to say, it's better we don't have it, even in deep storage."
"So, you're giving it to me?" Harry asked disbelievingly. "One of the few people who could probably go through all of this and find the truth –"
"And considering so much of it is directly tied to you, it's just one more way of ensuring it never sees the light of day," Scrimgeour replied, a smug smirk growing on his face. "Enjoy."
"You know that I could just give this to the Prophet and see how it all pans out," Harry said, his teeth gritted.
"You could," Scrimgeour said, reaching into his robes again, this time pulling out a fresh copy of the paper and tossing it onto the file. "But the new editor's just been announced, and rest assured, she's the kind to not skimp on the details."
Harry eyed the headline, and a bad feeling began to grow in his stomach. "Are you… 'Rita Skeeter Named Head Editor'… oh, for the love of…"
"Believe me, I'm just as angry about this as you are," Scrimgeour spat, his eyes flashing as he picked up the paper. "The Prophet in the hands of that witch isn't about to cooperate with anybody, and she's not one to cover anything up."
"Maybe that's a good thing," Harry said coolly, throwing the words out like a challenge. "Maybe the Ministry shouldn't be keeping secrets."
"A wonderful dream," Scrimgeour said curtly, rising to his feet, "but dreams burn away on contact with reality. And one more thing, regarding Kemester."
Harry sighed tiredly. "What?"
"There has been pressure placed upon the Department of Magical Law Enforcement," Scrimgeour said slowly, not taking his eyes off Harry, "that the man receives a posthumous commendation for his services to the Ministry. Order of Merlin, Third Class."
Harry's eyes snapped up. "Are you… are you fucking serious?"
"I'm not lying."
"Who's placing this 'pressure'?" Harry demanded, getting up. "Who wants this?"
"Besides the new Head Editor of the Daily Prophet, a number of delegates of the International Confederation of Wizards and Hit Wizards, and a fair number of Aurors?" Scrimgeour snorted. "Certainly not me. I read through his file, I know what he did. But enough people saw his stands as 'admirable', in their own way."
"And you're telling me this because…"
Scrimgeour shrugged. "Figured you should know. I read the file, I know your history with the man."
Harry walked towards the window and wiped away some frost. He could see a group of third-years laughing and running in the slush, not a care in their minds. Not a care in the world.
"I don't think I can ever forgive the man," he finally said, glancing back at Scrimgeour. "But from what I know, and from what I've seen, and from what I've been told… I get it. I understand him. I really wish I didn't, but I get the desperation, the drive for vengeance, the paranoia and anger and…"
He shook his head. "Nobody needed him. He wasn't essential, he wasn't special, he wasn't even that much of a hero. Sure, he saved Tonks' life, but it wasn't because he cared about her or anyone else… he was just doing his own thing, following his own brand of law, and he didn't care who or what stood in his way. Did he represent anything that people might admire or respect? Sure, but is that enough? Is that worth everything he did?" He gave Scrimgeour a sceptical look. "I dunno, does the Ministry give out awards to people like that?"
"Depends," Scrimgeour replied grimly. "For him… well, it would be up the committee."
"You know what?" Harry sighed, and raked a hand through his unruly black hair. "I just don't… I just don't fucking care. I don't, I really don't. About Kemester, about any of that. He's gone, he's dead, it's over."
"Just on that topic," Scrimgeour said, his eyes still fixed on Harry, studying every reaction, "I can inform you that the Department is calling off the search for Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, who were seen fleeing the crime scene the same night Kemester vanished."
Harry immediately fought to keep any emotions tightly hidden. "I… okay, why?"
"Because while Black is a criminal, and Lupin is undoubtedly an accomplice," Scrimgeour growled, "neither of them are Death Eaters, and according to my sources, neither of them are currently in the country. Both were last seen flying east on Black's motorbike over the water, towards the mainland." His eyes hardened, to the point where they resembled nothing less than speckled cat's eye agates behind a pair of spectacles. "And given what's inevitably coming, and given the state of the current Auror Office after the past few months… we can't afford to waste people chasing them."
The scowl vanished for a few seconds as the old Auror gave a bitter smirk. "And besides, Black was responsible for Barnabus Cuffe's death – I think I can give him this one."
Harry eyed the old Auror with distaste. "You haven't changed."
"Most people don't, Potter," Scrimgeour said curtly. "You can call me avaricious and utterly corrupt, you can call me neurotic and paranoid, you can call me every insult you can dream up – the fact is that I'm consistent, and I hate Voldemort just as much as you do. And now that things are out in the open, that's the sort of person the Ministry needs right now." He chuckled as he slid open the door. "But then again, you're already supporting it. See you on the trail, Potter."
He slammed the door shut behind him, leaving Harry with his thoughts.
Antonin Dolohov snorted. "I didn't know you cared, Bella."
"He's been waiting for you for days," Bellatrix snarled, slamming her open palm against the table as Dolohov hung up his cloak. "Days, Dolohov! Where have you been?"
"Setting some affairs in order," Dolohov replied stiffly, primly adjusting his sleeve and eyeing his newly trimmed goatee in the mirror. "Can't a Death Eater take a vacation?"
Bellatrix's eyes bulged. "Vacation?"
"Easy, I was joking," Dolohov said hastily, raising his hands as he fixed his collar in the mirror. "Where's the Dark Lord?"
"Library, down the hall," Bellatrix hissed, crossing her arms over her chest as she stalked behind him. "The Dark Lord is displeased."
"I really don't know why," Dolohov remarked sardonically, "considering one of his biggest obstacles is dead, thanks to yours truly. Sure, not everything worked out according to the plan, but –"
"He doesn't trust you."
Dolohov snorted. "Considering everything's that's happened, I'd be astounded if he did."
They reached the double cherry doors, and he glanced back at Bellatrix. "You can go elsewhere, Bellatrix, I'm fully capable of opening a door."
She glared daggers at him, but spun on her heel and stormed away. Don't envy the poor bastard who gets her way, Dolohov mused, scratching his chin as he knocked on the door.
He took a steadying breath, and pulled open the door, bowing deeply as he shut it behind him. "My Lord."
When he looked up, and saw him, his gut nearly leapt in his chest.
Lord Voldemort was sitting in a high-backed armchair, his desk piled with thick, leather-bound volumes. Several of them rustled with hidden blades within the covers, and it even seemed as if one book was actively bleeding onto the table.
But Voldemort wasn't reading. His wand was in his hand, and he was touching his own arm with it, thoughtfully prodding a long translucent mass that was partially extruding from his forearm and was in the rough shape of a hand…
"You see my… dilemma."
Dolohov struggled for words. He had heard the voice in two places. One was from the figure sitting calmly opposite him, toying with something Dolohov really didn't want identified.
The other, louder voice was in his head.
"It seems," Voldemort mused, "that Potter's attack has struck in a way I hadn't thought possible, partially severing the ties between my spirit and my physical form… really quite perplexing, when one thinks about it."
Yeah, perplexing was the word I was thinking, Dolohov thought queasily. Not creepy as all fuck and really, really disturbing, just… 'perplexing'.
"I'm sure you will find new ways to optimize this new opportunity, my Lord," he replied diplomatically, sincerely hoping that the Dark Lord's new ability to speak into his head didn't give him the power to read thoughts either. "I have news."
"Nathan Cassane is dead," Voldemort said, still not deigning to look at Dolohov. It was a statement, not a question.
"By your hand?"
Dolohov shrugged. "Sure, let's call it that."
"He was an annoyance for far too long," Voldemort said curtly, "but he served his purpose. A shame, though, that I could not co-opt his scheme…"
Yeah, a shame, Dolohov thought, shivering despite himself. "So, my Lord, what is our next step… considering the failure at the Department of Mysteries…"
"Far from a failure, Dolohov," Voldemort said sharply, looking up and fixing him with a red-eyed stare. "Despite the foiling of my primary plans and Potter's… episode, I did have a tertiary plan. Do you see the clear vial on my desk?"
Dolohov saw it. It was little more than a common potion vial, filled with an unremarkable clear liquid. "I do, my Lord."
"I had Rookwood retrieve it and a highly interesting volume from the storage lockers of the Department of Mysteries," Voldemort said, a cold smile growing on his face. "Rest assured, while our organization recuperates, we will be very busy indeed."
"May I ask…"
"Not at this time, Dolohov," Voldemort replied. "For you see, you will not be working with me on this."
Voldemort adjusted his grip on his wand and gave it a quick wave. Immediately, a sheaf of parchment slid across the table into Dolohov's hand.
He read it quickly, and struggled to keep his face free of emotion. So we're doing it this way… not my preference, but ultimately…
"Is the mission to your satisfaction?"
Dolohov eyed his orders, and then glanced up to look at the monster sitting across from him.
"It will be done, my Lord."
Harry folded his hands and eyed the girl standing opposite him.
"I didn't expect you to show up. I'm surprised they let you out of the Hospital Wing?"
Su Li glared at him and crossed her arms over her chest. She still hadn't said a word, but Harry was rapidly getting used to that. It didn't make the habit any less frustrating, though.
"So what do you want?"
She sat down instead of giving an answer, still glaring at Harry through her dark, mirror-like eyes. Despite himself, Harry felt a twinge of unease.
"Is this about the simulamancy?" he asked slowly. "Because you know with you, I'm not going to use it –"
Her exasperated expression told him everything he needed about that response. Of course she knew he wasn't going to use her as a simulacrum – that wasn't the reason why she was here.
"Is this about…" He lowered his voice barely above a whisper. "Peeves?"
She picked up her bag next to her chair, and withdrew a quill, an inkpot, and a crumpled piece of paper, dropping all of them on the table with brisk intensity.
"What's all this?"
She shoved the quill towards his hand, and he cautiously picked it up. What in the hell…
"So what am I supposed to do with this?"
She rolled her eyes again, and gestured at the inkpot. Harry cautiously wet the quill tip and then glanced back at Su.
She slowly tapped the top of her eyebrow and then flicked her finger downwards.
She wants me to close my eyes, Harry thought. He shut his eyes and set his quill on the parchment, trying to calm his fraying nerves…
His arm jerked. He let out a startled yelp, but his arm was still jerking, scrawling across the parchment of its own accord, scribbling as fast as it could…
His eyes snapped open, and he saw nine words, scrawled in sloppy block capitals, the ink running together in rivulets.
I'M HERE. I'LL BE GOOD AND QUIET… FOR NOW.
"Son of a bitch," Harry swore, looking up at Su, unable to stop his heart from wildly pounding. "Fuck, you knew –"
She gave him a hard, steady glance as she tugged the quill and parchment out of his hand and hastily scribbled a message of her own. A few moments later, she shoved the parchment back into his hands.
you have ultimate control unless you choose to cede it. he is nothing more than a tool to be used for good or evil. the tool only has power in the hands of the wielder.
"And what about you?" Harry asked darkly, sliding the parchment back towards her. "What's your role in all of this?"
For the first time, Harry saw a pallid smile creep onto Su Li's face as she wrote five more words.
i am the gatekeeper's mask
"What the… what does that – hey, where are you –"
She didn't answer. She only slammed the door behind her.
It was raining in the graveyard.
Enchanted so that no Muggle could see the tombstones, the graveyard was small, quiet, and ignored. Not many people were buried here – most families had their own plots where they had their funerals, graveyards of esteem, worthy of remembrance.
This place wasn't like that – it didn't need to be. This was a place where the Ministry quietly buried its dead, those with no family to claim – and then promptly forgot about them.
Her shoes sank a fraction of an inch in the muddy ground, and she scowled as she trudged towards the newest grave. There weren't many flowers on these graves – only a few token blossoms, scattered by a bored groundskeeper stopping by whenever he didn't have anything better to do.
She stopped at the newest grave, in the very corner of the graveyard. The tombstone was cheap granite, with no ornamentation or exquisite carving. It was simple, token, chosen for utility.
"'Dmitri Kemester'," she read aloud, "'Born April 19, 1966, Died February 27, 1996. Hit Wizard.'" She sniffed. "Not even a quote or a phrase, Dmitri… yeah, that's just like you."
She reached into her coat and pulled three flowers free. She had carefully wrapped and preserved them, so that the blossoms hadn't broken, and would never break.
"One petunia," she whispered, "one snapdragon… and one nightshade." She shook her head as she laid the flowers at the foot of the grave, freezing them in place with a prod of her wand. "Yeah, I know it's corny and not very typical, but you'd get the irony…"
She closed her eyes and forced back the strange emotions churning in her gut. She was professional, she wasn't supposed to feel anything for him, particularly considering he had been an ugly, callous, rude asshole of a Hit Wizard…
"And yet you saved my life," she murmured, "and you cared enough… cared more than anyone else did. Guess that's why I'm here – why I'm the only one here…"
She straightened. "You just wanted the truth… just like me."
She wiped a smear of rain from her gem-lined glasses and set her jaw. "I might not be a Hit Wizard, but I want the truth, and I don't care how ugly it is. Good luck wherever you might have gone, Dmitri Kemester – your work will live on."
And with that, Rita Skeeter turned on her heel and left the graveyard.
"Did Scrimgeour leave?"
"He returned to the Ministry, yes," Dumbledore said calmly, closing the door behind him as he looked with concern at Harry. "Were there any problems?"
Harry sighed shakily. He didn't want to mention Su's visit – he still didn't understand it, and he knew he didn't want to bring up Peeves. "Nothing that I didn't expect." He stepped away from the frosty window and returned to his chair. "So I guess now… well, at least Hogwarts is safe. The time dilation is gone."
"Outside of those peculiar boulders hovering around the Astronomy Tower and surprising most of our owls, I would agree with you," Dumbledore said, drawing his wand and conjuring a squashy-looking armchair out of nowhere, where he promptly sat. "I do not think we will be getting rid of those however; they really do add a magical ambiance to the castle that I find rather charming."
Harry couldn't help but chuckle a bit at that. "But what about the tomb, what are we going to do about that?"
Dumbledore frowned. "Well – and you will find this interesting, Harry – but I sought to examine it more closely, so I went down to the dungeons two days after the incident at the Ministry. But the funniest thing happened." He idly scratched his beard. "I could not find it."
Harry's eyes widened. "You're kidding me."
"I would not kid about this," Dumbledore replied, his frown deepening. "I searched the entire dungeons, and I could not find the entrance at all. In fact, where we had blasted our way in before, there was nothing but a blank wall, and even when I attempted to blast my way in again, all I found was stone and dirt. But then again, perhaps that is not a bad thing."
"You think the castle itself is trying to send us a message?" Harry guessed. "Maybe moving it out of our reach forever, considering the damage we did?"
"An interesting hypothesis," Dumbledore said lightly, tapping his chin, "and it could very well be the truth, but it was an infinitely fascinating place, Harry. Outside of natural time and space, the experiments that we could have done, everything we could have learned about what we know about life…"
The Headmaster sighed. "Alas, it is not to be, and despite the time dilation being gone, we still have little time to spare." He eyed Harry seriously. "Now, I have not mentioned this before, all things considered, but you have neglected your education this year."
Harry shifted uncomfortably under the Headmaster's intense gaze. "Well… okay, but I had good reason –"
"I'm not denying that," Dumbledore replied, "but it is a fact. Fortunately for you, the time acceleration has thrown the entire Hogwarts curriculum off-schedule, and particularly considering this is your O.W.L. year…"
Harry winced. "Yeah, I know. I'm sorry."
"You do not have to apologize, Harry," Dumbledore said kindly. "I have spoken to the Ministry regarding this, and they have agreed that in the next three-to-four months leading up to the O.W.L.s, providing classes are attended, they will revise the content to reflect a more compact curriculum." He gave Harry a stern look. "But that means you will have to attend classes again, no exceptions."
"But Scrimgeour wants me to help with his campaign," Harry protested, "and what about Voldemort? Even if we're right in thinking he's going to lie low for a bit and recoup his losses, he's going to start things again!"
Dumbledore frowned. "Hmm… well, that does seem to be a bit of a conundrum." He eyed Harry speculatively. "If there was only a bit of magic that would allow someone to be in two places at once, to assume an entirely different identity with uncanny accuracy…"
"You're talking about simulamancy!"
"An easy secret to keep, Harry," Dumbledore said with a wink. "I can simply tell Madam Pomfrey you are suffering from a mild form of narcolepsy, and she will understand."
"On the topic of secrets," Harry began, lowering his voice, "Scrimgeour told me that the Auror Office was calling off the investigation for Sirius and Lupin –"
"Ah, yes," Dumbledore said, his smile fading. "Not precisely a declaration of innocence, but then again, neither of them are quite innocent."
"Have you heard from either of them? Are they okay?"
"They have left the country," Dumbledore said steadily, "and are heading east. I have given them a new mission, as a matter of fact."
"Can you tell me?" Harry asked eagerly.
"They are heading for old vampire country." Dumbledore's eyes darkened as he glanced out the window. "There are three girls still lying comatose the Hospital Wing because of vampire blood magic, and that is unacceptable to me on every level. They will be hunting for a cure."
"Do you think they'll find something?"
"If they do, they will have a great challenge to retrieve it," Dumbledore replied grimly. "It is a cliché that vampires do not get along with werewolves, but it is a cliché based upon fact and a long, bloody history. It will not be easy."
Harry sighed. "You know… you know, as bad as that sounds, I kind of wish I was with them. It sounds like a great adventure."
"It does," Dumbledore said with a nod. "Also, I think you should know that due to some… complications, Miss Delacour's work visa has been revoked."
Harry snapped up. "What? She's being sent back to France?"
"Yes, and for her own safety," Dumbledore replied calmly. "Between her entanglements with the goblins and her workings with Cassane, she would become a target here."
Harry groaned. "Well… well, I guess that makes sense, but that's just one more person I can't rely on."
"I understand the feeling, Harry." Dumbledore gave him a very frank expression. "I lost someone I relied upon dearly this term."
"You're talking about Snape," Harry said bitterly. "And… look, Professor, I'm sorry, but I really don't care that he's gone. He may have been close to my mum at one point, and he might have been a great spy, but after what he did to Lupin –"
"Professor Snape, Harry," Dumbledore said sternly, "and yes, his absence will be missed. I trusted Severus Snape, if only because I knew that his loyalty to your mother also led – rather circumspectly – back to you. I cannot explain or even justify all of his actions, but I do understand his motivations, and I know that despite his personal compunctions, he would never have turned against us. He was an ally – although I can and will admit there were times where his cooperation was… less than optimal."
"Understatement of the century," Harry muttered. "So who's going to teach Potions since he's gone?"
Dumbledore smiled. "I am."
"I am currently having a great deal of difficulty finding a Professor to step in and teach the course for next year," Dumbledore said, leaning back a bit in his chair, "and on such short notice, it is quite impossible to procure a qualified Potions instructor, so for the next few months, I will step in and provide lectures." He eyed Harry seriously. "I do hope the teaching experience is up to your standards."
Harry chuckled. "Professor, it'll probably be the best Potions class I'll ever have. I'm guessing Professor Moody's staying for Defense Against The Dark Arts."
"He insisted upon it," Dumbledore said, chuckling a bit himself. "Granted, I suspect he will be forced to return in some capacity to the Auror Office once the year concludes – which will leave me to find two Professors – but for now he is staying."
"That's good," Harry said quietly. "He's really good… learned a lot from him."
He took a deep breath – even though he really, really didn't want to talk about it, he knew he had to say something. "Professor… about Hermione…"
Dumbledore's smile immediately faded. "Harry, you do know it was not your fault –"
"I know, I know," Harry said hastily. "I'm just concerned… you know, what's going to happen with her…"
"I spoke to her parents," Dumbledore said quietly, "and I explained the situation. I did not mention your involvement, simply described to them the import of the attack and the… aftermath of said attack. Both of them are medical professionals, and they have agreed to a new course of action."
"Miss Granger will not return to Hogwarts this term," Dumbledore said, his voice filled with surprising sadness. "She will be participating in a lengthy series of counselling and therapy sessions at St. Mungo's, and I have prepared a detailed set of lectures and material for her to study for her O.W.L.s. Furthermore, in addition to the protections surrounding the Granger residence, she will receive limited memory augmentation that will allow her, if desired, to forget details of the events that transpired a few weeks ago."
"And she's agreed?" Harry asked anxiously.
"Yes," Dumbledore replied. "There is no easy way to deal with this, Harry, and I can only hope this will be enough to enable her to return to Hogwarts next September."
"I hope she can." Harry put a hand to his forehead. "It's not fair…"
"Lord Voldemort does not play fair," Dumbledore replied, his eyes flashing. "Of that, we are certain."
"Professor…" Harry took a deep breath.
"I know about the Memory Charms." He exhaled slowly. "When Voldemort used the Killing Curse on me… well, I broke them."
"Can you forgive me, Harry?" Dumbledore asked, his voice very quiet. "For enabling such things?"
"What, are you… there's nothing to forgive, Professor," Harry said, raking a hand through his hair. "I asked for them… and as much as I know they contributed to the way things turned out, I don't regret it either." He sighed. "I mean, I can't say it's good that I remember it all now, but it's better I know about it. And now that the connection is gone for good –"
Dumbledore's eyes narrowed. "Are you quite certain of that, Harry?"
"Oh yeah," Harry said, scratching his temple. "Oh, I'm sure. Voldemort's curse did a number of destroying that."
He knew it was a lie, but Dumbledore didn't need to know the whole truth about that. Not yet… not until he fully knew what it all had meant…
"It is not a connection I would have ever used lightly," Dumbledore murmured, "so I hold no regrets that it is destroyed. You are absolutely certain, Harry?"
"Yeah," Harry replied. "I'm sure. Do you… do you think it fulfills the prophecy?"
It was a question for which it seemed that Dumbledore didn't have a clear answer. "I will be honest with you, Harry," he said finally after a few seconds of deep thought, "I am really not sure. I do not suspect that it is fulfilled – namely due to the fact that you are not dead."
"Figures," Harry muttered. "Guess I still have to kill him… damn it…"
"Harry, you now know you have the capacity to kill him," Dumbledore said steadily, taking Harry's hand in his own. "But I also know that you have something he does not, something he will never have. Something that will always control that capacity to violence and death you possess, a control that Voldemort has never had. You have seen the face of Death, and you know what it means – in a way, it's not unknown to you."
"It's not as scary anymore," Harry whispered. "You see so much of it… but I know that whatever comes after can't be that bad…"
"A very mature and very wise attitude to take, Harry," Dumbledore said with a nod of approval. "Most, as I know you saw, never quite realize that. They grow attached to life, for it's all they know, instead of accepting the inevitability of passing onto a new path, a new adventure."
"I think, at the very end, he knew," Dumbledore said softly. "I hope he knew." He slowly rose to his feet. "But even still, Harry, I am incredibly proud of you."
"One more thing."
He could see Dumbledore close his eyes. "Yes."
The old wizard blinked twice, very quickly. "Yes."
"I know you…. I know you did something." Harry swallowed back the lump in his throat. "And I know why, too."
"I have only ever worked to help you, Harry."
"I know that, and I can't say how much I appreciated it." Harry swallowed hard. "But… but it needs to stop." A sudden rush of fear surged into his gut. "You can stop it, right –"
"I can," Dumbledore said. "Are you certain you want this?"
"This isn't about me," Harry said tiredly. "It's about her. It's… it's not right. I mean… I mean, somewhere deep down, even from the very beginning, it was unbelievable –"
"But it wouldn't have worked at all," Dumbledore said, "if there hadn't been the capacity for something there."
The lump in Harry's throat got bigger. "You… you mean the magic?"
"Magic isn't everything, Harry." Dumbledore turned and looked at Harry. "Particularly when it comes to us."
He found the letter on his desk when he returned to the office.
Dumbledore glanced up at the portraits lining the walls of the room. "Did you happen to see the owl that delivered this?"
"Big black bird," Phineas Black said stiffly with a huff of distaste. "Ugly looking thing, but clearly one that's used to flying long distances."
"Of course," Dumbledore murmured, and Fawkes let out a mournful trill as he slit the envelope open and began to read.
As I am sure you are aware at this point, I have left the country. I will not tell you where I have travelled – mostly because it is of no concern, but also because in the chance that this letter is intercepted, I do not want to have to deal with unpleasant visitors.
This message has also been sent with full knowledge that you have returned to public office, likely resuming the position of Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards. I did not wish to send a message sooner, based upon the assumptions that you had returned, due to concerns mentioned above.
It is not an easy thing to write this letter to you, given our professional relationship over the past several years. It is not a relationship I am fond of, or one that I feel has given my life any greater meaning or purpose. But I cannot say that such a relationship was without benefit, so I thank you for the opportunities such a relationship afforded me.
I do not apologize for my approach to education or methodologies, on a side note. While I am aware that such methods may have deemed me a poor, sub-standard educator, I do not regret my teaching, for it rewarded and challenged those who sought excellence and mercilessly punished the stupid and incompetent.
I can imagine at this point you have grasped the reason behind my departure from your service and this final 'parting of the ways', as you would likely deem it. You are a highly intelligent individual, after all, and I'm certain at this point that you have put together all the requisite pieces.
But for my own conscience's sake, I feel it necessary that I elucidate my rationale, if only to put in writing my justification.
Simply put, my focus over the past several years has been unhealthy towards my intellectual and emotional development. While I do not pretend to deny the power of my emotional connections to those in my past, I believe that such connections were exploited, and furthermore, that I allowed said connections to be exploited, namely by you.
But I must ask the question of whether to place any degree of grudge or blame, and thus ponder whether I would have done the same had our positions be reversed. Do I regret your usage of my emotions to control or manipulate me towards your ends? Perhaps.
Would have I done the same?
I already have.
Yes, in the manipulations of your pet werewolf to deliver my final warnings to Potter and his band, I have come to realize that perhaps we are not so different in our methods. In forcing Lupin to become the method of ending my strange vendetta with Potter and Black, I have subsumed a position you once held and adopted it for my own gain.
Do I feel guilt for such a choice? Perhaps – it is not an enjoyable thing to toy with the passions and emotions of others, for one must toss aside the reasonable restrictions of logic and replace them with the insubstantial and unpredictable methods of controlling people. And in realizing this, I know that you took no joy in my suffering, simply using it to complete necessary tasks.
But that time is passed. I have looked into the Mirror of Erised and found myself wanting, in most part of my own doing. I have limited myself and my experiences by continuing to hold onto a shred of lost emotion, only reciprocated in my most desperate dreams. And as you yourself have said, 'it does not do well to dwell on dreams, and forget to live.'
Too long have I dwelt on a fool's dream. I have not lived.
So you must inevitably ask, does this mean he has forsaken that love entirely, and chosen a different path?
…it is at this point that uncertainty remains, for it is very difficult to surrender such a fragile thread to which I have held for so very long.
So I have left. Many, I know, will deem me as a coward, running from the Dark Lord's horde and away from your light, seeking a lonely path in the outside world where there is neither victory nor defeat. It is a treasonous, shameful thing that I have done by leaving, and I am more aware of this than any.
But I will not return. In my eyes, I have fulfilled my duty, paid my dues, and now I must walk as a free man. Do not attempt to find me – there are six billion people on this planet, and even with the aid of magic, it is not worth your time to find a man who simply wishes to be left alone, who does not wish to be found. I wish you the best of luck against the forces of the Dark Lord – trust me when I say you will need it.
But then again, you have Potter. He is thoroughly mediocre in every way, insufferably arrogant, and infernally convinced of his own righteousness beyond any other – but I will admit the necessary growth forced of him this year has been modestly commendable. If he continues on that path, he may indeed be worthy of the blood his mother sacrificed.
Do I regret this choice?
Regret is a reflection of a past that becomes all the more meaningless with the passage of time. I know what have the capacity to save, and what I have chosen to save.
I have saved myself – and for me, that is enough.
Postscript – Liar's Heartstone is both less and more than it appears. In the end, it stands as a resounding testament of the fact that most of humanity is beneath contempt.
Dumbledore looked up from the letter and glanced at Fawkes. The phoenix let out a long, mournful cry.
"A shame, yes," Dumbledore murmured, "but in end, it is a victory nonetheless."
"I've got to admit," Harry began, taking a deep breath, "I'm a little surprised you're here."
Tonks snorted as she dropped into the squashy armchair that Dumbledore had left behind. "Really?"
"Well, maybe not," Harry said ruefully. "I'm glad you're here, though. How are you feeling?"
Tonks winced and gestured down at her legs. "Well, they set all the bones properly and fixed up the internal bleeding in the right spots, but man, that's not a fun procedure, I can tell you that."
"I bet," Harry said sympathetically. "I mean, I've gone through it with Quidditch. At least you're only getting bones fixed, not regrown."
"True enough," Tonks conceded. "Doesn't help, though, that the next couple weeks aren't going to be fun at the Auror Office."
"I thought Scrimgeour's running for Minister, he's not going to cause problems –"
"He read through all of Kemester's file," Tonks said bitterly, "and guess who was the other person in that file besides you who Kemester nailed?"
"Do you think…"
"I should be fine," Tonks said lightly, but Harry could hear the nervousness in her voice. "The worst Scrimgeour'll throw at me are some misdemeanour charges and probably a demotion or two. He can't afford to throw away any Aurors, now that the war's started."
"I can talk to him –"
"Don't bother." Her hair went lank and mousy-brown as she sighed. "He'll know you're just covering for me."
There were a long few seconds of silence. Harry shook his head – he didn't want to have this conversation, he didn't want to have to do this…
"I don't want to talk about this…"
"It's not easy, you know," Harry said quietly. "I mean… I didn't think…"
"Yeah." Tonks' hair went navy as she got up and tugged her chair around the table to Harry's side.
"I could have helped with that."
Tonks gave him a frank look. "Harry, I'm an Auror, and I think I can say without exaggeration that I can carry a chair around a table."
"I get it."
"'Cause, you know, I may have attempted to cast a Trip Jinx on Voldemort himself…"
He couldn't help but laugh at that. "Yeah, true enough."
Another few seconds passed, and Tonks' hand slid into his.
"He removed the charm or enchantment or whatever it was?" Harry asked quietly.
Tonks didn't meet his eyes. "Yeah, he did."
"Do you still hear that voice?"
"No, it's gone," Tonks said, shivering. "Dumbledore thinks that when we used simulamancy and then Sirius used that curse on me outside the Shrieking Shack, it caused the charm to break down and so I could… you know, hear it."
Harry closed his eyes against the tide of emotion in his gut. "I get it."
"But Dumbledore also said something else," Tonks continued, squeezing Harry's hand. "He also said that… that the charm didn't create things or subvert my free will or anything crazy like that. It just sort of… intensified things, if that makes any sense. He said that I wouldn't have heard anything if there hadn't been anything there."
Harry blinked, and he met Tonks' eyes. "I'm… I'm so sorry, Tonks. I should have figured it out, I should have known something was off. And when we were down in Gringotts, and I told you I loved you…"
This time Tonks closed her eyes. "Yeah… that. Harry, look –"
"It was wrong, I was using the fact there was a connection to get something," Harry whispered. "And then you find out the connection isn't even entirely real…"
"Oh, it was real, Harry," Tonks said with a sigh.
"I meant it, though."
Tonks didn't respond. She swallowed hard, and it looked like she was desperately trying to hold her composure.
"It's not simple, Harry," Tonks said, putting her arm around Harry. "It never is on the best of days, and this..."
"Don't get me wrong, there's something here," Tonks said kindly, "because I refuse to believe that magic was the sole factor behind us getting together. I mean, I'm an Auror – just because it was Dumbledore doesn't mean I give it up that easily."
Harry laughed quietly. "Yeah, true enough."
"But it's just…" Tonks raked a hand through her hair, which went very short and very blue. "I need to figure out what this means outside of the magic. There's always going to be some magic involved, thanks the simulamancy, but maybe… maybe there needs to be some time apart. We need to go forward, not look back."
"And what happens if we take that time," Harry asked sombrely, "and… well, you don't find anything there?"
"That could happen," Tonks said sadly, "but you know what? I really hope it doesn't. I hope that at the end of all this, I can come back and I can say that whatever Dumbledore did, it only made things better, not worse – but we need to know that for ourselves.
"'But either way, if it happens… it's real, Harry. If we walk away and it doesn't work between us in the long run… maybe that's how it's supposed to work out. That's life. Maybe it just wasn't meant to happen – and in the end, that'll come from us, not any spell."
And then Tonks smiled, and Harry felt warmth grow in his stomach. "But maybe… look, you never know. If it makes you feel any better, I liked what we had, Harry – even if it was reinforced by magic, it was just… reinforcement. There's something here – we just need to figure out what that is."
They embraced, and Harry blinked as quickly as he could, to push the moisture away from his eyes.
"I… I'm going to miss you."
"Hey, you've got simulamancy," Tonks said wryly. "We'll see each other, don't worry. We just won't… well, you know."
Harry grinned. "I get it. And hey, at least from this point, we know it's all real. Nothing messing with you."
"Outside of the war, the rising threat of Voldemort, and the general insanity of my job?" Tonks winked, slapping Harry's knee and rising to her feet. "Don't bet on it, Potter."
"Anyway, it's getting dark," Harry said, getting up and picking up his cloak. "Walk up to the castle?"
"That path is icy as all hell," Tonks complained as she tugged on her cloak as Harry shoved open the door. "I'm going to spend half of our walk on my ass."
"Absolutely," Harry replied with a smile.
"You've gotten just as bad as I am, Potter."
"Just giving you some competition, Tonks. Nothing more, nothing less."
And with a laugh, they began the walk to the castle, the trail lit only by the light of their wands and the last rays of sunset, shining against the night.