Ex Machina II

Chapter 13 – Deus Ex Machina

"I accept!" Harry Potter strode into the Malfoy drawing room, his face flushing with anger when he saw the figure of Petunia Dursley, bound and beaten, floating near Voldemort. "Now, release her!" he demanded, sharply.

"Gladly," Voldemort sneered. He flicked his wand and Harry's aunt flew across the room, slamming into a far wall and crumpling to the floor. Professor Flitwick, the teacher closest to where she'd fallen, gasped in outrage and started toward her. One of the Death Eaters moved to intercept him.

"Wait," I said, and Flitwick halted. The Death Eater stopped as well, wand out and pointed toward us challengingly. Without moving I sent my sense of perception invisibly to Petunia, to determine her condition. She'd been tortured with several Cruciatus Curses — her physical injuries had occurred from thrashing around in agony as Voldemort cursed her. Without making any overt motions I fixed her broken nose and stopped the flow of blood from several gashes, and loosened the cords binding her arms to her sides; I would render further help when this confrontation was over.

"Clear a space in the middle of the room, for our duel," Voldemort ordered, and the Death Eaters formed a line along the far wall, while Sirius, the Hogwarts teachers and I faced them from the opposite side. Harry and Voldemort remained between us, facing one another, their wands both out and ready.

Though it had only been a few hours since Voldemort had been restored to his former vitality, he'd managed to gather a half-dozen Death Eaters to him here at Malfoy Manor — I could probably name them even without cheating and using my perception to look beneath their masks. One of the six who glared menacingly at us from across the room must be Lucius Malfoy himself; probably the one who had positioned himself behind two larger Death Eaters. Those two would be Crabbe and Goyle. A Death Eater close to Voldemort was female, but that would not be Narcissa Malfoy, I decided — she was not in the Dark Lord's inner circle, despite her husband being there. There were two others I didn't immediately recognize, though one might be Macnair — his large, rough hands resembled those of the Ministry executioner, whom I'd seen at Hogwarts when he'd come to terminate Buckbeak, Hagrid's hippogriff, after Lucius Malfoy had manipulated an incident involving his son Draco and Buckbeak into a political struggle with Dumbledore for the creature's very life.

Harry's eyes, like mine, were also questing about the room, searching for possible locations for Voldemort's last Horcrux, the snake Nagini. Until it was destroyed Voldemort could not be permanently killed. Voldemort had noticed this as well; as Harry glanced about he was chuckling smugly. "Looking for something, Harry Potter? I suppose you're wondering where my little friend Nagini is?"
The Death Eaters lining the far wall laughed behind their masks. "My followers wondered whether you would be foolish enough to take the bait," Voldemort said, explaining their merriment. "Some of them believed you would be foolish enough to come here so soon after my return, thinking me too weak and poorly protected to defend myself." Voldemort smiled cruelly. "Even your aunt seemed to think you would not be brave enough to attempt to fight me here, even if you managed to somehow locate my — trophies," Voldemort carefully avoided the word Horcrux, even among his most trusted underlings.

"And now," Voldemort said, raising his wand. "Shall we begin?"

"Wait!" Harry said quickly. He glanced at me, unsure what to do. I knew that he wanted, more than anything else in the world at that moment, to fight Voldemort and kill him, but he also knew it would be impossible if a Horcrux still existed, binding the Dark Lord to the living world.

What Harry didn't know was that there were two Horcruxes still in existence — and that he was one of them. Neither Dumbledore nor I had yet divulged that bit of information to him, important as it was. The spell I had used to locate Voldemort's other Horcruxes required using one of them, or the person who had created the Horcrux him- or herself. Dumbledore and I had led Harry to believe that because of his unusual sensitivity to Voldemort's thoughts, he would be able to stand in the Dark Lord's place, but the truth was that his scar held a fragment of Voldemort's soul. This fragment had spalled off of Voldemort when the Killing Curse had rebounded from Harry back to him, destroying his body.

That body had been restored by a Dark spell cast in the Little Hangleton cemetery using a bone from his father's grave, some flesh of a faithful servant (Dudley Dursley, who evidently been turned to him by a lust for power), and blood from an enemy (Harry) mixed into a potion in a large stone cauldron, Voldemort now looked malevolently at Harry, his red eyes glowing ominously in the dimness of the dying light in the large fireplace behind him. "No more waiting, Potter!" He showed Harry a feral grin, his teeth nearly as long as a vampire's fangs. "But perhaps you need a further incentive to fight me?" Voldemort pointed his wand toward the floor in front of him, and in a whirlwind of sparkling lights there suddenly appeared — a large green snake. He had summoned Nagini!

"My pride and joy," Voldemort said, tauntingly, as the snake looked around and, sensing Harry, lifted its head threateningly into the air, staring at Harry, who watched it unblinkingly as well. "Do you think you could best it a fair fight, Harry Potter?" the Dark Lord asked, his tone mocking. "Arms and legs and teeth against fangs and coiled muscles that can bend steel? Would you rather face her, or me?"

"My lord!" One of the Death Eaters near him cried. It was a female voice that came from behind the mask, and I easily recognized its owner — Bellatrix Lestrange, who until earlier that day had, along with her husband Rodolphus, been imprisoned in Azkaban Prison, where Professors McGonagall and Snape had gone in order to get bits of their hair in order to impersonate them at Gringotts Wizarding Bank and retrieve one the of the Horcruxes from the Lestrange vault, Helga Hufflepuff's Cup. Why she was here, instead of there, might explain how the goblins had discovered Snape and McGonagall's deception, and attacked them.

"Why even bother playing with the Potter whelp?" she said, her voice dripping contempt as she spoke Harry's name. "Let us destroy them all for you!"

"Patience, Bella," Voldemort replied, and woman swelled visibly at the mention of her name — she reached up, ripping off her mask, showing us a face nearly glowing with ecstasy at his acknowledgement. "You will yet have your pleasure," he said, without glancing at her, "once I've had mine."

At that moment of distraction Harry moved, slashing his wand at the snake. He'd said nothing, but I knew from the gesture that he had cast Sectumsempra at the reptile. A thin red line formed across the snake's underside where it was lifted above the floor, but it disappeared almost immediately. Harry repeated the gesture, with the same result. The snake was immune to cutting spells, then.

Harry glanced over at Dumbledore, then me. I need the Sword of Gryffindor! he thought at me with the advanced Leglimency we used to communicate silently with one another. The last I'd remembered, Harry had dropped it onto McGonagall's desk after destroying the locket Horcrux. As far as I knew it was still there. How could we have forgotten the damned Sword of Gryffindor?!

Voldemort laughed. "I know what you're thinking," he said, triumph in his voice. "You need the Sword of Gryffindor in order to kill the snake, don't you? It is capable of destroying Horcruxes, now that it has tasted the venom of the Basilisk."
"How do you know that?" Harry snapped angrily.

"Your little cousin was a wealth of knowledge, Harry Potter," the Dark Lord said, silkily. "And he was holding in a vast amount of anger toward you. I simply allowed him to express some of that anger."

"You used him," Harry said, in a low voice, filled with anger, watching both Voldemort and the swaying head of Nagini in front of him. "Then when he was no longer any use to you, you murdered him!"

"And the girl, too, Harry, don't forget her," Voldemort taunted him, and if possible Harry became even more enraged by this callous reference to the person he'd loved more than anyone else. "In any event, I made sure the protection spells on Malfoy Manor included detectors for any object containing or endowed with Basilisk venom. When you appeared, no such object was present on you or any of the other members in your little band of interlopers."

I glanced over at Dumbledore, angered that he had not brought the Sword with him, though he had taken the trouble to get it from his office. He just stood there watching Harry and Voldemort, in his old robes of deep blue, a gray cloak thrown quickly around his shoulders and an old, battered wizard's hat on his head, tattered and even torn in a few places. I should be angry at myself, too, for not reminding him to grab the Sword — but if Dumbledore had thought to throw on a hat —!

"Now, Potter," Voldemort turned toward Harry once again, his wand poised for attack, "it is time to conclude our verbal dueling and begin the actual battle." Harry, seeing no other choice, nodded grimly and took up a defensive stance. The snake, still between him and the Dark Lord, hissed ominously at Harry as it swayed back and forth.

"Before you begin," Dumbledore interjected suddenly. "I should like to throw my hat into the ring, as it were." He took a step forward.

"Stop!" Voldemort said, holding out a skeletal-like hand to halt the Hogwarts headmaster's approach. "I will deal with you afterwards, old man."

"I do not think so, Tom," Dumbledore said, but he did not continue forward. "However, I wish Harry to know that loyal Gryffindors' requests for help will always be answered." He leaned forward in a bow toward Voldemort. What the hell was he doing? I wondered.

But as Dumbledore straightened up he shouted, "Catch, Harry!" and with his right hand seized the wizard's hat on his head by the brim, throwing it toward Harry like a Fanged Frisbee. "You'll find what you need inside!" It spun through the air toward Harry, and I saw the other teachers gape in astonishment, as did Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Had the old man gone mental?

But, no. As the hat reached him Harry stuck his hand up inside it, then flung his arm back, and forward. The hat spun away, flying toward me, and as I caught it I realized it was the Sorting Hat, and from within it Harry had drawn the Sword of Gryffindor!

In a single fluid motion his arm spun around, the tip of the Sword arcing toward Nagini's neck, but with a lightning-quick motion of Voldemort's wand, a round, starry cage glinted suddenly about the snake, protecting it. There was a clang of metal as the Sword was deflected by the cage, preventing Harry from destroying the final Horcrux.

"Expelliarmus!" Voldemort riposted, and the Sword of Gryffindor leaped from Harry's grasp, clattering to the floor and skidding across the room. Just as quickly as he'd lost the Sword, however, Harry's wand was back in his hand. With another wave of his wand, Voldemort moved the sparkling cage containing his snake through the air toward his Death Eaters, out of the dueling area.

There were groans on our side — Harry had come so close to killing the snake! "Now what?" I heard McGonagall whisper to Dumbledore. "What can we do now?"

Dumbledore glanced at me. "Now, we must trust Harry, Minerva," he whispered back to McGonagall.

Harry and Voldemort began to duel, the relative smallness of the drawing room making it dangerous for everyone there, as deflected spells had to be dodged or blocked by the onlookers as well as the combatants. It was immediately obvious Harry's training had not been in vain, as he easily blocked several Blasting and Cutting Curses hurled by Voldemort, countering with an assortment of Impediment Jinxes, Binding Charms, Leg-Lockers, even an Attacking Charm that caused a small table to leap toward Voldemort until the Dark Lord Vanished it.

The Death Eaters began casting spells as well, though not at Harry but at us across the room, trying to catch us unawares as we watched the battle between Harry and Voldemort. Bellatrix was easily the most vicious — she showed callous disregard for everyone except her master, casting lethal and maiming spells like the Blasting Curse, the Entrail-Expelling Charm, and the Scalping Hex across the room at us, particularly at Dumbledore and McGonagall, who were almost directly across from her. Less than a minute into the duel, the room itself was beginning to show serious damage, with broken and blasted walls, shattered furniture, and smoke obscuring everyone's vision.

My primary concern during the battle was Harry — he was holding up well against Voldemort, whom I could see was becoming more and more enraged the longer the duel went on. He had evidently not expected Harry to last more than a few seconds in a head-to-head fight. He suddenly changed tactics and pointed his wand toward Sirius, who was deflecting a curse hurled by Bellatrix. Sirius suddenly turned his wand toward Harry and shot a Body-Bind Curse at him; I was close to Harry's godfather and realized what he was doing. I threw up a Shield Charm between them, deflecting the spell — it ricocheted and hit one of the large Death Eaters across the room, who promptly froze and fell over onto the floor.

Black next aimed his wand at me. He had clearly been Imperiused by Voldemort, but before he could utter a curse both Dumbledore and I hit him with Stunners, and Sirius went down, unconscious. At the same moment a Stunner came my way, hurled by Malfoy (based on the sound of the voice yelling "Stupefy!") but it was blocked, ironically, by Snape.

"Fight me, damn you!" Harry yelled, throwing a Blasting Curse of his own toward Voldemort, though he aimed at the floor next to him rather than at the Dark Lord's body. A green shield appeared between Voldemort and the blast, protecting him from the brunt of the explosion, though he staggered sideways from its force.

Then, it happened. Voldemort's wand whipped around as he caught himself from falling, and a bolt of green energy shot from its tip, even as Harry aimed his own wand toward a broken piece of furniture lying on the floor, and it zoomed to intercept the bolt. It missed by millimeters, and the bolt slammed into Harry's chest, knocking him over onto his back, where he lay still.

Harry Potter was dead.

McGonagall cried out, a wail of despair, and several of the Death Eaters cheered, but both sounds were short-lived as another thud suddenly drew their attention back to the center of the room — Lord Voldemort had fallen to the floor as well. "MASTER!" Bellatrix screamed, leaping toward her fallen lord, and both groups of wizards converged over their fallen comrades. There were several loud BANGS as Voldemort's protection spells and wards on and around the manor suddenly ended, and the starry sphere surrounding Nagini disappeared with a pop. Hissing angrily, the snake slithered away into the darkness. At the moment, however, all of our thoughts were on Harry.

Professor McGonagall, though the last to reach Harry's side, knelt down next to him, touching his face tenderly. "I can't — I can't believe it," she said, tears flowing down her cheeks, as she looked up at Dumbledore in shock. "I can't believe he's actually dead!"

"It was inevitable," Snape said softly, almost as if speaking to himself. "Potter could not have prevailed against the Dark Lord —"

"Quiet, Severus!" McGonagall hissed, incensed by the Potions Master's callousness. "At least he tried — that's more than we can say for you!"

"I did not have a prophecy foretelling my role in upsetting the Dark Lord's plans," Snape reminded her, coldly. He looked at Dumbledore. "I have done everything you've asked of me, Professor — have I not?"

"You have, Severus," Dumbledore agreed, quietly. "I only wish it could have been enough to prevent — this." His eyes found me next. "James, is there anything you can do for Harry?"

"What can he do?" McGonagall looked up again, her eyes wild. "D'you think Professor Monroe can raise the dead, Albus?!"

I had glanced over to the crowd of Death Eaters gathered around the fallen form of their master. "Watch them," I said to Flitwick and Dumbledore. "Especially that Bellatrix Lestrange. She may become unhinged if she thinks Voldemort is really dead."

"But what happened to him?" Flitwick squeaked. "Why did he fall after killing Harry? Was it like what happened between them, the first time?"

"I don't think so," I said, looking at Dumbledore. "But they are joined in some way, I'm sure of that."

"How?" Snape asked, staring at me coolly. He believed I was merely guessing, making up ad hoc hypotheses about what had happened.

"No time to explain," I said shortly. I knelt down next to Harry opposite of McGonagall, placing my right hand on his forehead.

"What are you doing?" McGonagall demanded. "He's dead, Professor — you're not goin' t' bring him back with magic —"

"Let him be, Minerva," Dumbledore said, placing a long-fingered hand gently on her shoulder. "He knows what he's doing." McGonagall reached up, covering his hand with hers, and looked away, more tears streaming down her face.

I nodded an acknowledgement to Dumbledore; then, taking a deep breath, I let my perception shift inwards, moving towards Harry's mind. As I had done in the past, I searched for a silver thread linking him from this world to the next. I quickly sorted through all of his thoughts of the last few hours, expecting to find the thread linked to an image of Hermione, the primary reason he'd been so set on revenge against Voldemort, but none of his thoughts of her were holding him here.

At last I came upon the thread, attached to a murky, clouded image of his mother and father. Not exactly what I had expected, but I followed it toward the realm between the material universes and "Beyond," the place where souls from the Harry Potter realities found themselves after physical death. The thread led me, not toward a white room, as I had seen before, but a gray, misty space, otherwise featureless, where I found Harry standing motionless, contemplating the void about him.

He was naked, but that didn't seem to register with him until he saw me standing nearby. Even then he didn't move to cover himself up; instead, a pair of blue jeans and a white T-shirt suddenly appeared over his body — a pair of socks and trainers covered his feet a moment later. He regarded me passively for several moments before finally saying, in a subdued voice, "Hello, Uncle Jimmy."

"Hello, Harry," I greeted him. Neither of us spoke again immediately; after a time that might have been seconds, or hours, I heard a muted wail, as if a wind were blowing through a creaky tree branch in the distance. I listened more carefully, wondering why I hadn't heard it before — had it just started?

"You hear it, too," Harry said, seeing my expression.

I nodded. "What is it?" I said, though I realized as I asked the question who it must be — who else was there with us.

"I don't know," Harry said. He didn't appear concerned by it. He didn't really appear concerned about anything, I saw. He was merely looking around, trying to understand where he was and what he was doing there.

"Do you know what this place is, Professor?" he finally asked me.

I nodded again. "It's — well, it's sort of a way station, between life and death," I said. Harry nodded as well, as if that made sense to him.

"I wondered," he said. The wailing that we'd heard earlier was growing louder, but Harry paid it no mind. "Does this mean that I'm — dead?"

"Well — technically, yes," I said, not really wanting to admit that. "But this is something of a decision point for you," I added quickly.

Harry raised an eyebrow at me. His eyes, still a brilliant green, were no longer framed in glasses. The scar on his forehead was gone as well. "A decision point?" he repeated. "I don't know if I understand, Professor. Dead is dead, isn't it?"

"Yes, but there are extenuating circumstances."

"To being dead?" Harry smiled at that, the first real emotion he'd shown since I joined him here. "That's pretty funny, sir! What kind of decision do I have to make, d'you reckon?"

"Well, to going on or coming back to the living," I pointed out. Harry nodded, as if that seemed reasonable as well, then pointed off into the mist before him.

"Hermione is there, isn't she?" he asked. "And my parents as well?" He gave a small shrug. "Why would I want to return to a world where the people I love most are no longer alive?"

I didn't want to answer that honestly. But there was another answer. "There are still people living who love you, Harry. They don't want to see you go so soon."

He didn't respond, but only looked off into the mist. Suddenly he pointed again, this time to a darker spot in the roiling grayness surrounding us. "What is that?" he asked.

I looked. It was a small child, wrapped in dirty, black rags. The child was red and scabrous; it bawled almost mechanically, wail after wail torn from its twisted little mouth. "That's Voldemort," I said. "He fell when you did."

"Huh," Harry said, almost indifferent. "I guess we're even, then." He looked at me again. "So, what is it you want of me, Professor? What do you want me to do?"

"Do you want to come back with me, to be with the living again?"
"I don't know," Harry said.

"Well," I continued, with a touch of impatience. "Do you want to go onward and see Hermione and your parents?"

Harry looked into the distance. "I don't know that, either."

"So what do you want?"

Harry didn't move for what seemed a long time. Perhaps my impatience was getting the better of me; it had seemed obvious, up until I arrived here, that Harry would want to return once I found him. I didn't know why he was hesitating.

"Voldemort beat me, didn't he?" Harry said unexpectedly. "He won."

"What? No!" I denied. "He beat himself, Harry, when he had Dudley use your blood in the spell to restore his body. He linked your bodies, and when the Killing Curse hit you this time it tore both of you loose, not just you.

"But the snake still lives, Harry," I said, urgently, trying to get him to make a decision. "The bit of Voldemort's soul that was in you is gone now, but —"

"The what?" Harry gasped. "A bit of his soul? There was some of his soul — in me?" The furious glare he gave me was as hard as any I'd ever felt from him. "Are you saying, I was a Horcrux?"

Damn it! I had spoken without thinking! "Yes," I said at last, wishing I could choke back my hasty words — but there was no way to deny what I'd said, especially here.

"That's why you used me in that spell you cast, to find Voldemort's other Horcruxes," Harry said, accusingly. "Because I was one, too?"

"Yes," I said again. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you, Harry."

Harry shrugged, though he was still angry. "Just as well," he said. "There's no telling how I might've reacted, if I'd still been alive when you told me I had to die to make Voldemort mortal again."

"You might still have fought him," I said, "but in a suicide attack instead of beating him."

"How do you know I wasn't attacking Voldemort that way just now?" Harry asked, pointedly.

That question jolted me, but I didn't hesitate in my response. "I don't, but that's not the type of person you are, Harry."

"I'm not even sure what kind of person I am," Harry snorted. "The kind that studies magic for years and years and still can't beat the bad guy. Voldemort won."

"He didn't win!" I insisted. I pointed toward the horrible infant half-obscured by mist. "That's him bawling his brains — well, his soul — out over there! He's in the same situation right now that you are, Harry!"

"Bet he's not," Harry disagreed. "D'you think there's anyone waiting for him, beyond this life?"

I was silent, but only for a moment. "His mother is there, waiting for him," I pointed out. "Her name is Merope. She died giving birth to him. She must be waiting for him."

"D'you think she'll be proud of him, once he gets there?" Harry pressed.

"I don't know — do you think you're mother will be proud of you for giving up now?" I shot back.

Harry blanched, shocked by what I'd said. "You bastard," he hissed. "Leave my mother out of this!"

"Then what about Hermione?" I asked. "What do you think she'll think if you show up now? What do you think she's going to say about you not wanting to finish what you started?"

"I didn't start this!" Harry shouted. "Voldemort did! HE'S THE ONE WHO TRIED TO KILL ME IN THE FIRST BLOODY PLACE!"

"I know," I said, without raising my voice. "And if you don't come back with me, he'll have succeeded, won't he?"

"Will he?" Harry asked, his voice normal once again, though the anger was still evident in it. "If I don't go back, what happens to him? If he refuses to go on, will he be stuck here?"

"I don't know," I said — I really didn't know what would happen to Voldemort if Harry went onward instead of returning to the living. "But you're going to have to decide, one way or the other."

"What will you do if I go on, and Voldemort returns to the living?" Harry wanted to know.

I didn't answer right away. After all these years of knowing him, watching him learn and grow and prepare himself for this moment, I didn't want Harry to leave life without really being able to live it. He'd spent most of his life in Voldemort's shadow, one way or another. He deserved better. But he had to decide what that was for himself.

"We can handle Voldemort, if that's what you want, Harry," I said. "You can go to Hermione and your parents, if that's what you want. I won't stop you."

Harry looked at me curiously. "How could you stop me?" he asked. "In fact —" he looked around, as if he'd suddenly realized where we were, and was thinking through the whole situation. "— in fact, how the bloody hell are you even here, Professor? How could you have even followed me here?"

"Well, that's a bit — complicated," I said, vaguely.

"I'll just bet it is," Harry agreed, coldly. "Well, after we get back and sort out things with Voldemort, I hope you'll see fit to tell me how you managed to accomplish all this. Now, how do we go back?"

"I think," I said, slowly, "that you just make that decision."

"Then I'll see you there," Harry said, and vanished. I followed, moving back along the way I'd com, until at last I found myself kneeling over Harry's body once again, my hand on his forehead. I exhaled slowly, and as I finished Harry's eyes suddenly popped open.

"Merciful heavens!" McGonagall gasped, clutching at her heart. "He's back!" She looked up at me with an expression of mixed dread and awe. "What did you do to him, Professor?"

"Fantastic!" Flitwick breathed, seeing Harry alive once again.

"He wasn't really dead," I said, to keep them from believing I'd somehow resurrected him. "Listen, I think Voldemort is alive as well — their lives were linked together by Harry's blood. While Voldemort can't be killed, now neither can Harry!"

Across the room, the Death Eaters were excited as well. "He moves!" one of them shouted. "Our master lives!" I placed the voice as Macnair, one of the men I suspected was in his inner circle, and a mole inside the Ministry.

"My lord, are you alright?" I heard Bellatrix breathe in a voice almost certainly meant for Voldemort alone.

"Away from me, Bellatrix," we heard his high, clear voice say commandingly. "I require no assistance. Away, I said!"

"Is he alive?" I looked down. Harry had spoken, so softly that only I would have heard him. I nodded fractionally. "Give me my wand," Harry whispered, "and let me stand and face him."

McGonagall, who hadn't heard Harry speak to me, had stood and taken Dumbledore by the arm. "Albus, we must get Harry out of here before You-Know-Who attacks him again!"

But Dumbledore, who had witnessed Harry's return to life along with the others, was looking to me, waiting for some sort of signal or message. It's Harry's decision, I thought, looking directly into his eyes, making my Leglimency as clear as possible. It will be up to him to face Voldemort or not.

"We must leave that choice to Harry, Minerva," Dumbledore said, earning him a look of shocked surprise from both McGonagall and Flitwick.

"Headmaster!" Flitwick protested, "Harry's just come back from the dead! He's in no condition to fight!"

"That's hardly your decision, old man," a voice behind us said, and we turned to see Voldemort standing alone, his Death Eaters on either side of him. "Potter will face me again, and this time he will not prevail!"

"We'll see about that," Harry said, standing and taking a defensive stance with his wand. The five of us moved off to one side again, gathering around Sirius's unconscious figure. "Are you sure this is what you want, Riddle?"

"You dare to speak to me that way?!" Voldemort hissed. "Have you forgotten —?"

"Hardly," Harry cut over him with a harsh laugh. "I haven't forgotten a damned thing you've done to me in the past fourteen years — not since the day you murdered my parents, and tried to kill me. Not since you destroyed Professor Quirrell, or tried to possess Luna Lovegood, or killed my uncle Vernon or my cousin Dudley, or —" his voice broke, but after a moment he collected himself and went on "— or Hermione. No, I know everything you've done to me, Riddle."

"Then prepare yourself," Voldemort hissed, "for the final death, Potter — yours! Avada Ked—"

"Expelliarmus!" Harry's riposte was in the air even as the Killing Curse began to form on Voldemort's lips. The spell slammed into the yew and phoenix feather wand, not only throwing it into the air but shattering it to pieces. It fell to the floor before Voldemort, and he stared down at it in shock, then looked up to see Harry's holly wand pointed at his face.

"So it comes down to this, then," Harry said, his voice shaking. Every Death Eater standing with Voldemort stared at the tip of his wand in dread anticipation, waiting for the curse that would end their Dark Lord's life. The other teachers, Snape included, had pointed their wands at the Death Eaters as well; for any of them to move would invite a hex or jinx from one of our wands.

"You can't imagine how much I've wanted this moment," Harry said, looking into Voldemort's red, hate-filled eyes. "Ever since you killed Hermione, it's been the only thing I've thought about — the only thing I had left to do in this life. All I wanted was to have you in my wand's sights, so that I could kill you, Riddle.

"But — you beat me to it," Harry went on, his voice becoming softer, turning reflective. "Maybe it was just luck. Maybe you're the better duelist. I dunno. But you killed me first. You won.

"Only things didn't work out like either of us expected, did they?" Harry's eyes flicked toward me for just a moment. "We both ended up in a place we didn't understand, didn't know how to deal with. But I realized, while I was there, that there must be more to life than simple vengeance, or even self-preservation, if we are to be true to ourselves."

"Silence, Potter!" Voldemort snapped. "Do what you must, but spare me your platitudes and endless drivel!"

"Drivel?" Harry looked disappointed. He lowered his wand, unexpectedly, and Dumbledore and I turned to each other in surprise. What was Harry up to? "No, I've just realized that you're not worth killing, Riddle — you're not worth ruining my soul over." He looked toward us. "Let's go, we're done here." The Death Eaters behind Voldemort looked at one another, dumbfounded.

"Harry," I thought at him, using Leglimency. "Now is not the time to get noble about the lives of others, especially Voldemort! He will still try to kill you if you let him live!"

Harry's eyes were locked with mine. "And I'll defend myself if he does, Professor. But don't tell me how I should conduct my life! Besides," he glanced momentarily at Voldemort. "There's something different about him, now…"

"Harry?" Dumbledore was staring at him in shock. "I don't understand —"

"There's nothing to understand, sir," Harry shrugged, looking at his headmaster. "Voldemort's power is broken. He's no longer immortal — I can sense it, somehow." He began to move toward us.

"Broken? Broken?" Voldemort shouted. "I'll show you how broken my power is, boy!" His voice was nearly a shriek. "WAND!" One of the Death Eaters threw him a wand, and Voldemort spun, bringing it to bear on Harry. "Avada Kedav—" Harry whirled, preparing to defend himself from the spell. Bu Voldemort never finished it.

An object hurtled from the darkness at the far end of the room, hitting the Dark Lord in the chest with a splat and dropping wetly to the floor. His spell spoiled, Voldemort staggered back, then looked down at his feet at the object that had hit him, and gasped.

It was the head of Nagini.

"That's the last one, isn't it?" A voice at the far end of the room spoke from the darkness. Footfalls padded softly across the wooden floor, then a slim form came into view — it was Petunia Dursley, we all saw. In her right hand was her wand. In her left, the Sword of Gryffindor. I could see the edge of the blade was stained with blood, bright red and fresh. "That's the last Horcrux, isn't it?"

"The last —?" Voldemort eyes flashed furiously. "What have you done, woman?!"

"Nothing, compared to what I'm about to do," Petunia replied, raising her wand. "Avada Kedavra!"

It was so unexpected, Voldemort barely had time to say, "What the f—" before the green light hit him and he fell to the floor, a lifeless husk.

"That's for Vernon and Dudley, you bastard!" Petunia shouted, as his body hit the floor.

"NOOO! YOU BITCH!" Bellatrix screamed, pointing her wand at Petunia. "Imperio!" Petunia's arm, holding the Sword of Gryffindor, suddenly shot forward, then back, ramming the blade into her stomach. Petunia gasped, staggering, and fell to the ground. At the same moment, Harry and Snape both aimed their wands at Bellatrix; her wand spun out of her hand, and a slash appeared across her chest and throat. She fell to the floor, her life's blood gushing from the deep cut, and within seconds she had bled out.

I moved faster than the eye could follow, catching Petunia just before she hit the floor, then lowering her gently. The blade had passed through her body, severing major arteries and her spinal cord. She would be dead in seconds unless I used my Power to save her. I removed the Sword from her body and set it aside.

Holding my hand over her breastbone, I healed her ruptured arteries, but she reached up, grabbing my wrist. "No," she gasped. "Let me go. I want to be with Dudley again."

"Petunia," I tried to reassure her. "He will be waiting for you, no matter how long it takes you to get there. You don't have to go now."

"No," she shook her head weakly. "N-never been happy with magic. It was what Diddy wanted, not me. All I wanted was for him to be happy. Let me — let me go to him now…"

I nodded and allowed her body to release her soul. I stood, sighing heavily, and returned to where the other Hogwarts teachers were rounding up the rest of the Death Eaters, all of whom had surrendered upon seeing both Voldemort and Bellatrix dead. Their wands were confiscated and they were all bound, including the one rendered unconscious earlier (it had been Crabbe) and removed to the main hallway of the house. Sirius was awakened and he, Flitwick, McGonagall and Snape stood guard over them, waiting for Ministry Aurors to arrive, while Harry, Dumbledore and I remained in the drawing room with the three bodies.

We stood over the lifeless form of Petunia Dursley, the only person there whose death I truly regretted. There was a tear in Harry's eye as he looked at her — I suppose he regretted her death as well. But when he turned to me, his face was flushed with anger.

"Did you hate her that much, Professor?" he asked me, his eyes flashing furiously.

"I — don't understand," I said, and I really didn't. What was Harry getting at?

"Did you hate my aunt so much that you'd let her die instead of saving her?" Harry said, baldly. "She's the one you should have saved, not me!"

"I didn't hate her, Harry," I averred. "She asked me to let her go to Dudley, and I did."

Harry laughed, "Well, isn't that special?! And after all that talk about me coming back and my life being worth something — all that crap that you fed me, then she says 'I want to go with Dudley' and you just give her a pass! She's the one who defeated Voldemort, not me!"

"You did your part, too," I pointed out.

Harry snorted. "Oh, big effing part I played, right! I let Voldemort kill me first, then walk away from him afterwards, and he almost does it again! The only thing that saved my arse this time was my aunt killing the snake and then doing the Dark Lord for afters!"

"Harry, please," Dumbledore broke in, trying to be conciliatory, "Professor Monroe has been a great help these past few day — perhaps greater than you realize."

"Oh, I realize, Professor," Harry said, looking at me coldly. "He pulled me back, when I was all but ready to go on and leave this world behind, perhaps taking Voldemort with me! But nooooo!" he cried, looking at the body of his aunt once again. "I had to come back and stop Voldemort! BUT I WOULDN'T DO IT — AND NOW MY AUNT'S DEAD!!" He covered his face with his hands and said no more, his body shaking with silent sobs.

"Harry…" I said, after several moments; my heart was filled with pain for all the losses he'd suffered in just the last few days, and over the years. "…I'm… sorry." I reached out and put a hand on his shoulder.

But he twisted away, looking at me with an expression of deep loathing on his thin, tear-streaked face. "Sorry?! You're sorry?! D'you think a bloody 'I'm sorry, Harry' is going to fix this?! Dudley Dursley is dead. Petunia Dursley is dead. HERMIONE, DEAD! What the fuck good is 'sorry' going to do about THAT?!"

I stood stock-still, not knowing how to respond to Harry's anger. He was right — I had let my guard down, and both Hermione and Dudley had paid the price for my carelessness. I'd figured Barty Crouch, Jr. was the key linking Harry and Voldemort, but I hadn't counted on him turning Dudley to do the Dark Lord's bidding. I had run out of time, trying to sort out the details, and Harry and Hermione had been whisked away by Dudley, who'd become a human Portkey, and forced to be a part of Voldemort's return. Voldemort was dead, now, but so was Dudley and his mother — and Hermione, too. It was too late…

Wait a minute. Too late? Am I a Power or not? I thought to myself. Is it ever too late for a being who can bend time and space to his will? I reached out and took Harry's arm. He tried to twist away, but I did not let go.

"Get off me!" he snapped. "Damn you! Don't touch me!"

"Sorry, Harry, Professor," I said, taking Dumbledore's arm in my other hand. "We going somewhere." Before either of them could protest further I teleported the three of us to the infirmary at Hogwarts, next to the bed where the body Hermione Granger lay.

Her parents, Wendell and Monica Granger, were still there at her side, consoling each other in their grief. They looked up, startled, as we appeared. Seeing Harry, Mrs. Granger's eyes filled with tears. "Oh, Harry," she said, standing and holding her arms out to Harry, who walked into them, embracing her. Wendell put his arms around both of them.

"Why are you here?" Monica asked, as she and Harry parted. She looked at us, trying to understand why we had come. Harry said nothing, but looked back at me as well, his face now devoid of any emotion in front of Hermione's parents.

"I brought them here," I said, "to help me make certain that Hermione is dead."

It sounded cruel, now that I'd said it aloud, and Monica covered her face with her hands, sobbing. Wendell looked at me and Dumbledore with an expression of indignant astonishment.

"How can you say something like that to us, Professor? My wife and I have been here with Hermione for hours. Her and that poor boy —" he pointed toward the body of Dudley Dursley, in a bed several rows over, covered with a sheet "— have been here all this time! How can you imagine they are not dead?"

"I apologize for my insensitivity," I said, sincerely. "I suddenly realized there may be a chance she can be revived, and I did not want to waste any time." Dumbledore was giving me a look of wonderment, as if he was unsure whether to believe me or not; Harry, who had been looking longingly at Hermione, had not been paying attention. He suddenly caught up with what I was saying, and he reached out and grabbed me by the shoulders.

"Are you saying she might still be alive, Professor? You said she was dead!" He pushed hard against me, but only propelled himself backwards, away from me. Dumbledore caught him by the shoulders, stopping him, and Harry pointed toward her, shouting at me. "If you can bring her back, then you BLOODY WELL BETTER DO IT!!"

Madam Pomfrey hurried into the room from her office, having heard our voices. "What's going on in here —?" She stopped, seeing Dumbledore standing with us, and looked at us curiously. "Headmaster?"

"It's all right, Poppy," Dumbledore assured her. "We just need to make a final determination on Miss Granger's condition."

"Condition?" Pomfrey said, confusion and annoyance in her voice. "I can tell you what her condition is, Headmaster —" but she stopped as Dumbledore raised a hand.

"Please, Poppy," he said, quietly. "It is necessary. James, will you continue, please?"

I nodded, glancing from Dumbledore to Harry. I had thought he would have been curious by now at the abilities I'd displayed in the past few hours, but so far only Dumbledore had seemed to gather that my powers exceeded those of magical ability. Given that I had instantly transported the three of us from Devon to Hogwarts, through the school's Anti-Apparition wards, I'd expected more from Harry. But perhaps he was still in a state of shock from the traumatic events he'd witnessed in the past few hours. I wondered how shocked he would be after seeing what I planned to do next.

Moving around to stand beside Hermione's body, I placed my fingertips on her forehead. In all the Harry Potter universes I had traveled to before this one, back when I was going through the ones where Harry failed to kill Lord Voldemort and ended up dead himself, and I engineered his defeat through other means, I had never bothered with "going back in time." My goal in those realities had never been to "make it not have happened," but to go forward from the point where Harry failed, finding a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. And I did not want to do that in this reality, either — the die had been cast, so to speak; I could not plan to go back and stop Hermione from being killed, exactly, not without causing a contradiction of reality, and that would be impossible — a reality is always consistent with itself.

But, if I could go back to a point before the moment when she stepped in front of Voldemort's Killing Curse, I could perhaps arrange the situation so that things were not as they had appeared, the first time we witnessed them.

As I placed my fingertips on her forehead, I sent my perception, not merely through space, but backwards through time as well, a motion allowed by the laws of this universe through the application of magic, just as Time Turners did. However, unlike a Time Turner my range was much greater in extent and precision. I went back to the moment and location in the Triwizard Tournament, back in the hedgerow maze, when I left Harry, Hermione and Dudley to find Ludo Bagman, who I did not realize then was really Barty Crouch, Jr.

This time, invisible and intangible to the three of them, I moved along with Hermione as she and Harry ran toward the Triwizard Cup gleaming ahead of them. Harry reached it a moment ahead of her, and gestured toward it with his wand as she approached.

"Grab it, Hermione!" he said, urgently. "I've checked, and it's not a Portkey! You've reached it first — take it!"

Hermione stopped in front of the plinth holding the cup, looking at it, seemingly mesmerized by the thought that she could touch it and win, but she held back. "No," she shook her head. "I want to wait for Professor Monroe — he helped me make it this far, I want him to be here, too!"

Dudley had come up behind them. "Go on, grab it, Hermione!" he urged her as well, as he moved around slowly, so he was between both of them. "Harry's checked it — the Cup's not a trap. Go on — you've earned it!" Hermione was still hesitating; she kept glancing back along the way they'd run up, looking for me. Dudley and Harry kept glancing that way as well, though for very different reasons — Harry was impatient for me to appear, while Dudley was probably fearful of it.

Hermione looked over at Harry. "Harry," she said softly. He turned to her. "I'm — I'm sorry I haven't spoken to you in so long. I was just so upset at what you did to Ron."

Harry looked down, shamefaced. "I know, I shouldn't have lost my temper with him. We probably should have just told him what everyone else already knew — that you and I were dating." Neither of them noticed Dudley's face begin to turn red, or his eyes harden with resolve.

"I know!" Hermione agreed, fervently. "I just thought it was so obvious…" As wrapped up as they both were, in the middle of reconciling with one another, they didn't notice Harry's cousin reach out a hand surreptitiously toward each of them. A moment before he touched them, I merged my perceptual-self with Hermione's physical form; I would now go where she went. Dudley's hand grasped her arm.

There was a sudden jerk, as if a hook had grabbed us just behind our belly buttons, pulling us forward, and amidst a whirl of spinning colors we spun into darkness. A moment later Hermione staggered as her feet hit uneven ground, and she fell sprawling. Harry had landed more sure-footedly, and was looking around, seeing where we were, when two masked men stepped out from behind a large monument, grabbing him and pinning his arms before he could draw his wand.

Hermione was immediately on her feet, but another man — a Death Eater — had come up behind her, pinning her arms to her side. "What are you doing?" she shouted, giving a small shriek of pain when the Death Eater twisted her arms behind her.

"Leave her alone!" Harry shouted. "Let me go!" He struggled against the two men, but they held his arms securely.

Dudley, meanwhile, had walked a short distance behind another monument, then returned a few moments later, levitating a large stone cauldron with a skill Harry and Hermione had not seen in him before — and neither had I. "Now you're going to see some magic," Dudley muttered, landing the cauldron a dozen feet from the two of them in a clearing between several gravestones. Had he been pretending, all this time, to be less adequate at magic than he really was?

"Dudley, what the hell are you doing?" Harry shouted angrily. Dudley didn't answer, but pointed his wand and floated a cord or so of firewood over to the cauldron, which arranged itself around the great stone pot then burst into flames. The fire, magically intensified, within a few moments had the contents of the cauldron steaming. I watched in silence through Hermione's eyes, wondering how I had not perceived the changes in Dudley that had brought him to this point — he must somehow be convinced that this was going to curry favor for him with Voldemort!

The contents of the cauldron were beginning to send out sparks and streamers of fiery particles. "It's ready," Dudley called, and a fourth Death Eater appeared, carrying a bundle of robes in his arms. The man, long blond hair streaming along behind his mask, moved to the edge of the cauldron, then began carefully unwrapping the contents of the robes in his hands.

"Hurry, Lucius!" I heard a small, cold voice say, through Hermione's ears, and the man's motions quickened. The last of the robes fell away, revealing the being within, and Harry let out a shout of disgust, while Hermione shrieked and turned her head. The being in the Death Eater's arms was the size of a small child, but no child ever looked so frightful! Hairless and scaled, small and red-raw, its face flat and snakelike, with red eyes, nearly glowing in the dim light provided only by the fire of the cauldron.

The Death Eater, almost certainly Lucius Malfoy, placed the being into the steaming liquid of the cauldron. We saw it sink, heard the soft thud as it settled against the bottom. The Death Eater looked at Dudley. "Proceed," he said, with Lucius Malfoy's voice, hollow-sounding from within the mask.

Dudley nodded, glancing toward Harry and Hermione to make sure they were watching, then raised his wand in the air. "Bone of the father, unknowingly given, you will renew your son!"

There was a crack — a grave nearby had split open, and a trickle of powder was flowing from it into the cauldron, throwing up more sparks and steam. The contents of the cauldron turned a vivid, poisonous-looking blue. Hermione glanced at the grave the powder had come from, reading the name TOM RIDDLE there upon it.

"Dudley!" Harry shouted. "Don't be an idiot! You're bringing Voldemort BACK TO LIFE!" One of the Death Eaters holding Harry reached up and cuffed him along the side of his head.

"Quiet, you!" he barked. "Don't say our master's name! You'll speak to him yourself soon enough!"

"Continue!" The Death Eater with Lucius Malfoy's voice shouted to Dudley, who had taken out a silver dagger and was standing before the cauldron, trembling. I felt Hermione's wonder at what he would do next, though I already knew what he must put into the cauldron for the second part of the spell.

"Flesh of the servant, willingly given," Dudley said, his voice shaking, "you will revive your master." He raised his left hand with the dagger high in the air, holding his right hand over the cauldron.

Hermione gasped, realizing what he was about to do, and turned away, her eyes squeezed tightly shut. Dudley swung the knife, and it sliced through his wrist in one blow, his hand dropping into the sparking, bubbling brew as he shrieked in agony. The blueness of the potion's color turned to red as Hermione slowly opened her eyes again.

"Dudley!" Hermione gasped, seeing him holding his bleeding stump against his chest as he turned toward Harry. "Oh Dudley please stop this, please stop —" her voice cut off suddenly as the Death Eater holding her shifted his grip, putting a rough hand across her face. I had been passive to this point, merely watching events unfold, but I did not like this assault upon her person and dignity. I mentally pushed against the Death Eater's hand to remove it from Hermione's face. Nothing happened.

Startled, I tried again, with the same lack of effect. Then I realized — with my physical form almost a day in the future, it was going to take that long for any physical manifestation of my power to travel through space-time to this point! If I'd brought my body along… but of course I'd thought it simpler to send only my perceptions into the past. This was going to make it difficult for me to actually do anything here!

Meanwhile, Dudley had staggered over to where the two Death Eaters were holding Harry. The fourth one, Malfoy, joined them, pulling Harry's arm out and pusing back the sleeve of his robe, baring the limb.

"Blood of the enemy," Dudley recited, "forcibly taken, you will resurrect your foe."

He slashed the dagger across Harry's forearm. Harry shouted at the pain and Hermione shrieked once again. Dropping the dagger, Dudley took a small glass vial from a robe pocket and pressed it against the wound, allowing Harry's blood to flow into it. When he'd collected enough he staggered back toward the cauldron, pouring the contents of the vial into it. Malfoy snorted contempt at Harry and let go of his arm, moving away and taking up a position between them and the cauldron.

The potion in it had become a brilliant white with the addition of Harry's blood. Hermione and Harry watched in horrid fascination as sparks began showering from the mouth of the cauldron. I focused my perception inside the cauldron, watching the metamorphosis of the Voldemort "larva," for lack of a better term, back into his old self.

I had often wondered how Voldemort was able to return to his "former" self, when it had been utterly destroyed, somehow, by the Killing Curse that had rebounded from Harry, but I had never taken the time to study his rejuvenation until now. His scaly, reptilian form had been my first clue — the snake, Nagini, slithering around in the underbrush of the graveyard, the second one.

Though I could not employ my Power, or even cast magic spells, with only my perceptual self thrust backwards in time, I was able to study both the snake and Voldemort's rudimentary form in detail. I now understood why Voldemort had chosen a female snake — Nagini and Voldemort's larval form had very similar DNA structures. The only distinctions I could see were changes that had made him human in form, probably through magic. Other than a Y chromosome, there were no other major additions to the snake's DNA — it seemed Voldemort had forced it to give birth through parthenogenesis, then possessed the offspring. Nursed with a special potion of unicorn blood and Nagini's venom (an interesting combination), Voldemort's primitive form had gained strength over time, though who had helped him perform these acts in this universe remained a mystery — I was unable to probe Voldemort's thoughts while linked to Hermione.

The form inside the cauldron was growing in size as the shower of diamond-white sparks reached its maximum. I could see its shape becoming more and more human, though preternaturally thin, and finally the potion was gone, either absorbed into Voldemort's body during his growth or billowing away as steam. As the last of the steam evaporated, the now fully-recovered Voldemort rose slowly to his feet. The Death Eaters all watched in silent awe, as Harry and Hermione did in dread as he reached his full height, then glanced haughtily, even naked, at Malfoy's masked figure and said, coldly, "Robe me." Malfoy hurried forward, a black robe in hand, and draped it over Voldemort's form. He turned toward us, and Hermione looked up, terror in her thoughts, at his pale form, his eyes burning scarlet, and a cruel smile split his lips.

Lord Voldemort had risen again.

It was time for me to make myself known, if only to one person there. "Hermione," I said into her mind, letting her brain interpret the input as a whisper in her ear. She jerked but said nothing. "Nod once if you can you hear me."

She nodded. "I'm going to get you out of this, so don't be afraid. You need to trust me. Nod once again if you understand."

Hermione nodded again as she watched Voldemort step from the stone cauldron, helped by Malfoy, who handed him a wand I recognized as his own, the one of yew with the phoenix feather core, the twin of Harry's wand. It had been an open question what had happened to this wand when Voldemort was first defeated in 1981 until Peter Pettigrew admitted, under Veritaserum, that he entered the ruins of the house shortly after Hagrid left with Harry, finding the wand and hiding it somewhere before somehow becoming Percy Weasley's pet. With him sent to Azkaban and dead shortly thereafter, it was presumed lost — until now.

"Well, Harry Potter, we meet again — this time as equals," Voldemort had strode over to where Harry and Hermione were being held, smiling thinly at Harry as he struggled against the two Death Eaters who held him.

"You'll never be my equal, Voldemort," Harry growled, and Hermione shuddered in the Death Eaters arms at the mention of his name.

"I agree," Voldemort said coldly. "Though for a different reason than you mean, Harry. As long as you consort with Mudbloods and blood traitors, you will always be the weaker opponent — which I will prove, once and for all, when I kill you and end your meddling interference!

"The men who serve me," Voldemort went on, turning and walking a few steps away as he gestured at the Death Eaters gathered around them, "are of the purest blood. They understand what it means to serve someone who is truly their master, and who will properly guide them to serve greatness well. Even your benighted cousin," he added, with a careless wave toward Dudley, "who thwarted my plans to steal the Philosopher's Stone from Hogwarts three years ago, and who is less than a Mudblood — a Muggle who stole his magical powers — has repaid a tiny fraction of the huge debt of pain you owe me, Harry Potter, by agreeing to serve me and aid in my resurrection.

"And now, with your blood inside me, I am immune to the protection your mother's blood had given you until now." To prove his point, Voldemort's long-fingered hand suddenly shot out, roughly grasping Harry's face. Hermione screamed, though Harry made no sound as Voldemort turned his head from side to side, almost playfully, then released him and stepped away.

"Clear a space there," he said, motioning the Death Eaters to step back and given them room. "I think it is time that Harry and I finally meet each other in battle."

"Nothing would give me greater pleasure," Harry snapped, as the two Death Eaters pushed him forward into the open space they'd just vacated. One of the men who'd held him threw Harry's wand onto the ground before him. The Death Eater holding Hermione had not eased his grip on her, and I realized the critical moment was drawing closer. If I was capable of communicating with Hermione through her mental processes, I might be able to exercise control over biological functions as well — in effect possessing her. I had originally thought to simply stop the Killing Curse from hitting her, but that would not be possible in the present circumstances. I would have to find some other way to stop Voldemort's death bolt from reaching her.

Voldemort was forcing Harry through the formal dueling ritual — bowing to one another, then facing off, their wands raised high. Harry leaped right into the duel, immediately casting a Disarming Charm, hoping to catch Voldemort off-guard, but the Dark Lord casually cast a Shield, deflecting the spell harmlessly away. He immediately countered with the Cruciatus Curse, and Harry fell to the ground, screaming in agony.

Hermione nearly leaped out of the arms of the Death Eater holding her, and while I understood why she wanted to go to him, I did not want her hit with the Curse as well. I moved my perception into the Death Eater, taking over his motor controls, and held her tightly. Good! This told me it was possible to force someone to obey my will, and gave me an idea for how to handle the crucial moment when it came.

When Voldemort ended the curse, I allowed the Death Eater to relax his hold on Hermione, and she broke away, running to Harry's side. I had the man take out his wand and point it at Hermione, but Voldemort put up a hand forestalling any action. This left me in control of a Death Eater with his wand in his hand, just as I wanted him. As Voldemort mocked them and pronounced his intention to kill them both, I located a flattened piece of rock on the ground near them and while everyone was distracted, cast a Disillusionment Charm upon it, then levitated it along the ground so it was in front of Hermione, between her and Voldemort.

Dudley was arguing with Voldemort over Hermione's disposition, claiming she'd been promised to him. Harry's face betrayed a moment of shock at this — he'd apparently never realized just how obsessed Dudley was with Hermione. Truthfully, I'd never considered it much, either. But I could hardly let that distract me at the moment!

Harry had staggered to his feet, and I was out of time to warn Hermione what was about to happen. Voldemort pointed his wand and began to utter the curse, and several thing happened at the same time —

— Hermione stepped in front of Harry, shouting, "No! Harry, I —"

— I commandeered the Death Eater's body, levitating the Disillusioned rock into the air between her and Voldemort —

— The Killing Curse shot from the tip of Voldemort's wand, striking the invisible rock and blasting it to pieces. The concussion knocked Hermione down, making it appear the Killing Curse had struck her. I had the Death Eater cast an Obliviate Spell on himself, removing the last 30 seconds of his memory, then withdrew from his body and moved back into Hermione's, having her wandlessly cast a Bewitched Sleep Charm upon herself. Harry caught Hermione as she fell, cradling her in his arms, and Dudley attacked Voldemort.

Harry's mind had barely registered that Hermione had been hit by the Killing Curse right in front of him. "We've got to get you back, Hermione," he whispered in her ear, "Uncle Jimmy can fix you — he can fix almost anything, I've found. Hang on, 'Mione, hang on…"

A crushing weight descended on them — Dudley's body, dead from the Killing Curse Voldemort had just cast on him, had fallen backwards between them. Dudley's left hand brushed against Hermione's side; the stump of his right fell against Harry, and the Portkey Spell was activated again, sending the three (and myself) whirling back towards Hogwarts. I might have heard the beginning of a roar of fury from Voldemort, frustrated by the bad luck that had taken his intended victims from him.

Time was short as the three forms appeared at the entrance of the maze created on the Quidditch pitch for the third task. Hermione and Dudley both dropped limply onto the grass, while Harry hit and rolled several times, letting the grass absorb the impact. I had only moments to act.

"I" (my earlier self) would be appearing any moment, and because I believed Hermione dead when I examined her at that time, she would have to really appear dead, even to my senses, not merely in a bewitched sleep. I would really have to mask all mental activity in her brain, making it appear as if her soul had left her body except for a final thread, which would dissolve as "I" tried to follow it. I might have told myself what the future-I had done, but I decided to create as few causality-dependent inconsistencies as possible, even within myself. Taking control of Hermione's unconscious mental energies, I suppressed them even further, moving them temporarily into other areas of her nervous system. When I'd examined her before, I'd naturally gone through the memories in her brain, expecting to find them there — I had not thought to look elsewhere in her body.

I was now "playing dead" — keeping my own energy levels low, to mimic the effects of a body beginning to cool. I could not see, hear or otherwise perceive anything outside of Hermione's body. I could feel my earlier self's energies probing her brain, looking for any sign of life. The only thing to be found, however was the single thread I'd left for past-me to discover: Hermione's last thought, of Harry. My earlier self withdrew, reluctantly, having failed to find Hermione within her body. The hardest part was over.

At this point I could have simply allowed myself to move forward through time, rejoining my body several hours hence and continuing from there. But I did not want to abandon Hermione now, not after I'd "failed," at least in one sense, to keep my promise to her. I had asked her to trust me to get her out of this, but from her viewpoint Voldemort had hit her with the Killing Curse just before she blacked out. She would probably awaken believing she was dead. Which, in a sense would further the illusion that she had indeed died, but I was now piling deception on top of deception.

I stayed with her the entire time, watching as Flitwick escorted her and her parents to the infirmary. I watched as a grim-faced Madam Pomfrey examined her body, unsuccessfully fighting back tears as she searched in vain for the faintest sign of life. I watched as her mother and father sat next to her, crying and holding one another in their grief, wishing I could spare them the hours of heartbreak and misery they would feel, missing her.

Finally, hours later, Harry, Dumbledore and I suddenly appeared next to Hermione's parents, and I moved into position, placing my hand once again on Hermione's forehead. I felt my earlier self gather my energies and watched my perceptual self move into the past, leaving me alone with Hermione inside her skull. I flowed back into my own body, completing the loop, and exerted a miniscule portion of my Power, drawing Hermione out of her bewitched sleep. I took my hand away from her forehead — to everyone else there only a few seconds had elapsed.

"What did you do?" Harry demanded, looking at her still face. "Dammit, Professor, tell me —"

Hermione's eyelids fluttered.

Harry gasped. "Oh my god," he said, looking at me in astonishment. Hermione's parents held each other tightly — Monica began to cry again, this time with joy. Hermione's chest rose slowly, her first full breath in several hours. Her eyes opened.

She sat bolt upright, one hand reaching out toward Harry. "Look out!" she said, her eyes wide. "Harry, I —" she stopped, looking around, seeing us and her parents. "I — I — don't understand. How — how did I get here? We were — in a graveyard…" she looked at Harry. "V-Voldemort tried to k-kill you, Harry!"

"I know," Harry said, sitting next to her on the bed. He embraced her, kissing her neck and cheek, not caring what any of us thought of his display of affection for her. But both of her parents were beaming at them, and Dumbledore had a small smile on his face; his eyes might have been a bit misty, as well. "Voldemort is gone now — he won't be able to harm you, or anyone, ever again."

Madam Pomfrey hurried over to us, astonishment on her face. "You're alive!" she said to Hermione, then turned to Dumbledore. "But — how?"

"I do not know how, Poppy," he told her, happily. "But I am glad to see her again, nonetheless. Welcome back, Hermione."

Hermione nodded, then looked up at me. I was staring at her. I knew she would remember nothing of the time she spent in bewitched sleep, but if she suspected anything about what had happened in the graveyard, she would remember only a whispered voice telling her to trust him, and nothing else. Would she think she imagined it? I wasn't going to change her perception of those events — whatever she decided had happened, she was back with Harry, alive again.

I turned to Dumbledore and said in a low voice, "I need to talk to you privately, Professor."

"Of course," Dumbledore replied in an equally soft voice. He made a small gesture toward the door. "Shall we?" I nodded. I doubt if anyone there even noticed us turn and move away.

We walked quietly from the infirmary back to Dumbledore's office. Once there, he gestured to a chair for me to sit in, then took the one next to it. "What did you want to discuss with me, James?" Dumbledore asked, once we were settled.

"I'm leaving Hogwarts," I said without preamble.

Dumbledore steepled his fingers, regarding me silently for several moments. "I cannot say I am truly surprised," he finally replied, "given the things I've seen you do in just the past several hours, not to mention what I've observed over the past four years." He leaned forward in his chair, looking at me seriously. "But, would you care to explain to me your reasons for leaving, James?"

It was my turn to ponder silently for several seconds. Did Dumbledore deserve the whole truth from me? As closemouthed as the old man tended to be, he seldom lied without good cause, at least in his estimation. I could not say I did any better, really — I had as good as lied to Harry, Hermione and her parents in the performance I gave them just now. "The end justifies the means" was a glib phrase, but many used it to condone wrongful acts that benefited someone in some way — I was on that slippery slope myself, though it would be hard to find the wrong in returning Hermione Granger to her loved ones.

"I think," I said, measuring my words, "Harry has had enough help from me — now especially, since Voldemort is no longer in the picture. Anything else I do here might seem anticlimactic."

"There are still students to be taught," Dumbledore pointed out. "You have done an excellent job over the past three years. It will be difficult to replace you, James."

"I appreciate your saying so, Albus," I smiled. "I do have a replacement in mind, though — Remus Lupin would make an excellent teacher for Defense Against the Dark Arts."

"I quite agree," Dumbledore nodded. "However, there is a problem. As you well know, Lupin is a victim of lycanthropy. I believe he gave a quite stirring speech on his experiences here a few years ago, as one of your guest speakers. With the current climate concerning werewolves in the Wizarding world, I believe having him teach here would be out of the question."

I had in fact already considered that, and had an answer ready with me. From within one of the inner pockets of my robes I produced a small bound notebook, handing it to the headmaster. "That is a treatise I've been working on in my spare time," I told him, "about possible improvements to the Wolfsbane Potion that could be a cure to the condition." Dumbledore glanced up at me, interested. He opened the book, flipping through several pages.

"Quite fascination," he finally said. "I will give this to Severus, have him evaluate your conclusions, to see if he agrees with them. If this works, James, you will have provided a tremendous breakthrough for victims of lycanthropy everywhere."

I nodded. Truth to tell, I had always known of such a cure, and others like it for many maladies and conditions of the Wizarding world; but, I could not simply go around curing diseases and other problems willy-nilly without causing ripples and repercussions throughout the world, as tempting as it was to do. Another reason for me to leave this reality, I decided, before I inadvertently destabilized it so much it couldn't help but self-destruct.

"I do have a final question for you, before you leave," Dumbledore said, and I sensed a hesitation in him, a feeling of apprehension about what he was going to ask me. "I am grateful for the aid you rendered to Professor McGonagall, treating her injuries, and was most pleased and, I must admit, quite surprised at Miss Granger's nigh-miraculous recovery. Such ability in a wizard is quite rare — so rare, in fact, that I wonder if perhaps your abilities transcend the use of magic, James?"

I expected he'd figured that much out about me. "Yes, you're correct, Albus. I have other abilities beyond my wizarding skills. Professor McGonagall's injuries would have been mortal had any other person in the world, wizard or not, tried to help her. They were beyond any wizard's skill to cure quickly enough to save her life."

Dumbledore nodded, gravely. He'd seen that, as I had, when she and Snape had returned from Gringotts. And he had said nothing when I'd saved her, a situation where being the closemouthed person he was had kept my secret safe. "And Miss Granger?"

"Voldemort hit her with the Killing Curse," I said, flatly. "She was dead, as far as I or anyone else could tell."

For perhaps the first time since I'd known him, I saw amazement in Dumbledore's eyes. "If that is so, James, then you have done what no other person in history has accomplished — you have returned someone who was dead to life!"

"Not quite," I admitted. "I was able to send myself back in time, to before the confrontation between Harry and Voldemort in the Little Hangleton graveyard, and manipulate events to make it appear as if that occurred — the Avada Kedavra did not strike her, and I was able to make it appear she was dead when her body was returned to the Tournament."

"And what of Dudley Dursley?"

I shrugged. "I might have saved him, too, but his mother had asked me to let her die, to be with him once again — I did not think I should deprive them of one another's company beyond this life, even for a little while."

"So you believe there is an existence beyond this one?" Dumbledore asked.

"I've been there," I said, as flat fact, and his eyes widened. "I thought you believed," I said, smiling.

"I do believe," the old man replied, "but until that moment we go onward, we do not actually know."

"You can trust me," I told him. "It definitely exists."

"So are you able to go there and bring people back?" Dumbledore asked, real curiosity in his voice. "Could you revive someone that way?"

"No," I shook my head. "I got there only once, by accident—and barely managed to find my way back to the living world."

"I would be interested in hearing the story," Dumbledore said. I could feel a sense of excitement beginning to well up in him. "I wonder at the fate of a creature like Voldemort, who quite literally shredded his soul trying to gain physical immortality — yet you, who must certainly possess it, seems as whole and as well-adjusted as an innocent child."

"It's a very long story, Albus," I replied. "But I can tell you, even Voldemort was there, in the Beyond, and there was hope for his soul — because someone there cared for him." I looked at the headmaster for a long moment, and an idea jelled in my mind. "Perhaps you should consider coming with me when I leave, Albus."

Dumbledore blinked. "I beg your pardon?"

"Well, Voldemort is dead," I pointed out. "You and Harry are pretty much out of a job on that front. That leaves you with teaching, which you don't do much of anymore, or trying to fix the mess the Ministry is currently bogged down in. And I don't think you want to get involved in that."

"So — what is it, exactly, you are proposing?" Dumbledore wanted to know.

"I propose that you accompany me in my travels. I can give you Powers similar to mine, that will let you move through the dimensions of space and time with the same ease you walk down a corridor at Hogwarts now, and the ability to manipulate matter and energy in ways that will make wizardry seem like a child's sleight-of-hand tricks."

Dumbledore was motionless for a long time, his eyes staring at me but actually looking inward as he contemplated my proposal. I could feel the intense curiosity that was driving him, along with his lifelong desire to learn as much as possible. Yet when he finally came back to the present, he shook his head. "Regrettably, James, though your offer is quite tempting, I must decline."

"Albus," I told him gently, "you don't need to be afraid of what might happen. I know about your dealings with Gellert Grindelwald and the 'greater good,' and your fear of abusing power."

If there was anything I could have said that would make Dumbledore lose his composure, it was that. "How could you know that?!" he asked anxiously. Then — "Ah, this 'power' of yours, it must work even through Occlumency. Is that how you found out, by looking inside my mind?"

I shook my head, smiling in spite of my attempt to suppress it. "Believe it or not, Albus — I read about you in a book."

Dumbledore looked confused. "A book? I do not understand. Very few living wizards recall all the details of that time, and none of them may speak of it — I have bound them with a Fidelius Charm, such was the shame I felt for my actions. They can only become known after my death, when the charm will be broken."

"That's how I found out about them," I said matter-of-factly. "I come from a time and place where, after you died, your life was written about in great and glaring detail, pointing out your past association and friendship with Grindelwald."

"I…see," Dumbledore murmured. "Well, I suppose I've always been aware of my mortality, but that does make it more real, hearing that for some, I've already died."

It was a misdirection on my part, but I didn't think even Dumbledore could deal with the actual facts of my origin — that where I'd come from, centuries ago and universes away — he was just a fictional character in a book.

There was a knock at the door of Dumbledore's office. "Come in," he said. The door opened slowly, and a moment later Harry poked his head in.

"May I come in, sirs?" he asked in a subdued tone.

"Of course, Harry — please do!" Dumbledore gestured for him to enter, and Harry slipped in with the air of a small boy who believes himself to be in trouble. He approached Dumbledore and me, nodding respectfully as he stopped in front of us.

"I wanted to thank you both, for Hermione's life," Harry said, quietly.

"How is she doing?" I asked.

"She's well, sir," Harry replied. "She was sure the Killing Curse had hit her, but when I checked with a detection spell, I found no evidence of it. Madam Pomfrey said there were some bruises on her chest, but they've been healed. Other than that she checked out fine." His eyes had gravitated to Dumbledore's, avoiding mine. "I — I wanted you to know how grateful her parents and I are…"

"You can thank Professor Monroe, Harry," Dumbledore told him. "He was responsible for returning her to health, not I." I smiled, and Harry nodded, then looked in my direction, though his eyes couldn't quite meet mine.

"Professor Monroe, I want to — to apologize to you —" he began.

"You don't need to apologize, Harry," I stopped him. "I understand you were very upset by what happened with Hermione, and you were under a lot of stress. And, I'm sorry I wasn't able to do for your aunt and cousin what I was able to do for Hermione."

"Believe me, sir, I'm very grateful you decided to check her one last time!" Harry said feelingly. "I've been talking with her and her parents — we've decided to go on another trip this summer, to spend some time getting reacquainted — we lost time this past spring and want to make it up to each other."

"That sounds like a good idea," I told him. "I've had a similar idea myself — I've just told Professor Dumbledore that I'm leaving Hogwarts and going on an extended trip."

"Really?" Harry looked surprised but not disappointed. I got the impression that my decision to leave was good timing. "Will you need someone to look after your house while you're gone, sir?" he asked solicitously.

"Yes," I said, then considered. "In fact, before I leave, Harry, I'm transferring it into your name, so you can treat just like it's your own." I smiled at the look of complete surprise on Harry's face. I knew that I would never have need of that house again, but he and Hermione could spend the rest of their lives reading through all the books I had stored there.

"That's very generous of you, sir, but —"

"But nothing," I overrode his objection. "You'll get more use out of it than I will, from here on. It's in a very quiet neighborhood, I hear," I said, lowering my voice confidentially. Harry smiled. "Then, after your holiday with the Grangers, you'll have a new house to come home to. I hope you have a great trip."

"Thanks," Harry said, smiling at me. "Thanks, Uncle Jimmy." He took a tentative step toward me, his right hand out, but when I spread both arms wide he grinned and we shared a hug. After we parted, Harry added, "I suppose after all we've been through in the past four years, a getaway is a good idea for both of us."

"A very good idea," Dumbledore agreed, placing a hand gently on Harry's shoulder. "After just the things you've been through these past few days, Harry, some time alone for you and Miss Granger should be quite relaxing. In fact," he added, looking at me with a twinkle in his blue eyes, "I've been thinking of doing some traveling, myself."

I smiled.

Author's Note: I know a lot of people hated seeing Hermione killed a few chapters ago, especially after she and Harry got together. Thanks to everyone who stuck with me until the end.