Back to the Island
"This was a good idea," said Ron, as he walked back from the table, ale in hand, and took his seat between Harry and Hermione.
"I thought so," agreed Harry.
It was a chilly but clear March evening, and seventeen young people were standing or sitting in what amounted to a large picnic area in the Park, the headquarters and training area for the Aurors. This particular section was sometimes used for outdoor social occasions; there were a dozen trees of various types, flowers, well-trimmed bushes, and grass. There were tables, lawn chairs, and benches, as well as one main table which contained the food, drinks, and silverware. The meal had been catered at a cost of two hundred Galleons, which was quite expensive, but Harry decided that he would pay for it. He earned a good salary as Auror Leader, and he needn't dip into the other Harry's savings if he used his own money.
It had been almost two months since Voldemort's defeat, and the time spent on the island had become ever smaller, almost vanishing; the last switch had been five days ago, and had lasted for only one second. From a scientific point of view, Hermione and Terry weren't sure what would happen tonight, though they were fairly sure something would happen. From an unscientific point of view, Luna's impressions from her dreams were well-known among the trainees; if she was right, tonight's switch would be longer than one second, signaling that the pattern of the switching was reversing itself. Everyone who had been switching for the past five months was present tonight to see what would happen. Harry had thought they should discover their fate together, and while they were at it, why not live it up a little?
"So, explain this to me again," said Ron to Hermione.
"I've explained this a few times," she pointed out.
He shrugged. "Yeah, but I wasn't listening."
She stared at him impassively. "So, you really think that's funny?"
"Not in a way that makes you laugh, but yes, a little. I do it partly to amuse Harry."
Harry nodded. "It's true. It does amuse me."
She rolled her eyes. "You two can be very annoying."
Luna came over, used her wand to increase the width of Harry's lawn chair as he sat in it, then took a seat next to him. "I don't think Harry and Ron will be doing that to me." Harry nodded his agreement.
"Why not?" asked Hermione.
Harry answered. "She wouldn't care. It wouldn't bother her."
Hermione grinned at Luna. "Well, then, I envy your composure."
"Thank you. Anyway, could you tell me? I haven't heard it yet."
Now that there was someone who genuinely wanted to hear, it seemed to Harry that Hermione was happy for the chance to explain it. "You probably know that there are three possibilities. One is that we end up staying on this side permanently; if that's the case, the switch will be very short, just a fraction of a second, maybe as little as a tenth of a second. If that happens, we can pretty much say goodbye to that side. It could happen that there just isn't a switch, in which case Terry and I have made a mistake in our assumptions, and we still don't know what's going to happen. Or, if you're right, the switch will be longer than a second, and we'll know we're heading back."
"Or," said Ron, "embarking on an endless cycle of switching, going slowly back and forth between dimensions all our lives."
She gave him a sour look. "Now you're just trying to annoy me."
"What, isn't it possible?" he asked innocently.
"Don't worry," Luna said to Hermione confidently, "that isn't going to happen. If it was, I would have had different dreams."
Ron leaned over to Luna, and said in a stage whisper, "I don't think Hermione believes what's in your dreams."
Harry chuckled; Hermione gave Ron a look that suggested that he was wearing out her patience. "That's not true, and you know that," she protested. "Prophetic dreams are a well-established phenomenon. All I've said is that it isn't science, which is different from saying it's wrong."
"Now, for the important question," said Ron. "Hermione and I have talked about this, but I haven't asked you. Do you have a preference? I mean, for you, Harry, I'm not sure that this side is so much worse than the other, right?"
"Strictly speaking, no," he agreed. "I have you two, Luna, and my friends. Remus and Tonks are alive over here. It wouldn't be so bad. But of course, as we've talked about, there are no Aurors over there. They would end up going back to England in a very different situation, and most importantly, without an Auror Leader, but someone who needs a Horcrux taken out of his head."
In the past two months, Harry had been brought out of his coma twice in order to see if the Horcrux had migrated back to its former place, or if its effects had waned. He was in as much pain as he had been before, and was put back into the coma. The best, or only, suggestion as to its removal had come from a specialist in Dark magic (sworn to secrecy about the inquiry, and not knowing the name of the person who had the Horcrux) whose idea was to project a form of deadly magic into the specific area where the Horcrux was. The man was unsure whether it would work, or whether the patient would even survive the procedure; it was simply the best idea the specialist could come up with. This was conveyed to the other Ron and Hermione, who naturally rejected the plan.
"That makes sense," she agreed. "For me, in a way, this side is a little better, since I have a chance to deal with my parents in a better way than I did last time; they wouldn't have to find out from a reporter. I suppose any feelings I have are that in a general sense, we should go back where we came from. It just feels right. You think the same thing, right, Ron?"
"Yes, it just seems like we should. I can't say one is better than the other, since I lost a family member on each side. I suppose George would have a preference, though."
From three meters away came a shout of, "I heard that!" George disengaged from Lee and Corner, and walked over.
"Good ears," commented Ron.
George motioned to his mutilated ear. "This one, not so good. It must have been pointing away. But I did hear my name. So, what were you saying about me behind my back?"
Ron explained it; George shrugged lightly. "Of course, it wouldn't be terrible if we ended up here, since as you no doubt mean, I get Fred back. But of course we lose Dad, so as you said, there's a balance. If I could choose, I'd choose to go back, as staying would mean that the other George would lose his Fred. Wouldn't be fair, as I do believe him to be a good bloke."
Harry smiled. "I'm sure he is." George nodded and headed back to his previous conversation.
Ron looked at Harry. "Nothing you'd miss from this side if we go back? I mean, there's your good friend Malfoy, for example."
Chuckling, Harry thought about it. "It'd be hard to classify that. I suppose we are friends, in a way. We went through stuff together that brings you closer to somebody."
"Except when they almost kill the person you love," pointed out Ron. Harry gathered that Ron was curious about Harry's current feelings about the topic.
"Like we talked about at the time, there's the rational and the emotional. Rationally, I'm okay with what he did, mainly because I know you would have approved if you'd known the whole thing," he said, glancing at Luna. "But emotionally… I try, but there's a Muggle saying, 'you can't un-ring a bell.'"
"The spell doesn't return to the wand," said Luna; Harry realized that she was contributing the wizarding equivalent.
"So—Luna and I have talked about this many times, of course—it's hard for me to completely put it out of my mind. I'd say I'm 99% past it, but it's hard to say if that other 1% would ever go away. I know I should get past it, and Luna hopes I will, but…"
"Human nature," agreed Hermione. "If it had been Ron instead of Luna, I could see myself feeling the same way. But I'm wondering, Harry, putting that aside—suppose it had happened differently—do you think you and he could be considered friends?"
Good question, thought Harry. "That would have helped, but I'm not sure that makes it so different. The difference is mainly in my mind, and I try not to let it spill over into dealing with him. As you know, we've had him over for dinner a few times, and we went to Malfoy Manor for dinner a month ago, so if we stayed, I'm sure there'd always be some relationship. Maybe like an old Army friend, someone who wasn't your favorite type of person, but you got to know and respect from working together. I suspect he probably sees it the same way."
"Does he see Crabbe and Goyle anymore?" asked Ron.
"Goyle yes, Crabbe no," said Harry. "Crabbe trying to trick him into being captured by Voldemort is something Malfoy isn't going to easily forgive, even though he recognizes that Crabbe was coerced by Voldemort. He's seen Goyle a few times, and he said that for old times' sake he'll keep in touch, but they were never really friends; it was more of a power relationship. He helped them, they helped him. In a way—and this is really strange, but—"
Luna finished his sentence. "You're the only real friend he has."
"The only one that isn't based on power, yes," agreed Harry. "Of course, people will want to be on good terms with the Auror Leader, and Malfoy's still a Slytherin. He's made a few jokes like that, but we both know it isn't based on that."
"I was so surprised," said Hermione, "when he told you he was going to take the N.E.W.T.s, do it by private study." A week after Voldemort had been defeated, Malfoy had told Harry that he'd decided to finish his studies, his family hiring highly qualified private tutors to help him.
"Yeah, me too," agreed Harry. "When Luna and I were there, his mother was saying how she hardly ever saw him, he was so busy studying and taking lessons."
"Well, he has a lot to do," said Hermione. "He has to do a year's work in five months. He never was the bookworm type, though."
"I think he just needed something to do, something he could dive into and not worry about anything else," said Harry. "He said he was at loose ends for a week afterwards, and just decided, why not."
"Because it's a lot of work?" suggested Ron.
"Yeah, I'd think so too," said Harry. "I think it appealed to him because it was quiet, after all the activity he'd been through, and it was a step away from trying to get his hands on power, which was always his main purpose before."
"Oh, he'll get back to that," joked Ron.
"I'm sure he will; he actually made a joke like that as well. He also said that he didn't want to spend the rest of his life explaining to people why he didn't have his N.E.W.T.s."
"As opposed to us, who will," said Ron.
"On the other side, nobody would have to ask us," said Harry. "I think you two aren't quite so famous on this side as you were over there. Malfoy has taken over some of that for you."
Hermione grunted. "He's welcome to it."
After a short silence, Luna returned to the topic they'd discussed earlier. "One good thing about tonight is that at least everyone will know for sure what our future will be. I know some people aren't happy with the uncertainty."
Ron regarded her curiously. "How certain are you that your dreams were right?"
"Oh, 100%," she said casually. "I was talking about everyone else, who can't be sure. For me, it feels like something I know, not just something I think. But I don't expect everyone else to automatically believe me."
Within a half a second after the last word was spoken, they were all on the island. To Harry's surprise, he was near the main table; he was reclining in a conjured lounge chair, clearly put there for his benefit. Everyone looked at each other, but no one spoke. Two seconds passed. Three, four, five, six…
They were back in the Park. Again, no one spoke for a second. Finally—appropriately, it seemed to Harry—it was George who spoke. "So, Luna, what would you charge to have a dream about a lottery, or another large-scale gambling event?"
Most everyone laughed, including Luna. "I'd be happy to give you the information for free," she said innocently.
"Can you give it to me, and only me?" he pressed.
She waited a beat, then answered, in the same tone as before. "I'm afraid I'd have to charge you for that," she deadpanned; this got an even bigger laugh, as Luna wasn't known for making jokes.
Harry leaned over and kissed her on the cheek, then stood. "I think I'll be getting that information first," he said to George.
"Like you need more money," grumbled George.
Harry faced all present. Raising his voice to be heard, he said, "Okay, so unless something very strange is going on, that was our answer: we're going back." He noted the relative lack of strong reaction; no one was celebrating, but no one was complaining either.
"This means that we're going to intensify the training program. I'd guess that for a few weeks, the switches are going to be so short that we needn't worry about when they come. After that, Terry and Hermione will be able to provide us with a schedule. Once the switches start becoming four hours or more, I want us to adjust our sleep schedules so we're sleeping when we're on the island, and doing training here. No offense to our Kingsley and Hestia, but the chance to train with so many veteran Aurors won't come again, so we need to make the most of it.
"So far, we've managed to keep the switching a secret from the public on this side. We'll keep it that way for as long as possible. What I'd like to do is have as many of you as possible go out on patrols with Aurors, but the problem with that is that it would raise questions that our counterparts might not want to answer. You know, 'weren't you training with Aurors?' when they have no desire to become an Auror. So, I'll be looking for some way to explain that away. This side may not be exactly the same as our side, but it's pretty close. You'll be making patrols over there, and these Aurors have a lot of information based on personal experience that would be highly useful." He paused. "Any questions or comments so far?"
Lee raised a hand. "Yeah, one of the Aurors was telling me that one of the women in Hogsmeade is a nymphomaniac. Is that the kind of highly useful information you're talking about?"
Harry laughed along with the others, then answered. "You know she's 58 years old, right?"
This was met with more laughter, and scoffing from a few of the women. "What, you mean if she was a 20-year-old nymphomaniac, that would be much more useful information?" joked Angelina.
"More appealing, anyway," responded Lee; Angelina hit him playfully.
"Any man here," said Harry, "who finds himself approached by a woman who makes herself sexually available very quickly would be well advised to consider it a character test, and act accordingly."
George responded instantly. "You'd also be well advised to do a Polyjuice check, to make sure it isn't Harry himself."
In the midst of the laughter, Lee added, "Or a 58-year-old woman using Polyjuice to look 20. Apparently she's done that before."
Harry chuckled, then spoke again. "Okay, this briefing is degenerating fast, but it's my fault for trying to talk business when people have been drinking—"
George held up a glass of ale. "You think Lee's only a degenerate after he's been drinking? Right charitable of you, but I know better."
"So I'll wrap it up there, and get back to it tomorrow. We meet in the lounge at noon."
Harry wandered around and chatted with most everyone a bit before resuming his seat and talking to Ron, Hermione, and Luna. They still had a lot of work to do, but it was important to have a nice break once in a while.
* * * * *
The next day, Harry woke up relatively early; he'd expected most who'd been at the gathering to wake up late, perhaps with hangovers, but he himself hadn't drunk much. Hermione was up, and helped him with breakfast; Ron, having drunk a bit more, was still asleep.
Harry had asked Luna to live with him at Grimmauld Place, but she preferred to stay with her father, whom they both knew didn't have much time left. Now they knew that even if this version of Xenophilius lived longer than the other one, she would have a limited time to be with him. She wanted to make the most of it.
There was a meeting planned with most of the Aurors for ten a.m., to tell them what had happened the night before and lay out his plans for the training of the Aurors-to-be. After breakfast, he had over an hour to kill. Normally he'd stay in, maybe do mail, but he felt restless.
For no good reason, he Apparated to the room in Auror Headquarters that contained the… intelligence, energy field, whatever, that one was put into when taking the Auror Leader test. When he'd visited the room soon after going public as Auror Leader, he'd been disappointed but not surprised to find that the room that contained the Auror Leader portraits had been invisible to him. Apparently one had to have taken the test in this dimension to see that room in this dimension.
He'd also sat in the chair that he hadn't been in since he took the Leader test, and that had failed to yield any results; he'd been hoping to be spoken to by the intelligence so he could ask it questions. He sat in it again now, not expecting anything to have changed; as he sat, it occurred to him that it was not unlike someone who in the Muggle world checks the coin return of a phone booth in case some change has been left behind. One doesn't expect it to have happened, but trying can't hurt.
To his great surprise, however, he was immediately confronted with a familiar figure: Jeffrey Ambers, the thirteenth person to pass the Auror Leader test, but unknown to history because he took his own life soon after passing the test. By Harry's reckoning, it had been about eight months since the first time they'd spoken.
Harry stood. "Hello, Jeffrey," he said, offering his hand, which the other man shook. "I know you're not only him, but also the intelligence talking through him. But for my purposes, I should call you something."
The man nodded. "Jeffrey is fine, of course, but you could call me 'Winston Churchill' and I'd have no problems with that either," he said humorously. "Neither the intelligence nor the man has much of an ego."
"I guess that makes sense," agreed Harry. "Why is it that you'll talk to me now, but you wouldn't the last time I tried?"
"That time, you were asking for yourself," said Ambers. "Now, you're asking for someone else. That makes quite a difference."
"I see," said Harry, trying to hide his mild annoyance even though he was sure the intelligence knew his state of mind very well. "So, can anything be done for him?"
"You must know that we won't answer such a broad question. Even if it isn't for yourself, this is not unlike saying, 'please solve all my problems for me.' That's not what we're here for."
"I feel like asking what you are here for, but I suspect you wouldn't answer that either—"
"Correct," interrupted Ambers.
"But there must be something you're willing to tell me, or else you wouldn't be talking to me. Right?"
Anders shrugged. "Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on which questions you ask."
"First of all, I'm curious… you are basically the same one as exists on my side, right?"
"I could answer your question by pointing out that in a very real sense all that exists in the multiverse is one. However, I understand what you want to ask, so I will simply say yes."
"I appreciate that," said Harry dryly. "Maybe I'll come back after I've studied up on metaphysics. So, should I assume that if I propose a possible solution, you'll be willing to tell me whether or not it'll work?"
There was a hint of a smile on Ambers' face. "Perhaps."
"Well, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. So, what if they took him to that place in Thailand, where people go for quests? They put him in that area, he does the trials or whatever, and you take away the Horcrux?" Harry was assuming as a matter of course that this entity could remove the Horcrux, but given its other powers—such as conferring on him multiple enhancements given only to the Auror Leader—it didn't seem like an unreasonable assumption.
Ambers shook his head. "He must have a conscious intention to do the quest. Since he is in a coma, and in great pain when he is not, that is something we cannot know."
Harry sighed lightly. "You can't just assume that he'd rather do the quest than stay how he is?"
Ambers' expression reminded Harry of a parent mildly disappointed in a child who sought to trick him. "We cannot assume he would rather do the quest than remain how he is in the hope that another method will come along. There are rules to these things."
Harry thought to ask if he could see the rulebook, but he realized that Ambers meant to express it in terms Harry could understand. He also realized that if his counterpart went into it without intention and foreknowledge, he might see it as something imposed on him to be endured, rather than a trial he had chosen himself, for his own reasons.
Time for the other idea, thought Harry. He'd only come in with two.
"I was put in the Auror Leader test without my knowledge," said Harry. "This means that he could be too. If he was, is it possible that one of the effects of the test—since the Auror Leader is 'modified' anyway—could be to remove anything foreign from his head?"
Ambers nodded, impressed. "You have, in fact, hit upon the only solution that I, we, can offer. It would be as you say."
Surprised, Harry decided he needed more specific information. "So, you mean if he passes the test, the Horcrux would be removed?"
Harry's heart sank for a moment as Ambers shook his head, but soon recovered. "No. His mind must be in a certain condition for the test to be done, so if he is deemed worthy to take the test, the Horcrux would simply be removed at the outset. He would be free of it whether he passed or failed."
This wasn't extremely encouraging to Harry in the sense that the test was traumatic whether one passed or failed, but it was certainly more so if one passed. Still, there appeared to be a way out.
"You said, if he's deemed worthy. I'm basically him, so if I was worthy, wouldn't he be?"
"One would think so," agreed Ambers. "It is simply that you are not to take it as a given. Your life does differ from his, after all. You had already sacrificed yourself when you took the test. He has not."
Harry was about to argue that if his other self had been in the same situation he would have, but held back, as he realized it was obvious, and Ambers was simply telling him not to take it for granted. Harry felt it very likely that his counterpart would be allowed to take the test. He thought, trying to determine if any other questions needed to be asked.
He couldn't think of any that had to do with his counterpart's Horcrux problem, so he decided to ask another he'd considered the first time he'd tried to talk to the entity. "Can you tell me what was responsible for the switching starting in the first place?"
Ambers gave him a patient smile. "You know we will not, of course. It's kind of you to try, since you do so on Luna's behalf. It is understandable that this has distressed her, but we choose not to interfere in matters like this. Some things must remain mysteries. But at least you will be able to tell her that you asked."
This last was said with amusement; Harry had had the thought a few seconds before, and he wondered whether the entity had plucked it out of his head, or intuited that he would have the thought.
"Okay, thanks," he said, unable to think of any other questions that had a chance of being answered, and not wanting to overstay his welcome.
"I do want to say one other thing," said Ambers, "a piece of advice. This is more from the human than the entity, though of course they cannot be separated. It is this: forgive Kingsley. Both in your heart, and to his face. You have done enough now as Auror Leader that benefited society at the cost to individuals—including the one you seek to help—that you understand why he did as he did. Doing as I suggest would help you both, though needless to say, you should do it only if it is in your heart to do so. I believe it is."
Harry understood that he needn't say or decide what he planned to do; there was no pressure, just the suggestion. "Thank you, Jeffrey. I'll think about that." Ambers nodded, and disappeared.
Harry sat in the chair and thought. He'd been furious at Kingsley for subjecting him to the Auror Leader test without his consent, and while he'd later understood that Kingsley hadn't done it lightly and regretted the necessity, he'd never explicitly said he forgave him, even though Kingsley had once seemed to indicate that he hoped to be forgiven. Harry had, more recently, gone public as Auror Leader even knowing that it could seriously complicate the life of his counterpart, who hadn't been in a position to object. Is it the same thing? Is it close enough? He contemplated the question, and related ones, for so long he almost forgot about his ten o'clock meeting with the Aurors.
* * * * *
Four weeks later, Harry was sitting on his bed in Grimmauld Place, putting memories into a glass cylinder. Finished, he magically etched the date into the glass, and put it into the rack he'd purchased. It now contained twenty cylinders, and there was room for many more, more than he would need.
No decision had been made about the other Harry and his Horcrux. His counterpart might yet become Auror Leader; in any case, he wanted to keep the other Harry's life as undisturbed as possible. Maybe, he thought, 'not as badly screwed up' might be a better way to put it.
He was essentially creating an archive of memories for the other Harry, should a way be found for him to recover his life. If he ended up becoming Auror Leader, the ideal situation would be one in which this dimension's Harry could continue his life without having to explain the switching. Aurors had agreed that Harry's deception when going public could later undermine public confidence in his counterpart, even though the latter would have been blameless. Leaving these memories gave his counterpart the option of pretending it had been him all along, if he chose.
He archived memories according to two criteria: they should explain what had happened well enough that his counterpart would understand completely what had happened in his absence, and they should contain all memories of interactions with anyone who didn't know about the switching, so he wouldn't have to plead to too many lapses of memory.
It appeared more and more likely that the other Harry would have to take the Auror Leader test, as no other solution had presented itself. He had told Ron and Hermione's counterparts in a Pensieve message what Ambers had said. To his surprise, for the next three switches they left no response. Finally, they said that they'd prefer that he made the decision, as being another version of Harry, he should know best what his counterpart would want.
Harry's Ron and Hermione, viewing the message, both said they felt that their counterparts were leaving the decision to Harry not because he would know best what their friend would want, but because they didn't want the responsibility for having made the decision. They wanted to be able to tell their Harry that the other one had decided to put him into the Auror Leader test, or at least, that it was at his behest that it had been done. Harry was annoyed with them at first—after all, what other options were there?—but the more he thought about it, the more he could understand their attitude. Though there might be no other solution, his counterpart might be even angrier at being thrown into the test than he had been. Better that the blame be directed at someone safely out of reach in another dimension. He would also likely blame Malfoy for the mistake in trying to withdraw the Horcrux, though Harry hoped he wouldn't, as it had been an honest and understandable mistake.
He decided to wait longer to make the final decision. In mid-May the Voldemort of his dimension would die, after which making foreign inquiries into the properties of a Horcrux would be significantly less dangerous, both to their cause and to the timeline. He would send Kingsley to Australia again, and he would make inquiries again through Foster. He left the other Ron and Hermione a Pensieve message to this effect, and got no reply. It appeared to him that they were washing their hands of it. It was his problem now.
* * * * *
Kingsley spent the better part of a week in late May off the island, but came back empty-handed; Foster had helped him as much as he could, but no new information could be found. Harry thanked him for the effort, and deciding on the spur of the moment to accept Ambers' advice, told Kingsley that he'd forgiven him for putting him into the Auror Leader test. Kingsley's response was understated, but it was clear to Harry that he appreciated it.
Harry waited another week, then in early June, decided there was no more reason to put it off. Respecting the other Ron and Hermione's obvious wish not to be involved, he asked Mel and Spencer to put his other self into the Auror Leader test. He left a message to his counterpart that he would see when he came out of the test, explaining it and why it had been necessary, and ordered Mel and Spencer not to reveal to him that they had put him there; he would accept the responsibility himself.
In the switch after the other Harry took the test, for the first time in months Harry was not lying down at the time of the switch. He went from talking to others on the island to sitting in a chair in what appeared to be a hotel room. Investigation showed that it was a Muggle hotel in the north of France.
He returned to England, and discovered that no one knew whether his counterpart had passed or not; he had just disappeared. Not too surprising, thought Harry, recalling how he had felt at the time. He made certain to return to the room he'd been in by the time of the next switch.
Back on the island, Kingsley told Harry that his counterpart had stayed in his tent and rejected all entreaties to talk, even to Ron and Hermione. Wow, he's taking this badly, thought Harry. Again, though, he remembered that he had wanted to talk to no one after his experience, going so far as to Stun Dudley for not respecting his wishes. Back on the other side, he started to create a cover story, telling the Aurors to let it be known to the media that he would be going on a private 'retreat' to study and build up his skills, and would return when he was ready. He left this information in a note in his own hand—there were no Pensieves where his counterpart was staying—and again got no response.
A month went by, and the situation didn't change. He continued to get no messages from his counterpart, who continued to isolate himself. Finally, he started to hear that his counterpart was talking to his Ron and Hermione on the island. He assumed this was happening on the other side as well, but he got no information about it.
In late July, the time Harry and the others were spending on the other side was two hours a day and decreasing fast; within two weeks it would be down to fifteen minutes every two days, and in a month, no more than a second. Not only had he not heard from his counterpart, but he had no idea whether the other Harry had passed the Auror Leader test or not. The apparent depth of depression caused him to think that the test had been passed, but he couldn't know for sure.
At the next switch, which was at a little before ten p.m., Harry got a stronger indication of what was happening, just one he didn't expect. Sitting in his tent alone waiting for the switch, he suddenly found himself lying in his bed… arms around Ginny, in the middle of a passionate kiss, as naked as she was.
They stopped kissing, but didn't jump apart from each other as he might have expected they would. They separated from each other in a natural way, as if having been doing something that by mutual consent they had decided to stop. They gave each other a wry glance. "Well, it looks like he's getting over it," he said.
"And she's helping him," she observed in the same vein. She looked around. "Where are my clothes?"
Harry looked, and found them. "On the floor, on this side. I think the underwear are in the corner over there."
Shaking her head in amusement, she got up and unselfconsciously walked over to where he was pointing. "Excuse my lack of modesty, but you have seen this before."
"Don't think I ever saw from behind, actually," he pointed out.
"Then I'll just keep my front facing you," she joked, though it was her side that faced him as she bent at the knees to pick up the underwear, and quickly put them on.
He chuckled. "Here you go," he said, tossing her bra at her.
"Thanks," she said. "Where are your clothes, anyway?"
"Probably in the laundry hamper," he said. He picked up his wand and started Summoning clothes from the drawers.
"I hope Luna didn't choose this moment to look through your eyes."
"I think she'd know what happened. So, do you think they just made a mistake?"
"By sleeping together?"
He gave her a 'very funny' look. "By leaving us in this position at the switch. She, at least, knows we're both involved with other people, and I'd be surprised if he didn't know as well."
"I have to think it's a mistake," she said, silently chiding him for thinking otherwise. "Maybe they were talking, one thing led to another, they got carried away, and forgot what time it was. I could imagine it happening."
He shrugged as he put on his underwear, sitting on the edge of the bed. "Maybe. It's just that since my counterpart was in a coma, I always had to be very conscious of when the switch was. Forgetting could be very bad—"
"Hey, Harry," said Ron, starting to speak just before he walked through the door. "You'll never guess—" He was stopped cold by the sight of his sister and his friend still half-naked, in the process of getting dressed. His mouth hung open.
Ginny laughed. "I'm going to remember this expression."
Harry couldn't help but smile as well. "You were saying, Ron?"
For a few seconds, Ron was speechless. Finally, he exclaimed, "What the hell happened?"
Harry and Ginny shared an amused look. "What does it look like?" asked Harry.
"I know what it looks like! I want to know what it is!"
"What what is?" asked Hermione, coming up behind him. She was surprised, but not as shocked as Ron. Looking back and forth, she took it in quickly. "Oh, I see."
As she finished buttoning her shirt, Ginny chuckled. "Now, Ron, you don't see her asking what happened. I think she's figured it out."
Hermione nodded. "Your counterparts were, um, doing it."
"Well, not exactly, fortunately," clarified Harry. "Either they were about to do it, or they had done it already. We can't know which, of course."
"I'd guess, the first," said Ginny, now finished dressing. "I think people are more likely to be kissing like they were before they do it, rather than after."
"Good point," agreed Harry.
"In which case," Ginny continued, "on the island, she's on her way over to his tent as we speak."
Harry nodded casually. "Then it's kind of inconvenient, since they have to take off their clothes again."
Ginny shrugged. "I don't know. Sometimes, that's one of the fun parts." She ignored the shocked look on her brother's face.
"Yeah," responded Harry, "but not if you have to keep doing it."
To everyone's surprise, Luna entered the room. "Keep doing what?"
So confident was Harry in Luna's reaction that he wasn't nervous, as he imagined he would be with most other women in the same situation. "We'd have to have the conversation over again to explain. When we got here, Ginny and I were—"
"Oh, I know," she said, as calmly as Harry knew she would. "I look through your eyes as soon as we get back here, to find out what you're doing."
"You got quite an eyeful, then," said Ginny.
"Yes, that's true," agreed Luna, "but it was a lot more interesting for Harry than it was for me. I noticed his eyes lingering in certain places just a little longer than they should have." She glanced at Harry with amusement to let him know that while what she said was true, she didn't hold it against him.
Ginny laughed. "Well, he is a man."
"That's true," said Luna. "And it was only a tiny bit longer. Just enough to realize he shouldn't do it, then his eyes moved."
He hoped they'd stop teasing him soon. "I'm glad my behavior was adequate, anyway," he said sarcastically.
Ron gave him a familiar look. "We'll talk about it later."
Ginny whirled and pointed at her brother accusingly. "No, you won't. I've had more than enough of the protective brother routine. If I want to walk through Diagon Alley naked, that's my business." She paused, thinking. "Say, that sounds interesting. I might want to try that."
Harry, Hermione, and Luna laughed at Ginny's obvious broadside against her brother, who rolled his eyes. "All right, you've made your point. But how did this happen?"
Ginny answered. "I think they just lost track of time, but Harry seemed to be suggesting that it was on purpose."
"I told you that I just remember it more because I always had to be very careful," protested Harry. "But I admit I was also thinking that my counterpart might not have cared. He's not exactly completely with it. Not that I blame him, of course."
"But you think he blames you," said Hermione kindly.
He hadn't said it to her, but he supposed it wasn't hard to figure out. "He hasn't said a thing to me, so it's easy for me to think that he thought like, if this is awkward for you, too bad. Maybe I shouldn't think that, but…"
"Why would he blame you?" asked Ron. "It's not like there was much choice."
Harry knew the answer to that. "He needs someone to blame. He might also blame Malfoy, even though he knows Malfoy did his best. But I was the one who put him in there. I more or less agreed to be the one he'd blame. Anyway, I just hope he didn't fall into this without thinking."
Ginny turned to dispute him, though more gently than she did Ron. "Harry, I don't need your protection either. My counterpart can make her own decisions."
"I wasn't trying to—"
"I know, you have my best interests at heart—"
"After that happened to me, my decision-making wasn't the best—"
"And if she wants to comfort him, what's wrong with that? She knows he has feelings for her. Do you think he's going to just use her and throw her away?"
Silence reigned. Finally, Luna walked over to Harry and took his hand. "I don't think you, or your counterpart, would do that. No matter what you'd been through. That's not who you are."
Hearing it from her affected him more than it would have from anyone else. "I suppose you're right," he conceded. "I was… just worried about Ginny."
Luna glanced at Ginny, then looked at Harry. "It's very kind of you. But I think she can take care of herself."
"Okay," said Harry, wanting to end the conversation. "Anyway, I'm still hoping to find out whether or not he passed."
Hermione's tone showed that she knew that he wouldn't want to hear what she had to say. "At some point, that stops being anything we have to do with. Under a month, to be exact. I understand why you want to know, but you might have to just let it go."
He nodded somberly as Luna put an arm around his waist and gave him a few quick pats. Yes, he thought, maybe I have to. But it's not easy.
* * * * *
Two weeks later, he used the better part of one of the last switches to say goodbye to the Aurors, giving a short speech and shaking hands with everyone. He would truly miss them, and it saddened him even more that they had died on the other side. They had been of great help, and he knew that he and the trainees would benefit greatly from their experience and advice.
A week after that, there were only three more switches before they became less than a second long, and the other Harry's isolation had continued. He talked only to Ron, Hermione, and Ginny, and had communicated nothing, nor had those he talked to. No doubt at his request, thought Harry. Ginny's counterpart had apologized to her for the Grimmauld Place bedroom incident, but Harry's had said nothing.
On the third-to-last switch, Harry said goodbye to Malfoy; he had already done Remus and the other-side Weasleys. The second-to-last would only be thirty seconds, hardly enough to do anything; he simply stayed in the bedroom at Grimmauld Place, not attempting to do anything. Three days later would come the last chance at any communication; it would be for six seconds, which would be enough to put a memory in the Pensieve. The switch after that would be for only one second, not long enough for any purpose at all. For the last two switches, Harry had sat in a tent with a Pensieve nearby, but no messages had been left.
As the last one approached, he sat in the tent again. To the others, he had behaved as usual, easing back into the island routine they would follow for the final two months of their stay. He didn't talk to anyone but Luna about his hope to hear from his counterpart, mainly because while he felt it strongly, he didn't feel good about it. It felt unimportant and selfish. Was it because he was truly concerned about his other self, or because he wanted some kind of forgiveness, much as Kingsley had? He wasn't sure. Luna said that even if it was the latter, it was a natural feeling, and there was nothing wrong with it. He should simply try to understand if his counterpart had nothing to say.
He sat at the desk and counted down, looking at his watch. Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one…
He was in the briefing room at the Park; it appeared that every Auror was there, and he was facing them. Greatly surprised, he glanced around. They broke into brief applause, stopping after a few seconds, clearly knowing time was short. Harry smiled, said 'thank you', and was back in the tent. He looked into the Pensieve: nothing was there.
Sighing, he stood. Well, at least that told me a few things. He passed the test, which I had thought; it explains why he was so withdrawn. He's getting back into public life, since he's meeting the Aurors, which he hadn't done before. I guess this means that he's probably still recovering, but in the end he's going to be all right. He walked out of the tent with at least that much to hold onto.
He was approached by Ron and Hermione. To his surprise, Hermione held a glass cylinder in her right hand, and gestured him back into the tent. "My counterpart must have conjured this and put the memory in it," she explained as she placed it into the Pensieve.
"Pretty fast work in six seconds," said an impressed Harry; he silently called Luna, and she was there in less than a minute. The four placed their hands inside the Pensieve.
In the memory, the other Hermione spoke. "Hello, Harry. I know you wanted to hear from the other one. There was nothing he wanted to say, but he didn't object to my doing this.
"As I'm sure you know, he's been in a bad way since the Leader test, much as Hermione's told me you were after you took it. Ron and I have been doing what we can, and of course Ginny's been a great help. More than anyone else, she's responsible for him starting to come out of a very difficult time. They're a couple now, and they seem very committed to each other. We really think they'll have a good future together. As, of course, I hope you and Luna do on your side. I think both Ginny and Luna are good for you, just in different ways.
"Of course, he's not happy with you, which I'm sure you knew. It's not so much for the Auror Leader test itself, since that seemed to be the only way to get the Horcrux out. It's more for your going public as Auror Leader, which he says he would have violently protested if he could have been asked. Personally, to be honest, I'm not so sure that's true. I don't think he was lying, of course, but that if the situation had been explained to him in great detail, including the lives that were saved by you doing what you did, he probably would have changed his mind. I think he's just resentful of the fact that his life went careening out of his control, which is understandable.
"He could have just refused to act as Auror Leader, and at first, that's what he insisted he would do. Over the past two months, he's slowly come around on that. Only two weeks ago did he start to watch the memories you left for him, and I think that seeing what you did, what he could do, started to change his mind. He's meeting the Aurors today; he says he's just going to tell them that he's still not sure what he'll do in the future, and he needs more time to work it out. I think he will end up doing it; it just has to be on his terms. When he's ready. So, don't worry about his future. He has Ginny, and he has us to help him. He'll be all right.
"As for me, there's one more thing. I watched all the memories you left for him, and they were very interesting. You and the others did a great job on this side, for this society, and you should be proud. I'm sorry that you and the others had to suffer so much the day that Voldemort was defeated. I know that you understand why we did it, but still, I wanted to say that. Oh, and I heard today that for that, they're going to give Merlin Firsts to Harry and Malfoy for their roles in Voldemort's defeat. Harry's not happy about it, since he didn't do it, but the ceremony won't be for another three months, and I think we'll be able to talk him into it by then.
"Anyway… it's been an interesting year, and it was fascinating to see what would have happened if things had gone another way, like they did with you. I think that Harry will become as good an Auror Leader as you, because in fact, he is you. Good luck, and my love to you and everyone there. Goodbye."
Harry and his friends removed their hands from the Pensieve and looked at each other. "That was very nice of her," observed Luna.
"Yes, it was," agreed Harry, who looked at his Hermione with gratitude, even though she herself hadn't sent the message. It was enough, he felt, for him to be able to look back on that part of his life without a lot of regret. He now realized that this was what had been plaguing him for the past few weeks, why he'd been unable to shake it from his mind. He'd needed… what was the Muggle word? Ah, yes, he thought, closure. Now I have that, or at least, enough. Time to think about the future. In two days, Luna has an appointment to keep, in England…
* * * * *
Three days later, Harry pointed his wand at the door in the public wizarding space, and said the number he'd been told, 373. After a wait of a few seconds, an attractive, short-haired woman of middle age answered the door.
"Can I help—" Her face lit up as she recognized them. "Oh, you're Harry! Harry and Luna. Please, come in." She reached for Harry's hand and gently pulled him through the door, then Luna.
A tall, friendly man entered the living room they were suddenly in. "I'm George Foster," he said, extending his hand and offering a smile.
Harry shook it. "Harry Potter, and this is Luna Lovegood."
"Very pleased to meet you. We've heard a lot about you—"
A small girl came running into the room. "Hi!" she said happily and loudly.
Harry couldn't help but grin. "Hi," he said. "I'm Harry Potter."
"Yes, you are," agreed the girl; Harry raised his eyebrows slightly at the odd reply. "And you're Luna," added the girl. "George said we're alike."
Luna knelt to be at eye level with the girl. "I'd like to think so. It's really nice to meet you, Angel."
Angel looked at Luna for a few seconds in silence. Finally she spoke, her tone earnest. "It's not your fault."
Luna gasped slightly, and tears welled up instantly. She reached out to hug the girl. "I know," she said, as a few tears escaped. "But sometimes what you know is different from what you feel. Thank you."
Harry felt a tear or two rising just from witnessing the scene. "She's amazing."
"Yes, she is," agreed Foster. He gestured them into the living room, and they sat. "You just got here from England?"
Harry nodded. "We had to go for a day or so, for Luna to say goodbye to her father. I assume George told you about that. To be honest, except to thank you for all your help—especially with George, but the other things as well—I'm not sure why we're here. George just insisted that we come, but wouldn't say any more."
Foster smiled. "As you know, he paid us an afternoon visit a week ago, and he asked a favor of us that we're only too happy to oblige, if you're up for it. He said you've had a rough go of it for the past while—I assume that has to do with whatever Angel is referring to—and you could use a rest. What he, and we, would like is for you to stay here for a week, and just relax. Eat home-cooked meals, stay in or see the sights as you choose, but most importantly, for a week, forget about being Auror Leader. Everyone needs a break once in a while."
Harry exchanged a look with Luna. He wondered why George hadn't just suggested it to him, but he realized that George probably feared that Harry would just say no without thinking about it much. In the actual situation, it felt different.
"That sounds like exactly what we need," agreed Harry. "Thank you very much, it's very nice of you. That George is a clever fellow."
Foster nodded. "I'm sure he would agree with you."
They both laughed. "Yes, he would," agreed Harry. He put his arm around Luna as Foster started to show them around the house. He knew without a doubt that it would be a very pleasant week.
"So, Potter, you wanted to see me?"
It was October 8, 1998, an ordinary day to most people in the wizarding world. To Harry and a dozen and a half others, it was an exceptional one: their first full day back after spending a year on a South Pacific island. Or, rather, after spending much—though not nearly all—of their time on that island.
It felt strange to be back, and it felt even stranger to be unremarked upon returning from such an unusual adventure. As Harry walked around Diagon Alley in the morning, he was greeted in a friendly and casual way by those he often saw when making the rounds. Just another day.
The others had strict instructions not to tell a single person what had happened without his permission. As Auror Leader, however, he was at liberty to decide what to say to whom. One of the first things he'd done that morning was to send an owl to Draco Malfoy, asking to meet him near the main fireplace in Diagon Alley at 10:00 a.m., or owl back to propose another time and place. At ten on the nose, Malfoy walked through the fireplace.
"Yeah, Malfoy," he responded. "Thanks for coming. Have you got a free half hour or so?"
Malfoy sized Harry up. "Depends."
"I want to tell you a story."
Malfoy's eyes lit up. "A story? Oh, boy, a story! Do the prince and princess live happily ever after? Does the good wizard win?"
In spite of having been mocked, Harry couldn't help but chuckle. "You should have been an actor, Malfoy. You're not bad."
"Don't say that last part too loudly," Malfoy stage-whispered. "In fact, I shouldn't be seen with you in such a public place."
"Then let's go. Can I have your permission to Apparate you there?"
Malfoy raised an eyebrow. "Where are we going?"
"To the land of milk and honey, where dreams come true—"
"Stuff it, Potter. It's a reasonable question."
"Yes, it is, but it's also true that I want to tell you a story. And obviously you don't know the place we're going, since I have to Apparate you there. Okay?"
Malfoy feigned displeasure, but gestured his consent. "They'll probably find my body in a shallow grave."
Harry answered as he touched Malfoy's shoulder, preparing to Apparate them away. "Don't worry, Malfoy, I'll make it plenty deep."
"Ha ha ha." They Apparated to Grimmauld Place, standing on the sidewalk.
"Well, I was just going with your joke," responded Harry. He reached into his robe and took out a small piece of paper.
"Wow, it's really a short story," cracked Malfoy.
"You could say it's the prologue."
Malfoy opened the note and read: Twelve Grimmauld Place is the home of Harry Potter. Eyes wide, he looked at Harry. "What's this for?"
Harry shrugged. "I didn't want to invite myself over, and it's better to do it here."
Malfoy nodded. "Easier to clean up the blood."
Harry was beginning to get annoyed. "You don't have to come in if you—"
"All right, Potter. Your sense of humor has limits, I see." They started towards the door.
"Sorry. The bit about blood hit a bit of a nerve, which you'll see in the story."
"I thought you were talking about that spell you hit me with, in sixth year."
"Just so you know, I didn't know what that spell would do."
Malfoy glanced over in mild disbelief. "I'd say that using a violent spell like that is only marginally worse that using a spell whose effects you don't know."
Realizing that Malfoy was right, Harry nodded. "Not going to argue."
"Very wise." Harry glanced over, and could see that Malfoy was now genuinely curious as to what was up. "So, this story has violence."
As he opened the door, Harry nodded. "Violence, suspense, and most of all, character development. Maria!"
The house-elf popped in from wherever she had been as Harry and Malfoy stepped inside. "M—Harry! It is good to see Harry again."
Malfoy turned to Harry. "Why are you M—Harry?"
"I asked her not to call me 'Master Harry'."
"Yes, because that would really be degrading for you," deadpanned Malfoy.
"Anyway, I wanted to introduce you. This is Maria, my new house-elf. She replaced Kreacher. Maria, this is Draco Malfoy."
She bowed. "Is an honor to meet Harry's friend. Can Maria get Harry anything?"
Harry glanced at Malfoy and shrugged. "Just two glasses of ice water, please." Grateful to have been given a task, she bounded off to fulfill it.
Malfoy gave Harry a 'you're weird' look. "I don't suppose there'd be any point in telling you that you don't introduce people to house-elves."
"No, there wouldn't. Because I am Harry Potter, he who has peculiar ideas about house-elves."
"Well, as long as you're aware—what the hell?!"
On the living room coffee table, there sat the Pensieve, along with a wooden rack that could hold fifty large glass cylinders; forty cylinders were resting in their slots, brimming with memories. Harry tried not to smile at Malfoy's astonishment.
"It isn't a short story."
"How long is that going to take?"
"I'm not sure, but I think there's about an hour's worth in each one."
"What is it, your life's story? I already know more about that than I need to, Potter, it's all in the Prophet. What do you know that could take this long?"
"Well, that would ruin the surprise. Trust me, it'll be worth it."
"And how do you plan to—ah, the artifact." Harry had taken out of his pocket the artifact Malfoy had given him, that could stop time in a small space around the user.
They sat down. "Okay, I want to make sure we have the same understanding about this. Is everything we communicate assumed to be confidential unless otherwise stated, or does it need to be specified that any particular thing is confidential?"
Malfoy placed his hand over his heart. "I promise to keep your secrets confidential with the same zealousness and competence with which you have kept mine."
Harry rolled his eyes at the reference to his recent—to Malfoy, anyway—mistake in giving too much information about him to the Auror trainees. "I was hoping you could do a little better than that."
Malfoy grinned. "Now you know how I feel."
"Got it. But, seriously."
"General understanding. Everything's confidential."
Malfoy turned on the device, which made time pass for the user at the rate of about one hour per second. Harry saw Malfoy take one cylinder, put it in, then almost immediately take it out, take another one, and do the same. In less than a minute, Malfoy had finished watching. Two glasses of ice water sat on the table.
Harry regarded Malfoy, who looked impressed. "Pretty interesting, huh?"
Malfoy leaned back on the sofa, and to Harry's surprise, spoke thoughtfully, dropping the tone of verbal sparring. "It is, actually. It's weird, to see how your life would have gone if this one thing had been different."
"Well, it's a pretty important one thing."
"Yeah, of course. Definitely one of the most important decisions of my life. One good thing about the Pensieve: if you'd just told me this story instead of showing it to me—"
"You wouldn't have believed it."
"Absolutely. Even if I was sure you weren't deliberately lying, I just couldn't have gotten myself to believe that I could do anything like that. Come up with a plan to beat the Dark Lord, sure. I could imagine that. But to risk my life, right in front of the Dark Lord, to protect Luna…" He shrugged. "Couldn't imagine it. But now I know what you meant about character development. It seems like I got into the whole thing a little bit at a time. I guess changes like that can happen in small steps, over time."
Harry nodded. "And what was interesting was that once the decision not to kill Dumbledore had been made, joining up with us was in your self-interest: we were the best bet for you not to get killed. At the beginning, I don't think you could have taken the kind of risk you did later. It slowly changed from self-interest to something more."
"Yeah. But keep in mind, Potter, the guy in those memories isn't me. Don't expect me to be like him."
"Obviously, I know that. But the thing is, it kind of is you. At least, it's a potential you."
"If things had gone a certain way," clarified Malfoy. "Yeah, obviously, it's a potential me. I mean, we all probably have a lot of potential selves, that could have gone various ways based on circumstances. What if you'd been born to my parents? What if I'd been the Boy Who Lived? Probably we wouldn't be the same people we are now. You could spend hours on this, and I'm sure some philosophers do. Seems like a waste of time to me, personally. We are who we are. Or, at least, it's a waste of time if you don't have a way to find out what would have been, like I just did. Anyway, what I meant before was that I wouldn't have imagined that even a potential Draco Malfoy could have acted in a self-sacrificing way."
Harry decided to go back to humor for a second. "At least now, you can't make fun of me for being self-sacrificing."
Malfoy immediately shook his head. "He can't. I can."
Of course, thought Harry with amusement. "I stand corrected."
Malfoy was back to being thoughtful. "But, you know… watching that, it seems to me that being self-sacrificing may not be that far from acting on self-interest, in a way. I mean, why did the other me protect Luna, and why did you walk into the forest? Same reason: we couldn't live with ourselves if we didn't. In the end, not that it wasn't for them at all, but in big part, it was for us."
"But then every action, no matter how generous or self-sacrificing, can be seen as self-interest, because it makes us feel good to be so generous."
Malfoy nodded. "You're catching on."
"That's kind of a depressing way of looking at it."
Malfoy chuckled. "Sorry to burst your bubble, Potter. But if you want to, you can look at it this way: Some people, like you, are wired to consider generosity and self-sacrifice to be good, to be valuable. So, it's in your self-interest to do it. Some, like me, aren't. So if you want to feel good about yourself, you can be happy that you're the kind of person who sees generosity and self-sacrifice as in your self-interest, whereas others don't."
"But then it just seems like I'm trying to make myself feel better, which is selfish as well."
"And, boy, that would be bad," said Malfoy mockingly. "Humans are selfish, Potter! We have to be, we wouldn't have evolved if we weren't. That's one of the things I've never liked about 'generous and self-sacrificing' types, they want to deny that, they want to think they're better than that. They're not; they just get their satisfaction in a different way, and pat themselves on the back. At least you I can tolerate because you don't pat yourself on the back; you suffer like everyone else."
"I'd never thought about stuff like this much," admitted Harry. "Kind of too philosophical, too… I don't know, abstract."
"Me neither, of course," agreed Malfoy. "Like I said, waste of time. Only seeing something like this makes you think of it. And that reminds me, I was surprised by me, but even more by my father. It was like he just changed completely. I guess Azkaban was nastier than I thought."
"Yeah. It's like… when we had that talk, you said, sometimes pride is the only thing you have left. I think Azkaban took away your father's pride. Once that was gone, he had no more desire for power. He had no… cause, if you want to put it that way. I think after he got out of Azkaban, his new cause was protecting you, and the way to do that was to join us."
"Well, yeah, but I really do think it was more than that," said Malfoy. "There was some… very basic change, I think. It was as though there was some part of him that could be 'good' in a noble sort of way, and it had a chance to come out."
"That makes sense," agreed Harry. "And that reminds me. I'd like you to send an owl to your father. I'd like to meet with him."
Harry saw Malfoy's manner shift from being casual and philosophical to practical and calculating. "Why?"
"To discuss the question of his returning to society."
Malfoy didn't try to hide his surprise. "This is okay with Weasley's sister?"
"Now that I'm Auror Leader, that can't be a consideration. I'm going to do what I think is best for society."
Malfoy smirked. "Also, now that you're not her boyfriend…"
"I'd do the same thing." A beat. "But I admit that makes it easier."
"And why is my father coming back best for society?"
"I don't know at this point whether it is or not. But that experience opened my eyes to the possibility that it could be. I don't know how much of his pride your father lost in the past year. After the first go-around with Voldemort eighteen years ago, he was allowed to come back into society a little too easily, and he must have decided that he could game the system. In other words, he got away with it. As Auror Leader, I'm in a position to decide the terms on which he comes back."
Malfoy eyed Harry carefully. "And what terms would those be?"
"That'll depend on how my talk with him goes. But it would almost certainly involve a public confession of everything he's done that harmed society. I'd meet with him, think about it, then come back with my terms. He'd be free to accept it, in which case he comes back, or reject it, in which case he stays on the run, subject to capture and imprisonment."
"And if he confessed, he wouldn't spend any time in prison?"
"I'm not prepared to say that definitely, but probably not. There'd probably be some other form of restitution to society. Some sort of community service, and/or financial restitution to those he harmed, their families. Like that."
"Just so you know, the Dark Lord commandeered a fair portion of our family wealth for his own purposes," said Malfoy. Harry could see in Malfoy's eyes his unhappiness at that fact, and he realized that Malfoy also saw the money as partly his own, as it would eventually be his inheritance.
Harry nodded. "That would be negotiable. It's not like I want to clean him out. Just to get something as close to justice as I can. Of course, as we know this conversation is private, but you can feel free to tell him that I can detect lies. If he's interested in coming back, he has to be honest with me."
"Very thoughtful of you," said Malfoy, with mild sarcasm. "You want to save him the trouble of coming up with a bunch of lies which, after finding out you can see through them, he won't be able to use."
"Basically," said Harry. "In general, it's better if he knows beforehand what he'd be getting into."
"Well, that's fair," agreed Malfoy. "I'll send him an owl later today, and let you know. Now, terms of the meeting: nothing he says will be used against him, and you promise he won't be taken into custody if you don't like how the meeting goes?"
Harry nodded. "I mean, he can't just up and confess things so I won't use it against him, but also, it's not so likely that it would come down to a legal proceeding. If he's answering a question, then yes, it wouldn't be used against him. As for the second thing, of course, he's free to leave after we're done. If he attacks or threatens me, obviously, all bets are off."
"Obviously," agreed Malfoy. "Okay, I'll let him know. Now, one other—"
"Oh, wait, before I forget… I'd also like you to introduce me to Mr. Blackstone. I found that I had a lot of respect for him, and I think his advice could be very helpful."
"Okay. Let's wait on that, see how it goes with my father first."
Harry couldn't help but grin. "Ah, now there's Malfoy being Malfoy. Trying for any advantage you can—"
"Hey, you have your own interests in mind in talking to him," pointed out Malfoy. "Why can't I look after mine?"
Harry shrugged. "I was asking as a courtesy. I could go find him myself."
"If I ask him not to talk to you, he won't," said Malfoy with just a shade of smugness.
"True. Well, that'll be up to you. All I can say is that it's not going to affect what happens with your father. And I'm surprised that you seem to think I'm not going to be fair with him. After all, most people would say he deserves—"
"Oh, don't get all self-righteous, Potter," cut in Malfoy disdainfully. "Like you said, I'm just being Malfoy, being a Slytherin. You want to deal with me, you have to get used to that."
"I wouldn't have you any other way," joked Harry. "Well, let me know when you're ready to introduce me. By the way, what's his first name?"
Malfoy's eyes narrowed with incredulity. "You spent all that time around him, and you never knew that?"
"I just always called him 'Mr. Blackstone', because you did," explained Harry. He regarded Malfoy expectantly.
Malfoy sighed lightly, as if mildly embarrassed. "His first name is Draco."
Harry tried not to smile. "Ah. Well, he is your godfather. Anyway, you were going to say something else?"
"Yes. I want to know why you showed me all this," he said, gesturing to the cylinders.
Harry shrugged. "I thought it would be interesting for you, since you were the… central figure, I guess, in what happened over there. The point of divergence between this dimension and that one was your decision about Dumbledore."
Malfoy appeared to have been trying to be patient in listening to Harry's explanation. "Yeah, but that's not what I meant. Let's try again. I'll put it this way: what was your self-interested reason?"
Taken slightly aback, Harry found he had to think. "I suppose… I think I could say that the other Malfoy and I got to be friends. I don't know if he'd want to say it like that, but he probably wouldn't disagree with it. I know you're not him, but I'd like to think it's possible. That's one thing.
"The other is that, as I'm sure you saw, I respected his—and therefore, your—judgment, strategic thinking, and understanding of power. I also saw that it's possible for you to realize you made a mistake, and learn from it—"
"Does this mean that I have to start asking Granger what she thinks of everything?" asked Malfoy sarcastically. "Because I'd really rather not."
Harry smiled. "That's up to you. Anyway, the point is that I'd like to be able to consult you on things from time to time. You look at things in a way I don't, and as your counterpart said to Hermione, I need to see things in that way. Your perspective would be valuable to me.
"There's a position—not exactly a formal one, but every Auror Leader has had one—that's called 'Devil's Advocate'. It's the person the Auror Leader tells most everything about what he does, and that person's job is to provide opposing views, question the Leader, make him explain himself. Point out things the Leader might be making mistakes on, not be afraid to tell the Leader things he may not want to hear. Right now, for me, that person is Kingsley. My thought is that, in a decade or two, it would be you."
Malfoy raised an eyebrow. "And this would be, what, you doing me a favor?"
A little surprised at the sharpness of Malfoy's retort, Harry shook his head. "No, but it occurs to even me that while the information would be confidential, things you learn would probably be helpful to you in whatever you were doing. I'd be surprised if that situation wouldn't be in your interest. But hey, far be it for me to tell you what your interests are. You'll decide that over the course of time. I was just answering your question."
Malfoy nodded. "Yeah, okay, that's fair enough. Anyway… it does sound interesting, and of course I can see where it would be good for you." Malfoy gave him a quick grin, which Harry returned. "We'll see how it goes," concluded Malfoy.
"Okay. And like I said, in the meantime, I might want to informally consult with you occasionally."
"Right. Okay, well, I should get going. Maybe I'll do what that other Malfoy did, get to work on my N.E.W.T.s."
Harry laughed. "I don't think you'll need them." They stood and, virtually in unison, extended their hands to each other and shook.
As they headed for the door, Malfoy said, "If I want to get in touch, I'll pop over, knock on the door. Leave a message with the elf."
Harry nodded. "That's good. Oh, by the way, one rule for anyone who comes to this house… you have to be polite to Maria. She's a respected household employee for whom I have affection. Please treat her as such."
Malfoy theatrically rolled his eyes. "Oh, of course, I would never think of doing anything else." He shook his head as he opened the door. "Just when I start thinking that you and I have a lot in common…"
"It's what makes life interesting," joked Harry.
Malfoy paused with the door open. "If you say so. Anyway…" A more serious look came to his face. "Thanks for showing me that. I appreciate it."
Harry nodded. "Sure. See you around."
"See you," agreed Malfoy. He left, and Harry closed the door behind him.
Harry walked over to the sofa and sat down, lost in thought. Life will certainly be interesting, he mused. Hard at times, but interesting. And I have a woman I love, good friends, and the respect of a lot of society. Life is pretty good.
He suddenly remembered the message that Fred and George had put up in his bedroom, what felt like a very long time ago: Today is the first day of the rest of your life. It felt truer than ever.