Harry Potter stood in the Great Hall—or where the Great Hall used to be. It was now blood, limbs, rubble, broken glass, and smashed wood.
The air was warm. There was no breeze. There was simply a heavy air that was not strong enough to be of any real discomfort. Harry stood, his left arm broken, robes torn, face bruised, blood all over his person, and glasses cracked in one lens. He looked around and saw dead bodies amongst the rubble. There was blood on almost every thing.
Blood, everywhere blood.
From where Harry stood, he couldn't tell the difference between the "pure blood" and the "mud blood" or anything else. It all looked the same to him. Harry's thoughts were disturbed by an alien noise behind him. He turned and limped desperately, waving his wand for a location spell.
Someone survived, oh please, let someone have survived. . .
Then, as Harry's orange beam turned red, he saw a bloodied arm trying to move the stone that was crushing it ten feet away. He flicked his wand and the wall instantly became nothing but dandelion puffs, blowing away in the small breeze that appeared from seemingly nowhere.
"Hermione!" Harry yelled, recognizing the muggle born witch.
Hermione opened her mouth, but no noise came from her. Her eyes were puffed, her left eyelid cut. She was burnt on one half of her body and cuts almost everywhere else. He realized her mouth had been cut across from the middle of the right cheek, to where her left ear began. Her legs looked shattered and Harry tried to turn her over to her unburned side, but he could feel the broken ribs. He hesitated for a moment, but put her on her side. She was already choking on her blood as it was.
"Uh'drs," she choked through the blood that was now flowing out of her mouth.
"UH'DERS!" Hermione's body convulsed. The lower half of her face was threatening to slide off any moment.
"The others?" Hermione nodded as much as she could, her eyes shining with a sickly desperation. "I don't know. You're the only one I've found." He looked in her eyes. She was trying to tell him to look for survivors, but he couldn't leave her like this. He held out his wand and conjured his patronus. He didn't need to verbalize the spell, over the last year he had learned to do non-verbal spells.
"Look for survivors, please find some," Harry pleaded, his parched throat hurting him as he spoke.
But the patronus found no more survivors. Harry looked up and saw the small moon, already visible though it was barely becoming twilight.
Poor Remus Lupin. His entire childhood raped by his lycanthropy, his only friends murdered, and his entire life caught by war. Harry often thought about him when he saw the moon. And today they were finally reunited after a year apart without any more contact than the occasional second hand message of reassurance of non-death. And Harry had seen him murdered tonight, by Bellatrix Lestrange herself. Another father killed for Harry. How many poor victims of this war were there? Harry's head hurt to think about it, as his heart did.
Harry turned his head and saw Neville Longbottom walking towards him. He was covered in dried blood. There were scorch marks on his neck, face, and arms. His robes were singed at the edges. He was limping and using the sword of Gryffindor as a cane to help him walk.
"We won! Harry, you did it! You killed that lunatic!" Neville's face was beaming at him through the new scars and cuts. "Oh, sweet Lord. Hermione!" Hermione was still holding on, but she was now as pale as snow. Harry had tried to help her as much as he could, but it wasn't much. He still couldn't stop the bleeding from her mouth. He had never been much of a healer. Neville however, was actually quite brilliant at it, and he managed to stop the bleeding, and even got some color back into Hermione's face. And finally, she slept. Harry placed her head on his lap, and Neville sat down beside him and the patronus after healing Harry's broken limbs.
"I sent my patronus out. It didn't find any other survivors," Harry said.
"I was in the Forest. Malfoy caught me in a powerful flame burst charm. I flew all the way there. That was just a few moments before the phoenix song," said Neville. "Which I prayed was the sound of you kicking Voldemort's arse, as they say."
"No, Lucious. I didn't even see Draco at all tonight."
"I heard he fled weeks ago. But rumors can't be trusted, of course."
"You really got him, Harry?"
". . .Yeah."
"So it's over?"
"I-I guess. Yeah, it's over." They let a beat fall. And then Neville asked the question they both were hit in the stomach by.
"Where do we go from here?"
Twilight came and Hermione died silently. Harry's heart broke, yet a part of him was glad that she died this way, with peace. He wanted her to have that.
They buried her. Harry transfigured two rocks into shovels, and they dug a manual grave for Hermione. Harry found two narrow strips of wood he hoped belonged to the Gryffindor table, and tied it into a crude cross with strips of his robes. Then he cast the spell over her grave that was custom for fallen Order members. They had created the spell, him and Hermione, sometime into their first year of hunting for Horcruxes. Hermione designed the charm: a silhouette of a phoenix diving then twisting upwards and bursting into fireworks that would last for hours. The fireworks were a celebration of that person's life. It was beautiful, and very much the opposite of the ugly Dark Mark. The charm was a difficult one to cast, but every Order member learned it. It was sad to see and hear of all the reports of miscellaneous fireworks in Britain, but also painfully joyful to know someone survived that person. Some Order member found that person and buried him or her, and that out there hundreds of others mourned and celebrated that hero's life. If at least for a few hours. Harry thought it ironic that the first of these charms he ever had to cast was for Ron, and the last one would be for Hermione. Harry and Neville watched the show above.
"My, are you two the only survivors?" Neville turned from the fireworks to see Nearly Headless Nick and the other Hogwarts ghosts.
"Yes," Neville replied.
"Even McGonagall?" asked the Fat Friar.
"She died first," Harry said. "She got four Death Eaters, though."
"What now?" Moaning Myrtle asked. "Hogwarts is destroyed. We have no home."
"Perhaps you should contact someone?" Nick asked.
"Who? The ministry was destroyed three days ago, Hogsmeade massacred just before they came here…and even Diagon Alley was attacked a week ago. There's no one." Harry said, never taking his eyes off the pure scarlet and gold lights show. The Bloody Baron and Sir Nick looked at each other and nodded.
"Harry, Neville," Sir Nick said gently, "There isn't—well, I mean to say, oh—Dumbledore left something in case this happened."
"Didn't he think I could defeat Voldemort?" asked Harry, his temper flaring. Neville stayed quiet, knowing Harry's temper to be far to fickle for anyone but Hermione to ease.
"It was his, um, emergency plan. In case things, well in case this happened. He had all the faith in the world in you, my good boy."
"What is it?" Neville asked, seeing Harry reign himself in.
"Well, fancy taking a trip back in time, lads?" The Fat Friar asked, his voice booming and his cannon of a stomach shaking (as much as a ghost could shake). Harry and Neville were far too exhausted to react. After a moment, Harry spoke.
"After this," Harry said simply, still watching the beautiful glory in the sky. Neville sat back down on the soft grass and admired Hermione's last. Indeed this one was for all the victims of this War, including the two watching them. The ghosts waited and watched with them, understanding what the fireworks meant. When it was over, the ghosts floated towards the broken heart of the castle.
And the two Boys Who Lived followed.
It was funny.
The sound and sight of morning was upon Harry and Neville: the birds chirping, the thestrals flying across the sky, the sunshine breaking through the darkness and lighting up the grounds. . .
It was funny that it was almost like nothing changed. The world was still turning when Harry was sure it would all cave in around him, or maybe he was hoping it would.
When they had reached their destination, the ghosts gave way to the Grey Lady with whom Harry had rarely interacted. The Bloody Baron stayed just ten feet away from her, with Sir Nick at his side. The other ghosts made a transparent circle around them. The two boys, enervated, and fatigued fell asleep and woke to the sound of morning chirping away like any other day.
"Where do you think we're at?" asked Neville, eating an apple. Neville always kept food in his pockets since the time he was stranded for a week without any food in the forests of Normandy. At any time any Order member was on a mission with him, Neville could always be counted upon to have food in any situation. "Here," he said, tossing Harry a Mars bar.
"Thanks," said Harry, ripping apart the wrapper. "I think we're where the Headmaster's office used to stand."
"What do you think the ghosts are doing?" Harry looked up from his now empty wrapper. The circle of ghosts reminded Harry of an eerie army of soldiers, waiting for the battle. Sir Nick and the Bloody Baron were circling the Grey Lady as she held an old book, about the size of Hogwarts, A History. Harry's chest constricted as he thought about Hermione. He would never hear about another book from her. He would never buy her another book for Christmas, or her birthday. She was dead.
"Is that ghost holding a book?" exclaimed Neville. Harry shook himself out of his gloom and realized the impossibility of this. They ran the twenty or thirty feet distance between them and the ghosts.
"Neville. Do you recognize that book?" Harry asked, just a few feet away from the three ghosts.
"It can't be."
"It is. I can't be mistaken. It's the Book of Ravenclaw."
"No! I destroyed that four years ago!" Neville yelled at the world.
"It is a copy," said the melancholy ghost woman. She looked at the two men. "My great, great, great aunt Rowena made a second book and our family kept it secret. Only Professor Dumbledore managed to find the secret, and the book."
"You're related to Rowena Ravenclaw?" asked Harry.
"No one knew. Most of the ghosts didn't know. Headmaster found out somehow. And when Lord Voldemort came back, Professor Dumbledore cast an ancient spell. He also cast a charm on me so that I would be able to help you, Harry."
"What are you saying?" said Harry. He felt a sharp pain in his stomach. Hope. But hope for what?
"Only the heirs of Founders can make any of the spells in this book work. And even then, only powerful magic of Herculean strength can be used. No one alive in the last hundred years or more save for Lord Voldemort had enough power to truly yield the spells here. Except that the key ingredient in so many of these is love."
"Love? How can you pour love into a potion? You can't dice it up, yeah?" said Neville.
"Sacrifice is the way to show love," she said, her sadness pouring heavily around her.
"Voldemort's followers were all about murder and taking what they wanted. No one willingly sacrificed anything for him out of simply love," said Harry. He remembered the way Fred Weasley sacrificed himself three years ago so that the Order would not be captured when a Death Eater raid fell upon the headquarters. He saved twelve lives that night, and the entire Order. Harry had many memories of many sacrifices he had seen over the years. Love was definitely not what Voldemort had in his corner.
"So what does this book have to do with us then?" asked Neville. "We aren't powerful like Voldemort."
"Headmaster Dumbledore had great strength and great magic," she said. "He was not an heir to any of the Houses, however. So he gave me part of his living magic, which weakened him. Perhaps he would have survived longer, or perhaps he would not have. He decided it did not matter as much as this did."
Of course. Dumbledore had sacrificed part of his magic and the stronger possibility of survival fro Harry. When did love stop giving? Harry rocked on his heels at the painfully beautiful gift he was receiving.
"Headmaster prepared a ritual seven years ago. He appointed me to be the guardian of the ritual, and the bearer. This means that only I am able to finish the ritual, and only out of my own free will. Since I am a ghost, no Unforgivable curse has any effect on me. So the ritual is always safe, you see. Harry Potter, if you choose so, I can manipulate the magic in you and reverse the effects of time."
'"What?" Neville asked.
"You can reverse time?" asked Harry.
"Yes. Until the night when Headmaster Dumbledore commenced with the ritual."
"Is it like a Time Turner? I'm supposed to go back because I already went back in the first place?"
"No. A Time Turner is merely a way of shifting physics. Imagine time to be a piece of fabric laid out, and a Turner merely is folding the fabric at one part and touching another part. This magic in contrast to a Turner rips a part of the fabric and magically causes a new piece of material to appear in the rip, thus changing the entire fabric into an entirely different one."
Harry's head hurt. He sat down on the grass and put his head between his knees to stop the world from spinning so fast. Beside him, Harry could hear Neville begin to hyperventilate. It was Neville's sign of excitement or nerves. Another souvenir he took home with him after the Normandy forest episode.
"Ha-Harry! Y-you could, I mean, y-you could go home!" He flopped down beside Harry and burst into laughter. "Home! Where do we go from here? We go back! Brilliant, isn't it?"
"I can't leave you alone to face all of this by yourself," said Harry.
"But didn't you hear, Harry? You're going to change the fabric of time! It won't matter that everyone is dead because when you go back this will all change! It will be better! Thank you, Dumbledore, you old coot!" Neville was now jumping with excitement.
"There is only one timeline, Harry. You will not be abandoning Neville to a lonely world. You will change his world so that he will not end up where he is now. There are no other dimensions, or alternate universes changing at every decision made. There is one, Harry," elaborated the Grey Lady.
"This sounds far too good to be true," said Harry. "How do I know you can be trusted? How do I know anything you say is true?" The Grey Lady smiled sadly at him. She reached into her chest and pulled out a silvery substance Harry recognized to be a memory. "What's that?"
"Albus Dumbledore's last gift to you."
Harry and Neville searched the rubble until they found a pensieve. Harry was praying he would find one here, and almost burst at the seams when Neville announced he found it.
They laid the pensieve in front of the Grey Lady who was now flanked on either side by Sir Nick and the Baron. She set the memory down and stepped back. Harry and Neville each dipped their fingers and fell through.
They found themselves in Professor Dumbledore's office. Harry recognized the models of stars and moons and planets, the shiny tools and old wizard that sat in a familiar chintz armchair. Neville noticed all the models and tools were broken and sprinkled across the room
"Why is everything broken?" Neville whispered to Harry, fully aware memory-Dumbledore could not hear them. Harry realized with some shame which night they came back to.
"I, uh, was having a rough night," Harry whispered back. Neville looked at him sideways with a raised eyebrow.
"Hello Harry," said the memory. Harry's heart swelled in his chest for the first time in he didn't know how long. He smiled at Dumbledore and sat on the lime green couch that Dumbledore had conjured in front of himself. Neville sat by his side. "In case there is someone else with you," Dumbledore elaborated on the length of the couch. "I figured that a memory might be the best way to do this. I owe you more than just a letter, Harry.
"You may have guessed that the time frame in this memory is near the end of your fifth year. It was only last night the Order fought the Death Eaters in the Ministry of Magic."
Another pause. Neville almost gasped, but thankfully stopped himself. It was a silent rule to never talk about that night in the Order.
"Again, I feel I must apologize. You, and the rest of your classmates, should not have had to experience that. No one should ever have to. After last night's events I stayed here, an old man dwelling on my thoughts when I received an owl from my old friend, Nicolas Flamel. You recognize the name, of-course? You, Miss Granger, and Mr. Weasley protected the stone from reaching Voldemort's hands. No easy feat for anyone, especially three first years."
Dumbledore smiled at Harry whose chest was tightening with every word. Hermione was dead. Ron had died, too. Even Dumbledore was dead. He figured that at least one of them would be with him to the very end.
"But, let us go back to the task at hand. Harry, I do not know the situation of how you have ended up here, but I know things must not have turned out as I had very deeply hoped. Either Voldemort has practically won the War, or you have believed you have killed him."
Harry scrunched his brows at the last part.
"I say 'believed' because, Harry, if the latter is the case, you have not finished the Horcrux hunt. I have left two memories; this is the second one. The ghosts know to bring you to the correct memory. Harry, if you were at the other memory, then you would have somehow died, but somehow come back from death. Death, for at least a full moment. Your heart, your lungs, your brain, your magic all stop for one moment. This is not the case, which means the last Horcrux has yet to be destroyed. Harry, you are the last Horcrux."
"No! We've destroyed six Horcruxes!" Harry spat.
"Yes, you have destroyed six Horcruxes, but Voldemort did not realize he made an seventh one the night he tried to kill you."
Harry was taken aback at the information, and the fact that Dumbledore knew him well enough to guess how he would react. Perhaps he hadn't changed as much as he thought in seven years.
"Let me explain things. The letter from my old friend Nicolas was the information I requested about Horcruxes. In the first three hundred years of his life, Nicolas had lived through a dark lord by the name of Horcruse Black. He is, what you might call, the father of Horcruxes. He discovered how to sever one's soul to preserve it. Nicolas Flamel was a friend of his until he became a dark lord and split his soul. Horcruse was defeated by two knights of the time: Christian Potter and Reginald Longbottom."
"I am really sick of genealogy," said Neville. Harry, despite himself, snorted. Neville had developed a very George Weasley sense of humor over the last few years. Of course spending two years with one person had some effects.
"I tell you this because Nicolas has helped me create something new to the magical world. Harry, I was able to create something of an anti-Horcrux if you will. I am able to multiply the love I posses using light magic instead of severing my soul using dark magic."
"Anti-Horcrux? That's, well that's—is that brilliant?" asked Neville.
"What is an anti-Horcrux?" asked Harry.
"If you are asking, Harry, what an anti-Horcrux is, well I shall try my best to explain. I apologize that I cannot answer any direct questions. All I can do is try my best to guess what you would ask, and what you need to know," continued Dumbledore. "An anti-Horcrux is, to put it in it's most simple form, a miracle—"
"Christ, Almighty," whispered Harry. "He's giving me a bloody miracle."
"—I have created seven anti-Horcruxes, Harry—"
"No. He's giving you seven—" said Neville.
"—Now let me explain them to you."
"—Though hopefully they won't be bloody. That's what we're avoiding, mate."
"An anti-Horcrux is created from a piece of love, and it evolves into its very own piece of magic. This magic, since it stems from the most powerful of pure magic, love, is strong, to say the least. It can give you a miraculous outcome that no other charm, spell, or ritual could do, or perhaps it will give just a bit of luck. I cannot confirm either of these, Harry."
"Well, where would the adventure in that be?" Harry said, almost sarcastically.
"Like a Horcrux, I will have to place the anti-Horcrux into objects. Only you will be able to unlock these miracles. I do not know how, but I feel strongly that you will be able to use them to your advantage.
"Harry, I wish it weren't so that this would all fall on you. I have no idea where you are right now, what you've seen, or how old you are. I do not know how long I was able to help you, but I pray this time I shall not fail you." Dumbledore let a few tears fall from his blue eyes. Though he had been dead six or seven years now, it was still a shock to see such a strong wizard show vulnerability. It mae Harry feel suddenly very human, and as if he were that young boy of fifteen again. Then, Harry Potter, leader of the Order of the Phoenix, Chosen One, Heir of the House of Gryffindor, a man of war who has not cried in three years, who has seen friends and family killed right in front of his eyes, has taken lives himself began to feel tears creep into his tired eyes.
"I will try to place these Anti-Horcruxes into objects that you will stumble upon. When you go back in time, Harry, I believe you will not be able to control these miracles. It will be what it is, a miracle you will have to take, and cannot return in exchange for another."
"But how am I traveling back in time?" asked Harry, wiping his face with his torn sleeve.
"Perhaps now is the time to talk you through the ritual I have performed that will enable you to change time. First I transferred part of my magic into the Grey Lady so that I would be able to use her. She was an heir, and with my magic infused with her ghostly magic, we were able to create a flux in the timeline. It's merely a hold until, if ever, the Grey Lady actually rips the timeline. When you leave this memory, she will finish the ritual. Fawkes shall be waiting for you. She will set Fawkes on fire with a charm, and you will need to burn with Fawkes."
"He's going to set you on fire?" asked Neville, horrified.
"You will not feel any pain, Harry, as long as you keep a hold on Fawkes. "And indeed, if anyone is with you, there is space in the rip for one to go with you.
"However, I should tell you this now, Harry you may not remember all your memories from this timeline. You will inhabit your 15 year-old body; with your memories until that point in your life. However, this is all we have now. It is your choice," said Dumbledore. A moment passed in silence.
"So what do you think?" asked Neville, waiting for the general to decide on the plan.
"I think we're going to go home now, Neville," said Harry with a smile.
"If you do retain full memories, Harry, I trust you will know what to do. Destroy the Horcruxes, and defeat Lord Voldemort. And the Horcrux inside you, well I am sure that somehow you will figure it out. I have hope, faith, and love invested in you." The memory shed a few trickles of tears, the sight of which caused Harry's throat to burn a little.
They left the memory, adrenaline pumping through their fatigued bodies. The sad ghost was waiting for them with Fawkes perched atop the ancient Book of Ravenclaw.
"Hope is a thing with feathers," said Harry, remembering Hermione's favorite poem as he looked at Fawkes.
"What will happen to you when we go back?" asked Neville to the Grey Lady as they stood in front of her.
"The magic infused with my ghostly existence will cease to be, though I will not know it."
"So you won't retain any memories from this time?" asked Harry.
"No. I wouldn't remember what hasn't come to pass."
"When can we start?" asked Neville.
"Wait, before we start," said Neville, turning to face Harry. "Let me just tell you Harry that it has been an honor to fight alongside you."
"I-I, thank you Neville. You, too," said Harry, flustered at his friend's words.
"I hope this time around I get a girlfriend," Neville said, turning to face the Grey Lady again. Harry laughed, his laughter ringing with a new sense of freedom and hope, as Fawkes flew overhead, and both he and Neville reached up and clung to a tail feather each. The phoenix cried out, and as the Grey Lady chanted unfamiliar words, Fawkes burst into flame and song.