Harry stared in mild surprise at the headmaster's outstretched arm and the wand pointed at his chest. This must be death, he thought to himself. How odd, I had always thought I would be murdered by Voldemort. But in the end, I found love in the arms of the one I feared, and now I meet death at the hands of the mentor I loved. He felt no fear at the thought, merely wonder, followed by a stab of agony at the thought that he would never see Tom again.
But in the next instant, he realized that the voice that had spoken the deadly curse was not Dumbledore's; it came from somewhere behind him. He watched in bewilderment as the headmaster fell lifeless to the floor. Someone had killed Dumbledore?
Harry spun around. Severus Snape was looming in the doorway, black-clad and pale as always, his wand still in his hand.
For a brief, absurd moment Harry found himself thinking that Dumbledore had been wrong about Snape after all; the potions master had betrayed him in the end. But then Harry recalled that he lived in a strange new reality where light and shadow fell differently from before: Voldemort loved him, Snape wished to protect him, and Dumbledore had wanted him dead.
Snape acknowledged Harry with a brief nod, then stepped across the room and gazed down at the limp body of the headmaster of Hogwarts with a look of great interest.
"You know, Harry," he said softly, "when the headmaster came to me and asked me to kill him, as a part of his intricate master plan, I begged him to reconsider. I told him he was asking the impossible. He asked me to become his murderer! I pleaded with him; I asked him to find some other solution. I thought what he asked me to do was much too difficult, more than any human being could bear."
Snape's dark glance met Harry's, and his silky voice sank to a whisper. "But you know what, Harry? It wasn't difficult at all. I saw him point his wand at you, and I uttered the curse before he could. Just like that. Easiest thing I've ever done."
Harry looked down at the frail lifeless form on the floor. Dumbledore's wand was still clutched in his hand. A tear glittered in his snow white beard, but his blue eyes, frozen in death, had a curiously cold expression that made Harry shiver.
"Harry!" Tom's panicked voice sounded from the doorway. "Harry, are you all right? I had a sudden sense you were in danger, and I..." He paused and stared at Snape, who was standing next to Dumbledore's fragile, lifeless body. "Oh..."
"Mr. Potter is fine," said Snape smoothly and returned his wand rapidly to his pocket, "but the headmaster seems to have met with an unfortunate accident. He must have lost control over his wand. Such tragic mishaps are not uncommon among wizards of his age, I believe. Professor Dumbledore was getting quite advanced in years, and his once so brilliant mind may no longer have been quite what it used to be. Perhaps he was getting too old for magic."
Tom laughed. "Perhaps he was. Is this your doing, Severus?"
Snape looked at Tom and frowned. "Do we know each other? You are not a student at this school, are you? May I ask who you are and what you are doing here?"
"You do not recognize me, Severus?" said Tom quietly.
Snape looked puzzled as he scrutinized the handsome face of the boy before him. But suddenly, Harry saw a flicker of recognition in the potions master's eyes, and Snape grew even paler than usual.
"My - my Lord...?" Harry thought he could detect a note of panic in the potions master's faltering voice.
Tom smiled. "It's all right, Severus. I have changed somewhat."
With a sudden, fluid movement, Snape threw himself in front of Harry, shielding him from Tom. Harry felt dazed. What was this? Was Snape protecting him from Tom?
"Well, well, well." said Tom, a hint of laughter in his voice. "So that's where you true loyalties lie after all, Severus. After all these years, I learn the truth at last."
Snape's fear was palpable now, and Harry could sense that he was trying to reach for his wand. "It's all right, Professor," he said quietly. He stepped over to Tom and flung his arms around him. "Things are no longer what they used to be. The Dark Lord and I have come to an understanding."
Tom kissed Harry gently on the forehead. "Fortunately for you, Severus, it appears that you and I are on the same side after all."
Snape stared at them in rigid silence for a moment. Then his left eyebrow arched a quarter of an inch in something that could have been surprise, although it was never easy to tell with Snape. His glance fell on the box on the headmaster's desk. In silence, he reached in it and pulled out the silver locket, the glittering diadem, the delicate little cup, and the severed head of a serpent. He lined them up, wordlessly, on the desk and looked at them for a minute.
Then the potions master looked at Tom and Harry and smiled almost imperceptibly. "Well, well, well. Life is full of surprises, isn't it?"
Then he shrugged and left the room, whistling softly as he went. Then they heard his voice, more distant now: "Oh, there you are, Minerva. I am afraid the headmaster has just met with a most unfortunate accident..."
Dusk was beginning to fall as Tom and Harry walked together through the grounds of the ancient castle. The shadows of late afternoon had darkened to a translucent blue. The murmur of many voices drifted through an open window; Slughorn's party must be well underway by now. They heard laughter, fragments of meaningless conversation, and soft music. A voice sounded, suddenly clear, by the window: "Ron Weasley isn't here, is he? I thought he was supposed to come. I saw him this afternoon, and he seemed so different, all of a sudden. There was something about him I've never noticed before, something wild and dangerous." Someone giggled: "Romilda, I think you are in love...", and the first voice said, "Perhaps I am. How odd, I never thought about him as attractive before..." The rest of the conversation was drowned in music and voices. A string instrument began to play, and the melody that floated out into the twilight had a mournful otherworldliness to it that made Harry shiver.
A solitary figure walked towards them through the dusk, and Harry saw that it was Sirius. He looked more insubstantial now, as if he was about to fade, along with the remaining afternoon light, into the approaching darkness.
"Harry!" Sirius' voice was also becoming dim now, turning into a faint echo. "I am glad I found you; I wanted to say goodbye."
Harry reached out, startled, for his godfather. He folded Sirius in his arms, but even the embrace felt less that real. Sirius was there, but somehow it felt to Harry as if he were hugging a loved one in a dream that would only last for a moment longer.
"Are you leaving, Sirius?"
Sirius nodded, and Harry saw that he looked less haggard now, more peaceful. "It is time for me to move on."
A shadow of something that could have been either sorrow or a smile passed over Sirius' dark, handsome face as he whispered: "Ginny... has found her way back to the land of the living."
He glanced towards a garden pavilion some distance away, and Harry could make out two figures within, seated close together. Ginny and Neville?
"Goodbye, Harry. Look after yourself." Sirius's smile had some of its old warmth in it now. "And you... his new friend, whoever you are... look after him, too, will you?"
"I give you my word, Mr. Black," said Tom softly as Sirius slowly faded away to nothing.
They walked on, away from the party and the music. As they passed a cluster of trees, Harry saw a desolate figure sitting on a garden bench some distance away. It appeared that Slughorn had escaped from the merriment of his own party. The professor appeared lost in thought, and there was something forlorn about him that stirred Harry's heart.
"Tom," he whispered. "Before we go... I think you should say goodbye to Slughorn. Be kind to him."
Tom stared at him, his grey eyes dark in the gathering blue light of dusk. "You want me to speak to Slughorn? Why, Harry?"
Harry looked at his lover thoughtfully. "Because I feel pity for him," he said softly. "And because he loves you as much as I do."
"You feel pity for him... But he is just a vain, ridiculous old man." There was wonder in Tom's voice. Then Harry felt a soft kiss against his lips, and Tom whispered. "How astonishing you are, Harry. Where did you learn to feel so much compassion?"
Harry thought about it for a moment. He looked at the ground as he answered: "From Voldemort. From you. I saw what you became because you lacked compassion, and I decided that I did not want to be like you."
Tom was silent. Then he whispered: "I seem to have forgotten a great deal about being human. It's been so long. You will have to teach me, Harry."
Then Tom walked towards Slughorn in the distance. Harry watched, unseen, from the deepening shadows among the trees. He saw Slughorn stagger to his feet as Tom approached, his hand clutched to his chest as if he was on the verge of a heart attack. Then Slughorn and Tom spoke to each other for a few moments. Harry could not hear their voices, and he knew that he would never ask Tom what had passed between them. Slughorn and Tom shook hands as they parted, and the old professor sank back down on the bench. Tom began to walk away from him, but then he hesitated and turned back. He stood and looked at Slughorn in apparent irresolution for a moment, and then he leaned over and kissed him briefly on the lips. Then he turned away and walked toward Harry and the shadows, while Slughorn sat absolutely still, his hand to his lips, as if he wanted to touch the kiss that had been there a moment before.
"Come, Harry." Tom's voice sounded next to him now. "There is something I want to show you before we leave this enchanted castle for good. Hogwarts holds many secrets, perhaps more than we shall ever know, but there is one I would like to show you."
They wandered in silence through the labyrinthine gardens of the ancient castle. Tom took Harry's hand and led the way through creaky gates and hidden doorways, along soft mossy paths that Harry had never seen. Finally, they paused in front of a tall crumbling brick wall overgrown with ivy.
"Here," Tom said. "I found this place by accident when I was a student here, and it took my breath away. I had forgotten all about it until now, but walking with you at dusk made me remember. So many things have begun to come back to me lately..."
Tom reached out and touched the old bricks, and a doorway opened in the wall before them. They stepped through it, and Harry looked around in wonder. They were in a small garden, surrounded by brick walls on all sides, completely hidden from view. The garden was wild and overgrown, but did not appear neglected or forlorn; rather, it seemed to Harry that this must be what an enchanted garden looked like when allowed to flourish in secret, away from human eyes. He did not know much about gardens, apart from what he had learned by his hours of weeding the tidy, regimented flower beds at the Dursleys, but he had a vague sense that the multitudes of fragrant flowers in this garden should not be in bloom during the same season. There were purple hyacinths and yellow snapdragons, climbing roses in shades of pink and yellow and a darker crimson, blushing eglantine, delicate wisps of wisteria cascading from faded trellises, silvery dusty miller, and tiny blue forget-me-nots. Dark purple grapes gleamed on the vines that climbed the crumbling walls, and gnarled old apple trees were heavy with fruit.
Tom squeezed his hand and led him gently to the center of the garden. There was an old sundial there, half hidden in a wild cluster of lenten roses. Lenten roses in autumn? There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the seasons in this magical garden. Perhaps time itself was different in here. Harry brushed the flowers aside and tried to make out the almost illegible words on the face of the sundial in the fading light. He traced the letters with his fingers and read hesitantly: "Lux et umbra vicissem sed semper amor."
And Tom repeated the words softly in English: "Light and shadow by turns, but always love."