The Unforgiving Minute
Epilogue: The Watch Falls Still
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Cedric Diggory's eyes flew open as reality flooded back. He let out a gasp at the shadowy figure standing above him, before scuttling backwards.
What the hell was going on? The last thing he remembered was looking out over the strange graveyard the Triwizard Cup had deposited Harry and himself at.
The silhouette followed his movements, stepping into the bright moonlight. His insides turned to ice as the figure was thrown into sharp focus.
Cold green eyes stared impassively at him, framed by blood-matted fringes of black hair. His robes may have been resplendent at one point, but the fine black silk was now torn and shredded, long, deep cuts covering his body. A ragged hole lay between his neck and shoulder, bleeding profusely, displaying the cords of red tendon and muscle.
Was he an Inferi?
"Get up," the man rasped, his voice uncompromising.
Despite being in fear's grip, Cedric struggled to keep his voice level.
"Who…who are you?"
With frightening speed, the man leaned down and backhanded Cedric across the face, sending him crashing back to the ground. The sharp, metallic taste of blood filled his mouth.
"I don't have time for twenty fucking questions! Get up, now!"
At the growled order, Cedric jumped back to his feet, withdrawing his wand. The man made no effort to draw his own.
"Where's Harry?" Cedric demanded, sounding far braver than he felt.
With an almost casual flick of his hand, the figure pointed to a still form lying on the ground, fifteen feet away.
"Potter," he whispered, moving closer to the fallen Champion. He lay upon his back, the black Hogwarts robes pooling about him. The crimson and gold Gryffindor crest gleamed in the moonlight. His eyes were frozen, glassy.
"Did you kill him?" Cedric asked with his back turned to the man, his fingers tightening around the handle of his wand.
"No," the man answered, causing Cedric to turn. "He did."
Following the point of the man's finger, his eyes were led to a nightmarish shape upon the ground. Cedric let out a gasp as he saw a malevolent set of crimson eyes set into a chalk-white face, glaring at him. Below a flat, snake-like nose oozing blood, the creature was missing the lower half of it face, displaying a ragged hole leading into his throat.
Worst of all was the rudimentary gasps emitting from its throat, and the weak thrashes of its head.
"Voldemort," the man answered, shifting his gaze to the grotesque figure, before pointing to the hole in his shoulder. "He killed Harry, and his last curse is going to kill me."
Cedric winced at the casual usage of the name, his thoughts growing confused. Voldemort was dead, wasn't he? Harry had killed him as a child.
"Harry Potter never killed Voldemort," the man explained, as if reading Cedric's thoughts. "Though his body was destroyed, his spirit remained, waiting for the time when he could come back. I've tracked him for ten years, trying to prevent it."
"Is…is he immortal?"
The man nodded.
"As of right now, yes. He split away sections of his soul, encasing them within objects called Horcruxes. I've destroyed most of them, but one still remains. Until it is gone, the Dark Lord is immortal."
Cedric had no reply, his mind reeling from the information. The world had thought Voldemort dead, himself included. How was it even possible to split one's soul? The mere thought made his skin crawl.
The man broke his blazing, hate-filled gaze away from Voldemort, withdrawing a brass watch hanging from a thin chain hanging around his neck. His mouth formed into a frown at seeing the time.
"I only have five minutes before this curse kills me."
"You…you could go to St. Mungo's," Cedric offered.
"Voldemort is at his weakest rightnow," he replied, shaking his head. "With my little remaining time, I have to destroy the final Horcrux."
"Oh, well…what about him?" Cedric asked warily, glancing at Voldemort. You-Know-Who's legs and arms, including a gleaming silver hand attached to his left wrist, remained still. Only his snake-like head moved.
"You're going to kill him."
"What?" Cedric exclaimed, sputtering. "I don't-"
"Shut up," the man snapped, radiating cold anger. "You owe me your life, Diggory. If I didn't Stun you, they would have killed you. All they wanted was Harry."
Him, kill You-Know-Who? It was insanity!
"Listen! If you don't take care of Voldemort, my sacrifice, Harry's sacrifice, are all in vain. Voldemort may be immobilized right now, but he is crafty, and has many followers."
At his words, Cedric took a long, hard look around the graveyard. Dark robed figures, their faces covered by white masks, littered the grounds, slaughtered like cattle. How many more followers could You-Know-Who have left?
The man followed his gaze, shaking his head a single time.
"There are still more out there, who would answer Voldemort's call. Right now is the best chance we have to prevent the destruction of the Wizarding world, and save thousands of lives. You can afford to set aside your morals for a few minutes, Diggory."
As repulsive as You-Know-Who was, the idea of killing something was something he just couldn't accept. Him, a murderer? Never.
"I don't give a fuck. Hit him with a killing curse. Strangle him. Burn him alive. Crush him with a rock. It doesn't matter, just as long as you wait five minutes."
"Well, why not just do it now?"
"He escaped once after his body had been destroyed," the man pointed out, his eyes hard. "With one Horcrux remaining, what makes you think this time would be different?"
Queasy at the thought of having to attack You-Know-Who, he nodded his head a single time.
"Good," the man said, before raising his wand. A large stone rose from the ground, floating towards him. He grasped the stone in his left hand, the wand tip pointed at it.
Cedric's eyes widened as the stone flashed blue for a moment, before fading away. The casual display of such powerful magic was impressive.
Who was this guy?
His attention focused upon the Portkey, the mysterious wizard began to use his wand like a knife, carving figures into the side of the stone. It flashed again a single time, before the man held it out to him.
"This is a two-way Portkey. The key word is 'Activate'. Once Voldemort is dead, take both Harry and Wormtail's body back to Hogwarts."
"Uh, who's Wormtail? And why is he important?"
The thought of having to handle dead bodies was repulsive, but beneath the cold green stare, any thoughts of rebellion were crushed.
"Just fucking do it," the man snapped, his gaze intensifying. With an angry jab of his finger, he pointed to the nearby body of Death Eater, who lay facedown upon the ground, a silver knife protruding from his back.
Cedric swallowed heavily, before nodding.
"Good," the man replied, before stealing another look at his watch. "I need to be going. Don't fuck this up."
"Why?" Cedric blurted out, freezing the man just as he began to turn. "Who are you? Why go to all this trouble?"
"Voldemort took everything from me. I'm not going to let it happen to anyone else."
Before Cedric could say anything else, the man disappeared with a loud crack.
Alone, the Sixth-Year Hufflepuff took a moment to compose his mind. In the space of what only seemed like a few minutes, he had gone from the cusp of winning the Triwizard Cup, to being tasked with destroying You-Know-Who.
A burden he didn't think himself capable of handling.
He glanced at his watch, to see that it was three minutes to eleven. His attention to longer dominated by the intimidating wizard, he began to look at the surrounding carnage with a more critical eye. The bodies lining the graveyard grounds were far greater in number than he had originally anticipated. He saw figures bereft of heads, of limbs, torn apart, blasted to pieces.
How in Merlin's name had one single wizard done all of this?
Besides himself, the mysterious man and Harry, everyone else here tonight was a Death Eater. To be able to fight so many people at once…it was inconceivable, something you might read in a story. How had someone so powerful managed to stay hidden for so long?
With renewed vigor, the wind began to howl, shaking the trees. The breeze stirred the dark robes, making them flap. As it died down again, dead silence prevailed over the graveyard. In his mind, Cedric imagined the bodies rising as Inferi, coming back to life to avenge their master.
Nervously, he glanced at his watch again, to see that another minute had ticked by.
His heart heavy, he wandered over to where Harry lay, spread eagle. The expression upon the fellow Champion's face unnerved him in a way that was hard to describe. It was not pain he saw on Harry's face, nor fear.
It was betrayal.
The frozen face filled his thoughts, the implications shaking him to the core. Had the mysterious man had been lying about what really happened? If so, why? Surely he couldn't have killed Harry?
Or could he have?
"No," Cedric said aloud, shaking his head. It didn't make sense. The man was clearly dying, a wound either a Death Eater or You-Know-Who would have cast. There was no possible way the man would have wanted both Harry and You-Know-Who dead.
Throwing another nervous glance to his watch, he saw that five minutes had passed since the man had left. Dread weighing upon him, he walked over to You-Know-Who, trepidation filling each step, the hand grasping his wand shaking.
The Dark Lord began to thrash his head from side-to-side at his approach; all while spouting unintelligible gibberish from the wreckage of his mouth.
Even rendered harmless, being so close to You-Know-Who filled with terror. This evil bastard brought the entire nation to its knees. If the strange was telling the truth, up until a few minutes ago, he had even been immortal.
Cedric wracked his brain, trying to think of a curse to use on You-Know-Who, but his mind was blank.
"It's not like I went to bloody Durmstrang," he hissed.
The tip of his wand quivered as he leveled it at You-Know-Who's throat. Just one cutting curse, and it'd be all over. After the hundreds of deaths this bastard was responsible for, it shouldn't be difficult, or even a question.
The world would be a better place with You-Know-Who gone.
You-Know-Who's crimson, inhuman eyes widened with fear beneath his wand, the thrashing of his head becoming more violent, desperate.
"Come on, Cedric," he urged, trying to force out the spell caught on the edge of his tongue.
The blonde slumped with shame as he lowered his wand.
"I…I just can't do it."
His heart heavy, he trod over to Wormtail's body. He ignored the twisting of his stomach as he knelt down, taking a hold of the Death Eater's robes. The dead weight of the body was like dragging a ton of stone, but Cedric voiced no complaints as he dragged Wormtail across the damp grass, before depositing him next to Harry.
It may have been easier to drag his friend's small body, but the thought of dragging Harry across the ground was abhorrent. The Death Eater, however, deserved no such respect.
Both bodies in position, Cedric reached into his pocket, withdrawing the Portkey. He averting his gaze from the paralyzed form of You-Know-Who, wanting no further reminders of his failure.
Leaving was the last thing in the world he wanted to do, but he just didn't have it in him to kill.
Even if his was a case in which he wished he could.
"I'm so sorry, Harry."
Guilt flooding his conscience, he tightened his fist around the stone, before touching both of the bodies.
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Beneath the bright moon, the world beginning to fade from sight, the brass watch around Harry's throat clicked a final time at it struck midnight, before falling still.
As if a giant hook had speared him, the cold departed as he was pulled at high speeds. The velocity tore his weary, blood-gummed eyes open, indistinct colors and shapes flying around him.
As opposed to the wide void he had traveled through on his way to the past, bio-luminescent walls closed in around him, tapering inwards. He bounced off the walls as he was pulled, each impact sending him tumbling end over end.
His shoulder striking off the top of the tunnel, he bounced off the bottom, before being trapped by the narrowing passage, his body skidding against the edges. The coppery smell of blood and charred flesh struck his nose, heat flaring out around his body.
Dimly, Harry realized he was being sanded away.
Croaker had been right after all. The power source fueling the Big Combination wasn't sufficient to keep the wormhole open for the return trip.
Well, completely open, anyway.
The heat increased, encompassing his body in a halo of burning fire. His vision blacking out, his skin bubbling, a thunderclap echoed throughout the tunnel.
Above the circular dais deep within the heart of the Big Combination, a hole opened in the fabric of space. Harry was spat from its mouth, his body aflame. For a fraction of a second, he saw the crystals nestled within the gears and pipes flare with a white-hot light, the surrounding brass work melting as the liquid coolant evaporated.
At the speed of sound, Harry hit the floor. His flaming body hit the ground and exploded upon contact, spraying boiling blood and bits of burning flesh around the small room. The brass watch shattered, sending pieces of the Weasley family heirloom scattering in every direction.
With a flash like a million suns, the overtaxed charging crystals detonated, reducing Harry's body to ash as the blast tore through the cavern.
Three miles away, it rained fire.
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Piece-by-piece, the bright illumination of King's Cross faded to darkness.
The damp grass, wet with paint, was the first thing Harry felt upon his return to reality, clinging to the back of his robes. He opened his eyes, to see bright starlight shining above.
"Activate! Activate, you stupid bloody thing!"
The words rolled out across the graveyard, fading into the night sky. Fifteen feet away, Cedric Diggory stood. An object was clasped within his hand, which the teenager glared at with contempt. A stone of some sort, it appeared.
His body aching, he moved up to a sitting position. At the shifting of fabric, Cedric swung around, wand held out.
"Harry?" he gasped, fear and wonder in his voice.
"Cedric," he returned blearily, rising to his feet. The details had already begun to fade away, but the image of his mother and father, standing together by the platform's edge, would remain with him for the rest of his life.
"I…I thought you were dead," said Cedric with disbelief. "He said you got hit by a Killing Curse."
"A wizard, he never gave his name," Cedric explained, before launching into the story of what had happened to him upon awakening.
"So he had a giant hole between his shoulder and neck?" Harry asked, seeking confirmation. His future self had been through the wringer, but he didn't remember seeing a wound on his shoulder.
"It was growing bigger by the second. I'm surprised he was even still alive."
The pieces fell into place at once. It wasn't just he that had contained a Horcrux within him. His elder self possessed the same curse.
"Harry, I'm not sure what we're going to do," Cedric said, glancing around. "Not only does the Portkey he left us not work, but there's an invisible barrier around us. We can't get out."
"Of course," Harry said aloud, vitriol in his voice. With both versions of Harry Potter dead, that left only one person who could finish off Voldemort.
Cedric, who had never had to fight for his life, to whom the concept of death was faraway, not one that he had to face on an annual basis.
Who would need to be forced into killing.
"He wanted you to kill Voldemort," Harry explained. "My guess is he didn't think you'd do it, and thought he needed to force you. You said he scratched the runes into the stone after making the Portkey, right?"
"Yeah, he did," the blonde teenager admitted.
"Then that's it. The Portkey won't work until we kill Voldemort."
"This – this is insane, Harry. How are we supposed to kill him?"
"Any way we can," he answered, moving closer to Voldemort.
"Harry, listen to yourself: Are you really prepared to kill him?"
"You bloody bet I am," Harry said sharply, causing Cedric to flinch. "He killed my parents. What should I do? Let the Aurors handle it? Give him another chance to escape?"
"No! I…I just don't think I can do it," Cedric admitted, looking defeated.
For a moment, Harry wanted to curse the sniveling Sixth-Year. What the fuck did he have to worry about? Had Voldemort killed his parents? Had Voldemort tried to kill him multiple times since then?
That was it though, wasn't it?
The Sorting Hat had placed Cedric into Hufflepuff. Diggory had never fought for his life, had never edged the thin line between life and death. The world that Harry had known his entire life was one that was alien to him.
And maybe that had been the thing that his older self had forgotten. Murder had come to him as naturally as breathing, his every waking moment consumed with destroying Voldemort. Had the thought of someone not following through on the chance to kill Voldemort become inconceivable to him?
"We have to," Harry answered finally, gazing at the mute, broken form of Voldemort. "If we don't, there might never be another chance."
"What's gotten into you?"
To Harry, the answer was obvious. An older version of himself had journeyed back to this day, talking of global war, prepared to sacrifice not only himself, but his younger self.
An eye-opening set of circumstances, to say the least.
"If we don't act tonight, would you be able to live with yourself if he escaped? Would you want to talk to the parents of the next person he kills? To tell them, 'sorry, we could have stopped him, but decided not to'?"
Cedric remained silent, dropping his gaze to the ground. He didn't need to say anything. The truth was evident.
Satisfied, Harry turned his gaze back to the Dark Lord, deep in thought. How should they do it?
An idea forming in his mind, he turned to Cedric.
"You researched the Bubble-Head Charm specifically for the Second Task, right?
"It is possible to cast it on another person."
Cedric pondered the question for a moment, before nodding a single time.
"Okay, what would happened if something broke the field of the Bubble-Head Charm upon casting? Like a reed or a stick or something."
"It would just close around it. There have been cases of wizards hiding underwater for hours at a time, using a reed to bring in fresh air. Why?"
His decision made, Harry dropped down to one of his knees, bringing his wand down. Voldemort's crimson eyes blazed with hatred as the tip wavered in front of his face, but could do nothing to move away.
"Cast it around Voldemort," Harry ordered, holding his own wand steady.
With a shaking hand, Cedric did as ordered. A translucent fishbowl snapped into existence, enclosing Voldemort's snake-like head. The tip of Harry's wand poked through the clear surface.
For a moment, Harry did nothing but stare into Voldemort's crimson orbs. He savored every bit of fear, each unsaid plea.
"This is for my parents, you bastard!"
"Merlin!" Cedric exclaimed as clear water poured from his wand, filling the glass sphere. Voldemort choked and sputtered as the level rose, a red tinge tainting the water. With every bit of strength the Dark Lord struggled to keep his head above water, but despite his efforts, the water rose higher, before filling the sphere.
Bubbles swirled within the glass bowl as Voldemort screamed. In silence he pleaded for mercy, for respite, anything to delay his impending demise.
Harry rose up, crossing his arms over his chest. Piece-by-piece the burning intensity in his eyes faded, the rise and fall of his chest falling to stillness.
It had taken the sacrifice of countless lives, including, almost, his own, but they had finally done it.
Voldemort was dead.
"Harry,,," Cedric said weakly, as if he were doing to be sick. "I…I never could have done that."
"One hour ago, I couldn't have," Harry admitted. "But…things have changed."
An uncomfortable, awkward silence followed his declaration. Could it really be the end? Hundreds of people murdered, his soul split into seven pieces…and it all ends with Voldemort drowning.
Without warning, a bright flash exploded over the graveyard, before fading away.
"Harry! The Portkey heated up for a second! It's probably active."
Harry nodded in response. The possibility of escaping the graveyard was faraway, unimportant. What mattered was that all his doubt regarding Voldemort's demise had fled.
"Cancel the charm."
At his request, Cedric let his wand fall, canceling the bubble surrounding Voldemort's head. Freed from the glass confines, the water spilled onto the ground, soaking into the earth. Stray drops of moisture clung to the chalk-white face, pooling within the eye sockets.
"We…we still need to bring him with us," Harry said, breaking the silence. His gaze was focused upon the still form of Wormtail.
Cedric looked leery at the prospect.
"That…wizard said the same thing. What's so important about the body?"
"It's a long story. If you want, I'll tell you it you sometime."
Cedric nodded in acceptance, content in letting the answer come to him.
And yes, maybe he would really tell the Sixth-Year what really happened over a steaming mug of Butterbeer over at the Three Broomsticks. Not the whole truth, but enough.
Harry knelt down upon the ground, taking hold of Peter Pettigrew's wrist. The flesh was cool to the touch, death sapping the heat away.
"Definitely," agreed Cedric, withdrawing the stone from his robes. Harry reached out, placing his hand upon it.
There was still a long way to go. The inevitable questions from Ron and Hermione. Not to mention Dumbledore, Fudge, and another other official the Ministry could dredge up. Already the mere thought of trying to explain what happened tonight made his head ache.
Voldemort, Wormtail and Crouch's corpses would go a long way towards closing the book on Sirius Black, though.
But that was all later. Though a new dawn rapidly approached, one that would reshape Britain, it was still night, and he was heading back to Hogwarts.
And for now, that was enough.
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Well that's it, that's all I have. Hopefully the end wasn't too disappointing.
While there's no final resolution to the plight of the 'younger' Harry, all the plot points the story raised have been closed. I'm not too interested in what happens once Harry and Cedric arrive back at Hogwarts, since from the start this story was about a desperate journey to defeat Voldemort. Lingering too long would have ruined that premise.
Thanks to Grinning Lizard, mira mirth and Swimdraconian for not only their help with the epilogue, but their suggestions and insight through the evolution of the story. You guys are the best.
Thanks to Liron Aria for her fine beta work on this chapter.
Please let me know what you thought of not only the epilogue, but the story as a whole. I highly value feedback, and will respond to every signed review which I receive.
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