Chapter 38

When Harry entered the Slytherin Common Room a short time later, he found Draco and several of the other fifth years sitting around one of the round tables working on homework. Harry knew he had several assignments from the last couple days that he hadn't put a lot of his attention on and figured it was better to get them done and over with now rather than put them off — especially since he was still hoping to slip off and join Marvolo on the island that Sunday for the first real charging session with the Death Eaters being primarily in charge of the process.

It was with that in mind that Harry went over and joined them, if for no other reason than to put himself near Draco and try to make it apparent that he didn't intend to just vanish from the boy's life.

They were all working on an assignment for Transfiguration and while Harry was in NEWT Transfiguration while they were in the OWL level of the class, Harry figured he'd pull out his own Transfiguration essay and work on it as well.

Draco was a bit quiet throughout the whole thing, though Pansy and Daphne were perfectly eager to take advantage of Harry being there to get some help on their own assignments. Greg and Vince didn't take the initiative to ask questions but were clearly listening intently as Harry explained things to the two girls. Zabini seemed to have a good handle on the subject, but still asked Harry his opinion on some things and by the time dinner rolled around, Harry had hardly touched his own essay while having spent most of his time helping the others on an assignment he wasn't even doing.

He opted to grab a quick bite from the dinner hall before making a beeline for the library and the hopes that some isolation would allow him to actually get something accomplished for himself.

He had just finished his Transfiguration essay, and moved onto a worksheet for Herbology when Hermione showed up about an hour later. She joined him at his table though aside from their initial greetings, the two worked independently and in near-silence for the next hour and a half.

Harry set his quill down as he finished yet another assignment, yawned, stretched his arms back and popped his neck. Hermione looked up and cringed slightly before smiling and shaking her head somewhat fondly.

"So how was the first week of your NEWTs year?" Hermione asked curiously, setting her own quill down.

"Hm? Oh — fine," Harry said with a shrug.

"Just fine?"

"Yup," Harry said, popping the P. Hermione rolled her eyes slightly.

"Oh hey — what did the Weasley Twins want the other day?"

"They're parents are in the Order of the Phoenix, and a lot of meetings have been held at their house this summer, so they did a bunch of eavesdropping and heard some things that they wondered if I could confirm."

"Huh?" Hermione said, clearly confused.

"Ah, yes… you don't actually know about… well, any of that, do you? Okay — History lesson time. Back in the 1960's a man named Tom Riddle headed up an organization called the Knights of Walpurgis. It was basically a political lobbyist group. Many of it's members were the children of people who held seats on the Wizengamot, and some of them had their own seats already as well, but their personal political influence wasn't yet great enough to exact all of the change that they wanted, so it took real effort to get anywhere. Tom Riddle was also in the process of slowly loosing his mind due to some unfortunate Dark Arts use in his youth, which didn't help matters.

"By the early 1970's, Tom Riddle snapped after some particularly frustrating political setbacks and he disbanded the Knights of Walpurgis in favor of forming a much less public, and much less legal group that you are more likely to recognize, The Death Eaters."

Hermione's eyes widened with a sense of dawning understanding, but she remained silent.

"By the mid-70's the Death Eaters were really ramping up their acts of occasional terror and destruction, and the Ministry was proving to be filled with inept and incompetent morons who were getting nothing accomplished and doing nothing to effectively protect the people. This bothered certain people who were really very frustrated with the Ministry and these people wanted to get together and try and fight the Death Eaters on their own.

"They were brought together under the guidance and organization of Albus Dumbledore. He called this group the Order of the Phoenix. The Order was a secret vigilante group whose purpose was to fight against the Death Eaters, and they continued to do this until 1982 when the last of the active Death Eaters were finally considered rounded up and things had died down enough that they felt comfortable disbanding. A few noteworthy members of the Order include Professor Lupin, Professor McGonagall, both of my parents, both of Neville Longbottom's parents, Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew, and the Weasley Twins's, twin uncles and semi-namesakes; Gideon and Fabian Prewett."

"Oh. Wow," Hermione said, both mildly surprised and mildly interested. "So… what does this have to do with…?" she trailed off.

"Gideon and Fabian Prewett, the brothers of Molly Weasley, were killed in a battle with Death Eaters," Harry pressed on and Hermione's face fell. "So to honor their death, when Dumbledore called the Order back together, Molly Weasley joined. She has also offered up her home for Dumbledore to hold meetings.

"Wait — why is this Order back together?" Hermione asked, clearly confused.

"Dumbledore is afraid I'm evil and will destroy the world," Harry said flippantly.

"What!?" Hermione exclaimed and Harry broke down into snickers.

Harry waved his hand to calm her down as he calmed his own laughing and then cleared his throat. "Okay, but seriously, the real reason is that Dumbledore is convinced that Voldemort is back and that he'll regather the Death Eaters and start the war up again."

"Why does he think that?

Harry shrugged. "Probably because he's right. Well — not about the starting the war back up part, but Voldemort is alive and… yeah, he has regathered some Death Eaters, but seriously, it's not nearly the big deal Dumbledore is afraid it is."

Hermione gaped at him, looking like she were waiting for the punchline.

"Is that a joke?"

Harry chuckled and shook his head. "Nope."

"Oh. So… the twins asked you… what about this Order thing?"

"About Voldemort being back, and about how the Order thinks I'm a Seer."

"They think you're a seer? What!? Why do they think you're a seer?"

"Because I told one of them I was a seer, specifically so that he'd go back to the Order and repeat it."

She continued to frown and gape at him with apparent bewildered confusion. "I — okay. Why?"

"Basically just to throw them off, but also to warn them about something without having to tell them how I really know about it."

"Is there any chance in hell that I'm going to get a straight answer in this string of questions, or are you just going to keep dancing around and being cryptic and then leave me hanging?" Hermione asked, clearly annoyed.

Harry laughed. A real laugh, and one that was loud enough that Madam Pince appeared from around the side of a book case halfway across the library and gave him a rather scolding glare. Harry managed to stifle his laughter down to a smothered chuckle and gave the old woman an apologetic look until she turned and went back to whatever she'd been doing.

"So?" Hermione asked with mildly frustrated expectation in her voice.

Harry gave her a soft smile and it was clearly an expression she found unusual enough that it caught her off guard, if her surprised reaction was anything to go by.

"I think I'd really like to tell you about me, Hermione," Harry said, still smiling at her.

She looked wary. "Oh-kay… what… does that mean, exactly?"

"I've always kept you at arm's length, and I do apologize for that. But it's kind of a defense mechanism I've relied on for a very long time. I think I'm finally at a point where I might be ready to actually let you in. Would you like that, Hermione? Do you think you'd honestly want to know the whole truth, even if you might not like it?"

She blinked at him, probably more stunned by this than any other thing he'd said so far that night. Finally a look of determination took over her face and she nodded firmly. "Yes. I'd very much like to know the truth."

Harry smiled at her, feeling nostalgic and so very fond of her all at once. Some small part of him even spared a moment to mourn the many iterations of this girl he had known and cared about in the past, and just how much it had hurt to lose each and every one of them. He squashed down on that though. It was fear of that pain that led him to building up such a strong wall between himself and everyone else. And Marvolo was right. If Harry really was going to make a go of this life being the life that counted, then he had to let people in. The more people he let in, the harder it would be to give up and run away. And he didn't want to run away anymore. He'd promised Marvolo, but he'd also promised himself. He wasn't just doing this for the other man, but for himself as well.

"It's quite late. Curfew is in only a half hour and I can guarantee it'll take longer than that to cover everything and all of the questions I know you'll have. How about we do this tomorrow?"

Hermione's face fell and the flush of frustration quickly colored it. Harry quickly held up a hand. "I'm not going to back out — I promise. Tomorrow's Saturday and we'll have plenty of time to talk. I won't be available on Sunday, so ideally we can get everything accomplished during that time, but if we don't, I promise I'll continue to answer questions even after that. Okay?"

Hermione sighed and nodded. "Okay, fine. So do you want to meet here? And when?"

"For when, how about right after breakfast?"

"Okay."

"Good. As for where, I'll meet you in the Great Hall and I'll show you where to go from there."

"Where are we going?" Hermione asked curiously.

"Somewhere private."

— —

"What are you doing?" Hermione asked as she watched Harry walking back and forth in front of a stretch of wall in a deserted corridor on the seventh floor. Harry turned and watched her face just as the door appeared on the previously blank wall, grinning as she expressed the proper level of surprise.

"Come on in," Harry said as he pulled the door open and gestured her inside before following.

The room that he had summoned was a simple and comfortable room that actually looked almost exactly like the Hufflepuff Common Room, except that any colored markings or house emblems were removed, leaving it in plain warm woods and creams. Harry had always felt that the Hufflepuff Common Room was especially good at feeling comfortable. He'd always had a special spot for the Gryffindor Common Room, of course, but he was actually finding himself growing fond of the Slytherin dungeon, even though he would certainly never describe it as warm or inviting.

But he did think it was calming and serene, and he found he actually did like that. The greenish blue hue coming in the windows from the lake water above, combined with the occasional distant shadows from the various lake creatures, mer-people, and rare glimpse of the giant squid, just added a sense of wonder and mystery to the whole thing.

So long as you got past the initial impression of 'creepy', it was actually quite nice.

For this meeting, however, he just wanted comfortable and neutral, so Hufflepuff it was.

Harry moved over and sat in one of the exceedingly squashy armchairs near the center of the room and waited as Hermione slowly made her way over as well, spending most of her time looking around the room with curiosity.

"Where are we? The sun is in the wrong place," she said motioning towards the one large window higher up in the pitched ceiling along one wall. The Hufflepuff common room was in the basement, and only a portion of the room was above ground level — and of course, it was on a different side of the school from where the Room of Requirement was. Just the same, Harry was impressed that she's made the observation that they clearly didn't seem to be where they ought to be.

"This is called the Room of Requirement. It can become just about anything that you require. You walk past that stretch of wall three times while repeating in your mind exactly what you need, and on the third pass a door will appear to what you needed. In this case, I asked for somewhere comfortable that we could talk. Specifically, I asked it to look like the Hufflepuff Common Room — just without all the badgers and stuff. So somewhere comfy and neutral."

"Oh…" Hermione said, taking that in and finally moving over to sit in the chair that faced Harry.

"Okay, so a lot of what I'm going to say is going to sound absurd, or impossible. A lot of it sort of demands an extreme suspension of disbelief, but I swear I'm not lying or making any of this up. I ask that you give me the benefit of the doubt before you decide if you believe it or not — okay?" Harry asked.

Hermione nodded. "Okay."

"Good. So I'll start with this —" Harry held his hand up showing Hermione the ring he was wearing on his index finger there. "This is called the Resurrection Stone and it was created by Death. Like, as in a literal physical manifestation and personification of Death as a walking talking skeleton in a black robe and carrying a giant scythe. I can say this with confidence because I have seen him and spoken with him, on several occasions now."

Hermione's eyes were quite wide, but she remained silent and hesitantly nodded her head for him to continue.

"Death creates objects in sets of threes and lets them fall into the hands of mortals from time to time for reasons I do not claim to know or understand. I only know that he's done it before with different items than these… in any case, the three items that are important to our story here are commonly referred to as the Deathly Hallows. One is this ring, one is an invisibility cloak — which I also own, and the third is an unbeatable wand which is presently owned by Albus Dumbledore.

"Whomever manages to find and be master over all three Hallows at one time is protected from Death's grasp during said time. So long as they are the Master of the three Hallows, they cannot die. And should events transpire that lead to their death being absolutely inevitable, Death will appear before that person and offer them a boon of their choosing. The initial obvious choice being to return to life, but there are other options that a person could chose instead.

"In my first life," Harry paused, emphasizing the words, and proceeding from there with a slow deliberate tone. "I became master of all three Hallows. I lived for over three hundred years. Then the world ended."

Hermione's face slackened and she seemed to hesitate for several moments before speaking. "Ended?"

"Armageddon. Ragnarok. End of Times. Something so terrible happened, that it ended all human life on Earth. But I wasn't powerful enough to stop it. I tried and failed. When Death approached me with my boon, asking to be brought back was apparently pointless as there was nothing left to go back to. As I have been told by Death, I then asked him if there were any way that I could go back in time and do it over, but with greater power. He proposed an option to me where in he would arrange it so that I would live my life in an almost endless loop. Every time I died, I would start over at the beginning, all over again. I would retain all of my memories, but even more importantly, I would retain my magical core; so with each additional life I would grow more and more powerful. When the time was right and I felt I had gained enough power, I would simply not die, and continue living on until once again reaching that end-of-times event, only now I would possess enough power to hopefully do something to prevent it. The biggest hitch was that I would only start to retain memories starting in the next life. My actual first life was not tied to the new loop, so he couldn't send me back, as I was, at that point — if he sent me back to the beginning at that point, it would be a fresh start, now tied in a loop, and that was where my memories would begin.

"I apparently decided the arrangement was worth it and that I would somehow work out the point of the whole arrangement eventually anyway. And… well, I did, it just took a much much longer time that I imagine I'd hoped or expected it to," Harry grimaced, looking mildly irritated for a moment before pressing on.

"What this actually boiled down to was that I lived what was in reality my second life without having any memory of the first life. I didn't know anything about the life where I lived three hundred years, reached the apocalypse, met Death, and arranged my looping life. I lived this second life, thinking it was my only life. I also did not become the master of the Hallows in my second attempt at life, so I died at a more reasonable-for-a-wizard age of one hundred and forty-nine. And immediately after dying, I regained awareness as a screaming infant, newly born and being handed over to my exhausted looking mother. It was confusing and insane. Excitement, bewilderment — the whole gambit of emotions. I had no idea what was going on. But it was what it was. I lived my life, again. That first redo I considered it as an opportunity to try and do things better. An opportunity to save more people and make better choices. I lived to be one hundred and thirty years old that second life before dying of natural causes. And just like before, I instantly woke up as a screaming infant."

"My god," Hermione whispered, a dawning understanding of horror appearing on her face. "This is mental. I can't hardly even imagine something like that. How… I mean… Seriously?"

"Seriously."

"You're not trying to mess with me?"

Harry chuckled and shook his head. "No, Hermione. I am not messing with you."

"So… so you're not really fifteen…" a sudden dawning understanding lit up her eyes. "Your exam results! This is why you skipped ahead so easily! You've taken them all before, haven't you!?"

Harry laughed now and nodded. "Yes, Hermione. I have taken all of these tests many times before. Every time I've lived through childhood, I've gone to Hogwarts, and the classwork and tests are almost always the exact same, every time I've done it."

"Merlin…" she whispered hoarsely. "And you didn't know why any of this was happening back then?"

"I had no idea. I spent much of my lives following that trying to figure out why I couldn't die. Just trying to understand why I was trapped in this endless loop where I was forced to relive my life over and over again. Trapped in this life where I remembered every life before it, but no one else remembered me; where I grew old and aged, and everyone I knew and cared about aged, but then when things reset, everyone was young again, and I still felt old. In my head — I was still old and wizened and cynical. But the world saw a child.

"I have lived my life many different ways. Different approaches — different houses. I've been a Gryffindor, I've been a Hufflepuff, a Ravenclaw, and a Slytherin. I kept trying different things, hoping that maybe if I did something different — something right — that I would finally be free of my curse. Never realizing that I'd asked for this."

"So… is this your forth time? I mean… fifth, I guess? If you've been in all four houses?" Hermione asked.

Harry laughed and shook his head. "Oh no. This is the twelfth. Thirteenth if you count that first one I can't remember."

Hermione's eyes went the size of galleons. "H-how old are you?" she squeaked.

"At present, I think I'm around six hundred and twelve."

Hermione made a rather startled sort of sound but no intelligible words came out.

Harry looked off into the distance of the room, his eyes unfocused on not looking at anything in particular. "I stopped letting people in a long time ago. It's hard, I'm sure you can imagine. And I've been living a series of short lives lately, where each one I would aim for a specific test or event or strategy, and once I thought I'd accomplished what I was aiming to test out, I would just kill myself and see if it had worked. If I knew that I might just throw in the towel and kill myself at any point, I didn't want to let myself start to care about people enough that their loss would hurt again. So I just kept most people distant."

Hermione nodded her head slowly as if this all suddenly made a lot of things make sense. "Did we know each other in any of your previous lives?" she asked.

Harry turned and smiled at her brightly and nodded. "Oh yes. Every one of them, to some extent. The early ones more so, as of course in the later lives I tried not to let myself get too close to anyone, and especially not people I really cared a lot about."

"You cared a lot about me?" she asked and her eyes shined with emotion.

Harry smiled softly and nodded. "You've been one of my best friends for six hundred years, Hermione Granger. And I'm sure you were probably a good friend, even in the first life I can't remember, too." Harry paused and chuckled. "I'm still amazed you managed to wedge your way into my life even this time around, with me being a Slytherin, and trying so damn hard to keep just about everyone out. I suppose I'm just destined to be friends with you, no matter how stubbornly I try to hide away from the world. You never were much one for letting me get away with being excessively anti-social."

"Oh…" Hermione said softly, her eyes shining and looking rather bowled over. She seemed to collect herself a moment later though, and she pressed forward. "What happened? What changed things? Why are you willing to tell me all this now?"

Harry chuckled and shrugged. "I finally found out the truth. I finally worked out what happened and why the hell I've been looping. I also know how to stop it, and now that I can stop it, I've found I'm suddenly in much less of a hurry to actually do it. Sort of amazing, really — can't die, and all I want is to end it all. Finally can die, and now it's the last thing in the world I'm ready for."

"I see… well… uhm… I'm glad for that, at least. I'm certainly not eager for you to die."

Harry snickered and nodded. "Well, now, neither am I. So we're on the same page."

"How did you find out the truth?"

"It's kind of complicated. But it was Mr. Malfoy who was the key component. Before this life, I've never really been close with the Malfoys like this. Certainly never close with Lucius. But Lucius owned a book in his family library that he read when he was young and when I told him my story, he remember that book and found it for me. It was the first legitimate reference I'd found that specifically talked about someone else in the same circumstances as me. It also included instructions for summoning Death to me, and I did that this last summer and spoke with him about what had happened to cause all of this. He told me about my first life and about the deal we made."

"Death. Wow…. I mean… you said so before but… giant talking skeleton? Seriously?"

Harry chuckled and nodded. "Seriously."

"Wow…" Hermione whispered somewhat breathlessly.

The two spent the next few hours sitting in the Room of Requirement talking about Harry's previous lives and many experiences. Harry actually kept it pretty light, not feeling like spending all of his time moping over the muggle war. It did have to eventually come up though and Hermione was appropriately upset by the idea.

"It's still another twenty years away, Hermione. It's not something you have to really worry about right now," Harry said, trying to reassure her tome time later.

"That's ridiculous, Harry! Just because it's twenty years away doesn't mean that there's nothing that we could be doing to… to… I don't know… something."

Harry smiled fondly and nodded. "I know. And I am doing things. I'm actually doing a lot of things. Believe me, Hermione, I'm not just sitting around and waiting for the shit to hit the fan and deal with it then. I intend to spend the next two decades as busy as possible, making sure we are as prepared as possible. It's one of the reasons I'm so eager to get out of Hogwarts. I've just got so much I could be doing right now, but instead I'm here. But I think I've got things worked out so I can still be marginally productive while I'm here, and I've got other people working on things for me while I'm finishing up school."

"Other people?"

Harry nodded and hummed. "Yeah, I've got a number of people whose help I've enlisted. Some in-the-know, some less so. But they've got tasks. One group will be starting a new project beginning tomorrow and I'm hoping to slip out and make sure all of that gets started properly, but even if I can't, the person in charge is more than capable of handling it all without me and I trust him with my life."

"Well… is there anything that I can help with?" Hermione asked, looking eager and hopeful.

Harry just sort of smiled at her and shook his head. "Not at the moment, I don't think. But if I ever do think I could use your help, I promise I'll come to you."

"Have versions of me from your previous lives been able to help?"

"Oh yeah, plenty of times and ways. I mean… every life I've lived before this one where I lived long enough to make it to the conflict with the muggles, I've ended up counting on the help of the Hermione from that world. There isn't a single one of my longer lives where I didn't end up close with you on some level. It's kind of amazing, really. I mean… that hasn't really been the case for anyone else. Ron was my best friend in every imaginable way my first life. But I only got close with him in a few more of my other lives. Kind of sad, really…"

"Wait — Ron Weasley? Seriously!?" Hermione squawked incredulously.

Harry laughed and nodded. "Yup. But me being a Gryffindor in my first two lives really helped him warm up to me rather than instantly despise me. I suppose the fact that a young version of Ron would be so easily swayed by such labels and generalizations is one of the reasons that a much older me can't quite find a way to connect with him."

"Was I friends with him?" Hermione asked, her face twisted up with mild disgust.

Harry really laughed now and nodded his head while trying to stifle his snickers.

"What's so funny?" Hermione asked.

"In my first life… the two of you got married."

The shocked and horrified look on her face was enough to get Harry laughing again.

— —

AN:

So 3 chapters in one batch. A portion of the next chapter is already written, but knowing how I tend to work, I'll probably want to get a big batch written before I post any more.

So over the last few months I've jumped around and around and around. I've written a little Extended Family, a little Professor Monroe, a little Mirror of Paths, and about 300 pages of a story I haven't posted anywhere yet. Oh - and 50 pages of another story I haven't posted anywhere yet. Thing is that for the little bits of all of the older stories (extende fam, prof monroe, etc.) I don't feel like any of them are enough to qualify as even one chapter, so I don't know if I'll get anything posted.

I kept hitting road blocks or distractions, and in order to get myself writing again I'd open up another old story, re-read it, and then write some more on it. This is a cycle I tend to go through over and over again soooo… so few things ever get done, they just get poked at. Derp - my bad. Who knows what will get posted next or when.