It was a subdued atmosphere that had settled over the Black kitchen. At one end of the table sat a very tired looking Albus Dumbledore. He was not as young as he used to be, that was clear, however being knocked out for the better part of six hours was a harsher reminder of this than he'd expected.
At the other end of the table sat an equally tired Sirius Black. It wasn't everyday that you woke up from being possessed by a fragment of Voldemort's soul only to find you'd nearly killed your godson. Of course it wasn't all doom and gloom. The two biggest pains in his day to day life were gone as well.
Maybe a bit disturbing to find out that he'd been the one to kill them both… but not much more than a bit. He'd always been on the edge with them anyway.
"You're sure he's okay?"
The Headmaster let out the smallest of sighs. This was not the first time Sirius had asked that very question. It was not the second time either.
"As sure as I can be, Sirius," he said. "Nicholas will no doubt be able to keep Harry alive, his skill and particularly knowledge far outstrip my own."
"Then why do you look like it's the complete opposite," Sirius said shrewdly. "If he's safe then why be so worried?"
"That is…" Dumbledore broke off for a second before making a resigned decision. He had been avoiding it, but there was no denying his thoughts nor should he keep it a secret. Not when the situation was becoming so dire. "Because I do not know for how long he will remain that way."
"What do you mean?"
"Alive," Dumbledore clarified heavily. "For him to remain alive. This is not the first time that Harry has come into contact with artifacts like the locket, and I truly fear it may not be the last either."
Sirius was completely still, a coldness having come over his entire demeanor. Was he going to fly off the handle? Even three years out, Azkaban had not entirely left the man in peace. That wasn't to say he'd been level headed before the ordeal either. It takes a certain something to impulsively chase a man down in order to kill him for revenge.
But when Sirius spoke his voice was calm.
"Tell me what's been happening to my godson."
"Understand that much of what I'm about to say is speculation, but recent events have led me to believe otherwise," Dumbledore prefaced.
"It usually is, Albus. Let's just hear it."
And so, with some lingering apprehension, Dumbledore explained the situation; Voldemort's horcruxes, Harry's condition, and how they were connected. It was amazing how little time it actually took to summarize such a massive issue.
"Unreal," Sirius muttered, knocking back his third butterbeer. There was a good reason it was the strongest thing he had in the house, but at this moment he wouldn't have said no to something else entirely. "There really was a problem, all those months ago. When he asked me… And you're saying Harry is still connected to him?"
"So it would seem," Dumbledore replied, tugging at his beard. "Though Harry has not mentioned any interaction between them since May, I believe that is at the will of Voldemort, rather than it be some indication of things changing. I will admit we have both been avoiding the topic in favor of more pressing matters. Regardless, with the situation as it is I can only imagine it getting worse."
"But there has to be something we can do," Sirius argued, still unable to accept that they were powerless to the status quo.
"If I discover anything you will be the first to know," the Headmaster returned. "In the meantime do not forget that it is still our job to win this war. As long as we move toward that front then we are still helping him in some way."
"I- yeah," Sirius relented, sinking back into his chair.
"Let us put this aside until a later date," Dumbledore said lightly, getting to his feet. It was quite late now and he needed to return to the castle. "Get some rest, Sirius, you are still recovering after all." He stopped by the door, turning back to face the man. "Ah, you mentioned earlier there was something else? If it is quick."
Sirius seemed to weigh something in his mind a moment before speaking up.
"Yeah, I had meant to talk to you about it earlier but, you know..." he trailed off with a shrug. "I know it'll sound odd, but I think that Harry is protecting cousin Narcissa somehow. For the life of me though I can't imagine why? Or how, really."
"Fascinating," Dumbledore said in interest. A curious development to be sure. "Thank you for telling me this. If you hear anything else on the matter let me know as well."
"Right, take care of yourself."
And as the two men separated, both had their thoughts return to the same teen, thousands of miles away from his home.
Get back safe, Harry.
Harry's first coherent thought as he slowly regained consciousness was that it was dark. It took him a little while to understand this was because his eyes were closed, but the lack of light wherever he had ended up was certainly apparent.
He did hear slightly muffled voices though. Arguing softly in the background, a man and woman with… American accents?
"...the situation as it is, I still don't like that we helped him." The woman's voice was neutral, if a little annoyed.
"So I should have left him on my rug?" the man replied, though his voice was far from heated. If anything his voice had the hint of dryness associated with a conversation repeated one too many times. "Albus wouldn't have sent him if it weren't absolutely necessary. Considering what we went through to save him I think he was justified."
"Yes, save him," the woman replied scathingly. "I wonder, Nicholas, if anyone else in the medical field would agree with that assessment."
"So you think we should have let him die," the man replied simply.
"My love, it is not our responsibility to fix the individual problems humans bring upon themselves-"
"Oh so it's humans now, eh?"
"For the love of- You know what I- never mind, I give up…"
Footsteps grew in volume as someone drew close to where he was. Opening his eyes slowly, he saw a pale skinned woman staring down at him neutrally, the light in the room rising gradually. She made a few motions a over him with her hand before turning around, apparently satisfied.
"He's awake, if you'd like to give him the good news."
And she walked off, soon replaced by a tall man of the same complexion. He looked middle aged, but trying to put a number to it was as impossible as it was with the woman.
"Sorry about her, she's just a bit conflicted," he said kindly, helping Harry sit up against the backboard of the bed he was in. A quick look around the rather plain room didn't tell him much, but the American flag in one corner certainly supported their accents. "I promise she is pleased that you are doing better than earlier. Nicholas Flamel by the way, nice to meet you."
Well, there's a shocker.
"Um, Harry Potter. Likewise."
Harry slowly shook his head as if to clear it, before realizing that something quite important was missing.
"The horcrux!" He looked at the man, whose expression had shifted at the word. "The locket, where is it?"
"Here." Flamel motioned to his left, and the locket floated over to his outstretched hand. "Though if it really was a horcrux before, it certainly isn't one now."
Without hesitating he put it into Harry's open palm, causing him to flinch and drop it on the blanket, now looking at it in shock.
"I- what did I do…?"
Harry stared at his hand in a mixture of confusion and fear. He remembered sneaking up the stairs under the cloak but beyond that he'd just… woken up. But it was clear the locket in his lap wasn't a horcrux any longer and that could only mean one thing.
"I- Are you okay?" Harry asked Flamel suddenly, which got him a confused look in return. "Earlier I must have… Did anyone get hurt?"
"I'm not sure exactly what you're referring to, but you haven't done anything since arriving," the man said, shaking his head. "You were in pretty bad shape though. It was touch and go for a bit there."
"Nothing new then," Harry muttered tiredly. Strange though, that he hadn't damaged something. Catching the look Flamel was giving him he said quickly, "Is everything okay?"
"No, it is not."
"What is it?"
"Perhaps it would be better to wait until you are back on your feet before-"
"Don't," Harry said shortly, frowning. "Don't spare me, just say it."
"Very well." The Alchemist stood fully, hands folded in front of him. "You are dying."
Dying. Though he'd become accustomed to his life being in jeopardy every other day or so, after everything he'd survived through it just didn't seem possible for some reason.
"Yes," Flamel said with a nod, giving the teen a clinical look. "Judging on what is happening to your body I'd give you at most half a year if you somehow manage to hold out. More than likely a month or so shorter if anything unexpected happens. I'm very sorry."
"I don't-" Harry broke off. He felt suddenly short of breath. "But I don't feel like I'm dying."
"You do feel it, you just haven't recognized it for what it is. I'd imagine you feel a bit heated, don't you? This is probably the best way of putting it."
Now that he mentioned it… It was true. Harry felt a bit warm. Not enough to be uncomfortable, but enough that it was noticeable given what he was wearing. Suddenly he recognized where he'd felt that very thing before.
"Hang on I've had it way worse than this before. When I don't use magic for long periods of time I get a bit hot. It's easy to burn off too. How is this supposed to kill me?" He was unable to keep the accusation out of his voice there. Flamel however just became more somber.
"In that case I'm afraid you've just been dying for a while longer than I'd thought. The difference," the Alchemist continued before Harry could argue back, "is that it sounds like you have been able to keep up with it before, potentially pushing this off for years or longer. Unfortunately, you will soon lose this battle."
"And how do you even know that!?" Harry demanded.
Flamel paused, taking a patient breath. "While I may never have reduced myself to the likes of creating horcruxes I have worked enough with soul magic that I can recognize problems. I am no Merlin, but in this day and age I may as well be. I could count on one hand the number of people on this planet that could have even a passing knowledge of such magic."
"If…" Harry broke off for a second before starting again. "If you knew I was going to die in such a short time then why did you save me anyway?"
"What are you, my wife?" the man said in exasperation. "Months to make your peace with the people you care about and do anything else you want to do before you go is a lot more than no time, isn't it? Don't be absurd."
"But-" Harry was struggling to find the words. "I've got… and I…"
"I'm sorry things are the way they are," Flamel continued to speak even though he knew Harry was only partially paying attention at this point. "There is still much for us to discuss but we can talk more when you've recovered a bit more of your strength."
He waited a few seconds for Harry to respond, but the teen was lost in his own thoughts now. With presently nothing else to say, the Alchemist walked out of the room, closing the door quietly behind himself.
Harry scowled. Who cared where he was? Who cared why it was happening?
I'm actually dying.
He could be wrong, of course. Just because someone said something didn't automatically make it true, regardless of who they were.
Since when has that ever worked in my favor?
And after everything he'd been through it would fit right into his screwed up life.
If Flamel was right, and given that he was something like five times older than Dumbledore (a man who had a habit of being annoyingly right about almost everything) he probably was, Harry likely wouldn't even live to see his seventeenth birthday.
A spot of wetness landed on the back of his hand, making him scowl all the more as he wiped it away. He used to cry so much when he was little. So, so much. When he wanted the Dursleys to love him and they did anything and everything they could not to. And one day he'd just stopped. He didn't cry with joy when he found out he was a wizard. He didn't cry in pain when he was tortured by Voldemort. He didn't cry in sadness and anger when the letter from his mother held little more than rambling nonsense with literally nothing from his father…
"Boy, we wanted to let you know there's food for you to…"
Harry's miserable eyes met the pair belonging to his visitor, her head peeking through the jarred door, causing her sentence to trail off. She let out a heavy sigh before fully entering the room, closing the door behind her. Considering who he'd just met, this was no doubt Perenelle Flamel, the wife of the famed alchemist. Of course, that wasn't to say she was a mere accessory to the man's renown. The woman was a legend in her own right.
"Want to talk about it?"
"Weren't you the one who said he should have let me die?" Harry said dully, not really offended at all by the sentiment. It was positively neutral considering some of the people he'd met. "What do you care?"
"I think you've gotten a bad first impression of me," said Perenelle, crossing her arms. "I was mad that he allowed himself to be involved in the first place, not specifically that he saved your life. We try not to do that in general."
"If you can help someone, why wouldn't you?" said Harry, not really understanding her stance.
"That's the nice thing about being so young." Perenelle was actually giving him a somewhat fond expression. "You haven't been twisted by age. Don't get me wrong either, that Headmaster of yours is still a boy by my standards. I might look young, but I'm old enough to be your mother ten times over. More than that. When you live as long as I do you see that you can't help everyone, and eventually your choices change the people around you. Some for the better, some for the worse. Always both, never just one."
"That's… sad, I guess," Harry said after a second. He looked up at her, expression a bit lost. "I don't know what to do. I mean… I've been fighting all this time for the chance at a future. If I'll never get it, is there even a point?"
"What did you want?" Perenelle asked, curious.
"Family, I guess," he said with a shrug. The picture was easy to call to mind, built on warm emotions and smiles. "One of those stereotype big happy families. You know what I mean?"
"Yes and no," the woman admitted. "I've certainly had them, but none were ever truly mine. The elixir of life can prolong it indefinitely, but completely prevents the creation of the new." She rolled her eyes slightly at Harry's confusion. "I'm sterile, boy. Both Nick and I have been since our first drink."
"Oh!" Harry's eyes fell to her middle for a moment before dropping to the floor. "I'm sorry, that's terrible."
"We got over it," she said with a shrug. "You would too after more than five hundred years."
Harry just looked away from her. What little energy he'd gained from the conversation faded as his mind returned to reality. Half a year at best. What could he possibly do in six months? Less even?
"Thinking about it again?"
"How could I not? I still don't know what to do."
"Not enough time?"
"Do you like asking questions about the obvious?" Harry snapped, glaring at the woman. To this she actually chuckled for a second before making a small swatting gesture at the air in front of her.
Harry's head immediately jerked forward as an unseen force slapped the back of his head.
"Don't be rude, I'm actually warming up to you," Perenelle said lightly, right corner of her mouth turned upward. "Come on, we can continue this after you eat something. You've been asleep for about three days so no doubt you're starving."
"Three days?" Harry said in shock. Assimilating a Horcrux had never even knocked him unconscious before. Three whole days?
Quickly checking to make sure he was decent, Harry swung his legs over the side of the bed, testing his weight on the floor. He felt weak but not unable to move.
"It was really close, wasn't it?"
It wasn't really a question.
"Yes, you certainly danced with Death. Come."
She led him out of the room into a hall that stretched to the left and right, lightly decorated with fancy looking furniture and paintings at regular intervals.
"No doubt you've realized you're in the States, but your actual location is Washington DC," Perenelle told him as they walked. "This is the magical wing of the White House."
"Isn't that where the President lives?" Harry asked, watching as every portrait gave them a crisp salute as they passed. "Why are they doing that to us?"
"It's just a part of who they are, and they're doing it to me," she corrected. "Being First Lady counts for something."
"It means I'm married to the President," she explained, though giving him an odd look.
"You're married to- Nicholas Flamel is the U.S. President?!" Harry exclaimed in shock. Perenelle opened another door and motioned for him to enter. "But who's your Minister of Magic then?"
"Someone else," said the man in question, grabbing Harry's attention. Flamel was sitting at a table with a great deal of random food on it, contentedly reading a paper with non-moving pictures. "Eat, Harry, then we can talk. We've got a great deal to cover, I'm sure, and I've secured us some time."
"I'll be back soon," Perenelle said to her husband before retreating out of the room. The door was closed with a snap.
"You're the President?" Harry repeated, still surprised. Sure he didn't look out of place in his Muggle attire, but the reality of it still threw him for quite the loop.
"That I am." Flamel gave Harry a level look over his paper. "Again, eat. You won't get another word out of me until then."
Resigned to waiting, Harry made a plate for himself, only to immediately realize how ravenous he actually was. He ate three full plates before eventually slowing down to nibbling at his fourth. Flamel just watched him, having finished his paper.
"Do you really have time to just sit there and read?" Harry finally asked, curiosity outweighing even his most recent life changing events. "Aren't you supposed to be really busy?"
"Of course, I'm one of the busiest people I know," Flamel said with a nod.
"And as such a busy person I simply endeavor to be in as many places as I can at once," he finished. "A little magic never hurts either."
"Right…" Harry dragged out the word without really meaning to, conveying exactly what he'd thought of that response. "In that case, what's it like being the President of Muggles?" It was just such an odd idea, he'd never thought it possible that the two worlds would mix at this level.
"Non-magicals, Harry," Flamel corrected immediately. "I've found that giving a group of people a name always causes more harm than good. Calling a non-magical a Muggle, or the like has long been looked down on here in the States."
Harry was about to argue, it wasn't like he meant anything offensive when he called someone a Muggle, but stopped when he realized how different "non-magical" felt in his head. Plainer?
"Sorry…" he said after a second. "I would like to know though."
"Oh, it's actually not so bad," Flamel said with a smile. "The highest levels of government are aware of magic anyway, and I do care about the country and its people. It helps that I was around when the country was founded too. Old legislation can be difficult to understand at times."
"Makes sense," Harry said with a nod, though he didn't really know anything about how governments worked. Some people, who were elected, had power and could decide how everyone else was supposed to live… within reason? He felt like morals fit in there somewhere, but there was a lot of room for corruption and harm; look no further than his own home government.
"What's it like being Britain's chosen hero?" Flamel asked in return. Immediately Harry glared at him, though the man wasn't put off in the slightest. "I really am just curious. Such fame must be rather enjoyable for one your age."
"You don't know anything," Harry said harshly, unabashed by his tone. "Fuck my fame and everything that came with it. No one is prepared to take him on and it's only a matter of time before he does something extreme like overthrow the Ministry or burn all of London to the ground. I've lost more to this war than most and now-" Harry cut off as he tried to reign his anger in. The plate in front of him was rattling slightly. A few seconds later it fell silent. "They want me to save them again. Actually think I'm going to protect them. Fight Voldemort for them. The same people who called me crazy barely eight months ago."
"Who are you fighting for then, if not the people of your home?" Flamel asked.
Ron laughing, Hermione rolling her eyes.
"My friends I guess. People I care about."
A woman gently reminding him to eat his carrots.
Flamel smiled at him in a way that diffused much of his aggressed emotions.
"My apologies, Harry, getting you a little worked up seemed the best way to see if you were still unaffected by touching the soul fragment. It is still quite hard for me to believe. I'd imagine a piece of Lord Voldemort's soul would make one more like him, and from my reports he is not the type to fight for anything but himself."
"Dumbledore said the same thing," Harry said, pushing his annoyance at the test aside. "I'm still me."
"Which is, you'll forgive me for saying so, the most bizarre facet of your unfortunate condition. Soul-touching has never been anything less than disastrous. I believe it is well within my rights to say you are an anomaly of magical sciences."
Harry couldn't help but smile, not for the statement itself, but at the thought that Hermione would love to have a conversation with this man. Just the words "magical sciences" would make her jump with delight.
Then the thought of telling Hermione he'd be dead by June crossed his mind and every good feeling he'd accumulated in the last ten minutes promptly imploded.
"Is there any chance of me surviving?" The words almost felt forced.
"I don't know," Flamel admitted. "I've never seen your case before, but from what I have seen in the past…"
"Then let's start there," Harry interrupted. "What have you seen? What's actually happening to me?"
There was a pause as the door opened once more to admit the Alchemist's wife. Perenelle took a seat next to her husband and quietly made herself a plate of food. Harry's eyes met with hers for a moment but were drawn back to Flamel when he continued speaking.
"You understand that most of what I'm going to say is-"
"Speculation at best, yes I know," was the impatient interruption. "This is definitely not my first one of these conversations. Tell me."
Flamel exchanged a look with his wife before beginning.
"Your soul has, for lack of a better word, captured the piece of horcrux that you have been interacting with, and integrated with it. I can only imagine that this was even possible due the the fact that you have been host to a horcrux yourself for most of your life. Believe me, that itself is baffling enough."
"How did you know that?" Harry said in astonishment. Even he and Dumbledore hadn't been absolutely sure it was the case, though they both agreed it was most likely.
"Something like that will always leave scars." The alchemist shook his head as Harry touched the scar on his forehead. "Traces, echoes, shadows, memories... they are all the same here. It is clear that you had a fragment of another's soul attached to your body, however is is equally clear that you haven't been affected by it until recently, and not in the ways any would expect. Baffling, as I said."
"What do you mean?" Harry asked, confused.
"You must understand that a soul fragment placed in a living creature will dominate that being. They oft develop into their own versions of the original, equally broken and lost. Unstable."
He paused to gesture at Harry.
"Yet here you are, unafflicted. At least in soul," Flamel added. "I'm sure Albus would say the same."
"Yeah, he has."
"In any case we move to the actual problem here."
At this Harry gave Flamel a rather lost look.
"Wait, I thought Voldemort's soul was the problem," he said. It was bad enough they were talking about souls like he could even fathom what that might mean magically.
"It certainly is, but not for the reasons you might think. While being dominated by someone's soul is certainly undesirable, it does not change the fact that such a thing is otherwise harmless," the man explained. "Your body will still continue to function as normal. The soul fragment is, after all, nothing more than a hijacker of the body. They do not blend the way that it seems you and yours have."
"But how is that even possible?" Harry demanded, more than frustrated. Flamel's words were certainly informative, but he still felt like the man was just stating the obvious. "If that's how it's supposed to happen, then why am I different? Unless…" Harry broke off for a moment as a possible solution came to mind. "The Dementor."
It was the first time Perenelle had spoken since entering the room. Voice sharp, her eyes were narrowed.
"What do those foul creatures have to do with this?"
"Um… well two summers ago I was attacked by a pair of Dementors and apparently one of them kissed me."
"With you relatively unharmed afterward," Flamel said, nodding to himself. "How dreadful. What an odd child you are…"
"Um, yeah. I had problems controlling my magic for a bit but it went away eventually," Harry continued with a shrug. "I guess you can say that's when all of this started."
"And three days ago you came into physical contact with another soul fragment of the original," Flamel finished, his expression a mix of worry and intrigue. Perenelle just had a look of distaste on her face.
"Yet instead of attempting to enslave the host it reassimilated itself? Perhaps it tried and failed? Even so-"
Both adults looked over to find Harry scratching the back of his head. He looked… sheepish?
"It's actually the third horcrux I've touched."
"Well, my dear, it appears you were right. We shouldn't have saved him. He's suicidal."
"It wasn't like I did it on purpose," Harry added hotly. "I mean I meant to touch them, but: only because I had to. Things just happened that way. I'm not stupid."
"I'm sure," Perenelle said thinly. With a tisk she regarded her half finished meal before finger flicking it out of existence. Harry just stared at the newly cleared space of table with wide eyes. "Lost my appetite."
"Indeed it is most discomforting," Flamel agreed, though he apparently had a great deal more regard for his potato salad. "Harry, believe me when I say I have no idea why you aren't the most warped living thing in existence. Putting aside the fact you should be long dead, of course."
"Of course," Harry returned. How comforting. "Can we get back to what we were talking about?"
"Yes, yes." Flamel made an impatient silencing motion with his hand. "As I was saying, being possessed doesn't inherently harm a person. You, however, are not possessed. Within you body is a single soul which could only be considered yours. If a battle of some sort of dominance occurred, then it's safe to say you have clearly won."
"But it was not a fight from which you emerged unscathed," Flamel continued on, cutting Harry off. "There were still side effects. Symptoms that were initially easy to play off as harmless, but now are growing worse and worse. What does this tell us?"
Flamel drew himself up as he regarded Harry with a darkened expression, a single finger extended in his direction.
"Voldemort still lives within you."
Stunned, Harry was unable to break eye contact with the man. The silence dragged on as the words echoed through his head.
"Stop it, Nick, you're giving him the wrong idea."
Harry tore his gaze away from the Alchemist to focus instead on the wife.
"How the bloody hell can you not get the wrong idea from that?" Harry snapped, patience fraying. Months of practice controlling his emotions could only go so far when faced with this kind of stuff. "What's it supposed to mean?"
"You've won control of your body," Perenelle started simply, moving her finger through the air. Harry's eyes were naturally drawn to it as it left a small glowing purple spot in the air. She followed it with a golden streak that separated to completely encircle it. "You are on the outside, him on the inside, but you still are one soul. One being. Make sense so far?"
He was honestly still a little distracted by her blatantly wandless display of magic.
"He can't struggle against you to gain control again unless something disturbs the new balance. Coming into contact with more soul fragments, for example."
Another small purple spot appeared and went to join its fellow in the center, not breaking the gold but passing through it.
"Yet three times it's happened and none have yielded control." Perenelle suddenly paused, shooting Harry a curious look. "Did you fight the horcruxes in some way when you touched?"
"Yes." Harry thought back to each struggle, feeling but never truly understanding the stakes of what they had been fighting for. "All those times…"
"And so he has effectively become your prisoner," she continued. "One who has been resisting in the only way it could. Producing magic."
"You're saying I have Voldemort batteries in my soul?"
"If that helps you understand what I'm saying then yes, it basically does."
Harry let out a sharp breath, running a hand roughly through his hair. What was even normal anymore? Could he have ever even dreamed a single moment of this back when he was blowing out candles on his pitiable floor-dirt birthday cake years ago?
"There's nothing I can do to push it back?" he asked finally. "Stomp him out? Make him stop?"
"You have to understand that there is no him in there. There is only you. And with what we've seen so far though, no. Unless you can increase the weight of your own original soul," Perenelle added, shaking her head. "It was bad enough considering this with a single fragment of soul being imprisoned. From what we've learned not five minutes ago you actually have four." Her voice became almost strained. "Four."
"To us, the fact that you're alive now is a miracle, let alone that you'll live a bit longer still," Flamel added. "Now you're completely out of balance, and your body is paying the price."
Harry frowned, mind scrambling for a solution to this. Something that they might have missed...
"Can't we, I dunno, filter some of him out?" he asked. Could it work in reverse?
"If there were we would have done it already," Flamel said simply. "The fact and issue remains that there is only one soul here. Your soul. If we tried splitting pieces…"
"Can we do that?"
Harry's voice was soft, but not weak. The two regarded him with pause.
"Split my soul?"
Perenelle exchanged glances with her husband before speaking.
"You would take someone's life to save your own?"
Harry's expression darkened as his eyes sought the table.
"I don't want to," he said finally, looking back up at them, "but I won't pretend that I can keep living without killing someone eventually. It wouldn't be the first time, and it probably won't be the last."
Again the two exchanged silent glances before Flamel spoke.
"Theoretically it could work, however realistically it is impossible. Though you are aware of how to split your soul that does not give you the ability to simply do so. More than that, to separate your soul in the way you need would take a master of the art, and your knowledge wouldn't even register toward that level. That aside," he regarded Harry with a serious expression, "you will learn of no such thing from us."
"It was just a thought," Harry returned, looking away.
There was nothing else to be said really. They had arrived exactly where they started. With nothing they could realistically do. Eventually only one other thought came to mind and he voiced it.
"How do you know so much?" Harry couldn't help but be a mixture of amazement and skepticism. "I've barely been here and you-" he broke off as Flamel gave a chuckle, "you know everything."
"Not everything, surely," Flamel corrected. Still his grin never faded. "Harry, I've been alive for hundreds of years. Magical study is perhaps the only thing that has held my interest without fail. I'm not pretending to be an expert on everything, I am an expert on everything. It probably wouldn't be much of a stretch to say I'm the expert on everything. Perenelle too for that matter."
"So how does wandless magic work?" Harry asked immediately, eyes flicking to Perenelle.
"Entirely by touch," he replied, wiggling his fingers in a very Dumbledore-like way. "As long as you are touching it, you can act on it magically. It's surprising not many figure that out these days. The art has really fallen to the wayside."
Harry just grunted in annoyance.
"That doesn't help at all, I already knew that. I just can't get it to work again."
"The fact that you're saying what you did just shows how little you know," Perenelle smirked. She beckoned for his hand which he extended hesitantly. Was she going to show him something?
"Now, take a nap."
And a tap of her finger sent him into darkness.
Leeds was burning. Not to the extent London had when she'd died, but certainly enough that it wasn't just a wizarding problem any more.
Tonks moved with purpose through the thinning crowds as Muggles ran for safety, frequently shifting her appearance to be sure no one had even a remote chance of following her. Death Eaters were scattered across the city in small groups doing what they did best while members of the DMLE did the same, often starting small skirmishes that caused more damage than they'd actually come to prevent. Having worked with the department for a number of years, Tonks was more than aware of how bad the situation could get when you were facing a group like the current generation of Death Eaters.
The newer groups were so much more taken with murder and arson than in the past war. Beyond reason they happily ended the lives of men, women, and children alike, regardless of the fact that it further drove any but the extreme from them. All the while, Tonks knew that something about them was getting even worse. She could see it in their eyes when they prepared for a raid. The glee her two partners had trapping a family in a car before slowly heating it to cook them alive was sickening to even be aware of, let alone watch. They wielded power over helpless victims like cruel gods.
This was why she hadn't hesitated killing the pair of them, or any other isolated Death Eaters for that matter.
A quick turn took her into an abandoned gift shop, where she took the moment to gather herself, hidden behind shelves of odds and ends.
Eleven. She'd killed eleven Death Eaters so far that day. The first two had been in pure rage without thought. She freed the Muggles and made sure no one had seen her act. After that it was easier and easier to justify her victims' ends. Two who had cornered a woman instead of just killing her quickly. Another three sending spell after spell into a multi-floor business just for fun. Of course, they'd locked the front doors first. All the others had just been alone, but there was no doubt they were on their way to end another's life.
They were like mad dogs.
Slowly, Tonks pulled her sleeve up to stare at the newer of the two Marks she'd received. The Serpent's Mark, as she'd come to learn. Unlike the Dark Mark, this one seemed to have feelings of all things. It enjoyed the rush of power magic could bring, empowering her through her rage. It fed on destruction and death. And it grew.
Her own Mark was now the size of her pointer finger. An alarming fact considering how it had looked earlier that day. How it has grown without her awareness. What was even more scary was that all of the newer Death Eaters had this Mark. Many of them displayed it openly, showing how large it could truly grow, like a mark of prestige. She'd seen one man with the snake taking up the majority of his arm, going over his shoulder and under his shirt.
She'd also noticed how those same Death Eaters didn't stick around for long.
An explosion shook the building she was in, causing her to scramble to her feet. The contents of many shelves tipped onto the floor to create even more of a mess of the place. It was only after hearing an ominous creaking that she quickly shifted her appearance and grabbed at her emergency portkey, vanishing in a whirl of magic.
She hit the grass with a thud and a grunt, though quickly righted herself. A wand was aimed right at her head.
"You don't need the wand, yer ugly enough to scare anyone stiff," Milly shot at the man, pulling her sleeve up to expose her Dark Mark. Other Death Eaters nearby who had also escaped the battle chuckled at the man's expense.
"And you don't need to open your mouth to remind anyone yer a bitch," the man shot back immediately, unoffended. "You stayed pretty long. Had a good time?"
"The best so far," she replied. The scary part was that she wholeheartedly meant it.
"How many did ya get?" asked another.
"You're a real twisted bitch aren't ya."
"Ain't nothin wrong with having a bit of fun," added a third. "They're just animals after all."
Milly couldn't help but smile with the rest of them as she looked around.
They're really just animals.
Across an ocean, a boy was once more led through a number of long halls in a small sense of deja vu.
"That still wasn't very nice," Harry grumbled to his guide. "No matter how much I really needed the rest." For all it happening days before, he still found it hard to let go. In a disgruntled, not too serious sort of way.
"Allowing a patient to worry themselves to death goes against my oaths as a Healer," Perenelle said simply.
"You're a licensed Healer?" Harry said in surprise.
"Licensed?" came the amused return. "Of course not. You understand the thought of being told I'm allowed to do anything by someone with a fraction of my skill is pure nonsense, yes?"
"Of course, what was I thinking?" Harry drawled, rolling his eyes. If there was one thing he'd learned about Perenelle Flamel in the hours that he'd officially known her it was that she was incredibly vain when it came to her abilities.
Another was that she really liked whacking him over the back of his head with magic. Apparently this meant she liked him?
"Here we are," she said, opening a door to a completely round room with windows across the back of it. Flamel was sitting at the lone desk, scratching away at a small stack of papers with this pen. Two men nodded to them and exited behind them, letting the door close with a soft snap.
"Isn't this that room?" Harry asked, looking around. It was by far the most grand looking office he'd ever seen. Even Dumbledore's office had a certain amount of chaos to it.
"If you mean the room you appeared in, then yes," Flamel said without looking up. "It's also the room you will be leaving in."
"I- wait, you're letting me go back?" Harry was suddenly caught flat footed. "I thought you weren't letting me go to make me rest or something." Of course this accusation was more directed to Perenelle than her husband.
"Yes, keeping you from your life would only be detrimental in the end. How are you feeling?"
"Like I need to go do something," said Harry. Indeed, even though it had only been less than a week total, he was feeling extremely restless. His mind whirled with things he wants to get done. Things that needed to be done.
"Well then in that case we'll try to be quick about it," Flamel said with a nod, capping the fountain pen. "I'm having an international portkey brought here, and we shouldn't have to wait too long for it. I'll iron out any kinks in the process."
"Like how I'll leave when the building has wards as thick as Hogwarts?"
"Just so," Flamel grinned. "In the meantime, did you want to ask us anything else about what we've spoken on?"
"Um, no actually. I did have another question though," Harry started, taking a seat in a free chair. Well, there really wasn't anyone better to ask. He had nowhere else to turn anyway. "Have you ever heard of Tethering?"
It was as if the entire room had been frozen in time. Perenelle's utter shock, hand stopped halfway to her hair, was only matched by the look of danger that flashed across her husband's face. At once everything seemed to resume as normal for everyone except Harry, who found himself rather unable to move himself though had no idea how it happened. The feel of being held under magic was unmistakable.
"Something I said?" he managed with a slight grin, though inside he was more than worried. What on Earth-
"Where," Nicholas began slowly, giving Harry his fullest attention, "did you learn of such a thing?"
"Um... Merlin?" Harry replied, unable to stop the nervous chuckle from escaping his lips. To be fair it sounded pretty ridiculous.
Perenelle said something vehemently in a language Harry didn't understand while Flamel himself focused on Harry all the more, silencing his wife with a quick motion.
"Merlin? A man nearly a millennia dead talked to you?"
"Well it wasn't actually him, it was a painting," Harry explained quickly, not liking where this was going. "In Hogwarts. Look you could meet him yourself if you wanted to, could you let me go now?"
There was a second of hesitation before he could suddenly move his body again. Immediately he stretched, feeling stiff from being so tense.
"Mind telling me what that was about?"
"Merlin," Perenelle began coldly, "is a detestable creature with far too much power for his and everyone else's good." She broke off to look at Harry. "You said you met him? How?"
"He left a portrait of himself at the core of Hogwarts. We're not friends," Harry added quickly.
"Believe me when I say I understand you," Flamel said. "I am curious though, how did you yourself end up in such a delicate place as the castle's Keystone?"
"Um, it's a long story actually. The short of it is that I found out Merlin tethered a girl to the castle from when he was really young, so now she actually thinks she's Hogwarts." He suddenly became excited. "Do you know how to save her? I didn't even know where to begin looking for help."
"When he was young you say…"
"And where would you have us put her?"
Harry turned to Perenelle who was giving him a mildly impatient look, as if he'd not thought this through properly.
"Well she just needs a body, right?"
"Just needs a body?" Perenelle repeated with a laugh. "What magic do you know that simply creates fully functioning human bodies without using some appalling ritual of sacrifice?"
A sudden memory of a haunting graveyard and lifeless friend filled his head.
"Okay, nevermind. Give me a break, I'm not an ancient text like you."
"How are you even doing that!?"
"In any case," Flamel interrupted, apparently not having been paying much attention as he mulled over what he'd just heard, "this girl is unfortunately in a situation we cannot do much about. I will give it thought though."
"That's all I ask," Harry said in relief. If anyone could help, it was them.
The door suddenly reopened after a light knock. One of the guards from earlier had returned with a small box.
"Wonderful, just place it in the table there. We'll be through shortly."
"This is the portkey?" Harry guessed, looking at the thing. It certainly looked plain enough though that never meant anything in his world.
"Yes," said Flamel, finally rising to his feet and walking over. "Inside is the Phoenix feather you arrived with. It's magic, along with my own tampering, should enable you to leave here and return to the precise spot that you left from to get here in the first place. Of course," he paused, turning to the windows and the grounds beyond, "you should be careful as long distance teleportation can always go awry in some way."
There was silence for a second as the papers on his desk gave the slightest of twitches. His expression suddenly went flat.
"He touched it, didn't he?"
"He did," Perenelle confirmed, wholly unconcerned as she inspected her nails.
The look he now gave his wife had the woman unable to resist a light laugh as she exited the room. He sighed, looking back out the window. Hopefully the next time he saw Harry Potter the boy wouldn't be dead.
"Damn fossil!" Harry roared. Unfortunately for him, the woman his rage was directed at would never hear him. Indeed it was unlikely anyone near heard what he said, as it more or less came out like so:
Gasping, Harry emerged from the fountain near Grimmauld Place, already half planning his bloody revenge for when he next met the Alchemist's wife.
"Mommy, why is there a boy in the water?"
"Don't look at strange people, sweetie, it's not their fault the way they are."
"Lovely," Harry grumbled, stepping out of the knee deep water. He waved to a nearby couple before hitting himself with a subtle Notice-Me Not and began walking back to 12 Grimmauld Place. Soaked or not, he needed to see Sirius. Needed to make sure he was okay. One week of worrying had done enough to set his nerves on edge.
It had been a very long time since the middle Black sister had felt the particular emotion she was currently experiencing. So long, in fact, that she was having a difficult time truly placing it.
The voice of her master cut through the halls of Malfoy Manor. Cold and harsh, it did nothing to make the rat-like man next to her move any quicker. He had always been one to hesitate when there was danger involved, and her master's name was synonymous with death.
"Don't keep him waiting, little traitor," she said softly, causing him to jump. Had he forgotten she was there? Unlikely given that they'd been in each other's company for nearly an hour.
"Jealous he didn't call your name instead?" the man snapped back. He didn't wait for a reply though, and scurried out of the parlor.
Bellatrix however said nothing, already dismissing what the rat had said. There was possibly some truth to the statement- her master recently seemed to call on her less and less as time went on- but that was not what concerned her presently.
Was that what it was? Her master was… not like he usually was. There were little things that put her ill at ease, things she knew had always been there, but were more pronounced than ever before.
Bellatrix shifted to her feet with a small stretch. She'd been reading a book of all things. A 'completely true' recounting of Harry Potter's wonderous adventures as a young boy, defeating darkness and saving the light through love and friendship. Why it was even in the house was anyone's guess. She'd only found it after digging around the parlor bookshelves in boredom. Perhaps her sad excuse for a nephew enjoyed them as a child himself?
Chuckling as she hid the book behind a chair pillow, Bellatrix walked out of the room only to stop cold as one of the very things she'd been thinking about moments ago stared back at her with empty dead eyes. She stared back for a few seconds before pulling her wand and levitating the body down the hall, dumping it out of the first window she saw. One of the caretakers would deal with it.
Though it did look like they'd have to get another one. Again.
Bellatrix paused as the grandfather clocks in the manor chimed in unison.
Her eyes closed as they continued slowly. An unpleasant feeling crept into her chest as she counted the fifth, and finally the sixth.
The Mark on her forearm burned black, causing her to hiss as she endured it. The eighteenth hour was reserved daily for her exclusive training by her Master. Day after day she honed her skills and sharpened her edge in order to make her as lethal as the day He'd met her. Every session was a fight for her life, one she welcomed even, considering the thrill the fight brought her. But each day his call was harsher. Each day it burned more.
And she just didn't know why.
Sirius wasn't home, much to Harry's initial distress. Shouting the man's name with no response at all from the house boded the worst in his mind. Already he was wildly imagining all the horrible things that could have resulted from the possession when Hestia Jones poked her bleary-faced head around a corner, clearly having been woken from an intense couch nap.
"Oh, Potter, we've been wondering about you," she'd said with a yawn. "Sirius is out doing something for the Order with Remus. Should be back a bit later."
And that was exactly how he'd left the woman, a quick thanks and relieved breath all she'd registered before Harry had left the house. Unfortunately, it was only after returning to the couch that she bolted upright having realized who she'd just seen, all traces of wariness gone.
Currently, Harry found himself preoccupied with a grim piece of parchment. Not knowing what to do, or even where exactly to go, he went with the first thing that came to mind, as odd as it may have seemed.
The parchment wasn't very long, nor was the list he'd written on it. He'd been over the items many times, but that had only served to make him frown all the more.
Ron and Hermione
People he cared about enough that he wanted to know his days were numbered. The problem was that he couldn't decide which was worse, telling them or not.
He read the list again, biting his lip absently. For the first time since writing it he took up his quill and crossed it out, creating another one beside it.
Ron and Hermione
Tracey, Daphne, Luna? Neville?
He read the names again, eyes moving over each letter as the people filled his thoughts. With a sudden pang he made a strike through the top three lines.
Was it because they were too young? That they'd take it too hard? No… that wasn't it at all. They'd simply hold onto him tighter as a result. He'd never be able to do what he needed if he told them.
Yes, that was better, but there was still something…
Her name had been right up there with Ron and Hermione, but obviously there was no need to write it. Maybe that was a good thing. The thought of her crying was a sad one.
Interestingly enough, it felt good to add his name there. If only things had started out better for them. Who knows how things would have turned out with a mentor like Snape. How far he could have gotten? How much better could his life have been?
How would she take it? Likely better than any of the others bar Snape, but she was regaining her lost humanity slowly and surely. Was it even reasonable to hope he'd see her freed from Hogwarts? At least he'd found someone to help. Maybe.
Which brought his mind back to the final name from the original list. Narcissa… He'd written her name without hesitation and yet the idea of telling her scared him. Terrified him.
"This is stupid," Harry muttered, crumpling up the parchment and shoving into his pocket. "It is what it is. I'm not about to let things fall apart because of something like this!"
"What are you on about?"
Harry looked up to see that he wasn't alone as he'd originally assumed he was. Then again, had he really expected privacy in the Dursley's sitting room?
"Hey Duds, what are you doing here?"
"I live here," his cousin responded, arms crossed. Had he been in his room all this time? "Unlike you. Why are you back? It's not even summer yet."
"Taking a break from school. Trust me, I'm not staying," Harry replied after a second, pulling his wand and making Dudley go rigid. "Relax Dud, I'm not going to do anything to you."
He flicked his wand at the hearth, causing the handful of logs there to catch fire. The light crackling and warm glow made Harry relax a little, reminding him of the comfort of the Gryffindor common room.
Stowing the wand he continued to his cousin, "So where are your mum and dad?"
"Out at a business dinner or something. Why are you not going to school?" Apparently the display of magic hadn't been enough to sufficiently scare him off.
Harry considered his cousin for a moment. He wasn't the pudgy mini-whale he used to be, having taken so well to boxing and the muscles that came with it. Really, Vernon and Petunia must be so pleased.
Dudley's remarkably stupid looking dumbfounded expression was a nice reminder that you couldn't take the Dud out of Dudley no matter how much exercise he got.
"How's that?" he said loudly.
"To give the short of it in words you'll get, I'm sick. No cure," said Harry. "I'm not contagious, dumbass," he snapped when Dudley took a very large step back. "Pretend I have magical cancer or something. It doesn't matter."
Dudley gave him… a very strange look. Unlike most other times, Harry really couldn't tell what his cousin was thinking.
"You're really dying?"
"You think I'd get your hopes up for nothing?" Harry scoffed, unable to keep the cold bite out of his words. Dudley seemed unaffected.
"Mum and Dad'll be happy, I guess."
Harry would sooner kiss Voldemort than admit he felt anything at that statement.
"But I'm not."
"No kidding- wait, what?" Had he heard that right?
"I'm not my parents, you know," he shot, angry.
"No, you're just exactly like them in almost every way," Harry countered sarcastically.
"I don't want to be just like them," Dudley returned.
"Well you've got a long way to go, Dud."
Harry returned his gaze to the fire as Dudley continued to stand at the edge of the room.
"You never answered my question," he said eventually. Harry turned back to see Dudley pointing at his pocket. "What were you doing?"
Harry removed the crumpled parchment, looking down at it for a moment before tossing it into the flames.
"Trying to figure out who to tell."
"You do have people who care, don't you?" Dudley continued, bemused. "Over at that school of yours?"
"Yeah, I do."
"And you told me first?"
They looked at each other for a few seconds before Harry finally laughed, getting to his feet.
"I guess I did. See ya, Dud."
And that was the last time he ever stepped foot into Number 4, Privet Drive.
...sorry that I couldn't do more for him. We've never seen a case like his in our entire lives. If he hasn't told you already, I predict he won't make it past April or May, if he's lucky. Until that time though I am dedicating whatever spare time I have to finding a solution to this. Please let me know if anything happens.
It had been a very long time since Albus Dumbledore last felt this sad. His eyes moved from the paper on his desk up to the teen before him, sitting as he usually did in the chair facing the desk. Gone were the days of innocent wonder as he looked around; the days when he didn't hold the look of a fighter, of someone who had ended a life.
Of someone whose days were numbered.
"It sucks, I know."
Harry's voice was a great mix of emotions, but more than anything there was resignation.
"But there's nothing I can do about it now, and I've sulked enough. I've got-" He cut off sharply for a moment but pushed forward. "There's stuff I need to do."
It took a long time for Dumbledore to respond.
"Harry… I am so very, very sorry. Truly I have failed you."
"No you haven't," Harry returned at once. "This isn't your fault and you've always looked out for me."
"Even so… no, you are right." Dumbledore took a deep breath and sat up straighter, expression resolute. "I believe we have a great deal of work to do and an even greater need of time. Particularly if the final horcrux is kept where we think it may be."
"I've been thinking about it a lot recently and I can't think of anything better," said Harry with a frown. It wasn't like he'd really needed to. The two of them had spent tens of hours brainstorming purely about potential horcrux locations. Their list was frighteningly short for something so critical.
"Indeed, if Lucius was deemed worthy enough to protect a fragment of the great Lord Voldemort's soul, then it stands to reason that Voldemort's other greatest Lieutenant received one as well."
"Are we set to raid the manor?"
"Not yet," Dumbledore shook his head. "Our new time frame clearly has found us ill prepared to take our next steps. The area still needs to be scouted properly. You should also know," he added, "that I've brought Sirius into awareness of everything."
"What? Really?" Harry was, understandably, shocked.
"We do not have the luxury of complete secrecy anymore. We are only two, after all. Eventually we will need another, perhaps more. Who better to start with than Sirius Black? Besides…" Dumbledore smiled as he sent a glance to one of the portraits on the wall. "When it comes to helping you, I don't think there is anyone more willing and able."
"Definitely," Harry agreed, glad they had more help. Sirius was probably the best choice anyway. "And if the manor doesn't work out we'll actually…?"
"Break into Gringotts, yes," Dumbledore returned smoothly. As if he hadn't just casually mentioned trespassing on one of the most heavily fortified locations, probably in the world. "But we will discuss that more if it comes to it. With any luck this hunt will end with Lestrange's manor."
The Headmaster paused for a moment before switching gears entirely, his voice lowering as well. "Will you be returning to Hogwarts for the term?"
All at once, Harry felt a surge of gratitude for the elder man in front of him. For him to ask such a thing was beyond what he'd ever expected.
"And your friends?"
The pain behind Harry's eyes was very clear.
"I'll make sure I see them at some point. I promise."
"Then in that case, do stay safe. If I need to contact you I will send any messages via Fawkes," Dumbledore nodded. Harry nodded as well, standing, but not moving.
There was a long stretch of silence. The conversation had difinitively ended but there was still a sense of something hanging over them.
"There truly is no way to save your life?"
He simply could not let it go.
"Perenelle sarcastically said that the only way she could think of was by increasing the weight of my soul." Harry just shook his head. "She's a frustrating person."
"...I'll admit I do not have the slightest idea what she could mean by that," Dumbledore agreed, baffled out of his sadness. "The weight of a soul?"
"Guess it's just something kids like us wouldn't understand anyway," Harry shrugged, unable to resist shooting the Headmaster a grin. Dumbledore just chuckled in amusement, a hand finding and tugging at the long white beard once.
For some reason, walking the stretch of wall three times to open the Room felt odd. Like he hadn't done it in years, rather than a little more than a week.
He'd barely entered when he was swept up in a tight hug. He only hesitated a second before returning it.
She released him, and in perfect sync they moved, Harry ducking and Narcissa's fist passing through the space his head had just vacated.
"The bloody hell is wrong with you!?" she yelled. "You've been gone for more than a week and missed Christmas! I'd half a mind to think you'd died! Who was I supposed to ask?"
Instead of swinging once more like he'd expected, she simply drew him into another much more gentle but secure hug.
"I'm sorry, I pretty much just got back to be honest," Harry replied, his voice subdued.
"Got back from where?" she said in exasperation.
"The States, actually. It's a long story," he added as Narcissa took a step back to give him a baffled look. "In any case, I need you to get ready to go. We're leaving the castle."
"Leaving? What's wrong?"
"The situation's changed a bit. I promise I'll explain everything after we've relocated, okay?"
"If that's what you want to do." Narcissa was confused, curious, and even more concerned, but she knew he wouldn't go back on his word to her and was willing to be patient for now.
"Will you be back?"
Harry turned to face the woman who had chosen to keep her distance from the aggressed mother.
"I will, but I don't know when."
"Remember my doors are always open to you."
"I know, thank you."
It didn't take long for them to be ready to leave. Within a few minutes Harry's trunk was in his pocket and Narcissa had taken her usual riding spot on his arm in snake form. It would be a real blow to lose the utility of the Room, but he couldn't stay here any longer. Not like this.
"Well, I'll see you around. Take care of yourself, Stella."
"You as well, Harry," she said with a small bow of her head. "Be sure to keep up your practice."
Harry paused at the door, Narcissa's head poking up from his collar ever so slightly to see what was happening. He smiled in a way that spoke nothing of humor.
"I'll find a way."
Chapter complete! Hi everyone, hope you've all had good lives in the last year or so since I updated. I spent a bunch of time this summer really straightening out the remaining chapters so that I'd be able to better write them while working. I'm not okay with the one chapter per year thing I've been doing lately.
Anyway, I really hope you enjoyed the chapter. This particular chapter marks a bit of a change in pace and tone for the story, as with Harry leaving Hogwarts he's more focused on finishing the damn story xD Still plenty to happen but the end is in sight. I wonder how many of you are going to accurately predict how this ends? After reading about what is actually happening to Harry, did you get it right? What did you think had happened, I'd love to know.
Please let me know what you think in a review or a message, I'll be happy to answer any questions you have. Fave if you think it's great, follow if you want, but most of all thanks for reading and sticking it out with me here. Without the community I'd just keep this stuff on my home computer.