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Harry Potter and the Last Horcrux [final]
The Last Alchemist
By Mike [FP]
Stories begun in 2006 (post-HBP)
One chapter to go after this...
From here through to the end, the contents were in draft and/or outline form at the time of Deathly Hallows' publication in 2008. An effort was made to keep from being influenced by DH; I haven't spotted any serious slips in that regard, but if you do happen to find evidence of said influence... well, it's accidental. This is definitely post-Half Blood Prince fanfiction, and all that entails (Grindelwald's very different history alone should have demonstrated that).
The Last Alchemist
October 31, 2004 Hogwarts Castle, Perth & Kinross, Scotland
Gudrun threw a small stone against the floor and a granite table erupted from it. She opened a travelling case and drew out a glass vessel several times the size of the case, filled with roiling amber-coloured liquid. An assortment of instruments joined the vessel atop the table; Harry could only guess at their purpose.
“That's the base, then?” he asked.
“Correct,” she said distractedly.
Harry moved to the enormous cauldron at the centre of the room as she continued to organise her table. It was nearly five feet across and sat on a low-slung iron stand; its lip came nearly to his chest. He checked the anti-sepsis spell that protected the empty cauldron for a third time and then verified for the fifth time that the stand was exactly thirteen inches high.
“I have never used a steel cauldron,” Gudrun said.
Harry admitted, “I haven't either. Brass would have been enough – it's certainly effective for healing and basic protections – but steel has all the properties of brass as well as general protections from nightmares and offensive magic. I figured there was no sense in leaving a risk of backlash, and she might need the nightmare protection if this is as disorienting as I'm expecting,”; he added with a grimace, “You can't imagine how much trouble this bloody thing has been. It took a dozen tries for the manufacturer to get it right, and then it had to be transported all the way here with no magic at all because steel is so temperamental. Even with all of that, it can only be used once.”
Gudrun picked up one of her instruments and closely checked it, even as she pointed out, “If your scheme is accurate, then you could use an old wooden bucket and it would matter not.”
“Everyone's intent is important, not just mine,” said Harry.
“If you believe in the need, then the need exists,” Gudrun agreed.
Harry smiled and said, “You really are beginning to understand.”
“I understand that you are the only living wizard for whom this ritual could succeed. As I say, I believe in you,” she said.
He said in agreement, “The circumstances are awfully unique, aren't they?”
Gudrun stopped her work and leant against the edge of the table. She said, “This is true, but not what I intended. You have the, ehh, affinity with magic like no other. I understand why you speak of grœð as you do. For you, it is a living thing. You are grœð and grœð is you. Combine this with the ten years of study that you pressed into less than five – which I will again remind you that you should never have done this – and the result is a true Sorcerer. I believe that you are one of those.”
“Dumbledore was a Grand Sorcerer. It said so on his stationery,” Harry told her.
Gudrun snorted at that; she explained, “Your Mr. Dumbledore held the title of Grand Sorcerer. That title is given by a self-appointed club of pompous wizards after the completion of trials that would have amused the mages of old. I have studied the True Sagas, and I tell you that some of those who today are granted the title of Sorcerer would have been quite ordinary mages in those times. Very few modern mages are true Sorcerers. Your Mr. Chen is certainly one of those, and your Mr. Dumbledore may have been so given what is said of him. I believe that the faúra-gaggja is a true Sorceress, but I have heard of no others in my lifetime.”
“Wish I'd never met the man, but I can't deny that Dumbledore was ten times the wizard that I am. I can't actually do most of the things I've read about,” Harry insisted.
“I doubt this is true. You no longer cast spells; magic does as you ask of it. I doubt that you require a wand or any other focus. It is used from habit alone,” Gudrun stated matter-of-factly.
It was true that Harry hadn't incanted a spell out of necessity in years. As he considered her words, he realised that he didn't even think in the form of incantations any more unless he was poking fun or making a point.
“I am correct,” Gudrun confirmed when he stayed silent.
“Not many wizards can do that, I suppose,” Harry admitted uncomfortably; it had never had seemed right to him when others claimed themselves superior, even when it was true, and it wasn't a habit he wanted to acquire.
Gudrun told him, “It is beyond nearly all.”
“When Chen Lu was testing me, he said that I ask magic and magic answers. I guess he was right... it's not something I think about, I just do it,” Harry said.
“Consider as well that even when taking into account the time-turning, you have lived for little more than two decades. Many years must pass before your true mastery will be understood by you or anyone else. Mr. Dumbledore had lived for more than six decades when he bested Grindelwald, and Mr. Chen was older still at the time of his greatest known deeds. The faúra-gaggja is born of a family prone to short lives; by embracing the grœð, she outlives her twin by more than eleven decades. Taking into account the history of true sorcery, you are a very young man,” said Gudrun.
After a long pause, he blurted out, “I can't cast first on anyone in a fight, or even in a set duel. It's like all of the magic dries up. If I'm attacked first then I can return with practically anything, but otherwise...” No one but Dobby had known that before.
“What of the darker magics?” she asked.
He struggled for an answer, and finally responded, “I told you I can't do most of what I've read. I could never cast a lot of what I learned in Eastern Europe – never even tried it. It's not a dark magic issue, exactly. I don't think that I can cast with dark intent now. Does that mean Voldemort couldn't have been a true Sorcerer?”
Gudrun returned, “Voldemort could not have possessed a true affinity to magic. He demanded of it, forced the power to match his will. I ask you this: has an unrepentant dark wizard ever held the reins of power until the end of his natural life?”
Harry thought hard on that. Voldemort, vanquished by Harry... Grindelwald, defeated by Dumbledore... Li Zhang, defeated by Chen Lu... Tramposo, defeated by de Maupassant... Racine, ultimately redeemed by Nicolas Flamel... Marmuk the Horrible, assassinated by his own inner circle after they were turned by Akhtet... he was no expert in magical history as Binns' incompetence cost him six years of useful studies, but he couldn't come up with a single example.
Gudrun read the conclusion in his eyes and said, “No dark wizard can stand against a true Sorcerer and succeed in the end.”
She was making it harder to deny what he was, and he didn't like it at all. His chest tightened and the room felt as if it had closed in on him; “What does Siggy think about all of this?” he managed.
“Madam Gísladóttir would not attend to you for weeks upon end if she did not believe you are of great importance and great potential. We have not spoken of my views on this matter, but I do think that she would agree,” she said with confidence.
Harry quickly changed the subject. “Are you ready to start the base?” he asked her.
“We should begin, yes,” she said. The four-foot-high glass vessel lifted slowly into the air and moved across the room until it hovered above the centre of the cauldron. With a small flick of Gudrun's wrist, the bottom of the vessel disappeared and the fluid within spilled out. It had a scent that Harry couldn't place, in turns earthy and vaguely metallic.
“What is this, anyway?” Harry asked, uncertain whether he actually wanted to know the answer.
“Liquor amnii,” she said.
“You would know it as, ehh... amniotic fluid,” she added.
Harry's brow rose; “The stuff that surrounds a foetus?” he asked.
Gudrun said, “That is correct.”
“But that's hundreds of gallons of it! I can't imagine that you conjured or transfigured it, so where did all of this come from?” he asked her, unsure whether or not he wanted an answer.
She said, “Amniotic fluid consists of water and organic compounds. In very general terms, the organic compounds were grown and added to the mineral contents and magically purified water. I can explain this in more detail –”
“Please don't; I doubt I'd understand it,” he cut her off.
As she cast a series of spells – Harry could feel that all but one were monitoring charms – she told him, “Liquor amnii is a unique fluid, Harry. It is different for each mother and child. This particular fluid incorporates genetic material freely given by Hermione's mother and father as well as genetic material extracted from hair found on Hermione's brush.”
Harry was surprised; “You went to see her parents?” he asked.
Gudrun said, “I did. I had not know that you were reconciled with them. They are truly in awe that you have devoted your whole self to bringing this about – you know this, do you not? There was no hesitation to offer assistance. They choose to believe in magic, as you say.”
He confirmed, “Erm... you're certain it was her hair? It could have been from someone else, even from Crookshanks.”
“This was carefully verified. I was told of Hermione's accident with Polyjuice potion the hair of a cat,” she returned; “I will put aside the details and tell you that in functional terms, this is identical to the fluid that surrounded Hermione in the womb.”
Despite having studied enough healing theory and practice to match a St. Mungo's intern, Gudrun's efforts were so far beyond him that he couldn't even wrap his head around the idea; he could only say, “That must have been bloody hard to manage.”
She admitted, “This was more complex than anything I have ever undertaken as either a healer or physician, but... you see, this felt as if it were the right thing to do. Does this make sense to you?”
He smiled and assured her, “Yeah, it does. It makes perfect sense.”
“This whole thing is beyond me, I must admit. You're certainly not the same young man who left my care. I understand that you won't appreciate this, but you remind me of the Headmaster just now. I am of course referring to his better qualities,” Madam Pomfrey said.
Harry winced at that but went on, “This is asking a lot – I suppose it's right on the edge of your healing oaths – but it's necessary. It's critical, in fact.”
Pomfrey returned, “I know that Gudrun Stefánsdóttir is here, and I'm not ashamed to tell you that she's more qualified to do this.”
“Gudrun's already involved in the ritual, and... well... it needs to be you. I can't give a rational explanation for that, I just know that it's right,” Harry admitted.
The corner of Pomfrey's mouth quirked ever so slightly and she said, “There's no getting around it, Harry: that sounded exactly like something Albus would say.”
“Poppy...” he gently chided her.
“And there you go again,” she chuckled.
“I need your help,” Harry said.
Pomfrey chuckled again and said, “You can't charm me with that pout of yours, Harry – I'm immune to such things.”
Harry said, “You know that I'm deadly serious about this.”
After a long pause, Pomfrey asked him, “Are you certain? You truly believe that you can bring Miss Granger back?”
“This isn't necromancy. She's not dead, just disembodied through no intention of her own. It will work,” Harry said.
“I believe in you, Harry, and I've seen too many strange and wonderful things across too many years to suffer doubts. I'll do it,” she said.
Harry hugged her, which caused the gruff healer to freeze for a moment; “Thank you,” he said honestly.
She shook her head and sighed, “I can't believe that I'm about to remove a rib from a perfectly healthy wizard.”
Madam Gísladóttir shuffled into the room and slowly bent forward to peer into the small cauldron set on the floor. “Your potion is coming along, child?” she asked Luna, who nodded in return.
“Are you all right, Siggy?” Harry asked.
“I am old, Harry; I am so very old,” Gísladóttir sighed.
Harry said uneasily, “Dunno, you seem pretty spry to me.”
Her lips quirked and she said, “You are a nice boy to say this. I will remain here until I have fulfilled my purpose, this much I promise.”
“That'll be a long time, then,” Harry said firmly.
Gísladóttir returned her attention to the cauldron. She said, “The appearance of this is as described in the text. I have never before seen this potion. Such a thing is not a part of our magics.”
“Not only is the colour proper but the surface sheen is fully developed, Madam. The Polyjuice Potion is as intended,” said Luna.
The ancient witch said, “Your eccentricities are many, young Harry. Great mages are truly unique persons, and such behaviours are natural consequences of seeing the world in a different way. Still, I must ask... what is the purpose of finishing this potion in this wash-room, given that it is the home of a very temperamental spectre?”
Ron cut in with a barking laugh; “It's a special place for us – let's just leave it at that,” was all he could manage.
The ancient witch wrinkled her nose and said, “I take you at your word, young Weasley. This potion requires a lengthy period in which to brew, if the text is correct. How is it that you have brought it to completion, child?”
Luna explained, “As with all things, there are formal and informal means to finish a task. Few wizards know that Polyjuice Potion can be started in a half-finished state through the careful combination of four completed potions. Fortunately for our purposes, I am not a wizard; I am a witch.”
“Indeed you are,” Gísladóttir chortled; “Harry, this potion... it is to represent Form?”
Harry said, “That's the plan. Polyjuice Potion is activated by adding a hair from the person whose form you want to take. Hermione's mum and dad gave Gudrun quite a lot of her hair, from an old brush.”
“This potion is consumed by the wizard and then transforms the wizard's body to resemble the other?” Gísladóttir confirmed.
“That is correct – it affects a complete transformation,” Luna said.
“Do you mean to say that this change is metamorphic in nature, or is this change to the level of cells?” Gísladóttir asked.
Luna answered slowly as though she was puzzling out the question; she said, “You are asking if the result is a surface likeness or an actual duplicate?”
Harry offered, “Some wizards in Australia studied Polyjuice Potion pretty extensively. They examined blood before and after taking the potion. After the change, the make-up of the drinker's blood was identical to the person who gave the hair and not the drinker.”
Gísladóttir said, “Then the potion does indeed create a cellular duplicate, a clone. This is a remarkable achievement but I see a great danger of abuse. The nature of this also explains why the potion lasts merely an hour, and why the drinker remains in the changed form if she dies during the course of the potion effect. Is the duration affected by the magnitude of the change, such as a change in gender or from young to old?”
Luna and Harry looked to each other, and Luna gave a shrug. “The potion's duration is sixty minutes; that is the nature of the potion,” she said.
Harry added, “I don't know about duration, but it does makes sense that a bigger change would be harder on the drinker than a smaller one. I've never run across any information about that, but it's not a question I've ever asked.”
“What is it that you intend to transform?” Gísladóttir asked Harry.
“Bone and Flesh,” he returned.
“Your plan is to create a skeleton and layer of flesh, upon which Form will be imposed? This is an interesting use of the potion,” she said.
Ron chimed in, “We figured that with Harry giving the bone and me giving the flesh and Hermione giving the form in a way, we'd be calling on the connection between all three of us, and... um... Harry figured that, actually. I'm just along for the ride.”
“What of the Blood?” she asked.
Harry closed his eyes and sighed; “I'm still working on that one. If I have to, I'll use my own,” he said. After a moment's pause, his eyes snapped open and he added, “You don't agree?”
Gísladóttir hesitated before she asked, “May I think on this?”
Harry felt uncertain for the first time in a week; he asked, “We have four hours left. How long do you need?”
Gísladóttir gave the wizened smile that Harry had come to expect of her. The condition of her teeth was really quite remarkable for her age: well-formed, nearly white in colour, gums barely receded. They were clearly her own, Harry thought... and then he recognised, not for the first time, that he was paying unusually close attention to other people's teeth.
“I must confirm two things, and the library of this castle may be a useful source of information. If not then I shall use your fire-calling arrangement to contact my fellows at the Inn. You will have your solution in three and three-quarters hours,” she said firmly.
“Let me walk you to the library,” Harry said.
They walked in silence for several minutes. He wasn't sure if he had come to appreciate silence, exactly, but he thought that silence had made him aware of everything around him – sights, sounds, smells, the presence of others, and the presence of Magic itself. It made him aware when people were looking for him, or when they were about to speak.
“You did the test again?” he said.
She smiled at him. “Good, very good! So much more useful than Legilimency, is it not? Precognitive awareness is not something that can be blocked by another – remember this. Yes, I was about to tell you that I performed the comparative test yesterday. You are still the bearer of two completely distinct insubstantial selves.”
“Then why am I thinking like she does? I've been reading everything I can get my hands on, and for no reason. I've been noticing people's teeth, for goodness' sake! Yesterday, I kept saying 'honestly'. I don't understand it!” he sighed.
“The traditional mages of your land viewed Samhain as the time when the barriers between ourselves and the spirit world are at their thinnest. Was this not the basis for the timing of your ritual? Perhaps this proves the rightness of your choice? It seems that the barrier between you and your beloved is growing thinner,” she suggested.
“Makes as much sense as anything else,” he said.
She stopped walking, seemed to consider something, and then made a point of looking him in the eye. “I require a promise from you. You will either agree or not agree, as we both know that it is pointless for you to make a magical oath,” she told him.
“What do you want me to do?” he asked, though he wasn't inclined to refuse her anything.
“You have treated Gudrun well, you have tried to teach her and she has been open to this. Promise me that you will continue. Promise me that you will lead her to understand that which you understand. It is only that which will assure her safety and a full life,” she returned.
He said, “I'll try to guide her there, but it's something she has to accept on her own – I can't make that happen. I can't promise she can put any of it to use, either.”
“I ask that you make the attempt,” she said.
He told her, “I've already promised Gudrun that we won't let her fall. I meant that.”
She went silent for a while before she said, “That is enough,” and continued on her way.
Harry laid out the talismans on Gudrun's granite table as his friends gathered around the cauldron. Anders stood at the back of the room, his shoulders against the wall. The rest stood in silence.
Harry began by saying, “You're my closest magical friends. There are others – Magnus, Seamus, Dean, Susan, Hannah – but it's not the same, no offence to any of them. Some of the people in John O' Groats are almost like family to me, but obviously they can't be a part of this.”
“You couldn't keep me away, mate,” said Ron.
Neville said, “I wouldn't be at Hogwarts today if it weren't for you and Hermione. I have to be here.”
Dobby bowed at the waist and said, “Dobby is deeply honoured to help return Miss Granger to Harry Potter.”
“We are here because this was meant to be,” said Luna.
Ginny said quietly, “I want my sister back. You can do this, Harry.”
Gudrun, who was checking the contents of the cauldron, stepped back and looked into Harry's eyes for a long while before she said, “I believe in magic, Harry.”
Harry said with a catch in his throat, “Well... erm... thank you for doing this.”
Ron asked, “Where's Siggy?”
Gudrun groaned, “Madam Gísladóttir will be here. She does not break her promises.” Harry gave his watch a nervous glance.
Ron filled the silence by asking, “It's the four elements first, isn't it?”
Harry said distractedly, “Water, Fire, Air and Earth; then Magic; then Bone and Flesh; then Form and Blood; and Spirit is last.”
The temperature in the room dropped ever so slightly as McGonagall entered through the wall. She said, “Madam Gísladóttir sent Tilly, our Head House Elf, to inform me that she will arrive five minutes later than planned. I was also asked to remind Harry that he should commence the ritual now, as some of the ingredients are to steep before the final element is added. Now if you will excuse me...?”
“Please stay,” Harry said.
“I had thought that I was unable to be here,” said McGonagall.
Harry said,”No, you just can't take an active part in what we're doing. Hermione would want you here, even if you can't give a talisman.” A silver tear ran down McGonagall's cheek as she drifted to the wall opposite from Anders. He looked to his watch a second time.
“Midnight closes upon us,” Luna said.
Harry nodded and waggled his finger at Ginny. “Come and take the heartstring,” he said; after a moment's hesitation, he added, “Anders, you come here as well.”
“Harry, my friend, you do recall that I am not a wizard?” Anders said lightly.
“Your mother was a witch. Besides, there's enough Magic in you for this – I can see it,” insisted Harry.
Anders hesitated for a moment but did as Harry asked; he noted, “When you say the word 'magic', it is in the way of a proper name. I find myself curious.”
Harry tried not to visibly wince and promised, “We can talk about that later if you like.”
Ginny took one end of the dragon heartstring. She confirmed, “You're certain that the wording doesn't have to be exact? It's just that in Runes, Babbling told us –”
Harry gave a lopsided grin and reminded her, “I wouldn't know; I didn't sit for Runes. Look, even though the floor and the cauldron are rune-struck, we're not performing a runic ritual here... not in the way you'd understand it, at least. The words are just a guideline: use them, don't use them, I don't care. What's important is that what you say feels right to you. Trust me, once you start talking you'll understand what I mean by that. Now, Anders, hold the heartstring by the other end. You can say something after Ginny if you'd like, but you're not obligated, right?”
Ginny stood atop a box set out for the occasion so that she could stand with her hand above the cauldron's lip. Anders stood beside her and they held the heartstring above the warm liquid, She began from the words she had memorised, “Dragons are creatures of fire, and a heartstring from a dragon brings fire to a witch's magic. With this heartstring, given by the same dragon that gave Hermione her wand, we return Fire to Spirit...”
She stopped and collected her thoughts before she went on, “Hermione... she was the sort of witch who burned bright, you know? She didn't do anything halfway – even when she should have – and heaven help you if you stood in her way because she was going to charge forward. I suppose it makes sense that her wand core came from a dragon. She gave me fits sometimes but she was my sister in every way that matters. I didn't really understand that until a few days before... before the end of the War.
“I wanted to save Harry, I honestly did, but I wasn't the right one to do it. She let me help her, though. I don't know if I could have done the same if I'd been in her shoes. It's been six years now and I'm married to a man I love more than anything, but I still feel the pull to Harry from that ritual we did. It's time to hand him back to you, Hermione. Come home, all right?”; her hand shook and she put her free arm around Anders and leant into him.
Anders cleared his throat and then said, “When we set after that monster, I told Harry that I wished to share a pint when it was finished. It was not long before we did so, but it is well past time that the four of us – Ginny and me, and Harry and you – head off to the pub, yes? Let us finish this now. Tonight we put the War behind us.” With that, they let the heartstring fall into the cauldron. Harry raced through his part of the ritual in a near-whisper; he had no intention of letting the rest of them hear what he said. A red eldritch fire briefly erupted before the liquid settled.
Luna stepped to the table, picked up her feather, skipped to the cauldron's edge and then hopped atop the box. Harry couldn't help but smile and Ginny barely stifled a giggle. She held the feather just above the liquid and said, “Hello, Hermione. This is a Jobberknoll feather. I know you can't see it just now... although maybe you can see it through Harry's eyes, but you're the only one who can tell us how this truly works. Anyway, trust me, it's not a Fwooper feather; it's definitely from a Jobberknoll. Your memory is very impressive. Is it eidetic? I suppose that doesn't matter much at the moment, does it? There were times when it seemed as if you had swallowed all of your schoolbooks, which would surely cause a terrible stomach ache and you would have to spew up the answers to write your exams. Is that why your futile attempt to free the Hogwarts house elves was called 'SPEW'? I suppose that doesn't matter much right now either.
“Jobberknoll feathers also symbolise truth and you've always been interested in that. Mind you, your definition of truth has been oddly narrow, but you have always meant well. I suspect you may have gained a new sense of the truth these last few years. It's great to have friends and even now I have very few of them, so quit messing about and come back. If you throw a Jobberknoll feather high into the air, it spins anti-clockwise as it drifts downward. I suppose you never threw a Jobberknoll feather in your Potions class, did you? Professor Snape might have thrown you into your cauldron if you had. Anyway, here comes your feather.”
With a flick of her wrist, the feather flew nearly to the ceiling before it settled into a slow spin and came downward just as she had described. As the feather reached the liquid and was absorbed, there was a burst of steam that was blown away by a inexplicable breeze.
“Don't forget to mumble your gibberish, Harry!” she added happily as she skipped back to her place.
“Oi, Neville, didn't that plant of yours mumble? You know, the one on the Express?” said Ron.
Neville took on the expression universal to teachers when they are faced with incompetence. “Mimbulus mimbletonia, Weasley. Good grief, it's no wonder you never managed better than an A,” he sighed.
Ron huffed, “Just lightening the mood, you know?”
“I think that Harry has run out of gibberish to mimble now,” Luna said in her sing-song way.
Neville took a deep breath and strode forward. He said, “Right, then. I've gotten better at this sort of thing when I know the subject, but I'm not exactly at my best making it up as I go. I looked at the notes, Harry, and I just couldn't feel the words...”
“You know what to say; the words are already inside of you,” Harry assured him.
“That wasn't cryptic or anything, was it?” Ron muttered. Gudrun elbowed him hard enough to draw a groan.
Neville held the vine wood uneasily. He said, “So I guess I talk to the cauldron like I'm talking to you, Hermione? Harry's changed a lot. I think you'll like him even better now, though he's gotten a bit stodgy. Who knows, maybe you'll be the one to loosen him up? At any rate, we grew this vine from what was left of your wand. Astounding, isn't it? I don't think that anyone in the field thought that we could make it work – cultivating seedlings from cuttings of wand wood, I mean – but I believed it and the druids believed it, and it happened.
“I've been thinking a lot about belief this week, you know? This thing Harry's doing here, it should be impossible – anyone could see that – but he's always been a dab hand at impossible things. I read somewhere that belief is thinking something is true when there's no solid evidence to back it up. I think I've always believed in Harry and I've always believed in you, too. So... erm... Ginny and Anders brought the core, and here's the rest of your wand. Um... see you in a few, then?”
He lowered the wood until it was inches from the bubbling liquid and then let it loose. The surface of the liquid crusted over with a dark layer of soil that quickly dried and cracked. The soil broke up into pieces that sunk back into the liquid and disappeared.
Harry said, “The elemental base is finished. Now we add Magic... Dobby?”
The house elf snapped his fingers and the box grew tall enough that he could stand atop it and lean at the waist over the edge of the cauldron. He said with an unexpectedly powerful tone, “Dobby is honoured to help Harry Potter put Miss Granger back into her body. No wizard has ever been so kind to a house elf as Harry Potter. He is the greatest of all wizards, but this is not because Dobby is saying so. This is so because it is the truth, and Dobby sees the truth – it is plain to all house elves with the eyes to see.
“Harry Potter lets Dobby give the Magic to do this. Before, he did not understand what house elves is, even though Dobby tried very hard to explain. Dobby thinks that Harry Potter understands now. House elves does not use magic, house elves is Magic. Magic to Dobby is like the white light to Harry Potter.”
Then Dobby drew a very familiar rough-hewn knife, one that Harry hadn't seen in years. He went on, “Harry Potter nearly binned this knife but Dobby knows that it could never be replaced, for it is from the tooth of the King of Snakes.”
Ginny's eyes bugged out; she stammered, “T-that knife is from the basilisk...?”
“Snape gave one to me and one to Voldemort,” Harry said coldly.
Dobby explained, “Dobby knows that Professor Snape crawled through nasty pipes for a long, long time to reach the Great Snake, and Professor Snape could not be seen or heard unless he wanted to be caught out by Voldemort. Professor Snape understood that Harry Potter might someday need such a thing. Dobby thinks that Professor Snape planned for Harry Potter to plunge it into He-Who-Is-Most-Sincerely-Dead. It could be that Harry Potter was to use it against the most foul anchors of the soul?”
Harry sagged and stumbled to one side. “We could have been rid of all the horcruces if I'd used that bloody thing...” he said softly.
“Don't go there, Harry. You did use it on Ravenclaw's book. It probably couldn't have cut into the Cup, and it's a sure thing you couldn't have used it on the last one,” Ron pointed out.
Dobby nodded furiously and said, “Harry Potter must not be despairing, for he and his coven will make right what was wrong. Dobby helps in this because it is the right thing. Dobby is Magic, so Dobby now gives Magic to Miss Granger.”
With a speed no human could match, he swung the basilisk knife. His left ear dropped into his free hand, and the room erupted. Even the Headmistress let out a ghostly shriek. Harry said nothing, but only because he couldn't manage a single sound.
Dobby acted as though nothing happened. He deposited the ear into the cauldron. A bright white light rose into the air and then sank into a glowing fog that flowed over the cauldron's lip and roiled along the floor for a few moments before it disappeared.
Ginny squeaked, “Dobby, you... it... the knife... your ear! You cut off your own ear!”
“Yes, Dobby did that,” the house-elf said proudly.
“But... but... it was your ear!” Ginny went on.
Dobby stared at her and said, “Of course it was Dobby's ear. Did Miss Weasley think that Dobby would cut off the ear of Harry Potter or Professor Longbottom or Mister Weasley or perhaps her Mister Twing?”
“Of course not!” Ginny gasped.
Harry finally managed to get a word out: “Why?”
“Dobby is Magic. Dobby gave Magic to Miss Granger,” Dobby said, as if it was obvious.
“There's no b-bleeding... why is there no bleeding?” Neville stammered.
Dobby looked at him askance; “Dobby is Magic, Professor sir. House-elves is only bleeding if attacked or if the bleeding is desired by master,” he said patiently.
“You really do need your ear, Dobby,” Harry said as calmly as he could.
The house-elf blinked several times and cocked his head to one side. “Why would Dobby not have his ear?” he asked.
Harry ground his teeth before he bit out, “Because you just cut your ear off.”
“Dobby cut off the ear because the ear comes back quickly. Dobby hated losing fingers to the ovens when the old master gave punishment. Dobby could be several days without them,” he returned.
“I never saw anything like this in all of my studying...” Harry managed to say.
Ron smirked and said, “Not all knowledge can be found in a book, you know?”
Harry grumbled, “Sod off.”
Dobby scrunched up his face and trembled as though he was lifting a heavy weight. A loud pop! echoed through the room, and an ear erupted from the ragged cut on the side of his head. It was about half the size of the other and tightly curled at the tip. His body sagged with relief and he announced, “Dobby's ear will be good as before within two days.”
Harry didn't wait for the rest of his friends to settle themselves; he reached into a pocket and withdrew his talisman. Gudrun's eyes locked onto the thin curved bone and her brows shot up.
He held his hand over the edge of the cauldron and said, “Here's mine.”
Ron scowled at him; “What are you on about? 'Here's mine'? There's nothing else to say?”
Harry sighed and said, “The next talisman is Bone. It's mine. I had Madam Pomfrey remove one of my ribs this morning.” He drew as many gasps as Dobby had.
“That is a most appropriate symbol, Mr. Potter. Full marks for your thinking,” McGonagall said with not a little pride.
“Ehh? Harry's rib means something special?” Ron asked.
Anders patted him on the shoulder and said, “It is a Muggle thing. I will explain it later.”
Harry gave a curt nod and lowered the rib into the cauldron. A surge of power climbed up his arm nearly to the elbow before he could take his fingers from the bone. He barely managed to back away before a hard white shell formed over the fluid. Like the earth before it, the bone shell broke up and the pieces disappeared into the bubbling liquid.
After several quiet moments, Ron withdrew a cloth sack from within his robes. He walked up to the cauldron and let his hand graze along its edge before he started, “I told Harry that I'd take care of the Flesh part. This is going to be even stranger than Dobby's ear, but let me explain myself, right?
“You all know what happened to me while we were hunting for the horcruxes... er, horcruces it was, horcruces... thought she was going to kill me every time I said 'horcruxes'. Anyway... ehh, this isn't easy...”
“You don't have to justify anything. You don't have to say anything at all,” Harry told him.
Ron shook his head and said, “Oh, trust me, I do. Anyway, when I made it to hospital, I just wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. I've never felt so guilty in my whole life. Most of you don't know that Harry almost got himself killed getting me out of there. Hermione tried to shield us from the rocks when the tunnel started to cave in. I told the both of them to leave me behind, but they wouldn't go. Hermione said later that they couldn't leave me there. All three of us could have died, and the rest of you would still be in a war.
“I've never been the same since that day and it isn't just because I was hurt. Gudrun finally got through my thick head. She reminded me that I went for that horcrux because I was the best one to try for it. I did it so that I could keep the two of them safe. I saved them and they saved me. She said that I did my best and that I willingly paid a price, and then she ended up sticking around in the bargain as well – how lucky am I, right?”
Everyone gave a small laugh and he went on, “There were a few things I kept when they discharged me from hospital. Some rocks fell into my robes on the way out of the caverns. One of those rocks is still on my desk. Every time I see it, I remember what happened and that we all did the right thing even when it was damn hard to do. I wanted to keep my shoe but one of the healers tore it to bits when they were trying to save my foot... so... um... I kept this instead. Gudrun put a preserving rune on it for me. She says she understands why I did it, but I figured anyone else would think I was crazy. Don't know that I completely understood it myself, really. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Guess everything happens for a reason, eh?”
He reached into the bag and when his hand came back out, Ginny let forth with a high-pitched scream. Everyone else managed to hold their ground, although Neville looked like he might spew up.
Anders was made of stronger stuff. He said, “You... ehh... you kept your foot, I see... it was an interesting choice.”
Luna said, “I understand, Ronald. I don't think you're crazy, not at all.”
“Err... dunno if that's reassuring...” Ron said nervously.
Harry pursed his lips and thought about it for a while before he said, “You were the one who finished the job in the caverns, mate, and only a crazy Gryffindor would have done what you did. Hermione was right, we couldn't have left you there and lived with ourselves. I figure you lost that foot for Hermione and me. Keeping it was, ehh... erm... unexpected? Using it for this, though...? That makes all kinds of sense to me. It's the right choice for this, I can feel it. Gudrun, you need to cancel the preserving rune first.”
Ron was obviously unsettled – and Harry would have been concerned otherwise – as he let the foot sink into the cauldron. The liquid churned furiously for almost a minute.
When the cauldron finally settled, Harry broke the silence by saying, “Right then, Form is next... Oi! Gudrun, did you move it?”
Gudrun turned to the table and quickly looked to Harry with alarm; she shrieked, “It was there! I swear to you on all that is holy, Harry – the flask was right there! Luna, there was surely another dose in the cauldron?”
Luna shook her head and said, “I placed the entire batch into the flask, for fear of the remainder being misused. The Polyjuice Potion is not really necessary to the ritual, is it? None of this is truly necessary, I suspect.”
Harry said quietly, “Symbols of intent, Luna... symbols of intent. Someone didn't believe this will work.”
Dobby's eyes squeezed shut for a moment and then he announced, “There is three house-elves waiting in the corridor, Harry Potter. Shall Dobby open the door?”
“Three house-elves, you say? Hold for a moment,” McGonagall ordered, and then passed through the wall. After a few moments, she returned and gestured Dobby toward the door.
The three house elves stood before a large bundle set in the corridor. The elf in the centre stepped forward and said, “I is Tilly. I take care of the house elves at Hogwarts. The Great Witch of the Fire and Ice ordered Tilly to seek out the Alchemist when the time comes, and the time has come.”
Gudrun said hesitantly, “The Alchemist... she must mean you, Harry...?”
The house elf began, “Tilly is to deliver... she is to...” but then thrust herself at the floor where McGonagall's feet would have stood had she been embodied.
“What's this? Tilly, get up from there! There will be no punishment, but you must explain yourself immediately,” McGonagall said firmly.
Tilly sobbed, “The Great Witch of the Fire and Ice... she knew what the house elves are, she knew the ancient spells... the Great Witch put the geas on us and we must obey, must keep her secrets as she asks and do what she says... Tilly would have stopped her, would have come for Madam Headmistress – Tilly swears!”
Harry squatted before Tilly so that he was at her height. The title of 'Alchemist' threw him off, but it surely referred to him. He was also sure of what was happening – though he truly hoped to be wrong – but had to play out the situation for form's sake if nothing else.
“Tilly, I am the Alchemist. I'll take your delivery now,” he said.
The house elf struggled to tell him, “Tilly is bringing three letters first, and there is a trunk given for Madam Healer, and then... and then...” She managed to summon three envelopes. The first was addressed to “Harry” and the second to “Mr. Ronald Weasley”. The last was made out to “Miss Granger”.
Dobby moved to stand beside Harry. He asked, “What more have you brought for the great wizard Harry Potter?” She nodded but couldn't get out any more words.
The shorter of the two house elves in the corridor was ancient, far older than the Black's elf Kreacher had been. In a surprisingly strong and deep voice, he intoned, “Dobby of Potter's House, will you accept this burden on behalf of Mr. Harry Potter, the True Alchemist?”
Harry watched as Dobby stood ramrod straight – he seemed several inches taller in that moment – and returned, “Dobby of Potter's House accepts this burden, Eldest One. You do Dobby great honour by allowing him to act on behalf of his House.”
Dobby gave an elegant wave of his hands and the bundle in the corridor rose several inches from the floor. The 'Eldest One', as Dobby called him, raised one gnarled hand and the bundle moved forward toward Harry. He hobbled behind it, and the third house-elf who had not spoken fell in behind.
Harry didn't need to open the bundle to know what was inside, but he untucked one end of the cloth nonetheless. “Oh, Siggy...” he said softly.
Gudrun saw hair spill from the opened cloth and shrieked, “Siggy! What have you done?” but that was nothing against the bedlam when Harry pushed aside the cloth completely. Ginny let out a keening wail and Anders swore in Danish. Ron kept Gudrun from falling as her knees buckled. Neville went stock-still, his mouth agape. Dobby repeated, “Oh, dear!” again and again.
Harry didn't expect to hear a rasping chuckle and he quickly went to his knees and leant in. “I didn't hear you,” he said. In a trice, the room went silent.
Madam Gísladóttir forced out, “At last, dear Gudrun calls me 'Siggy'.”
As Gudrun broke into sobs, Harry unsteadily placed his hand on Gísladóttir's cheek – her teenaged cheek. Hearing Hermione's voice was a shock to his system; he had begun to forget how it sounded.
“Why?” was the only question that Harry thought worth asking.
She said, “Wouldn't work... skeletal structure from rib, flesh from foot... the time to build the organs, form blood from marrow... she would have drowned before the ritual was completed.”
“Bullshit,” he blurted out.
“This is your boon: the absolute assurance that this will succeed,” she explained.
Gudrun sounded more frantic with each word as she insisted, “Madam Gísladóttir – Siggy – we can counter this potion. If you allow me to examine you, then this can still be remedied!”
Gísladóttir couldn't move but managed to shift her gaze to Luna; “You know the ending, do you not?” she bit out.
Luna didn't frown – Harry wasn't sure she was even capable of frowning – but her mouth fell to a flat line before she answered, “You will not survive the potion's effect and your remains will be locked in Hermione's form, but you know this. You asked about it earlier this evening, but I believe that you knew the answer even then.”
“Insightful, child,” Gísladóttir whispered.
“I'll ask it again: Why?” Harry demanded. She looked at Harry with her lips quirked into a half-smirk. It was an expression that Siggy had never made in his presence but which he'd seen a thousand times on Hermione's face, and he barely held himself together.
“It is the right choice... you know this,” she told him.
“Damn it, Siggy,” he said softly, for he knew it was true.
“Close the cloth, too bright,” she muttered. He did as she asked. It was easier for him after that, with Hermione's face hidden away. She was just Siggy again: the batty, brilliant old woman who had healed him and set him on the right path.
She rasped out, “I shall call upon Albus Dumbledore... impress upon him the error of his ways.”
He gave a barking laugh and gently shifted her from the floor and into his arms, into the cautious embrace that the young share with the old; “Thank you. I don't know what else to say,” he told her.
She shifted in his arms and seemed to draw strength for a moment. “It is enough. We shall see each other again,” she said.
He whispered, “I hope so.”
Gudrun cut in, “May I assist you, Madam... Siggy? I can ease any pain...”
The ancient witch didn't answer and Harry knew that she never would. Her body sagged in his arms. Gudrun joined him on the floor and Ron gingerly followed. They eased the body away from Harry, and he took the first letter from Tilly without a word.
Your mentor guided you through the use of misdirection and omission. These are the tools of hubris. Thousands upon thousands, both magical and mundane, give their witness of his hubris from the grave. I will not repeat the Supreme Mugwump's mistakes. You deserve to understand where your path may lead, be it good or ill or merely just, and I shall not take the knowledge of this to my grave.
My most favoured apprentice deduced that you are a sorcerer. I know this because despite the keenest of intellects, she broadcasts her thoughts as if she was a wireless. She is correct. The nature of sorcery is not quite so absolute as young Gudrun believes it to be. Having said this, the number of sorcerers who today live upon this good Earth can surely be counted by the fingers of two hands.
You are about to undertake something far rarer than sorcery. I tell you this not to discourage, but to give name to that which you already know. You are not the last sorcerer on this earth, but you may be the last True Alchemist.
True alchemy requires four things of its practitioners. First, the alchemist must understand that he asks of magic and that magic asks of him. This understanding escapes the majority of mages. This is valid for practitioners from all of the major magical traditions, as the very act of instruction constrains practise which in turn constrains discourse and transforms art into craft, practise into performance, sacred gift into personal property.
Second, the alchemist must understand that magic is instinct and emotion and intention and belief, not rune stones or numerology or wand-waving. Magic is not a system, despite the best efforts of scholars to render it so. Moreover, the alchemist must be able to act upon that understanding. Few ever develop this understanding, fewer still can put it to practice. It is these first two things, in combination with a healthy amount of skill and a great body of knowledge, that define a sorcerer. For you to have achieved this awareness and ability in only your third decade is a remarkable feat, albeit one accomplished at great cost to yourself and those of your company.
Third, the alchemist must give up darkness of intention and must accept, at least implicitly so, that he will no longer be able to commit injustice through the actions of magic. A sorcerer who makes this sacrifice will nearly always prevail over another who does not. The wand of elder imposed this conclusion upon you, but you have come to accept it.
Fourth, and most significantly, is the opposite of the third: the alchemist must also accept that there are no limits to the just practice of magic. To accept this paradox is truly extraordinary. For all but the strongest of mages, the rejection of limits leads to the acceptance of all forms of intention; or the rejection of dark intent leads to the unconscious imposition of limits upon just magic; or the reckoning of individual and collective justice is too difficult to balance; and thus the sorcerer's magic becomes self-limited. Though I understand this, our work together these last weeks proved that I was too bound by the system of my instruction and practice to achieve this in any meaningful way.
When all of these things are in place, then a sorcerer can perform True Alchemy: the permanent transfiguration not just of physical structure, but of the essence of being and non-being, of the physical and metaphysical. In the language of science, True Alchemy is the Grand Unified Field Theory put into practice. As you continue to study and learn, you will see the proof of this. I have left you some written thoughts on your studies to consider at your leisure. Much of this you already realise, even though you can not and would not articulate it as I have done so. Philosophy and erudition and other such trappings will come to you with time if you wish.
No one else could carry out this ritual in the manner that you have prescribed. Another sorcerer could create a healthy form that could house an insubstantial self. They could even place your young lady's insubstantial self into that form and that form would live, but the result would not be truly her. They could carry out the ritual using the same coven that you have assembled, but the result would still not be her. You are using the power of your own intention and the intentions of your coven in combination to reconstitute the proper Miss Granger.
The last publicly known True Alchemist was Mr. Nicolas Flamel. Your mentor was Mr. Flamel's pupil at one time, although he took pains to be seen later as Mr. Flamel's colleague. The Supreme Mugwump ultimately lost his way and did not achieve the alchemical potential that Mr. Flamel must have seen in him. His life illustrates why one of your strength and capability should be wary of politics. He largely eschewed the public reins of power yet allowed himself to treat the world as if it were a grand chess match assembled for his pleasure. How shall you keep from losing your way, my young friend?
This does not mean that you must hide your light as Mr. Flamel did. I say that there is a middle ground which will come as second nature to you. Teaching and guidance come to you as easily as drawing breath. Take on apprentices, or work through a school if you prefer this. Guide those under your care to explore the fullness of magic. Few will be able to reach beyond system and rote, but all will benefit from what you have to offer. Act not for the greater good but rather for that which is just, for these are not one and the same. Serve the grœð and allow the grœð to serve you. I know that this is not how you view the nature of magic, but it is how my people speak of it. Most will never know that you are a sorcerer of old, let alone a True Alchemist, but all may know you by your words and your deeds. This is as it should be.
Your studies over this last handful of years have accomplished what was required but now is the time to engage in the fullness of life. There is no need for you or any of your company to ever again tamper with the flow of time. You will fully recover from the ravages of these magics but should not tempt the fates again.
It is fitting that 31st October will now mark beginnings in your life rather than endings. I give you this final talisman. The shell left to your care is no longer meant for me.
With great respect and affection,
“You did see the shape of it, didn't you... couldn't quite let go of the grœð, though,” he whispered too quietly for anyone else to hear.
By the time he finished reading, Gudrun had assumed a stiff upper lip worthy of Britain's finest. She said to Harry, “This gift must not be wasted. There is little time.”
Harry drew Ron, Neville and Anders to one side of the room, whilst Gudrun, Ginny, Luna and the house elves did him the great favour of preparing the body. He honestly didn't know if he could have done it.
He felt as if he should be more upset, but Siggy didn't seem troubled by her choice. She had lived a long life. He had chosen to enter into her confidence, to accept her as a teacher and guide. He understood that any ongoing grief would be about him being left behind rather than her choosing to move on. In his younger days Harry would have been crushed, but he wasn't an ickle fifth-year now. Death was no longer new to him nor was it a source of fear.
Gudrun's hand came to rest on his back. She said tightly, “We put... that is, we added Form and Blood to the cauldron. Do you speak an incantation or cast a rune?”
Harry looked to the letter still in his hand and returned, “It's all been said.” He pulled her into a one-arm hug that turned into an embrace suited for a wake.
She was visibly tense; “And what comes now?” she asked him.
He sighed, “The hard part, I'm afraid. Everyone should clear off a bit. A small ward will come up when I've activated the ritual, but still... we're all in uncharted waters, aren't we?” With that, he drew himself up and strode to the cauldron; then he set his bare feet atop specific runes struck into the stone floor and then braced himself against the cauldron's lip. It was then that something unexpected happened.
“Bloody hell, Harry, your scar's glowing!” Ron warned him.
“Um... maybe Hermione's in a hurry to get out?” Neville offered.
Harry bit out, “That's good, Neville, I like that. Keep it positive...”
“Is there any way that we can help you?” Gudrun asked him.
“Just keep believing...” he managed; under his breath he added, “...because I expect this is going to hurt...”
ï´ ï´ ï´ ï´ ï´
Harry had been the very definition of a survivor at seventeen, but not much of a wizard. Then again, that was true of nearly every wizard he had ever met. He overcame an indifferent upbringing that taught him to be invisible and to avoid asking questions; a magical education that could be charitably described as uneven; and the orchestrations of an arrogant old man who offered him up to an ungrateful world as a human sacrifice. He had lived a very closely-held life by any standard, be it wizarding or ordinary; as of his seventeenth birthday, he had spent more than fourteen years restricted to the grounds of two buildings. He had never been outside of Britain, or even beyond the south of England excepting school and travel to and from. He had lived on an island for his entire life – albeit a large one – and had only seen the ocean once. The year of wartime had broadened his horizons, but even the best of days were spent in the shadows and most days were spent on the run or under fire. Harry made it to the end of the War thanks to loyal and talented friends, good timing, the sacrifices of others and sheer dumb luck. His principal skills in those days were improvisation and persistence.
At twenty-four – or perhaps thirty, depending on one's point of view – he had studied and trained on six continents. He had explored dozens of different systems for the practice of magic, from the British framework taught by Hogwarts to the rune-dominated Nordic methods to the ancient magical arts of the Orient to indigenous magics like dream-walking. He had visited more than forty magical cultures around the world; he figured that he was better travelled than anyone from the International Confederation of Wizards. He had delved deeper into the nature of magic itself than all but a handful of living mages. He had few legitimate magical peers, and nearly all of those were elderly.
He had learnt so much that he could no longer escape a horrible truth: most of what he had been taught prior to the age of twenty was irrelevant at best, often distracting, and dangerously wrong at worst. It was true that a focus like a wand or staff or rune stone or didgeridoo was necessary for the practice of the most intensive magics and could be helpful for lesser efforts. Incantations, on the other hand, were a crutch for a mage with clarity of intent and sufficient will.
He would never tell McGonagall or Flitwick that all of the wand-waving they taught – the Bachman Twist, the Truman Waggle, the Merkle Manoeuvre, the Anti-Clockwise Wrist Whip and all of the rest – was unnecessary. The only reason a Hogwarts alumnus needed to cast an engorgement charm with a Fosbury Flick was because they were taught so from the start. An English wizard never saw it cast any other way as a child unless they had a family member who studied abroad. The same method was taught in classes, rigorously practised, reinforced on tests, and required by the Wizarding Examination Authority for the OWLs and NEWTs. It had occurred to Harry more than once that there would have been no hope of bringing Hermione back if he had paid more mind to his Hogwarts tuition.
Intention lived within the wizard but it could be fuelled from without. That was at the heart of the ancient magics – the 'old magic' or 'higher magic' that Dumbledore oft mentioned without explanation. Even those who practised 'old magic' were too abstract in their thinking. His Icelandic friends believed that grœð was the magical manifestation of justice. Justice and injustice were abstract concepts that described emotional states or beliefs. They were ideas that could anchor or even fuel a wizard's intention. They were not sources of magic in and of themselves. Harry had loved Siggy to pieces, but she had thought too small.
Dobby had it right from the start, though it took Harry nearly ten years to understand. The grœð was Magic, or at least the positive manifestation of it. It wasn't justice or rightness or wrongness or fairness as a human understood those things. Magic sought balance. What Siggy and her people called græd was also Magic; it was merely the counterweight of the scale.
The mages of old were right when they had said that powerful magics always exact a price. That was why sacrificial magic was at once great and terrible. The invoker paid an intentional personal price at the outset. Magic was left to restore the balance. Harry's mother had given her life for him with clear ritual intent. Voldemort had been at a double disadvantage: not only was he on the wrong end of the sacrifice, but he also lacked respect for Magic – even as he accepted some of its truths, he effectively denied its existence. On that fateful night in Godric's Hollow, he had never stood a chance.
It took Harry the best part of a year to identify and perform a basic analysis of the tangle of spells, rituals and bonds that had connected him to Hermione, Voldemort and the horcruces. After another year, he had solidified a sequence of events and created a billboard-sized table of interactions. From those, he worked backward through the sequence and carefully eliminated each element that was ineffective, each pair of effects that countered one another. It was like drawing a picture by sketching the empty spaces – painstaking, tedious, and never quite right no matter the effort. Through all of that and beyond, he constantly studied and trained and hoped to effectively and safely reverse what had happened.
Once he recognised the truth of Magic and taught himself to consistently act upon it, it was brutally obvious what had to be done. His friends weren't going to like what they were about to watch, not in the slightest. He had tried to mislead Siggy as to his plan, though it now seemed as if she might have understood all along. There was no time left to consider how the ancient witch's own sacrifice might affect the next few moments; he could only hope that it would work to Hermione's favour.
As long as he stayed true throughout and his coven stayed firm in its belief, he didn't believe that the real ritual in play – the invocation of Magic itself – could actually kill him. However, he had long ago decided that he would rather die along with Hermione if Magic balanced in opposition to them. He took several slow breaths and focused his thoughts. His intentions couldn't be more clear – they had been honed for a decade, after all.
He peered down into the cauldron. Hermione's body floated just beneath the surface of the liquid. She wore a simple white shift that had gone slightly transparent once soaked. She had naturally drifted into a foetal position as though waiting to be re-born. In his arms, the body had looked more like Hermione as he'd last seen her: gaunt, with visibly greying hair. Now her hair was shorter than he recalled it, and without a single trace of white. She looked so young that it startled him for a moment, but then it occurred to him that this was likely how an eighteen year old, uninjured and properly fed Hermione would have looked.
He drew his wand, pointed it at her forehead and began to weave Magic. He rebuilt the equivalent of the flawed connection that had formed between the two of them and Ravenclaw's false grimoire – theurgus valere – with a series of runes on the cauldron in place of the long-destroyed horcrux. Once that was in place, he forged the links to the runes, and stopped briefly to test the results. There was a noticeable drain on him after that, since he had to provide all of the energy that sustained the connection, but it was otherwise identical to the connection as it had been in the end.
Next, he re-established the curse-sharing bond – excratio pensare – that had likely kept Hermione's soul from being flung into the ether. The drain on him grew stronger, but it was manageable.
Then, he slowly lowered his wand into the liquid and touched it to her upper arm. He silently asked for her to be caught in a firm body-bind, and then carefully placed a series of runic tattoos that precisely matched the ones she had burned into him six years prior. With that done, he silently cast an enervation charm.
The body's eyes shot open and it thrashed against the binding but to no avail. He heard a commotion in the room but was far too focused to respond. He had to act quickly now, or Siggy's last concern – that Hermione would drown before the ritual was completed – could possibly come true.
Just as you couldn't truly verify the strength of an Unbreakable Vow without breaking it and suffering the penalty, you couldn't demonstrate the intention to pay the price for Magic's balance without actually doing so. He had re-established the necessary connections. All that remained was to surrender his own fate. He raised his wand from the cauldron and placed the tip at his own temple.
The commotion was clearer now, as some of his friends had moved closer.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Oh, God... you can't – ”
He almost stopped, but then he heard what he needed to hear. At first he thought it was Luna, but then he realised that it was Gudrun – the least likely of them all.
“Ronald, you can not stop this now. Harry! I am scared for you but I understand now! I know what it means to believe in Magic, and I want to believe. I will care for the two of you when this is finished and then you will teach me. It is as simple as that.”
His intention was strong as steel and honed like a blade. The last thing he saw was a brilliant green flash. The last thing he felt was the lip of the cauldron; he struck it as he pitched forward. Then there was darkness, followed by endless white.
What do you want? he heard.
Harry didn't give voice to his answer as he had done in the Room of Magical Energies and at the Inn of the Healing Order. Instead he packaged his intent and cast it like a Patronus into the mists. Magic didn't speak in return, but he recognised that it found him worthy.
What is the price? he asked directly.
The price is paid, he heard.
He wanted to ask what the price had been and how it had been paid, but instead focused his intentions on giving thanks. As it happened, he didn't need to ask.
You understand now, and that cannot be undone, he heard.
It took a moment or a day or a thousand years, but he puzzled out Magic's balance. The ritual was going to succeed and it wasn't going to kill him, but his path for the last decade had nearly destroyed him. He now knew the truth of Magic, and it wasn't something that could he could simply forget – it couldn't be undone. Eventually Gudrun would see it as well and would probably be able to act on it. She had the necessary intelligence, curiosity, determination and relationship with Magic. He couldn't decide what Hermione might do with the knowledge if she understood it; he did know that she was less prepared to cope with it, at least for the moment. As for others...? Pandora's Box hadn't opened, but it was unlocked and he was now its minder. It was quite a price indeed, but one that he would have paid a hundred times if it brought Hermione back.
There were no more words after that. He was left with a strong sense that while Magic would always respond to him if he treated it with regard and respect, it would never speak to him again. That was reassuring, he decided. Then the endless white receded into darkness and he knew no more.
November 1, 2004 Hogwarts Castle, Perth & Kinross, Scotland
His first thought was that his chest hurt. That led to a powerful coughing fit. His second thought was that his chest hurt even more. Something made his nose tickle. He reached up to scratch at it, and his third thought was that everything hurt. His nose tickled again. This time he recognised the feeling of hairs brushing against it, which was something he hadn't felt in a very long time. He tried to shift his weight and painfully confirmed his third thought.
“I am never doing that again,” he croaked.
”I certainly hope not,” said the owner of the hair.
He opened his eyes – which also hurt – just enough to squint at his surroundings: the Hogwarts Hospital wing. “Ugh... deja vu,” he managed to say.
Hermione's head rested against his shoulder, and she had a smile that he'd never before seen on her face; the only word for it that came to him was 'peaceful'. “Good morning... good afternoon, actually,” she said.
He let go of a breath that he hadn't know he was holding, and the tightness in his chest eased a little more. “It worked,” he said.
Her strange smile didn't waver as she agreed, “It did indeed.”
“Are you all right?” he asked.
She faltered slightly at that. “I'm perfectly healthy according to Gudrun, and she honestly meant to say 'perfectly'...”
“What is it? What's wrong, then?” he asked.
She bit her lower lip in the way she always had when she was uncertain. “Everything is so... it's so... everything's bright, and loud, and just... everything is so intense... but we're both still alive and he's gone. That's enough, isn't it?” she decided. The odd, peaceful smile returned; she closed her eyes and burrowed into his shoulder. He winced but wasn't about to complain. Each breath seemed to ease his chest a little more.
He sensed that Gudrun was there before she said, “He has awakened at last. Welcome back, Harry.”
“You believed,” he said.
“I did. I wanted to throttle you, of course, but I did believe,” she admitted.
“Why?” he asked.
She said, “Why did I believe? Anyone who can evade an Unbreakable Vow by crossing his fingers can surely survive being struck by his own Killing Curse. The throttling, it should be self-evident.”
“Killing Curse?” Hermione hissed in his ear; “No one said anything about a Killing Curse! And what's this about a vow?”
“How do you say...? 'Oops'?” Gudrun said.
Harry sighed; he turned gingerly to Hermione and said, “It wasn't really a Killing Curse, just a lot of green light. It's all a matter of intent. I don't hate myself and I didn't want to die, but I was willing to sacrifice myself to bring you back. As for the Vow...? That's a long story.”
Gudrun chided him, “I wish that you had given more thought to the aftermath. We could have been in a better place to assist you. Instead you fell face-first into the cauldron and we could not reach you. Hermione was struggling and disoriented, and this only made matters worse. By the time we could dispel the ward, you had taken in two lungfuls of the contents.”
“So that's why my chest hurts,” Harry realised.
Gudrun nodded; “The pain should be gone by tomorrow,” she said.
“Gudrun's told me a few things. She said that you've spent the last ten years studying,” Hermione said.
Harry chuckled, “Wait until you see my library.”
“Does the sensory overload lessen?” Gudrun asked Hermione.
“It's getting better, yes” Hermione said.
Gudrun pointed out, “Consider the change in environment that a newborn experiences. This is surely a similar thing. You lacked physical form for a very long time. In the span of a few minutes, you regained not merely consciousness but also the five principal senses, hormonal activity, proprioception, pain response... considering all of this, you are in excellent condition.”
“Damn it, why am I so tired...?” Harry said.
“Listen to your body. If you need to sleep, then sleep,” Gudrun told him.
“Don't want to...” he protested.
Hermione pressed closer to him; “I'll be here,” she said.
He gave in.