Potter on Paper: Fanart and Fanfiction by Mudblood428
AFTER THE DIE IS CAST
Chapter 12: Song of the Phoenix
Through thick and illimitable darkness, Harry traveled. In his ears, the rushing wind… the vague sensation of being pulled backward at the speed of light… of utter weightlessness the likes of which no other racing broom in the world could match…
And yet, he was not on his Firebolt. Nor could he recall stepping onto the Knight Bus to explain away the distinct feeling of being tossed roughly about as he went. No…. He’d only touched a Portkey. Or was it Floo Powder, perhaps? After all, he had never said where he was going; maybe he had gone a hundred grates too far…
A thousand grates….
Harry watched the darkness begin to lift. As stars appeared and slowly faded into the azure sky, it seemed as though the sun was rising. The air grew pleasantly warm around him. He was falling through the sky…
And then, the rushing wind came to an abrupt stop. Disoriented, Harry found himself inexplicably standing upright, a strange buzzing sensation vibrating in his body as though electricity were humming through him from head to foot. It did not hurt – indeed, he felt no pain at all – and he thought no more on the matter, for his eyes were far too occupied to let him take note of much else.
Letting his eyes wander, Harry noticed the water first; still as glass, it stretched out around him on all sides, a veritable mirror against the rainbow colored horizon. In the distance, snow-peaked mountains sliced through slow-moving clouds, casting odd shadows onto the green valleys below. It was all familiar to him, and looking off toward the North, he understood why. Towering over the water was Hogwarts Castle. Harry had arrived on the lake at school.
It was then that he realized he was literally standing on top of the water.
“Merlin’s beard!” Harry yelped, making small splashes as he nearly lost his footing, but his feet tread no deeper than if he were standing in a shallow puddle. Bending down to take a closer look he could see nothing below his feet but murky darkness. It was as though he were standing over an abyss in the center of the lake. He did not so much as see one Grindylow.
Harry rose onto the tips of his toes, fearful of stepping somewhere where his feet would not float. He eyed the nearest bank, calculating a good hundred meters between him and the shore, but he had barely gone more than three paces towards it when he heard a low bubbling sound come from behind. He leapt forward, startled, and spun around, nearly tripping over his feet as he turned to see what was happening. Some distance away, the water was stirring around a tall rectangular object that seemingly appeared out of nowhere.
He recognized it immediately. His curiosity greater than his desire for dry land, Harry began to walk towards it.
“The Mirror of Erised,” he breathed. Moving unsteadily for fear of falling through the water, Harry approached the mirror, a faint smile crossing his lips as he raised his eyes and found the same cryptic message he had first read in an abandoned classroom six years earlier. Passing careful fingers along the ancient frame, Harry felt odd - like a Time Turner had erased the past six years to bring him back to his first year as a thin, knobby-kneed fledgling at Hogwarts.
“Where’d you come from?” he whispered to it, his eyes fixed on the letters over his head as if they might suddenly try to dissuade him from looking into the glass.
Harry wanted desperately to look. His first encounter with the mysterious mirror had brought him face to face with his parents and an entire family he had never known. He had never forgotten that night, but it seemed like a lifetime had passed since then. Apprehension rising in his chest, he wondered what would happen if he looked into the Mirror of Erised now; what he would see….
Who he would find…
Biting his lip with intense curiosity, he thought, Dumbledore’s not here to send me away from it…
Harry drew in a sharp breath, stung that he could think such an awful thought.
At that moment, a slow mist crept over the water. The beautiful landscape felt lonely, and he wished more powerfully than ever that Dumbledore was with him. What did he care about what the mirror would show him? Whatever he saw in it would not be real anyway. It could not bring back the dead. Ashamed, he leaned forward, pressed his forehead against the glass and unwittingly opened his eyes.
There in the mirror, his reflection stared back at him. There was nothing strange about the image, except Harry could see more distinctly now the empty spot at the base of his neck where the locket once hung. The scar intact on his forehead, his body unwounded and clothes clean and free of blood, grime, and paint, he looked as if he had never left Gryffindor Tower. His brow furrowed in frustrated thought; there had been a battle… the fading image in his mind of red eyes with slits for pupils and a ghostly white face….
“I was there,” he said, more to convince himself than for any other reason. “It did happen. Voldemort’s gone.”
Harry suddenly noticed something lurking in the distant fog over his reflection’s shoulder. It was a tall, familiar figure – a wizard; out of the clouds, clad in robes of gleaming silver to match a long shimmering beard, he approached. His forehead still pressed to the glass, Harry pushed his glasses higher up on his nose and squinted, not daring to believe his eyes.
“The mirror’s just playing tricks…,” he whispered, but his heart was thrumming in his chest. He blinked hard and rubbed his eyes expecting the image to disappear… but it didn’t.
“It’s not real….”
The man in the mirror stepped closer to Harry’s reflection before pausing a small distance away.
The sound sent a jolt through his heart and he spun around. Before his eyes was a vision that no enchanted mirror had conjured.
“You…,” whispered Harry.
Looking out through blue eyes glittering behind a set of half-moon spectacles, clothed in the most exquisite robes Harry had ever seen, was Albus Dumbledore.
The warm, familiar smile that Harry had thought he would only ever see again in his memory spread across his former headmaster’s face, and Dumbledore strode upon the watery surface towards him until he could place both his hands on his arms. Through his astonishment, Harry noticed that Dumbledore’s right hand no longer bore the withered, blackened appearance it once had, nor did the lines in his face seem as deep. In fact, Dumbledore looked almost… youthful.
“I can’t say how good it is to see you again,” said Dumbledore.
His voice produced in Harry a sensation akin to swallowing a large mouthful of Firewhiskey. Overwhelmed, tears rushed to his eyes, and without thinking, he threw his arms about Dumbledore and embraced him.
“It’s you,” he gasped, holding tightly to the old wizard’s robes. “You’re really here…”
Dumbledore returned Harry’s hug warmly. “Thought we’d never meet again, did you?” he laughed.
Joyful tears streaming down his face, Harry pulled away to make doubly sure he wasn’t dreaming. “Did I…? Of course I thought we’d never meet again!” he choked. “You look so – young!”
“Oh. Well…,” chuckled Dumbledore, blushing beneath his beard.
Harry stepped back to look at him, unable to contain his utter shock. “How is it even possible? You – you were dead! I saw you… I saw Snape-”
The smile suddenly vanished from Dumbledore’s face.
“With my own eyes…” finished Harry darkly. Realization dawning upon him, he stared at Dumbledore, waiting for validation of what he somehow already knew, but it seemed Dumbledore was waiting for him to say it first.
“I’ve died, haven’t I?” Harry breathed.
Drawing in a deep breath, Dumbledore moved towards him. “It’s somewhat more complicated than-“
“You’re here…. I can see you… and it’s because I’m dead.” Harry backed away from him, more surprised that the thought of being dead didn’t scare him as much as he expected it would. “It’s true, isn’t it?”
Dumbledore’s face was unreadable. “Yes,” he replied, “…and no.”
Harry merely stared back, mystified.
“Your heart has stopped, Harry – that is true,” said Dumbledore simply, “but something in you is still clinging to life. It is why we are here. Were you completely dead, you would be beyond the…” He cleared his throat. “Beyond my help.”
This was far too much for Harry to understand at once. “What do you mean ‘beyond your help’? Am I dead or not? And where exactly is ‘here’ if we’re not at Hogwarts?” he rambled. “And why aren’t we sinking-”
“One question at a time,” interrupted Dumbledore, “and I shall do my very best to explain.”
Sliding his feet over the water, Dumbledore stood beside Harry to gaze out over the lake, his voice as low and hypnotic as the tides surrounding them.
“One might say that you and I are in a place that has no location at a moment where time does not exist,” he began serenely. “This is the space between life and death, Harry. We stand in a product of your own creation – a projection of your inner eye.”
“My ‘inner eye’…. Then none of this is real?” asked Harry, trying not to sound disappointed, his eyes fixed on the beautiful dancing lights on the misty horizon produced by the rising sun. He had never considered that might even have an inner eye, having always associated the phrase with crackpot diviners like Trelawney, but then a thought far more unsettling entered his mind.
“What about you?” he added plaintively. “Are you… real?”
Dumbledore laid a hand on Harry’s shoulder and pressed it lightly. “I should remind you that though you feel the weight of a hand on your shoulder, your body lies wounded on a platform at Kings Cross Station,” he said gently. “You perceive before you light and water, but not with your eyes because they are, in fact, closed. And though you inhale the scent of mountain evergreens… it is only because you have already forgotten that you took your last breath when Ginny Weasley kissed you.”
Swallowing hard, Harry turned his head and found Dumbledore looking piercingly at him.
“What you see and feel exists only insofar as your soul can sense it,” said Dumbledore. “But, strange as it seems, that is precisely why I can assure you… this place is real enough. As am I.”
Harry looked back in wonderment.
“I don’t know what to say, sir.”
“You did a moment ago. Perhaps you might ask one of your questions, hmm?” he replied with a grin. Stepping a small distance away from Harry, Dumbledore gestured to the water with his hand, causing the surface to churn and bubble until it rose up and produced two chairs, much like the one Dumbledore had conjured before the Wizengamot before Harry’s fifth year. As the liquid descended back into the lake, Dumbledore eased himself into a seat and motioned for Harry to take the other. “And please, there’s no need to call me ‘sir’,” he added. “Here there are no titles to observe among friends.”
“Yes, sir – I mean, yes,” stammered Harry, and he carefully stepped across the water and slowly sat down.
“Now then. Ask away.”
“Anything?” asked Harry.
Dumbledore eyed him with amusement. “Anything.”
Harry did not speak at once, suddenly confronted with an unforeseen opportunity. Questions had overrun his mind since even before the night that Dumbledore died. The only problem was figuring out where to begin.
He shifted in his seat and cleared his throat.
“Is Voldemort…. Did I really…,” he began.
“Yes. Voldemort is dead.”
“Good – I mean, okay. Thought I’d better check, you know, just in case,” said Harry awkwardly.
His examining gaze fixed on Harry’s face, Dumbledore said, “That’s not the real question you want to ask me, is it?”
Harry sighed. “Before you died.... Merlin, that sounds so strange to say,” he said, wearily raking a hand through his hair and starting over. “Before you died… did you know I was a Horcrux?”
“I suspected it, yes.”
“You did?” Harry blurted out. “And you didn’t tell me?”
“I wasn’t entirely certain, and it wasn’t the right time to alert you to the possibility,” he replied calmly.
“But you rattled off a whole list of possible Horcruxes – you might have included ‘Harry Potter’ in the bunch!” Harry countered, nearly rising out of his chair.
Dumbledore folded his hands in his lap and shook his head. “No, I couldn’t. I realize I’ve made errors in the past about keeping things from you, but this was quite different. Do you think you would have gone as far as you did if you had known that every destroyed Horcrux was bringing you closer to your own demise?” he asked.
Suddenly, Harry could find nothing to say.
“You see now why I could not tell you,” murmured Dumbledore, taking his spectacles off of his nose. “I apologize – I can only imagine what a shock it must have been to hear the truth so soon before your final confrontation with Voldemort…. Then again, you’ve always done well under pressure,” he offered with a sidelong grin.
“How did you even know I would succeed?” said Harry, trying to reign in his frustration. “I didn’t even know if I would succeed!”
“I’ve learned from my mistakes not to underestimate you, Harry.”
Harry opened his mouth and closed it, finding himself at a loss for words once more. Dumbledore took the opportunity to continue.
“I understand you’re frustrated with me for keeping you from the truth. That is why I told Severus my suspicions about your scar and left him with the countercurse and the order that he should not give it to you until the right time.”
“You wrote the countercurse? But I’ve seen your handwriting – the writing on the parchment didn’t look anything like your other notes or letters.”
“I had created it shortly after destroying Gaunt’s ring,” he explained. “My hand was more than a bit damaged, so I wrote it with the other hand while under Severus Snape’s care, and rather messily at that, I’m afraid. Severus helped me create it – he was always quite sharp with spells, you know-”
“Snape’s dead,” said Harry softly, the memory spontaneously returning to his mind.
Dumbledore paused to look at him and sighed. “Yes. I know.”
“Was that part of the plan?”
“I’m not sure what plan you're speaking of, but Severus’s death was never part of an arrangement,” he answered, his forehead wrinkled in interest.
“He said he killed you on your orders. That your death was planned.”
“Why?” whispered Harry.
Dumbledore’s gleaming eyes looked on him with curiosity. “I thought Severus would have told you my reasons,” he answered. “When he made the Unbreakable Vow-“
“That’s not what I mean,” Harry interrupted. “Snape already told me you’d wanted to spare Malfoy-”
“Surely that’s not all he told you, is it?”
“Not exactly. It’s just… If it really was all planned…”
There would be no way to put the question except bluntly. Harry met Dumbledore’s gaze, and in a tone harsher than he intended, said, “Why did you leave me?”
A stony expression crept onto Dumbledore’s face. “I am very sorry, Harry, if my decision caused you to feel… abandoned. Truly sorry,” he said, the gleam gone from his eyes. “But I cannot impress upon you enough how necessary it was for me to remove myself from your path.”
“Necessary?” Harry shouted, unable to contain a year’s worth of angst and frustration a moment longer. “I didn’t have a clue what I was doing! I needed you!”
“No, Harry, you didn’t. If you did, Voldemort would still be alive right now.”
Harry shook his head at Dumbledore’s aplomb and looked despondently towards the glittering horizon. “Maybe I’d be alive right now.”
“Listen to me, Harry,” said Dumbledore, his voice suddenly severe. “Remember for a moment how I was when you last saw me. I was an old man in a broken body when we emerged from the cave together. Had I lived beyond that night, you would have spent your last year at Hogwarts toting around my useless frame when you ought to have been hunting Horcruxes, undistracted. Only in death, could I be useful to you.”
“What do you mean by ‘useful’?”
Harry looked on with uncertainty as Dumbledore rose out of his chair, reached into his robes and withdrew something in his closed fist.
“There is a reason why you felt me so near when you went seeking the Horcruxes with Ronald Weasley and Miss Granger. Perhaps you did not know it then, but you brought me with you.”
At that moment, Dumbledore opened his hand and held it out for Harry to see. Looking into his palm, Harry’s jaw dropped.
“The locket!” he gasped. The smile returned to Dumbledore’s face as Harry reached out his fingers to touch it. “I thought I lost it,” he whispered wonderingly. “But how could it bring you with me? I mean, did you – did Snape-“
“No, Harry, do not be mistaken,” interjected Dumbledore. “This locket is not a Horcrux, but in a way, it worked the same way. After my death, you held onto it, wore it around your neck like a talisman, as reminder of what we had seen and done together and of what had yet to be done. Though it did not contain a broken shard of my soul,” he explained, “you imbued it with the power of your memories of me. I lived in you.”
Harry’s chest felt tight as Dumbledore turned Harry’s hand over and placed the locket in his palm.
“I thought I was just imagining it,” murmured Harry, closing his fingers tightly around the chain. “That voice I heard in the cave and at the station…. It was yours.”
“It was mine.”
“Then you’ve been here… waiting for me all this time?” said Harry breathlessly. “A whole year?”
Dumbledore laughed. “A year for you, perhaps. Time only exists for the living, Harry.”
“So that explains it,” said Harry, looking towards the sun that had yet to move from its fixed spot over the horizon.
Stroking his silver beard, Dumbledore walked away from Harry’s gaze to stand before the Mirror of Erised. Glancing over the old wizard’s shoulder, Harry thought he could see a smile hidden beneath his formidable beard.
“I have always said time is a peculiar thing. Consider the phenomenon of time against the human inclination to stall it. Outrun it. Cheat it,” he murmured in a far-off voice. “The irony, Harry, is that a race against time is impossible to win. After all he’d done to buy immortality, Voldemort, though he saw himself more a more powerful wizard for defying death, found at the last that his extended time on earth had been a waste. He died alone, Harry. Unfulfilled. Surrounded by the echoes of his own hatred when he might otherwise have used his exceptional talent towards a more enriching possession. One which, though we grow older and our brilliance fades and our bodies give out… lends us a different kind of immortality.”
Dumbledore turned his head back, a triumphant gleam in his eyes that Harry had not seen since his fourth year the night Voldemort had used his blood to forge a new body. Feeling as though their many conversations together finally made complete sense, Harry whispered, “Love.”
“Yes, Harry,” said Dumbledore with a joyful smile, “love. It is the glowing spark in you that is clinging to life even as we speak. When it came to a choice between staying and dying to save your friends or fleeing and sparing your life to the demise of all those you cared about, you chose to stay. Without so much as a thought, you leapt in front of the Killing Curse to save Ginny Weasley’s life! In so doing, you have expressed love in so great a degree that even now Death cannot claim you if you choose to live.”
“What?” said Harry. “What do you mean ‘if I choose to live’?”
“The success of the countercurse was wholly contingent on the magical protection your mother left you. I am speaking, of course, about your blood. When Voldemort used three drops of your blood to bring back his body, he did not know that doing so forged a bond between you both that would become power to you and poison to him. But in throwing yourself in front of the curse, in allowing yourself to bleed for another, you actually strengthened the protection your mother gave you – so much that for that brief moment when you held the Killing Curse in your hand, you possessed that which Voldemort had committed countless crimes to purchase! You were immortal!
“Of course,” continued Dumbledore, “your blood could not keep you safe from death for longer than it took to destroy the piece of Voldemort’s soul that was inside you. After that, the Killing Curse took hold of you, infecting you slowly instead of striking you down in one fell swoop. Why do you suppose that is?”
Harry stared at him, agape. “I-I have no idea,” he stammered.
Dumbledore took hold of Harry’s shoulders. “Yours was not the only blood spilt by Voldemort at Kings Cross Station. It is through the intervention of another that you were not killed the instant the curse touched your bare skin. It is because of her that you now have the opportunity… to go back.”
“‘Her’?” Harry gasped. “You don’t mean, Ginny!” he exclaimed. “But she wasn’t even supposed to be there! Are you saying that if she hadn’t followed me-“
“You would be quite completely dead. Yes, it’s very likely. Apart from Ginny, I’m certain no one else could have done what she did. Voldemort would have targeted no other, and if he had, I don’t believe they could have resisted the Imperius Curse with any success. Ginny had the benefit of past experience under the influence of Tom Riddle, but more than that, she had the strength of an ardent love and devotion to you.”
“Her stubborn streak didn’t hurt either, I bet,” added Harry, half-dazed. “So because Ginny cut herself on Gryffindor’s sword, I get to go back? Simple as that?”
“No. Because Ginny was cut by the sword in her attempt to save your life, you get to go back,” he replied.
Harry shook his head in disbelief. He thought back to the moment on the stairs before he left Gryffindor Tower – standing with Ginny and feeling like an imposter in his own skin for pretending friendship when he had felt so much more. He had endured an entire year filled with those moments, missing her terribly even when she was standing right in front of him. “All this time, I’ve kept her away... to save her,” he said, a bitter twinge of remorse in his chest, “and in the end she wound up saving me…”
“Now is not the time for regrets and it is not for you to judge what you ought to have done. You did what you thought was right, and for all you know your separation from Ginny is what drove her to fight for you so fervently. And you for her,” added Dumbledore with a knowing grin.
Looking sideways at him, Harry realized he had something very important he needed to know.
“Dumbledore… if I could ask you one more thing…”
He did not so much as bat an eye. “You wish to know why I trusted Severus Snape.”
Harry could not read the tone of Dumbledore’s voice and looked on curiously as the wizard’s face grew distant. “Yes, sir. I mean – yes.”
“Severus did a terrible thing when he told Voldemort the prophecy, as yet incomplete. Why, then, would I forgive such an act? What could he have told me?” he murmured.
Forgetting to breathe, Harry waited anxiously for Dumbledore to continue.
“He has told you that he was present to witness your mother’s murder. Has he not told you why Voldemort gave her the choice to live?”
“Let us then take a trip into the past.”
Dumbledore beckoned Harry to rise from his seat. Setting the spectacles back on his nose, he then opened his arms wide to the misty surface of the water. Suddenly, the mists began to swirl and turn about until Harry saw an image begin to appear, as though they were not standing on a lake but in the middle of a very large Pensieve.
Gesturing to the swirling mist, Dumbledore said, “After you.”
Harry gulped and stepped into the fog, which seemed to vanish as soon as both his feet were inside it, revealing a room Harry had visited many times as a student, but never as a spectator. As though he really had taken a dip into the Pensieve, Harry found himself in Dumbledore’s office, only the room was far less cluttered with trinkets and had a cold, darkness about it that sent a chill up Harry’s spine. Dumbledore appeared beside him and raised a finger to his lips for Harry to be silent.
Sitting behind the desk was another, graver-looking Dumbledore. Fawkes was perched beside him, small and fluffy as though it had recently been reborn from ashes. Its bright face was nestled drowsily against its chest.
Suddenly, Harry heard the door creak at the opposite end of the room. Veiled in shadow, someone entered, though he could not see who it was. The Dumbledore behind the desk did not so much as raise his eyes from his folded hands when he spoke.
“To what do I owe the privilege of your company?” he said in a somber deadpan. “Considering we’ve not spoken since you were a student in my transfiguration class, I admit I’m somewhat surprised to see you, Severus.”
“Snape,” said Harry under his breath, as the dark figure emerged from the shadows.
Snape said nothing, standing rigidly in the center of the room with his head bowed and face half-hidden beneath the hood of his cloak. His left hand was tucked inside the black cloth of his robes. What could be seen of his face looked even leaner and gaunter than Harry had ever seen before.
The Other Dumbledore leaned back in his chair and looked up, revealing a cold expression the likes of which Harry was not accustomed to seeing on Dumbledore’s face. Removing his half-moon glasses, he added, “Forgive me, I understand that Death Eaters do not wish to dwell on school days-“
“Say what you wish,” interrupted Snape softly, “but do not call me a Death Eater. No one knows that I am here.”
Harry’s stomach twisted at the realization that he had stepped into a moment in time that occurred sixteen years ago... and was about to witness Snape’s confession.
“Very well. Please, sit,” said the Other Dumbledore, eying Snape as he sat down, first with suspicion, and then concern.
Snape was shaking.
“Are you quite well, Severus?”
“Spare me your formalities, Professor Dumbledore. Kind words don’t exist for people like me.”
“‘People like you’,” the Other Dumbledore repeated pensively. “It’s been a long time; perhaps you’d like to tell me exactly what kind of person you think you are.”
Snape’s hand was still tucked firmly under his robe, and Harry began to wonder what he was hiding there before Snape began to speak the words that Harry had both dreaded and longed to hear.
“Had you but known me better while I was under your tutelage, you would have seen the pathetic villain in me from the beginning,” he murmured, not a trace left of his usual slippery drawl. “I am the reason the Potters are dead.”
“Voldemort is the reason why the Potters are dead, Severus. I am aware you heard Sybil Trelawney’s prediction some time ago. Be that as it may, do not be so artless as to think I did not know you better when you were a student.”
“You don’t understand!”
Snape leapt out of his seat and stalked angrily away before spinning around and flinging the hood off of his face. Harry gaped, having only ever seen Snape so furious when he had accidentally spied on Snape’s worst memory during a fated Legilimency lesson, but more shocking to Harry was how much younger Snape looked.
“It’s my fault! Like a fool, I assumed the half-blood child would be the last choice the Dark Lord would make,” he shouted. “But he was convinced Potter’s child would do him in – the son of that arrogant louse-“
“He was Lily’s son as well, Severus.”
Harry had not thought it possible, but Snape grew even paler. “She was not supposed to die....”
“Am I to understand that James deserved his death, then, if Lily did not?” the Other Dumbledore asked.
“He didn’t deserve her,” spat Snape, his posture becoming yet more guarded.
“Now Severus, James outgrew his arrogance a long time ago-.”
“He didn’t deserve her!” Snape hollered bitterly. “No one did! Myself least of all after what I’ve done…”
Harry was utterly shocked and confused. Wasn’t this the same Snape who had called his mother a ‘Mudblood’?
“I tried to stop it from happening,” whispered Snape, staring vacantly off towards the window as rain tapped against the glass panes, “but once it was clear that the Potters’ child was the one he wanted, Lord Voldemort grew so single-minded that even the heartless Lestranges were frightened. Even so… I begged him to spare her. I greedily thought that, just maybe, he could rid my world of all its evils if only he could keep Lily safe. Instead of Potter by her side, I saw myself.”
Eyes wide as dinner plates, Harry’s jaw fell in disbelief at what he was hearing. Beside him, Dumbledore gave him a meaningful look, as though the worst of it were only yet to come.
“I knew he would need help, so I offered my assistance in the hopes that I could persuade him with my loyalty,” Snape continued in a rigid voice, “and at last he promised not to hurt her in return… for this.” Finally withdrawing his left hand out from beneath his robes, Snape pulled out Godric Gryffindor’s sword and dropped it onto Dumbledore’s desk as though it were a cursed object.
The Other Dumbledore looked at the sword and then at Snape. “I was beginning to wonder when you were planning to return it,” he said, unamused. “How did you find entrance into Hogwarts to steal it?”
“There is a cabinet on the first floor; a second resides in Hogsmeade and one can travel between the two,” said Snape, his jaw twitching.
“I suppose this will stay in my office from now on. Remind me to ‘fix’ that cabinet on the first floor when this conference is done. Continue.”
Snape drew in a deep breath and lowered his head. “I met him at Godric’s Hollow with the sword and stayed to see if my plan had worked – I was so drunk with expectation that I didn’t even think of the possibility that Lily would choose a different destiny…” His voice broke and he seemed to struggle with himself to continue; meanwhile, Harry’s heart was pounding in his chest, the rest of him frozen cold at Snape’s words.
“He offered to spare her and she refused. All the rest of my life, I shall see her face… filled with hate… her eyes on me as she stepped between the Dark Lord and the child. A mother like that, I have never known,” Snape whispered, his face tortured. “He killed her, the only one who ever seemed to think me better than I was: a lowly rogue that called her names in Potions class. I should have died in her place, but like a coward, I froze and watched…”
At that moment, Snape fell into a broken heap on the chair and buried his face in his hands. “What have I done?” he breathed.
Dumbledore watched sorrowfully as his other self stood up from behind his desk and walked over to Snape, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“Severus, you’ve done well to tell me these things.”
Snape’s expression turned to stone. “I’ll be sent to Azkaban. I am turning myself over to the Ministry tomorrow. I had to tell someone before I left.”
“Yes, turn yourself in. But let me be your counsel. How many Death Eaters are still active now that Voldemort is gone?”
“None. They have decided to refuse their affiliation, claiming they’ve been Imperiused and all manner of other cowardly lies. Although I’m sure I could not prove it with any success, none of them are true. Were Lord Voldemort to return, it would be a homecoming fit to destroy the entire Wizarding World.”
“And would you be a part of it?” asked the Other Dumbledore carefully.
Snape’s eyes filled with angry tears. “I would rather die.”
“I see. I believe there’s a way we can keep you out of Azkaban,” replied Dumbledore’s other self, walking to his bookshelf and pulling out a dusty old Potions textbook. “You have valuable connections, Severus. I hope you haven’t broken any of them…”
At that moment, Harry felt Dumbledore’s hand take his arm and begin to pull him backward. Beneath his feet, the stone gave way to water once more and the scene before Harry’s eyes dissolved back into the thick swirling mist that Dumbledore had conjured only moments before. Snapping out of his reverie, Harry was surprised to find that tears were traveling down his face.
“Are you all right, Harry?” Dumbledore asked.
Harry paused. “My mother’s name was the last thing he said before he died…. He was in love with her,” he murmured, smearing a tear off his cheek. “I thought he hated her. He even called her a ‘Mudblood’….”
“Severus has never easily betrayed himself to others, Harry,” Dumbledore explained.
“Didn't stop him from saying those things about my dad, though.”
“Indeed, Severus Snape was very jealous of your father. Well after James’s schoolboy antics had disappeared, Severus was still in love with your mother and would have believed anything to demonize the man she married.”
“But he was horrible to me,” Harry said in bewilderment. “So he hated my dad. If he was in love with my Mum, why’d he spend seven years treating me like I was no better than the scum off Malfoy’s shoe?”
The remark made Dumbledore smirk. “Harry, you were the product of your parents love for each other,” he said reassuringly, “proof undeniable that their marriage was neither trivial nor temporary. Every time Snape looked at you he saw the reason why he would never be anything to her but a partner in Potions Class. However, I would remind you that Snape has come to your aid many times,” he added, “and I have every belief that it was because you were Lily’s son.”
“Voldemort… He promised Snape… and he killed her anyway,” whispered Harry bitterly, wiping his eyes.
“Well, he was immortal, Harry.”
He looked back, confused. “What does that have to do with it?”
“I’ll explain. You held Death in your hand, Harry, and though the effect was temporary, you could not die,” he said fiercely. “Tell me. What do you remember of your immortality?”
Harry diverted his eyes and tried to remember. Everything had happened so quickly – it was already like a long-forgotten dream. Closing his eyes, he strained to bring the moment back to the forefront of his memory.
“Pain… I only remember the pain,” he murmured in a far-off voice. “I’ve never felt anything like it. I could hardly bear it…”
Opening his eyes, Harry looked into Dumbledore’s face and found him frowning. “Yes. Pain. Unimaginable, indelible pain. Only a soul that is cold, unfeeling, and incomplete would be immune to it, which is why Voldemort had no qualms about betraying Severus and murdering your mother. As much as it chills me to say it, he simply did not care,” he said in a pained voice. “Immortality runs contrary to everything that is right and natural in this world, Harry. In the moment you possessed it, you’d have gladly traded your life to spare yourself from it. Isn’t that right?”
“Yes,” Harry answered slowly.
Dumbledore sighed. “Of course you would have. It is a sign of your unblemished spirit. Little did Voldemort know that in securing his immortality, in splintering his soul so many times to ensure he could not die, the price was to be stripped of feeling anything that makes one feel alive – pain, sadness, remorse, joy, love… He did not know it, but he was already dead,” he explained.
Harry nodded silently.
“Whatever else Voldemort told you, Harry, you are very different from him.”
Sniffing, Harry looked up, grateful to hear Dumbledore say it.
The old wizard smiled triumphantly and laid his scrutinizing gaze on Harry’s scar. “I daresay he would be quite vexed to know that you have escaped death yet again,” he said encouragingly. “Or are about to, I should say. You’ve yet to decide to go back and we have precious little time for you to do so.”
As soon as the words were spoken, the water behind Dumbledore began to churn once again. The bubbles and ripples came faster and louder, as though the lake were laboring furiously to push something enormous through the surface. And then, in a great spray of water, a stone archway thrust itself out of the lake, a ragged cloth swaying from it that, to Harry’s surprise, was not so much as dripping an ounce of water. Standing directly across from Harry and the Mirror of Erised was the very same Veil that had claimed the life of Sirius Black in Harry’s fifth year.
“I thought you said that time doesn’t function for the dead!” cried Harry, backing slowly away from the Veil.
“It doesn’t. You have yet to fully die. However, though the thread of your existence has yet to break, the part of you that is holding on is only a fading spark. Soon it, too, will extinguish.”
“You must choose a path, Harry – choose life or choose the Veil – but linger too long, and the choice will be made for you. After that, the only way to be among the living, should you desire it, is as a ghost.”
Harry stared first at the Mirror of Erised, then at his feet, and then into Dumbledore’s eyes, which were staring back with penetrating intensity. “I don’t want to be a ghost,” he murmured, recalling one uncomfortable conversation with Nearly Headless Nick after Sirius had died. Cringing at the idea of holiday parties with rotted food, keeping company with the Bloody Baron and being too cold to be touched, he did not envy Sir Nicholas’s existence in the slightest.
“You choose life, then?” Dumbledore asked, watching Harry with keen interest.
Harry hesitated. Somehow, he found it impossible to speak the words.
“What is it?”
“If I go… I’ll remember this, won’t I?” he asked hopefully. “Will I remember you?”
Dumbledore shook his head. “Not me, no,” he replied. “Your heart will retain what I have told you, and only that. But you must not try to remember that I met you here. You are meant to forget, lest you spend your days reliving your death.”
Harry lifted his gaze and squared his shoulders decisively. “Then I’m not going.”
For a moment, Dumbledore was silent, and he cast him an odd smile before asking, “Why not?”
Harry wasn’t sure whether or not to feel offended by the question. “Why not?” he repeated. “Because it’s not fair! Why can’t you come back with me? You sacrificed yourself as well, didn’t you?”
Dumbledore folded his hands and straightened himself. “Yes, but unlike you, no one shed blood on my account to leave me the option, and even if there had been someone who had, I still would not have chosen to return,” he said matter-of-factly. “I have lived my life, Harry. I am well adjusted to the idea of a nice long rest.”
“But nothing,” he said, his voice suddenly stern. “I am moved that you feel that way, Harry, and of course, we all must pass through the Veil in our own time, but do not be in such a hurry to reach the end of your story when it has only just begun.”
Moving closer to Harry, Dumbledore lowered his voice to a whisper, as though addressing something deep inside of Harry’s being. “You’ve one thing left to learn. Though time pushes forward, and struggle we may against its tenacious current, life is what happens between the ‘tick’ and ‘tock’ of the clock,” he said softly. “Life is beginnings and endings, and plenty of them at that. Tonight, something ended; Voldemort’s reign is over. But your time on earth is not.”
Harry looked away, his conscience battling over what would be worse - losing Dumbledore for a second time or losing a chance to know a life without Voldemort. Were it not for the fact that he was standing there at last with his beloved headmaster, he thought, perhaps the choice would be easier to make…
“Can you think of no reason to go back?” said Dumbledore patiently. He took Harry by the shoulders and brought him back to the Mirror of Erised. Stepping away so that Harry could stand before it by himself, Dumbledore gestured toward the glass. “What about now?” he asked.
Harry looked properly into the mirror and blinked. There before him appeared a man, bespectacled with a mop of unruly black hair on his head just like his own.
“It’s my father,” he said, squinting confusedly.
Dumbledore shook his head. “Look closer.”
Harry stepped closer to the glass. The man in the mirror was standing anxiously, straightening his robe and fussing over a wayward strand of hair as though he were waiting for someone, when a woman with freckled cheeks and long red hair walked to his side, taking the hand from his hair and threading her fingers in his. Harry watched as the couple turned to smile at each other and wondered why he was staring at a visage of his parents when, suddenly, the man in the mirror looked directly into Harry’s eyes and winked at him.
Starting at the sight of the green eyes staring back at him, Harry realized at once that the image was not his father’s after all.
“It’s me…,” he breathed, reaching out to touch the glass. “And that’s Ginny…”
Dumbledore smiled. “The Mirror of Erised has many uses,” he said thoughtfully. “Apart from revealing the deepest desire of our hearts, I’ve found that it also reveals quite a bit about the person who looks into the glass. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you now see before you a brand new future in which you are joined with Miss Weasley… because at last you are free to love and be loved.”
“Free….” Turning his awestruck gaze towards Dumbledore, Harry whispered, “How did you know?”
“You have sacrificed everything in your pursuit of Voldemort, your happiness included. What greater desire could there be than to regain that which you have selflessly given up?” said Dumbledore with a smile. “You have a second chance, Harry. A chance to redeem everything and everyone you’ve lost.”
A joy the likes of which Harry had never felt began to burn in his chest as he turned to gaze at his former headmaster.
“Well?” asked Dumbledore quietly.
“A reason to go back…,” murmured Harry, turning back to look once more at the couple in the mirror. “Yes. I can think of one.”
Beaming at him, Dumbledore approached Harry and laid a hand on his shoulder. “You always did make good choices,” he laughed.
Harry cast him a crooked smile. “Not always,” he said, raising an eyebrow.
Dumbledore turned Harry around to face him, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he smiled. Harry thought for a moment that he could see tears welling up behind his half-moon spectacles.
“Harry Potter. You have exceeded my every expectation since the very day you stepped into Hogwarts,” he said in a voice brimming with emotion. “I am very proud of you. If nothing else, I am glad that I could tell you face to face that you have become every bit the man your parents always wished you might become.”
The corners of Harry’s eyes were beginning to burn with tears. “Thank you, sir.”
Grinning warmly back at him, Dumbledore said, “You needn’t thank me for telling the truth, Harry. Nor should you call me ‘sir’.”
Harry cast him a watery smirk and forced a laugh. For a moment they stood in silence, watching one another with admiration – no longer as teacher and student, but as friends.
“It’s time I went, “said Dumbledore. “Fare you well, Harry.” And then, with one last wink in Harry’s direction, he turned towards the Veil.
Harry’s breath caught in his throat. “Wait! Just for a moment,” he exclaimed. “Stay… or, let me go first.”
Dumbledore turned back and seemed to know exactly what Harry was thinking.
“This is not goodbye. We’ll see each other again. I promise you.”
“I know that – I do – just….” Harry’s voice faded to a desperate whisper. “Don’t leave…”
This time, there was no mistake. A tear spilled from Dumbledore’s eye.
“My dearest Harry. If you remember nothing else, remember this. I have been here,” he whispered, placing a hand over Harry’s heart, “with you, all this time. And there I will be. Always.”
Through trembling lips, Harry murmured, “I won’t ever forget you.”
“Nor I, you.”
Harry nodded wordlessly and watched as Dumbledore turned and walked towards the Veil, his silvery robe dipping in and out of the water as he treaded upon the rippling surface. As he walked on, Dumbledore began to do something strange and unexpected.
He began to whistle.
At first the sound was not unlike the times Harry had caught Dumbledore humming or whistling to himself through the halls of Hogwarts. But the closer the wizard drew towards the Veil, the more the sound changed – higher and higher it raised until it was no longer a whistle at all but the haunting crescendo of a Phoenix song. A warm breeze began to blow over the water, playing in Harry’s hair and sweeping the mists away until the water was as pristine and glassy as it had been when Harry first arrived.
When Dumbledore finally reached the stone archway, he pushed the cloth carefully aside with his hand and looked back over his shoulder at Harry one last time, smiling proudly at him in a way that, though Dumbledore said not a word, seemed to speak volumes.
Harry remembered the locket in his hand and closed his fingers tightly around it. “Goodbye,” he whispered.
He felt his heart wrench in his chest as he watched Dumbledore turn back and step gingerly over the threshold, vanishing with nary a trace but for the frayed cloth swaying gently in the warm breeze. And then, as though it had never been made of stone, the Veil turned to water, which burst apart and fell in cascades back down into the sea. The last drops of glistening liquid rejoined the lake, and Dumbledore was gone.
Now the only one left, Harry wasn’t quite sure what to do. Dumbledore had failed to explain how he could return. Looking around him for a clue and finding nothing but the Mirror of Erised, he wondered if all he needed to do was say it out loud.
Harry cleared his throat. “I choose life,” he said with as fierce a tone as he could muster.
He held his breath for something to happen, but nothing did.
“Erm, I want to go back,” he said, a little louder. Again, he found that nothing had changed, and his spirit fell upon realizing that he had already exhausted his options.
He was still on the lake and feeling increasingly uncomfortable despite the lingering swell of music flooding his ears. Harry knew that the landscape around him, despite being one he knew well, was false for reasons despite the water’s being sturdy enough to walk on and producing visions and objects from his past. Gazing towards the shore, Harry saw the tree that was his favorite haunt with Ron and Hermione – the same tree he and Ginny had visited often together during blissfully lazy lunch hours as they learned how to be more than friends. He suddenly realized that, though he was surrounded by the familiarity of the Hogwarts grounds, he found no comfort in it. One important thing was missing…. His friends.
He had to go back.
He spun around to face his image in the Mirror of Erised. Squeezing his eyes shut, Harry cried out as loud as he could, “I WANT TO LIVE!”
The words echoed strangely into the ether and all around him the water’s surface quivered as if touched by a wind that Harry could not feel. Before his eyes, the mirror suddenly shattered into pieces that tumbled into the murky water, and then, without warning, the surface beneath Harry’s feet gave way, and the lake swallowed him up.
Underwater, the Phoenix song was gone. The water was as cold as ice and he sank deeper, as though his limbs were made of granite. A moment of shock passed before he finally remembered that he had no Gillyweed and could not breathe underwater. Frantically, he began to churn his arms to swim back up.
But he was too heavy. Sinking steadily, he tried to push himself towards the surface, towards the rippling light above him that he knew he must reach. And when he did reach it, he thought resolutely, he would have so much to tell Ron and Hermione about what he had seen. He would tell Ginny what Dumbledore had shown him in the Mirror of Erised. He would talk endlessly about how young Dumbledore looked. They wouldn’t believe it, but he’d tell them anyway. Dumbledore would not be forgotten.
As soon as the thought entered his mind, he felt something yank him back down. His chest grew tight, as though the weight of the water were squeezing in on his lungs. Panicked, he peeled off his robe and cast it away from him, and he rose higher.
As he ascended, he suddenly realized that he could not remember the color of Dumbledore’s robe. He’d seen it only a moment ago... but the memory was gone.
Dumbledore’s warning was coming true, thought Harry in horror. He was forgetting him.
Just then, a sharp pain seared through his right side and he recoiled in agony. Sinking once more, he saw a cloud of blood rise up before his eyes, and placing his hand over his shirt, he felt a tear in the fabric over his reopened wound. He struggled to push himself higher, kicking his aching legs, one hand over the gash in his side while the other clawed toward the surface. A dull pain formed beneath his scar.
He could not tell how he knew, but it became ever clearer that his time was almost running out. More and more, he felt his body weaken, and the dancing light over his head was growing farther away the harder he tried to hold onto a vision of Dumbledore’s face. He would drown in this netherworld, never to return. He would never see his friends again. Ginny would grow old without him…
At once, he felt fire return to the center of his chest. Against the screaming pain in his body, he threw off the last memory of Dumbledore’s face and focused every thought in his mind towards reaching the surface. He was climbing higher, but unable to hold his breath any longer, he gasped and felt the sharp pang as water entered his lungs. The cold was everywhere – around and within him – his right hand had turned withered and black once more….
The locket dropped from his fingers. Above him, the light danced….
“Ginny, come away from there.”
She felt the pressure of Neville’s hand on her arm, but she did not move from the ground beside Harry’s body.
“He’s gone, Ginny,” he whispered through his tears. “We have to get him out… before the Muggles-“
“Don’t touch him,” she hissed. “Not yet.”
Ron and Hermione let go of one another to watch Ginny’s face. She was no longer crying, but staring intently at Harry’s body, as if she were willing it to instantaneously spring back to life. Ron and Hermione looked at one another, and then at Harry, searching for whatever it was Ginny was seeing.
“What are you talking ab-“ he began, but Hermione clapped a hand over his mouth.
Silence fell upon the DA, and they all strained to hear. Softly, as though from a great distance, music began to sound. The melody was soul-stirring – beautiful and joyful – not at all the mournful requiem they heard the day that Dumbledore was entombed, and their eyes lifted to the sky as it grew louder. Before long, the sound of sirens could be heard no more over the melody. The sun rose higher in the sky, filling the entire station with a warm radiant glow, and they could see something in the distance traveling speedily toward them, brilliant light filtering through the feathers of its enormous wings.
Between the broken rafters it flew down towards them, crooning gloriously as it soared low to the ground, coming to rest beside Harry’s feet. Puffing up its chest feathers, it shivered and beat its long scarlet tail. Its song was done.
“Fawkes,” breathed Ron in disbelief. He jumped to his feet and pulled Hermione up by the hand as the Phoenix stepped toward Harry’s other side. It paused across from where Ginny sat and stared appraisingly at her.
“I remember you,” she murmured, smiling, and it warbled affectionately in answer before slowly turning its sharp gaze on Harry’s face.
Slowly, Fawkes raised its head, arching it up towards the sky. Closing its eyes, the Phoenix gracefully extended its wings out to their fullest extent displaying a formidable crimson and gold wingspan that ran the length of Harry’s entire body. There was a sudden rush of hot wind that blew them all backwards, but quickly as it had begun, the warm current vanished. When they turned to look again, Fawkes’s wings were neatly folded, its red and golden face pressed gently against Harry’s cheek.
Windswept, Ginny pushed her hair out of her eyes, unsure of what just happened. “Harry?” she whispered.
All of a sudden, Harry’s body lurched forward and Ginny screamed. Fawkes leapt back as water came sputtering out of Harry’s mouth, and he turned onto his side, coughing and shuddering violently as he struggled to breathe.
“Harry!” cried Hermione and Ron in unison as they rushed to his side.
He could not answer. His clothes were absolutely drenched, every inch of him alive with pain as if he had forgotten altogether the feeling of being inside a mortal frame. He groaned, doubling over against the aches in his open wounds, and shielded his eyes.
Hermione tried to grab his hand to move it away from his face. “Harry, are you all right?” she cried. “Let me see!”
“My eyes…” he croaked. “They’re… burning…”
He felt something touch his arm and pull away with a painful gasp. “Bloody hell, so’s the rest of you!” exclaimed Ron. “You can fry a Skrewt on your skin!”
“Yeah, if he weren’t soaked to the bone,” came Fred’s voice. “It’s like the man’s gone swimming!”
"Must be the fever," noted George. “D’you reckon we should call someone?”
“Are you mad? We have to get him out of here!” cried Hermione, gingerly taking Harry’s arm and pulling it over her shoulder. “This place will be crawling with Muggles any minute!”
One by one, frantic voices began to fill Harry’s ears.
“I don’t believe it-“
“He’s alive? What just happened?”
“Fawkes revived him!” grunted Ron as he wrapped Harry’s other arm around his neck and started to pull him off the ground. Neville and Luna rushed forward, weaving their arms under Harry’s legs in an effort to help Ron and Hermione get him to the Portkey.
“Can’t you use Mobilicorpus? It’d save time,” observed Lavender.
“I wouldn’t,” said Luna warningly. “It’d fry his brain or something. Didn’t you ever hear about Conrad the Combustible? I could tell you stories…”
For once, Harry agreed with Luna. “No magic,” he murmured as the four of them heaved him into the air, dizzy and so warm he thought he might easily burst into flame.
Before long, Harry could hear nothing but noise as a dozen voices fussed over him. But there was one voice his ears longed to hear.
“Ginny,” he gasped, reaching blindly out with his blackened hand.
“I’m here,” she said in a strained voice, grasping his hand gently over Hermione’s shoulder. “It’s okay. I’m going with you, Harry, we all are. We’re taking you home.”
He felt a giddy smile spread across his face. “Home,” he whispered, feeling a sudden urge to laugh and cry at the same time. “Home…”
His hand still pressed in Ginny’s, Harry had never felt so glad to be in so much pain. He was alive. As his last memory of the murky deep vanished, fever overrode his happiness, and Harry fell back unconscious against Ron’s shoulder, unaware of the locket hanging safely over his heart.