SIYE Time:8:08 on 24th May 2019

The Seventh Horcrux
By melindaleo

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Category: Post-HBP, Buried Gems
Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, Fluff
Warnings: Death, Violence
Story is Complete
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 860
Summary: The hunt for the Horcruxes begins. Harry has to decide who to trust as he moves closer to fulfilling his destiny. Will he be able to find and destroy all the Horcruxes? And at what price? Will he be able to find the strength within himself "the Power the Dark Lord Knows Not" in order to succeed in vanquishing Voldemort? And, can he do it and still get the girl? Join Harry and his faithful friends on their quest to finally defeat a Dark Lord.
Hitcount: Story Total: 209698; Chapter Total: 7460
Awards: View Trophy Room


Disclaimer: I own nothing; it all belongs to J.K.Rowling. I’m just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only, no profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.

Chapter Thirty

The Locked Room

Harry’s world spun momentarily before a sense of cool serenity washed over him. He felt as if he was floating – drifting slowly into the air inside a bubble, swaying haphazardly, yet rising upward. He felt calm and almost disassociated from everyone else in the room. He could see Ginny cradling his broken body, crying and begging him to awake, but he felt no desire to do so. He wasn’t entirely certain that he could.

He could see the dead body of Tom Riddle lying nearby, his lifeless eyes still open and staring vacantly ahead. The eyes were no longer red, but brownish in coloring. Harry dispassionately noted that Riddle’s hair had gone gray since the last time he’d seen him. He half-expected the prone figure to jump or blink or for his eyes to turn back to red. His stomach churning unpleasantly, Harry turned away.

He watched as Hermione tended an unconscious Ron, but she glanced up at Ginny’s shrill cry. He could see Hermione’s lips moving and knew she was speaking to him, but he couldn’t hear her words. None of this concerned him as he continued to drift aimlessly through the air. Not even the sight of the ancient Veil high on its dais, the same Veil that had filled so many of his nightmares, elicited any emotion from him.

He floated past Draco, lying on the floor – still petrified – with the ghastly mess of innards piled obscenely beside him. Detached, Harry noticed that Draco’s eyes were closed, almost as if he couldn’t bear to look at what had happened to him and settled instead for unconsciousness. Harry thought it vaguely odd that the one who had actually died was the one with his eyes open, yet both Draco’s and the eyes on Harry’s own body were closed.

At least, he assumed he was still alive, although he really couldn’t be certain. He couldn’t bring himself to care very much either way. Even the idea that it was over didn’t quite register in his muddled brain. The only thing on Harry’s mind at the moment was this pleasant floating sensation. It left him drowsy, and he thought he might like to go to sleep.

Nearly as soon as the thought occurred to him, his eyes opened wide, and his heart began to race. Falling asleep was definitely a bad idea. He somehow knew he was supposed to stay awake. As he became more alert and began to look around in earnest, the pounding of his heart lessened, and the panicky adrenaline-rush subsided. Calmer, he noticed that his bubble had begun traveling further away from the chaos surrounding the Veil.

He drifted over Ron and Hermione’s heads, watching as Hermione’s wand traveled shakily over Ron’s chest. His bubble floated out the door and into the circular room with all the doors. It moved anti-clockwise until it stopped in front of one of the doors. The door was no different than any of the others, it had no distinctive marking or shape, but Harry instinctively knew that it was the locked door. The one where he’d ruined the knife Sirius had given him while trying to open it.

What had Professor Dumbledore told him? That the room was kept locked at all times and contained the force that Harry possessed in such great quantity – love. Riddles…more riddles. Dumbledore had always liked to speak in riddles. How could a room contain love? It wasn’t a tangible thing.

Harry watched, feeling disconnected as his bubble approached the door and floated right through it. He blinked and took a good look around. At first, he saw nothing but murky emptiness and darkly wondered if he’d used up all the love he’d felt in his heart destroying Voldemort. Now, there wasn’t anything left but this dark, gray nothingness. It was a sobering thought, but he still couldn’t bring himself to feel any emotion over it. It was as if he was an outsider, merely observing rather than living any of it anymore.

As he continued to float, he gradually became aware of a flickering light in the distance. Without his usual curiosity or burning drive to know, he merely took note of it rather than moving towards it. Gradually, however, the flickering of shadow became interesting as it was the only thing to see, and he began to drift nearer and nearer the light.

When he was finally close enough to see properly, he realized it was a simple fireplace holding a blazing fire that hissed and crackled. Although it was in the midst of great nothingness, Harry imagined it was the kind of fire he’d seen in the Gryffindor common room on many a cold night.

As soon as the thought occurred to him, the Gryffindor common room with its large, squishy armchairs and red and gold coloring appeared before him. His bubble landed on one of the chairs in front of the fire, and he stretched his long legs, feeling the heat on his suddenly uncovered toes. He rubbed them into the rich, red carpeting, resting his head on the back of the chair.

He wondered if the locked room somehow worked by thought, and he tested it by imagining a steaming cup of chocolate. It appeared on the end table next to him in a Hogwarts golden mug. Harry settled back into the cushions, gazing at the fire and wondering what it was he was supposed to do here. It seemed a funny place to be after…well, after everything that had happened tonight. Dispassionately, he realized that he was uninjured. He had full use of his arms, and there wasn’t even a trace of blood on his clothing.

"I am glad to see that you have made yourself at home, Harry," Professor Dumbledore said, strolling into the room. His long white beard was knotted at the end, and he held it as he took the chair next to Harry, conjuring his own cup of hot chocolate and stretching his bare toes to the fire.

"Sir!" Harry gasped, shocked. Some of his hot chocolate dribbled down his chin, scalding him.

He wiped it quickly, blinking with astonishment and unable to voice a coherent thought. Dumbledore merely sipped his own beverage, his blue eyes twinkling, until Harry blurted, "Am I dead?"

"No, my boy, you most certainly are not dead, thank the Heavens. Your body has a long recovery ahead, but I am more concerned with your mind," Dumbledore said, the sparkle in his eyes dimming as he looked at Harry over his half-moon spectacles.

"My mind?" Harry asked blankly, feeling that he was several steps behind. He sat back and tried to relax. Dumbledore was obviously in charge of the conversation. Some things never changed.

Dumbledore raised his arms and gestured at the vast expanse of nothingness. "This room…this place…is a representation of your mind, Harry. Am I right in surmising that you are presently feeling rather desolate?"

Harry shrugged helplessly, uncertain what to say or even what to make of all the emptiness. Feeling slight embarrassed, he instead focused on their immediate surroundings. "It looks like the Gryffindor common room to me," he mumbled.

"Yes. I conjured the fire to try and light your way to me. You created the image in your mind of a place you felt warmth, some security, perhaps," Dumbledore said, nodding. "I am, of course, pleased that Hogwarts has always felt like a home to you."

"So…this place is inside my mind?" Harry asked, still feeling as if he were grasping at straws. If that were the case, it looked as if his mind was rather empty – a fact he was certain Ron would find highly amusing.

"Precisely," Dumbledore said, smiling approvingly. "The only way to enter that locked door at the Ministry is within your mind. I imagine that you are feeling lost and rather hopeless right now, and you felt the need for explanations hence, you called for me. I suppose I have traditionally been the one to offer you my advice after you have been through a trauma."

"So…you’re not real, then? I’m only imagining you?" Harry asked, aware that the first real emotion beginning to swell in his chest was that of great disappointment.

"Oh, I am very real, Harry. More importantly, not everyone could simply have called me back such as you have done. Your need must be very great," Dumbledore said solemnly.

"I’m confused, sir," Harry said, shaking his head. He didn’t even know how he’d got here, never mind how he’d called Dumbledore. There had to be some kind of mistake.

"I am aware of that," Dumbledore said, smiling gently. "Let me offer as much in the way of an explanation as I can. Miss Granger may have more of the answers you seek. I have been watching over you for nearly a year now, and I cannot tell you how proud I am of your accomplishments."

"I killed him," Harry said flatly. Should he be proud of that fact? Harry really wasn’t certain. It had only taken two words – Avada Kedavra – the very same two words that had once vastly altered the course of Harry’s life. He’d never thought the day would come that he would be the one to say those words. It seemed fate loved to toy with him that way.

He swallowed, willing the numb feeling to return. Truth be told, he didn’t feel like celebrating, or crying over his losses, or anything except indifference. He was hollow inside.

"Yes. You did what you had to do, and the Wizarding world and all of your friends will be the better for it," Dumbledore said gently, watching Harry with those all-knowing eyes.

"You’ve been watching me?" Harry asked, his voice barely a whisper.

"I have. I have waited and delayed fully passing over, while I tried to guide you this past year. Now, it is finally my time to cross into the afterworld," Dumbledore replied, his eyes shining eagerly.

"You’re leaving again?" Harry asked in a dull, flat tone. That cold dispassion had resettled, and Harry was glad for it if it meant that he didn’t have to feel another loss.

Dumbledore gently rested his hand on Harry’s forearm, squeezing it gently. "I departed your world a year ago, Harry. That hasn’t changed. Most likely, I could have survived that potion. I may have even been able to thwart Professor Snape despite my surprise, but I would have been a frail, useless liability to you. It was better this way, and I have been able to be of greater service."

"Greater service?" Harry asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.

"Am I right in surmising that you knew after Miss Weasley tossed you the Snitch in the Death Room, and you had uttered the Killing Curse that you had created your own Horcrux?" Dumbledore asked, his eyes piercing into Harry’s.

"Yeah," Harry replied, shrugging. "I worked that part out myself."

"Miss Granger came to me several weeks ago with her idea, and I thought it quite splendid that she had worked out so much of the detail. I merely did a bit of tweaking, as I understood some of the Romanian text better than she. The Snitch, however, was my idea for the item to be used as your Horcrux. I told Miss Granger how to charm it to make it fly directly into the Veil. Rather brilliant, if I do say so myself," Dumbledore said, smiling.

"So, I’ve lost part of my soul? Is that why I feel so empty?" Harry asked, his throat feeling very tight.

"No," Dumbledore said quickly. "You’ve lost none of your own soul, Harry. When Miss Granger told you to focus on the love that you felt for others, it is because that great abundance of love that you hold within your heart shielded your soul from splitting. The piece of Voldemort’s soul that was attached to your own like a malignant growth could not understand that great love. It was that piece that was split off while your own soul remained whole."

"So…the soul is split by murder, but love can shield the soul?" Harry asked, feeling very off-kilter.

"Precisely," Dumbledore replied. "I think you will find that the Dementors are less likely to be as drawn to you now that there is only one soul within you. The other – the evil presence forced upon you – is gone."

Harry shook his head, feeling very confused. His brain was still having trouble keeping up with the evening’s events, and one great piece of the puzzle still baffled him. "How did I manage to get the Killing Curse to work against Voldemort?" he asked. "He was definitely off his game tonight. I shouldn’t have been able to do that. He was much more powerful than me."

"You are again underestimating your greatest strength, Harry, and Tom’s utter lack of that same quality," Dumbledore replied quietly.

"Love again?" Harry asked, almost wearily.

"When you were dueling Tom earlier, each time you struck, you uttered the name of one of Tom’s former victims. Why did you do such a thing?" Dumbledore asked.

Harry shrugged, remembered the great fury he’d felt at the way Voldemort killed so casually. "He thought there was no consequence – that they didn’t matter. Did you know that I found Bertha Jorkins’ bones scattered in the woods as if she was nothing?"

"Which is, most likely, exactly as Voldemort saw her. But you buried her, and then struck back for her to let him know that she wasn’t forgotten – that she did matter. You did the same for Cedric and Frank Bryce and every other person you named. Their spirits understood this and sang your praises for it," Dumbledore said gravely.

"Pardon?" Harry asked, thoroughly confused.

"The voices, Harry," Dumbledore said. "Did you not hear the voices rising behind the Veil?"

Harry’s mouth opened and closed several times before he could form the words. "I did…but I didn’t think anyone else could. Snape said those voices come from trapped souls behind it," he said, squeezing his eyes shut lest they betray him.

"They are not trapped," Dumbledore said firmly, a faint trace of anger in his voice. "The Veil is merely a gateway to the Afterworld. Not everyone can hear the voices, however. It has nothing to do with magical talent – only those in the mortal world who are pure of heart are able to hear them."

"But Voldemort heard them. You just said he did," Harry insisted.

"As in most magical equations, the opposite also holds true," Dumbledore said, smiling apologetically. "Those with a heart lacking of all compassion can also hear the voices, only they are frightened and alarmed by them, as you saw with Tom. He could hear the voices rising and detected the light growing, and he knew death was nearby. Death frightened Tom more than anything else, and in the end, it was your dead loved ones who enabled you to defeat him."

"So, what happens now?" Harry asked softly, uncertain of the answer he wanted.

"The battle is still raging at Hogwarts, although the Death Eaters have begun to notice the Dark Marks on their arms disappearing, and that Voldemort is gone from their minds. They are frightened and confused which has made them rather rabid. A dangerous situation, but I suspect the Order will have it contained shortly," Dumbledore replied, closing his eyes and creasing his forehead, as if he was looking somewhere else.

"And the losses?" Harry asked, his stomach clenching.

"That remains to be seen and is something you will have to learn when your body awakens," Dumbledore said sadly. "Which brings me to my next point…you need to give your spirit time to heal, Harry."

Harry blinked uncomprehendingly, staring at the Headmaster with a puzzled expression. His spirit? Certainly his body was injured, but Madam Pomfrey had never had any difficulty patching him up in the past.

Dumbledore sighed, steepling his fingers beneath his chin. "Your body is broken, and your recovery will be slow. I suggest you use the forced confinement to allow your emotional recovery."

"I’m fine," Harry mumbled, shifting away from Professor Dumbledore.

Dumbledore’s eyes rose to his hairline, and he said quietly, "Harry, the barrenness of our surrounding says differently. I suggest you allow Mr. Weasley, Miss Granger and particularly your Miss Weasley to assist you. They are your greatest strength. You do them a disservice to shut them out."

Harry couldn’t bear to look into those sad blue eyes, so he looked at the fire instead, holding his tongue. He tried to hide the flicker of irritation that rose within him. He’d done what was expected of him. What more did Dumbledore want?

"It is not meant as a criticism, merely an observation," Dumbledore said gently, and Harry felt his annoyance fade. "You have been forced from one life-threatening situation to another since your arrival at Hogwarts. You have spent the better part of a year preparing for this battle and what you fully expected to be your own demise. I expect it will take some time for your mind to adjust before you are able to relax and live life to its fullest."

"It’s over now," Harry mumbled.

"Killing not only takes the life of the victim, but it takes a part of the killer, as well," Dumbledore said solemnly. "For you, I hope the only part it takes is the part that ought never to have been there in the first place. You’ve fulfilled your destiny in regards to Tom, Harry, but not your destiny in regards to you. You are a young man with a bright and glorious future ahead of you, if you allow yourself the happiness to experience it."

Harry sat his jaw firmly and continued to stare at the fire, willing the lump in his throat to go away.

"You deserve that. Miss Weasley deserves it; and your friends deserve it. This one last burden rests on your shoulders because they won’t fully allow themselves to heal until you do," Dumbledore said, smiling gently.

"I’ll try, sir," Harry whispered.

"That is all I can ask of you," Dumbledore said, the sparkle finally returning to his eyes. "And with Miss Weasley’s determination, Mr. Weasley’s stubbornness, and Miss Granger’s cleverness, I am certain it will be enough."

Harry felt a slight grin tugging at the corner of his lips. He certainly did have the best of friends.

"What about Draco?" he asked suddenly. "What will happen to him? He actually came through in the end."

"Mr. Malfoy also has a long and difficult road ahead of him, and like yours, his future is unclear," Dumbledore replied. "As with you, the support of loved ones is a key factor. I suppose an olive branch of friendship would go a long way."

Harry shifted uncomfortably. "I’ll try, sir. He’s not the easiest person to be friendly toward."

"That he is not," Dumbledore replied, chuckling. "I think it will be beyond your capabilities to do so, at first, anyway. As I said, your recovery will be longer than you expect. I was thinking perhaps your cousin, Dudley, and Mr. Malfoy should be encouraged to continue their friendship once they return to their lives. They each need a friend and confidante."

"Dudley?" Harry asked, blinking in surprise. "Oh, they make a pair, all right."

"Yes, they certainly do," Dumbledore said, smiling. "Put the bug in Miss Weasley’s ear. If she knows it’s something you desire, she’ll move heaven and earth to make it happen. There are those in residence within my realm that fear that girl’s temper."

Harry chuckled fondly, imagining the heaven’s quailing under Ginny’s Bat-Bogey Hex.

"Where is your realm, sir?" he asked curiously, his stomach clenching painfully once again.

"The Afterlife, Harry. Since I’ve been here, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with your parents and Sirius. They’ve all been watching over you. They are so proud of how far you’ve come, and the life you’ve made for yourself," Dumbledore said, watching Harry closely. Taking a deep breath, he added, "Although they did give me an earful regarding some of my choices towards you."

Harry had to blink quickly to remain in control of the emotions that suddenly washed over him. His mum, dad, and Sirius had been watching him. That simultaneously filled him with both pride and a great sense of loss, and he wasn’t certain what to say.

"Your mother, in particular beams with pride when she speaks of you, and the man you’ve become. Your father is pleased with your choice in friends, and Sirius’s comment had something to do with the phrase ‘smokin’ redheaded birds’," Dumbledore said, smiling fondly.

Harry chuckled, swiping absently at the corner of his eye.

"I also had the chance to speak with Remus, Tonks and Percy as they arrived. None of them regretted their decision. You haven’t let their sacrifices be for naught. All of them were among the voices you heard beyond that Veil, and all of them have been avenged," Dumbledore said quietly.

"So…what happens now?" Harry asked, swallowing the painful lump in his throat.

"You shall return to your body, and the door will close once again. I shall travel beyond and continue my grand adventure," Dumbledore said, smiling benignly.

"Do you have to go now?" Harry asked, alarmed. His heart began to thud painfully once again. He didn’t want Professor Dumbledore to leave so soon after he’d found him again. He wasn’t certain he could bear the loss a second time, but couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud.

It appeared he didn’t have to, because Dumbledore gazed at him with those kind, understanding eyes. "Eventually, but I can stay until you feel ready to return alone," he said softly.

"What if I never feel ready?" Harry asked, looking away.

"Then I shall have to give you a slight push. After all, Miss Weasley would come after me if I kept you from her for long," Dumbledore said, chuckling.

"That she would," Harry replied, a reluctant grin tugging at his lips.

"She loves you, Harry. Allow yourself to love her in return. I would like to see you return to school, not only to finish your education, but to have one year to live as a normal adolescent before real life commences. Although, I daresay you have enough detentions under your belt, I would like to see you earn a few for doing things that will give Minerva some additional gray hairs," Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling merrily.

"I suppose there are a few broom cupboards that Ginny and I haven’t discovered yet," Harry conceded cheekily.

"Excellent," Professor Dumbledore replied before raising his head and tilting it to the side as if listening to something at a great distance away.

"Sir?" Harry asked curiously.

"Miss Granger and Miss Weasley are perplexed over where to take you, and what to do with Tom’s remains," Dumbledore replied.

Harry looked away. "Hogwarts is still under attack, and both the Ministry and St. Mungo’s are under Death Eater control."

"That is how it appears," Dumbledore said mysteriously, waving his hand in the air.

"What did you do?" Harry asked.

"While it is true that Tom’s legion has been withholding care at St. Mungo’s, a large number of the Healers have banded together and have been running a renegade hospital, of sorts. The same is true at the Ministry. As Kingsley and Alastor have rounded up the Aurors and formed their own resistance, there are a number of Ministry workers who have done the same."

Harry sat up straighter, feeling the first ray of hope for the Wizarding population.

"Sometimes, it takes a great tragedy for the bravery within some people to show," Dumbledore said softly. "I have planted a thought within Leticia Warbanks’ mind to inspect the Department of Mysteries."

"Leticia Warbanks?" Harry asked.

"She is a Ministry worker from the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes. She has been the focal point for the small resistance at the Ministry. She will know which Healers can be trusted at St. Mungo’s," Professor Dumbledore replied.

"The Wizarding world will have to go through a long, and – I hope – thorough period of reconstruction. I hope people like Leticia, Alastor, Kingsley and Arthur are heavily involved for the betterment of all," Professor Dumbledore said. "Unfortunately for you, I do not see the public’s interest in you fading any time soon."

"We all have our part to play, I suppose," Harry said, shrugging.

"A very mature attitude," Dumbledore said, beaming.

Harry really wasn’t listening very closely to what Professor Dumbledore was saying. A new thought had occurred to him.

"Sir…if I imagined you here, could I imagine anyone else that I wanted to see?" he asked, barely daring to breathe.

Dumbledore’s eyebrows rose, and his piercing blue eyes peered over his half-moon spectacles. "I cannot answer that query. Nothing has ever gone exactly according to the rules when it comes to you. Perhaps you should take a chance."

Harry swallowed heavily. His first thought was to try and talk with his parents, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to do it. He’d had plenty of conversations with them as a child when he was locked alone in his cupboard, but he’d never actually expected them to answer. He wasn’t certain if he could stand the disappointment if it failed.

He moved his lips but was unable to utter a sound. He looked at Professor Dumbledore helplessly.

"I wish it was something I could do for you, Harry, but it is not. This is your mind, and only your thoughts will be heard," Dumbledore said sadly.

Harry swallowed again, forcing his racing heart to calm. His nostrils flared slightly before he shut his eyes tightly and let his mind conjure an image of his godfather. For so long, he’d banished from his thoughts the image of Sirius’s face and the sound of his bark-like laugh, unwilling to feel the pain of loss. Now, however, he called forth scattered memories of the closest thing to a parent he’d ever known.

Harry opened his eyes slowly, and his breath caught in his throat as he saw a familiar swagger emerging from the gray fog. As the figure walked, his shaggy, shoulder-length hair fluttered as the area around him formed into a Quidditch pitch.

"What the bloody hell is going on?" Sirius demanded, sounding very irritated. "One minute I was chatting up a delectable blonde bird with very little between her ears aside from peroxide, and the next minute I’m in the middle of nowhere - alone."

"Sirius," Harry choked.

Sirius stopped, frozen to the spot, squinting. He put his hand to his forehead, shielding his eyes. "Harry?" he whispered, astonished.

Unable to stop, Harry leaped from the chair and barreled onto the pitch, flinging himself into Sirius’s arms and clutching him fiercely.

"Harry," Sirius said, wrapping his arms around Harry’s shoulders and pulling him tight, pounding him exuberantly on the back. "What the… Where are we? Did you- oh, no," Sirius said, pulling away and staring at Harry, horrorstruck.

"No, Sirius. Harry is still among the living, and his body remains back in the Ministry," Dumbledore said, placing a steadying hand on Sirius’s shoulder.

Sirius visibly relaxed, shutting his eyes tightly for a moment before he threw back his head and released a pent-up bark of laughter.

Harry kept his face buried in Sirius’s shoulder, unable to make his fingers release their grip. He stood there, shaking, as he clung to his godfather and wondered how he could possibly pull out of this with his pride somewhat intact.

"Why don’t you pull up a chair, Sirius?" Dumbledore offered, giving Harry a moment to collect himself before he had to speak.

Never releasing his grip on Harry, Sirius maneuvered them both over to a couch, where he pulled Harry down beside him. Another cup of hot chocolate had appeared on the table, and Sirius took a shaky sip.

"Bugger, Harry, couldn’t you have at least laced it with some Firewhisky? This has been quite a shock for an old man," Sirius said, grinning. "So, tell me – what’s happened to make this visit possible? I’ve never heard of anything like it done before. Have you got yourself knocked out again, Squirt?"

Harry suddenly found his voice, and he turned accusing eyes on Professor Dumbledore. "I thought you said they’d been watching me," he said, his voice croaky.

"I have been keeping an eye on you, but not twenty-four seven," Sirius said, rolling his eyes. His gaze flickered back and forth between Harry and Dumbledore. "Does this have anything to do with Voldemort?"

"He’s in your realm now," Harry said softly, digging his nails into his palm.

Sirius blanched. "You did it?" he asked, holding his breath.

"Yeah," Harry replied, shifting uncomfortably.

Sirius leaped up, pumping his fists in the air and whooping with glee.

"Sirius, I think that Harry is not quite ready to celebrate yet," Dumbledore said, gently resting his hand on Harry’s shoulder.

Harry kept his eyes firmly on the ground, staring at the dragon-hide boots Sirius wore and trying not to think about anything.

"What? Why not?" Sirius asked, dumbfounded. He used his finger to raise Harry’s chin. "You’re finally free. You’ll no longer be hunted. No more Dursleys, or guards, or any of it."

Harry forced himself to meet Sirius’s earnest gaze, his stomach churning unpleasantly. "I know. It just… It’s not real yet," he said lamely.

An incredulous expression crossed Sirius’s face. "Harry, think of all the parties. Every bloke in Britain will want to buy you a drink, and every witch will want to-"

"I am certain Harry is fully aware of that, Sirius. He is merely asking for some time to adjust," Dumbledore said, interrupting Sirius before he could voice the possibilities that were blatantly on his mind.

"Right," Sirius said, clearing his throat. "Besides, you already seem to have your hands full with the one witch you’ve got. She’s a looker, that one."

The corner of Harry’s mouth quirked. "I’ll be certain to pass that on," he said dryly.

"So, how long have we got?" Sirius asked.

"I would surmise not very long," Dumbledore said. "Once the Healers get hold of Harry’s physical body, they will most likely ply him with potions that will break this connection. Besides, Harry has friends and family waiting for him in the land of the living."

"He’s got friends and family right here!" Sirius said hotly.

"Would you choose to keep him here, then, Sirius?" Dumbledore asked, tilting his head to the side.

"What? No. I want him to live…I just want some time with him. I was robbed of that time twice already," Sirius said, clearing his throat.

"What if I want to stay?" Harry asked, leaning into Sirius. He’d only just got him back; he didn’t want to think about having to leave. He didn’t know if his heart could stand it again.

"Your future is in the present, not the past," Dumbledore insisted, the twinkle in his eyes dimming.

Sirius shook him roughly, looking as if he wanted to hit something. "He’s right, Harry. Merlin, it’s good to see you, but everything I did – I did it for you – because I wanted you to live. I may be childish, but I won’t take that chance from you now that you finally have it."

Harry swelled, ready to argue his point. He was no longer a child and could make his own decisions. He was beginning to resent both Sirius and Dumbledore trying to tell him what was best for him.

Sirius diffused his anger when he laid a gentle hand on the side of Harry’s face. "Don’t worry about me. I’m good. I see your father and Remus every day, and when your mother lets us, we relive our glory days."

"Perhaps there are others you’d like to see before your time here is through," Dumbledore said gently.

Keeping a firm hand on Sirius, unwilling to let him go lest he disappear, Harry again shut his eyes and this time, thought of Remus. He still didn’t feel quite ready to see his parents. He remembered how Remus had taught him to conjure his first Patronus, and the determined, unwavering looks he and Tonks had shared before they had died.

Harry opened his eyes in time to see a classroom taking shape not far from the common room. It was one of the Defense rooms, and held a wide variety of Dark creatures. Before Harry could call to the two figures he saw seated in the classroom, Sirius did it for him.

"Remus, you old dog! Harry’s here," Sirius said, shaking Remus’s hand and pointing at Harry. "Hiya, Tonks."

"Harry," Remus said, inhaling deeply. He looked much as Harry remembered him, perhaps a little less gray. Tonks’s hair was its traditional bubblegum pink, and she wore a red Weird Sisters T-shirt that clashed horribly with the color.

Harry shut his eyes, breathing through his nose as images of Remus’s sacrifice filled his mind. "What did you have to go and do that for?" Harry asked, his voice choked. He shook Remus’s hand before pulling him firmly into an embrace. He then turned and also hugged Tonks.

"Hiya, kid," Tonks said brightly. "How are you feeling?"

"A little shell-shocked," Harry admitted, shrugging.

"I bet," Tonks replied, grinning as she leaned over to ruffle his hair. "You did it."

"We saw what happened earlier with Voldemort, Harry," Remus said gently. "You were magnificent."

"I couldn’t have done it without your help," Harry said, again staring at his feet. "Professor Dumbledore told me it was you and some of Voldemort’s other victims that distracted him, and Dumbledore and Hermione came up with the idea to create my own Horcrux."

Remus didn’t reply until Harry was finally forced to raise his eyes to meet Remus’s steady gaze. "I don’t care whose idea it was – you were magnificent," he said. "Not only did you get Voldemort, but Severus is now on his way to Azkaban."

"You got Snivellus? You didn’t tell me that part," Sirius said, almost accusingly. "How could I have missed that?"

"You missed everything. Where have you been?" Tonks scolded him. "Lily’s beside herself."

"He got him good, Padfoot," Remus said, beaming. "You should have seen it. Actually, young Ginny even gave him a whopper of a Bat-Bogey Hex when he tried to attack Harry after it was all over."

"You saw my mum?" Harry asked, stunned.

"He attacked him after?" Sirius yelped, tossing his head from side-to-side as if deranged.

"We were with her and your dad during the battle. They’re both so proud of you," Remus replied, ignoring Sirius completely.

Harry nodded, feeling worried and somewhat apprehensive of this overload of information.

"Hey! Why don’t you bring them here?" Sirius asked, still frowning. "It’ll be like the party we always should have had."

Harry felt as if his heart had stopped beating, and he looked away. Something about the idea of seeing his parents terrified him, despite the fact that it was what he’d always wanted. Everyone kept saying how proud they were of him. What if the real thing didn’t measure up to all the hype?

"Harry will call them when he’s ready, Padfoot," Remus said, his eyes peering knowingly at Harry. Remus had always been able to read Harry very well.

"What’s to be ready? He called us; he can just do the same for them," Sirius said, warming to the idea. "They’ll be furious if they find out we’ve been here all this time without them."

Harry looked away, his heart beginning to pound erratically. He was about to meet his parents for the first time, and he’d already done something to anger them. Great. He wondered if his mum could shout like Mrs. Weasley, and how it would feel if she shouted at him. And could he just call them here? He’d done it subconsciously with Dumbledore, and he’d used memories to bring forth Sirius, Remus and Tonks. He didn’t have any memories of his parents – not real memories, anyway, and he didn’t want to use the one he had of his mother’s death.

Remus laid a steady hand on Harry’s shoulder, squeezing gently. "They won’t be furious," he said quietly, halting Harry’s frantic musings.

"Perhaps you don’t need a specific memory, but merely the feelings they inspire within you will do," Dumbledore said, laying a restraining hand on Sirius’s shoulder.

Harry nodded, feeling trapped. He shut his eyes and thought of Godric’s Hollow – not how he’d seen it, but how he imagined it should have been, with lilies growing outside, and a large oak tree with a swing on a low-lying branch, and a tree house hidden behind the leaves. His father would be cutting the grass while his mother prepared a lunch for him and his younger siblings.

"James!" Sirius shouted, startling Harry from the vision.

His eyes flew open wide in time to see the little cottage just as he’d imagined it with his parents standing on the stoop. They were both very young, only a few years older than Harry at best, and he vaguely wondered if they remained stuck at the age of their death in the afterworld or were merely called forth the way Harry envisioned them.

"There you are, Padfoot, you old dog. Who is she this time? You haven’t been ‘round for weeks," James Potter said, clapping Sirius on the back. Even his voice sounded very much like Harry’s.

"Where are we, Sirius?" Lily asked, tilting her head to the side. She was taller than Harry had expected, although perhaps that assumption was influenced by Ginny’s diminutive height.

"Sweet Merlin," James said, whistling through his teeth when he caught sight of Harry.

Harry felt his knees give out, and he sank to the couch with Dumbledore’s gentle assistance.

"What is it, James?" Lily asked, peering over his shoulder. She swayed when she saw Harry, and James grabbed her to steady her.

"Harry, is that you?" James croaked.

"My baby," Lily said, slapping a hand over her mouth.

Harry stared, wide-eyed, at both his parents and Professor Dumbledore, uncertain what he should do. He felt frozen in place, unable to make either his mind or his body work properly.

Lily broke his trance. She rushed toward him, flung her arms around him, and hugged him fiercely, sobbing into his chest. Harry gaped at Professor Dumbledore, who only smiled benignly.

Harry had never done well with crying girls, and this was somehow much worse. This was his mother! His head knew that, but sitting there with this young, attractive woman, barely older that himself, crying all over him was disconcerting.

One thing he was definitely aware of - she hugged even tighter than Mrs. Weasley.

He raised panicked eyes to his father, who gently came toward them and pulled Lily back.

"Come on, Lily. Let him breathe. You’re embarrassing the poor bloke," he said, grinning. His hazel eyes sparkled as they raked over his son, and he stood in front of Harry, grinning widely.

"I am not embarrassing him," Lily said, indignantly slapping James on the arm.

"Oh, you so are," Sirius said, grinning. "Our Harry here embarrasses quite easily, actually. I used to like to make sport of him and see how red he would turn."

Harry scowled at Sirius, who only laughed harder. Lily reached out and gently brushed the hair back from Harry’s scar. He let her stare at it for a moment before shifting uncomfortably.

"I’ve enjoyed watching you play Quidditch," James said brightly. They all appeared to be searching for the right thing to say. As far as Harry was concerned, Quidditch always worked, and he instantly warmed to James.

"Yeah? I’ve played since my first year," he said.

"I know! I was so proud when that happened, wasn’t I, Lily? When you were born, I bought you this little toddler starter broom. Your mother was furious and insisted that I couldn’t put you on it for at least five years, but I knew you’d be a natural," James said, beaming.

Lily shook her head, but she kept smiling as she reached out to straighten the sleeve on Harry’s shirt, and brush the hair from his collar.

"I had plans to build our own pitch in the woods behind the house at Godric’s Hollow. Did you notice it? There was plenty of room for a secluded clearing, and I thought it would be great to play with the smell of the ocean on the breeze," James said, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

"Oh! I did see the wood there. That would have been a great place for a pitch," Harry replied, happily contemplating the idea of a pitch at his own home. He could have had friends over for pick-up matches during the summer.

The Quidditch talk continued for some time while Lily kept reaching out to stroke Harry’s hair. Although disconcerted at first, Harry eventually relaxed and stopped flinching at her touch. She was very much like Mrs. Weasley in that way.

"You never could have built that pitch," Sirius said, snorting while shaking his head. "The Ministry denied that request because you were foolish enough to give them your lighting specifications."

"Well, what’s the use in having an ocean view if you can’t see it at night?" James asked, sounding insulted. "I could have cast the Muggle-Repelling Charms myself. It wouldn’t have caused them any trouble."

"We know, dear," Lily said, placating him.

James sulkily folded his arms across his chest.

"I think it would have been brilliant," Harry said, feeling bad for his dad. He could see how much that pitch meant to him and knew how it felt to be disappointed. There was something about the idea that his dad had these huge plans for him and his future siblings that filled Harry’s heart. His dad had wanted to play Quidditch with him! His own dad.

"It would have been, wouldn’t it?" James asked, the boyishness returning to his face. "I wish I could have finished it before…well, I wish I could have left it for you. Your friend Ron and you would have had a grand time."

"You like Ron, then?" Harry asked, trying to sound casual. Somehow, he desperately wanted James to approve of all his friends.

"Of course I like Ron," James said, nonplussed. "You’ve got the best set of friends I could have ever wanted for you, and I thank Merlin for them everyday."

Harry beamed.

"We were both happy with the friends you made that first year at Hogwarts," Lily said. She’d taken the seat next to Harry and clutched his hand as she spoke.

"Ron will be okay, won’t he?" Harry asked, remembering the curse that had struck Ron during the battle.

Lily smiled sadly. "I don’t know."

"Why don’t you know?" Harry asked, fear rising like a bubble in his throat. "You said you’ve been watching everything."

"The future is never concrete, Harry," Dumbledore said gently. "It is ever moving and changing. It shifts according to how events unfold. We are mere observers."

"It’s probably time for me to go back," Harry whispered thickly, his throat very tight. James, Sirius and Remus had gone back to their argument over the Quidditch pitch, but Lily was still listening to their conversation, and he found it hard to meet her gaze.

"And it is time for me to move forward," Dumbledore said, nodding. "Do you want to say your farewells?"

"I think it would be easier if I left first," Harry said, knowing he couldn’t stand watching them all disappear one by one again.

Dumbledore’s eyes dimmed sadly, but he nodded his understanding. "Go forward knowing that your departed loved ones are all watching over you."

Lily sniffed, leaning over and grabbing Harry’s hands. Her green eyes filled with tears, but she blinked them back resolutely. She tugged at a lock of his hair, smiling sadly.

"Your hair has always been so soft. I used to play with it when you were a baby. I thought it was just baby hair, but it’s still just as soft as it was then. I missed so much – we missed so much," she said sadly, biting the corner of her lip.

Harry swallowed. What could he say? There was no denying her words, and he was at a loss how to make either of them feel better. The past had happened and couldn’t be changed. Perhaps that was the reason for his visit here in the first place. Maybe this locked room inside the Ministry – the one used to study the great mystery of love – was meant to show him that even though he’d come through a tragic past, it was the love of the people who’d touched him that was pushing him toward his bright future. Perhaps that was love’s greatest gift.

Knowing what he had to do, he tried to smile and pulled her into his arms, hugging her tightly. "Take care of the Marauders. I want to leave remembering them this way," he said, his vision blurred. James, Remus and Sirius were laughing and good-naturedly shoving each other in the shoulder on occasion. It seemed the way it was supposed to be.

"I will," Lily said quietly, sniffing back her own tears. "Always remember that we love you, and that we’re all so proud of you. You’ve grown into a fantastic young man, and I can’t imagine a better son. I’m very pleased with the girl you’ve chosen. Be a gentleman and let her inside your head as well as your heart. Take care of each other."

Harry nodded, sniffling.

"I’m not going to make a horrid scene," Lily said, laughing through her tears. "I’ll let you play macho. I love you, Harry."

Harry blinked, stunned. He’d never thought he’d hear his mother say that. He could feel his eyes filling and panicked that he was about to lose control.

"Oh, now I’ve done it," Lily said, swiping Harry’s eyes and pulling him into a hug. "I’m going to stand with Tonks so you can return to the life you’ve made. It’s a good life, son. Let yourself really live it."

Before Harry could reply, she hugged him once more and walked over to Tonks. Tonks wrapped her arm around the other woman and guided Lily’s head to her shoulder.

"Live well, Harry," Professor Dumbledore said, dragging Harry’s attention back to the matter at hand.

Harry nodded and got to his feet, looking anywhere but right at Dumbledore’s eyes. He allowed the Headmaster to lead him quietly from the common room, stealing one glance back at the laughing Marauders and noticing his mother still watching him.

When they reached the entrance where the portrait hole should have been, Professor Dumbledore stopped. Before he could think about it enough to stop himself from doing it, Harry flung his arms around the headmaster and held on fiercely. Dumbledore wrapped his arms around Harry’s shoulders and enveloped him in a warm embrace.

"You can always find me here, Harry," he said, resting his hand over Harry’s heart, "even if we can no longer have our little chats."

Harry nodded, unable to speak.

"Simply imagine yourself going back, and your mind will do the rest," Dumbledore said.

Harry blinked and looked ahead of him, vaguely noticing that the great expanse of gray had brightened slightly. He could see most of Hogwarts and the Burrow dimly lit in the distance. He could even hear the crashing of waves and knew his and Ginny’s private beach was not far.

As he began looking around and taking notice of places, shapes, and events in his life, he’d started forward, again floating above it all as his body moved toward the locked door. Craning his neck around, he realized he could still clearly see the common room, but it was vacant – a few empty mugs were the only indication that it had recently been used.

Harry shut his eyes to block the tears. It was time to go back.

A/N: There you are! Harry, at least, has survived. I still get a kick out of anyone actually believing I could ever kill him, lol. All the others are fair game, but never Harry J
. I won’t read his death in anyone else’s story, so I certainly can’t do it in my own. I was delighted by the response to the last chapter. Thank you all very much for your kind words. I’m thrilled you enjoyed it, and the majority of you found it plausible. Plausibility is always the key for me, lol. There are still three chapters plus an epilogue left to come – so plenty of aftermath for those who enjoy it. I know this one was very angsty, but that’s still my first love, so I slip it in when it fits.

Thank you SO much for the votes on the Silver Trinket at SIYE. I’m so proud of that Action/Adventure award, and a special thanks to those who voted for me in the romance category. You’re very sweet – and I promise – you’re time is coming ;)

As always, thanks so much to my beta, Sherylyn for turning this around so speedily and keeping me grounded on the story during the chaos that has become of my life. Thanks also to my snap pre-beta team – KEDme, Dianne, and GhostWriter – you’ll all notice pieces of your advice incorporated here. You’ve been invaluable.

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